Battle of Stones River
(also known as Murfreesboro)
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Location: Murfreesboro, TN
               (Rutherford County)
Dates: December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863
Union Commander:  William S. Rosecrans, Major General
Confederate Commander:  Braxton Bragg, General


Battle Summary:

During the summer, and early fall, 1862, Lincoln’s armies, in the west, were having success.  His armies had pressed the Confederate armies out of Kentucky, and portions of western Tennessee.  With U.S. Grant’s victories, at Forts Henry and Donelson, in February, 1862, the Federal troops commanded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. This provided the leverage necessary, to push CS General Albert Sidney Johnston to abandon all of Kentucky, and western Tennessee.  Grant’s victory over Johnston’s Army of the Mississippi, at Shiloh, pushed troops under Pierre G.T. Beauregard into northern Mississippi.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg, with his Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Lieutenant General Leonidas “Bishop” Polk and Lieutenant General William Hardee, moved into Kentucky in September and October.


While Lincoln was pleased with the success of his troops, under Grant, he remained very concerned for the safety of loyal Unionist citizens in eastern Tennessee.  After the fall of Iuka, and Corinth, MS, US Major General William S. Rosecrans, replaced US Major General Don Carlos Buell to command the newly designated Army of the Cumberland.  Meanwhile, after his unsuccessful invasion of Kentucky, Bragg was at Murfreesboro, TN, protecting the vital southern rail hub at Chattanooga.


Late in December, after repeated threats from Commander-in-Chief, Major General Henry W. Halleck, Rosecrans put his army in motion.  Moving from the Nashville area, Rosecrans slowely moved on Bragg's Army of the Tennessee, at Murfreesboro.  With the Army of the Cumberland plodding towards Bragg’s army, Bragg sent Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to raid Rosecrans’ supply line.  Wheeler was successful, capturing hundreds of prisoners and a portion of the Union supply line.

Braxton Bragg meanwhile, had formed a defensive line, running southwest, to northeast, just north of Murfreesboro – his supply depot.  His army straddled the Stones River.  While Bragg had time to entrench his army, he failed to do so – an error that cost him dearly.

With Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, within striking distance, on December 30, Bragg decided to go on the offensive.  Just after dawn, on December 31, Bragg had the left ¾ of his army wheel on its right flank, hoping to turn the Union army’s right flank.  While the move was successful, early on, the surprised Union troops soon rallied.  Rosecrans had planned to attack the Confederate right flank, early the same morning, so his lieutenant, US Major General Alexander McD. McCook’s Corps was ill prepared to meet the rebel attack on his sector – the Union right.  Assigned to carry out the attack, Hardee on the far left and Polk, near the rebel “hinge,” in the middle, pushed McCook’s Corps back fairly easily.  However, US Brigadier General Phil Sheridan, was able to hold the line, at a very defensible position along the railroad near the Murfreesboro-Nashville Pike.  (This area would be known as the Round Forest, and is part of the Stones River National Battlefield.) 

By noon, with the assault on the Union right grinding to a halt, Bragg determined to divert Rosecrans’ attention.  He sent four brigades, under CS Major General John Breckinridge, to assault the Union left flank.  As Breckinridge’s troops, crossed Stones River, they were hit by heavy Union artillery and infantry that had a naturally strong defensive position.  Breckinridge’s troops, being sent in piecemeal, would be annihilated.


Sporadic fighting would continue until sunset.  When Hardee requested reinforcements, around 4:00 PM, Bragg replied that he had none to send.  Hardee, capturing the moment for all eternity, stated, “The enemy lay beyond the range of our guns, securely sheltered behind the strong defense of the railroad embankment, with wide open fields intervening, which were swept by superior artillery.  It would have been folly, not valor, to assail them in this position.”


On January 2, with a division of US Major General Thomas Crittenden’s Corps arrayed east of Stones River, Bragg once again went on the offensive.  After Bishop Polk’s Corps, in the center, hammered US. Major General George Thomas’ Corps, Bragg sent Breckinridge’s Division to push Crittenden, from their right front.  Breckinridge advanced, in two lines.  With sharp fire from his front, and being enfiladed from the west side of Stone’s River, Breckinridge’s Division was cut up.  The assault would gain no ground for the rebels and would leave many dead southern soldiers on the field.  This would end the fighting at Stones River – a very costly battle on both sides.

Campaign: Stones River


Outcome: Union Victory


Troop Strengths

Union: 44,000

Confederate: 34,000


Casualties (estimated):

Union: 13,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Confederate: 10,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)


Battle Aftermath:

Late in the evening, on January 3, under cover of a heavy rain, Braxton Bragg began to withdraw his Army of the Tennessee.  Rosecrans did not pursue Bragg, who would end up spending the remaining winter months, and much of the summer of 1863 in camp near Tullahoma, TN.  Rosecrans would stay at Murfreesboro, building an elaborate fort, Fortress Rosecrans, to protect his army.  The fortress was so large, that entire wagon trains could disappear in the fort, amongst thousands of Federal troops.


In June 1863, the Lincoln administration, through Henry Halleck, finally got William Rosecrans' lethargic army moving.  They would push Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee out of their camps, at Tullahoma, and into northern Georgia.  Plodding through mountainous country, in southern Tennessee, west of Chattanooga, Rosecrans would enter northern Georgia in September, 1863, to meet Bragg near another lazy waterway – Chickamauga.    Close Window