02135 - African-Americans repair track; Battle of Stones River, Murfreesboro, TN; 1863 [LC-DIG-cwpb-02135]
The Battle of Stones River (or battle of Murfreesboro) while not as well known today as many battles of the Civil War, served as a key point to future battles of Chattanooga and Atlanta. It also has the unenviable distinction of having the highest percent of casualties; with 38% of all participants being either killed or wounded, including four generals killed or mortally wounded, of any major battle of the Civil War.
The battle began on New Year’s Eve, 1862 in the sleepy town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both sides prepared battle plans with the intention of striking an early blow on the enemy. The first day’s fighting started at 6 AM. The Confederates took the offensive and managed to inflict severe casualties on the Union troops. Within four hours the Confederates had achieved all of their objectives and had taken 3,000 Union prisoners and 28 artillery pieces. The rest of the day General Bragg (namesake of Fort Bragg) continued to push the Union Army back. He decided to cut General Rosecrans’s communication line and effectively surrounded the Union forces, forcing them to either retreat or surrender.
The South also strove to cutoff Union supply lines. The North was pushed back until they effectively held only the supply line and a concentration of troops that would make a difference in the days to come. Bragg knew that the battle was his and sent the following telegram to Richmond: "The enemy has yielded his strong position and is falling back. We occupy [the] whole field and shall follow him. ... God has granted us a happy New Year." On the Union side Rosecrans was in a desperate position. Some of his generals felt that they had to retreat or the entire army would be cutoff and forced to surrender. General Rosecrans overruled them and said "This army does not retreat". News of Rosecrans’s stance raised the spirits on the Union side and preparations for reinforcing their position were made.
New Year’s Day, 1863, saw little fighting other than minor skirmishes. Both sides observed the holiday and used it as an opportunity to tend to the wounded. General Wheeler (see his card for more information) brought his cavalry to harass the Union lines and reported back to Bragg that large convoys of wounded were being sent from the battlefield. Seeing this as a clear sign that Rosecrans was acknowledging defeat, Bragg was content to wait for the Union forces to depart, giving him victory. Bragg continued waiting for Rosecrans to depart most of the day on January 2nd. By 4PM he decided to attack once again. The next 45 minutes saw 1,800 Confederate casualties as the Union held the surrounding hills and managed to devastate the Confederate attack with canon fire.
While the battle was over after the 2nd, some minor skirmishes did take place on the 3rd with Wheeler attempting (unsuccessfully) to capture Union supplies arriving by rail. While only three days before Bragg had been assured of a victory, now he faced the prospect 70,000 Union soldiers (many of them fresh troops from the North) to face his dwindling band of 20,000. He withdrew from the field, giving the victory to Rosecrans. Fort Rosecrans was built on the site and served as a major supply depot for the remainder of the war. Most of the South condemned Bragg. However, Jefferson Davis was unable to find a replacement and Bragg was able to keep his command.