Monday, October 23, 2006

Stones River (Murfreesboro, TN)

Dates: December 30, 1862 to January 2, 1863


Union: Major General William Rosecrans commanding the Army of the Cumberland.

Confederate: General Braxton Bragg commanding the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: October 1862; Following the Battle of Perryville, KY on October 8, 1862, Bragg had pulled back into Tennessee and began concentrating his forces near the town of Murfreesboro, TN in order to reequip his troops. In November, he had reorganized the two armies in his command, the Army of Mississippi and the Army of Kentucky, into a single Army of Tennessee.

In Memphis, TN, Major General Don Carlos Buell was formally relieved as commander of the Army of the Cumberland for failing to follow up his victory at Perryville with a pursuit of the Confederates. His replacement was General Rosecrans, who immediately came under pressure from Northern officials to take the battle to Bragg.

December 26, 1862; Thomas leaves Nashville with 44,000 men and began moving south, with the corps of Major General Thomas Crittenden on the left, Major General Alexander McCook in the center, and Major General George Thomas on the right. Almost as soon as they left Nashville, the Union forces were getting harassed by Confederate cavalry under Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler. Information about Rosecrans’ advance reached Bragg, who ordered his army to deploy on the roads northwest of Murfreesboro, west of the Stones River, to meet the Federals. Bragg planned to hit Rosecrans’ right flank, swing around the Union rear, and cut off their path of retreat. As the Army of the Cumberland approached the area on December 30, Rosecrans had made his own plan to hit the Confederate right. Each commander had planned an almost identical attack.

It was Bragg who attacked first.

December 31, 1862: 6:00 a.m.: The Confederates open the battle by launching the planned right wing attack. The corps of Major General Joseph Hardee was sent into the Federal right, hitting the division of Brigadier General Richard Johnson and driving those troops back. Bragg was encouraged by the progress and sent the corps of Major General Leonidas Polk to support Hardee.

Rosecrans had waited until his men had breakfast before launching his attack. Around the same time as Hardee’s attack, the division of Union Brigadier General Horatio Van Cleve was sent across Stones River, where they would hit the corps of Confederate Major General John Breckenridge was waiting. As the Federals were across, word came of the attack on their right. Van Cleve was ordered back across and Rosecrans faced an all out assault.
8:00 a.m. The Federal forces began to fall back towards the Nashville Turnpike, however they were not making it easy for the Confederates. Even as the division of Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate President) was being pushed back, the division of Brigadier General William Sherman was giving as good as they were receiving. Sherman made a counterattack before having to pull back in order to prevent his command from getting captured. His defense held up Hardee until the Federals could make their defensive line.

12:00 noon: Rosecrans was now practically pinned against Stones River, but it seems he was using his numerical strength to his advantage. McCook held the right of the new line, Thomas in the center, and Crittenden on the left. Two divisions were detailed to secure the left flank in case Breckenridge tried anything.

Polk sent in his corps against the Federal left in an attempt to break that line. Despite repeated charges, the Union brigade of Brigadier General William Hazen withstood several of Polk’s charges all afternoon, but the Union line did not break. Bragg, realizing that both Hardee and Polk have stalled, decided to send in Breckenridge.

4:00 p.m.: Breckenridge sends in his corps not in a single formation, but in several separate attacks. This resulted in each attack getting savaged by Hazen’s defensive line in a wooded area called the Round Forest. Fighting ends as darkness falls.

January 1, 1863: There is no fighting on this New Years Day. Both sides make adjustments in their lines and bury the dead of the previous day’s fighting. Bragg feels that Rosecrans will pull out. Rosecrans has other ideas, despite the 12,000 causalities. He has decided to stay where he is.

January 2, 1863: 3:30 p.m.: Van Cleve was ordered to send his division back across Stones River and occupy a knoll to the east. Breckenridge launches an attack on the knoll, resulting in the Federals getting pushed back across the river. Breckenridge saw an opportunity to break the Union left and gain a position on the far bank. As the Confederates begin to cross, Federal artillery delivered a savage bombardment. This was followed by an assault which forced Breckenridge to pull back. Darkness forces an end to the fighting. The battle is effectively over, but both sides hold their positions.

January 3; 1863: Bragg makes plans to renew the offensive but there is opposition from his other commanders, who counsel retreat. Despite his anger over this advice, showing a lack of confidence in his leadership, Bragg orders the Army of Tennessee to pull back to Tullahoma so they can regroup. That evening, Rosecrans occupies Murfreesboro, but does not order a pursuit.

This was a victory for the Union since Rosecrans was still in control of the field. The other result was that the Confederate Army of Tennessee was not capable of offensive action for a while.

Causalities (dead and wounded)

Union: 12,900

Confederate: 11,700

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