Wednesday, January 2, 2013

150th of Stones River

File:Rosecrans at Stones River.jpg
Battle of Stone River by Kurz and Allison, 1891.

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the last day of fighting at the Battle of Stone's River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee.

Following the failed Confederate invasion of Kentucky during the Autumn of 1862, an invasion that was ended by the October Battle of Perryville, the forces involved relocated south in Tennessee.

US General William S. Rosecrans.

The Union army, would see a change in leadership and army name:  The US Army of the Ohio, commanded by General Don Carlos Buell, would become known as the US Army of the Cumberland, and, as of 24 October 1862, would be commanded by US Major General William S. Rosecrans.  In both theatres of operation, President Lincoln appointed new army commanders, as, of course, Ambrose Burnside had replaced George McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac back in Virginia.  Rosecrans would advance into Tennessee and by early November take control of the state capital of Nashville.

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CS General Braxton Bragg.

CS General Braxton Bragg retained control of his Army of the Mississippi, though he would combine it with the two divisions of the Army of Kentucky of CS General Kirby Smith, to form the new Army of Tennessee.  The US Army of the Cumberland and CS Army of Tennessee would be rivals until the end of the war, much like the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia in the east.

The Lincoln administration was determined to gain ground in the late fall and early winter of 1862, with several major offensives.  Of course, on this blog we have already noted the result of the Union thrust at Fredericksburg, which ended in disaster, and it is also worth noting that operations in the Mississippi Valley to approach Vicksburg, MS had not gone well so far -- with the Union army William T. Sherman rebuffed at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou on 26-29 December 1862 (National Park Service Battle Summary: Chickasaw Bayou).  Union morale was low, the mid-term elections had been brutal for the administration, and something was needed.

To that end, and much to the surprise of CS General Bragg, who, with his army, was settling into winter quarters around Murfreesboro, Tennessee, US General Rosecrans led his army out of Nashville around Christmas-time to open a new campaign.

CS General Bragg and his Confederate Army of Tennessee would hold their ground around Murfreesboro, and the previously scattered elements would coalesce to the northwest of that city to block the advance of Rosecrans.

File:Stones River Dec30.png
The opening moves of the Battle of Stones River. [Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS5 by Hal Jespersen, Graphic source file is available at]

By 30 December 1862, the two armies faced one-another and prepared for battle -- with both commanding generals hoping to turn their opponent's right flank with a strike by their own left wing. The US Army of the Cumberland counted 41,400 men to the CS Army of Tennessee's 35,000.

Bragg and the Southern army would attack at dawn on 31 December 1862 with the Corps of CS General William Hardee, and his two divisions of McCown and Cleburne.  CS General (and Episcopal Bishop) Leonidas Polk would hold the center of the Confederate line, with former US Vice President, CS General John C. Breckinridge and his division on the right of the line and on the opposite bank of the Stones River.

The army of US General William Rosecrans was divided into three wings -- soon to be army corps -- with the Virginian US General George Thomas commanding the center, US General Thomas Crittenden the left, and finally, US General Alexander McCook commanding the right and the divisions that would be set upon by Hardee that chilly morning.

File:Stones River Dec31 1100 2.png
The Battle of Stones River at 11AM on 31 December 1862.  Notice how far the Union right flank has been pushed -- with the original attacks coming around the Franklin Rd in the south.  Compare this to the previous map. [Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS5 by Hal Jespersen, Graphic source file is available at]

 The vicious attack of Hardee's Corps would sweep back that of McCook so that by noon on 31 December 1862, the Union right had been folded almost all the way back to the Nashville Pike, the railroad (Nashville & Chattanooga).  Sheer fatigue and stubborn fights by the division of Phil Sheridan meant that the Confederate attack fizzled out by night fall.  Probing attacks on the Union center around the Round Forest against the like of Hazen's Union Brigade accomplished nothing.

CS General Bragg was convinced that he had decisively defeated the Union army and that surely Rosecrans would withdraw that night or the next day.  The entire day of 1 January 1863 was spent with the two armies essentially staring at one another.  Rosecrans would not leave -- he had gotten the worst of the previous day's fight, but holding his ground forced Bragg to make the next move, and meant that no defeat was admitted.  Bragg determined to drive him away on the next day, 2 January 1863.

File:Stones River Jan2 1600.png
The Battle of Stones River at 4PM on 2 January 1863.  The failed attack of Breckinridge. [Drawn in Adobe Illustrator CS5 by Hal Jespersen, Graphic source file is available at]

The attack of 2 January 1863 of the Confederate forces of CS General John C. Breckinridge would be a disaster.  His troops would attack across the Stones River at 4PM into the waiting lines of the Union left.  In the end, the attack cost the South 1,800 men in an hour, and did little to convince the Union army to leave.  Leaving, and departing yet further south, is precisely what Braxton Bragg would now have to do with his Army of Tennessee.

So, despite a horrific opening day of the battle, and overall heaver losses (Union casualties numbered 1,636 killed, 7,397 wounded, and 3,673 captured, or 29% losses; Confederate casualties numbered 1,236 killed, 7,766 wounded, and 868 captured, or 26% of the army) the Union army held the field, and the Confederates withdrew.  Rosecrans had given Lincoln his victory, such as it was.

That Spring of 1863, a new set of offensives -- against Richmond, Virginia, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Chattanooga, Tennessee -- would see the war drag on, with mixed results for the two sides.

Here is a link to the NPS account of the Battle of Stones River:

This is a link to the Stones River National Battlefield website:

Live well!

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