A Stones River Letter

In southern Butler County, Ohio lies a small family cemetery a top a steep hill overlooking the Miami River. Within the confines of the Richards-Gilbert Cemetery are three veterans of the Civil War, Colonel Alfred West Gilbert of the Thirty-Ninth Ohio, and his brothers-in-law Corporal George Richards of the 138th Ohio, and Captain Henry Richards of the Ninety-Third Ohio. Of the three Gilbert was the most famous, for having served as city engineer of Cincinnati, he helped to develop Findlay Market, as well as various street and waterworks projects, and Gilbert Avenue is named for him. But Gilbert is a post for the future; in this entry we will focus on Henry Richards and a letter he wrote to his father on January 4th and 5th from the battlefield of Stones River, Tennessee.

Henry Richards

Henry Richards was thirty-nine years old when he joined the ranks of the Ninety-Third as a Second Lieutenant of Company F. The regiment would muster into service on August 18th, 1862, in Dayton before heading to Kentucky. The Ninety-Third's first action was a skirmish at Lebanon, Tennessee in early December before seeing heavy fighting at Stones River at the end of the month.


The Ninety-Third Ohio was part of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Right Wing of the XIV Army Corps. The brigade was commanded by Colonel Philemon P. Baldwin, later killed in action at Chickamauga (and whose remains are most likely still on that field of battle). Richard W. Johnson commanded the division, which was part of Alexander McCook's Right Wing. Baldwin's brigade was posted on the extreme right flank of the Union line, albeit in a reserve position about three-quarters of a mile to the northwest of August Willich's brigade. However, the brigade and Ninety-Third did not hold this position for long, as indicated in Richards' letter:


Battlefield Stone River, January 4th, 1863.

Dear Father :

I take the first opportunity to let you know that I have passed through the dangers of the last six days without receiving a single scratch, except through my clothes.

We left Nashville on the 26th of December, in rear of the three divisions that were to advance on Murfreesboro, constituting the right wing. The advance had a good deal of skirmishing on that day. The next day we had the advance and the skirmishing was quite heavy, but we were not deployed as skirmishers, and consequently did not get a sight of the rebels until near night, when a few volleys set them running. It was a terrible day, raining almost incessantly, and we were without tents. The next day being Sunday, and the enemy having skedaddled, we rested.

The Ninety-Third's location is noted by a blue oval - American Battlefield Trust map

Monday morning found us on the march for this place, arriving in time to give the rebels one volley by way of introduction. We encamped in a very thick wood, and slept on the ground as usual, and were in line of battle at daylight. We had hardly formed when the ball opened immediately in our front. The regiments stationed there were surprised, it seems, and gave way in disorder, retreating through our lines in great confusion. They were old regiments, too, and we expected better things of them. Our regiment took the panic and followed suit. To have tried to make a stand just then would have been folly, after three or four regiments and Willich's brigade and the Iowa batteries had been forced to retreat.

On came the rebels shouting like devils, drunk with the excitement of victory, but their tune soon changed. Rosseau's Division came promptly to our assistance, and we soon checked their advance but it cost many lives. The fighting now became very severe all along the lines. The rebs made another and another desperate attempt to drive us, but of no avail. Our men were as obstinate as they. [1]

At night we had resisted every attempt to drive us back, and the position of affairs was rather in our favor, but the slaughter was terrible. Had not General Johnson allowed himself to be surprised the result would have been very different.

Our regiment, after Rosseau came up, was not in the engagement, although they were subject to a very heavy fire during their retreat. Colonel Anderson was slightly wounded, and Major Martin seriously. Two of our company were wounded in the fight; ten are missing, amongst them are Alexander Johnson and A. Pickens. [2]

When our regiment was rallied Captain Joyce, Captain Birch and myself became detached from the regiment and formed ourselves with about thirty men, ten or twelve of our own company and the balance parts of different companies. The Twenty-fourth Ohio was reforming—it also having been badly scattered, when the major of the Twenty-fourth rode up and asked, "What regiment do you belong to?" We answered, "the Ninety-third Ohio." Said he, "do you want to fight? If so, fight with us and show what you can do." We did so. and advanced in an open field to within range of the enemy, who opened a desperate fire upon us, which we returned with interest. We held our ground, although the enemy seemed to be far superior in numbers, for two hours, and under an incessant fire of shell and musketry that seemed to make the very earth shake. You can judge something of its fury when I tell you that our men fired seventy-three rounds during the engagement here. I never expected to get through alive, but am safe and sound, as is also Captains Joyce and Birch. [3]

William Ogg was shot dead while carrying Richard D. Shaw off the field badly wounded. W. P. Lane also killed, also G. B. Kumler, all of our company. The hardest fighting during the day was at this point. How any of us escaped appears a miracle. The colonel and major of the Twenty-fourth Ohio were both killed. They were brave, honest men, and were everywhere during the fight, encouraging and urging the men and their very presence was assurance of victory. I never learned their names. Since the fight of that day no one could visit the field, as it lay between the two armies, and a bone of contention until last night. A charge was made after dark, when the rebs were completely routed, and the news to day is that they have evacuated the place. There has been heavy fighting every day, always in our favor. [4]

Mrs. McNeil's boys are both well.

January 5th. We found another dead man of our company to day —Swain Carson.

The rebels have gone, and our army follows in pursuit. They have been badly whipped. What our next step will be I don't know. Rations are scarce here. We had two ears of corn to each man issued on Friday last, that being all that could be got. We have neither blankets nor tents. It has rained two nights since we have been here, and no fires are allowed. So you see soldiering is no play. I am very well, however; not even a cold. We lost all our blankets the first day's fight. No more paper, so must stop. As ever, your affectionate son, Henry.


Henry Richards would continue his service in the Ninety-Third until discharged on December 27th, 1864. He would pass away two weeks shy of his forty-second birthday on August 18th, 1865. His stone is only one of three upright stones in the lonely and rarely visited Richards-Gilbert Cemetery.

[1] Lovell Rousseau's First Division of George Thomas' Center Wing

[2] Colonel Charles Anderson, who would resigned his commision due to his wound. He was brother of Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame.

[3] Captain Robert joyce would later serve as major and then lieutenant colonel of the Ninety-Third. Captain William Birch would later serve as major and wound die of his wounds incurred at Orchard Knob.

[4] Colonel Frederick C. Jones and Major Henry Terry were the two leaders from the Twenty-Fourth Ohio that were killed in the fight.

SOURCES

American Civil War Research Database

Find a Grave - Richards-Gilbert Cemetery

Letters of Captain Henry Richards of the Ninety-Third Ohio Infantry

139 views0 comments