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The midwinter combat at Stone's river, or Murfreesboro

The Murfreesboro courthouse under guard--1863


The sinews of war: supply steamers at Nashville, December, 1862 This busy scene along the Nashville wharf on December 18, 1862, gives a clear idea of the magnitude of the preparations at the Federal army base thirteen days before the battle opened around Murfreesboro, at which point Bragg was threatening Nashville. Rosecrans could not move forward to attack him without supplies, and the river steamers which played so important a part in all the military operations in the West were hurrying up the Cumberland heavily loaded with the munitions and sustenance that made possible the coming battles. The first boat completely visible in the picture at the right is the “Mercury,” a famous Ohio River packet at the time. Next to her lies the “Lizzie Martin,” and then the “Palestine,” another Ohio racer. She has a hole stove in her prow just above the water-line, and the ship's carpenter in his yawl is busily repairing it. Confederate batteries constantly menaced the Federal transports as they plied up and down the rivers. The renowned Tom Napier sometimes scared and captured a vessel with his dummy wooden guns. Beyond the “Palestine” lie the “Reveillie,” the “Irene,” the “Belle Peoria” (a famous Mississippi boat from St. Louis), and last the “Rob Roy” --all discharging their tons of freight, paid for by the Government at war-time prices. On the snow-covered wharf are piled barrels of whiskey (the standard brand familiarly known as “Cincinnati rot-gut,” distilled for the Government's own use), while the roustabouts are rolling ashore barrels of sugar and hogsheads of molasses to be mixed with the coffee which weary soldiers are to brew for themselves in the field. There are thousands of barrels of flour still to be unloaded. In symmetrical piles lie myriad boxes each stencilled “Pilot bread from U. S. Government Bakery, Evansville, Ind.” Many an old Confederate knew the taste of this hardtack and had to depend upon capturing a supply of it to stay his hunger. Confederate prisoners in their confinement watched many such scenes as this, wondering what newcomers would be added to their numbers during the ensuing campaign.

[163] [164]

Confederates who fought the guns at Stone's river: men of the famous Washington artillery The Washington Artillery, mustered in at New Orleans, was one of the crack military organizations of the Confederacy. In this rare picture a Confederate photographer has caught a jolly group of them, confident and care-free, whiling away the hours in camp. The photograph was taken the year before the battle of Stone's River. Ere that conflict the youngsters had received their baptism of fire at Shiloh and had acquitted themselves like men. Their gallant force was attached to Anderson's First Brigade and then to General Samuel Jones's Corps, of Bragg's army. At the battle of Stone's River they fought in Breckinridge's division of Hardee's Corps. It was they who made the daring rush to plant their batteries on the hill, and suffered so severely from the galling fire of Mendenhall's Federal guns across the river. On that hard-fought battlefield they were differently occupied than in the picture. Their deeds in the swift moments of the conflict were not acted out to the accompaniment of a merry tune; each man played his part amid the roar of cannon and the clash of arms, and many paid the piper with his life for that awful music. Even in the confident poses and smiling faces of the picture are apparent all the dash and spirit which they displayed later at Stone's River. This brave Confederate organization distinguished itself on all the fields where it fought. Not till Chancellorsville did it ever lose a gun; in that engagement five pieces were captured from it, when Sedgwick's 20,000 wrested Marye's Heights from the 9,000 Lee had left there.

[165] [166]
As it is, the battle of Stone's River seems less clearly a Federal victory than the battle of Shiloh. The latter decided the fall of Corinth; the former did not decide the fall of Chattanooga. Offensively it was a drawn battle, as looked at from either side. As a defensive battle, however, it was clearly a Union victory. John Fiske in The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War.

The battle of Corinth developed a man — William S. Rosecrans — whose singular skill in planning the battle, and whose dauntless courage in riding between the firing-lines at the opportune moment, drew the country's attention almost as fully as Grant had done at Fort Donelson. And at this particular moment the West needed, or thought it needed, a man. The autumn months of 1862 had been spent by Generals Bragg and Buell in an exciting race across Kentucky, each at the head of a great army. Buell had saved Louisville from the legions of Bragg, and he had driven the Confederate Army of the Mississippi from the State; but he had not prevented his opponent from carrying away a vast amount of plunder, nor had he won decisive results at the battle of Perryville, which took place October 8, 1862, four days after the battle of Corinth. Thereupon the Federal authorities decided to relieve Buell of the Army of the Ohio and to give it to General Rosecrans.

On October 30, 1862, Rosecrans assumed command at Nashville of this force, which was now designated as the Army of the Cumberland. Bragg had concentrated his army at Murfreesboro, in central Tennessee, about thirty miles southeast of Nashville and a mile east of a little tributary of the Cumberland River called Stone's River. Here occurred, two months later, the bloodiest single day's battle in the West, [167]

The guarded depot — Stevenson in 1862 This little Alabama town first became the subject of a war photograph during General Buell's campaign. It sprang into strategic importance as a base of supplies, and in order to hold it Buell sent forward Colonel A. S. Barker, who began the construction of extensive defenses, pressing into service some five hundred Negroes. Barker succeeded in completing two large redoubts and seven lockhouses; so defensible was the position made that during Hood's invasion of Tennessee it was not attacked by the Confederates.

The strengthened forts This picture of Fort Barker, at Stevenson, shows the care with which the Federals defended this advance base. In this fort, which was about 150 feet square, there were barbette platforms for seven guns and an extensive magazine, and bomb-proof. Fort Mitchell, south of the station on the other side of the railroad, was equally strong. The two forts guarded the approach from the north.

[168] which has taken the double name of the town and the river. Beside the winding little stream ran the turnpike to Nashville and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.

Bragg had the advantage in cavalry. In addition to Wheeler's command there were the troops of Forrest and Morgan, who acted independently of the Army of the Mississippi, now known as the Army of Tennessee. These men, with several hundred horsemen, raided through the country, regardless of mud, snow, or ice, and at one time threatened Nashville, the Federal supply-depot. They tore up railroads, burned bridges, and left a trail of destruction in their wake. One night, early in December, Morgan pounced upon the town of Hartsville, overpowered the guard of several hundred Federal troops, captured and carried them to Murfreesboro.

Christmas day, in 1862, was passed by Bragg's army in whatever festivities the little town of Murfreesboro could afford. The fratricidal strife that was draining both the North and the South was forgotten for the moment. A general belief had circulated in the Confederate camps that the Federal commander, harassed on every side by the raiders, would have enough to do to keep his army intact, and would not make a general advance on Bragg. But soon there was a different story to tell. On the day after Christmas, the news reached the little town that the Federal army had emerged from Nashville, that it was headed directly for Murfreesboro, and that a great battle was imminent.

The battle-ground toward which the Federal army was marching was broken and heavily wooded, with an occasional open field, and gentle rises on which artillery and infantry could be posted. But cavalry was practically useless in this rough country. Stone's River, which ran through the battle-ground, was tortuous in its channel and shallow; its banks were fringed with clumps of cedar brakes. Numerous turnpikes converged at the little town of Murfreesboro from the surrounding towns; the principal highway being the Nashville [169]

Leaders of a gallant stand at Stone's river General William P. Carlin and Staff. Early in the war Carlin made a name for himself as colonel of the Thirty-eighth Illinois Infantry, which was stationed at Pilot Knob, Mossouri, and was kept constantly alert by the raids of Price and Jeff Thompson. Carlin rose rapidly to be the commander of a brigade, and joined the forces in Tennessee in 1862. He distinguished himself at Perryville and in the advance to Murfreesboro. At Stone's River his brigade, almost surrounded, repulsed an overwhelming force of Confederates. This picture was taken a year after that battle, while the brigade was in winter quarters at Ringgold, Georgia. The band-stand was built by the General's old regiment.

[170] turnpike, which, after crossing the river, took the general direction of its course for some distance.

General Bragg did not lose a moment in marshaling his army into well-drawn battle-lines. His army was in two corps with a cavalry division under General Wheeler, Forrest and Morgan being on detached service. The left wing, under General Hardee, and the center, under Polk, were sent across Stone's River, the right wing, a division under John C. Breckinridge, remaining on the eastern side of the stream to guard the town. The line was three miles in length, and on December 80th the Federal host that had come from Nashville stood opposite, in a parallel line. It was also in three sections. The left wing, opposite Breckinridge, was commanded by Thomas L. Crittenden, whose brother was a commander in the Confederacy. They were sons of the famous United States senator from Kentucky, John J. Crittenden. The Federal center, opposite Polk, was commanded by George H. Thomas, and the right wing, opposing the Confederate left, was led by Alexander McD. McCook, one of the well-known “Fighting McCook” brothers. The effective Federal force was about forty-three thousand men; the Confederate army numbered about thirty-eight thousand. That night they bivouacked within musket range of each other and the camp-fires of each were clearly seen by the other as they shone through the cedar groves that interposed. Thus lay the two great armies, ready to spring upon each other in deadly combat with the coming of the morning.

Rosecrans had permitted McCook to thin out his lines over too much space, while on that very part of the field Bragg had concentrated his forces for the heaviest attack. The plans of battle made by the two opposing commanders were strikingly similar. Rosecrans' plan was to throw his left wing, under Crittenden, across the river upon the Confederate right under Breckinridge, to crush it in one impetuous dash, and to swing around through Murfreesboro to the Franklin road and [171]

Men who learned war with Sherman The Twenty-first Michigan Infantry. In the Murfreesboro campaign, the regiment, detached from its old command, fought in the division of Brigadier-GeneralPhilSheridan, a leader who became scarcely less renowned in the West than Sherman and gave a good account of himself and his men at Stone's River. Most of the faces in the picture are those of boys, yet severe military service has already given them the unmistakable carriage of the soldier. The terrible field of Chickamauga lay before them, but a few months in the future; and after that, rejoining their beloved “Old Tecumseh,” they were to march with him to the sea and witness some of the closing scenes in the struggle.

[172] cut off the Confederate line of retreat. Bragg, on the other hand, intended to make a similar dash upon the Union right, pivot upon his center, press back McCook upon that center, crumpling the Federals and seizing the Nashville turnpike to cut off Rosecrans' retreat toward Nashville. Neither, of course, knew of the other's plan, and much would depend on who would strike first.

At the early light of the last day of the year the Confederate left wing moved upon the Union right in a magnificent battle-line, three-quarters of a mile in length and two columns deep. At the same time the Confederate artillery opened with their cannon. McCook was astonished at so fierce and sudden a charge. The gallant Patrick Cleburne, one of the ablest commanders in the Southern armies, led his division, which had been brought from the Confederate right, in the charge. The Federal lines were ill prepared for this sudden onslaught, and before McCook could arrange them several batteries were overpowered and eleven of the heavy guns were in the hands of the Confederates.

Slowly the Union troops fell back, firing as they went; but they had no power to check the impetuous, overwhelming charge of the onrushing foe. McCook's two right divisions, under Johnson and Jeff. C. Davis, were driven back, but his third division, which was commanded by a young officer who had attracted unusual attention at the battle of Perryville--Philip H. Sheridan — held its ground. At the first Confederate advance, Sill's brigade of Sheridan's division drove the troops in front of it back into their entrenchments, and in the charge the brave Sill lost his life.

While the battle raged with tremendous fury on the Union right, Rosecrans was three miles away, throwing his left across the river. Hearing the terrific roar of battle at the other end of the line, Rosecrans hastened to begin his attack on Breckinridge hoping to draw a portion of the Confederate force away from McCook. But as the hours of the forenoon [173]

Fighters in the West This picture of Company B of the Twenty-first Michigan shows impressively the type of men that the rough campaigning west of the Alleghanies had molded into veterans. These were Sherman's men, and under the watchful eye and in the inspiring presence of that general thousands of stalwart lads from the sparsely settled States were becoming the very bone and sinew of the Federal fighting force. The men of Sherman, like their leader, were forging steadily to the front. They had become proficient in the fighting which knows no fear, in many hard-won combats in the early part of the war. Greater and more magnificent conflicts awaited those who did not find a hero's grave.

[174] passed he was dismayed as he noted that the sound of battle was coming nearer, and he rightly divined that his right wing was receding before the dashing soldiers of the South. He ordered McCook to dispute every inch of the ground; but McCook's command was soon torn to pieces and disorganized, except the division of Sheridan.

The latter stood firm against the overwhelming numbers, a stand that attracted the attention of the country and brought him military fame. He checked the onrushing Confederates at the point of the bayonet; he formed a new line under fire. In his first position Sheridan held his ground for two hours. The Confederate attack had also fallen heavily on Negley, who was stationed on Sheridan's left, and on Palmer, both of Thomas' center. Rousseau commanding the reserves, and Van Cleve of Crittenden's forces were ordered to the support of the Union center and right. Here, for two hours longer the battle raged with unabated fury, and the slaughter of brave men on both sides was appalling. Three times the whole Confederate left and center were thrown against the Union divisions, but failed to break the lines. At length when their cartridge boxes were empty Sheridan's men could do nothing but retire for more ammunition, and they did this in good order to a rolling plain near the Nashville road. But Rousseau of Thomas' center was there to check the Confederate advance.

It was now past noon, and still the battle roar resounded unceasingly through the woods and hills about Murfreesboro. Though both hosts had struggled and suffered since early morning, they still held to their guns, pouring withering volleys into each other's ranks. The Federal right and center had been forced back at right angles to the position they had held when day dawned; and the Confederate left was swung around at right angles to its position of the morning. The Federal left rested on Stone's River, while Bragg's right was on the same stream and close to the line in blue. Meantime, Rosecrans had massed his artillery on a little hill over- [175]

An unceasing work of war In the picture the contraband laborers often pressed into service by Federals are repairing the “stringer” track near Murfreesboro after the battle of Stone's River. The long lines of single-track road, often involving a change from broad-gauge to narrow-gauge, were entirely inadequate for the movement of troops in that great area. In these isolated regions the railroads often became the supreme objective of both sides. When disinclined to offer battle, each struck in wild raids against the other's line of communication. Sections of track were tipped over embankments; rails were torn up, heated red-hot in bonfires, and twisted so that they could never be used again. The wrecking of a railroad might postpone a maneuver for months, or might terminate a campaign suddenly in defeat. Each side in retreat burned its bridges and destroyed the railroad behind it. Again advancing, each had to pause for the weary work of repair.

[176] looking the field of action. He had also re-formed the broken lines of the right and center and called in twelve thousand fresh troops. Then, after a brief lull, the battle opened again and the ranks of both sides were torn with grape and canister and bursting shells.

In answer to Bragg's call for reenforcements came Breckinridge with all but one brigade of his division, a host of about seven thousand fresh troops. The new Confederate attack began slowly, but increased its speed at every step. Suddenly, a thundering volley burst from the line in blue, and the front ranks of the attacking column disappeared. Again, a volley tore through the ranks in gray, and the assault was abandoned.

The battle had raged for nearly eleven hours, when night enveloped the scene, and the firing abated slowly and died away. It had been a bloody day — this first day's fight at Stone's River — and except at Antietam it had not thus far been surpassed in the war. The advantage was clearly with the Confederates. They had pressed back the Federals for two miles, had routed their right wing and captured many prisoners and twenty-eight heavy guns. But Rosecrans determined to hold his ground and try again.

The next day was New Year's and but for a stray fusillade, here and there, both armies remained inactive, except that each quietly prepared to renew the contest on the morrow. The renewal of the battle on January 2nd was fully expected on both sides, but there was little fighting till four in the afternoon. Rosecrans had sent General Van Cleve's division on January 1st across the river to seize an elevation from which he could shell the town of Murfreesboro. Bragg now sent Breckinridge to dislodge the division, and he did so with splendid effect. But Breckinridge's men came into such a position as to be exposed to the raking fire of fifty-two pieces of Federal artillery on the west side of the river. Returning the deadly and constant fire as best they could, they stood the storm of shot and shell for half an hour when they retreated to a place [177]

Along the hazardous advance from Murfreesboro Portion of the Bridgeport Bridge from Long Island to the East Bank of the Tennessee. The island, 1,232 feet at this point, divides the stream opposite Bridgeport, Alabama. The Union troops crossed at four points (at all of which the river was very wide), the division of Reynolds to the north of Bridgeport by means of captured boats, while that of Brannan crossed on rafts. The main crossing of McCook's Corps was at Caperton's Ferry, where the one complete pontoon-bridge had been laid. The army was all across by September 10th, but even greater difficulties now confronted it. The greatest of these obstacles were the steeps of Raccoon Mountain — the towering heights of Lookout Mountain rising before them, almost impassable to wagons and destitute of water. Beyond these, Missionary Ridge and a succession of lesser ranges must be crossed before Bragg's railroad connections with Atlanta could be struck at Dalton. Yet the trains which had already been brought across the Cumberland Mountains into Tennessee must ever be carried forward, loaded with twenty-five days supplies and ammunition enough for the two great battles that were to follow.

[178] of safety, leaving seventeen hundred of their number dead or wounded on the field. That night the two armies again lay within musket shot of each other. The next day brought no further conflict and during that night General Bragg moved away to winter quarters at Shelbyville, on the Elk River.

Murfreesboro, or Stone's River, was one of the great battles of the war. The losses were about thirteen thousand to the Federals and over ten thousand to the Confederates. Both sides claimed victory — the South because of Bragg's signal success on the first day; the North because of Breckinridge's fearful repulse at the final onset and of Bragg's retreating in the night and refusing to fight again. A portion of the Confederate army occupied Shelbyville, Tennessee, and the larger part entrenched at Tullahoma, eighteen miles to the southeast.

Six months after the battle of Stone's River, the Federal army suddenly awoke from its somnolent condition — a winter and spring spent in raids and unimportant skirmishes — and became very busy preparing for a long and hasty march. Rosecrans' plan of campaign was brilliant and proved most effective. He realized that Tullahoma was the barrier to Chattanooga, and determined to drive the Confederates from it.

On June 23, 1863, the advance began. The cavalry, under General Stanley, had received orders to advance upon Shelbyville on the 24th, and during that night to build immense and numerous camp-fires before the Confederate stronghold at Shelbyville, to create the impression that Rosecrans' entire army was massing at that point. But the wily leader of the Federals had other plans, and when Stanley, supported by General Granger, had built his fires, the larger force was closing in upon Tullahoma.

The stratagem dawned upon Bragg too late to check Rosecrans' plans. Stanley and Granger made a brilliant capture of Shelbyville, and Bragg retired to Tullahoma; but finding here that every disposition had been made to fall upon his rear, he continued his southward retreat toward Chattanooga.

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