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The Battle of Stones River – Civil War

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On December 31, 1862, the Confederate Army of Tennessee led by General Braxton Bragg and the Union Army of the Cumberland under General William Rosecrans faced off in the Battle of Stones River, also known as the Battle of Murfreesboro, in Tennessee. The bloody battle, fought December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863, resulted in nearly 24,000 casualties – or nearly one-third of the battle’s participants. Although the battle was indecisive, it was a psychological victory for Union forces.

Earlier in December, the Union Army had suffered defeat at Fredericksburg. They desperately needed a victory to bolster morale and increase support for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that was to take effect on January 1st.

The Confederates were also coming off a defeat at Perryville, Kentucky. General Bragg’s forces retreated and reorganized in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They hoped to drive Union forces out of Tennessee.

On December 26th, Rosecrans left Nashville to confront the Confederates 30 miles away. The weather was miserable and slowed the advance. The rain turned roads into muddy quagmires that froze when the temperatures dropped at night. Union forces reached Murfreesboro on December 30th and set up camp across from Confederate lines. As both sides bedded down for the night, the two military bands played within earshot of one another. They alternated songs and at one point both bands joined together and the soldiers sang Home Sweet Home. As night fell, everyone awaited the imminent battle.

At dawn on December 31st, the Confederate forces were the first to strike. They launched an assault on the Union right flank, intending to encircle Union troops from behind and drive them to Stones River. Meanwhile, Rosecrans’ battle plan was nearly identical. He hoped to place Union forces in between the Confederate Army and their supplies at Murfreesboro.

Initially, Confederate troops held the advantage, driving Union forces back towards the Nashville Pike. Union forces set up a defensive line and intense fighting resulted in horrendous casualties on both sides. One area became known as the Slaughter Pen because of the carnage.

Bragg’s troops launched four separate attacks in an attempt to splinter Union forces. A Union brigade led by Colonel William B. Hazen, held the line. A monument built in 1863 to honor Hazen’s Brigade is the oldest American Civil War monument still standing in its original location.

There was little fighting on January 1st. The lull gave General Rosecrans a chance to strategize and send for fresh supplies and ammunition from Nashville. Both sides cared for their wounded. On January 2nd, Bragg launched another attack on the Union left. Rosecrans counterattacked and drove the Confederates back with heavy artillery. The Confederates retreated and Union forces declared victory.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Stones River, or other Civil War battles, search our archives at Fold3!

160 Comments

  1. I have an ancestor Thomas VanBuskirk that was mortally wounded on the first day of battle and died from his wounds on the 6th of January 1863. He was serving on the Union side in the 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Company I. He’s buried at the Battle of Stones Field National Cemetery.

  2. R.i.p.

  3. I have a relative, Socrates Carver, color sergeant, 37th Indiana Infantry, who joined his regiment before the battle even though he was sick. He survived but his lieutenant did not, so he was promoted to Leiutenant. He commanded the 37th Indiana Veteran regiment during Sherman’ March to the Sea as Captain.

  4. My 3rd Great Uncle, William Buck Jewell, fought and died as a result of wounds at the Battle of Stones River. He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfreesboro, TN.
    He died 8 Jan 1863 from his wounds at the Battle of Stones River, TN at the Regimental Hospital in Murfreesboro. Wounded 2 Jan 1863 in left arm (amputated), neck & face at McFadden’s Ford. Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky – The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War.
    I went there in 2011 to honor him and 2 of my 2nd Great Grandfathers that fought and survived the Battle of Stones River. All from the Company B, Kentucky 21st Infantry Regiment. They were all volunteers and farmers from Kentucky who fought and died for the Union cause.

  5. My great Grand Daddy was Col Richard A. Boughan, COL 7th regiment, 9th Division, Missouri Cavalry CSA. Yup us rebs did kill a bunch more blue bellys than they killed of us and they had better weapons, As for Sherman’s march to the sea, regardless of my esteem for the general, this was a horrendous war on civilians. A war crime by our standards, not something we could do to any god damn moslem. Anyway, he is in Arlington along with a several hundred bunch more. DEO VINDICE

  6. One of my two Civil War vet ancestors from Indiana was given a pension from disease gained in the field. He was in hospital when the war ended do did go home with his unit. His history depicts unbelievable march distances in little time. It is a wonder more didn’t get sick. His disability did not keep him from building 3 pieces of furniture that we still have in the family.
    The first war where more died of battle wounds than of sickness was the Korean War.

    • Awesome. There is a web page on the Military Order of Stars and Bars. I t interestingly describes Civil War as first greatest generation. Think about this also. Both sides wore wool uniforms. EVFGEN IN SUMMER. Now think on this, you are a soldier attacking a position, say Pickets charge at Gettysburg, or any battle. Your charge is marching shoulder to shoulder, toward the enemy who may be under cover and is firing at your line twice in every minute. Wonder haw many of us could do that today.

    • The Civil War was the last European-style war where troops lined up shoulder to shoulder and marched across the field toward the enemy. The Civil War was also the first modern war which included war on civilians, trench warfare, naval ironclads, rail logistics where troops and equipment were moved from one place to another by train, aviation (tethered balloons used for observation) embedded journalists, battlefield communications to the rear using telegraph and at the end of the war, the machine gun (Gatling Gun).
      Not quite 50 years later, World War One brought all this together in a terrible conflagration on the European Continent.

    • EXCELLENT ! One hell of a lot of civilians dont know what you just ran down. Good Job!!!!!!!!! YA nailed it

    • Thank you, when you study US Military History, you learn quite a bit.
      As a Retired Master Sergeant, I do enjoy the history of the United States, you learn about how things kinda fall together and come out the other end.
      You can watch the rise and fall of empires throughout history because people don’t try to understand how humans “work”. I doubt we’ll ever learn.
      The Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression, is an example of hatred that I hope we never have to go through again.

    • Read ya 5×5 Top. Hate? Maybe. At the bottom line was ultimately dollars not slavery. Grant owned slaves, Lincoln didn’t campaign as an abolitionist. There were a lot of different things.

      I wonder if we won by Gods help because less than 100 years later we would have to be the bastion of freedom in WW-II. If we remained neutral, Britain and Russia would have lost the war. I’ve worked simulation after simulation. and each time it comes out the same. Ultimately without the US, the allies loose. Weapon system to weapon system the Germans had a hell of a lot better than the allies did. Of course had Japan not bombed Pearl, and had Hitler not declared war on the US our world today would sure be different. So History all fit together looked at from todays perspective.

      But, we have more hate now than since 1850, as I see it.. Russia is now more of a Christian nation than we are. Tighter families. Russia fights wars to win and we cut our Armed Forces to where they are a real paper tiger, except for Trump trying to rebuild. Does God really need the US anymore. Liberals, are far more of a menace than Democrats or Republicans. Used to be we did not have the hate fests we see now. No Deniros, no Hogg’s Pelosi’s or Kneeling by ball players for the national anthem.

      Anyhow Thanks for your years Top. I owe everything to GOOD NCOs. And remember if your
      gonna be it: BE ATTACK! Merry Christmas and God bless. .

    • Merry Christmas and and a Happy New Year to all who are on this site.
      Researching history is a way to show a path to the future.

      God Bless,

      Martin

  7. A little story I came across a few years ago:

    Troops returning to Columbia, Tn from the battle @ Shiloh. The captain noticed that one soldier was straggling. Are you OK asked the foot soldier, upon whish the soldier open his blouse and showed the Captain a ramrod through his chest. My God said the Captain, you need to see the field surgeon immediately. The soldier rebuttoned his blouse and stated. So Sir, I’ll wait til we reach Columbia and find a real Doctor. As a footnote that soldier survived to wed 10 times and had 40 children. That is a distance of 101 miles!!

  8. My great uncle Sherwin King, IL 42nd Inf Co K was there and wrote in a letter home that the next bodies were stacked up like logs

  9. Very interesting. I had little knowledge of Stones River. We traveled to Dublin, VA last spring to visit Battle of Cloyds Mtn. Searching for any info on distant relative Corp Joseph B Martin of the 14th WV Volunteer Infantry. The 14th was nearly decimated by CSA Gen Albert Jenkins, also from WV, on May 9, 1864. Its now fairly certain my relative is in a mass grave on the battlefield. Unfortunately over 90% of the battlefield is on private property and unexcessable to the public.

  10. My great grand father Andrew Payne was in the fifth Tennessee Calvary and served in the Union army. On the other side of my family my great grand father John Hartley’s grand father, Richard Hartley served in the Royal Horse Guard under the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. Love history! Grand father Harley Payne went to fight in the SpanishAmerican War, (did’nt fight because the war was only a few months). Daddy served in the Panama Canal Zone during WW II. My two sons were in tank repair during peace time, Thank God!

  11. Historically all empires eventually collapse. I had ancestors on both sides and heard horrible stories from my grandmother Emily Jane (Simpson) Blair about how both sides late in the war-between-the-states did horrible things to combatants and civilians alike.
    One aspect of the American Civil War is that Great Britain favored the CSA at the time and the Union blocked the Southern port cities to cut supplies from Great Britain from reaching the CSA. “King Cotton” was the export sought most by the European community of nations from the CSA and considering the battles of the American Revolution against Great Britain, the War of 1812 (also against Great Britain, and the American Civil War where Great Britain also exercised their power and wealth in the South and in direct banking, industrial and commercial competition against the Union, it is a wonder that the French and a few other European nations supported the Union … and the bankers of Europe made fortunes in supporting both sides.
    When Mr. Putin announced his nations’ new weapons systems internationally I suspect the Socialists of the USA and the Constitutionalists of the USA might well soon have to bear bayonets, expend bullets and maybe a few nukes to bring about the Biblical prophesies of World War III … and the “four hidden dynasties” of the world (Education-Banking/Economics-Government-Religion) have gained far more ground in the USA than most Americans dare imagine (likely the start of WWIII will be a nuclear EMP strike some 400 miles above Kansas City, MO) and it might well be too late to stop another war far worse than that war back in 1861-1865). Right now would be a really opportune time to pray for the USA IMHO.

  12. Let’s consider some historic documents in this debate. We have the Declaration of Causes for Succession from Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia to look at.

    Georgia, first two lines: The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

    Mississippi, first two lines: In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.

    Texas, fourth line: She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

    South Carolina begins with equating the Declaration of Causes with the Declaration of Independence, and the Secession with the Revolution. The writers are plainly putting forth an argument for State’s Rights and Sovereignty. In paragraphs 14 and 15, however, they finally begin listing their actual complaints: In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.
    The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” The remainder of the piece lists as further offenses that the North is hostile to slavery and is trying to end it.

    Virginia’s Declaration doesn’t list any causes but is instead a declaration of their secession, that they are a free and independent state and no longer under the authority of the Constitution.

    While the states, other than Virginia, complained vehemently against interference in slavery, none of them mentioned tariffs. I wish I could copy the Declarations here, but they are simply too long; however, you can read them on American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states

    • These facts CAN NOT be ignored. Anyone who tries to sugar coat the institution of slavery simply chooses to do so for who knows why. Perhaps selfish? Regional pride? Racism? Hellsbells one thing for sure I don’t know.
      But there’s little doubt other issues entered in to reasons behind secession. But slavery was u questionablebly the PRIMARY reason. All should read The Making of a Confederate by William Barney. History of western NC. Which parallels the history of West (western) Virginia and nearly all the Southern Appalachian region. Once again thank you Cynthia.

    • There’s no sugar coating “Slavery” because everyone knows it’s wrong. That being said “Africans” area as guilty for “Slavery” as the folks in the U.S. were.
      Please read the book “Complicity” How the North Promoted, Prolonged & Profited from Slavery. Northern written and I’m northern born and raised. Written by writers from the “Hartford Courant” the oldest paper in our country from Hartford, Ct.
      Check out how northern states wouldn’t allow Blacks to enter to live in many areas.
      Check out the history of the Klan in Washington State. Check out Beverly Hills Police Dept. where the City Council made it illegal to be in the Klan sometime around the 1920’s. Officers had to quit Klan or be fired. I believe they lost 10 officers.
      As a country we need to stop slinging mud at the South and get real about the segregated Northern cities and schools.
      I could go on and on but read the book a real eye opener!!!

    • I CAN ALSO GO THE SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS AND THE military oRDER OF STARS AND BARS .

      sURE SLAVERY WAS one, RREPEAT oNE ISSUE OR REASON BUT NOT THE ONLY, REPEAT ONLY REASON.

      NO ORGANIZATION SAYS SLAVERY WAS A GOOD THING. ONE THE YANKES HAD SLAVES ALSO. HELL GEN GRANT OWNED THEM. AND DONT MAKE OUT THE NORTH AS SOME SAINTLY LIBERATOPR. gRANT PUBLISHED GENERAL ORDER 11 THAT EXPELLED JEWS FROM OCCUPIED LA.

      THIS WAR WAS ” TO PRESERVE THE UNION. 2/3 OF REVENUE FOR THE US CAME FROM THE SOUTH. SLAVES WERE NOT AN ISSUE UNTIL LINCOLN MADE IT ONE OVER HALF WAY THROUGH THE WAR HIS EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION. AND THEN IT REALLY JUST CHANGED THE POLITICAL PERSONNA FROM PRESERVING THE UNION TO PREAERVIN A UNION WITHOUT SLAVERY.

      sLAVERY WOULD HAVE ENDED ON ITS OWN PROBABLY BY 1970. also UNION GENERALS OCCUPYING PARTS OF THE SOUTH, DID NOTHING TO FORCE RELEASE OF SLAVES. UNTIL ABOUT 1864.

      NO NEGRO OR RACE IS WORTH THE COST OF A WAR. NOT THEN AND NOT NOW.

      REALLY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SLAVERY AND INDENTURED SERVITUDEWHICH WAS RAMPANT IN THE NORTH UNTIL NEAR WW I, IS JUST SEMANTICS.

      IT DOENOT MAKE IT RIGHT OR MORAL. iT WAS A BUSINESS TECHNIQUE OF ITS DAY. jEWS WERE SLAVES FOR 1000 YEARS. MEXICO USED YAKI INDIANS AS SLAVES. YOU CANT PICK ANY RACE THAT HAS NOT BEEN A SLAVE. JUST SAYIN

    • COL,

      You don’t have to shout!
      You can make a point without slapping another person around.
      The North and the South both had their faults. The Emancipation Proclamation only covered the Confederacy, not Connecticut or other Northern States that had slavery. Quite a few slaves had joined the Confederate Army before there were ever Black units in the Union Army.
      At Petersburg, when the Union created “The Crater”, they sent Black troops into the hole rather than around it and it was a slaughter of troops they could have used later on in the war.
      OBTW, do you know who LT Henry Ossian Flipper was? I saw a drawing of him one time at Ft Eustis. The seller, who happened to be Black, had no idea who he was. Just asking.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!.
      Out!

    • Yep you’re exactly right Col. Nobody, or at least not me, is denying everything you say is factual. But like it or not, the fear of losing their slaves was the MAIN REASON the first southern states decided to leave the Union. After Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion others who were lukewarm at best about supporting the Confederacy decided that we must defend our homes. This brought in the remaining southern states.

    • Absolutely right and the fact is Africans sold Africans into Slavery. Again doesn’t make it right but responsibility for Slavery has many responsible people and folks in Africa are still be held as Slaves.

    • Excellent read! The cause of the “war between the states” is the same as the cause of every other war and clearly seen in the Declaration of Causes for Succession. The prejudice oozes from the sentences of the Declarations. Not surprisingly, when examined, one finds that Prejudice is the root cause of all wars! People justify aggression against others from a belief that for some reason the “others” are inferior. This “inferiority” magically justifies a “right to suppress those who are “inferior.” Both sides in a conflict find themselves entitled to nurse their feelings of prejudice so that they may kill without regret. Prejudice raises its ugly head in skin color, education, language, wealth disparities, religion and a myriad of perceived “differences” between our fellow human beings.

    • slavery may have been why states seceded but certainly not why all men fought you gonna kill your brother for them when neither can own one . after it started it was alot of revenge or vengeful fighting that continued after slaves were freed .

  13. The civil war cemetery monuments mention two different wars. In the north it is “The war of southern rebellion” and in the south it is “The war of northern aggression”
    OK, but the south wasn’t exactly non-aggressive. Fort Sumter comes to mind.

    • Beautiful old cemetery overlooking Moorefield in Hardy County, WV. Hardy Co was strong pro-CSA and there’s a large obelisk in honor of John Hanson McNeil of McNeil’s Rangers. One of only 2 such groups recognized by the Confederate congress. The other being John S Mosby aka the Grey Ghost from northern VA. McNeil’s monument is circled with the graves of Confederate dead with all headstones facing inward to the obelisk. Many of which say things like “killed in defense of our homeland” or “fighting for southern independence”. One must remember even though we may not agree with why these young men went to war; these were the sons, husbands, and brothers of families from the Hardy Co and South Branch Potomac region. Somebody was home mourning them and many their families still reside there today. Tragic.

    • Cmon. That was a bait by Lincoln. Dont assume the South was this aggressive monster. Fact is the Confederate States seceded from the union months before sumpter. Also the south paid for other installations it took over int eh south. that said Lincoln deliberately sent large supplies to Sumter by ship, told the south and since Charleston was the prime post for the south. That scared the crap out of Richmond so yea, they took it by force as they saw imminent blockade. Also one of my colleagues said that all wars start because of prejudice. I say horse shit, you must have gone to a different War College. The current tiffs didn’t, WW II, WW i, Vietnam, Korea, Indian Wars, Revolution, Napoleonic, Peloponnesian, and the Civil War had about 12 other factors besides slavery and it had nothing to do with PREJUDICE. THAT IS GD MEDIA BULL SHIT Now had you said money, advantage of one nation over another different story. .

    • True. Lincoln knew that if he framed the dispute over the slavery issue, Britain and France would be headed off from recognizing the Confederacy.

    • Dear Col,
      Fort Sumter surrendered April 13, 1861. Virginia didn’t seceed until April 17. The capital wasn’t moved to Richmond until May 20.
      And yes as has been stated, many factors entered in as reasons for secession. But fear of losing their slaves was the No 1 reason.

    • I’ve told folks a few times over the years there’s a book in my opinion that was so well done that it should be a mandatory read for anyone wishing to be a history talking head and/or history teacher.

      It’s called; “Complicity” How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery. It was done by two women writers/editors and a man similar position for the “Hartford Courant” the oldest paper in this country started in 1765 in Hartford, Ct. The long and very well done forward was by a Black woman educator by the last name I believe to be Higginbotham.

      As a member of the Son’s of Confederate Veteran’s who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and studied U.S. History at the U.W. I found the book to be a real eye opener.

  14. Further research: Slavery was not the horrible, heartless situation many Northerners and Abolitionists painted it out to be. Many slaves were treated well and really did love their owners.

    Slavery was also not the benign benevolent situation many Southerners and slaveowners painted it out to be. Many slaves were terribly, cruelly treated and hated their owners and slavery.

    The best way to know is from the words of the former slaves themselves. In 1936 – 1938 the government as part of the WPA sent writers to interview former slaves. They collected over 2,300 first-person accounts, which you can read at:
    https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938

    • Don’t forget, a number of slave owners were Black and Native American.
      Plus, there were also a quite a few white slaves even though they were called indentured servants.

    • Yes, there are quite a number of entries from Oklahoma from ex-slaves who had been owned by Native Americans. There are also entries from white former slave owners; it makes for very interesting reading!

  15. Private Thomas B. Gabbard, Co. D., 8th Kentucky Infantry Regiment USV. My 1st cousin, 4x removed. DOW: 20 Jan 1863. Burial: Stones River National Cemetery. Plot # D-1553. The last name misspelled. (HOR) Lebanon, Ky.

    Thomas’s 4 brothers served in Co. D. Thomas 5th brother served in Co. B, with 2 cousins serving in Co. G.

  16. LT Ossian Flipper was the first black graduate of West Point, Vlass of 1877.

  17. A comment on the statement “war on civilians”. If you look at the history of warfare, going back to and past the Trojan War, civilians were always part of the “collateral damage”. If their city/state/ kingdom lost the battle, they became “spoils of war”, slaves and/or whatever. If they won, they did the same to the other side. Look at the Biblical Fall of Jericho as an example.
    The idea that civilians should be kept unharmed and apart from the damage of war is an idea that is relatively new, within the last century at most. While laudable, it might not be realistic. Especially considering how some combatants dress as civilians, move and hide with them, and attack opposing forces from within the those areas.

    • tRUE. In early history and up until , I d guess 1000 ad. When a city was captured, all living things regardless of sex, age etc were put to sword. Those who were not killed became slaves etc. We dont make warfare deliberately on civilians BUT. That is not iron clad. Example Dresden, Hiroshima, Tokyo. Dresden was a reprisal others were to quicken the end of the war and SAVE LIVES in the long run. Sadly in recent years we have lost the lives of our own troops to avoid a collateral damage and even dropped weapons from our arsenal. War is not like a movie. The law of land warfare says things like a hospital can not be attacked. But if occupied by the enemy, especially if they hide behind the safety of the hospital status, it can be destroyed. AFTER WARNING IS GIVEN OF IMMEDIATE ATTACK TO non combatants there in. If they are kept from leaving the war crime is NOT THE ATTACKER BUT THE ENEMY HOLDING THE LIVING SHIELDS> in so many words. In D Day several thousand French civilians died for obvious reason. In the wrong place at the right time. Cought in cross fires bombings etc. Shit happenes in War, It just does.

  18. You can use all the simulations you want.But Great Britian’s Navy and Air Force were never going to let Germany win the war.Hitler never intended to have Great Britian in the war until 1946.Now the supplies and equipment the US sent to Great Britian and Russia did help their cause.The war would have lasted longer but Germany was eventually going to run out of material.

    • Since we seem to be concentrating on the Civil War, the question I have is: What would have happened if the Confederacy had won the war?
      1. Slavery would likely have not expanded because the eleven states that formed that Nation would have been all that was.
      2. It may have been into the late 19th Century, but slavery would have gone away as mechanization proved more efficient and overall less expensive.
      3. Their base would still have been agrarian into the 20th Century while the Union was mainly an industrial-based enterprise.
      4. I honestly believe that the States making up the Confederacy would have either en toto or on an individual basis would have reapplied for entrance into the Union.

    • Nope. there were blunders sure. but Russia was in it ONLY because, Hitler attacked them. That was a goof. Had the Luftwaffe concentrated on Airfields, the battle of Britain would have been lost in short order. The RAF was on the ropes. Had it not been for lend lease and probably Gods will, it would have cracked like an egg shell. The Germans had better Generals, better equipment, better training and were better led. Much of what we have today we have from lessons learned from the Germans. Simple example is the M-60 is really just a little improved “Hitler’s Buzz Saw”. And I could go on.

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