Local News

January 27, 2013

Civil War anniversary: The Battle of Stones River

Following the October, 1862, Battle of Perryville, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was anxious to silence his critics. Though the battle itself was a tactical Confederate victory, Bragg’s Kentucky Campaign had stalled and his Army of the Mississippi was now on its way back to East Tennessee.

A number of factors contributed to this reversal of fortunes, but among the most significant of these was that Bragg had run out of ammunition and provisions. Cold and dispirited, his soldiers straggled south until they reached the railroad at Morristown, Tenn. There they boarded the cars for Chattanooga.

Instead of giving his men time to rest and refit upon arrival, Bragg issued orders for the army to continue by rail to Bridgeport, Ala., where it crossed the Tennessee River by ferry boat and moved north to Tullahoma, arriving toward the end of November. This was the staging point Bragg had chosen for an advance on Nashville.

Burning with desire to restore his reputation, Bragg wanted to mount an immediate thrust on the Union supply depot at Nashville and destroy the army garrisoned there. This was the same force that he had engaged in Kentucky, but the Army of the Cumberland was now commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans. Significantly reinforced, Rosecrans had 80,000 men at his disposal.

During the first week in December, Bragg put his newly renamed Army of Tennessee in motion for Murfreesboro. Most of his 37,000 soldiers had no winter clothing, yet snow covered the ground. One of these soldiers, Pvt. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment, commented after the war that Bragg “loved to crush the spirit of his men. The more of a hang-dog look they had about them the better was General Bragg pleased.”

By mid-December the Confederates were deployed just north of Murfreesboro in a line that stretched almost 50 miles to guard the major roads leading down from Nashville. Rosecrans accepted the invitation thus presented and put his columns in motion on the day after Christmas. Leaving almost half of his available force at Nashville, the Federal commander marched south with 47,000 men. Skirmishing began almost immediately.

Apparently surprised by Rosecrans’s aggressive intentions, Bragg hurriedly consolidated his forces into a battle line running southwest to northeast with Stones River dividing it into two parts. On the night of Dec. 30, with the two armies now in range of each other, regimental bands on each side began a back-and-forth concert that could be heard by everyone on the field. This spontaneous musical interlude concluded with all of the bands joining together in “Home, Sweet Home.”

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