58th Infantry History

 

The Fifty-eighth Illinois Infantry Volunteers was recruited from Camp Douglas, Chicago, Illinois on the 11th of February, 1862. The regiment left Camp Douglas, 887 strong via the Illinois Central Railroad, for Cairo, Illinois, and reported to Brigadier General E. A. Paine, on the 12th. Was immediately furnished with arms and started from Cairo about midnight, with orders to proceed up the Ohio to Smithland, Ky., thence up the Cumberland, to the vicinity of Fort Donelson, and report to the officer in charge of the United States' forces. Arrived near Fort Donelson on the night of the 13th, and disembarked at daybreak, the 14th, having been assigned to the Third Brigade, Third Division, Colonel J. M. Thayer, First Nebraska, commanding.

Was temporarily assigned to the Second Division, General C. F. Smith commanding. On reporting to General Smith was assigned to the Brigade of Colonel Lauman, of the Seventh Iowa, and about 11 A. M., 14th, was in position, subject to considerable annoyance from the enemy's shell from the fort. In the afternoon two companies were deployed forward, and were briskly engaged for a short time. The men suffered exceedingly from the intense cold, no fires being allowed. The men were poorly prepared for the severe task imposed upon them - very few having seen service. The arms furnished them had been condemned and thrown aside by other Regiments, and there was, in short, no confidence in them whatever. A few casualties occurred during the evening and night. On the morning of the 15th was re-assigned to the Third Brigade, Third Division. Was under fire a short time in the morning and in the evening. While attempting to secure an advanced and desirable position, was considerably cut up and thrown into confusion by a masked battery, upon which it approached to within 250 yards. For a few moments the ranks were considerably broken, the fire being entirely unexpected. By moving to the right, however, a short distance, it was protected from the sweeping fire of grape and canister and reformed, though then exposed to a murderous fire from the enemy's sharp shooters (who swarm every tree) and skirmishers. Threw out skirmishers and drove back the enemy, and held the same. Night now closed around. When leaving the boats the Commissary was directed to bring the Regiment rations for three days, they being unprovided with haversacks. In the many changes made, the Commissary Sergeant was unable to find the Regiment, and the men got no rations from Friday morning till Sunday morning, when they were procured from the Division Commissary at daybreak. On the morning of the 16th, Sunday, a white flag was seen waving over the fort, denoting its surrender.

The conduct of the men on this occasion was remarkable; raw men, without rations, and armed with the most worthless guns, they behaved as well as veterans of a hundred battles. Remained at Fort Donelson till the afternoon of Tuesday the 18th, when it moved on about 4 miles en route for Fort Henry. Camped for the night, and at 7 A. M., the nest day, resumed the march, and arrived at Fort Henry about noon. The roads were almost impassable, and consequently, the march was a most difficult one. Remaining at Fort Henry till it embarked on the transport "Boston," and went up the Tennessee, with the troops commanded by Major General Smith. Arrived at Crump's Landing, about 4 miles above Savannah, and disembarked. Were at once moved out about 11 miles, into the neighborhood of Purdy. During the march it rained incessantly. Remained all night, returning to transports about 9 P. M. Men very much exhausted. Made a capture of a few rebel pickets. Remained on transport till morning, then disembarked and went into camp about one-half mile from the landing. Remained in camp for several days, drilling and completing organization of the Regiment.

On the 29th of March embarked on steamer, and went up to Pittsburg Landing. Having been re-assigned to the Division of General C. F. Smith, was directed to report to Colonel Sweeney, of the Fifty-second Illinois, and was assigned to his Brigade. Went into camp quite near the river, not over one-third of a mile distant. Proceeded to change arms, secured transportation, and in every way, completed the organization. On the morning of Sunday, the 6th of April, was awakened by heavy firing from the front; received orders to fall in and await further orders. About 8:30 A. M., was moved out one mile and a half, when orders were received from General Grant, in person, to take position across a road and hold that position. Immediately changed front and took the position, as directed. With some slight changes in position, mainly to the front and perpendicular to the front, it occupied the same ground all day. From time to time of going into the fight, about 9 A. M., it was almost continually under fire. About 4 P. M., the right and left were giving way; but orders were imperative to hold the position. At length it became evident that unless some change was made the Regiment would be taken prisoners. The Regiment stood alone. Charge after charge was made by the stubborn and determined foe. To prevent being flanked, the order was given to fall back to the brow of a hill in the rear. Arrived there, found the enemy on our rear, (now front) on all sides, and the Regiment exposed to a continuous fire. Disorganized portions of Regiments were then in the utmost confusion. Orders were given to forward, and cut its way out; which could have been done with less loss than was suffered afterward in Southern prisons. About 2,300 officers and men were captured in this fight by the enemy. The surrender did not all take place the same time. The surrender of the Fifty-eighth was made a few minutes before six. The loss in this engagement was frightful - amounting in killed, wounded and prisoners, to upwards of 450. More than three-fourths of those taken prisoners were wounded, and only 218 were taken prisoners. The fact of the Regiment being taken, was, undoubtedly, in a great measure, the salvation of the army. The right and the left were entirely turned, and the enemy, on one wing only, needed to know of the success of the other, to press on; but while the center held out they could not know their success. And when, at last, this small band was forced to succumb, night closed her mantle over the scene, and the haughty victors could pursue their advantage no further. Suffering all the privations and hardships which the rebels knew so well how to inflict on their helpless victims, for about seven months, the prisoners or what was left of them, about 130 men, were paroled and allowed to go north. The few men left in camp were strengthened by men returned from the hospital and sent from the State as recruits, and participated, with credit, in all the skirmishes and battles consequent on the siege of Corinth. Was engaged at the battle near Iuka, and lost 23 out of 31, in killed, wounded and prisoners.

In December, 1862, different detachments of the regiment were concentrated at camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois. Remained at Camp Butler, recruiting, and guarding rebel prisoners, until June, 1863, when the Regiment was sent to Cairo, to garrison that post. Remained at that place till January 1, 1864 - in the meantime garrisoning Mound City, Illinois, and Paducah, Kentucky, for the greater part of this time. Some of the companies had a skirmish near Obion River, Kentucky, in October. Companies A and B garrisoned Mayfield, Kentucky, and had several slight encounters with rebels at that place.

On the 21st of January, embarked on transport, and went to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Was assigned to the First Brigade, Third Division, Sixteenth Army Corps, and, on the 3rd of February, left Vicksburg, Mississippi, for Meridian, Mississippi. Was the first Regiment to cross the Big Black, the first to engage the enemy at Queen's Hill, and the First Infantry Regiment to enter Meridan, Mississippi. During this expedition the men were seventy hours with but one day's rations, with which they marched forty-seven miles and destroyed seven miles of railroad. Returned to Vicksburg, and was sent with the troops of General A. J. Smith, to participate in the Red River Campaign. Arrived at Simmsport on the evening of the 12th of March. Disembarked, to cook, etc.

On the morning of the 13th, moved out from Simmsport, about five miles, and took possession of two field works, which the rebels evacuated on the approach of the Regiment. Returned to the boats in the evening, and at 8 o'clock, the same night, started for Fort De Russey. Arrived at the fort, which it invested, about 4 P. M., on the 14th. A sanguinary struggle ensued; but, after a stubborn resistance, the enemy surrendered. The colors of the Fifty-eighth were the first planted on the works. The boats having come up, the troops were embarked and proceeded to Alexandria. After great and unnecessary delay at Alexandria, moved up the river (by land about twenty miles, the remainder by water) to Grand Ecore; there disembarked, and remained until the 7th of April, when the army of General Smith moved out on the Shreveport road, preceded two days by the Army of the Gulf. During the afternoon of the 8th, heavy firing was heard in the advance, and on arrival at Pleasant Hill, learned that a severe engagement had taken place, in which the troops of General Banks had been signally defeated, and were then falling back. A council of war having been held, it was decided to give the enemy battle, and early on the following day the lines were formed. About 4 P. M., the rebels, flushed with the victory of the previous day, and heavily re-enforced by fresh troops from Texas, threw themselves upon the line. A brigade of Maine troops, on the right, was speedily driven from the ground. The Fifty-eighth occupied the extreme left of the line, and, as the brigade of eastern troops gave way, charged on the enemy, and poured upon then an enfilading and near fire, which at once turned their flank. Following up this advantage, the Regiment captured over five hundred prisoners, and recaptured from the enemy a battery belonging to the First United States Artillery, which had been taken from General Banks' troops. In this engagement the loss was very heavy. The utmost gallantry was shown, both by officers and men; and to the Fifty-eighth is due the credit of having given the first check to the foe, and of taking five-sixths of the prisoners captured during the engagement. Many of the prisoners here taken were the same the Regiment guarded in Camp Butler. Though the enemy was most signally defeated, the command was ordered to retreat, and at 3 o'clock A. M., of the 10th, the Army fell back, leaving the dead and wounded on the field, to be cared for by an enemy who was then some sixteen miles distant, retreating as rapidly as possible. Reached Grand Ecore on the 12th, and went into camp.

Mustered out at Montgomery, Ala., April 1, 1866, and ordered to Springfield, Illinois, for final payment and discharge.