Today on the 4th of July we celebrate our nation’s independence from Britain. It is also the anniversary of the final assault of the Battle of Ruff’s Mill, fought along Concord Road in 1864, the culmination of several skirmishes over a few days as Sherman’s soldiers tried to catch Johnston’s forces retreating from Kennesaw Mountain to the Chattahoochee River. What several thousand Ohio boys soon found out was that the Confederates had prepared massive defensive earthworks between Smyrna Camp Meeting Ground and Ruff’s Grist Mill where Concord Road crosses Nickajack Creek. At 6:40 PM, two Ohio regiments, the 27th and the 39th, lead the brute force assault running over the first line of works, not firing a shot until they climbed over the works. This attack prompted Johnston to prematurely abandon the entire 6-mile line, retreating to his next prepared line at the Chattahoochee River. But the cost was severe–about 45 union soldiers lost their lives, and a couple hundred were wounded and taken out of service.
One of the soldiers who died during this attack was Silas Gibboney, from Kirkersville, Ohio. The only son of the town’s tailor Samuel Gibboney and his wife Clarissa Malvina Austin, Silas had enlisted 3 years earlier when he was only 18 years old. He served along with his best friend Henry Wharton in Company C of the 27th Ohio.
In May of 1864, Silas’s regiment joined Sherman’s Campaign into Georgia, and fought in all of the battles until he reached Ruff’s Mill in July.
This July 4th was a special day for Silas — it was his 21st birthday, but Silas did not survive the day.
The following is a letter written from Silas’s Captain, James T. Simpson, to his father. The original letter is still held by Gibboney’s family. The transcription below is from “The History of Licking County, Ohio”.
Camp 27th Ohio Infantry
Near Chattahoochie River
Georgia, July 6, 1864
Mr. S. G. Gibboney:
Sir.–I have a painful duty to perform in making known to you the death of your son, Silas A. Gibboney, of company C, Twenty-seventh Ohio infantry, who was killed while the regiment was making a charge on the rebel works near Ruff’s Mills, Georgia, July 4, 1864.
In the death of your son we have lost a youth of promise and worth. As a soldier there was none superior, always ready for any and every duty. A murmor was never known to pass his lips. He was a true soldier; as a man he was honest, upright and generous. He was an honest, patriotic, and a true lover of his country. He was in the front rank of his company when the fatal ball struck him, passing through his body. He was by my side when he fell, but my duty being with my company, I could not stop. I think he never spoke after he was struck; he was killed instantly.
I with the company mourn his loss as irreparable. He was so young, so brave, always at his post in times of danger. He died as a true soldier wishes to die, facing the enemy.
You have the heartfelt sympathy of myself and the company.
He was buried near Ruff’s Mills, Georgia. I had a box made for him, and sent part of the company to attend his burial. His grave is marked with a head-board, Silas A. Gibboney, Company C, Twenty-seventh Ohio infantry; killed in battle July 4, 1864.
If you think of removing your son to his home I will lend you all the assistance in my power. I will close hoping to hear from you soon. Yours with much respect,
James T. Simpson.
Captain, Company C, 27th Ohio infantry, First brigade, Fourth division.
Silas’s Great-great-great nephew, Rob Emerson, has a letter written home by Silas’s best friend and fellow soldier in Company C, Henry Wharton:
Mr. Gibboney, Dear Sir,
I was favored with your kind reply of the 26th and I am happy to inform you that it found your friend and well wisher enjoying good health and in tolerable spirits. Mr. Gibboney, it pleased me very much to receive such a good missive from a friend that I never saw but the one time. It would be difficult for me to express my feelings when I saw it was from you, knowing he was your only son and by his conversations, I learned that he was a great favorite of yours and it was your delight to be accompanied with him when you were fishing or hunting.
We used to pass the lonesome evenings talking about pleasant times we used to have when we was going to school. Sometimes to change the subject we got to talking about fishing and hunting exploits that we have been on. We had our plans laid and calculations made what we would do when this war was over if we both survived. But since we know it is so, he was one of the unlucky ones that fell on the noted day, the day we used to celebrate. Oh, how I miss him when I go to eat or lye down in the evening. My dreams have been about him every two or three nights and I feel very sad and melancholy after the sun hides itself in the far west when the sound of the artillery die away and the skirmishers ceases firing and the camp fires are extinguished. Then it is the lonesome time. Then the crickets strike up their notes to warn us of the coming fall, the saddest of the year when the leaves shall wilt and be scattered to the wind and the fields change their robes of green for white.
You wanted to know about the soldiers that was killed on the 4th being taken from their graves. Silas was not taken up, but the rest was. I was with Silas from the time he was killed until he was buried. I had the best box that could be made. I had him washed and his wound dressed. I done the best I could. I never slept a bit that night. I was the only one to sit up with him. I passed the night as well as I could and did not think hard of it. Fred Neff said he would help me dig his grave, but he was ordered to another place so I set myself and got tools and went to digging. Alfred Conine helped me some. I finished the burial, I think it was twenty minutes until eleven. The others was buried on the field or otherwise in a very thick woods where it would be most impossible to find them. They had no boxes, nothing but a blanket and hole dug in the ground and them tossed in before they was hardly cold. The next day, they was taken up and buried where I had Silas. He was buried on a little nole in a very dry spot. His little valuables are all safe. On the 22nd we had a very hard fight. Co. C lost over half their men. When we went in to the engagement we had orders to lay our knapsacks off. The rest of the boys obeyed the order, but I thought of my friends valuables. I thought we might be drove from the field then I would lose them. So I carried them all through the fight it was very tiresome. Some of the boys was sun stroke. I could touch five men that was killed and wounded right by my side I thought at one time I would throw it, but then the second thought struck me and I thought if I was killed or wounded the knapsack and contents would be found with me. That spyglass I sold for him a few days before he was killed, I got ten dollars for it. I had it out looking at Kennesaw Mt. and a sergeant of the 121st O.V.I. saw it. When the non vets get home you will get some of the money. We are expecting a battle at the time. I am bothered very much in writing, the Rebels throw over some shells….
The family has kept all of Silas’s possessions referred to in this letter up until the present day, including his boot pistol, his diary, and his letters written home from the war front.
Silas Gibboney’s remains were removed from the field, and he was reburied in Marietta National Cemetery along with several thousand other casualties of the Atlanta Campaign.
On this Fourth of July it’s important to celebrate the union we declared in 1776. But let’s also celebrate the union that was preserved by the sacrifices of ordinary people back in 1864 here in Cobb County Georgia.