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The Battle of Stone’s River.


January and February 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, January 5, 1863.


The Battle of Stone’s River.




[Special Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.]

NASHVILLE, January 1.

I have just arrived from a terrific battle, on Stone’s River, in front of Murfreesboro on the west side of that town. It has raged with unremitting fury two days, and at last report was not yet decided. It is one of the most ferocious of modern times, sustained by both sides with splendid determination.

Gen. Rosecrans marched from Nashville last Friday, with about 45,000 effective men and 100 pieces of artillery, and skirmished all the way to the battle-field, the enemy resisting bitterly. The whole of Tuesday was spent in reconnoitering. The enemy was found strongly posted with artillery in a bend of Stone’s River, his flanks resting on the west side of Murfreesboro.

The centre also had the advantage of high ground, with a dense growth of cedar masking them completely. Their position gave them the advantage of a cross fire, and Gen. McCook’s corps closed in their left on Wilkerson’s Creek. Negley, of Thomas’s corps, worked, with great difficulty, to the front of the rebel center. Rosecrans’s division was in reserve. Crittenden’s corps was posted on the comparatively clear ground on the left; Palmer’s and Van Cleve’s divisions in front in the woods, and held in reserve. A battle was expected all day Tuesday, but the enemy merely skirmished and threw a few shells, one of which killed orderly McDonald, of the 4th United States Cavalry, not ten feet from Gen. Rosecrans. That afternoon the Anderson Pennsylvania Cavalry, on McCook’s flank, was drawn into an ambuscade, and its two Majors, Rosengarten and Ward, were killed.

Crittenden’s corps lost four killed and two wounded that day, including Adjutant Elliott, of the 57th Indiana, severely wounded. McCook’s loss was about fifty. The same day the rebel cavalry made a dash on our rear at Lavergne, burned a few wagons and captured thirty-five prisoners. That night dispositions were made to attack the enemy in the morning. After dark the enemy were reported massing upon McCook, obviously to strike our right wing. This corresponded with the wishes of Gen. Rosecrans, who instructed Gen. McCook to hold him in check stubbornly, while the left wing should be thrown into Murfreesboro behind the enemy.

At daybreak of the last day of December, every thing appeared working well. Battle had opened on our right, and our left wing was on hand at 7 o’clock. Ominous sounds indicated that the fire was approaching on the right. Aides were dispatched for information, and found the forests full of flying negroes, with some straggling soldiers, who reported whole regiments falling back rapidly.

Meantime one of McCook’s aids announced to General Rosecrans that General Johnston had permitted the three batteries of his division to be captured by a sudden attack of the enemy, and that that fact had somewhat demoralized the troops. This was obvious.

The brave General Sill, one of our best officers, was killed, General Kirk severely wounded, and General Willick [sic] killed, or missing, besides other valuable officers.

General Rosecrans sent word pressing General McCook to hold the front and he would help him. It would all work right. He now galloped to the front of Crittenden’s left, with his staff, to order the line of battle, when the enemy opened a full battery and emptied two saddles of the escort. Van Cleve’s division was sent to the right, Colonel Beatty’s brigade in front. The fire continued to approach on the right with alarming rapidity—extending to the center, and it was clear that the right was doubling upon the left. The enemy had compelled us to make a complete change of front on that wing, and were pressing the center.

General Rosecrans, with splendid daring, dashed into the fire, and sent his staff along the lines, started Beatty’s brigade forward—some six batteries opened and sustaining a magnificent fire—directly a tremendous shout was raised along the whole line. The enemy began to fall back rapidly. The General himself urged the troops forward. The rebels, thoroughly punished, were driven back fully a mile. The same splendid bravery was displayed in the center, and the whole line advanced. Meantime the enemy made formidable demonstrations on our left, while they prepared for another onslaught on our right. Meantime orders had been issued to move our left upon the enemy. Before they had time to execute it they burst upon our center with awful fury, and it began to break. Rousseau’s divisions were carried into the breach magnificently by their glorious leader, and the enemy again retreated hastily into the dense cedar thickets. Again they essayed our right, and again were driven back. This time the number of our stragglers was formidable, and the prospect was discouraging, but there was no panic. The General, confident of success, continued to visit every part of the field, and with the aid of Thomas, McCook, Crittenden, Rosseau [sic], Negley, and Wood, the tide of battle was again turned.

Early in the day we were seriously embarrassed by the enterprise of rebel cavalry, who made some serious dashes upon some of McCook’s ammunition and subsistence trains, capturing a number of wagons, and artillery ammunition was alarmingly scarce. At one time it was announced that not a single wagon load of it could be found. Some of our batteries were quiet on that account. This misfortune was caused by the capture of McCook’s trains.

About two o’clock the battle had shifted again from right to left, the enemy discovering the impossibility of succeeding in their main design, had suddenly massed his forces on the left, crossing the river or moving under cover of high bluff from his right, and for about two hours the fight raged with unremitting fury. The advantage was with the enemy for a considerable length of time, when they were checked by our murderous fire of both musketry and artillery. The scene at this point was magnificent and terrible. The whole battle was in full view, the enemy deploying right and left, bringing up their batteries in fine style, our own vomiting smoke and iron missiles upon them with awful fury, and our gallant fellows moving to the front with unflinching courage, or lying flat upon their faces to escape the rebel fire until the moment of action.

There was not a place on the field that did not give men a satisfactory idea of the manner of hot fire, solid shot, shell, and Minie balls, which rattled around like hail.

Rosecrans himself was incessantly exposed—it is wonderful that he escaped. His Chief of Staff, noble Lieutenant Colonel Garesche had his head taken off by a round shot, and the blood spattered the General and some of the staff. Lieutenant Lyman Kirk, just behind him, was lifted clear out of his saddle by a bullet, which shattered his left arm. Three orderlies, and the gallant Sergeant Richmond, of 4th United States Cavalry, were killed within a few feet of him, and five or six horses in the staff and escort were struck.

Between four and five o’clock, the enemy apparently exhausted by his rapid and incessant assault, took up a position not assailable without abundant artillery, and the fire on both sides slackened and finally ceased at dark, the battle having raged eleven hours. The loss of life on our side in considerable. The field is comparatively limited. The whole casualty list that day, excluding captures, did not exceed perhaps one thousand and five hundred, of whom not more than one-fourth were killed. This is attributable to the care taken to make our men lie down. The enemy’s loss must have been more severe; but among our losses we mourn such noble souls as General Sill, General August Willich, Colonel Garesche, Colonel Minor Millikin, 1st Ohio; Colonel McKee, 3d Kentucky; Colonel Gorman, 15th Kentucky; Colonel Kell, 2d Ohio; Lieutenant-Colonel Shepherd, 18th Regulars; Major Carpenter, 19th Regulars; Captain Edgarton, 1st Ohio battery, and his two Lieutenants, and many more.

No other Generals were hurt. Among our wounded are General Kirk, Gen. Van Cleve, so reported; Col. Moody, 74th Ohio, who established a splendid reputation; Col. Cassilly, 99th Ohio; Colonel King, 1st regiment regulars; Majors, Foot, Richer, Slemmer, 11th regiment; Captains Bell, Wise, Barry, McDonnell, Power and York, and Lieut. McAllister, 15th regulars; Major Townsend, 18th regulars; Captain Lang, 4th regular cavalry; Lieutenants McClellan, Millers and Foster, 27th Ohio.

When the battle closed, the enemy occupied ground which was ours in the morning, and the advantage theirs. Their object in attacking was to cut us off from Nashville; they almost succeeded. They had played their old game. If McCook’s corps had held more firmly against Hardee’s corps and Cheatham’s when he fought, Rosecrans’s plan of battle would have succeeded.

At dark they had a heavy force on our right, leading to the belief that they intended to pursue. Their cavalry, meantime, was excessively troublesome, cutting deeply into our train behind us, and we had not cavalry enough to protect ourselves. The 4th Regulars made one splendid dash at them, capturing sixty-seven and releasing five hundred prisoners they had taken from us. The enemy took a large number.


Gen. Rosecrans determined to begin the attack this morning, and opened furiously with our left at dawn. The enemy, however, would not retire from our right, and the battle worked that way. At eleven o’clock matters were not flattering on either side. At twelve o’clock our artillery, new supplies of ammunition having arrived, was massed, and a terrible fire opened. The enemy began to give way, Gen. Thomas pressing on their center, and Crittenden advancing on their left. The battle was more severe at that hour than it had been, and the result was yet doubtful.

Both sides were uneasy, but determined. Gen. Rosecrans feels its importance fully. If he is defeated, it will be badly, because he will fight as long as he has a brigade. If he is victorious, the enemy will be destroyed. At this hour we are apprehensive. Some of our troops behaved badly, but most of them were heroes.

I believe all our troops but Walker’s brigade, consisting of the 17th and 31st Ohio, and two other regiments, were in Wednesday’s battle, those named being on guard; but they were engaged to-day.

The enemy seemed fully as numerous as we. They did not use as much artillery. Generals Joe Johnston and Bragg were in command.

Prisoners say they lost largely.

Gen. McCook was brave to a fault and self-possessed. He narrowly escaped death many times. His horse was killed under him, and he was severely hurt by the falling.

11:15 O’CLOCK, A. M.—No later tidings of to-day’s battle. Rebel cavalry are destroying our wagon train on the Murfreesboro Pike, to-night.


Killed—Col. Stein, 101st Ohio; Lieut. Colonel McKee, 15th Wisconsin; Col. Almande, 21st Illinois; Col. Roberts,42d Illinois; Col. Walker, 31st Ohio, commanding brigade; Col. Harrington, 27th Illinois; Capt. John Johnson, 15th Wisconsin.
Wounded—Gen. Rousseau, slightly; General Wood, severely; Lieut.-Col. 101st Ohio, badly; Col. Carlin, 38th Illinois, commanding brigade; Capt. Oscar F. Mark, Acting Inspector-General of Thomas’ staff, severely; Capt. Douglass, 18th Regulars.

W. D. B.