The start of the New Year brings the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River, and I was fortunate enough to visit the National Battlefield Park during this historic commemoration. The venue has never looked better, thanks to Jim Lewis and staff – new roads flanked with fresh split rails, new wayside signs with encompassing maps, engaging museum displays. Yet of all the major battlefield sites of the Civil War, I find Murfreesboro the most paradoxical, for reasons innumerable. Among the more prominent in my mind…
- Of the top ten costliest battles in the war, all of them involved more than 100,000 combatants, with one exception. Despite a comparatively diminutive total (around 76,000 soldiers combined), Stones River ranks as the seventh deadliest, with over 18,400 killed and wounded.
- The of the Army of the Cumberland suffered over 30 percent casualties during the engagement, making it the highest percentage loss for the Union in a major fight. In spite if the severe subtraction, commanding general William Rosecrans received a letter of thanks from Abraham Lincoln.
- Lincoln encouraged Rosecrans to initiate the offensive in order to give leverage to the Emancipation Proclamation, which would go into effect on New Year’s Day, 1863. Indeed, the ensuing battle took place during that momentous milestone. After the war, newly liberated African Americans formed a vibrant community upon the hallowed ground itself. When Congress established a commemorative battlefield park in 1927, many descendant residents were forced to vacate the area.
- In many regards, Stones River is a twin of Shiloh. Both began with a surprise Confederate assault on a Union encampment, involved two days of severe fighting, with Confederate side claiming victory in the first day, and Union side claiming victory on the last. Both were fought in Middle Tennessee, with the Union lines retreating back against a river, until a costly Confederate attack (the Hornets Nest at Shiloh and the Round Forest at SR) enabled the Union to rally. Ultimately, both fights produced nearly 20,000 dead and wounded, and were indecisive.