150 years ago today, the terrible Battle of Stones River came to a close. The fighting began on December 31, just outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee with a surprise early morning Confederate assault upon unsuspecting Federals. Men of Alexander McCook's Right Wing of the Army of the Cumberland were driven back by the first waves of Confederate attackers. After a few hours, the bravery of Phil Sheridan's division, along with the help of William B. Hazen's brigade, first slowed and then stopped the Confederate advance. By nightfall, Confederate General Braxton Bragg's men had driven Union forces backwards, but the Federals still held defensive lines on the field resembling a large U shape. On January 1, convinced the Federals would soon retreat, Bragg decided against continuing the assault. It was not until January 2, when Confederates discovered that Federals had crossed to the eastern bank of Stones River and occupied heights capable of providing an enfilading artillery fire on their position that the battle resumed. Confederate General John Breckenridge's division was sent against the Federal troops along the heights east of the river at 4 pm; the assault barely lasted one hour, after over fifty Federal guns amassed together blasted apart Breckenridge's infantry. By nightfall, the battlefield once again fell silent. Over 22,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing during the fighting from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, making Stones River one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Soon after the fighting ended, Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee retreated into Southern Tennessee, making the battle a Union victory. Because of the battle's timing, it was a sorely needed win for the North. It helped to offset the aftermath of the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, as well as the Union setback outside of Vicksburg at Chickasaw Bayou. More importantly, Stones River ensured that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, was coupled with Union victory, not Union defeat.
I am pleased to say that, on January 10, I will be in Manassas, Virginia, speaking about Stones River for the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable. It will be my second presentation on this topic, and I look forward to the opportunity.
Our Country's Fiery Ordeal
A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)
Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.
"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)