Ohio troops fought catastrophic battle 150 years ago in Civil War
AKRON, Ohio — Before the Civil War, most Akron men had never heard of Rocky Face Ridge or Dug Gap. They never expected to set foot in Georgia, let alone die there.
Hundreds of Summit County soldiers served in the 29th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was organized in August 1861 at Camp Giddings in Ashtabula County.
Akron’s population was a mere 3,500. Everyone knew someone who went off to war.
The Union regiment fought valiantly in the battles of Winchester, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Lookout Mountain and Gettysburg before joining the Atlanta campaign in 1864.
Not as well known as other battles, Dug Gap became infamous 150 years ago in Summit County.
Cmdr. George Thomas ordered Gen. Joseph Hooker to send Union troops to challenge Confederate positions on Rocky Face Ridge in northern Georgia. In turn, Hooker told Brig. Gen. John W. Geary to “seize the gap” on the rugged ridge.
Led by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederates had anticipated the battle for nearly six months. They were outnumbered 10 to 1, but they maintained the higher ground and had a stone wall to protect them.
“From our position, we commanded a fine view of Dug Gap, a narrow, artificial cut through the rocky summit, connecting with a road extending almost parallel with the ridge to the gap beyond, and by a zigzag course reaching the mountain’s base,” recalled J.H. “Hamp” SeCheverell, the drummer boy of Company B, in an 1883 journal history of the 29th Regiment. “The rebels had so completely fortified themselves that it was next to impossible for our assaulting force to get nearer than their base.”
Despite the treacherous terrain, Geary ordered the troops to advance May 8, 1864. Almost instantly, heavy gunfire began to cut down Union soldiers. The Confederates had rigged boulders to roll down the precipice, sweeping away troops like bowling balls clearing tenpins.
“Rocks, boulders, and even cart wheels came crashing down upon us,” SeCheverell wrote. “Yet we moved steadily in the deadly advance until ordered back by our officers, when we retired a few paces to re-form our line, the fallen trees only separating us from the enemy.”
The Confederate troops caught the Union soldiers in a crossfire. Some Union soldiers made it to the crest only to be knocked back. After two failed attacks, the 29th Regiment ran out of ammunition while fighting to hold its ground. Soldiers scavenged ammo from the bodies of fallen comrades, but that soon was gone, too. There were no reinforcements.
“Of the bravery of the men of the regiment, too much cannot be said,” wrote Maj. Myron T. Wright in a letter dated May 10, 1864, from the woods near Mill Creek, Ga. “They fought with a desperation and zeal known only to those battling for their country, obeying with alacrity all orders, advancing up the well nigh perpendicular heights of Rocky Face Ridge, closing steadily and firmly the frightful gaps made in their ranks by the havoc of the enemy’s fire.”
As dusk neared, the battle-weary regiment was ordered to fall back.
“They fought on until the approach of night, and the exhaustion of the last round of ammunition compelled the evacuation of their position, numbers losing their lives or limbs in the effort to carry off their slain brothers in arms,” Wright wrote.
“I very greatly regret that we were compelled to leave some of the dead on the field as the enemy had fair range of them, and in one instance two men were killed and one wounded, in endeavoring to take off one body.”
About 20 Confederates were killed or wounded while repelling the Union onslaught. The casualties were even grimmer on the other side. More than 350 Union soldiers were killed or wounded, and one-third of those soldiers were from the 29th Ohio.
When the casualty list was published in the Summit County Beacon, readers were horrified. More than 25 Akron men lost their lives and nearly 70 were seriously wounded in one of the region’s darkest days of the Civil War.
Editor Samuel A. Lane criticized the commanding officer’s decision to attack a heavily fortified cliff from a position of weakness.
“Nearly all of those who were either killed or wounded in that charge were hit upon the right side, the brigade having been very imprudently ordered by Gen. Geary to charge by left oblique, up a steep hill, as at Missionary Ridge, in the face of a deadly plunging fire,” Lane wrote.
Wounded Sgt. John A. Kummer penned a tribute to his fallen comrades, offering details about some of the men who lost their lives at Dug Gap.
Sgt. Christian F. Remley, “by his matchless bravery, made all who saw him smile in the very hottest of the fight,” Kummer wrote.
Mortally wounded, Remley told a fellow soldier: “Tell my mother I died like a man, doing my duty in defense of my country.”
First Sgt. Ellis T. Green “came among us almost an entire stranger, but his manly bearing and faithfulness in all things soon won for him the confidence and admiration of the entire company,” Kummer wrote.
Pvt. George F. Braginton “was a jovial tent mate, a cheerful companion on a long march, and a brave soldier on the battlefield; for his soldierly conduct and tidy appearance he has been complimented many times.”
Pvt. Curtis W. Lantz “was one of our youngest soldiers; though young in years a manly heart throbbed in his bosom.”
“I sincerely regret that the traitors whom he so despised should have possession of his mortal remains,” Kummer wrote. “Dearly he loved our flag and our cause, and as bitterly did he hate all who opposed the cause for which he has now died.”
Some Union soldiers were buried in mass graves in Georgia. Their remains were never identified. They rest today in unmarked graves.
The war continued for the 29th Regiment. After the disaster at Dug Gap, its soldiers went on to fight in the battles of Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, New Hope Church, Dallas, Pine Knob, Peachtree Creek and Averysville.
At the conclusion of the war, the regiment was discharged in July 1865.
Today, Dug Gap Battle Park is a historic site near Dalton, Ga., in Whitfield County. More than 1,000 feet of the Confederates’ original stone wall can be found at the top of the ridge. Modern tourists tread where Union soldiers could not reach 150 years ago.
“God hath willed it should be so,” Kummer wrote. “His ways are mysterious, yet they are just and we must be reconciled. The heroes dead are free from care, and today their immortal spirits are with God who gave them. Noble men they were on earth, and happy angels they are now in heaven.”
To learn more about the 29th OVI, read The Untried Life: The Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War (2012) by James T. Fritsch. Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.