The Battle of Stones River, sometimes called the Battle of Murfreesboro, was one of the most violent engagements of the Civil War. In the battle, Confederate General Braxton Bragg and as many as 35,000 soldiers withdrew from Kentucky and took defensive positions in the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. On the Union side, General William Rosecrans, urged to be aggressive by President Lincoln, moved his army of 81,000, known as the Army of the Cumberland to Nashville, Tennessee, with instructions to take the eastern portion of the state.
On December 26, 1862, Rosecrans began to pursue Bragg's army and moved south toward Murfreesboro with about half of his forces. Confederate calvary continually harassed Union lines as they moved, capturing as many as 1,000 soldiers, wagon trains, and ammunition. By December 30th, however, Union forces had descended upon Murfreesboro.
Death and Violence on New Year's Eve
At 6:00 in the morning on December 31, Confederate forces under William Hardee struck first at the Union right flank. Union troops were initially driven back nearly three miles to the Nashville Turnpike. A second wave of Confederate forces under Leonidas Polk smashed into the reeling Federal troops and seemed poised for a route. Union forces were saved by the foresight of Major General Philip Sheridan, whose soldiers were ready by 4:00 in the morning and repulsed numerous Confederate assaults despite incurring horrible casualties. Sheridan's men would fight through being surrounded by three sides in what came to be known as "the slaughter pen." Despite the Union stand, by 10:00 A.M., 3,000 Union soldiers had been captured as well as 28 cannons.
Confederate forces continued to pound Union positions. Union soldiers on the left flank under Colonel William Hazen managed to repulse numerous assaults in a rocky grove that came to be known as Hell's Half Acre. The remainder of the Union lines collapsed, but were rallied by General Rosecrans along the Nashville Turnpike, where they concentrated and formed strong defensive positions. Union lines held until darkness fell just before 5:00. Confederate General Braxton Bragg believed he had Union forces exactly where he wanted them and that Rosecrans was preparing to retreat. While Confederate forces rested on New Year's Day, Union soldiers shifted soldiers strategically to heights across the Cumberland River.
Breckenridge's Men are Decimated
On January 2nd, Bragg directed what he thought would be a lethal blow to Rosecrans' Army by directing John C. Breckenridge's troops to dislodge Union positions atop a hill on the east side of the Cumberland River. While Breckenridge's brigade initially chased Union forces from the hill, it was decimated by Union artillery fire as it gave chase. Breckenridge's brigade suffered more than 1,800 casualties in less than an hour. As it became clear that Rosecrans and Union lines were soon to receive massive reinforcements, and that the weather was turning the worse, Bragg made the decision to withdraw from the battlefield to Tullahoma, Tennessee, about 35 miles to the South.
Nashville is in Union Control
In all, nearly 24,700 total casualties were recorded at Stones River, giving the battle the distinction of having the highest total percentage of casualties of any battle in the entire war. Nearly one in three soldiers to have set foot on the battlefield was injured, killed, or taken prisoner. Although the battle is considered a draw, Union forces were able to secure Nashville as a center of operations for the entirety of the Civil War, and middle Tennessee was firmly under Union control.