AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article continues with the Civil War remembrance of my great-great-grandfather, Capt. Charles Kibler, a member of Union Gen. Joseph Hooker's staff, on the Battle of Ringgold Gap, or Taylor's Ridge. He describes how Union forces after Missionary Ridge and on the way to Atlanta try to dislodge a division of the able Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne.
By Frank "Mickey" Robbins III
(The 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) moved slowly up, meeting with little opposition until it was near the crest. There it encountered the enemy in great force, but notwithstanding, it pressed forward to the crest and halted. One report says that the bayonet was used to reach the crest. The view from the top of the ridge disclosed a large force of the enemy in front and others hurrying to oppose the 76th Ohio. Here the 4th Iowa, Lieut. Colonel George Burton in command, joined the 76th Ohio, and the two regiments thenceforth acted together. One account from a participant in the fight estimates the force of the enemy opposing the two regiments at a brigade. This force not only covered the front of the two regiments, but also both flanks, so that their flanks were bent back to oppose the enemy.
The two regiments met a hot front and enfilading fire. They held this line for about 10 minutes. Here 10 of the men were killed, and 40 officers and men were wounded. Here there was a terrific attack upon the Colors of the 76th Ohio. Here eight of the color-bearers were killed and wounded. When the flag fell out of the hands of the killed or wounded bearer, another soldier seized and raised it to the "battle and the breeze." The report of Col. Williamson, in charge of the two regiments, other than the 4th Iowa, sent up the ridge further down towards the gap, states that at one time Major Warner seized the flag from a fallen color-bearer, and raised it till he delivered it to another soldier.
Major Warner, in his report of the engagement, says that Captain Ira French was killed while planting the flag. Lieutenants James Blackburn and John Metzger were wounded while bearing the flag. William Montgomery, of Co. C, the color-bearer, lost an arm. Joseph Jennings, of Co. C, was killed while bearing the flag. Corporal Johnston Haughey, of Co. D, and Sergeant George Preston, of Co. C, were wounded while holding the flag. It will be seen how dear the flag was to the men of the Regiment, and how unflinching was their determination to keep it afloat and retain it. It was not captured.
Gen. Patrick Cleburne, the rebel commander, in his report of the operations at Ringgold, states that his troops "captured the colors of the 76th Ohio." This is not true of the flag, but it is true of a banner, or shield of the State of Ohio, carried with the flag. It fell into the hands of the enemy in this way: It was carried by Silas Priest, a color guard. Receiving a grievous wound, he fell forward towards the enemy. In the fall the banner was projected further forward into the narrow space of about 100 feet between the opposing lines. Several men rushed forward to recover it, but were wounded. Just then, the movement to the rear, which I shall describe, began, and the banner was left in hands of the enemy. No valor could have rescued it.
During the ten minutes of the stand at the crest of the ridge, the mortality and loss were enormous. Major Warner, in his report of the engagement, states that 18 officers and men were killed and that 44 were wounded. Evidently he did not include in the killed those who died of their wounds. The dead were buried on the crest of the hill, near the place where they fell.
Seeing that the line at the crest of the hill could not be held against the superior force of the enemy on the front and flanks, or that the consequence of holding it longer would be annihilation or capture, Major Warner gave the order to retire down the hill to a more defensible position. It was an order full of peril. Would the men be firm, or would they interpret the order as a rout and give way to confusion and flight? They did not so interpret it. In line of battle, fighting, and in as good order as the conformation of the ground permitted, the regiment backed down about 150 feet, and re-formed upon a line where the flanks were not endangered. They renewed the fight there under better auspices, and remained un-dislodged until the enemy retired. There is no record or tradition of more than a single act of poltroonery or skulking.
Pity it is that splendid valor and endurance were in vain! It was not the fault of the regiment or its commanding officer. They were ordered into this dangerous place, and being there, they stood as a rock against the assaults of the overpowering enemy. I know nothing comparable to this unflinching courage and endurance, except the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava. There was gallantry here equal to gallantry there, and in a like hopeless experiment. That of the Light Brigade is celebrated in noble verse and in history. Here, the splendid incident is un-honored and unsung. Col. Williamson, in his report of the engagement, says: "No better fighting was ever done, nor was fighting ever done under more hopeless circumstances."
Mickey Robbins is an investment adviser with Patten and Patten and an officer with the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park. This article first appeared in Volume 11, No. 2 of the Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal.