This is the third in a 10-part series that began on July 2 and takes a closer look at Richland County’s eight Medal of Honor winners. Coming Wednesday: David L. Cockley from Lexington was a hero during Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea.
This series is supported by Mansfield Cemetery Association.
The soldiers behind their breastworks were desperately firing their rifles at the mass of Confederate soldiers charging their position in the hazy, late afternoon sun.
Fire. Pray. Reload. Fire. Repeat.
Some Union troops were blessed to be armed with the then-new 16-shot Henry repeating rifles, making their fire even deadlier.
It was Nov. 30, 1864, in Franklin, Tenn., and the fifth child of Eliza and John Ricksecker was nearly 500 miles from home in a horrible battle that saw more than 60,000 soldiers clash southwest of Nashville.
The battle occurred in the “western theater” of the Civil War and has not received the same popular attention of its counterparts in the east involving the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.
However, the scale of the Confederate charge at Franklin rivaled that of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The action resulted in a disastrous defeat for the South and failed to stop the Union army from advancing to Nashville.
Though the overall lines of battle were long and deep at Franklin, the 104th Ohio’s fateful moment came near the “cotton gin salient,” according to a story by John Walker for the Warfare History Network.
It came at a moment in time when it appeared the Confederates just may blow a hole into the Federal lines.
But with two 12-pound Napoleon cannons from the 6th Ohio Light Battery flanked on one side by the 65th Indiana Infantry, and the 104th on the other, Walker described the Union cannons opening up with double cannister and massed musket fire.
“The storm of missiles was so intense that the attackers seemed to literally blow away like leaves in an Autumn gust,” Walker wrote.
“(Union Lt. A.P.) Baldwin later recalled that he could hear two sounds above the roar of the battle: the detonation of the charges and the crunching of bones in front of their muzzles.”
(Click above to listen to today’s Richland County Heroes podcast. You can also listen to two previous episodes from Sunday and Monday.)
The 104th absorbed the frenzied, initial Confederate assault and was badly injured. There were 60 men killed or wounded at Franklin.
It held on long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the rear before pulling back to safety.
Ricksecker, one of 10 children born into his Mansfield family, was also one of six members of the regiment to win the Medal of Honor that day.
According to the citation, Ricksecker captured the battle colors of the 16th Alabama Artillery during the decisive defeat of the Army of Tennessee led by Gen. John Bell Hood at the hands of Union Gen. John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio.
Hood had played a key role in the Confederate loss at Gettysburg in July 1863. His troops battled through Devil’s Den on July 2 and were stopped near the precipice of Little Round Top before falling back.
The 21-year-old Ricksecker was among 1,000 recruits in the 104th Ohio, organized at Camp Massillon in August 1862, in response to a need for additional Union forces in the second year of the four-year war.
The regiment moved to Covington, Ky., on Sept. 1, 1862, in preparation for the defense of Cincinnati against a threatened Confederate attack. The unit saw its first action in a skirmish at Fort Mitchell in northern Kentucky.
The 104th spent the rest of 1862 and most of 1863 in Kentucky, defending vital railroads and federal installations against Confederate raiders.
In August of 1863, Ricksecker and the 104th moved with Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s troops to eastern Tennessee, participating in the capture, occupation and defense of Knoxville in the fall and early winter.
After what was described as a “brutal winter” at Strawberry Plains, Tenn., in pursuit of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet’s retreating forces, it was then assigned to duty as part of the XXIII Corps for the Atlanta Campaign.
After the fall of Atlanta, the corps commanded by Schofield was sent north to assist Gen. George Thomas in the defense of Tennessee from Hood’s advancing army.
The 104th and Schofield’s army escaped Hood’s trap at Spring Hill and then repelled the furious Confederate frontal assault at Franklin, inflicting more than 6,000 casualties to Hood’s forces.
Hood assaulted with six infantry divisions, totaling almost 20,000 men, in a move sometimes called “Pickett’s Charge of the West.” There were 14 Confederate generals and 55 regimental commanders among those killed, wounded or captured.
The war continued for Ricksecker and his unit after Franklin.
The 104th Ohio regiment reached North Carolina for the concluding portion of the Carolinas Campaign, fighting a skirmish near Wilmington, N.C.
It was near Raleigh when word came of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Va.
Ricksecker received his Medal of Honor on Feb. 3, 1865.
A student at Oberlin College before the war, Ricksecker went on to marry Estella May Loomis and fathered six children.
After the war, according to internet reports, Ricksecker worked as a land and loan broker and agent in Rice County, Kansas. He settled on a farm and also opened a law office, being admitted to the bar of the district court of Rice County.
He died on Aug. 2, 1929, in Kansas City, Mo., and was buried in Forest Hill Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City.
(Coming Wednesday: 1st Lt. David Cockley from Lexington was not content to remain safely behind the lines during a battle that was part of “Sherman’s March to the Sea” in Georgia.)
Previously in this series: