Some 300 miles (480km) northeast of Vicksburg, Rosecrans replaced Buell in late October 1862. The army became known once again as the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans's nickname, 'Old Rosy,' was an accurate characterization of his temper. Red-cheeked, affable, and energetic, Rosecrans was a favorite among the soldiers. Slovenliness infuriated him and he impressed soldiers by purging his command of incompetents. 'Everything for the service, nothing for individuals,' was his motto. Still, he was cautious and wavered at the critical hour.
When he inherited the army it was in Nashville, where he spent nearly two months preparing to move against Bragg's 38,000-man army, encamped at Murfreesboro along a swollen Stone's River. On 26 December, he set out with his 47,000 men to hit Bragg. Having been abused by the press and feeling political pressure for abandoning Kentucky, Bragg was determined not to be defeated. To the east of Stone's River he positioned Major-General John C. Breckinridge, and to the west of the river Bragg deployed his main force. By 29 December, Rosecrans's army had arrived in the vicinity of Murfreesboro, and during the night he positioned his men along the
Union General William S. Rosecrans was sent west at his own request and served under John Pope during the advance on Corinth, Mississippi, in May 1862. He fought successfully at the Battle of Corinth in October, and replaced Don Carlos Buell in November. Well liked by his men and a brilliant strategist. Rosecrans was known for his heavy drinking, profuse language and hot temper, and his soldiers dubbed him 'Old Rosey'. (Hulton Getty)
Nashville turnpike several hundred yards from the Confederate line.
Ironically, both Rosecrans and Bragg had determined to attack the enemy's left flank, which meant that whoever attacked first would be advantaged. Bragg awaited an attack throughout the day on 30 December, but none was forthcoming. Bragg then struck the first blow on the following day by marching Major-General William Hardee's corps around the Federal right flank. At dawn, Hardee's men surprised the Federals and drove them back toward the Murfreesboro-Nashville turnpike and pinned them against Stone's River. The Confederates threw brigade after brigade at the Federal line, but failed to break it as both Generals George H. Thomas and Philip H. Sheridan resisted stubbornly.
As the early sunset, the last of 1862, closed the day's fighting, Bragg believed he had won a major victory. Indeed, he had redeemed his army's fortunes. 'God has granted us a Happy New Year,' he telegraphed Richmond. That night Rosecrans held a council of war and questioned his corps commanders as to the feasibility of a retreat. 'Hell,' Thomas replied, 'this army can't retreat.' Impressed by the resolve of his subordinates, Rosecrans decided to stay and fight.
The new year opened quietly and ominously. It was cold and the soldiers were tense with anticipation. They had recovered from the previous day's fight and were expecting any minute to commence fighting again. But the fighting never came. Rosecrans redeployed his troops to strengthen his lines, while Confederate scouts concluded that this was a ruse to mask the Federal retreat. On
This sketch by an artist of Frank Leslie's Illustrated depicts the Battle of Stone's River. On Friday, 2 January 1863, at about 4.00 pm, Genera! Rosecrans ordered a final charge of General James Negley's Union division across Stone's River. Here the 18th Ohio Infantry, followed close behind by the 19th Illinois and the 21st Ohio, made their way across the river. The artist of this sketch reported that the scene was grand in the extreme. It was indeed a momentous battle on a miniature scale. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)
2 January 1863, Bragg was dumbfounded to find that Rosecrans had not left. When the Confederate commander ordered Breckinridge to dislodge what he thought remained of the enemy force east of Stone's River late in the afternoon, the Federals initially fell hack. As the Confederates advanced to the river, they found to their tremendous surprise that the Federals had prepared to counter the charge. Nearly 60 Federal cannon unleashed a thunderous barrage, and a counter of infantrymen followed that retired the Confederates in short order.
With his army exhausted and convinced that Rosecrans had been reinforced, Bragg reluctantly left the battlefield that night. He fell back to Tullahoma. Tennessee, thus conceding the battlefield and the victory to Rosecrans. whose soldiers had stood their ground. The Battle of Stone's River was a stalemate that cost the Union some 13,000 casualties and the Confederates roughly 10.200 casualties, or in both cases roughly 30 percent of their forces. In proportion to
men engaged and men lost, this battle ranked as the bloodiest of all battles.
Was this article helpful?