This terrific letter of the fighting along “Johnston’s River Line” on the Chattahoochee River during the Atlanta Campaign was written by James “Allen” Rippey (1842-1864), the son of Joseph Rippey (1812-1847) and Elizabeth Jeffries (1819-1893) of Leesburg, Kosciusko county, Indiana. Allen enlisted in August 1862 to serve three years in Co. I, 74th Indiana Volunteer Infantry along with his brother John Jeffries Rippey (1844-1875). John survived the war but James died of wounds received on September 1, 1864, at Jonesboro, Georgia.
James also had two older brothers—Matthew (“Matt”) J. Rippey (1839-1863) and William (“Will”) Francis Rippey (1838-1917)—who served in the 10th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Co. I. They enlisted together in August 1861. Matt was killed at the Battle of Champion’s Hill on 16 May 1863 in Mississippi. Will survived the war and mustered out on 28 September 1864.
For further reading, portions of Allen’s letters and diary entries as well as pictures of the Rippey brothers may be found in a book published in 2002 entitled, “Letters from Elmira’s Trunk—An Indiana Family in the Civil War” edited by Carolyn S. Bridge and Marilyn Bridge Brown.
James wrote the letter to his cousin Louisa (“Lida”) Mariam Rippey (1844-1932), the daughter of David Rippey (1807-1874)—a former member of the Indiana State Legislature—and his wife, Rebekah Ann Catey (1804-1851) of Leesburg, Kosciusko county, Indiana. The Rippey farm was adjacent to the town of Leesburg where David Rippey served as County Commissioner.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent. The header image of soldiers swimming in the Chattahoochee River is from Harper’s Weekly Magazine.]
July 17th 1864
I received your interesting letter in due time time but neglected to answer it until I am almost ashamed to write, but nevertheless it is only retaliating on you for not answering my previous one sooner.
This has been a long and tedious campaign and writing material very scarce. We left the delightful village of Ringgold May the 10th and have been marching and fighting most every day since and you may judge we were getting somewhat worn out but we have not had any hard battles yet. We have driven the Rebels from eight lines of fortifications and across the Chattahoochee River. We have done most of our advancing on the enemy’s works after night by running a skirmish line as close as possible and let them dig pits to be in when a line of battle would move up quietly to them, gather up old logs and anything to protect us from bullets. When morning broke the Rebels found they had some new neighbors that wanted to join fences with them. Then both sides would have to lie low to save their lives while we continued to throw up dirt from behind our works. The Rebels would almost always wait until we got our batteries planted and works nearly completed before they opened their cannon on us. They they would put shell right into our works, sometimes bursting over us and the pieces falling among us, but scarcely ever hurting anyone.
Our regiment has been very fortunate this campaign so far when compared to some others. Our loss killed and wounded is 25. Only one man has been wounded in my company. On the 7th inst., a heavy force of Rebels lay in their works on this side of the river when we undertook to advance our skirmish line closer and the line of skirmishers made a grand charge. [They] drove the rebels before them for about a quarter of a mile and into their works, when a whole brigade leaped from their rifle pits and came down onto our skirmish line, yelling like demons and pouring volleys into the woods where our boys were. Our boys then fell back to the 10th Kentucky which had been thrown out to support them and when the rebels came up, they poured a deadly volley into them when they retreated, but a good many of our boys fell wounded. John was in the charge but was not hurt. There was only four of our company in it which ha been detailed. John got hit on the arm the day previous by a spent ball but did not hurt him much.
We have been lying still for three or four days but have marching orders now and expect to cross the river today or tonight. Our right and let are [already] across, I understand. They are fighting today on the right. The Rebels occupy the other side of the river inn front of us. Our boys and the Rebels go in swimming together. Some of them come over and some of our boys go across to them, trade papers, coffee for tobacco, and talk. Then swim to their respective places. They have made an agreement not to shoot a each other without first hollering over and notifying each other that they have orders to shoot.
I was on picket yesterday. The Rebels told us they had orders not to come down to the bank of the river to talk with us but they kept men watching for the approach of an officer to give the alarm and continued talking and trading. But enough of military matters. I am tired of this wicked war and love to think of home but want to see the end of this rebellion and the Union restored.
Well Louisa, I have been a soldier 2 years on the 11th of next August and when I look back home, I can realize a great change. Judging from what I can hear, I think the people do not enjoy themselves there as they might. There is so much division and enmity among them (which is nothing but foolishness). It seems to me I will be going to a strange neighborhood when I go home and there will not be that enjoyment that there used to be because the people will not associate. May this soon be done away with. But I am striving for a society where these things do not exist—the society of Heaven, where there is eternal happiness. They used to tell me one could not be a Christian in the army, but when a person determines that they will live a Christian life, they can in spite of the wickedness of this world. Louisa, there is no enjoyment like that of a true Christian. The Christian commands respect even of those who sometimes sneer and scoff at him and I know what it is to face death when an eternal happiness is before me—when my whole trust is in God. For him that feareth God need have no other fear. There are many Christians in the army. Many who were wicked men when they left home but are now praying men. Oh! who can think of the short time we have allotted to us on earth and realize that this life is to fit us either for a state of happiness or misery and continue in sowing corruption. I would enjoin upon everyone to be a Christian.
Give my respects to your family. I would like to get a letter from Aunt [Elizabeth]. When we go into camp again, I will have better opportunities for writing.
Your cousin, — J. A. R.