Battle of Stones River, Tennessee

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Civil War Battle of Stones River, Tennessee

Battle of Stones River, Tennessee
Stones River Battlefield and the Civil War

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

       After his retreat from Perryville, Ky., Bragg ordered a concentration at Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Battle of Stones River) Both the North and the South were dissatisfied with the performance of their top commanders at Perryville, and both sides made changes in organization (Battle of Perryville). The Federal Dept. (and Army) of the Cumberland was created under Rosecrans. (Battle of Stones River: Union Army Order of BattleThe Confederate Army of Tennessee was created under Bragg. J. E. Johnston was sent to command all Confederate armies in the West (Division of the West). (Battle of Stones River: Confederate Army Order of Battle)
       Three Confederate cavalry operations took place before the armies of Bragg and Rosecrans clashed: Morgan's Second (Lexington) Raid, Oct.'62; Forrest's Second Raid (in West Tenn.), 11 Dec.'62-3 Jan.'63; and Morgan's Third (Christmas) Raid, 21 Dec.'62-1 Jan.'63. Although these raids on the Federal lines of communications did little significant damage, Rosecrans took advantage of this detachment of Confederate cavalry to move out of Nashville and attack Bragg.
       Crittenden's corps advanced southeast along the line of the Nashville and Chattanooga R.R., while the other two corps-McCook and Thomas (less two divisions)-advanced to his right. Bragg was known to be deployed between Triune and Murfreesboro, and Rosecrans' plan was to turn the Confederate left while refusing Crittenden's corps. (Battle of Stones River Maps)
       Bragg's intelligence sources informed him immediately of Rosecrans' movement. Wheeler's cavalry successfully delayed the Federal advance while Bragg concentrated his forces at Murfreesboro. On 31 Dec. the two armies faced each other just west of Stones River. Strangely, each was planning to attack the other's right. (Stones River Campaign, Tennessee)
       The Confederate division of Breckinridge (8,000) was left across the river, northwest of Murfreesboro, while Hardee's other two divisions-McCown (4,500) and Cleburne (7,000)-moved into position opposite the Federal right. The Confederate center was held by Polk's two divisions; Withers (8,500) in front, and Cheatham (5,500) to his rear. McCown's division was to attack at dawn.
       The Federal right, where the initial Confederate blow was about to fall, was held by Alexander McCook's corps; Johnson's division (6,300) was on the extreme right flank, on the Franklin Road, with the divisions of J. C. Davis (4,600) and Sheridan (5,000) extending left to the Wilkinson Pike. Negley's division (4,700) of Thomas' corps was in the center of the line. Crittenden's divisions of Palmer (4,400) and Wood (5,100) extended the line to the river. In conformity to the Federal plan of attacking with their own left, two divisions were in assembly areas behind this flank: Rousseau's (6,200) of Thomas' corps, and Van Cleve's (3,800) of Crittenden's. (Two of Thomas' divisions were absent: Mitchel's was garrisoning Nashville; Reynolds' was pursuing Morgan's raiders. Only one brigade of Fry's division took part in the battle; one arrived 2 Jan. and the other was pursuing Morgan.) Rosecrans had ordered his attack to start at 7 A.M., after his troops had eaten.
       The Federal brigades of Kirk and Willich were driven back by the brigades of Rains, Ector, and McNair as the battle opened at dawn. Although Kirk's outposts detected the enemy advance, Willich's brigade was caught by surprise (Horn, 200). As Cleburne's division kept up the momentum of the attack by moving up on McCown's right, the Federal division of Davis and Sheridan held off the attacks of Hardee's three divisions. A second assault, reinforced by Cheatham's division (Polk's corps), was also repulsed. A third effort enveloped Davis' right, forcing him to retreat and thereby exposing Sheridan's right. About 9:30 Sheridan counterattacked with Roberts' brigade and gained sufficient time to withdraw to a new position behind the Nashville Pike and at a right angle to Negley's division. Rousseau's division was brought up to form on Sheridan's right. Davis followed Johnson's routed division to the rear, while Wharton's cavalry brigade (2,000 men) harried his flank from the west. (Battle of Stones River: Union Report)
       A renewed attack, all along the Federal front, finally forced Sheridan, whose ammunition was exhausted, to withdraw. This left a gap between Negley and Rousseau which the Confederates exploited. Shepherd's brigade of regulars lost 20 officers and 518 killed and wounded in covering a general withdrawal of the Federal right half of the line to a new position. The right of Palmer's division also had to withdraw to avoid being enveloped; but his left-Hazen's brigade-held its strong position on a wooded ridge astride the railroad. This was a four-acre oak grove which reports of the battle call the Round Forest, but which the troops dubbed "Hell's Half Acre." By noon the Federals had been forced back to what turned out to be their final defensive line.
       The Federal divisions of Van Cleve and Wood, which were scheduled to move north of the river and make Rosecrans , main attack, had been called back to bolster the Federal defense. Van Cleve had crossed, and Wood was ready to follow, when the Confederate attack started. Wood was held back and put into position on the Federal left. Van Cleve was ordered back and arrived about 11 A.M., just in time to reinforce the final defensive line.
       In preparation for what he could hope to be the knockout blow, Bragg called on Breckinridge to send two of his five brigades to reinforce Hardee. Only one was sent in time to be of assistance, however; Pegram's Confederate cavalry had reported the arrival of Van Cleve's division opposite Breckinridge, but had not detected its withdrawal. Breckinridge therefore believed he was in danger of being overwhelmed and could not spare more than one brigade.
       The final Confederate assaults were vigorously pressed and effectively repulsed by a well-organized Federal defense. Chalmers' brigade which had been waiting 48 hours in shallow trenches and without fires on the extreme right of Withers' division attacked shortly after noon against the Round Forest. Having to charge across an open field against a strongly entrenched position, they were cut to pieces by enemy musket and artillery fire. After desperate fighting, in which some regiments lost six to eight color bearers, Chalmers was wounded, and his brigade fell back. Donelson's brigade (Cheatham's division) made the next effort. After some initial confusion in reaching the field, and in the face of heavy fire, it penetrated the Federal line just west of the Round Forest and took 1,000 prisoners and 11 guns. However, continued possession of the critical Round Forest position by the Federals forced Donelson to retreat. In this action the 8th Tenn. lost 306, including its commander, Col. W. L. Moore, out of 425 engaged. The 16th lost 207 out of its 402 engaged. (Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro])
       Late in the afternoon the four other brigades of Breckinridge were brought south of the river and committed to action against "Hell's Half Acre." First Adams and Jackson, then Preston and Pillow were repulsed with heavy losses.
       Special mention should be made of the units that held Round Forest against these attacks. Cruft's brigade had initially been posted in advance of Hazen's. When Sheridan and Negley were driven back at about 11 A.M., Palmer's right had been exposed. The attacks of Chalmers and Donelson had finally driven back Crufts brigade. The brigade of Grose, in reserve, had to face to the rear and attack in that direction to enable Cruft to withdraw. This left Hazen alone at the tip of the salient against which Bragg now directed his subsequent attacks. Grose was forced again to change front to enable Hazen to adjust his dispositions while Cruft withdrew.
       To repulse the attacks of Breckinridge's last four brigades (see above) Hazen had the 41st Ohio, 9th Ind., and 110th ILL. In direct support of Hazen, or on his flanks, the following regiments moved up during the last Confederate attacks of Preston and Pillow: 3d Ky., 24th Ohio, 58th Ind., 100th ILL., 6th Ky., 2d Mo., 40th and 97th Ohio, and the 6th and 26th Ohio. (The units are mentioned in the approximate order of arrival.) Along the riverbank Wagner led two regiments, the 15th and 57th Ind., in a counterattack that drove back the Confederate infantry on its front before being forced by enemy artillery to withdraw.
       After some hesitation Rosecrans decided to remain on the field during the night and to resume the offensive if Bragg did not attack. (
Battle of Stones River Tennessee: Union) The battlefield was quiet on I Jan., but Confederate cavalry under Wheeler and Wharton were active along Rosecrans' line of communications to Nashville. Wheeler attacked a wagon train near LaVergne, dispersed the guard, and destroyed about 30 wagons. Col. Innes, commanding the 1st Mich. Engineers and Mechanics, held the stockade near the town against several attacks and refused Wheeler's demand to surrender.
       When Polk observed that the Federals had abandoned the Round Forest during the night he took possession of this position. Bragg then determined to have Breckinridge recross the river and take high ground from which enfilade fire might drive the Federals from their position. Breckinridge went on record as considering this task impossible, and Polk told Bragg he considered the operation would accomplish no worthwhile purpose. Bragg insisted, however, and at 4 P.M., 2 Jan., Breckinridge attacked with 4,500 men. (
Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro] Civil War: Confederate)
       Rosecrans had realized the importance of this high ground and had occupied it with Van Cleve's division (commanded by Beatty, since Van Cleve had been wounded). Beatty was reinforced by the brigades of Grose and Hazen.
       The Federals were driven from the hill. However, as the Confederates pursued down the forward slope they were slaughtered by the massed fire of 58 guns that Crittenden's Chief of Arty., Maj. John Mendenhall, had posted across the river. Reinforcements hurried across the river; Beatty rallied his troops for a counterattack; and Breckinridge was driven back to his line of departure. He had lost 1,700 men.
       On 3 Jan. Rosecrans held his defensive perimeter west of the river with the corps of Thomas and McCook (less Palmer's division). Crittenden, reinforced with Palmer's division of McCook's corps, was posted north of the river. The night of 3-4 Jan. Bragg withdrew through Murfreesboro toward Shelbyville. Rosecrans did not pursue. It was not until June that Rosecrans renewed operations in this area when his Tullahoma Campaign set the stage for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns.. (
Battle of Chickamauga: Homepage)
       Stones River was a tactical victory for the Confederates, but Bragg lacked the strength to destroy Rosecrans' larger army or drive it from the field. (Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro) Tennessee) The historian Ropes says, "Few battles have been fought which have better exhibited the soldierly virtues than the battle of Murfreesboro or Stones River. The Confederate assaults were conducted with the utmost gallantry and with untiring energy. They were met with great coolness and resolution. . . ." From a strategic viewpoint, however, the campaign was a Confederate failure. (Civil War Battle of Stones River History: Park Guide)
       The Federals had 41,400 troops engaged, of which they lost 12,906. The Confederates lost 11,739 out of 34,739 engaged. (
Ten Bloodiest and Costliest American Civil War Battles.)

(Related reading below.)

Source: "Civil War Dictionary", by Mark M. Boatner III

Recommended Reading: No Better Place to Die: THE BATTLE OF STONES RIVER (Civil War Trilogy). Review from 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.

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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: 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)."


Recommended Reading: The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote (3 Volumes Set) [BOX SET] (2960 pages) (9.2 pounds). Review: This beautifully written trilogy of books on the American Civil War is not only a piece of first-rate history, but also a marvelous work of literature. Shelby Foote brings a skilled novelist's narrative power to this great epic. Many know Foote for his prominent role as a commentator on Ken Burns's PBS series about the Civil War. These three books, however, are his legacy. His southern sympathies are apparent: the first volume opens by introducing Confederate President Jefferson Davis, rather than Abraham Lincoln. But they hardly get in the way of the great story Foote tells. This hefty three volume set should be on the bookshelf of any Civil War buff. --John Miller. Continued below…

Civil War Shelby Foote.jpg

Product Description:

Foote's comprehensive history of the Civil War includes three compelling volumes: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River to Appomattox. Collected together in a handsome boxed set, this is the perfect gift for any Civil War buff.

Fort Sumter to Perryville

"Here, for a certainty, is one of the great historical narratives of our century, a unique and brilliant achievement, one that must be firmly placed in the ranks of the masters." —Van Allen Bradley, Chicago Daily News

"Anyone who wants to relive the Civil War, as thousands of Americans apparently do, will go through this volume with pleasure.... Years from now, Foote's monumental narrative most likely will continue to be read and remembered as a classic of its kind." —New York Herald Tribune Book Review

Fredericksburg to Meridian

"This, then, is narrative history—a kind of history that goes back to an older literary tradition.... The writing is of the historical and literary achievements of our time." —The Washington Post Book World

" described with such meticulous attention to action, terrain, time, and the characters of the various commanders that I understand, at last, what happened in that battle.... Mr. Foote has an acute sense of the relative importance of events and a novelist's skill in directing the reader's attention to the men and the episodes that will influence the course of the whole war, without omitting items which are of momentary interest. His organization of facts could hardly be bettered." —Atlantic

Red River to Appomattox

"An unparalleled achievement, an American Iliad, a unique work uniting the scholarship of the historian and the high readability of the first-class novelist." —Walker Percy

"I have never read a better, more vivid, more understandable account of the savage battling between Grant's and Lee's armies.... Foote stays with the human strife and suffering, and unlike most Southern commentators, he does not take sides. In objectivity, in range, in mastery of detail in beauty of language and feeling for the people involved, this work surpasses anything else on the subject.... It stands alongside the work of the best of them." —New Republic

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