The Battle of Stone’s River, also known as the Battle of Murfreesboro, was fought in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and was the eighth costliest battle of the Civil War. The battle took place on December 26th, 1862 through January 5th, 1863; the Union declared victory on January 5th, but the bloodiest parts of the battle took place on December 31st through January 2nd.
Although the Confederate Army seemed to have the upper hand in the beginning of the battle because they attacked first, inflicting heavy casualties on the Union side, the Union Army ultimately won the Battle of Stone’s River after forcing the Confederate troops back at Stone’s River, compelling them to retreat from Murfreesboro, and allowing the Union to gain control over Tennessee for the Union army, which boosted morale for the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Union soldiers; proving the importance of each side’s disposition throughout the war.
The Confederate army was led by General Braxton Bragg, and was also called the Army of Tennessee. Under Bragg were Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, and Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler. The Union army was led by General William S. Rosecrans, and was also called the Army of the Cumberland. Under Rosecrans were Major Generals Alexander M. McCook, George H. Thomas, and Thomas L. Crittenden. Similar to the battle of Shiloh, at the beginning of the battle, the Confederates had the upper hand, and killed thousands of Union troops, but a few days later, the Union prevailed.
On the Confederate side, approximately 37,000 troops fought and on the Union side, there were 44,000. The battle was fought in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When General Braxton Bragg had been defeated at Perryville in Kentucky, his army retreated to Murfreesboro, TN for the winter; his army was renamed the Tennessee Army. On December 26th, General William Rosecrans moved his army from Nashville towards Bragg’s army at Murfreesboro in three separate wings under McCook, Thomas, and Crittenden, and were harassed on the way there by the Confederate’s cavalry. The Union army arrived at Murfreesboro on December 29th.
However, Bragg’s army had already been there for about a month. The night that they arrived, the Confederate side had cavalry on their side once again, and that night, Lieutenant Wheeler and his soldiers rode around and destroyed many of the Union’s supplies. The following night, on December 30th, Bragg and Rosecrans planned their attacks, their armies parallel. However, both of the generals decided to attack at the right flank of the other. That night, the armies were only positioned about 700 yards apart, so close that they could hear the other side’s music playing.
In fact, one side began to play the song Sweet Home, and both armies could be heard singing the songs together. However, on the morning of December 31st, the armies were not so sentimental. At dawn, the Confederates attacked first and immediately gained the advantage. Hardee, along with Polk, attacked the right flank of the Union. Bragg’s plan to come at the Union line from the right and drive them back to the Stone’s river, allowing the Confederate side to cut off the Union’s supplies from the Nashville turnpike and Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad seemed to be working.
The Unionists were driven back almost to the Nashville Pike, and Rosecrans sent Crittenden from the left wing to back up McCook at the Nashville Pike while the Confederates attacked Sheridan’s troops at the center of the Union line. The Federals continued to be pushed back by the Tennessee Army, and they retreated to the north. Fortunately for Rosecrans, the terrain proved useful; the Confederate artillery had trouble maneuvering through the dense forests and rocky ground.
As the Confederates attacked Sheridan at the front, so as to hold them in place as Cleburne came up behind them and cut off their supplies, the Union continued to fall back for an additional two hours. They were able to slow down the attack, though, but were eventually attacked on all three sides, and the Unionists fled towards the Nashville Pike. The area where Sheridan’s army was continually pushed back was nicknamed ‘The Slaughter Pen”, because it resembled Chicago slaughter houses with so much blood everywhere.
At the Nashville Pike, Rosecrans formed a horseshoe shape with his armies, and because of this the armies were better able to communicate and maneuver. They held off the Confederate army, and kept control of the Pike. One of the greatest flaws in Bragg’s attacks on the Unionists was the fact that although it was supposed to cut off their supplies and communication, his attack drove the Union army towards the Pike itself. Because the Unionists held the Nashville Pike, Rosecrans decided to continue the battle. The field where the Federals defended the Nashville Pike was renamed “Hell’s Half Acre”.
One of the reasons the Union army did not completely retreat that day was because of Bragg’s and Rosecrans’s differing leadership styles; while Bragg tended to rule with an iron fist and not change the plan once it was in action, Rosecrans was successful because of his ability to be flexible and change plans when needed. The day of January 1st was a rest day for both days to nurse their soldiers back to health and prepare for the next day. On January 2nd, 1863, at 4 pm, Bragg ordered Breckenridge to send all five of his divisions to attack Beatty’s division on the hill on the east side of the river.
Breckenridge reluctantly attacked, and defeated the Yankees at the ridge of the hill. They continued over the crest, and were met with artillery from the Union side. Fifty eight cannons fired at the rebels, and in only forty five minutes, over 1,800 Confederate troops were killed. Breckenridge was forced back to his starting point. On the morning of January 3rd, with news that there would be reinforcements on Rosecrans’s side, Bragg and his soldiers retreated to Tullahoma, approximately 36 miles south. Rosecrans did not pursue him. The total death toll on the union side was 13,249, and 10,266 on the confederate side.
In fact, the battle was the costliest major battle in the entire civil war, in terms of percentages. The battle did not have a clear winner, although, since the Confederate army was the first to retreat, the Union’s morale was boosted, and the Confederates lost control of Middle Tennessee, the Unionists had the upper hand. The Union side was successful because of Rosecrans’s strategy; at many major points in the battle, he made the correct decisions, and because of the strategies of many generals throughout the civil war, the Union proved to be the clear winner. ——————————————- [ 1 ]. National Park Service, “National Park Vacation – Stone’s River,” America’s Best History – Home, http://americasbesthistory. com/abh-stonesriver. html (accessed December 9th, 2012). [ 2 ]. Confederate Brigades of A. P. Stewart, and J. Patton Anderson, “Battle of Stones River,” Thomas’ Legion: The 69th North Carolina Regiment, http://thomaslegion. net/battleofstonesriver. html (accessed December 1st, 2012). [ 3 ]. Kelly, Martin. “Battle of Stones River – Civil War Battle of Stones River . American History From About. http://americanhistory. about. com/od/civilwarbattles/p/cwbattle_stone. htm [ 4 ]. U. S. Department of the Interior, “The Battle of Stones River: The Soldiers’ Story,” U. S. National Park Service – Experience Your America, http://www. nps. gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lesso ns/40stones/40stones. htm (accessed December 9th, 2012). [ 5 ]. Shotgun, “The Battle of Stones River Official Records and Battle Description,” The American Civil War Home Page, http://www. civilwarhome. com/stones. htm (accessed December 5th, 2012). 6 ]. Jay Wertz and Edwin C. Bearss, Smithsonian’s Great Battles & Battlefields of the Civil War, (New York City, New York; William Morrow and Company, Inc. , 1997), 565. [ 7 ]. Confederate Brigades of A. P. Stewart, and J. Patton Anderson, “Battle of Stones River,” Thomas’ Legion: The 69th North Carolina Regiment, http://thomaslegion. net/battleofstonesriver. html (accessed December 1st, 2012). [ 8 ]. National Park Service, “National Park Vacation – Stone’s River,” America’s Best History – Home, http://americasbesthistory. om/abh-stonesriver. html (accessed December 9th, 2012). [ 9 ]. Confederate Brigades of A. P. Stewart, and J. Patton Anderson, “Battle of Stones River,” Thomas’ Legion: The 69th North Carolina Regiment, http://thomaslegion. net/battleofstonesriver. html (accessed December 1st, 2012). [ 10 ]. James Street Jr. , The Struggle For Tennessee, (Alexandria, Virginia; Time-Life Books, 1985), 112. [ 11 ]. R. Earnest Dupry, Compact History of the Civil War, (New York City, New York. ; Hawthorn Books, Inc. , 1960), 194. [ 12 ].
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