From the Letters of Captain Henry Richards of the Ninety-Third Ohio we have this excellent account of the action at Brown's Ferry, now partially preserved by the American Battlefield Trust and the National Park Service.
October 29th, 1863.
Dear Father :
I keep so little account of time that I hardly know when I last wrote you, and the past three days have been so full of excitement and interest to our brigade, and, indeed, to the whole Army of the Cumberland, that I have hardly thought of anything else than that which pertains to our duty here. Our brigade is composed of nine regiments, viz.: Sixth Ohio, Sixth Indiana, Fifth, Sixth and Twenty-third Kentucky, First, Forty first. Ninety-third, and One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Ohio, commanded by Brigadier General W. B. Hazen. On Sunday last we were ordered to select 125 men from our regiment, to be divided into five squads, of twenty-four men each, and one commissioned officer. Enough men were selected from the brigade to make fifty-two such squads. They were divided into two detachments; one commanded by Colonel Wylie, of the Forty-first Ohio, the other by Major Birch, of the Ninety-third Ohio, and the whole by General Hazen. The balance of the regiments were commanded by Colonel Langdon, of the First Ohio. The commanders of regiments were ordered to select those that could be most depended upon, and who had never flinched in the discharge of their duty. I had the honor to command one of the squads from our regiment. The desire to know what was going on was intense, and speculation ran high. We had been living on less than half rations for some time, and the prospect of an increase of fare looked gloomy enough. The only road to haul over was impassable almost, and the forage for the animals so scarce that they were dying like rotten sheep. The rebels held the river and two wagon roads as well as the railroad. Our supplies had to be hauled a distance of sixty miles, over very bad roads. By the roads the rebels held, twenty-eight miles hauling would only be necessary. It was surmised that an effort was to be made to open the short route to Bridgeport, and to do this it was necessary to gain the opposite or southern bank of the river, some two miles below Lookout Mountain. On Monday we organized our squads, and on Tuesday evening Colonel Langdon was ordered to get his remnants of regiments in readiness to march, as we supposed, to Bridgeport. They got started about 10 o'clock P. M. Our squads had no notice yet. I went to bed fully expecting work before morning. At midnight we were aroused and ordered to march immediately. In half an hour we were off. Our course was towards the pontoon bridge, where we soon arrived, and found fifty-two pontoon boats ready, in which we embarked, with orders to preserve the strictest silence. We had to run the blockade for a distance perhaps of four miles, land and storm a hill occupied by the enemy, some two or three hundred feet high, and almost perpendicular. It was a beautiful night, the moon almost full, which was greatly against us, and as we glided silently down the stream, no sound, save the occasional dipping of an oar, we had plenty of time for reflection, and I presume of the 1300 men in these frail boats, that a single cannon shot would sink, the reflections were much the same; home and the dear ones came in for a good share. The boat I occupied was about the center of the fleet. We were to land at separate points, about one-fourth of a mile apart. When within half a mile of our place for landing, the front boats were fired upon as they were landing, which we expected would alarm the rebel camp and subject us to a heavy fire when we attempted to land, as we knew everything depended upon our getting to the top of the bluff before daylight, and as silence was now of no use, we urged our oarsmen to pull hard and make a speedy landing, which was done with a will, and as the boats touched the land every man sprang ashore, and made for the top of the bluff as fast as possible, and this was not very fast, I assure you, the ascent being very steep and rocky. However, we gained the summit just at daylight, and found the top of the ridge hardly wide enough for two men to stand upon, and the descent, on the opposite side, just as great. The rebels, having been alarmed, were making a desperate effort to climb to the summit, but we were about five minutes ahead, and they were compelled to beat a hasty retreat by a (ew shots from our skirmishers. The detachment which landed below was not quite so fortunate. They had three or four killed and several wounded. We took several prisoners, and they confessed it was a complete surprise, and "a damned Yankee trick!" The pontoons were immediately put to work ferrying over the remnants of our brigade, which had marched to the opposite bank of the river, and were ready to reinforce us. They also brought a supply of plank, and by 3 P. M., of the same day, we had a good pontoon bridge over the river, which made our position secure. It was a daring feat, well planned and successfully carried out. We all felt much better afterwards, too. We were immediately set to work building breast-works of logs, and by 10 A. M. felt ourselves secure against any force the rebs could bring against us. We left camp without a morsel in our haversacks, but our boys soon found plenty of corn to parch, and some fat hogs and cattle which were quickly appropriated to our use. The enemy attempted to shell us out for a time, but soon gave it up. Yesterday, about 3 P. M., a shot from Lookout Mountain, which is less than three miles from us, seemed to indicate that a force was approaching from another direction, and we began to prepare for friend or foe, and our suspense was soon relieved by the appearance of the advance guard of General Hooker's eastern troops coming down the valley. At first they came very cautiously, not knowing whether we were friends or foes, but when we waved the old flag they sent up a shout that fairly made the hills shake. They camped in the valley below us, and we and they were soon mingling as only soldiers and brothers can. Their camp fires at night presented a magnificent sight as we looked at them from our heights; but they were not allowed to rest very long. About midnight the rebs attacked their pickets, and they were called to arms. The Thirty-third Massachusetts and Seventy-third Ohio made a desperate charge on the rebel works and drove them out, losing about thirty killed and about a hundred wounded, the fight lasting about three hours, and was an entire success. The men had to climb a very steep hill and force them from their works at the point of the bayonet. These two regiments deserve the highest praise for their determined bravery.
October 31st.—We are still occupying the same position as when I wrote the above. We now hold the river and road to Bridgeport, except about two miles between us and Chattanooga, where Lookout Point comes to the river. We have fitted up two old steamboats. One ran the blockade night before last, and is expected to return to our pontoon from Bridgeport to-day with rations. The other will probably be down to-night. We are building a corduroy road across the point from our pontoon to the one opposite Chattanooga, some two or three miles, and will have a landing here which will make us independent of the blockade at Point Lookout.
Yesterday I had charge of a fatigue party at work on the road. It rained all day, but nothing short of a flood would stop work here. We have no tents with us, and it makes little difference where we are. The rain continued last night. After wringing out our blankets, we wrapped ourselves up in them and turned in. I felt quite unwell when I laid down, but I went through a steaming process under the wet blanket, and I am all right this morning. I have a prospect of going to Nashville on business for the regiment soon, and, if I do, will try to drop you a line from that point. I enclose a rough sketch of Chattanooga and surroundings. Love to all. From your affectionate son, Henry.