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Battle of Stones River
The Battle of Stones River or Murfreesboro II, was a battle fought in the American Civil War. Although the battle itself was indecisive, the Union army's repulsion of the Confederate attack was a much-needed boost to U.S. morale after the defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
After Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of the Mississippi was defeated on October 8, 1862, at Perryville, Kentucky, his men were reorganized as the Army of Tennessee and they advanced to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bragg took a defensive position in the vicinity of the Stones River, and posted a detached division under John C. Breckinridge, on the low hills to the east of the River.
In early November of 1862, William S. Rosecrans, who had replaced Don Carlos Buell as commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, was on his way to Nashville, Tennessee. On December 26, after two months of preparation, he sent his army in three columns southeast towards Murfreesboro.
By the time that Rosecrans had arrived in Murfreesburo on the evening of December 29, the Army of Tennesee had been encamped in the area for a month. By nightfall, two thirds of Rosecrans' army was in position along the Nashville Turnpike, less than 700 yards in front of Bragg's position, and by the next day Roscrans army numbered almost 44,000 and Braggs numbered only 38,000.
At dawn on December 31st, Confederate General William J. Hardee attacked the Union's right flank, before some of the Yankees had even finished their breakfast. The Confederates drove the Union troops back to Nashville Pike by 10 a.m. Part of the Union line under General Phillip Sheridan held back the Confederate advance in a juniper forest that became known as "The Slaughter Pen," but eventually the Northerners' ammunition ran low and they retreated. The Union troops regrouped and held the Nashville Pike, supported by reinforcements and massed artillery. Repeated attacks on the left flank of the Union line were repulsed by Colonel William B. Hazen's brigade in an area that would become known as "Hell's Half-Acre."
On January 1, both armies observed New Year's Day by resting and tending to their wounded. At 4 p.m. on January 2, Bragg directed Breckenridge's troops to attack a Union division that had taken up positions on a hill on the east side of the Stones River. The Union troops were pushed back across the ford, but the Confederate charge ran into heavy fire from a Union battery across the river and stalled. In less than an hour, the Confederates suffered over 1,800 casualties. A Union division, under the command of James S. Negley, led a counterattack and the Confederate troops retreated.
For both days of the battle, total casualties for both sides in the battle were 23,515: 13,249 on the Union side and 10,266 for the Confederates.
The battle was very important to Union morale, as evidenced by Abraham Lincoln's letter to General Rosecrans: "You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over." After the battle, Bragg retreated towards Shelbyville, Tennessee. Rosecrans did not pursue, instead choosing to fortify his position. The massive earthenworks Fort Rosecrans was built in Murfreesboro and served as a supply depot for the remainder of the war. The next major clash, the Battle of Hoover's Gap, would not come until June, when Rosecrans finally moved his army against Bragg.
Part of the site of the Battle of Stones River and Fort Rosecrans is now a National Battlefield administered by the National Park Service. It contains the nation's oldest intact Civil War monument, erected by William Hazen's brigade at Hell's Half Acre.
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