Fourth of July at Ruff’s Mill: Reminiscence of a Brigadier General

The fourth of July is upon us again! As we celebrate our Nation’s origins, and the dusk settles in, fireflies come out, everyone is in a celebratory mood, and the sound of booming fireworks begin all around us, it is not difficult to imagine what it was like in Cobb County this day in 1864. Three days of Civil War battles around Ruff’s Mill culminated in a Federal charge against a strong Confederate position along Concord Road near today’s intersections with Angla Drive and Highview Drive. About 140 Union soldiers were killed or wounded in this last charge, and 50 Rebel soldiers were captured.

One of the most prominent Union soldiers injured during this charge was Colonel Edward F. Noyes. Noyes was a self-described citizen-soldier, not a career military officer, but a citizen who responded to the call in 1861. And a great orator. After his Ruff’s Mill injury, he was brevetted Brigadier General, returned to Ohio, and entered politics–ultimately becoming Governor of Ohio in 1872. Many thought he stood a great chance to become President of the United States before his political career was tarnished by accusations of vote-fixing for his friend and fellow soldier Rutherford B. Hayes in Florida. (Before Russian election interference, before hanging chads, there was the election of 1876). Hayes was eventually decided to be the winner, and Noyes was rewarded with a post as Minister to France from 1877 to 1881.



But back to the Battle of Ruff’s Mill and the Fourth of July.



One of the most interesting descriptions we have of this little-known battle and its aftermath is from Noyes himself. The following speech was given by Brigadier General Noyes to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the US, March 6, 1889, and transcribed in detail by a stenographer who happened to be in the audience. Let’s let the orator Noyes tell us what happened in his own words. He takes the stage after President Hayes has just finished a speech from the old war days about when Hayes was mistakenly reported as being mortally wounded:

Command and Companions:

I was thinking while Ex-President Hayes was making his speech, of another occasion when he was killed, after the war was entirely over. (Laughter.) [long story about President Hayes and an early political defeat deleted]

(Turning to the Commander.) What was it you told me to speak about? Oh, yes. (Laughter.) Now, I am not going to allow the Ex-President of United States to monopolize the idea of personal experience. I occupied so subordinate a position in the army, had so little rank and so small a command that I always feel out of place when I attempt to say anything about my military career. If I should ever be immortal it will be just simply because I was a good, honest, fighting soldier, without any rank—that’s all. [another long story deleted]

Following the example of my distinguished friend, I will relate a personal reminiscence in connection with the 4th of July, when I held my little celebration down in front of Atlanta. I remember it perfectly well—have had some occasion to. Early in the day, in the forenoon, under the command of Gen. McPherson—you were there, Gen. Hickenlooper [Andrew Hickenlooper, Chief of Artillery] —I got my command in line of battle to make the charge which has been alluded to, in the very excellent paper of my friend Chamberlin. “We have been selected to make this charge, because they thought we could do it successfully, if anybody could.” I said, as I went down the line, “and this is the 4th of July you know, and a bad day to be licked, and we don’t want to be. Just fix your bayonets and load your guns, and don’t fire a shot.” After we had lain there for an hour or two, or two or three hours, I don’t remember how long, Gen. McPherson came around again with some staff officer, the latter came to me and said, that Gen. McPherson had made up his mind that the works could not be successfully carried by assault, and I might withdraw my command. Now, having had my courage all screwed up, and having demanded my photograph, as my friend Chamberlin says, I had to withdraw my command, and it was a terrible letting down, and I felt as if it was a sort of a slur, you know. (Laughter.)

But a little later, Gen. Sherman came around, and he looked all along the line, and said, “Here’s the place to strike them, and we are going to do it right away. Just tell the commander of your troops to get them in line again.” And then I was told to get my command up, you know. Little by little, I got my command into position and all fixed, and at six o’clock and forty minutes—I remember perfectly well the hour—the bugle sounded the charge, and my boys, in accordance with what I had instructed them, followed me. But I did not get very far—not more than a third of the way. Their line ran in this direction, and my own line in that direction, so that my right of course struck the enemy first, and they put a minie ball into my ankle joint. I sat down on the stump of a tree, and the boys went on and made a hole through the enemy’s line, and it was sufficient—it was a hole big enough to put their whole army in full retreat before daylight the next morning.

I sat on the stump and looked around; there was a lieutenant there by the name of Lossee, from Portsmouth, and I saw him laying the flat of his sword across the back of a fellow as hard as he could. I said, ” Lossee, what are you doing?” And he said, “I am teaching this fellow how to make a charge.” (Laughter.) The fellow had sneaked off and got behind a tree, and Lossee was not in good humor about it. I said, “When you get through, come back here.” He came back, and I said, “Lossee, we have got the works.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What are they doing?” He said, “They are breaking to the right now.” I said, “Go right away to the command on my right” (and that was Chamberlin’s command), “go right over there and ask them to close up and till the works that have just been vacated, and when you have done that, come back.” He did so, and then came back, and said to me, “Are you hurt?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You ought to get out of here.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Can you get on my back?” I said, Yes.” And I put my arms around his neck and tried to raise myself, but I could not stand it, and I said, “I guess I can’t go it, Lossee. You will have to go up and get two or three of the boys and bring them back here.” So he set me down again on the stump, and went up and got two or three of the boys and came back with them. They shouldered me and took me back, and as we were going along, we met a lot of officers, Dodge, and Fuller, and Sherman—I don’t remember who they all were. They said, “Who is that?” “That is Colonel Noyes.” “Is he hurt?” “Yes,” I said. “Are you badly hurt?” “Well,” I said, “I will tell you what I think. I was ordered to take those works, and I have taken them, and I shouldn’t wonder if they had taken one of mine, but it’s 4th of July, and I don’t care a copper.” They have quoted me as saying, I didn’t care a damn (laughter), but I didn’t say that, I said it was 4th of July, and I didn’t care a copper. They took me back to a field hospital, and I sent for old Dr. Monahan [Surgeon Arthur B. Monahan], of the 63d Ohio, who was the best surgeon in our part of the army, and said, “I’ve got a little job for you. Cut that leg off.” he said, “I don’t believe it’s as bad as that.” But I said, “Don’t bother to take the boot off, but cut it off.” He said, “I can’t do it until the re-action takes place.” I said, “What re-action?” He said, “Let me feel your pulse.” He felt my pulse and said, “Why, your pulse is all right.” “I guess so,” I said, “Now go ahead and do it,” and the next thing I knew my leg was off”, and I was all right. Now, up to that moment, I pledge you my word, Companions, I had never had an unpleasant thought—not a regret, in connection with any disaster. But the next morning, the old army was ordered to go on to the front, and to commence that wonderful march to the sea, and as the officers passed by the tent where I was lying, one after another, they filed out and came and shook my hand and bid me good-bye, and “God save him.” They were going to the front for glory, and I was going to the rear disabled, with no further part in the war, and no share in the final victory which awaited us. Then I cried like a child—yes, like a child!

I was taken over a corduroy road to Marietta, five miles, which five miles I would never ride again to save this poor life of mine, for no man can tell what I suffered. After four weeks—my wife not being permitted to come to the front to take care of me—I was started in a freight car for Cincinnati and came as far as Louisville in that car. There I was loaded on a boat and shipped to Cincinnati, C.O.D. (Laughter.) I reached Cincinnati and my wife was waiting for me at old Nathaniel Wright’s residence on Elm street, but not knowing that I was coming by boat, or the time I was to arrive, there was no one to meet me. I got to the wharf and found nothing there but an express wagon waiting to take a load of onions up town, and I said, “just pile me into that wagon,” which they did, and took me up to Mr. Wright’s. Dr. Wm. Mussey came to see me the next day, he having been sent for. He said, “How are you feeling?” I said, “First rate.” “Have you a good appetite?” “Eat anything in the world,” I said. He said, “Haven’t you been sick or weak?” I said, “Not a minute; I am all right.” “Well,” said he,” I don’t want to shock you, but I must say to you that that leg has got to come off again.” “Well,” said I, “that’s sort of cheerful information. I guess we will have some further advice on that subject. Get two or three doctors to come in and see if you all agree.” They came in and they all did agree that in order for any permanent recovery it would have to come off again, and four or five days thereafter Dr. Mussey took off an inch and three-quarters of my leg with bone forceps, just a clip at a time, and I liked it very much. Now, you will pardon all this, I know. I am simply giving personal reminiscences—that is all we can do on occasions like this. I could talk politics, etc., but I don’t feel like doing it. I am glad that I am alive; that I have been spared by God Almighty to see this day, to see the magnificent prosperity and happiness of my country, and to be enabled to feel that we, the boys of ’61, saved this government from destruction and our country from being disunited, and have made it one country— one in sympathy and in purpose, as it must be one in destiny, to the end of time. May God bless our Country.

(Prolonged applause and cheers.)

If you are interested in other articles about the Battle of Ruff’s Mill, check them out by clicking here.

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