- 29 Dec 2020 13:49
December 30, Tuesday
General Wheeler’s cavalry, having since midnight ridden five miles north from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, then turned west, at dawn strikes Brigadier General John Starkweather’s brigade at Jefferson, well behind the Federal lines. Although taken by surprise, Starkweather’s veterans resist strongly. The Confederates have no time for a fight; they press on. At noon, Wheeler’s troopers ride up to Lavergne, seven miles northwest of Jefferson, and spy a rich prize—McCook’s supply train of 300 wagons. In three columns, the Confederate horsemen storm down on the wagons; the astonished Federals can offer only token resistance, and soon the train is Wheeler’s; he takes 700 prisoners and destroys nearly a million dollars’ worth of Federal matériel. “The turnpike, as far as the eye could reach, was filled with burning wagons. The country was overspread 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 wagon train.” From Lavergne, the raiders gallop six miles to the southwest where they drop like a tornado upon quiet little Nolensville. Here it is Lavergne repeated. They find squads of Yankees and some 150 wagons, mostly loaded with ammunitions and medicines, together with several fine ambulances. The latter they preserve, and the Yankees they send on their way rejoicing as paroled prisoners of war. They also have an immense deal of fun. When Wheeler finally rides back into Confederate lines, his men have destroyed all or parts of four wagon trains and have captured and paroled about 1,000 enemy soldiers. He brings back enough weapons to equip a brigade and many fresh horses for his command.
For the Federal soldiers in the lines near Murfreesboro, the previous night was a miserable one. The troops tried with little success to sleep, shivering in their wet clothes. They rise long before daylight but cannot warm or dry themselves; orders have been issued that no fires are to be built. So the men prepare for a wearisome day of marching and countermarching. Since a battle is obviously imminent, they figure that the generals will—as usual—keep them busy closing gaps and changing positions; then the generals will redeploy everyone all over again. And the troops are kept tense and nervous by Confederate probing attacks along the line. Early in the morning, Rosecrans and his staff appear on the scene to oversee the disposition of forces. Crittenden’s line is already anchored on the river to the north and extended across the Nashville Turnpike. Thomas is directed to place one of his divisions in reserve while the other, commanded by Major General James S. Negley, advances through the cedars to take position between Crittenden and the Wilkinson Pike to the south. Meanwhile, the Pioneer Brigade cuts alleys and trails across the rugged terrain so that ammunition trains, ambulances, and artillery can reach Negley’s line. McCook is ordered into place on the right of Negley to extend the line southward.
As McCook’s troops move up to their assigned position, Confederate skirmishers dog their advance. Rosecrans anxiously follows the troops’ progress by the sound of musketry. Shortly after 7 pm, the general is standing in the door of his headquarters, a log cabin near the Nashville Turnpike, when a Confederate sharpshooter hits one of his staff officers. Then Confederate shells begins to descend. One of them explodes not far from Rosecrans; the next one to hit decapitates an orderly. Rosecrans decides to move. In a pouring rain, he leads his generals up a slope to a spot among some trees, where the staff sets up a crude shelter of fence rails and blankets. By then, McCook’s troops have gained their position, extending the Federal line south to the Franklin road.
Rosecrans’ orders to his corps commanders for tomorrow’s fighting are delivered verbally and imprecisely; McCook will say later that he learned the details when he read a newspaper account of the battle. Crittenden knows that he is to lead the attack against Breckinridge on Bragg’s right, but he doesn’t know when to begin. Thomas is told that he is to support Crittenden’s attack. McCook, although he doesn’t know the overall plan, is at least clear that his role is to maintain his position.
Come evening, Rosecrans decides to see if he can deceive Bragg about the Federals’ intentions. He orders McCook to extend his right and build many campfires to make Bragg believe that the main threat is on that front, the Confederate left. The ploy is a trite one, used often by both sides. Still, it contributes to a fateful change in the Confederate dispositions. Bragg is apparently fooled by the simple ruse. After spending the day in the field observing the various Federal moves, he calls his corps commanders together at headquarters. He has concluded, he says, that the Federals are massing to strike the Confederate left; he then orders a complicated series of adjustments not only to meet the threat there but to attack in force on the left. The Confederates spend much of the night groping through the darkness into their new positions. When all that is accomplished, the Confederate right is held only by Breckinridge’s division, supported by Brigadier General John Pegram’s cavalry brigade and a small reserve brigade called up from guard duty around Chattanooga. As it happens, the two commanders have arrived at identical plans: to attack the other’s right flank. And now the men on both sides settle down at last for a long night of waiting.
Before tattoo, one of the Federal regimental bands begins playing; the strains of “Yankee Doodle,” “Hail Columbia,” and other popular Northern tunes drift out to the Confederate lines. After a time, the Federal musicians yield to a Confederate band, which plays a series of Southern favorites. The musical exchange continues until a Federal band strikes up “Home Sweet Home.” Immediately, a Confederate band catches up the strain, then one after another until all the bands of both armies are playing “Home Sweet Home.”
In Mississippi, Sherman remains in his frustrating Chickasaw Bayou position in front of the bluffs at Vicksburg. Morgan fights again at Springfield and at New Haven, Kentucky, as he withdraws. Carter in his Federal raid captures Union and Carter’s Depot, Tennessee, and destroys bridges across the Holston and the Watauga. There is also a skirmish at La Grange, Arkansas, and a two-day Union expedition in Virginia from Falmouth to Warrenton and another from Potomac Creek to Richards’ and Ellis’ Fords.
On the Rappahannock in Virginia, General Burnside’s cavalry move out and have reached Kelly’s Ford when Burnside receives a cryptic telegram from the President: “I have good reason for saying that you must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know.” The order comes as a shock to Burnside, who has thought his plans were known only to him and his staff. Mystified, he countermands his orders and heads to Washington to find out what is going on.
Lincoln’s message is the result of an intrigue by two of Burnside’s officers, Brigadier Generals John Newton and John Cochrane of Franklin’s grand division. Late this month, they traveled to Washington to complain about Burnside to their Congressmen. But the two generals, neither of whom has a reputation for brilliance, had overlooked the fact that Congress adjourns for the holidays: Most of the Representatives are back in their home districts. Cochrane is a former Congressman, which makes the blunder all the more remarkable, but he compensated for it by arranging an appointment with Secretary of State William Seward. Seward in turn arranged for the generals to see the President. The generals told Lincoln of Burnside’s planned attack. They predicted failure and expressed their concern that another defeat might well destroy the Army of the Potomac. On the strength of their reservations, Lincoln sent his curt telegram restraining Burnside.
As well as the telegram, Lincoln produces for his Cabinet a preliminary draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation, to be issued the first of the new year, with a request for suggestions.
Shortly after midnight the USS Monitor founders off Cape Hatteras in heavy seas with the loss of sixteen officers and men. Monitor sends a distress signal at 11 pm. Her escort, Rhode Island, rescues forty-seven officers and men. The hero of the battle with Virginia, never very seaworthy, was being towed to the Carolina coast.
Governments—and corporations—believe free speech is a marvelous thing, so long as “free” is defined as “responsible” and “responsible” is defined by them.
In the United States we privatize everything, including censorship.