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Battle of Stones River

The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland

Larry J. Daniel

Publication Year: 2012

Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties but no clear victor. The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh. Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity. The Battle of Stones River, fought between December 31, 1862, and January 2, 1863, was a tactical draw but proved to be a strategic northern victory. According to Daniel, Union defeats in late 1862—both at Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi and at Fredericksburg, Virginia—transformed the clash in Tennessee into a much-needed morale booster for the North. Daniel’s study of the battle’s two antagonists, William S. Rosecrans for the Union Army of the Cumberland and Braxton Bragg for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, presents contrasts in leadership and a series of missteps. Union soldiers liked Rosecrans’s personable nature, whereas Bragg acquired a reputation as antisocial and suspicious. Rosecrans had won his previous battle at Corinth, and Bragg had failed at the recent Kentucky Campaign. But despite Rosecrans’s apparent advantage, both commanders made serious mistakes. With only a few hundred yards separating the lines, Rosecrans allowed Confederates to surprise and route his right ring. Eventually, Union pressure forced Bragg to launch a division-size attack, a disastrous move. Neither side could claim victory on the battlefield. In the aftermath of the bloody conflict, Union commanders and northern newspapers portrayed the stalemate as a victory, bolstering confidence in the Lincoln administration and dimming the prospects for the “peace wing” of the northern Democratic Party. In the South, the deadlock led to continued bickering in the Confederate western high command and scorn for Braxton Bragg.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In the late 1960s, Thomas L. Connelly took a critical look at the Civil War by examining the great expanse between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River known as the Western Theater. He would become the father of western revisionism. Over three decades a series of talented writers emerged who...

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pp. xv

I am deeply indebted to the staff of the Stones River National Military Park, particularly Gib Backland, Jim Lewis, and John George. They offered their knowledge, assistance, patience, and encouraging support so that this project might be completed in time for the sesquicentennial of the battle...

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1. A War of Egos

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pp. 1-14

Richmond correspondent George Bagby, whose news and gossip column appeared in the Charleston Mercury under the pen name “Hermes,” had done his research. Even before General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, arrived in Richmond on Saturday...

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2. The Dark Winter

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pp. 15-32

Bragg’s so-called offensive into Middle Tennessee, following his failed Kentucky Campaign, has long been misunderstood. Historians have concluded that the general, even while in Kentucky, contemplated an offensive as early as mid-September 1862, when he dispatched Nathan Bedford Forrest to...

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3. Armies on the Move

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pp. 33-58

Chilled winds and ominously dark clouds ushered in Friday, December 26. At 4:30 a.m. a dispatch clicked over the wire at Right Wing headquarters at St. John’s Church on Mill Creek, five miles from Nashville. McCook was ordered to proceed with his corps to Nolensville, with Sheridan’s and...

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4. Eve of Battle

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pp. 59-71

The weather continued dismal on Tuesday, December 30. It rained nearly all night, and a morning mist obscured observation. In the early morning Breckinridge reoccupied Wayne’s Hill with three regiments of Hanson’s brigade and Cobb’s battery. At 8:00 a.m. Cobb found himself in a spirited...

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5. They’re Coming!

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pp. 72-95

The troops of Johnson’s division began to quietly stir at 4:00 on the cold, misty, overcast morning of December 31. An order came down from division to build fires and make coffee. “I could do nothing but obey,” lamented Colonel Wallace, who remained apprehensive. At first light the men began...

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6. Cavalry on the Flank

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pp. 96-103

By 7:30 a.m., Wallace’s and Gibson’s brigades had been all but knocked out of the battle and were clinging for life. After the slaughter at the Smith House, the remnants of the 15th Ohio crossed Overall Creek. It appeared to one member to be “a disorganized crowd” with no one commanding...

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7. Sheridan Holds the Line

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pp. 104-129

Something had gone wrong in Cheatham’s division. Six o’clock had come and gone, and no movement had occurred; nor would it for nearly an hour. The cause would not come to light until after the battle. In a word, the division commander labored under the influence of alcohol, if not...

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8. We Must Win This Battle

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pp. 130-152

At 6:00 a.m. the mu±ed sound of gunfire could be heard from Rosecrans’s position at Stones River. It appeared that McCook had become engaged, and the battle was progressing as planned. As Van Cleve prepared his division for an assault, he walked the line, shouting, “Boys, be careful, and...

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9. The Round Forest

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pp. 153-168

Rosecrans’s final defense line had thus far proven impenetrable. The center and right had hurled back repeated Confederate assaults along the Nashville Pike. Yet one sector remained untested—the Federal left held by Palmer’s division. Cruft’s brigade, with Grose’s regiments in support, formed along...

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10. New Year’s Day

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pp. 169-177

With both armies utterly spent, a strange calm settled over the battlefield that night. Floridian Washington Ives admitted that “it was very little sleeping that any of us did for I like to have died of cold. My teeth chattered all night.” The wounded, Confederate and Federal, were taken to the rear...

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11. Bragg Attacks

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pp. 178-197

Friday, January 2, dawned gray and raw. Before sunrise White’s (Chalmers’s old) brigade occupied the woods bordering Stones River west of the railroad and fronting the Round Forest. At 2:00 a.m. Polk ordered up Cheatham’s batteries in support, with William Carnes on the right directly...

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12. I Fear the Consequences

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pp. 198-211

Matters appeared grim during the late hours of January 2. Bragg had lost nearly a third of his army, specifically 1,294 killed, 7,945 wounded, and 1,027 missing, a total of 10,266. The exhausted troops had been in line of battle in severe cold and rain for five days. The baggage train had been sent four...

Image Plates

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Appendix A: The Opposing Forces at Stones River

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pp. 213-226

Appendix B: The Transfer of Stevenson’s Division

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pp. 227-229


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pp. 231-275


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pp. 277-299


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pp. 301-313

E-ISBN-13: 9780807145173
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145166

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012