July 3rd, 1864: The 54th Ohio Regiment at Ruff’s Mill

156 years ago today, July 3rd, 1864, Sherman’s army fought through the woods in our area of Cobb County, intent on destroying Johnston’s army and capturing Atlanta, the manufacturing base of the Confederacy. Today’s newsletter contains Captain Edward B. Moore’s diary entries detailing Company I of the 54th Ohio Infantry’s role in the Battle of Ruff’s Mill. This regiment was part of the 15th Army Corp under General McPherson, and paved the way for the direct assault by the 16th Corps the following day–the Fourth of July. This diary transcript was located, digitized, and transcribed as part of the National Park Service grant funding research into the Battle of Ruff’s Mill. The excerpt here begins very early on July 2nd, when the 54th Ohio left Kennesaw Mountain headed to Ruff’s Mill on a flanking movement designed to force the Confederates to abandon their impenetrable stronghold. The grist mill and saw mill referred to below were collectively known as Ruff’s Mills. The grist mill is still standing today in the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District.

Saturday July 2nd – We were routed up about 2 o’clock, and started about daylight and marching southward towards the right of our lines, about ten miles. Before we started, the Doctor gave me an order to ride in the Ambulance, but I preferred remaining with  my company as long as I could.

[Notations on the edges of the page. Right edge: “Rec’d. a letter from home and answered it.” Left edge: “Positions about 6 miles from R. (river) and 4 miles from R.R. (railroad)”]

I marched about four miles, when I had to drop back and get into the Ambulance.

We got into position about 2 o’clock, and went to work and built a good line of works before night. We expected an attack from the enemy, as they were moving heavy bodies of troops in our front, but they did not make the attempt. I understand that our lines now extend to the Chattahoochie R. which will effectually prevent their flanking us on our right. Weather so very warm that many of our men gave out along the road.

[Note at top of page: “July 2nd – This movement will no doubt be the means of bringing them off the mountain”]

Sunday July 3rd – We lay behind our works until about noon, when we were ordered to advance and ascertain what was in our front. We marched out about half a mile through the woods, then formed in line of battle: no one dreaming of what we were going to do. The woods extended about two hundred yards still to our front. Then lay two corn fields extending still farther to the front, fully a quarter of a mile; then a wooded ravine, about five hundred yards across; and the far side being considerably the highest; and on top of which the enemy had their works, and from which point they have a fair view of us while crossing the corn fields. In the ravine in our front was quite a stream on which is a Saw Mill and Grist Mill. The stream I understand is called Nickajack Creek. Our lines had been formed but a few moments when we got the command “Forward March”. We advanced on “quick time” until we emerged from the woods; before which however they dropped a number of shells among us, fortunately doing us no harm; but the moment we left the woods, we received the command “Double Quick—March”, and the enemy opened on us with a battery of six guns, (ten pound Howitzers, I think) just as fast as they could handle them. At the same time a Battery of ours was shelling them vigorously, over us. Oh! If you could but witness one such scene: it is grand beyond description. To see a line of men advancing thus, right in the jaws of death, as it were, and as it really is to a great many, yet few looking for or expecting it. The enemy shells plowing the earth in front, and in rear of us, then exploding; after which you hear the peculiar singing of the fragments as they fly on their missions of death; then the screeching of our own shells, as they pass but a few feet above our heads, seeking the enemy, which they did most effectually, if we can judge from the looks of their works. After crossing the corn fields, and under cover of the narrow strip of woods which skirts the creek (though not protected only from view) and halted about one hour and fought them across the ravine; our Artillery silencing their guns. It was impracticable to cross the creek and ascend the high rocky bluff on the opposite side, in line of battle. After the expiration of about an hour, they having ceased to reply to our fire, and being satisfied that they had fallen back, we marched to the left, to a road, crossed the creek near the saw mill, and wound our way up the hill and occupied their works. We remained here until dark, when we were relieved by a part of the 16th Corps and returned to the camp which we left this morning.

[Note at top of page: “State number of men killed and wounded 1 man killed, 1 officer and 12 men wounded.”]

Monday July 4th – When we returned to camp last night, there was not a thread of my clothing but what was wet with perspiration; but the soldier has no other alternative but to lay in them and let them dry on him. This morning I walked back about a mile, to where our wagons are, and had a good wash, and changed my clothing from the skin out. About noon, we received marching orders: started about 1 o’clock marching out to the front again. We got into position with the 16th Corps, our Div. being all there is here of our Corps. Toward evening the enemy amused themselves by dropping a few shells among us, but fortunately doing us no harm farther than disturbing our rest.

NRHP Photo, April 1980, James R. Lockhart

Detail of map from Library of Congress, RG109, scanned by Philip Ivester

A week after these diary entries were recorded by Captain Moore, an Ohio newspaper published the names of the killed and wounded in the Division’s regiments:

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Wednesday, July 13, 1864

The 54th Ohio actually had 3 men who died from the fighting on the third:

Private Frederick Beckholdt, Company G: died August 8 from severe knee wound received July 3rd, 1864 in battle of Nickajack Creek. Age 42.

Sergeant John B. Jacobs, Company G: killed in action July 3rd, 1864 in battle of Nickajack Creek. Buried in Marietta National Cemetery, F-5065. Originally buried “8 miles below Marietta 100 yards in rear of William Moss house”. Age 34.

Sergeant John L. Starr, Company K: died July 4th of severe breast wound received July 3rd, 1864 in battle of Nickajack Creek. Buried in Marietta National Cemeter, F-5075. Originally buried “near farm of William L. Barnes, 8 miles below Marietta”. Age 21.

The 16th Army Corps relieved the 15th Army Corps on July 4th, and General Fuller’s Brigade carried the first line of works about 6:40 PM, July 4th. You can read more about the Battle of Ruff’s Mill by clicking here.

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