Battle of Stones River, Civil War

Thomas' Legion
American Civil War HOMEPAGE
American Civil War
Causes of the Civil War : What Caused the Civil War
Organization of Union and Confederate Armies: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery
Civil War Navy: Union Navy and Confederate Navy
American Civil War: The Soldier's Life
Civil War Turning Points
American Civil War: Casualties, Battles and Battlefields
Civil War Casualties, Fatalities & Statistics
Civil War Generals
American Civil War Desertion and Deserters: Union and Confederate
Civil War Prisoner of War: Union and Confederate Prison History
Civil War Reconstruction Era and Aftermath
American Civil War Genealogy and Research
Civil War
American Civil War Pictures - Photographs
African Americans and American Civil War History
American Civil War Store
American Civil War Polls
North Carolina Civil War History
North Carolina American Civil War Statistics, Battles, History
North Carolina Civil War History and Battles
North Carolina Civil War Regiments and Battles
North Carolina Coast: American Civil War
Western North Carolina and the American Civil War
Western North Carolina: Civil War Troops, Regiments, Units
North Carolina: American Civil War Photos
Cherokee Chief William Holland Thomas
Cherokee Indian Heritage, History, Culture, Customs, Ceremonies, and Religion
Cherokee Indians: American Civil War
History of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation
Cherokee War Rituals, Culture, Festivals, Government, and Beliefs
Researching your Cherokee Heritage
Civil War Diary, Memoirs, Letters, and Newspapers

Stones River Civil War Battle

Battle of Stones River, Civil War (Confederate Army Report)


Battle of Stones River Tennessee Map
Battle of Stones River Tennessee Map.gif
Stones River Civil War Battlefield Map

        On the 20th of November, 1862, the Confederate army of Tennessee was constituted under Gen. Braxton Bragg, consisting of the army corps of Lieut.-Gen. E. Kirby Smith, Lieut. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Lieut. Gen. W. J. Hardee.

        At the conclusion of the campaign in Kentucky, Major General Buell, the Federal commander, was relieved, and Maj. Gen. W. S. Rosecrans assigned to the command of the army of the Cumberland.

        The Federal army occupied Nashville, and after months of preparation General Rosecrans began his advance on the 26th of December. The Confederate center was at Murfreesboro under General Polk, the right wing at Readyville under Maj. Gen. John P. McCown, the left at Triune and Eagleville under General Hardee. The right and left were withdrawn, and the forces concentrated at Murfreesboro ready to receive the attack made by Rosecrans. Rosecrans' plan of movement was for Major General McCook with three divisions to advance by Triune, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to advance on his right with two divisions, Major General Crittenden with three divisions to move directly on Murfreesboro. At 3 o'clock p.m. of the 30th, General Palmer, in advance, sent back a signal message that he "was in sight of Murfreesboro, and that the enemy were running." An order was promptly sent forward to "occupy Murfreesboro." (Stones River Campaign, Tennessee and Battle of Stones River)

        General Cheatham's division was yet composed of the brigades commanded by Gens. Daniel S. Donelson, Alex. P. Stewart, George P. Maney and Preston Smith. This division, with that of Maj. Gen. Jones M. Withers, constituted Polk's corps.

        The Sixteenth Tennessee, Col. John H. Savage; the Thirty-eighth, Col. John C. Carter; the Eighth, Col. W. L. Moore; the Fifty-first, Col. John Chester; the Eighty-fourth, Col. S.S. Stanton, and Carnes' battery, constituted Donelson's brigade.

        The Fourth and Fifth Tennessee consolidated, Col. O. F. Strahl; the Twenty-fourth, Col. H. L.W. Bratton; the Nineteenth, Col. F. M. Walker; the Thirty-first and Thirty-third consolidated, Col. E. E. Tansil, and Stanford's Mississippi battery, constituted Stewart's brigade.

        The First and Twenty-seventh Tennessee consolidated, Col. H. R. Feild; the Fourth (Confederate), Col. J. A. McMurray; the Sixth and Ninth consolidated, Col. C. S. Hurt, Capt. Frank Maney's sharpshooters, and Turner's Mississippi battery, constituted Maney's brigade.

        The One Hundred and Fifty-fourth (senior) Tennessee regiment, Lieut.-Col. M. Magevney, Jr.; the Thirteenth, Col. A. J. Vaughan; the Twelfth, Maj. J. N. Wyatt; the Forty-seventh, Capt. W. M. Watkins; the Twenty-ninth, Maj. J. B. Johnson: the Ninth Texas, Col. W. H. Young; Allin's Tennessee sharpshooters, Lieut. J. R. J. Creighton, and the Tennessee battery of Capt. W. L. Scott, constituted Smith's brigade, commanded during the battle by Col. A. J. Vaughan, Lieut.-Col. W. E. Morgan commanding the Thirteenth regiment.

        Hardee's corps included the divisions of Maj.-Gens. John C. Breckinridge, P. R. Cleburne and J.P. McCown. The Eleventh Tennessee, Col. George W. Gordon, was a part of the command of Brig.-Gen. James E. Rains, McCown's division. Brig.-Gen. Gideon J. Pillow was assigned to the command of Col. J. B. Palmer's Second brigade of Breckinridge's division, on the afternoon of the 2d of January; it was composed of the Eighteenth Tennessee, Col. J. B. Palmer; the Twenty-sixth, Col. John M. Lillard; the Forty-fifth, Col. A. Searcy; the Twenty-eighth, Col. P. D. Cunningham, and Moses' battery. (The Thirty-second Tennessee, Col. Ed. C. Cook, of this brigade, was on detached service.)

        The Twentieth Tennessee regiment, Col. T. B. Smith, and the Tennessee battery of Capt. E. E. Wright were in Gen. William Preston's brigade of Breckinridge's division. The Second Tennessee, Col. W. D. Robinson; Thirty-fifth, Col. B. J. Hill; Fifth (Confederate), Col. J. A. Smith, constituted a part of the brigade under Gen. Lucius E. Polk, Cleburne's division. The brigade of Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson, Cleburne's division, included the Thirty-seventh Tennessee, Col. Moses White; Forty-fourth, Col. John S. Fulton; Twenty-fifth, Col. John M. Hughs; Seventeenth, Col. A. S. Marks; Twenty-third, Lieut. Col. R. H. Keeble.

        The First Tennessee cavalry, Col. James E. Carter, and the Tennessee battalions of Maj. DeWitt C. Douglass and Maj. D. W. Holman were part of Wheeler's brigade of the cavalry division commanded by Gen. Joseph Wheeler. The Second cavalry, Col. H. M. Ashby; Fourth, Col. Baxter Smith; Murray's Tennessee cavalry, Maj. W. S. Bledsoe; Wharton's escort company, Capt. Paul F. Anderson, and the battery of Capt. B. F. White, Jr., were the Tennessee commands in the cavalry brigade of Gen. John A. Wharton. (Battle of Stones River: Union Army Order of Battle and Battle of Stones River: Confederate Army Order of Battle)

        Rosecrans consumed four days in advancing a distance of twenty miles over macadamized roads, his movements being delayed and embarrassed by the watchfulness of the cavalry commanded by Generals Wheeler and Wharton. On the 26th, Wheeler engaged Rosecrans during the entire day, falling back only three miles, and on the 28th and 29th he killed and wounded large numbers, his own command sustaining slight loss. At midnight of the 29th, General Wheeler, reinforced by Col. James E. Carter, First Tennessee cavalry, was ordered to the rear of the enemy. He reported that at daylight he met near Jefferson a brigade train which he took and destroyed, capturing 50 prisoners; at Lavergne attacked and captured 700 prisoners and destroyed immense trains amounting to many hundred thousand dollars in value; at Rock Springs captured and destroyed another large train; at Nolensville captured large trains, stores and arms, and 300 prisoners; after which he proceeded to the left of the Confederate army, thus making a compass of the enemy's rear.

        At the dawn of day, December 31st, Major-General McCown (Tennessee) opened the battle of Murfreesboro with his division, composed of Ector's, McNair's and Rains' brigades. A volley was delivered after advancing for several hundred yards under fire, and with fixed bayonets the position and batteries of the enemy were taken, and the officer in command, Brigadier-General Willich, was captured. McCown, continuing his advance, supported by Cleburne's division, reached a point near the Wilkinson road, where, finding the enemy strongly posted, the division was pushed forward and after a fierce struggle again routed the forces opposing. It was at this point that Brig.-Gen. James E. Rains (Tennessee) fell, shot through the heart. General McCown reported that the fall of this gallant officer and accomplished gentleman threw his brigade into confusion. The division, after driving the enemy two miles, was ordered to retire a short distance' for reformation; about the same time the gallant Col. G. W. Gordon, Eleventh Tennessee, afterward brigadier-general, fell dangerously wounded. (Battle of Stones River Maps)

        Cleburne, advancing with his division, composed of L. E. Polk's, Bushrod Johnson's, St. John Liddell's and S. A.M. Wood's brigades, soon found himself in the front line, skirmishing over broken ground filled with limestone boulders and cedar bushes to such an extent that his advance was attended with much difficulty, and Polk's and Johnson's brigades had to move more than once by the flank. At the distance of three-quarters of a mile in advance of his bivouac of the previous night, he encountered the enemy's line of battle, established behind a fence and natural breastworks of limestone. The fight was short and bloody, lasting about twenty-five minutes, when the enemy gave way and fell back on his second line, which was again assaulted. This soon yielded and both lines, pressed into one, left the field, Liddell capturing two rifled cannon, which were immediately turned upon the enemy.

        The Seventeenth Tennessee, Col. A. S. Marks, captured a battery of four guns. When the regiment came in sight of it, Colonel Marks said, "Boys, do you see that battery? It is ours, is it not?" The regiment rushed upon it, drove back its support, and took the guns, but the gallant colonel fell, maimed for life. Cleburne mentioned him as "one of the best officers in the division." Others wounded in Johnson's brigade were Maj. H. C. Ewing, Forty-seventh, mortally; Col. Moses White and Lieut. Col. R. D. Frayser, Thirty-seventh, and Col. J. M. Hughs, Twenty-fifth. (Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro) Tennessee)

        Bushrod Johnson's brigade and Liddell's were already the chief sufferers. The latter, now in advance, was reinforced by Johnson in double-quick time, and taking position behind a fence and ledge of rocks, a battery of four Parrott guns was silenced and captured, and after a conflict of twenty minutes the enemy's force was routed. But, observing the supporting troops on the fight falling back without apparent cause, Johnson's brigade retired in confusion without orders. The loss of life in Johnson's front was enormous, many lying side by side in the position assumed to await the approach of the Confederates, while large numbers fell as they turned to retreat. It was in this combat that Capt. M. R. Allen, Twenty-third, was mortally wounded, and Capt. F. M. Orr, Seventeenth, Lieuts. Simpson Isom, Twenty-fifth, and J. J. Hill, Forty-fourth, were killed, and Maj. J. T. McReynolds, the last field officer on duty, of the Thirty-seventh, was mortally wounded.

        Polk's brigade on the right advanced with Johnson's and shared its fortunes. Their gallant commanders could always be trusted for promptness, courage and intelligence on the battlefield. Col. B. J. Hill, Thirty-fifth, on Polk's right, was first engaged when advancing across the Franklin dirt road. The brigade, aided by Calvert's battery, drove the enemy in confusion, pursuing to a point where he had reformed, then again assailing and forcing back the Federals in disorder. A third successful assault was made with the brigades of Wood and Johnson. Yet again going forward with Liddell's and Johnson's brigades, and Preston Smith's, Col. A. J. Vaughan commanding, the enemy was found posted on the railroad near the Nashville turnpike, with several batteries of artillery. In a few moments the new Federal line was broken and forced back to cedar brakes in its rear, the Confederates pursuing. Here Adjt. F. T. Smith, Fifth Confederate, was badly wounded at the moment he was cheering his men with the colors of the regiment in his hand.

        This point, thought Brigadier-General Polk, was the key to the Federal position. If Confederate reinforcements had arrived when this last successful assault was made at 2 p.m., the enemy's line of communication would have been cut, and a position in the rear of Rosecrans secured. Capt. C. P. Moore and Lieut. J. L. Gifford, of the Second, were killed. General Polk names with honor Col. W. D. Robinson and Lieut.-Col. W. J. Hale, Second; Maj. R. J. Person, Fifth Confederate; and recommended promotion for Col. J. A. Smith and Col. B. J. Hill, which was in time accorded to both.

        Gen. Bushrod Johnson made honorable mention of Col. A. S. Marks and Lieut. Col. W. W. Floyd, Seventeenth; Lieut. Col. R. H. Keeble, Twenty-third; Col. John S. Fulton and Lieut.-Col. John L. McEwen, Jr., Forty-fourth; Capt. Putnam Darden, of Darden's battery; Capts. R.. B. Snowden, assistant adjutant-general, twice wounded; John Overton, volunteer aide, wounded; Lieut. George H. Smith, wounded; and Capt. Jo. H. Vanleer, volunteer aide, who, after having his horse disabled, fought in the ranks with a rifle. (Battle of Stones River: Union Report)

        General Cleburne called particular attention to the gallant conduct of Sergt. William N. Cameron, color-bearer of the Twenty-fifth regiment, who in the last combat advanced in front of his regiment so far that when it fell back he was unable to follow and was captured. He tore the flag from the staff, concealed it upon his person, and made his escape at Bowling Green, Ky., bringing back with him the colors of his regiment.

        Colonel Palmer's brigade occupied the left center in Breckinridge's line of battle. On Wednesday morning, Palmer, learning that there were Federal troops in his front, ordered his skirmishers under Capt. G. H. Love to advance, assigning Capt. David H. C. Spence of his staff to direct their operations. Uniting with a detachment of Pegram's cavalry, Captain Spence captured 18 wagons and 170 prisoners without sustaining loss. At noon of the same day, this brigade, with Preston's, under orders from General Breckinridge, moved across Stone's fiver to the left wing of the army, then hotly engaged, and assailed at once the enemy's position just west of the Cowan house, which was carried after a stout resistance. The brigade charged across an open field for a distance of 400 yards, under a heavy musketry and artillery fire. It was during this advance that the Twentieth Tennessee, Preston's brigade, passing to the right of the Cowan house, engaged the enemy with vigor, captured 25 prisoners and cleared the woods in front. The regiment sustained serious losses, and Col. Thomas B. Smith, referred to by General Preston as "a brave and skillful officer," was severely wounded. With Polk's corps, the battle of Murfreesboro opened at sunset on the 30th of December. Robertson's Florida battery was placed in the Triune road, supported by the One Hundred and Fifty-fourth Tennessee and two Alabama regiments of Loomis' brigade, Withers' division. Soon after going into position the battery was assailed by three Federal regiments, which were repulsed, the battery and its supports sustaining serious losses. Darkness suspended hostilities.

        At daylight on the 31st the attack made by McCown on the extreme left was taken up by Loomis' brigade, acting under orders of General Cheatham; it having been agreed on account of the character of the country and the formation of the corps that the brigades of Manigault and Loomis should receive orders from General Cheatham, and the brigades of Donelson and Stewart should be under the control of General Withers.

        The enemy was 300 yards in front of Loomis as he advanced to the attack, which was vigorously made; but on reaching the cedar woods, he found superior numbers and was forced to retire to his original position. The supporting brigade (Preston Smith's), under Col. A. J. Vaughan, repeated the attack over the same ground, driving the enemy from his battery, so fatal to Loomis, and capturing two of his guns; but, receiving an enfilading fire of artillery and musketry from his right, Vaughn was content to hold what he had so bravely won. He was in good order and was again sent forward by Cheatham. In the attack by Colonel Loomis he was badly wounded, the command of his brigade devolving upon Col. J. G. Coltart; and in the desperate charge made by Colonel Vaughan, Lieut. Col. W. E. Morgan and Maj. Peter H. Cole (Thirteenth) were mortally wounded.

        Manigault, advancing simultaneously with Loomis, was compelled to fall back by the latter's retirement, and then reforming, gallantly advanced the second time, but was forced back to his original position. Then forming on the right of Maney's brigade, the two advanced, led by Cheatham, toward the Wilkinson road, near the Harding place, and were opened upon by two of the enemy's batteries, one on Manigault's right on the west side of the road, the other on the east side. Turner's battery, placed in position by General Maney near a brick kiln, opened on the battery on the east and soon silenced it. Uniting with Colonel Vaughn, commanding Smith's brigade, the Wilkinson road was crossed, the enemy's battery on the right was silenced, its support driven away and the guns abandoned. (Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro] Civil War (Confederate))

        At this point the advancing line found the brigade of Gen. Alex. P. Stewart in a hot fight, the result of which was the capture of three guns of the First Missouri battery. In the assault, Col. H. L. W. Bratton, the gallant commander of the Twenty-fourth, was killed.

        Vaughan was now ordered by General Cheatham to advance with Cleburne's division, and the enemy was driven from two of his guns and fell back to the Nashville road, where he was heavily reinforced. Vaughan's brigade, flushed with victory and rushing forward with great spirit, outstripped the force on the right, when suddenly it was subjected to a heavy enfilading fire. He retired in order, a short distance, to the Wilkinson road, where, unmolested by the enemy, he bivouacked for the night, before doing so having driven the enemy from another battery, which he was unable to bring off. Vaughan led his brigade with skill and judgment and with characteristic gallantry, was ably supported by his regimental officers, and his veteran soldiers were always reliable. He reported that "when Color-Bearer Quinn, a gallant soldier of the One Hundred and Fifty-fourth Tennessee, was killed, Maj. J. W. Dawson snatched the broken staff and carried it with the colors at the head of the regiment during the fight." Likewise Colonel Young, of the Ninth Texas, seized the flag of his regiment and carried it through one of the most desperate charges made by the brigade. The brigade lost 705 officers and men out of a total present of 1,813. Among the killed were Lieuts. J. S. Fielder and T. H. Patterson, Twelfth Tennessee; Capt. J. H. Sinclair, Forty-seventh; Lieut.-Col. C. S. Hall, One Hundred and Fifty-fourth; Lieuts. A.M. Burch and J. R. J. Creighton, Allin's sharpshooters. The gallant Capt. John R. Duncan, Twelfth, was mortally wounded.

        After the capture of the guns of the First Missouri battery, General Stewart drove the enemy steadily before him. While moving through the cedar forest the brigade of Gen. John K. Jackson came up, and the Fifth Georgia on his right, uniting with the Fourth and Fifth Tennessee, advanced beyond the general line and delivered a heavy and well-sustained fire upon the retreating ranks of the enemy, doing great execution. Referring to the assault made on the Federal line, Maj. Gen. Withers says that at the critical moment, "Brig. Gen. A. P. Stewart was ordered forward to the support. In splendid order and with a cheer this fine brigade moved forward under its gallant and accomplished commander, attacked and drove back the enemy, and completed the rout of his first line and the capture of his batteries." At this point the reserve artillery, consisting of three or four batteries of the enemy, opened on Stewart and exposed his brigade to a terrific fire of shell and canister, and without artillery himself, he could make no further advance.

        In Stewart's last assault, Lieut. Col. W. B. Ross, formerly of the Second (Walker's) Tennessee, acting aide to General Stewart, was mortally wounded; Lieut. J.P. Ferguson, Fourth and Fifth; Capt. S. J. Frazier and Lieut. S. G. Abernathy, Nineteenth; Capt. Jesse Irwin and Lieuts. J. B. Arnold and J. S. Hardison, Twenty-fourth; Lieut. W. P. Hutcheson, Thirty-first and Thirty-third, and Lieut. A. A. Hardin, Stanford's battery, were killed; and Lieut. Col. J. A. Wilson and Adjt. H. W. Mott, Twenty-fourth; Maj. R. A. Jarnigan, Nineteenth, and Capt. T. H. Francis, Fourth, were wounded. Lieut. Col. Andrew J. Keller, of the Fourth, was very sick, but in spite of his disability was at his post. Stewart lost one-fourth of his brigade; the Nineteenth, under gallant Frank Walker, suffered more heavily than any other regiment. Colonel Walker reported the brave conduct of Orderly-Sergt. Joseph Thompson, Company I, who, after the brigade had halted, advanced far into the field and captured two prisoners.

        Donelson's brigade, advanced as a support to Chalmers of Withers' division, was under fire of shot and shell until nightfall, and sustained losses in killed and wounded in every part of the field of battle early in the action. When General Chalmers was wounded, causing his brigade to fall back in confusion, Donelson moved up, under heavy fire, to its place in the front line. Reaching the Cowan house, the brigade separated, the Sixteenth and three companies of the Fifty-first being forced to the right because of the picket fencing. This detachment, under the gallant Col. John H. Savage, advanced upon the enemy until checked by three batteries with heavy infantry supports, and then unable to advance and determined not to retire, the veteran Savage deployed his command as skirmishers, and held his ground against great odds for three hours, and until reinforced by Adams' brigade. Adams made a spirited attack but did not move the enemy; subsequently, this position was assaulted by Preston's brigade with the same result; the two bivouacked for the night close upon the Federal position. If the attack had been a combined one, the result might have been disastrous to the enemy. In this combat the Sixteenth lost Lieut. Col. L. N. Savage, mortally wounded, Capt. D. C. Spurlock, killed, and Major Womack was badly wounded. Colonel Savage carried 400 men into action and had 208 killed, wounded and missing, of which 36 were killed on the line. After the fall of Captain Spurlock, no officer of his company surviving him, Private Hackett was placed in command, who exhibited courage and good conduct. After Color-bearer Sergeant Marberry was wounded, the flag was taken by Private Womack. He, too, was wounded, the colors were shot into fragments, and the flagstaff severed by a rifle ball.

        The Eighth, Thirty-eighth, and seven companies of the Fifty-first advanced to the left of the Cowan house, charged and broke the enemy, and inflicted great losses. In this charge, Col. W. L. Moore of the Eighth, after his horse was shot and fell upon him, disengaged himself, went forward on foot with his regiment, and died with the shout of victory in his ears. A noble gentleman, a soldier and a patriot, his loss was a severe blow to the service. The gallant Lieut. Col. J. H. Anderson succeeded to the command of the regiment. General Donelson reported the capture of 11 pieces of artillery and 1,000 prisoners, and the successful holding of the position the brigade had won. (Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro])

        The conduct of Donelson's brigade won high commendation from Cheatham, the division commander. The fruit of the bravery of the men was great, but the loss was severe--out of 1,400 men, 691 killed, wounded and missing, the 19 missing being prisoners of war. The Eighth Tennessee showed a long list of killed and wounded; in Company D, Capt. M. C. Shook was killed, and out of 12 officers and 62 men engaged, but corporal and 20 men escaped unhurt. Capt. William Sadler, and Lieuts. Thomas O. Blacknall and N. Martin Kerby were killed. Capt. B. H. Holland, of the Thirty-eighth, was killed with the colors of the regiment in his hands. Color-Sergt. J. M. Rice, being shot down, clung to the flag, and crawling on his knees, carried it a short distance, when he was killed by a second bullet. Adjt. R. L. Caruthers, of the Thirty-eighth, was severely wounded; Capt. T. C. Campbell, of the Fifty-first, was killed, and Capts. J. A. Russell and James F. Franklin and Lieuts. G. C. Howard and R. A. Burford were severely wounded.

        Maney's brigade was in support of Manigault, but soon advanced under Cheatham's orders to the front line, at "the brick kiln," where they encountered fierce opposition. Colonel Feild, of the First Tennessee, said this was the only place where "we actually engaged the enemy." The latter was driven from his guns, pursued across the Wilkinson road, driven from another battery of four guns in reserve and the guns captured, and the brigade then bivouacked on the line from which the enemy was driven, and held it until our forces retired to Shelbyville and Tullahoma, three days after the conflict.

        The First Tennessee lost Lieut. R. P. James, killed (an officer trusted by Colonel Feild with the performance of duties demanding tact and courage), and 80 men killed and wounded; the Fourth lost Capt. D. P. Skelton, mortally wounded, and Capt. C. Brown, Lieut. John Shane and 40 men wounded. Conspicuous in a regiment famous for its courage was Sergeant Oakley, color-bearer, who found no place too perilous for the display of the regimental flag. The Sixth and Ninth lost Lieuts. W. D. Irby, A. J. Bucey and F. J. Gilliam, killed, and Capt. E. B. McClanahan, wounded, and 40 men killed and wounded. The aggregate loss of the brigade was 196.

        The officers and men of Carnes' battery, Capt. W. W. Carnes; Smith's battery, Lieut. W. B. Turner; Stanford's battery, Capt. E. J. Stanford, and Scott's battery, Capt. W. L. Scott, were conspicuous for steadiness, skill and courage in action.

        When General Wheeler had returned from his successful raid of the 30th he found the battle on, and his cavalry joined in the attack and drove the enemy for two miles, engaging him until dark. Then Wharton's cavalry was ordered to the rear of the enemy, but, he says, so vigorous was the attack of our left (made by McCown's division) that he had to proceed first at a trot and then at a gallop two and a half miles before he could execute his orders. Reaching a point near the Wilkinson pike, with the enemy in his front, Capt. B. F. White (Tennessee) was ordered to open with his battery. The First Confederate regiment, Col. John T. Cox, charged and captured the Seventy-fifth Illinois infantry. Four companies of the Eighth Texas, under Capt. S. P. Christian, charged and captured a four-gun battery complete. (Battle of Stones River Tennessee (Union))

        Wharton sent his 1,500 prisoners to the rear, and moved across the country a short distance near the Nashville road, until he found a large body of Federal cavalry facing him. White's battery again opened the ball, and the Second Tennessee, Col. H. M. Ashby, and McCown's escort company, Capt. L. T. Hardy, with the Eighth Texas on the right, were ordered to charge. They were met by a countercharge, supposed to be by the Fourth regulars, but the enemy was routed, and retreated in wild confusion, abandoning several hundred wagons. One thousand infantrymen were captured.

        Wharton's forces too zealously followed the retreating enemy. Soon another Federal force of about 300 cavalry, seeing White's battery unprotected, moved down rapidly, and when within 400 yards General Wharton opportunely returned from the pursuit. Col. Baxter Smith, Fourth Tennessee, promptly formed about 20 men, the guns were unlimbered, several shells were exploded in the enemy's ranks, and they retired in disorder. The same Federal command subsequently attacked the guard of the captured wagon train and recovered a portion of them and several of the prisoners, but a large number of wagons, 5 or 6 pieces of artillery, 400 prisoners, 327 beef cattle, and a large number of mules were secured. Col. Baxter Smith, said General Wharton, "behaved with the utmost gallantry and judgment," and he named Captain White, "whose gallantry upon this and every other field was most conspicuous." The entire strength of the brigade was 2,000. The loss was 108 killed and wounded, 107 captured.

        After placing the captured property within our lines and arming his command with improved arms captured from the enemy, General Wharton returned to the rear of the enemy and engaged him until nightfall. Then he placed his command upon the left of the Confederate army and picketed for its protection.

        On Friday afternoon, January, Major-General Breckinridge was ordered by the commanding general, in person, to take the crest of the hill in his front on the east side of Stone's fiver. Capt. E. Eldridge Wright's battery, which had been detached, was ordered to rejoin Preston's brigade. Brigadier-General Pillow, who had reported for duty, was assigned by General Bragg to Colonel Palmer's brigade, and "that fine officer resumed command of his regiment," the Eighteenth. The division advanced, Pillow with the Tennesseans on the right, supported by Preston; Hanson on the left with the Second, Fourth, Sixth and Ninth Kentucky and Forty-first Alabama, supported by Adams' brigade, Col. R. L. Gibson, Sixteenth Louisiana, commanding. As soon as the field was entered, the battle opened, and the enemy was driven over the crest of the hill. Wright's battery was advanced, and the Twentieth Tennessee, on the right of Preston, soon in the front line, suffered severely; but it dashed forward and drove the enemy down the hill, capturing 200 prisoners. The division moved to the charge in perfect order, and in a few minutes the Federal division in its front was routed and driven from the crest, but the ground so gallantly won by Breckinridge was commanded by the enemy's batteries within easy range. The Federal guns swept the front, fight, and left, and large numbers of fresh troops were rapidly concentrated, forcing Breckinridge back to his original line. (Civil War Battle of Stones River History: Park Guide)

        "Wright's battery was bravely fought," said General Preston, "but lost its gallant commander, who was killed at his guns." At his fall, Lieut. J. W. Mebane, himself wounded, succeeded in withdrawing all of the battery except two pieces. According to General Breckinridge, "one was lost because there was but one boy left (Private Wright) to limber the piece, and his strength was unequal to it." The "boy" named by General Breckinridge was Luke E. Wright, younger brother of the gallant captain, and afterward junior-lieutenant of the battery. The experience of that fateful day made him a veteran and a conspicuous soldier; he survived the war and attained civil prominence as one of the leaders of the bar of Tennessee. Before the fragment of the company was hardly out of the battery, in obedience to orders to retire, the Federal flag was flying on one of their lost guns. Lieutenants Grant and Phillips, with the guns saved, stood fast and covered the retreat of the attacking division, which fell back in the face of overwhelming numbers, and with the conviction that somebody had blundered. General Hardee, the corps commander, said in his official report, "this movement was made without my knowledge."

        On the 20th of April, 1863, Lieutenant-General Hardee, under instructions, furnished the following names of officers of his corps who fell at Murfreesboro, who were conspicuous for their valor, to be inscribed on the guns of one of the reserve batteries: Maj. Henry C. Erwin, Forty-fourth; Maj. James T. McReynolds, Thirty-seventh; Capt. E. Eldridge Wright, Wright's battery, and Capt. Edwin Allen, Company C, Twenty-sixth. General Preston recommended for promotion Sergt. Frank Battle for conspicuous gallantry. "After four color-bearers of the Twentieth had been shot down and the regiment was in confusion, he seized the colors and bravely rallied the men under my eye."

        It was stated by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, Federal, in his official report of the battle, referring to the assault made by Breckinridge: "I sent orders to Negley to advance to the support of Crittenden's troops. This order was obeyed in most gallant style and resulted in the complete annihilation of the Twenty-sixth Tennessee regiment." But, in fact, the Twenty-sixth, Colonel Lillard, with Palmer's brigade in this attack, left the field over 300 strong, in perfect order, in obedience to command. It had 1 officer and 8 men killed, 71 wounded, and 17 captured, during the engagements of the 31st of December and 2d of January, and was distinguished in the subsequent battles of the war.

        Col. Joseph B. Palmer, Sixteenth, afterward brigadier-general, a soldier of judgment and undaunted courage, three times wounded in this attack, said in his official report that "the entire force on the right bank of the river was completely routed and driven by our division either across or down the stream: but they had massed a force of many thousands on the opposite bank, where they had a large force of artillery, so located and arranged that both their small-arms and batteries could be brought to bear upon and rake all the western portion of the field over which their troops had been driven. It therefore became proper for our forces to withdraw, although they had not been repulsed."

        General Rosecrans reported that Breckinridge's attack was upon Van Cleve's division, supported by a brigade of Gen. John M. Palmer's division. "Breckinridge advanced steadily," says Rosecrans, "to within 100 yards of the front of Van Cleve, when a short and fierce contest ensued. Van Cleve's division giving way, retired in considerable confusion across the river, followed closely by the enemy." The strength of the force assailed by Breckinridge, according to the Federal return, was 5,221. After Van Cleve's rout, according to Rosecrans, the onset of the Confederates was met by "two brigades of Negley's division and the Pioneer brigade;" which, by the return published at that time, were 5,520 strong.

        Breckinridge made the assault with a force of 4,500, of all arms, and lost 1,700 killed, wounded and missing. Among the dead Tennesseans were the gallant Col. P. D. Cunningham, Thirty-second regiment; Capt. John Dick and Lieut. Samuel M. Smith, Eighteenth; Capt. Edward Allen, Twenty-sixth; Lieuts. J. L. Proffitt and J. M. Saylors, Twenty-eighth; Capt. J. W. Watkins and Lieut. F. B. Crosthwait, Twentieth. Seven of the ten captains of the Eighteenth; Lieut.-Col. J. L. Bottles and Maj. R. M. Saffell, Twenty-sixth; Adjt. John M. Douglass and Sergt.-Maj. Fletcher R. Burns, Eighteenth, were wounded. Colonel Palmer stated that after five color-bearers of the Eighteenth had been shot down, "Logan H. Nelson, a private soldier of Company C, gallantly sprang forward, raised the flag from the side of dying comrades and carried it triumphantly throughout the combat." Maj. F. Claybrooke, Twentieth, reported that four of his "color-bearers were shot, and the flagstaff twice shot in two and the colors riddled by balls."

        On the 1st of January, General Wheeler, with his own and Wharton's cavalry, returned to the rear of the Federal army. He dispersed the guards of a large train near Lavergne, destroyed a number of wagons and stores and captured one piece of artillery. At 9 o'clock of the evening of the same day he again went to the rear of the enemy, capturing trains of wagons, horses and prisoners, and regained his position at 2 o'clock of the next morning on the left flank of the army, where he remained all day, engaging the enemy at every opportunity. At 9 o'clock that evening he made his fourth sortie to the rear of the enemy, and next morning, the 3d, captured prisoners, wagons and horses. On regaining his position on the left flank on the morning of the 4th, he learned that General Bragg had fallen back. At 3 o'clock p.m. of the 4th, Rosecrans advanced to the river and commenced a skirmish. After dark he retired a short distance. The cavalry pickets were not molested during the night. At daylight on the 5th, General Wheeler retired three miles from Murfreesboro; at 3 p.m. the Federals advanced a brigade of infantry, with artillery and cavalry, but were driven back. In his report General Wheeler included Capt. Richard McCann of Tennessee, commanding a detachment, among those of whom he said, "during the many engagements incident to the battle of Murfreesboro, I take pleasure, in commending their gallantry and good soldierly conduct."

        General Rosecrans, commanding the Federal army at Murfreesboro, reported his strength at 46,940 officers and men of all arms; killed and wounded, 8,778; lost by capture, 2,800; but the revised statement accompanying his report shows that he lost 3,673 captured by the Confederates, a total of 12,451; and a loss of 28 pieces of artillery, 3 battery wagons and 5 forges was admitted. General Rosecrans reported a reserve of 7,495 at Nashville, 3,550 at Gallatin, and nearly 4,000 at Bowling Green and Clarksville. Maj. W. K. Beard, inspector-general on the staff of General Bragg, made an official report in which he accounted for 6,273 prisoners captured at Murfreesboro.

        Colonel Brent, adjutant-general on the staff of General Bragg, reported that we had present and in the battle 37,712. officers and men of all arms, including 4,237 cavalry. Bragg's loss amounted to 10,266, of which 9,000 were killed and wounded, and 1,200 of the badly wounded, left in the hospitals at Murfreesboro, constituted the largest part of Rosecrans' captures.

        Nearly one-third of the army of Tennessee were Tennesseans; many of them fought and fell almost in call of their own wives and children; there were no holiday soldiers among them and no desertions, and they fell back from their homes with a loss of 3,500 killed and wounded, nearly half of the entire loss. The greatest loss of the army was in Cheatham's division of Tennesseans, 36 percent killed and wounded. Johnson's Tennessee brigade, of Cleburne's division, lost 29 percent, Palmer's Tennessee brigade the same, and the Tennessee troops in other commands sustained about the same loss. (Ten Bloodiest and Costliest American Civil War Battles)

        They fought heroically and were led superbly, took the enemy's positions, his artillery and small-arms and many prisoners, and met the perils of the battlefield, and death, with the high-born courage that springs from a sense of duty. Yet the commanding general in his official report had no word of commendation for them, or for the men who led them with so much skill and courage.

        Cheatham, the ranking officer of Tennessee, with a division of the troops of the State, seemed inspired by the fierceness of the battle. He was like Marshal Massena, as described by the Emperor Napoleon: "His conversation gave few indications of genius, but at the first cannon shot his mental energy redoubled, and when surrounded by danger his thoughts were clear and forcible. In the midst of the dying and the dead, the balls sweeping away those who encircled him, he was himself, and gave his orders with the greatest coolness and precision."

        The striking feature of this battle is that Rosecrans, who led the attacking army, was on the defensive every hour of the battle, never pursued an advantage if it was won, in the actual fighting was beaten at all points and driven from the battlefield with enormous losses. He permitted three days to pass, after the battle of the 31st of December, without firing a shot, except on the skirmish line and to defend himself from the assault of Breckinridge on the afternoon of the 2d of January.

        Bragg retired at 2 o'clock a.m. on the morning of the 4th, and two hours later the cavalry under General Wheeler occupied his position, and continued in it until the break of day on the 5th of January. At 4:30 of that morning, General Rosecrans telegraphed the secretary of war, "God has crowned our arms with victory."

(Related reading below.)

Source: Confederate Military History, Vol. 8, chapter V

Recommended Reading: No Better Place to Die: THE BATTLE OF STONES RIVER (Civil War Trilogy). Library Journal: Until now only three book-length studies of the bloody Tennessee battle near Stone's River existed, all old and none satisfactory by current historical standards. This important book covers the late 1862 campaign and battle in detail. Though adjudged a tactical draw, Cozzens shows how damaging it was to the South. Continued below...

Not only did it effectively lose Tennessee, but it completely rent the upper command structure of the Confederacy's major western army. Valuable for its attention to the eccentric personalities of army commanders Bragg and Rosecrans, to the overall campaign, and to tactical fine points, the book is solidly based on extensive and broad research. Essential for period scholars but quite accessible for general readers.

Site search Web search

Advance to:

Editor's Choice: CIVIL WAR IN WEST SLIP CASES: From Stones River to Chattanooga [BOX SET], by Peter Cozzens (1528 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Description: This trilogy very competently fills in much needed analysis and detail on the critical Civil War battles of Stones River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga. "Cozzens comprehensive study of these three great battles has set a new standard in Civil War studies....the research, detail and accuracy are first-rate." Continued below.

Mr. Cozzens' has delivered a very valuable, enjoyable work deserving of attention. The art work by Keith Rocco is also a nice touch, effecting, without sentimentality...historical art which contributes to the whole.


Recommended Reading: Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns (Great Campaigns of the Civil War). Description: When Vicksburg fell to Union forces under General Grant in July 1863, the balance turned against the Confederacy in the trans-Appalachian theater. The Federal success along the river opened the way for advances into central and eastern Tennessee, which culminated in the bloody battle of Chickamauga and then a struggle for Chattanooga. Chickamauga is usually counted as a Confederate victory, albeit a costly one. Continued below.

That battle—indeed the entire campaign—is marked by muddle and blunders occasionally relieved by strokes of brilliant generalship and high courage. The campaign ended significant Confederate presence in Tennessee and left the Union poised to advance upon Atlanta and the Confederacy on the brink of defeat in the western theater.

Recommended Reading: The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: THE BATTLES FOR CHATTANOOGA (Civil War Trilogy) (536 pages) (University of Illinois Press). Review (Booklist): Cozzens delivers another authoritative study with the Chattanooga campaign. Braxton Bragg (who sometimes seems unfit to have been at large on the public streets, let alone commanding armies) failed to either destroy or starve out the Union Army of the Cumberland. In due course, superior Northern resources and strategy--not tactics; few generals on either side come out looking like good tacticians--progressively loosened the Confederate cordon around the city. Continued below.

Finally, the Union drove off Bragg's army entirely in the famous Battle of Missionary Ridge, which was a much more complex affair than previous, heroic accounts make it. Like its predecessor on Chickamauga, this is such a good book on Chattanooga that it's hard to believe any Civil War collection will need another book on the subject for at least a generation. Roland Green

Recommended Reading: Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River. Description: In the library of Civil War literature the Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, is one of the most under represented large scale battles of the war. One can easily count the number of volumes dedicated solely to the battle on the fingers of one hand. Continued below…

Matt & Lee Spruill have come to the rescue with their book, Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River. With twenty-one tour stops (as opposed to the National Park's six) the Spruill's lead you on a driving tour over the ground, both outside and inside of the park, where the three day battle between the Confederate Army of the Tennessee with General Braxton Bragg at its head, and the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General William S. Rosecrans. The evening of December 30, 1862, found both armies facing each other northwest of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in opposing lines of battle, stretching diagonally from the town's west to its north, and each preparing to attack the other's right. Which ever side to launch their attack first would have the advantage. At sunrise, Bragg and his Confederate Army was the first to strike. The Spruill's follow the battle chronologically as it progressed, following the action as the Confederate troops rolled up the Federal right and sending Union regiments, one after another, fleeing to the rear, to the Union stand at The Round Forrest, and finally to the fighting at McFadden's Ford on January 2nd. At each stop we are provided narration by the authors, giving the reader an overview of what happened, and then we are presented with a balanced view of the action from both sides with first hand accounts from the soldiers who were there, usually from official reports, but some times from diaries or letters. The book contains 41 maps, which vary widely in scale from theater maps down to maps on the regimental level, depending on the situation or topic being covered. One only reading the book may find the maps a little cumbersome as north is not always oriented to the top of the page. This book was intended to be a tour guide, and the maps are presented to the reader at each of the stops as the reader would see the landscape that is in front of him. Therefore if you are directed to look to the southeast, southeast would be oriented to the top of the page. Not only do the historic roads appear in the maps but also the roads of the present and are clearly marked, for example: "Medical Center Pkwy (today)."

Return to American Civil War Homepage

Best viewed with Internet Explorer or Google Chrome

Google Safe.jpg