Battle of Stones River or Second Battle of Murfreesboro (in the South, simply the Battle of Murfreesboro), was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, in Middle Tennessee, as the culmination of the Stones River Campaign in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
Of the major battles of the Civil War, Stones River had the highest percentage of casualties on both sides. On December 31, each army commander planned to attack his opponent’s right flank, but Bragg struck first.
A massive assault by the corps of Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee, followed by that of Leonidas Polk, overran the wing commanded by Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook. A stout defense by the division of Brig. Gen.
Philip Sheridan in the right center of the line prevented a total collapse and the Union assumed a tight defensive position backing up to the Nashville Turnpike. All through the war it was a center for strong Confederate sentiment, and Bragg and his men were warmly welcomed and entertained during the month of December.
It was located in a rich agricultural region from which Bragg planned to provision his army and a position that he intended to use to block a potential Federal advance on Chattanooga. Hardee noted afterward that “The field of battle offered no particular advantages for defense.”
Despite this, Bragg was reluctant to move farther south, say to the arguably more defensible Duck River Valley, or farther north, to Stewart’s Creek, where Rosecrans thought Bragg would defend.
Sensitive to the political requirements that almost no Tennessee ground be yielded to Federal control, he chose the relatively flat area northwest of the politically influential city, straddling the Stones River.
Portions of the area, particularly near the intersection of the Nashville Pike and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, were characterized by small but dense cedar forests, in places more impenetrable to infantry than the Wilderness of Spotsylvania in Virginia.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee was camped in Murfreesboro, Tennessee only 30 miles away from General William S. Rosecrans’ army in Nashville.
The end of 1862 found Major General William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, 30 miles north of General Braxton Bragg’s troops.
Rosecrans (1819-98) had assumed command of the army only in October, with the understanding that he would attack Bragg (1817-76) and drive the Confederates from central Tennessee.
This move was delayed throughout the fall by John Morgan’s cavalry, who harassed the Yankees and threatened their supply line.
The North was in control of central Tennessee, and the Union victory provided a much-needed morale boost in the aftermath of the Yankees loss at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. Stones River was a hard-fought, bloody engagement, with some of the highest casualty rates of the war.
The Union troops repelled the assault, and Bragg was forced back to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Confederates lost 33 percent of their force, while 31 percent of the Union force was either killed, wounded, or missing. Combined casualties totaled nearly 25,000 men.