Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 31, 1862 (Wednesday): New Year's Eve on Stones River

Stone's River (Google Earth)

In front of Murfreesborough, December 31, 1862.
    The general commanding desires to say to the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland that he was well pleased with their conduct yesterday; it is all he could have wished for; he neither saw now heard of any skulking; they behaved with the coolness and gallantry of veterans He now feels perfectly confident, with God's grace and their help, of striking this day a blow for the country the most crushing, perhaps, which the rebellion has yet sustained.
    Soldiers, the eyes of the whole nation are upon you; they very fate of the nation may be said to hang on the issue of this day's battle. Be true, then, to yourselves, true to your own manly character and soldierly reputation, true to the love of your dear ones at home, whole prayers ascend to God this day for your success.
    Be cool! I need not ask you to be brave. Keep ranks. Do not throw away your fire. Fire slowly, deliberately; above, all, fire low, and be always sure of your aim. Close steadily in upon the enemy, and, when you get within charging distance, rush on him with the bayonet. Do this, and the victory will certainly be yours. Recollect that there are hardly any troops in the world that will stand a bayonet charge, and that those who make it, therefore, are sure to win.
    By command of Major-General W. S. Rosecrans:

    Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

    Major-General H. W. HALLECK,

JACKSON, December 31, 1862. [Received January 1, 1863.]
General COOPER:
    General Bragg attacked the enemy at 7 o'clock this morning; drove him from all his positions except his extreme left, taking thirty-one pieces of artillery and 4,000 prisoners, including two brigadier-generals and 200 wagons and teams.

     J. E. JOHNSTON,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 20, Part 1, Pages 183, 472.

When the sun came up on December 31 Rosecran's and Bragg's armies faced each other just west of Stones River, each planning to attack the others right flank.  Hardee had two divisions (McCown and Cleburne), totaling 11,500 men ready to attack McCook's corp of 15,900 men. Two assaults on the Federal right flank were pulsed, but a third effort enveloped the extreme right, forcing a retreat by Davis, exposing Sheridan's right.  About 0930 Sheridan counterattacked and stabilized the situation.  A renewed attacked along the entire front finally forced Sheridan to withdraw, leaving a gap between Negley and Rousseau which the Confederates  wedged into.  Hazen's brigade held strong in a wooded position astride the railroad known as the round forest.  By noon the Union forces had formed their final defensive line.  After receiving part of the reinforcements from Breckinridge he requested, Hardee made a strong assault with on the round forest.  Finally Donaldson's Brigade penetrated the forest  before being driven out.  Late in the afternoon the other four brigades of Breckinridge were committed, but repulsed with heavy loss.  This ended the first day of the Battle of Stones River.

It is noteworthy although there is a great deal of documentation in the O.R. of the days leading up to the battle, there is little preserved of communication between commanders during the battle itself.  Telegraph wires had been downed in advance of the battle and much communication was by courier with messages not preserved.

In the Google Earth image above, most of the first day's battle took place moving from left to right from what is now Interstate 24 to the thickly wooded area of the National Park Service unit at Stones River.  The Union line formed a rough V with the point midway along Wilkenson's Turnpike.

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