In Tennessee it is cold, damp, and misty in the early morning darkness of the last day of the year. The two armies, drawn up for battle along icy Stones River, wait for word to begin the day’s work. Some men sleep. Others huddle uncomfortably in the mud of their bivouacs.
The terrain and the position of the troops will prove crucial to the outcome of the battle. The Confederate line is split by the west fork of Stones River, an obstacle that will make lateral movement difficult. Despite the recent heavy rains the river is fordable, though the waters between its steep banks could turn into an impassable torrent should the rains return. Fields of corn and cotton on both sides of the river alternate with dense glades of red cedars, their limbs touching the ground. The trees offer shelter for infantry but make maneuver difficult. The Federals’ position appears to be considerably stronger. On the Union left, General Crittenden has firmly anchored his left flank on Stones River. His line runs through a four-acre clump of cedars known locally as the Round Forest. A deep and easily defended railroad cut runs through the woods about 100 yards west of the river. These features combine to make the Round Forest the strongest defensive position on the field. On the Federal right, General McCook has been given a tough assignment. His left-flank division, commanded by Brigadier General Philip H. Sheridan, extends from the Wilkinson Pike south. To Sheridan’s right are two more divisions, whose lines stretch to the Franklin Road, with one brigade straddling the road. McCook is supposed to hold his position while Crittenden attacks east of the river and General Thomas carries out a limited attack from the Federal center. This will be no easy matter, for the Confederate line along the Franklin Road is perilously close to McCook’s; in some places, the opposing pickets are only 100 yards apart, and bugle calls can be heard across the intervening space.
The commanders of both armies are counting on surprise. A powerful first blow is especially important to the Confederates, for Bragg doesn’t have the resources to wage a long fight. Rosecrans, who has a slight edge in numbers, can call in Federal reinforcements from Nashville and from even farther north along the railroad to Louisville. The Confederates will have to win a victory today, or they are in danger of being driven from the field. The two commanders will bring to the battle very different leadership styles. Rosecrans becomes excited in the heat of combat and tends to take personal charge wherever vital action is unfolding, thus risking losing control of the larger battle. Bragg, on the other hand, tends to let subordinates run the battle once he has done the planning. Though personally brave, he prefers to remain at his headquarters to receive reports and make decisions. But by staying to the rear, Bragg takes the risk of losing touch with events. Moreover, he is inflexible: He has never developed the ability to modify plans once they have been set in motion.
The battle could be decided at the outset if the Federal command acts on a report of suspicious Confederate troop movements. General Sheridan, whose division anchors McCook’s left, is sleeping behind a large fallen tree in the rear of his reserve brigade when he is roused at 2 am by Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill, a close friend since West Point and one of Sheridan’s brigade commanders. Sill reports that he has observed a large body of Confederate infantry, back-lighted by campfires, passing behind the Confederate line toward the Federal right, apparently marching to attack positions. Though Sill doesn’t know it, these are two divisions that Bragg has ordered at the last minute to cross the river and extend the Confederate left flank. Sheridan and Sills ride to McCook’s headquarters and awaken their corps commander, who is curled up in a fence corner. McCook sees no cause for concern in Sill’s observation; he says that Rosecrans is aware of the massing of the Confederates and that the plan will not be changed. Sheridan returns to his division still worried. He personally visits each of his twelve regiments and orders the men be roused quietly, east breakfast, and form in line of battle at once. The alert is passed to the two other division commanders in McCook’s corps, General Davis in McCook’s center and General Johnson on the far right. At this point, McCook acknowledges the threat and orders Davis and Johnson to brace their troops to receive an attack at daybreak. Both generals relay the orders to their brigade commanders. Brigadier General August Willich, whose brigade is holding Johnson’s extreme right flank, has anticipated the alert. During the night, he is so apprehensive about Confederate activity on his front that he orders a patrol to reconnoiter the enemy lines. But when the scouts report nothing of consequence, he relaxes and lets down his guard. At about 5:30 am, Willich’s brigade begins its normal morning routine. The men, huddled in their overcoats, fall in for roll call, then boil coffee and make breakfast, their arms stacked nearby. On their left, Brigadier General Edward N. Kirk’s men are better prepared to meet an attack. They are up and carrying arms, with a strong picket line in their front. At first light, however, some of their artillery horses are unhitched and taken to water.
At about 6 am, as the darkness begins to turn milky gray, an apparition appears to the south and southeast of McCook’s Federal positions. Blending in with the fog and mist, long gray lines of Confederates—11,000 men—form like shadows in front of the protective cedars and noiselessly begin to move toward the Federal lines. Their left extends far beyond the Federal right, so as to completely outflank them. Slowly at first, then faster, and finally at the double-quick, the Confederates attack across the cotton fields and cornfields. They hold their silence until they come within close range of Johnson’s Federals. Only then do the Confederates scream their wild Rebel yell. The seven Confederate brigades descend on the two Federal brigades with overwhelming force. To make matters worse for Willich’s brigade, Willich has just gone to the rear to look for General Johnson, leaving his troops leaderless. Kirk sends word of the assault to General Johnson and calls for help from Willich’s brigade, but the leaderless troops are confused and unable to respond. The fighting is brief but ferocious. Kirk’s troops fire several volleys point-blank into the massed gray infantry, but the Confederates keep driving ahead, their casualties littering the ground behind them. The Confederates reach Kirk’s line first. It holds for only a few minutes, then breaks as the men panic. Kirk himself sustains a wound that six months later will take his life. To Kirk’s right, the Confederates reach Willich’s line and smash into it just as Willich’s men are reaching their stacked arms. The Confederate onslaught and the pell-mell retreat of Kirk’s men prove too much for Willich’s regiments, and they also break and flee. Brigadier General James E. Rain’s brigade sweeps around the Federal right flank. In the assault Rains is shot from his horse, mortally wounded, but his men press on. To make matters worse for the beleaguered Federals, the Confederate cavalrymen of Brigadier General John Wharton round the Union flank at a gallop and wreak havoc in the enemy’s rear. Routed Federals become intermingled with the advancing Confederates. When Willich rides back through the chaos to find his brigade, he finds himself shouting orders to a group of soldiers he thought were his. He was mistaken, and the Confederates shoot his horse and take him prisoner. Within half an hour, the two Federal brigades cease to exist as effective fighting units. They have lost nearly all their artillery. Most of the survivors don’t stop retreating until they reach the Nashville Pike and the railroad cut, three miles to the rear.
The Federal flank has been turned. The flight of Johnson’s troops has exposed the right flank of General Davis’ division. Davis, hearing the commotion on his right, orders Colonel P. Sydney Post’s brigade to bend part of its line 90 degrees to face the enemy sweep. Meanwhile, Johnson’s reserve brigade, commanded by Colonel Philemon P. Baldwin, moves up from its bivouac a mile behind the original front. About a quarter of a mile to the right of Post, Baldwin’s men form a line of battle among the cedars and limestone outcroppings, load their muskets, and wait for the Confederates. Before long, Davis’s newly adjusted line—now forming an arc that faces from southeast to southwest—is hit hard by the four brigades of General Cleburne’s division. Davis’s troops, though greatly outnumbered, refuse to yield, and their stalwart defense robs the Confederate drive of its momentum. The Confederates cannot push through, and their attack begins to falter.
In the Confederate center, meanwhile, part of General Leonidas Polk’s corps has joined the assault. But Polk’s advance is proving haphazard. Last night, Polk reorganized his command in a way that is proving to be more confusing than effective. As a result, elements of two divisions are committed piecemeal. And the failure of command coordination causes the first Confederate setback of the day. Around 7 am, Polk throws the Alabama brigade of Colonel J.Q. Loomis against the point where Davis’ left flank and Sheridan’s right flank meet. Loomis drives the Federal line backward but exposes his right flank to enfilading artillery and musket fire. As a result, the Confederates are “mowed down as grass beneath the sickle.” Another brigade commanded by Colonel Arthur M. Manigault is supposed to move up in support on Loomis’ right, but fails to advance. Loomis’s men are forced to retreat across an open field dotted with their own dead and wounded. The misadventures of Loomis and Manigault are largely the fault of their divisional commander, General Cheatham, who will subsequently be alleged by some of his fellow officer to be drunk this morning. Cheatham allows Loomis to advance an hour late and then lets Manigault waste another hour before joining the assault. General Bragg does what he can to correct his lieutenants’ mistakes, but it is too late. For the moment, the opportunity to overwhelm the Union right wing has been lost.
Far to the north, on the Federal left flank, General Rosecrans is initiating his own attack. He has risen early, awakened his staff officers, and heard Mass with his chief of staff and fellow Catholic, Lieutenant Colonel Julius P. Garesché. Crittenden joins them on a knoll, and together they watch the men of Brigadier General Horatio Van Cleave’s division splash across Stones River and advance toward Major General John C. Breckinridge’s division, the only remaining Confederate force east of the river. Rosecrans appears unconcerned about the sounds of firing from the south. Ignoring the distant thud of artillery, he rides over to Brigadier General Thomas Wood, who is preparing to follow Van Cleve across the river, and gives the order to move out. He then returns to his headquarters, where he learns that Wharton’s cavalry has rounded the Federal right flank. Rosecrans is still unconcerned; he assumes McCook can handle the situation.
Around 7 am, the sound from the Federal right has become deeper and louder. Some compare it to the rumble of heavy wagons; others think it is more like a big wind preceding an intense storm. Fugitives from McCook’s units begin filtering back past the ranks of the Federals drawn up in reserve in the center, north of the Wilkinson Turnpike. The woods behind Major General James Negley’s division, on Sheridan’s left, begin to fill with teamsters, stragglers, mules, and the impedimenta of the rear echelons of Johnson’s routed division—cannon and caissons, the remnants of batteries, the horses of which have been killed, are being hurriedly dragged off by hand. There are men retiring with guns, and men without their guns; men limping, others holding up bloodstained arms and hands; men carrying off wounded comrades; and faces blackened with powder, and on some cases stained with blood. Riderless horses dash out of the woods which still partially hide the combat. Over all rises, near at hand or more faintly from the distance, the yells of victorious Rebels.
By now, Rosecrans is at last becoming anxious about his right flank. He sends the commander of his cavalry escort to find out what is happening to McCook, and is told that the Federal right wing has broken. But this is followed by a courier from McCook himself, saying only that McCook is hard pressed and needs assistance, an appraisal so understated that it misleads Rosecrans. He orders McCook “to dispose his troops to best advantage and hold his ground.” Rosecrans believes that if McCook holds, “we will sweep into Murfreesboro and cut them off.” The truth begins to become clear when Rosecrans learns of Willich’s flight and capture. Next comes an appeal from McCook for reinforcements. Now deeply concerned, Rosecrans directs George Thomas to send a division to Sheridan’s right rear. Rosecrans also orders Van Cleve to stop his advance, to recross the river and assemble near the railroad, leaving a brigade to guard the fords. Wood’s supporting division hasn’t yet begun its crossing, and two brigades quickly move toward a position on the Federal far right to reinforce McCook.
The Confederates, meanwhile, continue to batter the new Federal flank, formed by two brigades of Davis’s division and one of Sheridan’s division. Confederate losses are so severe that corps commander Polk has to commit additional troops, Texans and Tennesseans. Colonel Joshua Sill, commander of Sheridan’s brigade, is killed. (Sheridan will lose all three of his brigade commanders by midday.) The Confederate charge might have succeeded, but for a mistaken command. While approaching Sheridan’s lines, the Tennesseans are ordered to cease fire and hear Confederates nearby shouting that they are firing on their own men. At the same time, other Confederates are yelling, “Shoot, they’re Yankees!” Confused, the Confederates fall back. Soon after their repulse their division commander, Cheatham, re-forms his four brigades and makes another assault upon Sheridan and what is left of Davis’s division. Cleburne’s division has now outflanked Davis on his right, and at the moment of Cheatham’s renewed attack, Cleburne drives in on the Federals from their flank and rear. Davis’s brigades have fought fiercely, but now they give way and head for the rear—another disaster for the Federals.
The flight of Davis’s troops exposes Sheridan’s right flank, and Sheridan has to act quickly to save his division. To protect his flank, he swings his line to the right like a gate until it rests perpendicular to his original position. To Sheridan’s right lies Rousseau’s division, which is moving up alongside him; and strung out to Sheridan’s left are Negley’s division and that of Major General John Palmer. By 10 am, the Federal line has been hammered into a V shape, with the left side facing east and the right facing roughly west. Sheridan’s troops man the apex of the salient—and the Confederates give them no rest. One by one the officers of the Illinois brigade on his left are picked off as its regiments are hammered. Among the dead is the brigade commander, Colonel Roberts. Under such pressure, Sheridan is forced to conduct a fighting withdrawal northward. He is able to re-form his line just north of the Wilkinson Pike, keeping his right flank in contact with Rousseau. But the Confederate attacks remain relentless.
By midmorning, Bragg’s army has suffered casualties that it can ill afford. One third of Hardee’s corps has been killed or wounded, including six brigade and regimental commanders. Polk’s corps has suffered 30 percent losses, most of them in the assaults on Sheridan’s lines. Nevertheless, Bragg has reason to be pleased. The enemy’s right flank has been destroyed, and although Sheridan and Rousseau cling tenaciously to their new positions, their units have been badly mauled. The Confederates are continuing to attack with spirit, and one more great effort might roll up the Federal lines. At 10 am, Bragg receives a request for reinforcements from Hardee. The only Confederate reserves west of Stones River are some cavalry units. Bragg has to look to his right flank for help—to the unengaged troops of Breckinridge’s division. Bragg immediately tells Breckinridge to send two brigades to support Hardee. Breckinridge refuses, explaining that he is about to be attacked by a large Federal force. Breckinridge is under the mistaken impression that Van Cleve, who Rosecrans recalled at least two hours earlier, is still advancing toward the Confederate right wing. Lacking evidence to contradict Breckinridge, Bragg orders him to attack and drive the Federals back across Stones River. Breckinridge slowly advances and makes the startling discovery that there are no longer any enemy troops east of the river. About this time, however, Bragg receives a report from his cavalry patrolling far to the Confederate right that a large column is approaching from Lebanon. Accepting the scouts’ information without attempting to confirm it, Bragg cancels his order to Breckinridge to send the two brigades to reinforce Hardee. As it turns out no Union column is on its way.
While Bragg is sorting out his problems with Breckinridge, Rosecrans is dashing from place to place, shoring up his lines in the face of heavy fire. By now, elements of Crittenden’s corps are moving along the battlefront, extending the Federal right wing beyond the new lines begun by Rousseau and Sheridan. Cleburne and Cheatham continue to press the Federals, looking for weak spots to exploit. As this goes on, Rosecrans around 11 am rides up to Rousseau’s position. There he meets Sheridan, who is leading his men rearward. The bandy-legged little Sheridan is furious; he is retreating not because he has been defeated, but because his men are nearly out of ammunition. Earlier, Wharton’s Confederate troopers, rampaging in the Federal rear, almost captured McCook’s ammunition train; it had to be withdrawn to save it. Sheridan is forced to withdraw north to the Nashville Pike, and his retreat leaves a yawning gap in the Federal line, offering the Confederates an opportunity that they immediately try to exploit. Even without the reinforcements he requested, Hardee sends his troops plunging into the opening, but they are unable to take advantage of the breakthrough. On either side of the break, under intense fire, Rousseau’s and Negley’s Federal execute an artful withdrawal, pulling back and uniting on high ground along the Nashville Pike. Negley’s withdrawal, however, leaves Palmer’s division dangerously exposed in front of the densely wooded Round Forest. Palmer’s brigades form a salient, but the position seems weak—vulnerable to the crossfire of Confederate batteries. Seeing his chance General Polk acts quickly, committing his last two brigades, from Mississippi and Tennessee, in an effort to smash the salient. Unfortunately for the Confederates, the salient proves not to be as vulnerable as it appears and both brigades are repulsed with heavy losses—in one Tennessee company, all of the officers and noncommissioned officers are killed or wounded, and the shattered survivors are brought out under the command of a private.
By noon, the ever-changing hook-shaped Federal line has the Round Forest at its apex and its right flank pushed back almost to the Nashville Pike. Rosecrans, using the time between Confederate charges, has somehow managed to rebuild his right. Elements of Wood’s and Van Cleve’s divisions, which have been diverted from the cancelled attack on Breckinridge, are now in position on the right flank of Rousseau’s division and are repelling renewed attacks from Hardee’s tiring corps. The stand of these Federal units allow the shattered divisions of Davis and Johnson to reorganize along the Nashville Pike and the nearby railroad. Sheridan has replenished his ammunition from Crittenden’s train and is moving to bolster the Federal right flank. With Hardee’s exhausted troops stalled on the Federal right and Bragg learning that the Federals are strengthening their right, he reasons that now their left flank—which now runs from the Round Forest to Stones River—should be weakened and determines to smash it. He seems not to consider that the Federals, within their hook-shaped line, will be able to shift troops easily to defend any point of attack. And Bragg gives up any notion of reinforcing Hardee.
Thus far, repeated Confederate attacks against the Round Forest have gotten nowhere. This failure is largely the result of a rocklike defensive stand by a valiant Federal brigade commanded by Colonel William B. Hazen. Hazen’s troops have held the forest since early morning. Hazen’s brigade has had plenty of help. Improvising skillfully, Rosecrans has ordered regiments to Hazen’s salient without regard for their original organization or commanders. At various times in the long fight, Hazen has been supported by units from Sheridan, Negley, Wood, Palmer, Van Cleve, and Rousseau, and except for a slight shift to the left during Polk’s assaults just before noon they’ve maintained their position under almost constant attack while the Federal line changed around them. Now they are the forefront of the Federal defense. At 1 pm, Bragg sends an unequivocal order to Breckinridge to send him four brigades at once. Until the fresh units arrive, a lull descends upon the battlefield. Once more using the time to advantage, Rosecrans and Thomas strengthen the Federal left by gathering all available artillery on a rise behind Hazen in the Round Forest, while Hazen braces his men for yet another onslaught. Colonel William Hazen is a tough West Pointer, class of 1855. He served on the frontier until severely wounded by Comanche in 1859. His wounds kept him on sick leave for about two years, but in 1861 he returned to active duty, leading an Ohio regiment at Shiloh and Perryville. He is a strict disciplinarian and an unemotional, even cold leader; his troops dislike him but admire his ability. At one point in the morning attack, he was told that his old Ohio regiment and one from Illinois were running low on ammunition and ordered them to fix bayonets and hold their ground. On being informed by the Illinois troops that they had no bayonets, he told them to use their muskets as clubs but to give not an inch. They held. For an hour or more in the midafternoon, Confederate attacks on the Round Forest cease, although Hazen reports that “a murderous shower of shot and shell” continue to rain on his position from several directions. By 4 pm, the firing on the Federals’ right has stopped entirely. Looking out in that direction, the Federal troops in the Round Forest see long blue lines drawn up between dark patches of cedar; their comrades are standing to, alert to the Confederates who lie facing them at a distance. The gray lines of weary soldiers are almost indistinguishable from the clumps of Confederate dead and dying. East of the Round Forest, the Federals watch fresh Confederate troops crossing the river, which is still rising from the recent rains. Daylight is beginning to fade, but there is time enough for one last desperate Confederate charge.
The new Confederate units are the four brigades that Bragg demanded of Breckinridge and is sending to Polk for another attack on the Federal salient, two brigades arriving first. Polk has no illusions about the strength of the Federal position. He also realizes that the opportune moment for putting in these detachments has passed. But he goes ahead anyway, ordering a new assault on the Round Forest. In doing so, Polk makes a serious error—instead of waiting for all four brigades to come up, he sends in the first two with no support. The two brigades align themselves in perfect order and attack across a field littered with mangled grayclad bodies from the earlier charges. Hazen, watching with alarm from his position in the forest, calls on Rosecrans for more help, and he receives it. Reinforced, he orders his infantrymen to hold their fire. The Confederates advance under a heavy pounding from the Federals’ massed artillery. When they come into close range, a single scathing volley of fire is enough to disperse the grayclad line. Polk’s attack has been magnificent to see, but the results are dismal.
As the survivors of the two brigades fall back, they see Breckinridge arriving on the field at the head of the two remaining brigades. These brigades, too, will be sacrificed, for the Confederate command is by now obsessed with the Round Forest and determined to have it, no matter what the cost. Polk orders Breckinridge to attack immediately. Once more the Confederates form into battle line and charge across the fallow cotton field, cracking and breaking the brittle stalks, leaping over the hundreds of dead and wounded comrades who have come this way before. By now the Federals have emplaced fifty cannon on the rise behind the forest, and all of them are firing as fast as their crews can reload. Once more the Confederates fall back before the scythe-like Federal volleys, leaving behind another layer of bodies on the field.
On the crest of the hill behind the forest, Rosecrans and his commanders watch with elation as the Federal artillery chews holes in the Confederate formations. At one point, Rosecrans senses that Hazen’s men are beginning to falter. With his chief of staff Colonel Garesché and others riding close behind him, Rosecrans gallops recklessly down the slope, ignoring the heavy Confederate counterfire. A cannonball flashes past Rosecrans and strikes Garesché full in the face. The headless body, spouting blood, remains in the saddle for twenty paces before sliding to the ground. Confederate fire cuts down several others in Rosecrans’ party. Unaware of the deaths of staff members behind him, Rosecrans rides on into the midst of the Federal regiments in the Round Forest to encourage them and tell them to be more careful. When someone tells him of Garesché’s death, he shows no visible emotion. “Brave men die in battle,” he says. “Let us push on. This battle must be won!” In fact, Rosecrans is deeply affected by his friend’s death. After the battle, he will cut the buttons from his own uniform and save them in an envelope marked “Buttons I wore the day Garesché was killed.”
The repulse of Breckinridge’s brigades ends the fighting for the day. The merciful order to cease fire is given near sunset by General Hardee, who, unable to do any more with his own troops, rides up to see what is happening on Polk’s front. When he sees the proportions of the futile slaughter, he orders Breckinridge to call it quits. In spite of their terrible losses, the Confederates are generally convinced that victory is theirs—they have forced the Federals back three miles and the Confederate bivouac fires are lighted within 500 yards of the railroad embankment behind which they imagine their enemy’s disordered battalions seek shelter.
But Rosecrans’ Federal battalions are far from disordered; they simply collapse in place, exhausted by the day’s fighting. Rosecrans returns to his cramped log-cabin headquarters along the Nashville Turnpike and calls a conference of his corps commanders. The blustery winter night is cold, and the cabin offers welcome shelter. Rosecrans is by no means convinced that the day has been successful. He begins the meeting by discussing the possibility of retreat and then solicits the opinions of his senior officers. McCook and the cavalry commander General Stanley advise retreat. Thomas and Crittenden are noncommittal but vow to support Rosecrans in whatever decision he makes. George Thomas falls asleep during the meeting, but when the word “retreat” is mentioned he awakes with a start, looks about with a fierce gaze, and mutters, “This army does not retreat.” Rosecrans leaves the meeting and personally scouts a route of withdrawal as far northwest as Overall Creek, one mile behind his lines. Then, on his return, he announces that there will be no retreat. He has decided to stay where he is for at least tomorrow. He lacks rations and other supplies, but does have enough ammunition for one more day’s fighting, and he knows his army is willing to defend itself for at least that long. He sends off a wagon train protected by an escort of 1,000 men to Nashville to evacuate some of the wounded and to return with the essentials for the army’s existence.
Bragg, still in his headquarters, wants to believe he has won a major triumph. And he finds all the confirmation he needs in reports of the Federal wagons moving north toward Nashville. Convinced that he will catch the Army of the Cumberland strung out along the road to Nashville on New Year’s Day, he sends a telegram to Richmond: “The enemy has yielded his strong position and is falling back. God has granted us a happy New Year.” Then, without changing the disposition of his troops in any way, Bragg goes to bed.
Rosecrans, on the other hand, works through the night to bolster his shaken army against the renewed Confederate attacks that he is sure will come in the morning. He consolidates his battered formations west of the river, pulling his troops back from the Round Forest and strengthening his right flank. He orders his left-flank division, now led by Brigadier General Samuel Beatty in place of the wounded Van Cleve, to recross the river and occupy a ridge that commands two fords on the east bank. Rosecrans himself supervises the placement of units and reassures his men. He seems to be everywhere.
Rain falls, and cold creeps across the battlefield, into the cedar breaks, among the boulders, freezing bodies to the ground with their blood. Many soldiers are too stunned to comprehend and too cold to move. Others wander the field looking for friends, helping the wounded or removing the dead. There are acts of kindness among foes on the frozen field. With a few companions, Private J.T. Tunnell of the 14th Texas Dismounted Cavalry builds a fire in a sinkhole, where they are protected from the wind and enemy observation. Among the wounded is a Yank, quite young, shot through the breast. They divide rations with him, and the next morning their young Yank, with assistance, can sit up awhile. Other wounded in their thousands scattered across the field aren’t so fortunate. They call out for help, for a fire, for water, for God’s mercy—or beg to be shot to escape their agony. Soldiers do what they can, regardless of the color of their uniform.
When the fighting ends, chaos reigns in Murfreesboro. Ambulances push their way through crowds of soldiers, prisoners, and walking wounded. The streets are tangled with supply wagons and the carriages of those who have come to retrieve their husbands, sons, brothers, and friends. Captain Spurlock of the 16th Tennessee, who had visited his parents on the night of the 30th, is returned to them dead by men of his regiment. One woman comes to claim the bodies of four of her sons. Many of the Union wounded, included in the wagon train to Nashville that Bragg mistook for a retreat, endure the prolonged agony of the jolting 30-mile wagon ride. When the maimed soldiers finally arrive, they face the routine horrors of army hospitals. At the infamous Brickhouse Hospital three tables are in constant use for amputations; severed limbs and flesh are tossed through the windows into waiting carts. The floors are slick with gore.
The night passes slowly. Men on both sides, kept awake by the rain and the cold, wait miserably for the dawn.
Elsewhere, Sherman continues to explore various plans for assaulting the bluffs at Vicksburg, Mississippi, from Chickasaw Bayou. There is an affair at Muldraugh’s Hill in Kentucky and a skirmish at Ovarall’s Creek, Tennessee; as well as an affair at Planquemine, Louisiana, that will last until January 3. At Parker’s Store or Cross Roads, Tennessee, near Lexington, General Forrest, attempting to escape Federal pursuers after his successful raid on Grant’s lines, finds his way blocked. He manages to push forward, but then is hit from behind as well. Forrest is beaten, losing three hundred prisoners, guns, horses, and materiel of war he had captured. But his command manages to escape. Confederate John S. Marmaduke begins a month-long raid from Arkansas into Missouri.
In Washington, President Lincoln meets with his Cabinet to make final adjustments to the Emancipation Proclamation. Burnside, called for court martial testimony, meets with the President. Lincoln approves an act admitting West Virginia into the Union as the thirty-fifth state, and also signs an agreement with a promoter for a colony of free Blacks on Île à Vache, Haiti.
President Davis wires his Secretary of War from Mobile, “Guns and ammunition most effective against iron clads needed at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Very much depends upon prompt supply.”
In the United States we privatize everything, including censorship.