Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 2, 1863

January 2, 1863: 

Battle of Stones River



Day 3:  Rosecrans the day before (Jan. 2) has sent Gen. Beatty’s division (from Crittenden’s Corps) across Stones River to entrench on a small eminence of high ground there, supported by artillery.  Bragg, meanwhile, had been receiving reports from Gen. Wheeler, who has been raiding in the Union rear.  Wheeler’s squadrons are harassing wagon trains full of Union wounded streaming back along the turnpike to Nashville, and this information convinces Bragg that the Yankees are preparing to retreat---so he waits, hoping for this.  By mid-afternoon, it is clear that Rosecrans is not yet leaving, and so Bragg develops a plan that he hopes will prod the Yankees into thinking their position untenable, and thus to retreat. 
Maj. General John C. Breckinridge, CSA
He orders Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge (former Vice President of the United States), holding the far right of the Rebel line, to attack the Union forces on the same side of the river.  Breckinridge at first protests, believing that the long advance over open ground will decimate his division.  Bragg insists, and so Breckinridge deploys his men and steps off at about 4:00 PM. 
Breckinridge attacks
His 5 brigades (Adams, Palmer, Preston, Hanson, and Jackson) sweep over the field and up the heights.   After only a few minutes of intense fighting, Beatty’s Federals give way and retreat back over McFadden’s ford, the Southern attack apparently having caught them by surprise.  The Rebels pursue, but meet 45 cannon lined up hub-to-hub on the heights across the river, commanded by Capt. Mendenhall, Crittenden’s artillery chief.  Another 7 cannon are placed to enfilade the Rebel columns.  The Union artillery fire shreds Breckinridge’s formations, and in less than an hour, Breckinridge’s division has suffered more than 1,800 casualties.  The Orphan Brigade (Hanson’s Kentuckians) has lost a third of its number.  At about 4:45 PM, Gen. Negley’s Federals counterattack across the river, and drive Breckinridge’s division back. 
Negley's Counterattack
For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Stones River is over.  Out of 20 brigades, 17 of them are shattered and unable to deploy for battle.  The next day, a huge supply train comes in to the Federal army from Nashville, and Wheeler’s cavalry is unable to intercept it. Bragg also knows that reinforcements---fresh troops---would soon arrive for Rosecrans.  There is a little skirmishing along the lines on January 3, but Bragg’s army is nearly out of supplies, and he decides to retreat that evening.

Although statistically a draw, according to some historians, the facts that Rosecrans advanced to challenge Bragg’s forward position at Murfressboro, and that Bragg, after three days, wasted his army and was unable to drive the Yankees from the field, all make a good case that this was a crucial Union victory, both strategically and morale-wise.  This battle was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, for the percentage of casualties of those engaged.  Union Victory.

U.S.  Army of the Cumberland     Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans               41,400 men

C.S. Army of Tennessee                  Gen. Braxton Bragg                                    35,000 men

Losses:             Killed          Wounded            Captured/Missing      Total

Union                 1,677             7,543                     3,686                             12,906

Confederate    1,294             7,945                     2,500                             11,739

---An editorial in the New York Times offers a very hopeful spin on the events of 1862,

In our review, yesterday, of our military successes during the year that has closed, it was made very apparent that the rebellion could not survive another twelvemonth of similar experience. It was shown that the reduction of a like amount of territory to the old flag in 1863, as in 1862, would literally wipe the Confederacy from the face of the earth. Considering the present magnitude and splendid condition of our army, and the superb fleet of gunboats just completed — which will not only be able to gain possession of the three remaining Southern ports, but to ascend the Southern rivers far into the interior — it is certainly not unreasonable to believe that the restoration of the National authority can proceed, to say the least, as rapidly hereafter as it has heretofore. . . .

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