Stones River Civil War Campaign
Battle of Stones River Campaign History
of Stone's River
By G. C. Kniffin, Lieut. Colonel, U.
S. V., Of General Crittenden's Staff
|Battle of Stones River Campaign Map
|Stones River, Tennessee Battlefield Map
ON the 26th of December 1862, General W. S. Rosecrans,
who on the 20th of October had succeeded General Buell in the command of the Army of the Cumberland, set out from Nashville
with that army with the purpose of attacking the Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg, then concentrated in the
neighborhood of Murfreesboro on Stone's River Tenn. (Stones River Campaign, Tennessee)
corps into which the army was organized moved by the following routes: General Crittenden by the Murfreesboro turnpike, arriving
within two miles of Murfreesboro on the night of the 29th; General Thomas's corps by the Franklin and Wilkinson turnpikes,
thence by cross-roads to the Murfreesboro pike, arriving a few hours later; and General McCook's corps, marching by the Nolensville
pike to Triune, and bivouacking at Overall's Creek on the same night. The forward movement had not been accomplished without
some sharp fighting. The advance of Crittenden had a spirited action at La Vergne, and again at the Stewart's Creek bridge.
McCook fought at Nolensville, and the cavalry, under General Stanley, found the march a continuous skirmish; but the Confederate
advance pickets had fallen back upon the main line, where they rejoined their divisions. (Battle of Stones River)
The armies were about equally matched. Bragg's effective strength on December 10th was 39,304
infantry, 10,070 cavalry, and 1758 artillery,-total, 51,132 (Battle of Stones River: Confederate Army Order of Battle); while on December 15th General Rosecrans's returns showed a present for duty of 51,822 infantry and artillery,
and 4849 cavalry,-total, 56,671 (Battle of Stones River: Union Army Order of Battle). In each army these figures were diminished by the usual details for hospital and transportation
service, train guards, and other purposes, so that Rosecrans reported his force actually engaged, December 31st, at 43,400,
while Bragg placed his own force at 37,712. (1)
Rosecrans's left wing, under Crittenden, bivouacked on the night of the 29th within seven hundred
yards of the Confederate lines in front of Murfreesboro. Crittenden's orders had been to go into Murfreesboro,
and he was inclined to obey them. Riding forward, he found the two advance divisions arranged in line of battle, and, against
the remonstrance of General Wood, ordered a forward movement. Palmer united with Wood, however, in a protest on the ground
that an advance at night over unknown ground, in the face of a force of unknown strength, was too hazardous to be undertaken.
General Crittenden finally suspended the execution of the order one hour, and soon after it
was countermanded by General Rosecrans, who came up to Crittenden's headquarters at the toll-house on the Nashville turnpike. (Battle of Stones River Maps)
(1) One reason for the unreliability of official returns for historical purposes is that the
absence of tri-monthly and monthly returns of numerous organizations frequently require the use of the returns "last on file,"
which may be three months old, thus leaving out of the account, as rendered by the brigade, division, or corps adjutant, the
numerous casualties that have tended to diminish the actual strength of those organizations since last reported.-G. C. K.
Crittenden's line of battle was the base of a triangle of which Stone's River on his left and
the line of a dense cedar thicket on his right formed the other sides. General Wood's division occupied the left, with his
flank resting on the river, General Palmer's the right, while General Van Cleve was in reserve near a ford of Stone's River.
Of Thomas's two divisions, Negley formed on the right of Palmer, with his right on the Wilkinson pike, while Rousseau was
in reserve. (1) The soldiers lay down on the wet ground without fires, under a drenching rain. The slumber s of the commanding
general were disturbed at half-past 3 on the morning of the 30th by a call from General McCook, who had just come up and who
was instructed to rest the left of his corps upon Negley's right. Of his divisions, Sheridan
therefore, preceded by Stanley's cavalry, moved on the Wilkinson
turnpike, closely followed by R. W. Johnson and Davis. Skirmishing into position, the line was formed by resting the left
of Sheridan's division on the Wilkinson pike, Davis
taking position on his right and Johnson in reserve. (Battle of Stones River: Union Report)
The general course of the Nashville and Murfreesboro turnpike, and of the railroad where they crossed the line of battle, is south-east.
On the left of the turnpike, and opposite the toll-gate house, was a grove of trees of about four acres in extent, crowning
a slight elevation known as the "Round Forest,"
in Which Wagner's brigade was posted.
(1) An important cavalry raid by General Wheeler around the Union army had engaged two of Thomas's
brigades, Starkweather's and Walker's.
During the night of the 29th General Wheeler, who had moved from the
left to the right of Murfreesboro, advancing by the Lebanon and Jefferson pikes, gained the rear of Rosecrans's army and attacked
Starkweather's brigade of Rousseau's division, at Jefferson, at daylight on the 30th. The head of his brigade train, consisting
of sixty-four wagons, had just arrived in camp, and was driving into park, when Wheeler dashed down upon it with three thousand
cavalry. But he had encountered an antagonist as vigilant as himself. Wheeler's men, dismounted, advanced gallantly to the
charge, when they were as gallantly met. After two hour s' contest twenty wagons in the rear of the train were taken and destroyed,
but the assault upon the brigade was handsomely repulsed. The Confederates fell back, followed by Starkweather for more than
a mile, when he returned to camp. The Union loss in killed, wounded, and missing was 122. (Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro] Civil War (Confederate))
From Jefferson Wheeler proceeded toward La Vergne, picking up stragglers
and a small forage train, arriving at La Vergne about noon of the same day, where he captured the immense supply trains of
McCook's corps, moving slowly forward under insufficient guard.
Seven hundred prisoners and nearly a million dollars' worth of property
was the penalty paid by the Government for not heeding the requests of the commanding general for more cavalry. The work of
paroling prisoners, burning wagons, exchanging arms and horses, and driving off mules commenced at once and occupied the remainder
of the day and night. Early on the morning of the 31st Colonel M. B. Walker's Union brigade (of Fry's division Thomas's corps),
on its night march from Nolensville to Stewartsboro', arrived within two and a half miles of La Vergne, and advanced at once
to the scene of devastation. The turnpike, as far as the eye could reach, was filled with burning wagons. The country
was over spread with disarmed men, broken-down horses and mules. The streets were covered with empty valises and trunks, knapsacks,
broken guns, and all the indescribable debris of a captured and rifled army train. A few shells, judiciously administered,
sufficed to set Wheeler's stragglers scampering after the main body, now far on its way toward Rock spring. Walker recaptured eight hundred men and all the train animals, and saved some of the stores.
A train there, and another at Nolensville, shared the fate of that at La Vergne, and three hundred paroled prisoners were
left to carry the tidings back to Nashville. At 2 o'clock
on the morning of the 31st Wheeler came up bright and smiling upon the left flank of the Confederate army in front of Murfreesboro,
having made the entire circuit of Rosecrans's army in forty-eight hours, leaving miles of road strewn with burning wagons
and army supplies, remounting a portion of his cavalry, and bringing back to camp a sufficient number of minie-rifles and
accouterments to arm a brigade.-G. C. K.
The line of battle trending irregularly southward, facing east and accommodating itself to the character
of the ground, Was much nearer the Confederate line in front of McCook than on the left, Where the flanks of the contending
armies Were separated by Stone's River. At 4 o'clock General McCook reported the alignment of the right wing, together With
the fact that two divisions of Polk's corps and two of Hardee's were in his front, extending far to from surprise by an outlook
over a narrow cultivated
(1)During the afternoon, General McCook being informed that his line was greatly overlapped
by the enemy, Johnson's division was moved up on Davis's right.
Kirk's brigade on the left was formed on the right of Post, but was advanced slightly to obtain position in the front edge
of a woodland, commanding the ground in front. Willich's line was refused to the right and rear of Kirk's, and Baldwin was in reserve. The left wing maintained substantially the same position it had assumed tho
previous night. The pioneer brigade, under Captain Morton, was posted on stone's River, in rear of Wood, to prepare fords.
Rousseau came up with Scribner's, Beatty's and the Regular brigade, and took position in rear of Negley.- G. C. K.
valley, widening from-left to
right from 200 to 500 yards, beyond which, in a dense cedar thicket, the enemy's lines were dimly visible. Confidence in the
strength and staying qualities of his troops, and reluctance to yield a favorable position without a struggle, together with
the fact that the retirement of his line must be executed-in the night, induced General McCook to make the fatal mistake of
leaving his position unchanged. (Battle of Stones River Tennessee (Union))
The plan of battle was as follows: General McCook was to occupy the most advantageous position,
refusing his right as much as was practicable and necessary to secure it ; to receive the attack of the enemy, or, if that
did not come, to attack sufficiently to hold all the forces in his front. General Thomas and General Palmer were to open with
skirmishing and engage the enemy s center and left as far as the river. Crittenden was to cross Van Cleve's division at the
lower ford (covered and supported by Morton's Pioneers 1700 strong) and to advance on Breckinridge. Wood's division was to
cross by brigades at the upper ford, and, moving on Van Cleve's right, was to carry everything before it to Murfreesboro.
This move was intended to dislodge Breckinridge, and to gain the high ground east of Stone's River, so that Wood's batteries
could enfilade the heavy body of troops massed in front of Negley and Palmer. The center and left, using Negley's right as
a pivot, were to swing round though Murfreesboro and take the force confronting McCook in rear,
driving it into the country toward Salem. The successful execution
of General Rosecrans's design depended not more upon the spirit and gallantry of the assaulting column than upon the courage
and obstinacy with which the position held by the right wing should be maintained. Having explained this fact to General McCook,
the commanding general asked him if with a full knowledge of the ground, he could, if attacked, hold his position three hours,-again
alluding to his dissatisfaction with the direction which his lime had assumed but, as before, leaving that to the corps commander,-to
which McCook replied, "I think I can." Swift witnesses had borne to the ears of General Bragg the movements of General Rosecrans.
He had in his army about the same proportion of raw troops to veterans as General Rosecrans, and the armies were equally well
armed. By a singular coincidence Bragg had formed a plan identical with that of his antagonist. If both could have been carried
out simultaneously the spectacle would have been presented of two large armies turning upon an axis from left to right. Lieutenant-General
Hardee was put in command of the Confederate left wing, consisting of McCown's and Cleburne's
divisions, and received orders to attack at daylight. Hardee's attack was to be taken up by Polk with the divisions of Cheatham
and Withers, in succession to the right flank, the move to be made by a constant wheel to the right, on Polk's right flank
as a pivot. The object of General Bragg was by an early and impetuous attack to force the Union army back upon Stone's River,
and, if practicable, by the aid of the cavalry, cut it off from its base of operations and supplies by the Nashville pike.
As has been shown the Union and Confederate lines were much nearer together on the Union right than on the left. In point of fact the distance to be marched by Van Cleve to strike Breckinridge
on Bragg's right, crossing Stone's River by the lower ford, was a mile and a half. To carry out the order of General Bragg
to charge upon Rosecrans's right, the Confederate left wing, doubled, with McCown in the first line and Cleburne in support, had only to follow at double-quick the advance of the skirmish line
a few hundred paces, to find themselves in close conflict with McCook. (Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro) Tennessee)
The Confederate movement began at daybreak. General Hardee moved his two divisions with the
precision that characterized that able commander.
McCown, deflecting to the west, as he advanced to the attack, left an opening between his right
and Withers's left, into which Cleburne's division fell and together the two divisions charged upon R. W. Johnson and Davis,
while yet the men of those divisions were preparing breakfast. There was no surprise. The first movement in their front was
observed by the Union skirmish line, but that first movement was a hush as of a tornado. The skirmishers fell back steadily,
fighting, upon the main line, but the main line was overborne by the fury of the assault. Far to the right, overlapping R.
W. Johnson, the Confederate line came sweeping on like the resistless tide, driving artillerists from their guns and infantry
from their encampments. Slowly the extreme right fell back, at first contesting every inch of ground. In Kirk's brigade 500
men were killed or wounded in a few minutes. Which lost nearly as many, Goodspeed's battery on Willich's right, lost three
guns. The swing of Bragg's left flank toward the right brought McCown's brigades upon the right of Davis's division. Leaving the detachments in R. W. Johnson's division to the attention of
two of his brigades and Wheeler's cavalry, McCown turned McNair to the right, where Cleburne
was already heavily engaged. Driving Davis's skirmishers before him Cleburne advanced with difficulty in line of battle, bearing
to the right over rough ground cut up with numerous fences arid thickets and came upon the maim line at a distance of three-fourths
of a mile from his place of bivouac. It was not yet daylight when he began his march and he struck the Union line at 6 o'clock.
General Davis now changed the front of Colonel Post's brigade nearly perpendicular to the rear. Pinney's battery was moved
to the right, and the 59th Illinois assigned to its support.
One-fourth of a mile to the right of' Post, Baldwin's brigade, with Simonson's battery on
its right, took position behind a fence on the margin of a wood. Carlin's Woodruff's and Sill's brigades were on the main
battle line. Against this force, about seven thousand strong without works of any kind, Hardee hurled the seven brigades commanded
by Manigault, Loomis, Polk, Bushrod Johnson, Wood, Liddell, and McNair -10,000 men. The engagement which followed (being the
second distinct stage of the battle on the right) was one of the fiercest of the day. Baldwin
was the first to give way. After half an hour's spirited resistance, finding the left of McCown's division, in pursuit of
the remnants of Willich's and Kirk's brigades, advancing far beyond his right, Baldwin withdrew
to the edge of the woods in rear of the front line, and tried to make a stand, but was driven back. The salient angle formed
by the junction of Post's brigade with Carlin's which at this time formed the right of the extreme Union line of battle, was
in the meantime fiercely assailed. In front of Post the Confederates under McCown in command, of' McNair's brigade of his
own division, and Liddell of Cleburne's division, received a decided repulse; and Cleburne
was for a time equally unsuccessful in pushing back the main Union line.
Three successive assaults were made upon this position. In the second, Vaughan's and Maney's brigades of Cheatham's division relieved Loomis's and Manigault's.
In the third attack Post's brigade was enveloped by Hardee's left, which, sweeping toward his rear, made withdrawal a necessity.
Sill had been killed in the first assault. Schaefer's Union brigade was brought forward to the support of the front line.
The dying order from General Sill to charge was gallantly obeyed, and Loomis was driven back to his first position. Manigault
advanced at about 8 o'clock and attacked directly in his front, but, meeting with the same reception, was compelled to retire.
A second attack resulted like the first. Maney's brigade now came up and advanced in line with Manigault's supported by Vaughan's. Turner's Confederate battery took position near the brick-kiln,
and opened fire, under cover of which Manigault made an unsuccessful dash upon Houghtaling's Union battery. Colonel Roberts
was killed, and Colonel Bradley, of the 52d Illinois, succeeded
to the command of the brigade. Having completed the formation of his line, Hardee gave the order for a general advance, and
that portion of the right wing, which up to this time had resisted every assault made upon it, retreated in perfect order
toward the left and rear, with empty cartridge boxes, but with courage undaunted. Schaefer's brigade, being entirely out of
ammunition, obeyed Sheridan's order to fix bayonets and await
Roberts's brigade, having a few cartridges left, fell back, resisting the enemy.
With the country to the right and rear overrun by McCown's infantry and Wheeler's cavalry in
pursuit of R. W. Johnson's routed division one-half of, which were either killed, wounded, or captured, and with a strong,
determined enemy pressing them upon front and flank Davis and Sheridan now found themselves menaced by another powerful auxiliary
to def eat. Their ammunition was nearly exhausted, and there was none nearer than the Nashville Murfreesboro pike in the rear
of Crittenden. On the other hand, McCown , in his report, refer s to the necessity of replenishing his ammunition at this
juncture Liddell's brigade having exhausted forty rounds per man. (Battle of Stones River [Murfreesboro])
Carlin's brigade retired and re-formed on the Murfreesboro
pike. Woodruff held out some time longer, but finally followed Carlin toward the left, taking all the artillery with him with
the exception of one gun from, Pinney's battery. Captain Pinney, dangerously wounded was left upon the, field. The withdrawal
of the artillery was a matter of gr eater difficulty.
Nearly all the horses having been killed, the attempt was made to withdraw the pieces by the
use of prolonges. Lieutenant Taliaferro, commanding a section of Hescock's battery, was killed, and his sergeant brought off
his two guns by hand. The ground, however, was too rough, and the road to safety too long, and in consequence the six guns
of Houghtaling's battery were abandoned. Dragging the remaining pieces of artillery with them Sheridan's division at 11 o'clock emerged from the cedars on Palmer's right, passing Rousseau
on his way to the front. Cheatham's Confederates advanced in line of battle over the ground vacated by the Union right wing,
and came up with Stewart's brigade hotly engaged with Negley, while Cleburne and McCown, sweeping toward the Nashville pike,
driving hundreds of fugitives before them, encountered a new line improvised by Rosecrans to meet the emergency.
Thus far the plan of battle formed by Bragg had been carried out in strict conformity with
its requirements. It now remained for Withers and Cheatham to drive the Union center back on the Union
left. The retirement of Sheridan's division precipitated the entire command of Cheatham and a portion of Withers's upon Negley's
two brigades and two brigades of Rousseau, on the left of the Wilkinson pike, taking them in front, left flank and rear. The
roar of artillery and the sharp rattle of musketry had aroused these brigades early, and they had stood in line, for hours,
im momentary expectation of an attack upon their front. This, it is possible, would have been repulsed ; but when it came
in such a questionable shape, preceded by a cloud of retreating troops, but one course appeared to present itself to the commander,
and that was to fall back. Nevertheless, he faced Colonel T. R. Stanley's brigade to the right, and ordered Colonel John F.
Miller to hold his position to the last extremity. Miller arranged his brigade in convex order, with Schultz's battery on
his right and Ellsworth's battery on his left. Simultaneously with Cheatham's advance upon his right, Stewart's and Anderson's
brigades attacked Miller in front. Miller's lines were barely formed when a heavy musketry and artillery fire opened upon
his men who met the charge with a well-directed fire. On his right was Stanley,
and the rapid discharge of Schultz's and Ellsworth's guns told with terrible precision upon the ranks of the advancing Confederates
who soon halted but did not abate their fire. The 29th and 30th Mississippi, of Anderson's brigade, made a dash upon Schultz's battery, but were hurled
back behind the friendly cover of a stone wall, where Stewart passed them in his charge upon Miller. A bayonet charge was
met by the 21st Ohio, and repulsed with great gallantry.
The fighting at this point was terrific. All along the front the dead and wounded lay in heaps, and over their bodies came
the assaulting host, seemingly strong and brave as when the first charge was made in the morning. But the inevitable result
of a successful flank movement, by which the ammunition trains had been captured, came to Negley's strong fighting brigades
as it had come to those of Sheridan and Davis. Ammunition was near ly exhausted, and it could only be replenished in rear
of Crittenden, whose lines still stood intact. Negley ordered Stanley to retire, which he did in perfect order; and Miller's
brigade, after holding its position until the ammunition on the per sons of the killed and wounded was all used, slowly fell
back to re-form in Palmer's rear.
Rosecrans, having arranged his plan of battle, had risen early to superintend its execution.
Crittenden, whose headquarters were a few paces distant, mounted at 6 A. M., and with his staff rode to an eminence, where
Rosecrans, surrounded by his staff-officers, was listening to the opening guns on the right. The plan of Bragg was instantly
divined, but no apprehension of danger was felt. Suddenly the woods on the right in the rear of Negley appeared to be alive
with men wandering aimlessly in the direction of the rear. The roar of artillery grew more distinct, mingled with the continuous
volleys of musketry. The rear of a line of battle always presents the pitiable spectacle of a horde of skulkers, men who,
when tried in the fierce flame of battle, find, often to their own disgust, that they are lacking in the element of courage
But the spectacle of whole regiments of soldiers flying in panic to the rear was a sight never seen by the Army of the Cumberland
except on that occasion. Captain Otis, from his position on the extreme right, dispatched a messenger, who arrived breathless,
to inform General Rosecrans that the right wing was in rapid retreat. The astounding intelligence was confirmed a moment later
by a staff-officer from McCook, calling for reenforcement. "Tell General McCook" said Rosecrans ``to contest, every inch of
ground. If he holds them we will swing into Murfreesboro and cut them off." Then Rousseau with his reserves
was sent into the fight, and Van Cleve, who, in the execution of the initial movement on the left had, crossed Stone's River
at 6 A. M. at the lower ford, and was marching in close column up the hill beyond the river (preparatory to forming a line
of battle for a movement to the right, where Wood was to join him in an assault upon Breckinridge), was arrested by an order
to return and take position on the turnpike facing toward the woods on the right. A few moments later this gallant division
came dashing across the fields, with water dripping from their clothing, to take a hand in the fray. Harker's brigade was
withdrawn from the left and sent in on Rousseau's right, and Morton's Pioneers, relieved at the ford by Price's brigade, were
posted on Harker's right. The remaining brigades of Van Cleve's division (Beatty's and Fyffe's) formed on the extreme right,
and thus an improvised line half a mile in extent presented a new and unexpected front to the approaching enemy. It was a
trying position to these men to stand in line while the panic-stricken soldiers of McCook's beaten regiments, flying in terror
through the woods, rushed past them. The Union lines could not fire for their comrades were between them and the enemy. Rosecrans
seemed ubiquitous. All these dispositions had been made under his personal supervision. While riding rapidly to the front,
Colonel Garesche, his chief-of-staff, was killed at his side by a cannon-ball. Finding Sheridan coming out of the cedars into
which Rousseau had just entered, Rosecrans directed Sheridan to the ammunition train, with orders to fill his cartridge-boxes
and march to the support of Hazen's brigade, now hotly engaged on the edge of the Round Forest The left was now exposed to
attack by Breckinridge, and riding rapidly to the ford, Rosecrans inquired who commanded the brigade. "I do, sir," said Colonel
Price. "W ill you hold this ford?" "I will try, sir." "Will you hold this ford?" "I will die right here." "Will you hold this
ford?" for the third time thundered the general. "Yes, sir," said the colonel. "That will do"; and away galloped Rosecrans
to Palmer, who was contending against long odds for the possession of the Round
Forest. (Civil War Battle of Stones River History: Park Guide)
At half-past 10 o'clock Rousseau's reserve division, shorn of one brigade, under command of
Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau, was ordered into action on the right of General Negley. The two brigades commanded by Colonels
John Beatty and B. F. Scribner, known as the 17th and 9th of the old Army of the Ohio, were the same that only three months
before had hurled back the strong fighting brigades of Hardee on the bloody slopes of Chaplin Hills or Perryville. The regular
brigade, composed of five battalions of the 15th, 16th, 18th, and 19th United States Infantry, commanded by Colonel Oliver
L. Shepherd, under perfect discipline, was placed on the extreme right.
The line was formed in a dense cedar brake, through which Cleburne's
and McCown's victorious columns were advancing, sweeping everything before them. On the left the roar of battle in Negley's
front showed that all was not lost, and to his right Colonel John Beatty's brigade was formed. Scribner was held in reserve.
The shock of battle fell heaviest upon the regulars; over one-third of the command fell either killed or wounded. Major Slemmer,
of Fort Pickens
fame, was wounded early. Steadily, as if on drill, the trained battalions fired by file, mowing down the advancing Confederate
lines. Guenther's battery could not long check the fury of the charge that bone down upon the flanks and was fast enveloping
the entire command.
Lieutenant-Colonel Kell, the commander of the 2d Ohio, was
killed; Colonel Forman, the boy Colonel of the 15th Kentucky,
and Major Carpenter, of the 19th Infantry, fell mortally wounded. There was no resource but to retreat upon support. At this
moment Negley's division, with empty cartridge-boxes, fell back, and Rousseau, finding his flanks exposed, after a, heroic
fight of over two hours, fell back slowly and stubbornly to the open field, where his flanks could be more secure. Captain
Morton, with the Pioneers and the Chicago Board of Trade battery, pushed W to the cedars, and disappear ed from view on their
way to the front simultaneously with Harker. The general course of the tide of the straggler s toward the rear struck the
Nashville turnpike at the point where Van Cleve stood impatiently
awaiting the order to advance. All along the line men were falling, .struck by the bullets of the enemy, who soon appeared
at the edge of the woods on Morton's flank. At the order to charge, given by General Rosecrans in person, Van Cleve's division
sprang forward reserving their fire for close quarters. It was the crisis in the battle. If this line should be broken all
would be lost. Steadily the line moved forward, sending a shower of bullets to the front.
The brigades of Stanley and Miller having fallen back, as previously described, and the entire
strength of Cheatham and three brigades of Withers and Cleburne
having come upon Rousseau, the latter had fallen back into the open field, where he found Van Cleve. Loomis's and Guenther's
batteries, double-shotted with canister, were posted on a ridge, and as the Confederate line advanced, opened upon it with
terrific force. Men fell all along the line, but it moved straight ahead. The field was covered with dead and wounded men.
The deep bass of the artillery was mingled with the higher notes of the minie-rifles, while in the brief pauses could be distinguished
the quickly spoken orders of commanding officers and the groans of the wounded. It was the full orchestra of battle. But there
is a limit to human endurance.
The Confederate brigades, now melted to three-fourths their original numbers, wavered and fell
back; again and again they re-formed in the woods and advanced to the charge, only to meet with a bloody repulse. All along
the line from Harker's right to Wood's left, the space gradually narrowed between the contending hosts. The weak had gone
to the rear; there was no room now for any but brave men, and no time given for new dispositions; every man who had a stomach
for fighting was engaged on the front line.
From a right angle the Confederate left had been pressed back by Van Cleve and Harker and the
Pioneers to an angle of 45 degrees. This advance brought Van Cleve within view of Rousseau, who at once requested him to for
m on his right.
General Harker, entering the woods on the left of Van Cleve, passed to his right, and now closed
up on his flank. The enemy had fallen back, stubbornly fighting, and made a stand on the left of Cheatham. Brave old Van Cleve,
his white hair streaming in the wind, the blood flowing from a wound in his foot, rode gallantly along the line to where Harker
was stiffly holding his position, with his right "in the air." Bidding him hold fast to every inch of ground, he rode on to
Swallow's battery, which was working with great rapidity. He then passed to the left, where General Samuel Beatty's brigade
was firing with their minie-rifles at a line of men which seemed to be always on the point of advancing.
The advance of Bragg's left wing had brought it into a position at right angles with the original
line. The entire strength of the center, and most of the left, was concentrated upon the angle formed by Rousseau and the
right of Palmer's division. Chalmers's Confederate brigade, which up to 10 o'clock had lain concealed in the rifle-pits on
the right of Withers's line arose at the order , and, under a terrific fire, dashed forward across the open field upon Palmer's
front. Finding that the time had come for a decisive blow General Bragg now directed General Breckinridge to send two brigades
to the left to reenforce Polk. General Pegram, who, with his cavalry, was posted on the Lebanon pike in advance of Breckinridge's right, had observed Van Cleve's movement,
and notified General Breckinridge that a heavy column of infantry and artillery had crossed Stone's River and was advancing
along the river bank upon the position occupied by Hanson's brigade. Interpreting this as the initial movement in a plan which
was intended to strike his division, Breckinridge declined to obey Bragg's order, which W his report he terms a "suggestion."
At ten minutes after ten he replied, "The enemy is undoubtedly advancing upon me." Soon after he wrote Bragg, "The Lebanon
road is unprotected, and I have no troops to fill out my line to it "At half-past eleven, upon Bragg ordering him to move
for ward and attack the Union left, Breckinridge replied, "I am obeying your order, but my left is now engaged with the enemy,
and if I advance my whole line farther forward, and still retain communication with my left, it will take me clear away from
the Lebanon road, and expose my right and that road to a heavy force of the enemy advancing from Black's." The withdrawal
of Van Cleve appeal s to have passed unnoticed by Breckinridge, and was undiscovered until too late to accomplish any good
by complying with Bragg's order. Thus, by simply thrusting forward the left flank of his army and at once withdrawing it,
General Rosecrans had held four Confederate brigades inactive at a time when their presence in support of Chalmers might have
administered the coup de grace to the center of the Union line.
The movement of Crittenden's left and center divisions upon Bragg's right wing having been
arrested, Wood's division was in position to cross at the upper ford. Wagner's brigade was at the river bank. Hascall was
in reserve some distance to the rear of the opening between Wagner's right and Hazen's left. The withdrawal of Negley from
Palmer's right precipitated the attack of Donelson's and Chalmers's brigades against the right and Adams
and Jackson against the left. Chalmers's attack was made with great fury. His men had been confined, without fires, in their
rifle-pits for forty-eight hours, and when finally the order came at 10 o'clock to "up and at 'em," they came forward like
a pack of hounds in full cry. Cruft recoiled from the attack in the open field between the Round Forest and the wood in which Negley was
engaged, and, falling back, met the charge at the time that Negley moved to the rear. Now Cruft's right was in the air and
exposed to attack by Donelson following Negley. Cruft repulsed Chalmers in his front, but Donelson's brigade, pouring to his
rear, threatened to envelop him. Grose, from his position in reserve, faced to the right, and soon after to the rear, and
bore back the charging columns, enabling Cruft to withdraw.
When Chalmers's assault first fell upon Palmer's right, Hazen faced his two right regiments,
the 6th Kentucky and 9th Indiana, to the rear, where the impetus of Chalmer s's assault upon Cruft had borne him, at the same
time retiring the two left regiments, the 41st Ohio and 110th Illinois, some fifty yards to the left of the pike and engaged
to the front, the 40th Indiana having fallen back. A burnt brick house [Cowan's] in the immediate front of the Round Forest afforded
cover for the enemy, and in the steady, persistent effort to force back the front of Hazen's line the action became terrific.
All of Hascall's brigade, and two regiments of Wagner's, being engaged on the right of the 6th Kentucky, and Wagner's remaining
regiments being W position at the ford some distance to the left, the assault on the left was borne by Hazen, whose brigade
was thought by Polk to be the extreme left of the Union line. Upon this point, as on a pivot, the entire army oscillated from
front to rear for hours. Hazen's horse fell shot square in the forehead.
Word came that the ammunition of the 41st Ohio
was nearly exhausted.
"Fix bayonets and hold your ground!" was the order. To the 110th Illinois, who had no bayonets, and whose cartridges were expended, the order was given to
club their muskets, but to hold the ground. The 9th Indiana now dashed across the line of
fire, from a battery in front, to the left to relieve the 41st Ohio.
Cannon-balls tore through their ranks, but they were rapidly closed up, and the men took their place in the front line, the
41st retiring with thinned ranks, but in excellent order, to refill their empty cartridge boxes. An ominous silence succeeded,
soon followed by the charge of Donelson's fresh Confederate brigade and the remains of Chalmers's. The time had been occupied
in the readjustment of Palmer's line. The 24th Ohio, commanded
by Colonel Fred Jones, and the 36th Indiana, shorn of half its strength in the previous assault, were sent to Hazen's support.
Parsons's battery was posted on the left. The 3d Kentucky,
led by McKee, dashed forward and took position on the right of the 9th Indianan across the turnpike. The terrible slaughter
in this regiment attests its courage.
While Hazen and Wagner were thus gallantly defending the left of the line from 9 o'clock in
the morning until 2 in the afternoon, the fight raged not less furiously on their immediate right. Here a line was formed,
composed of two brigades of Palmer's division and Hascall of Wood's, filled out- by the remains of Sheridan's and Negley's
divisions, who, after they had replenished their ammunition, formed behind the railroad embankment at right angles with Hazen's
brigade, which alone retained its position upon the original line. Farther to the right was Rousseau, with Van Cleve, Harker,
and Morton on his right. At this supreme moment the chances of victory were evenly balanced. The undaunted soldiers of the
left and center had swept past the crowd of fugitives from the right wing, and now in strong array they stood like a rockbound
coast beating back the tide which threatened to engulf the rear.
Along this line rode Rosecrans, Thomas calm inflexible, from whose gaze skulkers shrank abashed;
Crittenden, cheerful and full of hope, complimenting his men as he rode along the lines; Rousseau, whose impetuosity no disaster
could quell; Palmer, with a stock of cool courage and presence of mind equal to any emergency; Wood, suffering from a wound
in his heel staid in the saddle, but had lost that jocularity which usually characterized him. "Good-bye, General we'll all
meet at the hatter's, as one coon said to another when the dogs were after them," he had said to Crittenden early in the action.
"Are we doing it about right now, General 2 " asked Morton as he glanced along the blazing line of muskets to where the Chicago battery [Stokes's] was hard at work. "All right, fire low," said
Rosecrans as he dashed by. Colonel Grose, always in his place, had command of the Ammen brigade, of Shiloh
memory, which, with Hazen's and Cruft's brigades, had driven the right of Beauregard's victorious army off that field. After
the formation of this line at noon it never receded; the right swung around until, at 2 o'clock, considerable of the lost
ground had been retaken. The artillery, more than fifty guns, was massed in the open ground behind the angle in the line (twenty-eight
Union guns had been captured), where they poured iron missiles continuously upon the Confederate line. They could not fire
amiss. The fire from Cox's battery was directed upon Hanson's brigade across the river, whence Cobb, with his Napoleons, returned
the compliment with zeal and precision. Schaefer's brigade, having received a new stock of cartridges, formed on Palmer's
right, where later its commander received his death wound, the last of Sheridan's
brigade commanders to fall during the day. At 4 o'clock it became evident to the Confederate commander that his only hope
of success lay W a charge upon the Union left, which, by its overpowering weight, should carry everything before it. The movement
of Cleburne to the left in support of McCown had deprived
him of reserves; but Breckinridge had two brigades unemployed on the right, and these were peremptorily ordered across the
river to the support of General Polk.
The charge of Adams and Jackson, and the subsequent attack of Preston's
and Palmer's brigades, have been described. The error made by General Polk in making an attack with the two brigades that
first arrived upon the field, instead of waiting the arrival of General Breckinridge with the remaining brigades, was so palpable
as to render an excuse for failure necessary.
This was easily found in the tardy execution of Bragg's order by Breckinridge, and resulted
in sharp criticism of the latter. The Union 3d Kentucky,
now nearly annihilated, was relieved by the 58th Indiana, Colonel George P. Buell. The 6th Ohio,
Colonel Nicholas L. Anderson at its head, took position on the right of the 26th Ohio,
with its right advanced so that its line of fire would sweep the front of the regiments on its left. The 97th Ohio
and 100th Illinois came up and still further strengthened
the position. They had not long to wait for the Confederate attack. These dispositions had hardly been made when a long line
of infantry emerged from behind the hill. Adams's and Jackson's brigades were on the right, and Donelson's and Chalmers's,
badly cut up but stout of heart, were on the left. On they came in splendid style, full six thousand strong. Estep's case-shot
tore through their ranks, but the gaps closed up. Parsons sent volley after volley of grape-shot against them, and the 6th
and the 26th Ohio, taking up the refrain, added the sharp
rattle of minie-rifles to the unearthly din. Still the line pressed forward, firing as they came, until met by a simultaneous
and destructive volley of musketry. They staggered, but quickly reformed and, reenforced by Preston
and the Confederate Palmer, advanced again to the charge. The battle had hushed on the extreme right, and the gallantry of
this advance is indescribable. The right was even with the left of' the Union line, and the left stretched far past the point
of woods from which Negley had retired. It was such a charge as this that at Shiloh broke
the strong lines of W. H. L. Wallace and Hurlbut, and enveloped Prentiss. The Confederates had no sooner moved into the open
field from the cover of the river bank than they were received with a blast from the artillery. Men plucked the cotton from
the boles at their feet and stuffed it in their ears. Huge gaps were torn in the Confederate line at every discharge. The
Confederate line staggered forward half the distance across the fields, when the Union infantry lines added minie-balls to
the fury of the storm. Then the Confederates wavered and fell back, and the first day's fight was over.
New Year's was a day of fair weather. During the night Rosecrans retired his left to a more
advantageous position, the extreme left resting on Stone's River at the lower for d, where Van Cleve had crossed on the previous
morning, the line of battle extending to Stokes's battery, posted on a knoll on Rosecrans's right. Walker's and Starkweather's
brigades having come up, the former bivouacked in close column in reserve in rear of McCook's left and the latter, posted
on Sheridan's left, next morning relieved Van Cleve's division, now commanded by Colonel Samuel Beatty, which crossed the
river and took position on the margin of a woodland that covered a gentle slope extending from the river to an open field
in its front.
Across this field the Lebanon
road, running nearly at right angles with Beatty's line, was nearly in sight. In his front and right, an elevation still held
by Hanson's brigade of Breckinridge's division was crowned by Cobb's battery of artillery. Om the left and rear, Grose's brigade
of Palmer's division occupied a knoll in support of Livingston's battery on the following
The Confederate line, formed by Polk and Breckinridge on the right and Hardee on the left,
extended from the point on Stone's River where Chalmers's brigade had bivouacked since the 25th, in a direction almost at
right angles with its original line.
At dawn on the 1st of January the right flank of General Polk was advanced to occupy the ground
vacated by the Union army on the west bank of the river. Neither commander deemed it advisable to attack, but each was watchful
of every movement of the other. The picket lines on either side were thrust forward within sight of the main lines of the
opposing force, on the alert to notify their commanders of any movement in their front. Weaker in numbers, but more compact,
and decidedly stronger in morale, each awaited the order to advance and close in a final struggle.
General Bragg confidently expected to find the Union troops gone from his front on the morning
of the 2d. His cavalry had reported the turnpike full of troops and wagons moving toward Nashville,
but the force east of Stone's River soon attracted his attention. Reconnoissance by staff-officers revealed Beatty's line,
enfilading Polk in his new position. It was evident that Polk must be withdrawn or Beatty dislodged. Bragg chose the latter
alternative, and Breckinridge, against his earnest protest, was directed to concentrate his division and assault Beatty. Ten
Napoleon guns were added to his command, and the cavalry was ordered to cover his right. The line was formed by placing Hanson's
brigade of Kentuckians who had thus far borne no part in the engagement, on the extreme left, supported by Adams's
brigade, now commanded by Colonel Gibson. The Confederate Palmer's brigade, commanded by General Pillow, took the right of
the line, with Preston in reserve. The artillery was ordered to follow the attack and go
into position on the summit of the slope when Beatty should be driven from it. The total strength of the assaulting column
was estimated by Bragg at six thousand men. His cavalry took no part in the action.
In the assault that followed a brief cannonade, Hanson's left was thrown forward close to the
river bank, with orders to fire once, then charge with the bayonet. On the right of Beatty was Colonel S. W. Price's brigade,
and the charge made by Hanson's 6th Kentucky was met by Price's 8th Kentucky regiment, followed by Hanson and Pillow in successive
strokes from right to left of Beatty's line. Overborne by numerical strength, the Union brigades of Pr ice and Fyffe were
forced back upon Grider, in reserve, the right of whose brigade was rapidly being turned by Hanson, threatening to cut the
division off from the river. Beatty ordered retreat and assailants and assailed moved in a mass toward the river. The space
between the river bank and the ridge occupied by Grose now presented a scene of the wildest confusion. The pursuit led the
Confederate column to the right of Grose, and Lieutenant Livingston opened upon it with his artillery, but he was quickly
ordered across the river. Crittenden, turning to his chief-of-artillery, said, "Mendenhall, you must cover my men with your
guns." Never was there a more effective response to such a request ; the batteries of Swallow, Parsons, Estep, Stokes, Stevens,
Standart, Bradley, and Livingston dashed forward, wheeled into position, and opened fire. In all, fifty-eight pieces of artillery
played upon the enemy. Not less than one hundred shots per minute were fired. As the mass of men swarmed down the slope they
were mowed down by the score. Confederates were pinioned to the earth by falling branches. For a few minutes the brave fellows
held their ground, hoping to advance, but the west bank bristled with bayonets.
Hanson was mortally wounded and his brigade lost over 400 men; the loss in the division was
1410. There was no thought now of attacking Grose but one general impulse to get out of the jaws of death. The Union infantry
was soon ordered to charge. Colonel John F. Miller with his brigade and two regiments of Stanley's
was the first to cross the river, on the extreme left. He was quickly followed on the right by Davis and Morton and by Hazen
in the center. Beatty quickly re-formed his division and recrossed the river and joined in the pursuit. The artillery ceased
firing, and the Union line with loud cheers dashed forward, firing volley after volley upon the fugitives, who rallied behind
Robertson's battery and Anderson's brigade in the narrow skirt of timber from which they had emerged to the assault. The Union
line advanced and took possession of the ground from which Beatty had been driven an hour before, and both armies bivouacked
upon the battlefield. General Spear s, with a brigade guar ding a much-needed supply train, came up and took position on the
right, relieving Rousseau on the following morning.
General Bragg had been promptly notified by General Joseph Wheeler of the arrival of this reenforcement
to his antagonist, and says in his report:
"Common prudence and the safety of my army, upon which even the safety of our cause depended,
left no doubt on my mind as to the necessity of my withdrawal from so unequal a contest,"
Bragg acknowledged a loss of over 10,000 men, over 9000
of whom were killed or wounded,-nearly 25 percent of the total force engaged. The loss in the Union army was, in killed, 1533;
wounded, 7245 == 8778; and in prisoners, McCook, 2092; Thomas, 576; Crittenden, 821,-total, 3489. Apprehending the possible
success of a flank movement against his left, General Bragg had caused all the tents and baggage to be loaded on wagons and
sent to the rear. On the night of the 3d he began his retreat and continued it south of Elk River whence he was ordered back
to Tullahoma by General Johnston. (See also Tennessee Civil War History and Ten Bloodiest and Costliest American Civil War Battles)
(Related reading below.)
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.
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.
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
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.
Editor's Choice: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The
Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation,
reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When
people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters
and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with
still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era
he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew
only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller,
and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the
words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained
photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed
as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every
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)."