The Battle of Stone's River
G. C. Kniffin, Lieut. Colonel, U. S. V., Of General Crittenden's Staff
ON the 26th of December 1862, General W. S. Rosecrans, who
on the 20th of October had succeeded General Buell in the command of the Army of the Cumberland, set out from Nashville with
that army with the purpose of attacking the Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg, then concentrated in the neighborhood
of Murfreesboro' on Stone's River Tenn.
The three corps into which the army was organized moved by
the following routes : General Crittenden by the Murfreesboro' turnpike, arriving within two miles of Murfreesboro' on the
night of the 29th ; General Thomas's corps by the Franklin and Wilkinson turnpikes, thence by cross‑roads to the Murfreesboro'
pike, arriving a few hours later ; and General McCook's corps, marching by the Nolensville pike to Triune, and bivouacking
at Overall's Creek on the same night. The forward movement had not been accomplished without some sharp fighting. The advance
of Crittenden had a spirited action at La Vergne, and again at the Stewart's Creek bridge. McCook fought at Nolensville, and
the cavalry, under General Stanley, found the march a continuous skirmish ; but the Confederate advance pickets had fallen
back upon the main line, where they rejoined their divisions.
The armies were about equally matched. Bragg's effective
strength on December 10th was 39,304 infantry, 10,070 cavalry, and 1758 artillery,‑total, 51,132; while on December
15th General Rosecrans's returns showed a present for duty of 51,822 infantry and artillery, and 4849 cavalry,‑total,
56,671. In each army these figures were diminished by the usual details for hospital and transportation service, train guards,
and other purposes, so that Rosecrans reported his force actually engaged, December 31st, at 43,400, while Bragg placed his
own force at 37,712. (1)
Rosecrans's left wing, under Crittenden, bivouacked on the
night of the 29th within seven hundred yards of the Confederate lines in front of Murfreesboro'. Crittenden's orders had been
to go into Murfreesboro', and he was inclined to obey them. Riding forward, he found the two advance divisions arranged in
line of battle, and, against the remonstrance of General Wood, ordered a forward movement. Palmer united with Wood, however,
in a protest on the ground that an advance at night over unknown ground, in the face of a force of unknown strength, was too
hazardous to be undertaken.
General Crittenden finally suspended the execution of the
or der one hour, and soon after it was countermanded by General Rosecrans, who came up to Crittenden's headquarters at the
toll‑house on the Nashville turnpike.
(1) One reason for the unreliability of official returns for historical purposes is that the absence of tri‑monthly
and monthly returns of numerous organizations frequently require the use of the returns "last on file," which may be three
months old, thus leaving out of the account, as rendered by the brigade, division, or corps adjutant, the numerous casualties
that have tended to diminish the actual strength of those organizations since last reported.‑G. C. K.
Crittenden's line of battle was the base of a triangle of
which Stone's River on his left and the line of a dense cedar thicket on his right formed the other sides. General Wood's
division occupied the left, with his flank resting on the river, General Palmer's the right, while General Van Cleve was in
reserve near a ford of Stone's River. Of Thomas's two divisions, Negley formed on the right of Palmer, with his right on the
Wilkinson pike, while Rousseau was in reserve. (1) The soldiers lay down on the wet ground without fires, under a drenching
rain. The slumber s of the commanding general were disturbed at half‑past 3 on the morning of the 30th by a call from
General McCook, who had just come up and who was instructed to r est the left of his corps upon Negley's right. Of his divisions,
Sheridan therefore, preceded by Stanley's cavalry, moved on the Wilkinson turnpike, closely followed by R. W. Johnson and
Davis. Skirmishing into position, the line was formed by resting the left of Sheridan's division on the Wilkinson pike, Davis
taking position on his right and Johnson in reserve.
The general course of the Nashville and Murfreesboro' turnpike,
and of the railroad where they crossed the line of battle, is south‑east. On the left of the turnpike, and opposite
the toll‑gate house, was a grove of trees of about four acres in extent, crowning a slight elevation known as the "
Round Forest," in Which Wagner's brigade was posted.
(1) An important cavalry raid by General Wheeler around the Union army had engaged two of Thomas's brigades, Starkweather's
During the night of the 29th General Wheeler, who had moved
from the left to the right of Murfreesboro', advancing by the Lebanon and Jefferson pikes, gained the rear of Rosecrans's
army and attacked Starkweather's brigade of Rousseau's division, at Jefferson, at daylight on the 30th. The head of his brigade
train, consisting of sixty‑four wagons, had just arrived in camp, and was driving into park, when Wheeler dashed down
upon it with three thousand cavalry. But he had encountered an antagonist as vigilant as himself. Wheeler's men, dismounted,
advanced gallantly to the charge, when they were as gallantly met. After two hour s' contest twenty wagons in the rear of
the train were taken and destroyed, but the assault upon the brigade was handsomely repulsed. The Confederates fell back,
followed by Starkweather for more than a mile, when he returned to camp. The Union loss in killed, wounded, and missing was
From Jefferson Wheeler proceeded toward La Vergne, picking
up stragglers and a small forage train, arriving at La Vergne about noon of the same day, where he captured the immense supply
trains of McCook's corps, moving slowly forward under insufficient guard.
Seven hundred prisoners and nearly a million dollars' worth
of property was the penalty paid by the Government for not heeding the requests of the commanding general for more cavalry.
The work of paroling prisoners, burning wagons, exchanging arms and horses, and driving off mules commenced at once and occupied
the remainder of the day and night. Early on the morning of the 31st Colonel M. B. Walker's Union brigade (of Fry's division
Thomas's corps), on its night march from Nolensville to Stewartsboro', arrived within two and a half miles of La Vergne, and
advanced at once to the scene of devastation. The turnpike, as far as the eye could reach, was filled with burning wagons.
, The country was over spread with disarmed men, broken‑down horses and mules. The streets were covered with empty valises
and trunks, knapsacks, broken guns, and all the indescribable debris of a captured and rifled army train. A few shells, judiciously
administered, sufficed to set Wheeler's stragglers scampering after the main body, now far on its way toward Rock spring.
Walker recaptured eight hundred men and all the train animals, and saved some of the stores. A train there, and another at
Nolensville, shared the fate of that at La Vergne, and three hundred paroled prisoners were left to carry the tidings back
to Nashville. At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 31st Wheeler came up bright and smiling upon the left flank of the Confederate
army in front of Murfreesboro', having made the entire circuit of Rosecrans's army in forty‑eight hours, leaving miles
of road strewn with burning wagons and army supplies, remounting a portion of his cavalry, and bringing back to camp a sufficient
number of minie‑rifles and accouterments to arm a brigade.‑G. C. K.
The line of battle trending irregularly southward, facing east
and accommodating itself to the character of the ground, Was much nearer the Confederate line in front of McCook than on the
left, Where the flanks of the contending armies Were separated by Stone's River. At 4 o'clock General McCook reported the
alignment of the right wing, together With the fact that two divisions of Polk's corps and two of Hardee's were in his front,
extending far to from surprise by an outlook over a narrow cultivated
(1)During the afternoon, General McCook being informed that his line was greatly overlapped by the enemy, Johnson's
division was moved up on Davis's right. Kirk's brigade on the left was formed on the right of Post, but was advanced slightly
to obtain position in the front edge of a woodland, commanding the ground in front. Willich's line was refused to the right
and rear of Kirk's, and Baldwin was in reserve. The left wing maintained substantially the same position it had assumed tho
previous night. The pioneer brigade, under Captain Morton, was posted on stone's River, in rear of Wood, to prepare fords.
Rousseau came up with Scribner's, Beatty's and the Regular brigade, and took position in rear of Negley.‑ G. C. K.
valley, widening from‑left to right from 200 to 500 yards, beyond which, in a dense cedar thicket, the enemy's
lines were dimly visible. Confidence in the strength and staying . qualities of his troops, and reluctance to yield a favorable
position without a struggle, together with the fact that the retirement of his line must be executed‑in the night, induced
General McCook to make the fatal mistake of leaving his position unchanged.
The plan of battle was as follows : General McCook was to
occupy the most advantageous position, refusing his right as much as was practicable and necessary to secure it ; to receive
the attack of the enemy, or, if that did not come, to attack sufficiently to hold all the forces in his front. General Thomas
and General Palmer were to open with skirmishing and engage the enemy s center and left as far as the river. Crittenden was
to cross Van Cleve's division at the lower ford (covered and supported by Morton's Pioneers 1700 strong) and to advance on
Breckinridge. Wood's division was to cross by brigades at the upper ford, and, moving on Van Cleve's right, was to carry everything
before it to Murfreesboro'. This move was intended to dislodge Breckinridge, and to gain the high ground east of Stone's River,
so that Wood's batteries could enfilade the heavy body of troops massed in front of Negley and Palmer. The center and left,
using Negley's right as a pivot, were to swing round though Murfreesboro' and take the force confronting McCook in rear, driving
it into the country toward Salem. The successful execution of General Rosecrans's design depended not more upon the spirit
and gallantry of the assaulting column than upon the courage and obstinacy with which the position held by the right wing
should be maintained. Having explained this fact to General McCook, the commanding general asked him if with a full knowledge
of the ground, he could, if attacked, hold his position three hours,‑again alluding to his dissatisfaction with the
direction which his lime had assumed but, as before, leaving that to the corps commander,‑to which McCook replied, "
I think I can." Swift witnesses had borne to the ears of General Bragg the movements of General Rosecrans. He had in his army
about the same proportion of raw troops to veterans as General Rosecrans, and the armies were equally well armed. By a singular
coincidence Bragg had formed a plan identical with that of his antagonist. If both could have been carried out simultaneously
the spectacle would have been presented of two large armies turning upon an axis from left to right. Lieutenant‑General
Hardee was put in command of the Confederate left wing, consisting of McCown's and Cleburne's divisions, and received orders
to attack at daylight. Hardee's attack was to be taken up by Polk with the divisions of Cheatham and Withers, in succession
to the right flank, the move to be made by a constant wheel to the right, on Polk's right flank as a pivot. The object of
General Bragg was by an early and impetuous attack to force the Union army back upon Stone's River, and, if practicable, by
the aid of the cavalry, cut it off from its base of operations and supplies by the Nashville pike.
As has been shown the Union and Confederate lines were much
nearer together on the Union right than on the left. In point of fact the distance to be marched by Van Cleve to strike Breckinridge
on Bragg's right, crossing Stone's River by the lower ford, was a mile and a half. To carry out the order of General Bragg
to charge upon Rosecrans's right, the Confederate left wing, doubled, with McCown in the first line and Cleburne in support,
had only to follow at double‑quick the advance of the skirmish line a few hundred paces, to find themselves in close
conflict with McCook.
The Confederate movement began at daybreak. General Hardee
moved his two divisions with the precision that characterized that able commander .
McCown, deflecting to the west, as he advanced to the attack,
left an opening between his right and Withers's left, into which Cleburne's division fell and together the two divisions charged
upon R. W. Johnson and Davis, while yet the men of those divisions were preparing breakfast. There was no surprise. The first
movement in their front was observed by the Union skirmish line, but that first movement was a hush as of a tornado. The skirmishers
fell back steadily, fighting, upon the main line, but the main line was overborne by the fury of the assault. Far to the right,
overlapping R. W. Johnson, the Confederate line came sweeping on like the resistless tide, driving artillerists from their
guns and infantry from their encampments. Slowly the extreme right fell back, at first contesting every inch of ground. In
Kirk's brigade 500 men were killed or wounded in a few minutes. Which lost nearly as many. Goodspeed's battery on Willich's
right, lost three guns. The swing of Bragg's left flank toward the right brought McCown's brigades upon the right of Davis's
division. Leaving the detachments in R. W. Johnson's division to the attention of two of his brigades and Wheeler's cavalry,
McCown turned McNair to the right, where Cleburne was already heavily engaged. Driving Davis's skirmishers before him Cleburne
advanced with difficulty in line of battle, bearing to the right over rough ground cut up with numerous fences arid thickets
and came upon the maim line at a distance of three‑fourths of a mile from his place of bivouac. It was not yet daylight
when he began his march and he struck the Union line at 6 o'clock. General Davis now changed the front of Colonel Post's brigade
nearly perpendicular to the rear. Pinney's battery was moved to the right, and the 59th Illinois assigned to its support.
One‑fourth of a mile to the right of' Post, Baldwin's brigade, with Simonson's battery on its right, took position behind
a fence on the margin of a wood. Carlin's Woodruff's and Sill's brigades were on the main battle line. Against this force,
about seven thousand strong without works of any kind, Hardee hurled the seven brigades commanded by Manigault, Loomis, Polk,
Bushrod Johnson, Wood, Liddell, and McNair ‑10,000 men. The engagement which followed (being the second distinct stage
of the battle on the right) was one of the fiercest of the day. Baldwin was the first to give way. After half an hour's spirited
resistance, finding the left of McCown's division, in pursuit of the remnants of Willich's and Kirk's brigades, advancing
far beyond his right, Baldwin withdrew to the edge of the woods in rear of the front line , and tried to make a stand, but
was driven back. The salient angle formed by the junction of Post's brigade with Carlin's which at this time formed the right
of the extreme Union line of battle, was in the meantime fiercely assailed. In front of Post the Confederates under McCown
in command , of' McNair's brigade of his own division, and Liddell of Cleburne's division , received a decided repulse ; and
Cleburne was for a time equally unsuccessful in pushing back the main Union line.
Three successive assaults were made upon this position. In
the second, Vaughan's and Maney's brigades of Cheatham's division relieved Loomis's and Manigault's. In the third attack Post's
brigade was enveloped by Hardee's left, which, sweeping toward his rear, made withdrawal a necessity. Sill had been killed
in the first assault. Schaefer's Union brigade was brought forward to the support of the front line. The dying order from
General Sill to charge was gallantly obeyed, and Loomis was driven back to his first position. Manigault advanced at about
8 o'clock and attacked directly in his front, but, meeting with the same reception, was compelled to retire. A second attack
resulted like the first. Maney's brigade now came up and advanced in line with Manigault's supported by Vaughan's. Turner's
Confederate battery took position near the brick‑kiln, and opened fire, under cover of which Manigault made an unsuccessful
dash. upon Houghtaling's Union battery. Colonel Roberts was killed, and Colonel Bradley, of the 52d Illinois, succeeded to
the command of the brigade. Having completed the formation of his line, Hardee gave the order for a general advance, and that
portion of the right wing, which up to this time had resisted every assault made upon it, retreated in perfect order toward
the left and rear, with empty cartridge boxes, but with courage undaunted. Schaefer's brigade, being entirely out of ammunition,
obeyed Sheridan's order to fix bayonets and await the charge.
Roberts's brigade, having a few cartridges left, fell back,
resisting the enemy.
With the country to the right and rear overrun by McCown's
infantry and Wheeler's cavalry in pursuit of R. W. Johnson's routed division one‑half of , which were either killed,
wounded, or captured, and with a strong, determined enemy pressing them upon front and flank Davis and Sheridan now found
themselves menaced by another powerful auxiliary to defeat. Their ammunition was nearly exhausted, and there was none nearer
than the Nashville Murfreesboro' pike in the rear of Crittenden. On the other hand, McCown , in his report, refers to the
necessity of replenishing his ammunition at this juncture Liddell's brigade having exhausted forty rounds per man.
Carlin's brigade retired and re‑formed on the Murfreesboro'
pike. Woodruff held out some time longer, but finally followed Carlin toward the left, taking all the artillery with him with
the exception of one gun from , Pinney's battery. Captain Pinney, dangerously wounded was left upon the, field. The withdrawal
of the artillery was a matter of greater difficulty.
Nearly all the horses having been killed, the attempt was
made to withdraw the pieces by the use of prolonges. Lieutenant Taliaferro, commanding a section of Hescock's battery, was
killed, and his sergeant brought off his two guns by hand. The ground, however, was too rough, and the road to safety too
long, and in consequence the six guns of Houghtaling's battery were abandoned. Dragging the remaining pieces of artillery
with them Sheridan's division at 11 o'clock emerged from the cedars on Palmer's right, passing Rousseau on his way to the
front. Cheatham's Confederates advanced in line of battle over the ground vacated by the Union right wing, and came up with
Stewart's brigade hotly engaged with Negley, while Cleburne and McCown , sweeping toward the Nashville pike, driving hundreds
of fugitives before them, encounter ed a new line improvised by Rosecrans to meet the emergency.
Thus far the plan of battle formed by Bragg had been carried
out in strict conformity with its requirements. It now remained for Withers and Cheatham to drive the Union center back on
the Union left. The retirement of Sheridan's division precipitated the entire command of Cheatham and a portion of Withers's
upon Negley's two brigades and two brigades of Rousseau , on the left of the Wilkinson .pike, taking them in front, left flank
and rear. The roar of artillery and the sharp rattle of musketry had aroused these brigades early, and they had stood in line,
for hours, in momentary expectation of an attack upon their front. This, it is possible, would have been repulsed ; but when
it came in such a questionable shape, preceded by a cloud of retreating troops, but one course appeared to present itself
to the commander, and that was to fall back. Nevertheless, he faced Colonel T. R. Stanley's brigade to the right, and ordered
Colonel John F. Miller to hold his position to the last extremity. Miller arranged his brigade in convex order, with Schultz's
battery on his right and Ellsworth's battery on his left. Simultaneously with Cheatham's advance upon his right, Stewart's
and Anderson's brigades attacked Miller in front. Miller's lines were barely formed when a heavy musketry and artillery fire
opened upon his men who met the charge with a well‑directed fire. On his right was Stanley, and the rapid discharge
of Schultz's and Ellsworth's guns told with terrible precision upon the ranks of the advancing Confederates who soon halted
but did not abate their fire. The 29th and 30th Mississippi, of Anderson's brigade, made a dash upon Schultz's battery, but
were hurled back behind the friendly cover of a stone wall, where Stewart passed them in his charge upon Miller. A bayonet
charge was met by the 21st Ohio, and repulsed with great gallantry. The fighting at this point was terrific. All along the
front the dead and wounded lay in heaps, and over their bodies came the assaulting host, seemingly strong and brave as when
the first charge was made in the morning. But the inevitable result of a successful flank movement, by which the ammunition
trains had been captured, came to Negley's strong fighting brigades as it had come to those of Sheridan and Davis. Ammunition
was near ly exhausted, and it could only be replenished in rear of Crittenden, whose lines still stood intact.
Negley ordered Stanley to retire, which he did in perfect order; and Miller's brigade, after holding its position until
the ammunition on the per sons of the killed and wounded was all used, slowly fell back to re‑form in Palmer's rear.
Rosecrans, having arranged his plan of battle, had risen
early to superintend its execution. Crittenden, whose headquarters were a few paces distant, mounted at 6 A. M., and with
his staff rode to an eminence, where Rosecrans, surrounded by his staff‑officers, was listening to the opening guns
on the right. The plan of Bragg was instantly divined, but no apprehension of danger was felt. Suddenly the woods on the right
in the rear of Negley appeared to be alive with men wandering aimlessly in the direction of the rear. The roar of artillery
grew more distinct, mingled with the continuous volleys of musketry. The rear of a line of battle always presents the pitiable
spectacle of a horde of skulkers, men who, when tried in the fierce flame of battle, find, often to their own disgust, that
they are lacking in the element of courage But the spectacle of whole regiments of soldiers flying in panic to the rear was
a sight never seen by the Army of the Cumberland except on that occasion. Captain Otis, from his position on the extreme right,
dispatched a messenger, who arrived breathless, to inform General Rosecrans that the right wing was in rapid retreat. The
astounding intelligence was confirmed a moment later by a staff‑officer from McCook, calling for reenforcement. "Tell
General McCook " said Rosecrans ``to contest , every inch of ground. If he holds them we will swing into Murfreesboro' and
cut them off." Then Rousseau with his reserves was sent into the fight, and Van Cleve, who, in the execution of the initial
movement on the left had crossed Stone's River at 6 A. M. at the lower ford, and was marching in close column up the hill
beyond the river (preparatory to forming a line of battle for a movement to the right, where Wood was to join him in an assault
upon Breckinridge), was arrested by an order to return and take position on the turnpike facing toward the woods on the right.
A few moments later this gallant division came dashing across the fields, with water dripping from their clothing, to take
a hand in the fray. Harker's brigade was withdrawn from the left and sent in on Rousseau's right, and Morton's Pioneers, relieved
at the ford by Price's brigade, were posted on Harker's right. The remaining brigades of Van Cleve's division (Beatty's and
Fyffe's) formed on the extreme right, and thus an improvised line half a mile in extent presented a new and unexpected front
to the approaching enemy. It was a trying position to these men to stand in line while the panic‑stricken soldiers of
McCook's beaten regiments, flying in terror through the woods, rushed past them. The Union lines could not fire for their
comrades were between them and the enemy. Rosecrans seemed ubiquitous. All these dispositions had been made under his personal
supervision. While riding rapidly to the front, Colonel Garesche, his chief‑of‑staff, was killed at his side by
a cannon‑ball. Finding Sheridan coming out of the cedars into which Rousseau had just entered, Rosecrans directed Sheridan
to the ammunition train, with orders to fill his cartridge‑boxes and march to the support of Hazen's brigade, now hotly
engaged on the edge of the Round Forest The left was now exposed to attack by Breckinridge, and riding rapidly to the ford,
Rosecrans inquired who commanded the brigade. "I do, sir," said Colonel Price. "Will you hold this ford?" "I will try, sir."
"Will you hold this ford?" "I will die right here." "Will you hold this ford?" for the third time thundered the general. "Yes,
sir," said the colonel.
"That will do"; and away galloped Rosecrans to Palmer, who was contending against long odds for the possession of the
At half‑past 10 o'clock Rousseau's reserve division,
shorn of one brigade, under command of Major‑General Lovell H. Rousseau, was ordered into action on the right of General
Negley. The two brigades commanded by Colonels John Beatty and B. F. Scribner, known as the 17th and 9th of the old Army of
the Ohio, were the same that only three months before had hurled back the strong fighting brigades of Hardee on the bloody
slopes of Chaplin Hills or Perryville. The regular brigade, composed of five battalions of the 15th, 16th, 18th, and 19th
United States Infantry, commanded by Colonel Oliver L. Shepherd, under perfect discipline, was placed on the extreme right.
The line was formed in a dense cedar brake, through which
Cleburne's and McCown's victorious columns were advancing, sweeping everything before them. On the left the roar of battle
in Negley's front showed that all was not lost, and to his right Colonel John Beatty's brigade was formed. Scribner was held
in reserve. The shock of battle fell heaviest upon the regulars; over one‑third of the command fell either killed or
wounded. Major Slemmer, of Fort Pickens fame, was wounded early. Steadily, as if on drill, the trained battalions fired by
file, mowing down the advancing Confederate lines. Guenther's battery could not long check the fury of the charge that bone
down upon the flanks and was fast enveloping the entire command.
Lieutenant‑Colonel Kell, the commander of the 2d Ohio,
was killed; Colonel Forman, the boy Colonel of the 15th Kentucky, and Major Carpenter, of the 19th Infantry, fell mortally
wounded. There was no resource but to retreat upon support. At this moment Negley's division, with empty cartridge‑boxes,
fell back, and Rousseau, finding his flanks exposed, after a, heroic fight of over two hours, fell back slowly and stubbornly
to the open field, where his flanks could be more secure. Captain Morton, with the Pioneers and the Chicago Board of Trade
battery, pushed W to the cedars, and disappeared from view on their way to the front simultaneously with Harker. The general
course of the tide of the straggler s toward the rear struck the Nashville turnpike at the point where Van Cleve stood impatiently
awaiting the order to advance. All along the line men were falling, struck by the bullets of the enemy, who soon appeared
at the edge of the woods on Morton's flank. At the order to charge, given by General Rosecrans in person, Van Cleve's division
sprang forward reserving their fire for close quarters. It was the crisis in the battle. If this line should be broken all
would be lost. Steadily the line moved forward, sending a shower of bullets to the front.
The brigades of Stanley and Miller having fallen back, as
previously described, and the entire strength of Cheatham and three brigades of Withers and Cleburne having come upon Rousseau,
the latter had fallen back into the open field, where he found Van Cleve. Loomis's and Guenther's batteries, double‑shotted
with canister, were posted on a ridge, and as the Confederate line advanced, opened upon it with terrific force. Men fell
all along the line, but it moved straight ahead. The field was cover ed with dead and wounded men. The deep bass of the artillery
was mingled with the higher notes of the minie‑rifles, while in the brief pauses could be distinguished the quickly
spoken orders of commanding officers and the groans of the wounded. It was the full orchestra of battle. But there is a limit
to human endurance.
The Confederate brigades, now melted to three‑fourths
their original numbers, wavered and fell back; again and again they re‑formed in the woods and advanced to the charge,
only to meet with a bloody repulse. All along the line from Harker's right to Wood's left, the space gradually narrowed between
the contending hosts. The weak had gone to the rear ; there was no room now for any but brave men, and no time given for new
dispositions ; every man who had a stomach for fighting was engaged on the front line.
From a right angle the Confederate left had been pressed
back by Van Cleve and Harker and the Pioneers to an angle of 45 degrees. This advance brought Van Cleve within view of Rousseau,
who at once requested him to form on his right.
General Harker, entering the woods on the left of Van Cleve,
passed to his right, and now closed up on his flank. The enemy had fallen back , stubbornly fighting, and made a stand on
the left of Cheatham. Brave old Van Cleve, his white hair streaming in the wind, the blood flowing from a wound in his foot,
rode gallantly along the line to where Harker was stiffly holding his position, with his right " in the air." Bidding him
hold fast to every inch of ground, he rode on to Swallow's battery, which was working with great rapidity. He then passed
to the left, where General Samuel Beatty's brigade was firing with their minie‑rifles at a line of men, which seemed
to be always on the point of advancing.
The advance of Bragg's left wing had brought it into a position
at right angles with the original line. The entire strength of the center, and most of the left, was concentrated upon the
angle formed by Rousseau and the right of Palmer's division. Chalmers's Confederate brigade, which up to 10 o'clock had lain
concealed in the rifle‑pits on the right of Withers's line arose at the order , and, under a terrific fire, dashed forward
across the open field upon Palmer's front. Finding that the time had come for a decisive blow General Bragg now directed General
Breckinridge to send two brigades to the left to reenforce Polk. General Pegram, who, with his cavalry, was posted on the
Lebanon pike in advance of Breckinridge's right, had observed Van Cleve's movement, and notified General Breckinridge that
a heavy column of infantry and artillery had crossed Stone's River and was advancing along the river bank upon the position
occupied by Hanson's brigade. Interpreting this as the initial movement in a plan which was intended to strike his division,
Breckinridge declined to obey Bragg's order, which in his report he terms a " suggestion." At ten minutes after ten he replied,
" The enemy is undoubtedly advancing upon me." Soon after he wrote Bragg, " The Lebanon road is unprotected, and I have no
troops to fill out my line to it " At half‑past eleven, upon Bragg ordering him to move forward and attack the Union
left, Breckinridge replied, "I am obeying your order, but my left is now engaged with the enemy, and if I advance my whole
line farther forward, and still retain communication with my left, it will take me clear away from the Lebanon road, and expose
my right and that road to a heavy force of the enemy advancing from Black's." The withdrawal of Van Cleve appeal s to have
passed unnoticed by Breckinridge, and was undiscovered until too late to accomplish any good by complying with Bragg's order.
Thus, by simply thrusting forward the left flank of his army and at once withdrawing it, General Rosecrans had held four Confederate
brigades inactive at a time when their presence in support of Chalmers might have administered the coup de grace to the center
of the Union line.
The movement of Crittenden's left and center divisions upon
Bragg's right wing having been arrested, Wood's division was in position to cross at the upper ford. Wagner's brigade was
at the river bank. Hascall was in reserve some distance to the rear of the opening between Wagner's right and Hazen's left.
The withdrawal of Negley from Palmer's right precipitated the attack of Donelson's and Chalmers's brigades against the right
and Adams and Jackson against the left. Chalmers's attack was made with great fury. His men had been confined, without fires,
in their rifle‑pits for forty‑eight hours, and when finally the order came at 10 o'clock to " up and at 'em,"
they came forward like a pack of hounds in full cry. Cruft recoiled from the attack in the open field between the Round Forest
and the wood in which Negley was engaged, and, falling back, met the charge at the time that Negley moved to the rear. Now
Cruft's right was in the air and exposed to attack by Donelson following Negley. Cruft repulsed Chalmers in his front, but
Donelson's brigade, pouring to his rear, threatened to envelop him. Grose, from his position in reserve, faced to the right,
and soon after to the rear, and bore back the charging columns, enabling Cruft to withdraw.
When Chalmers's assault first fell upon Palmer's right, Hazen
faced his two right regiments, the 6th Kentucky and 9th Indiana, to the rear, where the impetus of Chalmer s's assault upon
Cruft had borne him, at the same time retiring the two left regiments, the 41st Ohio and 110th Illinois, some fifty yards
to the left of the pike and engaged to the front, the 40th Indiana having fallen back. A burnt brick house [Cowan's] in the
immediate front of the Round Forest afforded cover for the enemy, and in the steady, persistent effort to force back the front
of Hazen's line the action became terrific. All of Hascall's brigade, and two regiments of Wagner's, being engaged on the
right of the 6th Kentucky, and Wagner's remaining regiments being W position at the ford some distance to . the left, the
assault on the left was borne by Hazen, whose brigade was thought by Polk to be the extreme left of the Union line. Upon this
point, as on a pivot, the entire army oscillated from front to rear for hours. Hazen's horse fell shot square in the forehead.
Word came that the ammunition of the 41st Ohio was nearly
" Fix bayonets and hold your ground!" was the order. To the
110th Illinois , who had no bayonets, and whose cartridges were expended, the order was given to club their muskets, but to
hold the ground. The 9th Indiana now dashed across the line of fire, from a battery in front, to the left to relieve the 41st
Ohio. Cannon‑balls tore through their ranks, but they were rapidly closed up, and the men took their place in the front
line, the 41st retiring with thinned ranks, but in excellent order, to refill their empty cartridge boxes. An ominous silence
succeeded, soon followed by the charge of Donelson's fresh Confederate brigade and the remains of Chalmers's. The time had
been occupied in the readjustment of Palmer's line. The 24th Ohio, commanded by Colonel Fred Jones, and the 36th Indiana,
shorn of half its strength in the previous assault, were sent to Hazen's support. Parsons's battery was posted on the left.
The 3d Kentucky, led by McKee, dashed forward and took position on the right of the 9th Indianan across the turnpike. The
terrible slaughter in this regiment attests its courage.
While Hazen and Wagner were thus gallantly defending the
left of the line from 9 o'clock in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, the fight raged not less furiously on their immediate
right. Here a line was formed, composed of two brigades of Palmer's division and Hascall of Wood's, filled out‑ by the
remains of Sheridan's and Negley's divisions, who, after they had replenished their ammunition, formed behind the railroad
embankment at right angles with Hazen's brigade, which alone retained its position upon the original line. Farther to the
right was Rousseau, with Van Cleve, Harker, and Morton on his right. At this supreme moment the chances of victory were evenly
balanced. The undaunted soldiers of the left and center had swept past the crowd of fugitives from the right wing, and now
in strong array they stood like a rockbound coast beating back the tide, which threatened to engulf the rear.
Along this line rode Rosecrans Thomas calm inflexible, from whose gaze skulkers shrank abashed; Crittenden, cheerful and full
of hope, complimenting his men as he rode along the lines; Rousseau, whose impetuosity no disaster could quell; Palmer, with
a stock of cool courage and presence of mind equal to any emergency ; Wood, suffering from a wound in his heel staid in the
saddle, but had lost that jocularity which usually characterized him. " Good‑bye, General we'll all meet at the hatter's,
as one coon said to another when the dogs were after them," he had said to Crittenden early in the action. " Are we doing
it about right now, General 2 " asked Morton as he glanced along the blazing line of muskets to where the Chicago battery
[Stokes's] was hard at work. "All right, fire low," said Rosecrans as he dashed by. Colonel Grose, always in his place, had
command of the Ammen brigade, of Shiloh memory, which, with Hazen's and Cruft's brigades, had driven the right of Beauregard's
victorious army off that field. After the formation of this line at noon it never receded ; the right swung around until,
at 2 o'clock, considerable of the lost ground had been retaken. The artillery, more than fifty guns, was massed in the open
ground behind the angle in the line (twenty‑eight Union guns had been captured), where they poured iron missiles continuously
upon the Confederate line. They could not fire amiss. The fire from Cox's battery was directed upon Hanson's brigade across
the river, whence Cobb, with his Napoleons, returned the compliment with zeal and precision. Schaefer's brigade, having received
a new stock of cartridges, formed on Palmer's right, where later its commander received his death wound, the last of Sheridan's
brigade commanders to fall during the day. At 4 o'clock it became evident to the Confederate commander that his only hope
of success lay W a charge upon the Union left, which, by its overpowering weight, should carry everything before it. The movement
of Cleburne to the left in support of McCown had deprived him of reserves; but Breckinridge had two brigades unemployed on
the right, and these were peremptorily ordered across the river to the support of General Polk.
The charge of Adams and Jackson, and the subsequent attack
of Preston's and Palmer's brigades, have been described. The error made by General Polk in making an attack with the two brigades
that first arrived upon the field, instead of waiting the arrival of General Breckinridge with the remaining brigades, was
so palpable as to render an excuse for failure necessary.
This was easily found in the tardy execution of Bragg's order
by Breckinridge, and resulted in sharp criticism of the latter. The Union 3d Kentucky, now nearly annihilated, was relieved
by the 58th Indiana, Colonel George P. Buell. The 6th Ohio, Colonel Nicholas L. Anderson at its head, took position on the
right of the 26th Ohio, with its right advanced so that its line of fire would sweep the front of the regiments on its left.
The 97th Ohio and 100th Illinois came up and still further strengthened the position. They had not long to wait for the Confederate
attack. These dispositions had hardly been made when a long line of infantry emerged from behind the hill. Adams's and Jackson's
brigades were on the right, and Donelson's and Chalmers's, badly cut up but stout of heart, were on the left. On they came
in splendid style, full six thousand strong. Estep's case‑shot tore through their ranks, but the gaps closed up. Parsons
sent volley after volley of grape‑shot against them, and the 6th and the 26th Ohio, taking up the refrain, added the
sharp rattle of minie‑rifles to the unearthly din. Still the line pressed forward, firing as they came, until met by
a simultaneous and destructive volley of musketry. They staggered, but quickly reformed and, reenforced by Preston and the
Confederate Palmer, advanced again to the charge. The battle had hushed on the extreme right, and the gallantry of this advance
is indescribable. The right was even with the left of' the Union line, and the left stretched far past the point of woods
from which Negley had retired. It was such a charge as this that at Shiloh broke the strong lines of W. H. L. Wallace and
Hurlbut, and enveloped Prentiss. The Confederates had no sooner moved into the open field from the cover of the river bank
than they were received with a blast from the artillery. Men plucked the cotton from the boles at their feet and stuffed it
in their ears. Huge gaps were torn in the Confederate line at every discharge. The Confederate line staggered forward half
the distance across the fields, when the Union infantry lines added minie‑balls to the fury of the storm. Then the Confederates
wavered and fell back, and the first day's fight was over .
New Year's was a day of fair weather. During the night Rosecrans
retired his left to a more advantageous position, the extreme left resting on Stone's River at the lower ford, where Van Cleve
had crossed on the previous morning, the line of battle extending to Stokes's battery, posted on a knoll on Rosecrans's right.
Walker's and Starkweather's brigades having come up, the former bivouacked in close column in reserve in rear of McCook's
left and the latter, posted on Sheridan's left, next morning relieved Van Cleve's division, now commanded by Colonel Samuel
Beatty, which crossed the river and took position on the margin of a woodland that covered a gentle slope extending from the
river to an open field in its front.
Across this field the Lebanon road, running nearly at right
angles with Beatty's line, was nearly in sight. In his front and right, an elevation still held by Hanson's brigade of Breckinridge's
division was crowned by Cobb's battery of artillery. Om the left and rear, Grose's brigade of Palmer's division occupied a
knoll in support of Livingston's battery on the following day.
The Confederate line, formed by Polk and Breckinridge on
the right and Hardee on the left, extended from the point on Stone's River where Chalmer s's brigade had bivouacked since
the 25th, in a direction almost at right angles with its original line.
At dawn on the 1st of January the right flank of General
Polk was advanced to occupy the ground vacated by the Union army on the west bank of the river. Neither commander deemed it
advisable to attack, but each was. watchful of every movement of the other. The picket lines on either side were thrust forward
within sight of the main lines of the opposing force, on the alert to notify their commanders of any movement in their front.
Weaker in numbers, but more compact, and decidedly stronger in morale, each awaited the order to advance and close in a final
General Bragg confidently expected to find the Union troops
gone from his front on the morning of the 2d. His cavalry had reported the turnpike full of troops and wagons moving toward
Nashville, but the force east of Stone's River soon attracted his attention. Reconnoissance by staff‑officers revealed
Beatty's line, enfilading Polk in his new position. It was evident that Polk must be withdrawn or Beatty dislodged. Bragg
chose the latter alternative, and Breckinridge, against his earnest protest, was directed to concentrate his division and
assault Beatty. Ten Napoleon guns were added to his command, and the cavalry was ordered to cover his right. The line was
formed by placing Hanson's brigade of Kentuckians who had thus far borne no part in the engagement, on the extreme left, supported
by Adams's brigade, now commanded by Colonel Gibson. The Confederate Palmer's brigade, commanded by General Pillow, took the
right of the line, with Preston in reserve. The artillery was ordered to follow the attack and go into position on the summit
of the slope when Beatty should be driven from it. The total strength of the assaulting column was estimated by Bragg at six
thousand men. His cavalry took no part in the action.
In the assault that followed a brief cannonade, Hanson's
left was thrown forward close to the river bank, with orders to fire once, then charge with the bayonet. On the right of Beatty
was Colonel S. W. Price's brigade, and the charge made by Hanson's 6th Kentucky was met by Price's 8th Kentucky regiment,
followed by Hanson and Pillow in successive strokes from right to left of Beatty's line. Overborne by numerical strength,
the Union brigades of Pr ice and Fyffe were forced back upon Grider, in reserve, the right of whose brigade was rapidly being
turned by Hanson, threatening to cut the division off from the river. Beatty ordered retreat and assailants and assailed moved
in a mass toward the river. The space between the river bank and the ridge occupied by Grose now presented a scene of the
wildest confusion. The pursuit led the Confederate column to the right of Grose, and Lieutenant Livingston opened upon it
with his artillery, but he was quickly ordered across the river. Crittenden, turning to his chief‑of‑artillery,
said, "Mendenhall, you must cover my men with your guns." Never was there a more effective response to such a request ; the
batteries of Swallow, Parsons, Estep, Stokes, Stevens, Standart, Bradley, and Livingston dashed forward, wheeled into position,
and opened fire. In all, fifty‑eight pieces of artillery played upon the enemy. Not less than one hundred shots per
minute were fired. As the mass of men swarmed down the slope they were mowed down by the score. Confederates were pinioned
to the earth by falling branches. For a few minutes, the brave fellows held their ground, hoping to advance, but the west
bank bristled with bayonets.
Hanson was mortally wounded and his brigade lost over 400
men ; the loss in the division was 1410. There was no thought now of attacking Grose but one general impulse to get out of
the jaws of death. The Union infantry was soon ordered to charge. Colonel John F. Miller with his brigade and two regiments
of Stanley's was the first to cross the river, on the extreme left. He was quickly followed on the right by Davis and Morton
and by Hazen in the center. Beatty quickly re‑formed his division and recrossed the river and joined in the pursuit.
The artillery ceased firing, and the Union line with loud cheers dashed forward, firing volley after volley upon the fugitives,
who rallied behind Robertson's battery and Anderson's brigade in the narrow skirt of timber from which they had emerged to
the assault. The Union line advanced and took possession of the ground from which Beatty had been driven an hour before, and
both armies bivouacked upon the battlefield. General Spear s, with a brigade guarding a much‑needed supply train, came
up and took position on the right, relieving Rousseau on the following morning.
General Bragg had been promptly notified by General Joseph
Wheeler of the arrival of this reenforcement to his antagonist, and says in his report:
" Common prudence and the safety of my army, upon which even the safety of our cause depended, left no doubt on my
mind as to the necessity of my withdrawal from so unequal a contest,"
Bragg acknowledged a loss of over 10,000 men, over 9000 of
whom were killed or wounded,‑nearly 25 per cent. of the total force engaged. The loss in the Union army was, in killed,
1533 ; wounded, 7245 == 8778 ; and in prisoners, McCook, 2092 ; Thomas,
576 ; Crittenden, 821,‑total, 3489. Apprehending the possible success of a flank movement against his left, General
Bragg had caused all the tents and baggage to be loaded on wagons and sent to the rear. On the night of the 3d he began his
retreat and continued it south of Elk River whence he was ordered back to Tullahoma by General Johnston.