Sherman’s Return to Ruff’s Mill in October, 1864

Ruff’s Mill, April 1980, James R. Lockhart, NRHP Photo

Many residents of Cobb County know about the Battle of Ruff’s Mill, fought in and around the mid-1800’s milling community just outside present-day Smyrna. What many do not know is that Sherman’s army returned to Ruff’s Mill in October, 1864, preparing for another fight with General Hood, who was now in command of the whole Confederate force. Positions were reversed this time, with Sherman’s armies occupying the Rebel earthworks erected by southerners over three months previous, and they were charged with protecting the railroad supply lines just as Hood himself had done in July.

After the fall of Atlanta, General Hood had circled around to the west, crossed the Chattahoochee river, and got in Sherman’s rear, seeking to destroy his crucial supply line. Without this direct supply line from Tennessee, Sherman could not maintain a force of 100,000 soldiers so far from his base. Hood attacked a number of locations along the railroad from October 2 through October 4, and succeeded in severing telegraph lines and disturbing railroad track. Sherman, in response to these attacks, sent a corps back to Cobb County to counter Hood’s threats.

General Cox sent this dispatch on October 5th:

No. 170. Smyrna Camp Ground, October 5,1864. Brigadier-general Cooper, Commanding Second Division: Sir—The third division is marching along the railroad to Marietta, and I am very anxious that the trains should reach there also at an early hour. If you have not crossed the railroad when this reaches you, you may put your whole command on the railroad, except one regiment for a rear guard for the train, to follow the wagon-road. A corps has been stationed at Ruffs Mills (between here and the Sandtown road) to cover this road, which makes it safe. I will either meet you at Marietta, or leave orders for you. Try to prevent all straggling, and do not hurry your men too much. (Signed) J. D. COX, B. G.

The corps referred to in this dispatch included many of the same soldiers who fought in and around Ruff’s Mills in July of 1864. October diaries and letters from these men record their remembrances while retracing their steps back through Cobb County. One of these soldiers, Captain Van Bennett, of the 27th Wisconsin, recorded several interesting diary entries as he left Atlanta:

October 3rd: Received orders today to store all baggage in Atlanta and be ready to move at an early hour tomorrow morning. The whole Army of the Tenn. is under orders & more than that for aught I know. It seems the enemy has crossed the Chattahoochee and is making demonstrations in the direction of Rome & Kingston. This cannot be permitted because it endangers our communications. The move is a bold one on the part of the rebels and they need more strategic skill & determined bravery than they have displayed during the past six months to insure their escaping our old chief Sherman. Wrote my Jeannie.

The next day finds Mr. Bennett returning to the unique defenses along the Chattahoochee Riverline, now known as the Shoupades:

October 4th: Sent my R.R. & G. [?] Equip. Return last night. was awakened very suddenly at 3 AM by the infernal rattle of those discordant drums. Ordered first to march at 5:30 then 5:15 and finally at 4:40 while eating the last “square” meal for nobody-knows-how-long, the order rings “fall-in fall-in” and I hastily drop my toast, cast a wistful look at my bit of broiled ham, and instinctively repeat “fall in Co. I” and in five minutes we are wallowing through mud ankle deep caused by the heavy rain which fell during the early part of the night. First hour was rather dark. Men tumbled down and rolled over each other in the ruts and mud but bore all with commendable cheerfulness and good humor. Marched twenty two miles and encamped in the work thrown up by the enemy for the defense of the Chattahoochee in July last. The 15th A.C. is behind the 14th A.C (Army of the Cumberland) has gone on to Marietta. No news of the enemy…. Many of the “week kneed” have hopes that this retrograde movement will give us a few months rest i.e. garrison duty.

The Riverline Fortifications along the Chattahoochee River.

Mr. Bennett next returns to the area around Ruff’s Mill, and gives an interesting description of the Rebel earthworks there:

October 5th: Started from camp at 6:30 AM. Marched seven or eight miles and took position on the Marietta and Sandtown pike in the old trenches left by the enemy months ago. They are much more formidable works than we ever build. Ditches are six feet wide, parapets are from eight to ten feet thick and surrounded by a heavy head log. An impenetrable abbattis formed of small trees runs along the front of the entire line. It is evident that even at that remote day when they affected to despise our skill, strength and courage the “rebs” had a mortal dread for Yankee bayonets when thrust by Yankee muscle. We lay here all day expecting orders and listening to the thousand rumors ever afloat in bivouac. 2d Brig. has gone to the front for picket. 4th Div. has taken position on our left.

October 6th: Have lain here in the rain all day sometimes listening to the rich jokes of witty soldiers who are doubly witty when very uncomfortable or very tired, and sometimes dozing an hour away only half protected from the annoying rain drops by my poncho. Occasionally a rumor of fighting reaches us but nothing reliable has been received today except that the enemy has been compelled to abandon the railroad as far as Ackworth. Allatoona was in our possession yet at five o’clock P.M. and the Gen.commanding signals that he can hold it against any odds a reasonable length of time. Men have been very uncomfortable today, still they have had some rare fun chasing rabbits, dogs and each other, alternating this with boring papers unmercifully they have managed to live till night without the blues.

Pages from the Diary of Van S. Bennett (

The soldiers waited for days, prepared for attack, but none came. Hood had attacked further away, north of Kennesaw Mountain, and marched up to Allatoona Pass. Another interesting anecdote during this Union encampment at Ruff’s Mill involves one of Sherman’s most famous alleged dispatches during the Atlanta Campaign: “Hold the Fort. I am coming.” Stayed tuned for this post, coming in another week.

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