July the 4th is a special day for our country, and also for the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District. This is when the Battle of Ruff’s Mill was fought along Concord Road during Johnston’s retreat towards Atlanta. After Sherman’s failed direct assault on Kennesaw Mountain, he reverted to his standard flanking maneuvers, directing a massive army down the Sandtown road under cover of night toward what his maps indicated was Ruff’s Mills on the Nickajack Creek. This flanking operation had the desired effect, forcing Johnston to evacuate the stronghold of Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman anticipated that Johnston would be retreating all the way across the Chattahoochee River–no general would ever think of making a stand with his back so close to a major river. Sherman pressed his commanders to advance forward as quickly as they could to catch Confederate armies in the chaos of a retreat. What Sherman encountered next surprised him: Johnston had previously prepared two major defensive lines north of the Chattahoochee River. The first of these works extended from Smyrna Campground westward along Concord Road toward Ruff’s Mill, curving south to follow Nickajack Creek and its natural defenses. The Battle of Ruff’s Mill, also referred to as the Battle of Nickajack Creek, took place along the western section of this line.
The following telegraph was sent by Sherman on July 3rd, before he knew what was waiting for him. In it he asks all of his commanders to “press with vehemence at any cost of life and material.”
When the Federal armies arrived at Ruff’s Mill, their skirmishers were the first to notice a well-entrenched Confederate infantry, artillery, and some cavalry to boot. The following account of what occurred at the Battle of Ruff’s Mill is taken from “The History of Fuller’s Ohio Brigade”, on page 157:
On July 4th, the army moved forward, the Fourth Division marching toward Ruff’s Mills on Nick-o-Jack Creek. The right of our army swung around so as to threaten Marietta, and the enemy contracted his lines and covered his position every where, with entrenchments.
Charge of Fuller’s Ohio Brigade
One of the most successful charges made during the war of the rebellion was that made by Fuller’s Ohio Brigade at Ruff’s Mills on Nick-o-Jack Creek, Georgia, six miles below Marietta, led by Colonel Noyes of the Thirty-ninth Ohio. On the morning of the above named day, the glorious fourth of July, the Fourth Division marched past the Twentieth and Twenty-third Corps and about ten o’clock, took the advance in line of battle and drove the enemy several miles through a wooded country, over fields and uneven ground forcing him out of his rifle pits, and back into his main works at Nick-o-Jack Creek. These defenses,—called the Smyrna line,—had been prepared by black labor, and were the most formidable yet met with by the Union Army. General Sherman selected the Twenty-seventh and Thirty-ninth Ohio to be placed in the advance and to make the charge. The Forty-third and Sixty-third were next in line, while the Eighteenth Missouri and Sixty-fourth Illinois with other troops on the right and left flank were ordered to make a feint.
The charge was first ordered to take place at noon, but the work to be accomplished was of such a serious nature that Generals Sherman, McPherson, Dodge, Morgan L. Smith with other officers rode up to the position to examine it, and much doubt was expressed as to the ability of a small force to capture so strong a position. General Logan asked General Fuller to point out where the enemy lay. General Fuller replied,” You can see them by looking down that narrow road, through the timber, across that open field and behind those heavy works.” “Well,” said General Logan “Why don’t you take them?” “We are just getting ready,” answered the Brigade commander. General Morgan A. Smith remarked that more men would be lost by sunstroke than by bullet. Colonel Noyes (afterward Governor Noyes) was most earnest in his appeal for the opportunity to make the attempt, saying in a loud voice, “We can and will take the enemy’s works. All we need is the order.”
The position of the men at this time was most fatiguing. They had marched so far all the morning hours, and since before noon had been lying upon the ground in battle line without food, expecting every moment to execute the forward movement. They were greatly fatigued and began to be impatient and were quite out of humor, embittered and desperate at the delay. There can hardly be a more depressing condition in practical warfare than to lie for hours exposed to a galling fire that cannot be effectually returned.
Finally the order came to make the charge at six o’clock at night. A moment before that time each Captain placed himself in front of his company and said, “Men, we are to take those works in our front. We must take them. Reserve your fire until you get to the enemy and don’t waste ammunition. Remember that you have never retreated. Let everyone of you yell!”
Promptly at the hour, Bugler H. C. Parmalee of Fuller’s Brigade sounded the charge, the two regiments sprang from the ground and rushed forward. The whole field was covered with Union blue in an instant. Men never went faster nor cheered louder in the face of such a storm of bullets. Troops on the right, left and in the rear cheered with them. It seemed but a few minutes before the charging column was out of the woods, across the open fields, and were swarming over the enemy’s’ earthworks, which were captured and held, together with a regiment of North Carolina and Georgia troops, and with a great shout of triumph, our men raised the old flag over their conquest. The rest of the enemy fled, several were bayoneted in the fight at the works. Among those captured were two officers who said that they thought that the whole Yankee Army was coming at them. Both the enemy and our own troops heard the bugle sound at the same time, and the enemy being prepared, poured upon the charging column, heavy volleys of musketry fire. Their bullets struck the ground and cut the trees everywhere. Our loss in killed and wounded in this engagement was over one hundred and forty men in the two regiments. The Thirty-ninth Ohio lost its brave Colonel. E. F. Noyes, whose wound caused the amputation of his leg.
General Sprague said that the charge was the wedge that cleaned out the rebel works for a distance of six miles. Generals Fuller, McPherson, and Dodge announced that it was one of the most brilliant, bold and desperate charges they had ever witnessed. Johnston’s rebel army retreated to the Chattahootchee River and crossed over that night.
To the survivors who fought this fight to the finish, it was a momentous affair. They lost some of their best and bravest men who had served with them three years. One of the most sorrowful results of this battle was the death of three comrades, mess mates, members of Company G, of the Twenty-seventh Ohio, who fell, killed apparently by one bullet, passing though their necks. The men were Sergeant William B. Atwell, and Corporals Andrew J. McFarran and William Jaynes. Private H. C. Evans was wounded in this charge. This Smyrna line of earthworks was the only line carried by a charge during the Atlanta Campaign.