The 57th Ohio was a part of Giles Smith’s brigade of Morgan Smith’s 15th Corps division. It was one of the lead brigades attacking Confederates on Pigeon Hill on the morning of June 27, 1864. The following is an account of that action from Captain Alvah Skilton of the 57th Ohio Infantry.
The evening of the 26th of June, 1864, found the 57th Regiment OVVI [Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry] in a line of works constructed by them close up to the foot of Big Kennesaw on the line occupied by General Giles A. Smith’s Brigade of the 2nd Division of the 15th Army Corps.
It had been an exceedingly hot day at the cooling shades of evening were welcome to the tired soldiers, who, after their frugal meal, had gathered in groups behind the strong line of works to smoke their pipes, chat about the day’s adventures, talk of the progress and probably outcome of the campaign; to make conjecture as to what would, and suggest what should, be the next move. Many thought themselves competent to advice the General, all agreeing, however, that it would be a flank movement, the only difference of opinion being as to whether it would be by the left or the right, each having his own pet theory, little thinking what was in store for them on the morrow.
The short southern twilight had suddenly ended and darkness had settled down upon the camp, hiding alike the rocks and trees and the stern implements of war under it mantled. For a time silence reigned, broken only by the low murmur of the voices of the men as they talked perhaps of the loved ones at home or of their dead or absent comrades, or told tales or laugh provoking jokes to pass the time.
When the order to attack reached the 57th Ohio camp that morning, Skilton recalled Colonel Americus V. Rice of his regiment gathered with a few others, reading the orders for several officers of the regiment:
“Colonel Rice broke the seal deliberately, read the order and without a comment passed it to Colonel Mott who read it and passed it to the writer and so it was in silence read and passed around the table.”
“It was an order for the Brigade to move silently out of the works occupied by it and proceed to a designated spot near the gap, or depression, between “Big” and “Little” Kennesaw Mountains and at daylight next morning form part of a forlorn hope, or storm column, in an endeavor to make a lodgement inside the enemy’s works.”
Upon receiving the orders to advance, officers from each regiment were ordered to brigade headquarters, where they met with Giles Smith, who provided further instructions and spoke with conviction of the task ahead:
“Gentleman, I have sent for you to advise you what is expected of us today and to make such provision as is possible to prevent confusion or misunderstanding.
This column has been selected as a ‘forlorn hope’ and we are expected to carry the enemy’s works in our front. Should we succeed in doing it, we are to hold them at all hazards for at least ten minutes when ample reinforcements will be sent to enable us to hold the works.”
“Gentlemen, this will be serious business and some of us must go down. I do not say this to frighten you (for I know that is impossible) but to impress on your minds that if I fall you must look to Colonel Martin, of the 11th Illinois for orders. If he falls you must look to Colonel Rice of the 57th Ohio….
“Gentlemen, go back to your respective commands, impart this information to your men and when the bugle sounds, charge. And may God bless and protect you all!”
Skilton recalled the incident with great emotion years afterward:
“No event of the war has left a more vivid or lasting memory in my mind than this meeting at the early dawn under that hickory tree at the foot of Kenesaw [sic]. But for how many was it their last meeting on earth and how few of those who met for that brief consultation are now living and how many of the living are maimed and crippled for life.!”
Once the men returned to their regiment, they prepared for the task ahead. Around 8 a.m., the command to advance was given:
“We returned to our regiment. The bugle sounded the charge and in an almost incredibly short time we were in the very jaws of death, carrying the enemy’s front and outer works. Gallantly the Brigade endeavored to perform the task allotted to it, but flesh and blood could not endure the withering fire poured into them and the charge failed.”
During the course of the charge, Colonel Americus Rice was severely wounded and the regiment’s lieutenant colonel was pinned down on the steep slopes of Pigeon Hill by heavy musket fire. Captain Skilton grabbed the regiment’s flag and tried to rally the men lower down the slopes of the hill.
“I hugged the mountainside as close as possible twisting the flag staff in my hand until the flag was rolled around it, waited until there was a lull in the firing and made my way down the mountainside some five or six rods. By this time the boys were beginning to creep out. I gave the flag to Sergeant Samuel Winegardner of Company C, placed him in a protected place and commenced forming the regiment on the colors….
“In the course of an hour the majority of the regiment had gotten back and formed on the colors. I assumed command, reported to General Giles A. Smith who assigned the regiment its position and send us tools. We built a line of work sand remained in them until dark. Soon after dark Colonel Mott returned to us uninjured and took command of the regiment.
“My recollection is that there was not a regiment of our brigade came out of the charge with the same officer in command that started in with it and I think that all three of the officers that represented the 55th Illinois… were killed and the officer succeeding them wounded.
“This charge cost us the lives of many, many brave men and inflicted but little injury upon the enemy and was barren of good results and I believe General Sherman has been more severely criticized for this charge than for any other order he ever issued….
“It is not my intention to attempt to describe that charge, for it should be an abler pen and a more eloquent tongue than mine to do it justice and I have only penciled these thoughts to bring up some of the old memories, to try and induce each member of the old regiment to contribute something from his own personal experience to help enliven these meetings and keep alive the glorious deeds and memories of our old regiment.
“And I thank the God of battles that each of the representatives of the old 57th at that meeting under the morning stars is still alive and able to attend these reunions and that of all that other little group that gathered around that camp chest under the southern pines in the gloom of that southern twilight not one of them have been mustered out, and may they long continue to meet with us.”
Source: “Reminiscences of the Charge at Kennesaw Mountain,” OH-33 File, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park