Battle of Peachtree Creek, July 20,1864
Source: “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment Indiana Volunteers. Marches, Battles, and Incidents of Army Life.” Asbury Kerwood,1868; pp 267-271
” We are about to record the commencement of a series of daring and reckless attempts, made by a true representative of hot-blooded ‘southern chivalry,’ to say the irresistible progress of a large and victorious army. The engagement at Peach-tree was the turning point for the overthrow and destruction of the rebel army of Georgia. By his wild infatuation, amounting to madness, southern blood flowed almost like water; and the sacrifice of human lives was a consideration far beneath his notice. The disastrous results of his unimitigated cruelty will stand out in bold relief among the prominent events of our late war, as a proof of what a piece of a man could do.
The surface of the country where our army was now operating, was broken and somewhat hilly. The sluggish waters of a narrow creek, inclosed in a deep channel, wound its way across the field, in an irregular, zigzag course. A short distance south of where the road running from Buckhead to Atlanta crosses the stream, it enters a dense forest, and leads almost due south to the city. After a number of ill-shaped curves, the stream enters the same forest, and pursues a south-east course.
In the afternoon of July 20th, when the enemy had disappeared in the woods, our division moved up and formed line of battle at the north side of the same, with the line of Wagner’s brigade extending into the timber. Gen. Thomas directed Gen. Newton to send forward one regiment, have them advance nearly half a mile on the Atlanta road, then deploy, face to the south-east, and move forward to the creek, to ascertain weather the enemy had any force in that vicinity. Gen. Newton designated the 57th, and Col. Blanch immediately proceeded to carry out his instructions. The regiment advanced cautiously to the position indicated, but found no signs of an enemy, and the command halted. We were now nearly one mile from our lines, in the midst of a dense forest, alone and unsupported. Col. Blanch desired to become more fully acquainted with the appearance of things in front; and deeming it imprudent to advance the whole regiment farther, he called for one man from each company to go forward with him to reconnoiter. They moved out several hundred yards beyond the regiment before they discovered any of the enemy. A single rebel soldier, who had been sent out to watch for the approach of our picketts’ caught sight of Serg. Vert, of Company F, and was just in the act of firing on him, when he was hailed by a member of Company C, who already discovered him, and, unnoticed, had drawn a bead at the head of the “Johnny.” They demanded him to surrender; and while one held his gun ready to fire, the other advanced and took charge of the rifle, which was delivered without further ceremony. It proved to be a new Enfield, which he had that day drawn, and was now loaded for the first time. He asked how far it was to their lines, and whether they were in force? But he declined to give any other answer than that there were enough there for us, and if they wanted to know any more they could go and see. The captured rebel was then started for the rear, under guard. In a few moments the forces of the enemy in our front raised a yell, which was taken up and repeated along their lines for fully half a mile, and revealed the fact that they were advancing in heavy force. In a few moments they came in sight of our reconnoitering party, who fired on them and fell back to the regiment, which now beat a ahsty retreat, occasionally halting long enough to be certain that the enemy were in pursuit. When the noise occasioned by the coming attack of the enemy was no longer to be misunderstood, Gen. Thomas made every possible preparation to give them a warm reception. Artillery was promptly placed in position, and the troops, who had commenced building works, were ordered to hold their position at all hazzards. ‘What has become of the regiment you sent out?’ inquired Gen. Thomas of Gen. Newton. ‘They’re out there yet sir,’ replied he. ‘Well, they will be captured,’ returned Thomas, who was not aware of the activity which the 57th was just then prepared to show.
Although the regiment had credit for being “some on the skirmish,” they were conscientiously opposed to a combat with Syewart’s rebel corps. When the regiment fell back to the line of rifle-pits from which the enemy were driven, at 2 o’clock, the order was given to rally there and hold them. But it was soon discovered that we would be exposed to the fire of our own artillery, and again the order was given to retreat beyond the creek. A few, failing to hear the order, remained and were taken prisoners. Even in the creek, Maj. McGraw insisted that it was ‘a good place to make a stand;’ but the majority concluded it was rather a watery position, and so passed over to the north bank. As we passed up a ravine among the willows, we saw a column waving a dirty rebel flag over the pits we had just left. ‘Here come the wet dogs,’ said Gen. Thomas, as we came up, dripping with water, after wading the stream waist deep, and some even swimming, in the deepest places. We had passed to the left of our brigade, in falling back, and before we were all across the creek the front lines were hotly engaged with the enemy. The battle raged with awful fury. The 20th Corps, which joined our right, met them on open ground at a charge bayonet, held the ground, and drove them back. The enemy attempted to cross the creek in our front; but, with the help of the artillery, we succeeded in keeping them back. At dark the battle ceased, and the rebels withdrew from the field. The 57th retained its position on the creek, and during the night constructed a line of works. When morning came we moved over and joined the brigade. The work of death was terrible in their front, where the dead of the enemy lay in heaps. The rebel Gen. Stevens was killed in front of the 40th Indiana, and his saddle and holsters were taken by one of the regiment. The loss in the brigade was very light; almost incredible, compared with the losses inflicted on the enemy.”
Another account of the battle in font of the 40th Indiana.
“Decision in the West; The Atlanta campaign of 1864, by Albert Castel, University Press of Kansas, 1992; page 376
” To the South along Peachtree road the “dusky gray columns” of Walker’s Division came over a hill so quickly that Kimball’s and Blake’s troops have to throw aside the shovels and axes with which they are improving their defenses and grab their rifles. Both sides open fire simultaneously; to a Union artilleryman it sounds “something like the heavens and earth had suddenly come together.” Stevens’s Georgians charge once, then again, and each time withering fire repulses them with heavy casualties, among whom is Stevens himself, mortally wounded by a bullett in the head that knocked him from his horse, just east of the road and in front of the 40th Indiana. Next Brigadier General States Rights Gist’s Georgians, South Carolinians, and Mississippians, taking advantage of a sheltering ravine, bypass the Union left and head for the bridge over Peachtree. So, too, do some of Bate’s Kentuckians. Should the Confederates seize the bridge, they will trap Newton’s Division south of the creek. Realizing this, his men begin having “visions of Andersonville.” But the six cannons posted by Newton and four more brought up by Thomas in person scour the ravine with canister, causing both Gist’s troops and the Kentuckians to run back “like a flock of sheep.” As they flee, Bradley’s brigade, having rapidly deployed along the road, pumps more death into them. This ends the assault on Newton’s front, left, and rear.”