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The Battle of Stone's River,1862-3

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The Battle of Stone's River,1862-3
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Author(s): Henry Kendall, Milo Hascall, Wilson J. Vance, Gilbert Kniffin, Frederick Phisterer, Alexander F. Stevenson
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 248
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-227-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-228-4

Seven perspectives of a bloody Civil War encounter

The Battle of Stone's River (or Murfreesboro to give it its Confederate appellation) took place over the turn of the year between 1862 and 1863 in Tennessee within the Western theatre of the American Civil War. The outcome of the conflict was inconclusive though the Union forces under Rosecrans regained a measure of prestige after the debacle of Fredericksburg and strategic advantage as Confederate strategic objectives in Tennessee were confounded. The campaign was principally distinguished by the appallingly high casualty toll on both sides which bears the dubious distinction of being the highest in the war. Both Bragg and Rosecrans lost almost one third of their engaged forces. This unique book has brought together no less than seven individual accounts—both personal experiences and works of history—concerning this fascinating campaign and battle. Each one might possibly be too small to achieve individual publication in modern times, but together they make an essential volume for every student of the period and theatre.

While in the open ground, moving our ammunition train rapidly to the left, it was discovered by the enemy. In my anxiety for its safety I had already reported the importance of the train to every cavalry officer within reach, and appealed for protection. Colonel Zahm, of the Second Ohio Cavalry as he states in his report (official record), promised me all possible help, and promptly formed his regiment in line for that purpose. Major Pugh, of the Fourth Ohio Cavalry, at my request also placed his regiment on our flank, facing the enemy. The First Ohio and the Second East Tennessee and a battalion of the Third Ohio Cavalry were near at hand.<br>
Alas, when the crisis came a few minutes later they were not in position to successfully withstand the shock. They were unprepared, and not in brigade line. Wharton’s Confederates unexpectedly appeared in great force. His artillery opened fire furiously upon the Fourth Ohio Cavalry, and threw the regiment into some confusion. Soon apparently his entire command charged down upon us like a tempest, his troopers yelling like a lot of devils. They first struck the Fourth Ohio, which could make but little resistance. Col. Minor Millikin, the gallant commander of the First Ohio, led a portion of his regiment in a brilliant counter charge, but had to retire with fearful losses. In the onslaught the dear, fearless colonel, my intimate college friend, engaged in single combat with a Texas Ranger, and was slain.<br>
There was no staying the Confederates. They outnumbered and outflanked us, and, to tell the melancholy truth, our defending cavalry finally retired in confusion to the rear and left the ammunition train to its fate—high and dry in a corn field. As may be imagined, our teamsters, the train guards, and the ordnance officer (yes, I must admit it), were not left far behind in the general stampede. We fired one volley from behind the protection of our wagons and then hunted cover in the rear of a friendly fence and in the nearest thicket. Our teamsters outran the cavalry. Most of them never reappeared. The Confederates began to collect and lead away our teams and wagons, and our condition seemed desperate, indeed, hopeless.<br>
Happily, this appalling state of affairs did not last long. Some of our cavalry rallied, other Union detachments came to the rescue. Wharton had soon to look to his own flanks, and was kept too busy to carry off our train. The conflict fortunately shifted. Capt. Elmer Otis, with six companies of the Fourth Regular Cavalry, attacked Wharton’s command with great vigour and success. Soon two battalions of the Third Ohio Cavalry came up from the rear. I hastened to appeal to the commander to aid our train guard in saving the train, and he at once covered our front and held the enemy in check until our badly-wrecked train, with its disabled wagons and scattered animals was reorganized and put in moving order. We repaired and patched up the breaks. Everybody, even officers and stragglers helped, and nearly every wagon was finally recovered.<br>
The third attack referred to by General Thruston came from a force that Wharton had not yet met. Before they had time to take advantage of their success, Kennett was upon them. Col. Eli H. Murray, at the head of his gallant regiment, the Third Kentucky, charged down upon the train, sweeping Wharton’s cavalry before him. Here the brave Captain Wolfley, with eighty men, and Captain Breathitt, with his battalion, charged with such velocity as to turn the tide of battle, driving the rear forward upon the front, where the Fourth Cavalry struck it with drawn sabres. The rout of the Confederates was complete. The entire train, with 250 prisoners, were recaptured. The hospital of Palmer’s division, which had fallen into their hands, as well as the Fifth Wisconsin Battery, and one section of the First Ohio, were recaptured, and Wharton’s Brigade routed and driven back two miles. The Third Ohio easily rallied and took part in the fray.<br>
Captain Otis’ sabre charge was brilliantly executed. Dashing forward with the velocity of a locomotive, the trained battalions fell upon the undisciplined mob huddled together at the head of the train where Murray had swept them in his irresistible onslaught. The train was moved close up in the rear of the left wing, where it remained unmolested during the remainder of the day. In a battle such as that at Stones River, where a long line of troops is engaged simultaneously, it is impossible to give due credit to each regiment that deserves it. The writer witnessed scenes of personal daring which to recount would occupy the night in the description. There were many instances in which officers, casting aside their swords, seized the muskets of their fallen soldiers, and fought side by side with their men. Entire companies fought without officers. In great emergencies such as this there is positively no rank except that which valour bestows. Orders to fall back were in several cases unheeded, and the men held their places in line under the leaden hail, obstinately refusing to retreat. It was not merely a line of battle, but a Nation in arms, repelling, with a Nation’s pride, this bold assault of its rebellious sons upon its life.<br>
Darkness covered the battle-field. The roar of artillery, the rattle of musketry, the hoarse shouts of command had ceased, and in the silence that followed there fell upon the ears of the soldiers on picket the groans of men in mortal agony lying within the space that separated the lines. In rear of the pickets men sank upon the ground where they stood and shivered through the night without fires, for the faintest flash of light on either side became a target for alert artillerists. A cup of hot coffee, that Dominus donari to the weary soldier, on this night of all nights when he needed it most, was denied him. All through the night the ambulances passed to and fro on the road to the hospitals, where further torture awaited the wounded, unless the angel of death kindly relieved them of the ministrations of the surgeons.