Cavalry troopers like John Riley of the 7th Ohio often traveled “forty miles a day on beans and hay”.
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Assoc., Georgetown, Ohio
“The 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry”
The 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was recruited from the ten counties in southwestern Ohio along the Ohio River. One company, 100 men, where recruited from Hamilton, Clermont, Brown, Adams, Scioto, and the next five counties up river. The men were told if they volunteered for the 7th, called the “River Regiment,” that they would serve near their homes protecting the Ohio border from attack. The 7th was mustered in on November 8th 1862 at several camps including Camp Ripley, now the sight of the Ripley Elementary. The regiment was united and by December they were in action in southern Kentucky and Tennessee, hundreds of miles from home.
Captain Richard C. Rankin, Rev. John Rankin’s oldest son, was the commander of Co. E, the Brown County company. At Somerset, Kentucky a large force of Confederate cavalry was just about to sweep the Union troops from the field when the 7th Ohio led by Co.E charged into their flank and routed the rebels capturing many prisoners. One of the prisoners said, “We had the battle won until the Ohio boys showed up! They’re not afraid of anything!”
When Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan made his “Great Ohio Raid” in July of 1863 it was the 7th Ohio that led the Union pursuit through southwestern Ohio. These men knew the main roads and the shortcuts. Col. August Kautz, of Brown County, was the commander of the brigade that contained the 7th. He was a West Point graduate and a fine cavalry officer. His brigade would move quickly but he could never catch up. His troopers would see friends and loved ones along the road and pull them up behind them to talk for a mile or two and then let then down to walk home, never losing a minute’s time. Six hours was as close as the 7th could get to the raiders because the Confederates here taking all of the fresh horses and leaving only their worn out mounts behind.
Finally, at dawn of July 19th, Kautz’s Brigade of 400 troopers caught up with the raiders. The raiders had spent the night at the ford at Buffington Island and planned to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia when the heavy fog lifted. The brigade had traveled a little inland and had come upon the rebels from behind. As the fog rose the men of the brigade could hear gunfire from the west. A fierce battle had begun between the main forces along the river and the Kautz Brigade was across to southerners only path of retreat. Kautz knew that there were two thousand enemy troopers down that road and no support for him for it least two hours. Kautz ordered an attack and the brigade led by the 7th moved forward. The Union forces carried the day and because the escape route was blocked over 1,700 raiders were captured.
The 7th was soon assigned to Tennessee and spent to next year of the war almost constantly in skirmishes and battles. Most of these battles were small in size but were almost always bloody. At the Battle of Rogersville the 7th lost 112 men. Often the regiment had to travel great distances while in pursuit of the enemy. On one mission the 7th traveled 272 miles in six days and nights.
During the summer and fall of 1864 the “River Regiment” fought in the battles around Atlanta and when Confederate Gen. Hood abandoned the city the 7th was part of Gen. Thomas's pursuit. They would fight in major Union victories at Franklin and Nashville.
The Regiment was at a full gallop up the Andersonville Road on the way to the “prison pens” in April of 1865 to free the thousands of Union soldiers held there. Several of their own troopers were languishing inside those walls. When they reached the prison they found out that the war was over. The prisoners were released and passage for many of them was booked on the steamboat “Sultana”.
A few miles north of Memphis the “Sultana” exploded in midstream with 2,200 men aboard. The Mississippi was flooding and the weakened prisoners had little chance of making it to the bank. Eighteen hundred men died in the river including Archibald Dixon of Ripley and Francis Aubry of Fayetteville, both members of the 7th OVC.
Two hundred replacements were added to the original twelve hundred troopers in the 7th through the war bringing the total of those serving to fourteen hundred. Five hundred and sixty men died in battle or from disease.
For more information see www.ohiocivilwar.com