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1863 January 7: Battle of Stones River

January 7, 2013

The following account of the Battle of Stones River appeared in both the January 7, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal and the January 10, 1863, issue of The Polk County Press.  The headlines are from the Journal.

The Battle of Stones River, also called the Second Battle of Murfreesboro, was fought December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, in central Tennessee.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg attacked Union forces under General William S. Rosecrans.  The terrain surrounding Stones River, two miles from Murfreesboro, made it difficult for commanders to keep a clear picture of the progress of the battle, or to maintain any kind of control.  Not necessarily a well-known Civil War battle, nonetheless it was one of the major battles of the War, with the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.  The battle was a Union victory, a much-needed boost to Union morale after the disaster at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and it ended Confederate aspirations for control of the middle portion of Tennessee.

Both papers misspell Stones River—leaving off the “s” at the end of Stones—throughout.  We have not put [sic] after every instance.  The Journal misspells Rosecrans’ name (Rosencrans), but the Press spells it correctly so we have chosen to use the correct spelling throughout.  There are other differences between the two papers, but none substantially change the article.

From Murfreesboro.

The Tide of Battle Turned!

Brilliant Fighting
The Rebels Driven Back and their Place Occupied  by Our Forces.
The Battle to be Renewed.

[Special to the St. Paul Press.]—A special dispatch to the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, from the battle-field of Stone river, Jan. 3d, says:

The terrific battle of Stone River is not concluded.  It has continued three days with intermissions till to-day.  Old soldiers pronounce it the grandest conflict ever fought on the continent.

After the great battle of Wednesday the enemy pushed forward, moving upon our right to cut us off from Nashville.—Our right was thrown out to Osternon Creek.

On Thursday, finding our right too strong, they suddenly rushed upon our center, but were brilliantly repulsed by the left of the corps commanded by Thomas [George H. Thomas] and the right of Crittenden’s [John J. Crittenden] corps.

Later in the day they fiercely assailed the right center, and were again repulsed.  Both sides spent the remainder of the day in sharp skirmishes, maneuvering for the position.

During the night the enemy appeared to be concentrating again upon our right, their commands being distinctly heard in our camp.  But suspecting a ruse, Gen. Rosecrans threw Bentley’s¹ brigade of Van Cleve’s² division across the river on our left, with support, where they rested about 10 o’clock.

At 10 o’clock, this A.M., the enemy made another formidable dash at our center, but were [Journal adds: handsomely] repulsed.

Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon a tremendous mass of the enemy was suddenly precipitated upon Bentley’s¹ brigade, and drove it after a gallant struggle clear back across the river.  Negley’s [James Scott Negley] superb division, which had already immortalized itself and its heroic commander, and the faithful division of Jeff. C. Davis³, were thrown in successively, and a most desperate conflict ensued.  Both sides seemed determined to win victory.  Both threw in their artillery, till nearly all the batteries of both armies were at work.  The upper of musketry and artillery was of the most furious description, and the whole field was soon shrouded in smoke.  Our brave fellows were sadly cut  up, but marched to the assault with unflinching determination.  Gen. Negley at last ordered his men to charge.  The men pushed forward without faltering, and the enemy suddenly gave way.  The gallant 38th Pennsylvania charged home on the 26th Tennessee and captured its colors.  Another rushed upon a battery and drove away the gunners, and seized it for a trophy.

A great shout of victory roared along the whole line, and was carried in magnificent volumes from left to right, through the forest and back again.  Gen. Rosecrans was in the midst of the fire and carnage, and ordered an advance of the whole line at dark.  The dense forest blazed with fires of fierce intensity.  Our line was sweeping forward with wild enthusiasm, till darkness made it impossible to press our advantage to a conclusion.  Nevertheless our left was fairly established on the east bank of the river.  The center advanced to a position heretofore held by the enemy, and our right advanced to the line from which they were driven on Wednesday.  Thus you perceive decisive advantage is with us.

Tomorrow morning the battle will be renewed.  We feel confident of ultimate victory.  Our losses however have been heavy.  Since Wednesday morning they have amounted to about 4,000 killed and wounded, of whom 600 are killed.  Our loss of prisoners is several thousand. The enemy on Wednesday captured about twenty guns and disabled them.  We captured four from them on the same day.

The rebel loss is estimated by themselves at between 4,000 and 5,000 killed and wounded, including Gen. Rains [James S. Rains] killed.  Altogether we have captured about 1,000 prisoners.  Gen. Cheatham’s4 Adjutant General and sundry field officers were captured.

Among casualties on our side additional to those already reported is Col. Schaeffer, commanding a Missouri brigade in Sheridan’s [Philip H. Sheridan] division, Lieut. Col. Cotton, of Louisville, Lieut. Col. Tanner, 22d Indiana, Maj. Russel, 6th Ohio, Capts. Pinney5 and Carpenter,6 of the 6th and 8th Wisconsin batteries, Col. Carpenter,7 of the 18th Wisconsin, and Lieut. Col. McKee,8 of the 15th Wisconsin were killed. Gen. Willick [sic]was captured uninjured.9  Brig. Gen. Van Cleve,¹ of Minnesota, wounded.  Total of our killed and wounded is estimated at 2,500.—Rebel loss exceeding ours.

1.  Horatio Phillips Van Cleve (1809-1891) was a graduate of West Point who served at frontier posts in Michigan Territory and then resigned in 1836 to settle in Michigan. an engineer for the state of Michigan in 1855, and then United States Surveyor of Public Lands in Minnesota. When the Civil War began, he became colonel of the 2nd Minnesota Infantry. Van Cleve served under General George H. Thomas at Mill Springs, and was later promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in recognition for his services at that battle. He commanded a brigade at the Siege of Corinth and a division at Perryville. Van Cleve was wounded at Stones River, but returned to his division upon recovery.
2.  This is probably Colonel Samuel Beatty (1820-1885), who commanded Van Cleve’s 1st Brigade. Beatty took command of Van Cleve’s division after the general was wounded.
3.  Jefferson Columbus Davis (1828-1879) had the misfortune of having the same first and last names as the president of the Confederacy. He was a career military officer who had served in the Mexican War, and was serving in the Fort Sumter garrison when it was bombarded at the start of the Civil War. Davis led the 3rd Division, Army of the Southwest.
4.  Benjamin Franklin Cheatham (1820-1886), a Confederate general. He had been born into two of the most prominent families of the middle Tennessee elite of the slave society. He was a captain in the Mexican War, being promoted to colonel of the 3rd Tennessee by the end of the war, and served as a brigadier general in the Tennessee militia. In the Civil War, he served in many battles of the Western Theater, including Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River.
5.  Oscar F. Pinney, from Monroe, was the captain of the 5th Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery. He was wounded at Stones River and died February 17, 1863, from his wounds.
6.  Stephen J. Carpenter, from Stevens Point, was captain of the Eighth Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery.
7.  The colonel of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry at this time was Gabriel Bouck. Not only was he not killed at Stones River, but the 18th Wisconsin was not at the Battle of Stones River.
8.  David McKee, from Lancaster, was the lieutenant colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry. He died December 31, 1862, at Stones River.
9.  August Willich was captured by the Rebels when his horse was shot out from under him. He was sent to Libby Prison for four months, but was paroled and exchanged in May 1863.

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