Battle of Stones River Union Report

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Union Army and Civil War Battle of Stones River

Battle of Stones River Union Report

DEC. 31ST, 1862 - JAN. 3RD, 1963

Stone's River, Tenn., Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 3, 1863. Army
of the Cumberland. After the battle of Perryville, Ky., the
Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg retreated into
Tennessee and Gen. Buell, commanding the Union army, turned
his attention to repairing the Louisville & Nashville
railroad, with a view to reoccupying the ground in Tennessee
and Alabama from which his army had been withdrawn some weeks
before. By an order of the war department, under date of Oct.
24, 1862 Buell was relieved of the command of the Army of the
Ohio, the Department of the Cumberland was created, and Maj.-
Gen. W. S. Rosecrans assigned to the command of the new
department, which embraced all that part of the State of
Tennessee lying east of the Tennessee river and such portions
of Alabama and Georgia as might be occupied by the Federals.
Rosecrans assumed command on Oct. 30, and Nov. 7, announced
the reorganization of his army into the right and left wings
and the center. Maj.-Gen. A. McD. McCook was assigned to the
command of the right wing, composed of the divisions of
Sheridan, Sill and Woodruff. (Sill was soon afterward
succeeded by Gen. R. W. Johnson and Woodruff by Gen. Jeff C.
Davis.) Maj.-Gen. T. L. Crittenden was placed in command of
the left wing, embracing the divisions of Wood, Smith and
Vancleve. The center, consisting of the divisions of
Rousseau, Negley, Dumont Palmer and Fry, was placed under the
command of Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas, who was ordered to send
two divisions to Gallatin, Tenn., and then push the repairs of
the railroad. On Nov. 17, the advance of the army reached
Nashville and a few days later Rosecrans established his
headquarters in that city. About the same time Bragg
commenced the concentration of his troops at Murfreesboro, 30
miles southeast of Nashville on the east side of Stone's
river. (This stream was so called after an early settler.)
Toward the middle of December Jefferson Davis, president of
the Confederacy, visited the armies in Tennessee and
Mississippi and ordered Bragg to send 10,000 men under Gen.
Stevenson to reinforce Gen. Pemberton. The withdrawal of
these troops and the absence of the Confederate cavalry under
Morgan and Wheeler, the former being on a raid in Kentucky and
the latter in western Tennessee, influenced Rosecrans to make
an early movement against Bragg at Murfreesboro. Orders were
accordingly issued on the evening of Dec. 26, for the army to
march early the next morning. Bragg's position was well known
to Rosecrans, the center of his army, under Polk and Kirby
Smith, being at Murfreesboro, the right, under McCown, at
Readyville, and the left, commanded by Hardee, in the
neighborhood of Eagleville and Triune. Rosecrans' plan was
for the right wing to move by the Nolensville pike and attack
Hardee, the left wing was to take the direct road to
Murfreesboro, while Thomas was to proceed on the Franklin and
Wilson turnpikes to threaten Hardee's left, then cross over to
Nolensville, where he would be in a position to support McCook
in case Bragg reinforced Hardee, or to join Crittenden in the
event Hardee retreated or the enemy attacked the left wing in
force. Skirmishing occurred at various points along the lines
of march, but by the evening of the 29th, the enemy had been
forced into his intrenchments at Murfreesboro. Palmer sent
word to Rosecrans that the enemy was retreating, and
Crittenden was ordered to send a division across the river to
occupy the town. Harker crossed his brigade at a ford on his
left, but found himself confronted by Breckenridge's division.
He held his position until dark, when he was ordered to
withdraw, which he did without loss.

The 30th was spent in making preparations for the battle,
and at 9 o'clock that evening the corps commanders met at
Rosecrans' headquarters in a thicket of cedars near the
Murfreesboro pike to receive their final instructions.
Rosecrans' plan was to make a feint on his right, while the
main attack was to be made on the left by the divisions of Van
Cleve and Wood. He knew that Bragg had weakened his right to
support his left and hoped that the two divisions would be
able to carry everything before them into Murfreesboro.
Thomas in the center was instructed to throw forward a strong
skirmish line to keep Braggs center engaged, and as soon as
Wood and Van Cleve had driven in the Confederate right he was
to advance his whole line, thus giving Crittenden an
opportunity to take Murfreesboro and gain the enemy's rear.
The success of the plan depended in a great measure on
McCook's ability to hold his position until the attack on the
left should be successful. He was therefore ordered to occupy
the most advantageous position, refuse his right as much as
practicable to receive the enemy's attack, and if that did not
come he was to attack with sufficient vigor to hold the enemy
in his front and prevent Bragg from reinforcing his right.

Bragg had expected an attack on the 30th, but none being
made, he determined to assume the offensive on the morning of
the 31st. His plan was for Hardee on the left to advance with
the divisions of Cleburne and McCown against the Union right,
and after McCook should be forced back at this point Polk was
to press forward with Withers' and Cheatham's divisions and
assault the Federal center, drive it back on the left wing and
seize the line of communications to Nashville.

The battle on the morning of the 31st was begun by both
armies almost simultaneously. Van Cleve, supported by Wood,
crossed the river at the lower fords and moved against
Breckinridge. A little before 7 o'clock the Confederates
advanced in heavy columns against McCook. Kirk's and
Willich's brigades of Johnson's division were the first to
feel the force of the attack. Their line was thin and light,
and although the men fought like veterans, they were soon
driven back by the superior strength of the assailants,
leaving several pieces of artillery in the hands of the enemy.
McCown's and Cleburne's troops then charged with the ''rebel
Yell'' against Post's and Baldwin's brigades of Davis'
division, while the fresh troops of Withers' division
assaulted the brigades of Carlin, Woodruff and Sill, the last
named forming the right of Sheridan's line. Post repulsed the
attack on his brigade and Carlin and Woodruff checked the rush
against them, but Baldwin was flanked on the right and
compelled to withdraw. A second attack was now made on Carlin
and Woodruff, but again the enemy was repulsed with heavy
slaughter, Sill making a countercharge that drove the
Confederates into their trenches though he lost his life while
leading his men into action.

In the formation of the line of battle Carlin's and
Woodruff's brigades were almost at right angles to Sheridan's
line. Polk saw that by carrying this angle he could enfilade
both lines and bent all his energies to that end. Vaughn's and
Maney's brigades were brought up to Withers' support and a
third time the Confederates advanced to the assault, but again
they met with a complete and crushing repulse. Unfortunately
for the Federal arms Hardee at the same time fell again on
Post's brigade, and by massing his two divisions succeeded in
turning both of Post's flanks, which forced him to fall back
to the Nashville pike. This left Carlin's right exposed and
Hardee, swinging round on his right, swept down on Davis'
division in overwhelming numbers, massing his troops as he
advanced. Carlin put up a stubborn fight, but the odds were
against him and he was finally compelled to withdraw across an
open field to the edge of the woods, where Hotchkiss' battery
had been planted, behind which Davis hoped to form a new line.

As Carlin's broken regiments reached the woods they were
ordered to form in the rear of and support the battery.
Woodruff, too, soon retired to the woods, but Davis saw he was
in danger from the overlapping lines of the enemy, and ordered
his command back to the Wilkinson pike, where it was joined by
part of Johnson's division. In the meantime Thomas had been
ordered to send Rousseau's division, which had been placed in
reserve, into the cedars to the right and rear of Sheridan.
Van Cleve was recalled and ordered to the right of Rousseau.
Wood was directed to suspend his preparations for crossing the
river and to send Harker's brigade down the Murfreesboro pike
with orders to attack the enemy on the right of Van Cleve
Sill's and Roberts' brigades of Sheridan's division had
exhausted their ammunition and fell back through the woods to
replenish the cartridge boxes. The enemy, taking this for a
retreat, pressed forward in an impetuous pursuit. The crisis
of the battle had now been reached. Three of the five
divisions of the Union army in the battle front had been
driven from their positions. The withdrawal of Sheridan's
brigades left a gap between the divisions of Rousseau and
Negley, and into this the Confederates fairly swarmed,
threatening to turn Rousseau's left and Negley's right. If
these two divisions gave way the Confederate victory would be
complete. In this emergency Thomas ordered Rousseau and
Negley to fall back to a depression in the field back of the
cedars and hold that position until a new line could be
established near the Nashville pike. Batteries were hurried
into position on the ridge back of the depression and Rousseau
withdrew his command under a heavy fire, but gained the low
ground without serious loss. Negley was less fortunate. The
enemy that had assaulted Sheridan had gained his rear and his
right was also threatened. He accordingly ordered his men to
cut their way through the Confederate lines, and by this means
was able to join Rousseau on the temporary line. In this
movement he was aided materially by the action of Col.
Scribner, who quickly formed the 38th Ind. and 10th Wis. to
meet the enemy that was pressing Negley's rear, and then
covered the formation of the new line. The exultant
Confederates now emerged from the woods and advanced on
Thomas. Loomis' Stokes' and Guenther's batteries met the
attack with a fierce fire, and as soon as the first line came
within range Rousseau's men together with Shepherd's, Ribner's
and Beatty's brigades, opened a musketry fire that drove the
enemy in confusion to the shelter of the woods where they were
rallied, new troops added and another advance was made. Again
the line recoiled before that terrific fire of infantry and
artillery. Two more attempts were made to break Thomas' line,
but it held fast and each time the enemy was repulsed with
heavy loss.

It was now 11 a.m. and the heavy fighting was transferred
to the Union left. When Negley withdrew to join Rousseau,
Cruft's brigade was left without support on the right and fell
back to the woods, closely pressed by the enemy. Seeing that
the Confederates were about to gain his rear, Palmer ordered
Grose to change front with his brigade to repel any attack
from that quarter and then drew back his left so as to bring
the enemy under direct fire, which resulted in forcing the
advancing columns to withdraw beyond range of the guns.
Hazen's brigade was next withdrawn from its advanced position
and moved to a wooded knoll between the pike and the railroad.

This knoll, known as the ''Round Forest,'' was regarded by the
enemy as the key to the Federal position, and he resolved to
carry it at all hazards. As soon as the possibilities of an
attack in the rear had been averted Palmer sent Grose to
cooperate with Hazen. Against these two brigades Donelson
advanced, but the assault was met by a fire that caused a loss
to Donelson of fully half his men in killed and wounded, one
regiment alone losing 306 out of 425 that started into the
fight. Polk now called on Bragg to send Breckenridge's
command, or at least four brigades of it, to assist in
carrying the hill. About 2 p.m. two of these brigades arrived
and a second assault was made. It met with no better success
than the first, and Polk waited for the other two brigades,
which came up about 4 o'clock when another effort was made to
dislodge Hazen and Grose. Again the Confederates were hurled
back with severe losses and the Union troops remained masters
of the situation. Rosecrans' new line was then formed,
extending from Hazen's position in a northwesterly direction
to the Nashville pike, the cavalry being beyond the little
stream known as Overall's creek. The line was scarcely
established when the Confederates debauched from the cedars
and with wild yells began forming for a charge. A destructive
fire was at once opened by the batteries on the hill near the
railroad, and this, supplemented by the well directed volleys
from the infantry, inflicted a heavier loss on Polk's column
than at any time previous during the day, unless it was in
Donelson's brigade in the first attack on Hazen. This ended
the battle for the day, but the troops of both armies slept on
their arms that night, expecting to be called on to renew the
fight the next morning.

But little was done on New Year's day, as Rosecrans and
his generals decided to hold their position and await the
enemy's attack, while Bragg was expecting Rosecrans to
retreat. Negley was moved to the right to support McCook in
case another attempt was made to turn that flank. Bragg made
several demonstrations against the right and center, but each
was repulsed without serious consequences to either side. Van
Cleve had been wounded on the 31st, and his division,
commanded by Col. Samuel Beatty, crossed the river in the
afternoon, formed in line of battle in front of Breckenridge,
and held that position until about 3 p.m. on the 3rd, when a
double line of skirmishers, supported by heavy columns of
infantry and three batteries, emerged from the woods to the
southeast and steadily advanced to within 100 yards of line.

The only Federal battery on that side of the river kept up a
rapid fire on the Confederates as they pressed forward, but
was unable to check their progress. After a short but sharp
contest Beatty's men gave way and retired in confusion across
the river, closely followed by the enemy. Crittenden
immediately planted his batteries on the hill west of the
river and opened on the Confederates as they crossed the
stream, while two of Negley's brigades and the pioneer brigade
were thrown into position to meet the attack. The fire from
the Union batteries, under the direction of Maj. Mendenhall,
carried such havoc into the ranks of the enemy that they
retreated much more rapidly than they had advanced. The
Confederate loss here was about 2,000 men in less than 40
minutes. Davis crossed with his division at a ford below to
attack the enemy on the flank, but before he could get his
troops into position they were in full retreat, hotly pursued
by the two brigades of Negley's division and Hazen's brigade
of Palmer's. The chase was continued for some distance across
the fields, a few prisoners being taken, as well as 4 pieces
of artillery and a stand of colors. It was now dark and
Crittenden's entire command crossed the river and intrenched a
position on the hills. The two armies now maintained their
relative positions until Sunday, Jan. 4, when Bragg evacuated
Murfreesboro. The rear-guard was pursued by Thomas for
several miles in the direction of Manchester, but owing to the
condition of the roads and the heavy loss of artillery horses
the pursuit was not pressed farther.

The Union losses in the battle of Stone's river amounted
to 1,730 killed, 7,802 wounded and 3,717 missing. Bragg
reported his losses at 1,294 killed, 7,945 wounded and 1,027
captured or missing. This did not include the losses in
Pegram's brigade of cavalry.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 6

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.

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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." 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: Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. Review: The bloody and decisive two-day battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) changed the entire course of the American Civil War. The stunning Northern victory thrust Union commander Ulysses S. Grant into the national spotlight, claimed the life of Confederate commander Albert S. Johnston, and forever buried the notion that the Civil War would be a short conflict. The conflagration at Shiloh had its roots in the strong Union advance during the winter of 1861-1862 that resulted in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. Continued below…

The offensive collapsed General Albert S. Johnston advanced line in Kentucky and forced him to withdraw all the way to northern Mississippi. Anxious to attack the enemy, Johnston began concentrating Southern forces at Corinth, a major railroad center just below the Tennessee border. His bold plan called for his Army of the Mississippi to march north and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with another Union army on the way to join him. On the morning of April 6, Johnston boasted to his subordinates, "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee!" They nearly did so. Johnston's sweeping attack hit the unsuspecting Federal camps at Pittsburg Landing and routed the enemy from position after position as they fell back toward the Tennessee River. Johnston's sudden death in the Peach Orchard, however, coupled with stubborn Federal resistance, widespread confusion, and Grant's dogged determination to hold the field, saved the Union army from destruction. The arrival of General Don C. Buell's reinforcements that night turned the tide of battle. The next day, Grant seized the initiative and attacked the Confederates, driving them from the field. Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, with nearly 24,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Edward Cunningham, a young Ph.D. candidate studying under the legendary T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University, researched and wrote Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 in 1966. Although it remained unpublished, many Shiloh experts and park rangers consider it to be the best overall examination of the battle ever written. Indeed, Shiloh historiography is just now catching up with Cunningham, who was decades ahead of modern scholarship. Western Civil War historians Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith have resurrected Cunningham's beautifully written and deeply researched manuscript from its undeserved obscurity. Fully edited and richly annotated with updated citations and observations, original maps, and a complete order of battle and table of losses, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 will be welcomed by everyone who enjoys battle history at its finest. Edward Cunningham, Ph.D., studied under T. Harry Williams at Louisiana State University. He was the author of The Port Hudson Campaign: 1862-1863 (LSU, 1963). Dr. Cunningham died in 1997. Gary D. Joiner, Ph.D. is the author of One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864, winner of the 2004 Albert Castel Award and the 2005 A. M. Pate, Jr., Award, and Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. About the Author: Timothy B. Smith, Ph.D., is author of Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (winner of the 2004 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Non-fiction Award), The Untold Story of Shiloh: The Battle and the Battlefield, and This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park. A former ranger at Shiloh, Tim teaches history at the University of Tennessee.


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

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