No Valor Could Have Rescued Them: The 76th Ohio Loses its Regimental Colors at Ringgold Gap
The regimental colors of the 76th Ohio were captured at Ringgold Gap, Georgia on November 27, 1863 by the 1st Arkansas Infantry, and languished in the collection of General William J. Hardee for nearly half a century. The flag was arranged to be returned to the survivors of the 76th Ohio during the annual United Confederate Veterans reunion held in Jacksonville, Florida on May 6, 1914. Governor James M. Cox of Ohio thanked the veterans in gray for their generosity in returning the banner, and assured them “it will be forever preserved as an emblem of their heroism in defending it, and of your bravery in winning it.”
However, survivors of the 1stArkansas contested that since they captured the flag, they should be the ones to return it. The flag went home with the Ohioans, but another ceremony was planned where the survivors of the 1st Arkansas would formally return the banner. As such, the flag was formally returned at a joint 76th Ohio/1st Arkansas reunion held September 20, 1916 in Newark, Ohio. The flag was placed in the hands of the Arkansans, who marched across the stage and handed over the flag, while the veterans grasped hands as the band played the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Judge Edward Kibler, son of Captain Charles H. Kibler of Co. D of the 76th Ohio who wrote the following account of the Battle of Ringgold in the late 1800s, commented on behalf of his deceased father thus, “The colors of a regiment are the poetry of the service. The men love their banner; they march under it; they fight under it. If the color bearer falls, another seizes it and holds it aloft, and so on until the battle ends. The firm determination is to keep it flying at whatever cost; and if in the stress of war it is lost, the sorrow is universal and profound.” The returned banner resides today in Columbus with the Ohio History Connection.
On November 26th, the command started in pursuit of the retreating enemy on the highway leading to Ringgold, Georgia, a station on the railroad about 15 miles south of Chattanooga. This station was not reached that day, and the division bivouacked, as we supposed, for the night about five miles from the station. In the night, however, the command was aroused from sleep and again marched south, arriving after daylight near the station.
It was found that a bridge over a considerable stream had been destroyed by the enemy. The circumstance necessitated a detour to the right on the right bank of the stream to reach another bridge to the west of the station. After crossing the bridge, the First Brigade (which was in the advance) proceeded on the highway to a point where it crossed the railroad track a short distance south of Ringgold Station. Other regiments of the brigade had proceeded the 76th Ohio and had been posted further south and nearer the gap in the mountain through which ran a rivulet and through which had been constructed the railroad track and the highway. The ridge on the east of the highway called Taylor’s Ridge and the railway track ran parallel, while the ridge to their west stretched in a course widening from the gap. Both were heavily wooded and were manned by Rebel troops. A battery was located in the gap.
As the 76th Ohio arrived at the crossing mentioned, Major Willard A. Warner in command was ordered to take his regiment up the part of Taylor’s Ridge nearest the crossing and turn the flank of the enemy who were delivering a deadly fire upon the regiments of the brigade which had been posted in the flat between the ridges. These regiments were helpless and were exposed to the fire of the enemy who were concealed in the woods, and to the artillery fire from the guns at the gap. The 76th Ohio was then small, with probably no more effective strength than 200 officers and men.
The order to advance up the ridge was a grave error, following the graver error of an attack in front upon the enemy who occupied the natural stronghold. It was evident that the enemy occupied in force the top and the greater part of the sides of that ridge. In fact, the ridges on each side of the gap and the gap itself were held by the division of General Patrick R. Cleburne, one of the best fighting divisions of the Rebel army. This fact ought to have been known by the general in command of that part of the Union army which was in pursuit on that highway. To send a small regiment up the ridge, no general advance being intended, was to invite disaster. It is true that after the advance of the 76th Ohio began, the 4th Iowa was ordered to follow and support the 76th, and sometime afterward two regiments of the Second Brigade of the division, advanced a part of the way up the ridge at a point further south and nearer the gap. By an unfortunate contretemps, they did not reach the crest of the ridge, thus only the 4th Iowa supported the 76th Ohio.
About 9 a.m., the regiment in line of battle commenced the ascent. The side of the ridge, often called a mountain, was rugged and steep and covered for a great part with small loose stones or shale, which made the ascent slow and exceedingly toilsome. But it 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. The view from the top of ridge disclosed a large force of the enemy in front and others hurrying to oppose the 76th Ohio. Here the 4th Iowa under Lieutenant Colonel George Burton joined the 76th and the two regiments thenceforth acted together. One account 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, but they held this line for about ten minutes.
Here Captain Ira D. French and Lieutenant John R. Miller of Co. B were killed, and Lieutenant John A. Lemert and Simeon B. Wall of Co. A were mortally wounded. Here ten of the men were killed and 40 officers and men wounded. Here there was a terrific attack upon the colors of the 76th Ohio where eight color bearers were killed and wounded. When the flag fell out of the hands of the killed or wounded bearer, another soldier seized it and raised it to the battle and the breeze. At one time Major Willard Warner seized the flag from the fallen color bearer and raised it till he delivered it to another soldier. Captain French was killed while planting the flag. Lieutenants James M. Blackburn and John J. Metzger were wounded while bearing the flag. William C. Montgomery of Co. C (the color bearer), lost an arm. Joseph J. Jennings of Co. C was killed while bearing the flag, and Corporal Johnston Haughey of Co. D and Sergeant George W. 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.
General Cleburne 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 national flag, but it is true of a banner or shield of the state of Ohio carried with the flag. It was a field of blue on which was inscribed a golden eagle and the number of the regiment. 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 toward 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 began and the banner was left in the hands of the enemy. No valor could have rescued it. Later, the dead were buried on the crest of the hill near the place where they fell. The grief of the survivors was nonetheless acute, that they were vain sacrifices upon the altar of their country.
Seeing that the line at the crest 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. This order was to retire slowly and fighting. 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 reformed upon a line where the flanks were not endangered. They renewed the fight there under better auspices, and remained dislodged until the enemy retired. There is no record of more than a single act of poltroonery or skulking. Pity it is that this splendid valor and endurance was in vain. It was not the fault of the regiment or its commanding officer. They were ordered into a dangerous place and being there, stood as a rock against the assaults of an overpowering enemy.
“Flag of the 76th Ohio Regiment,” Confederate Veteran, June 1914, pgs. 255-256
“Return of the Flag to the 76th Ohio Regiment,” Confederate Veteran, March 1917, pgs. 131-32
Kibler, Charles H. 76th Ohio at Ringgold or Taylor’s Ridge. Publisher: Charles H. Kibler, no date
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