Battle Of Stones River: Murfreesboro, Tn
Dec. 31 1862 - Jan. 2 1863


From the beginning of the Civil War, the strategy of the Union armies operating west of the Appalachian Mountains centered on two major objectives: (1) gaining control of the Mississippi River and (2) driving a wedge through the Confederacy along the railroads running southeastward through Tennessee and Georgia. By the end of 1862, only the Confederate strongholds of Vicksburg, Miss., and Port Hudson, La., thwarted the first goal. The second, of which the Battle of Stones River was a major step, would cost more time and more blood.

In the winter and spring of 1862, Federal troops advanced into Tennessee, capturing Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and driving the Confederates from the field at Shiloh. By autumn Union armies occupied the western half of the state, including Nashville, the capital. In October, Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg retreated from Kentucky after the Battle of Perryville ended hopes of bringing that state into the Confederacy and went into winter quarters at Murfreesboro. Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecran's 14th Army Corps (soon to be renamed the Army of the Cumberland) followed as far as Nashville, 30 miles to the northwest.

On December 26, Rosecrans left Nashville with 43,000 men, intending to sweep aside Bragg's 38,000-man Army of Tennessee and drive on to Chattanooga, 125 miles farther southeast. Four days later the Federal army reached Murfreesboro and encamped within half a mile of Bragg's troops, drawn up northwest of town astride the main road and rail line. Ironically, both commanders planned to attack the other's right flank the next morning with similar goals in mind: Bragg's to drive the Union forces into the northern loop of Stones River; Rosecrans's to isolate the Confederates from their base.
The Battle of Stones River: Wed., Dec. 31, 1862 at Dawn
The Confederates seized the advantage by striking first. At dawn two of Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee's divisions, supported by divisions of Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, furiously assaulted the Union right wing under Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook. By 10 a.m. the Southerners had driven the right wing and part of the center back through the surrounding cedar woods almost to the Nashville Pike. Only desperate and stubborn fighting by units under Brig. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan and Brig. Gen. James S. Negley prevented a Union rout.

The Battle of Stones River: Wed., Dec. 31, 1862 at Noon
In a desperate attempt to reinforce his right and center and stem the Confederate onslaught, Rosecrans rushed fresh troops from Maj. Gen. Thomas Crittenden's left wing into position along the Nashville Pike and the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Told by "Old Rosy" to "contest every inch of ground," the Union infantry and artillery beat back one Confederate attack after another, inflicting very heavy casualties. Some of the hardest fighting took place in the area known as the Round Forest, near the present-day Hazen Monument. At times, the noise was so intense that soldiers paused to stuff their ears with cotton.

Bragg tried to revive his faltering offensive by sending Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge's brigades, which so far had taken no part in the fighting, against the Union center. Had Breckinridge executed his orders at the battle's critical point (just before noon) the weight of his blow might have crumpled the Union line along the pike and railroad. But his troops arrived too late and in such piecemeal fashion that several Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois regiments, after expending their ammunition, were able to beat off the attacks with rifle butts and bayonets.

That night, after the day's battle sputtered to a close, no one celebrated New Year's Eve. The two armies remained in position the next day, but there was little fighting.

The Battle of Stones River: Fri., Jan. 2, 1863 at 4 p.m.
Bragg, confident that Rosecrans would withdraw, was surprised to find the Federals not only still on the field but on the east side of Stones River occupying a hill that threatened his army's right flank. To remove this threat, Bragg ordered Breckinridge's five brigades, totaling 4500 men, to seize the high ground and drive the enemy back across the river. The assault began about an hour before dusk and, despite a cold, driving rain, carried the crest after overcoming some initial resistance. The outnumbered Union soldiers fled down the back slope to a shallow river crossing known as McFadden's Ford. There the pursuing Confederates encountered a deadly surprise.

When the Southerners were first forming for their attack, Union Gen. Crittenden ordered his chief of artillery, Capt. John E. Mendenhall, to provide support for the Union troops across the river. Within half an hour, Mendenhall assembled 58 guns (45 on the heights about 100 yards west of McFadden's Ford, the rest in two batteries to the southwest) and trained them on the ground across which the Confederates would come. As Breckinridge's soldiers came into range, the Federal gunners opened fire. In minutes, 1800 Confederates were killed or wounded; the rest withdrew, as Union troops spearheaded by men from Negley's division crossed the river and reclaimed the heights. Mendenhall's concentrated artillery fire had turned a dashing charge into a grim retreat.
Aftermath of the Battle of Stones River
Tactically indecisive, the Battle of Stones River cost 12,706 Federal casualties and 9870 Confederate. After Bragg withdrew from Murfreesboro, Rosecrans claimed victory, providing a much-needed boost to Northern morale following the disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Va., just three weeks before. President Abraham Lincoln thanked Rosecrans and his soldiers "for your and their skill, endurance, and dauntless courage."

Killed Wounded Prisoner Total Pct.
UNION 1,636 7,397 3,673 12,706 30 %
CONFEDERATE 1,236 7,766 868 9,870 26 %

Battle of Stones River
Other Names: Murfreesboro
Location: Rutherford County
Campaign: Stones River Campaign (1862-63)
Date(s): December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863
Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans [US]; Gen. Braxton Bragg [CS]

Forces Engaged: Army of the Cumberland [US]; Army of Tennessee [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 23,515 total (US 13,249; CS 10,266)

Description: After Gen. Braxton Bragg defeat at Perryville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862, he and his Confederate Army of the Mississippi retreated, reorganized, and were redesignated as the Army of Tennessee. They then advanced to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and prepared to go into winter quarters. Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans Union Army of the Cumberland followed Bragg from Kentucky to Nashville. Rosecrans left Nashville on December 26, with about 44,000 men, to defeat Bragg army of more than 37,000. He found Braggs army on December 29 and went into camp that night, within hearing distance of the Rebels. At dawn on the 31st, Braggs men attacked the Union right flank. The Confederates had driven the Union line back to the Nashville Pike by 10:00 am but there it held. Union reinforcements arrived from Rosecrans left in the late forenoon to bolster the stand, and before fighting stopped that day the Federals had established a new, strong line. On New Years Day, both armies marked time. Bragg surmised that Rosecrans would now withdraw, but the next morning he was still in position. In late afternoon, Bragg hurled a division at a Union division that, on January 1, had crossed Stones River and had taken up a strong position on the bluff east of the river. The Confederates drove most of the Federals back across McFadden Ford, but with the assistance of artillery, the Federals repulsed the attack, compelling the Rebels to retire to their original position. Bragg left the field on the January 4-5, retreating to Shelbyville and Tullahoma, Tennessee. Rosecrans did not pursue, but as the Confederates retired, he claimed the victory. Stones River boosted Union morale. The Confederates had been thrown back in the east, west, and in the Trans-Mississippi.

Result(s): Union victory

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Map: Dec. 31 1862 & Jan. 2 1863

Confederate Advance
8 a.m. - 11 a.m., Dec 31, 1862


Pic coming Soon

The Sheridans Stand / Slaugter Pen
10 a.m. Dec 31, 1862


Struggle for the Round Forest
9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Dec 31, 1862



Chicago Board of Trade Battery
11 a.m. Dec 31, 1862


Water's Alabama Battery
December 31, 1862, 12:30 P.M. - 1:00 P.M.