Bands battled on eve of Stones River clash

Comment   Email   Print

Related Articles
A union regimental band. (Library of Congress)
One of the most unique moments of the Civil War occurred on the eve of the Battle of Stones River.

Let us set the scene.

Both the Federal Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee had settled in for the night. A no-man's land of only 700 yards separated the 83,000 combatants on Dec. 30, 1862. At some points, the lines were within 300 yards of each other.
It was a typical Middle Tennessee winter – cold, damp and wet. The day of the 30th had been sunny, but cold.

"Every soldier on that field knew when the sun went down on the 30th that on the following day he would be engaged in a struggle unto death, and the air was full of tokens that one of the most desperate of battles was to be fought," said Brig. Gen. Henry M. Cist, Army of the Cumberland.

Much of that day had been spent on the final alignment of the armies with some skrimishing and artillery fire. The area's unique terrain proved both a blessing and a problem.

Slightly undulating farm fields were fringed by cedar brakes and limestone outcroppings. The dense cedar forest could mask troop movements' "but were almost impervious to artillery," Cist wrote. While the rock could provide some protection for infantrymen, it would soon prove an impediment to troop movement.

As dread deepened, the various military bands attached to both armies tried to lift the oppressive mood by playing some of their favorite compositions. A musical battle between the bands soon ensued with Union and Confederate bands trying to drown out the other side.
The Confederate's "Bonny Blue Flag" was answered by "Hail, Columbia." "Yankee Doodle" echoed "Dixie".

Eventually, lively patriotic tunes faded away as one brass band began the lonesome strains of "Home Sweet Home."

"To thee, I'll return, overburdened with care,
The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there.
No more from that cottage again will I roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

Then bands from both sides ended the North-South competition and joined in on the mournful song with thousands of troops stopping to sing the chorus:

"Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, there's no place like home."

It was a restless night with soldiers getting little sleep shivering in their wool blankets on the cold, wet ground. The Confederates were to attack at daylight and adjustments continued through the late hours.

Union Brig. Gen. Joshua Sill grew nervous. Spotting activity behind Confederate lines, Sill correctly feared that troops were massing for an attack on the Union's right.

Sill's brigade of troops from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin were assigned to Brig. Gen. Phillip Sheridan's division, which was part of Maj. Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook's corps.

McCook, an Ohio native, was a West Point grad, who taught infantry tactics at the military academy. He was one of the "Fighting McCooks," 14 members of the same Ohio family (seven brothers, seven cousins) who fought for the Union.

McCook was first assigned to the defense of Washington, and then fought at First Battle of Bull Run. He led a brigade of the Army of the Ohio at the Battle of Shiloh. McCook was promoted to major general on July 17, 1862, and led troops at Perryville and Stones River.

After talking amongst themselves, Sill and Sheridan sought out McCook. They discovered him asleep on a pile of straw near the Gresham house.

Awakened, McCook spoke confidently of Gen. William S. Rosecrans' battle plan.

"General Rosecrans is fully advised of the fact that the enemy is massing troops on my front, but he explained to me that his attack upon their right in the morning will be so vigorous that they will be compelled to withdraw their forces to support that portion of the line," he said.

Ironically, it was Sill who paid the price for McCook's over-confidence.

The Confederates were to strike first ... and decisively against McCook's wing.

While the commanding officers prepared their plans, the troops were left to their own thoughts triggered by the melancholy music. As for the Union soldiers, they were far from their home sweet home. However, many of the Confederates were practically on their own doorsteps. A number of the men were from Rutherford and Cannon as well as a number of other Middle Tennessee communities.
The temptation for them to slip home for a visit must have been nearly overpowering.

Consider the men of Col. Joseph Palmer's 18th Tennessee Infantry. Taken prisoners at Fort Donelson, the men had reformed into a fighting unit just in time to defend their hometown from Northern aggressors. Palmer, a former Whig, had served as mayor of Murfreesboro.

"Home, sweet, home" had a far more intense meaning for Palmer and his men and their responsibility to protect both home and their families.

While military bands were more of a Union phenomenon, there were Confederate bands including those at Stones River.

Nighttime concerts were a way of breaking the tension while subtly reminding soldiers of their commitment. Brass bands were a popular form of mass entertainment during the 19th Century. Small towns across America had band rostrums or pavilions and their own community brass ensembles. This love of military-style marching bands continues to this day at American high schools and colleges.
When volunteer regiments and brigades were formed, in many instances, a band was included. Band recruiting was so successful that, by the end of 1861, the Union had 618 bands and more than 28,000 musicians.

The duties of bandsmen varied during the Civil War. They played for concerts, parades, funerals, executions and for troops marching into battle.

General Sheridan, who was at Murfreesboro for the battle of the bands, was a great believer in the magic of music.
"Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war," he said.

Later in the war, Sheridan would mass his band on the battle line with the order to "play the gayest tunes in their books .... Play them loud and keep on playing them, and never mind if a bullet goes through a trombone, or even a trombonist, now and then."

Gen. Horace Porter in Virginia "encountered one of Sheridan's bands, under heavy fire, playing Nellie Bly as cheerily as if it were furnishing music for a country picnic."

When not performing their musical duties, bandsmen generally helped the Union medical corps by gathering wood, transporting patients and by helping set up field hospitals.

President Abraham Lincoln was another fan of military music. "Hail, Columbia" was played when he appeared in public. That particular song was written for George Washington's inauguration. But he especially loved lively songs like "Dixie."

"I have always thought 'Dixie' one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize," Lincoln said in 1865.

But just like many of his soldiers, Lincoln was deeply moved by "Home, Sweet, Home."

Italian opera star Adelina Patti was invited to the White House in 1862 to perform for the Lincolns who were still mourning the death of their 12-year-old son, Willie, from typhoid fever.

Patti, who along with Jenny Lind was one of the most popular sopranos in the world, performed her usual repertoire, ending with one of the saddest songs of the day, "The Last Rose of Summer." Concluding that number, she saw Mrs. Lincoln in tears and the president covering his face with his hands. When she offered to perform a cheerful song, Lincoln requested "Home, Sweet, Home," as the only song that could give them any solace from their grief.

"Home, Sweet, Home" had such an impact on homesick troops that many Union commanders banned it.
Despite the popularity of military bands, a cost-conscious Congress didn't want to bear the cost of funding a band for all the regiments of the Union army and ordered an inquiry.

Secretary of War Simon Camero reported the average cost of maintaining artillery or cavalry band was $9,161.30 and the cost of maintaining the larger infantry band was $13,139.40. It was also reported 26 of 30 Regular Army regiments and 213 of 465 volunteer regiments had bands.

To that point, the War Department had spent $4 million on bands with 618 bands in service, Camero said.

Congress voted to eliminate the bands of volunteer regiments and to muster out those musicians within 30 days. While it didn't eliminate the bands in the regular army, it did act to replace the regimental bands with brigade bands (one for every four regiments.)
But whether they sounded like the braying of jackasses, as one Confederate said, or soothed the pain of wounded soldiers, military bands would remain a fixture until this day.

For further reading:

Cozzens, Peter, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River, University of Illinois Press, 1990
Daniel, Larry J., Days of Glory, the Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865, LSU Press, 2004
Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001
Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1958
Hattaway, Herman, and Jones, Archer, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War, University of Illinois Press, 1983.
Horn, Stanley F., The Army of Tennessee, University of Oklahoma Press, 1952
McWhiney, Grady, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Columbia University Press, 1969
McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988
Rosecrans, William S. Official Report from the Battle of Stones River, February 12, 1863.
Lamers, William M., The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A, Louisiana State University Press, 1999
On the Web:
Read more from:
The Battle of Stones River
Battle of Stones River, Civil War, Heritage, History, Murfreesboro, Rutherford County
Comment   Email   Print

Members Opinions:
December 31, 2006 at 12:00am
I just want to thank Mike West and others at the Post (Erin Edgemon) for continuing to educate the public about the Battle of Stones River. Your articles have been educational and have brought attention to sites in Rutherford County that have obviously been forgotten until they were recently threatened or demolished. Please keep it up...I promise we are reading!!!
January 01, 2007 at 12:00am
Part 1.

Historians have long debated the causes of the war and the Southern
perspective differs greatly from the Northern perspective. Based upon the
study of original documents of theWar Between The States (Civil War) era and facts and information published
by Confederate Veterans, Confederate Chaplains, Southern writers and Southern Historians before, during, and after the war, I present the facts, opinions, and conclusions stated in the following article.

Technically the 10 causes listed are reasons for Southern secession. The
only cause of the war was that the South was invaded and responded to
Northern aggression.

I respectfully disagree with those who claim that the War Between the
States was fought over slavery or that the abolition of slavery in the
Revolutionary Era or early Federal period would have prevented war. It is my
opinion that war was inevitable between the North and South due to complex
political and cultural differences. The famous Englishman Winston Churchill
stated that the war between the North and South was one of the most
unpreventable wars in history. The Cause that the Confederate States of
America fought for (1861-1865) was Southern Independence from the United
States of America. Many parallels exist between the War for American
Independence ( 1775-1783 ) and the War for Southern Independence.

There were 10 political causes of the war (causes of Southern Secession) ---one of which was slavery--
which was a scapegoat for all the differences that existed between the North
and South. The Northern industrialists had wanted a war since about 1830 to
get the South's resources ( land-cotton-coal-timber-minerals ) for pennies
on the dollar. All wars are economic and are always between centralists and
decentralists.The North would have found an excuse to invade the South even
if slavery had never existed.

A war almost occurred during 1828-1832 over the tariff when South
Carolina passed nullification laws. The U.S. congress had increased the
tariff rate on imported products to 40% ( known as the tariff of
abominations in Southern States ). This crisis had nothing to do with
slavery. If slavery had never existed --period--or had been eliminated at
the time the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 or anytime
prior to 1860 it is my opinion that there would still have been a war sooner
or later.

On a human level there were 4 causes of the war--New England Greed--New
England Fanatics--New England Zealots--and New England Hypocrites. During
"So Called Reconstruction" ( 1865-1877 ) the New England Industrialists got
what they had really wanted for 40 years--THE SOUTH'S RESOURCES FOR PENNIES
ON THE DOLLAR. It was a political coalition between the New England economic
interests and the New England fanatics and zealots that caused Southern
secession to be necessary for economic survival and safety of the

1. TARIFF--Prior to the war about 75% of the money to operate the Federal
Government was derived from the Southern States via an unfair sectional
tariff on imported goods and 50% of the total 75% was from just 4 Southern
states--Virginia-North Carolina--South Carolina and Georgia. Only 10%--20%
of this tax money was being returned to the South. The Southern states were
being treated as an agricultural colony of the North and bled dry. John
Randolph of Virginia's remarks in opposition to the tariff of 1820
demonstrates that fact. The North claimed that they fought the war to
preserve the Union but the New England Industrialists who were in control of
the North were actually supporting preservation of the Union to maintain and
increase revenue from the tariff. The industrialists wanted the South to pay
for the industrialization of America at no expense to themselves. Revenue
bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives prior to the War
Between the States were biased, unfair and inflammatory to the South.
Abraham Lincoln had promised the Northern industrialists that he would
increase the tariff rate if he was elected president of the United States.
Lincoln increased the rate to a level that exceeded even the "Tariff of
Abominations" 40% rate that had so infuriated the South during the 1828-1832
era ( between 50 and 51% on iron goods). The election of a president that
was Anti-Southern on all issues and politically associated with the New
England industrialists, fanatics, and zealots brought about the Southern
secession movement.

2. CENTRALIZATION VERSUS STATES RIGHTS---The United States of America was
founded as a Constitutional Federal Republic in 1789 composed of a Limited
Federal Government and Sovereign States. The North wanted to and did alter
the form of Government this nation was founded upon. The Confederate States
of America fought to preserve Constitutional Limited Federal Government as
established by America's founding fathers who were primarily Southern
Gentlemen from Virginia. Thus Confederate soldiers were fighting for rights
that had been paid for in blood by their forefathers upon the battlefields
of the American Revolution. Abraham Lincoln had a blatant disregard for The
Constitution of the United States of America. His War of aggression Against
the South changed America from a Constitutional Federal Republic to a
Democracy ( with Socialist leanings ) and broke the original Constitution.
The infamous Socialist Karl Marx sent Lincoln a letter of congratulations
after his reelection in 1864. A considerable number of European Socialists
came to America and fought for the Union (North).

January 01, 2007 at 12:00am
Part 2.

Christianity as presented in the Holy Bible.The North had many Secular
Humanists ( atheists, transcendentalists and non-Christians ). Southerners
were afraid of what kind of country America might become if the North had
its way. Secular Humanism is the belief that there is no God and that
man,science and government can solve all problems. This philosophy advocates
human rather than religious values. Reference : Frank Conner's book "The
South Under Siege 1830-2000."

4. CULTURAL DIFFERENCES--Southerners and Northerners were of different
Genetic Lineages. Southerners were primarily of Western English (original
Britons),Scottish,and Irish linage (Celtic) whereas Northerners tended to be
of Anglo-Saxon and Danish (Viking) extraction. The two cultures had been at
war and at odds for over 1000 years before they arrived in America. Our
ancient ancestors in Western England under King Arthur humbled the Saxon
princes at the battle of Baden Hill ( circa 497 AD --516 AD ). The cultural
differences that contributed to the War Between the States (1861-1865 ) had
existed for 1500 years or more.

5. CONTROL OF WESTERN TERRITORIES--The North wanted to control Western
States and Territories such as Kansas and Nebraska. New England formed
Immigrant Aid Societies and sent settlers to these areas that were
politically attached to the North. They passed laws against slavery that
Southerners considered punitive. These political actions told Southerners
they were not welcome in the new states and territories. It was all about
control--slavery was a scapegoat.

Industrialists wanted a war to use as an excuse to get the South's resources
for pennies on the dollar. They began a campaign about 1830 that would
influence the common people of the North and create enmity that would allow
them to go to war against the South. These Northern Industrialists brought
up a morality claim against the South alleging the evils of slavery. The
Northern Hypocrites conveniently neglected to publicize the fact that 5 New
England States ( Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island,
and New York ) were primarily responsible for the importation of most of the
slaves from Africa to America. These states had both private and state owned
fleets of ships.

in to the above listed efforts by New England Industrialists. Beginning
about 1830 the Northern Newspapers began to slander the South. The
Industrialists used this tool to indoctrinate the common people of the
North. They used slavery as a scapegoat and brought the morality claim up to
a feverish pitch. Southerners became tired of reading in the Northern
Newspapers about what bad and evil people they were just because their
neighbor down the road had a few slaves. This propaganda campaign created
hostility between the ordinary citizens of the two regions and created the
animosity necessary for war. The Northern Industrialists worked poor whites
in the factories of the North under terrible conditions for 18 hours a day
( including children ). When the workers became old and infirm they were
fired. It is a historical fact that during this era there were thousands of
old people living homeless on the streets in the cities of the North. In the
South a slave was cared for from birth to death. Also the diet and living
conditions of Southern slaves was superior to that of most white Northern
factory workers. Southerners deeply resented this New England hypocrisy and

January 01, 2007 at 12:00am
Part 3.

SOUTH. Abolitionists were a small but vocal and militant group in New
England who demanded instant abolition of slavery in the South. These
fanatics and zealots were calling for massive slave uprisings that would
result in the murder of Southern men, women and children. Southerners were
aware that such an uprising had occurred in Santa Domingo in the 1790 era
and that the French (white) population had been massacred. The abolitionists
published a terrorist manifesto and tried to smuggle 100,000 copies into the
South showing slaves how to murder their masters at night. Then when John
Brown raided Harpers Ferry,Virginia in 1859 the political situation became
inflammatory. Prior to this event there had been more abolition societies in the
South than in the North. Lincoln and most of the
Republican Party ( 64 members of congress ) had adopted a political platform
in support of terrorist acts against the South. Some (allegedly including
Lincoln) had contributed monetarily as supporters of John Browns terrorist
activities.. Again slavery was used as a scapegoat for all differences that
existed between the North and South.

9.. SLAVERY. Indirectly slavery was a cause of the war. Most Southerners
did not own slaves and would not have fought for the protection of slavery.
However they believed that the North had no Constitutional right to free
slaves held by citizens of Sovereign Southern States. Prior to the war there
were five times as many abolition societies in the South as in the North.
Virtually all educated Southerners were in favor of gradual emancipation of
slaves. Gradual emancipation would have allowed the economy and labor system
of the South to gradually adjust to a free paid labor system without
economic collapse. Furthermore, since the New England States were
responsible for the development of slavery in America, Southerners saw the
morality claims by the North as blatant hypocrisy. The first state to
legalize slavery had been Massachusetts in 1641 and this law was directed
primarily at Indians. In colonial times the economic infrastructure of the
port cities of the North was dependent upon the slave trade. The first slave
ship in America, "THE DESIRE", was fitted out in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Further proof that Southerners were not fighting to preserve slavery is
found in the diary of an officer in the Confederate Army of Northern
Virginia. He stated that "he had never met a man in the Army of Northern
Virginia that claimed he was fighting to preserve slavery". If the war had
been over slavery, the composition of the politicians, officers, enlisted
men, and even African Americans would have been different. Confederate
General Robert E. Lee had freed his slaves (Custis estate) prior to 1863
whereas Union General Grant's wife Julia did not free her slaves until after
the war when forced to do so by the 13th amendment to the constitution.
Grant even stated that if the abolitionists claimed he was
fighting to free slaves that he would offer his services to the South.
Mildred Lewis Rutherford ( 1852-1928 ) was for many years the historian for
the United Daughters Of The Confederacy (UDC). In her book Truths Of History
she stated that there were more slaveholders in the Union Army ( 315,000 )
than the Confederate Army ( 200,000 ). Statistics and estimates also show that about
300,000 blacks supported the Confederacy versus about 200,000 for the Union.
Clearly the war would have been fought along different lines if it had been
fought over slavery. The famous English author Charles Dickens stated " the
Northern onslaught upon Southern slavery is a specious piece of humbug
designed to mask their desire for the economic control of the Southern

Lincoln wanted war may be found in the manner he handled the Fort Sumter
incident. Original correspondence between Lincoln and Naval Captain G.V.Fox
shows proof that Lincoln acted with deceit and willfully provoked South
Carolina into firing on the fort ( A TARIFF COLLECTION FACILITY ). It was
politically important that the South be provoked into firing the first shot
so that Lincoln could claim the Confederacy started the war. Additional
proof that Lincoln wanted war is the fact that Lincoln refused to meet with
a Confederate peace delegation. They remained in Washington for 30 days and
returned to Richmond only after it became apparent that Lincoln wanted war
and refused to meet and discuss a peace agreement. After setting up the Fort
Sumter incident for the purpose of starting a war, Lincoln called for 75,000
troops to put down what he called a rebellion. He intended to march Union
troops across Virginia and North Carolina to attack South Carolina. Virginia
and North Carolina were not going to allow such an unconstitutional and
criminal act of aggression against a sovereign sister Southern State.
Lincoln's act of aggression caused the secession of the upper Southern

On April 17th 1861, Governor Letcher of Virginia sent this message to
Washington DC: " I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be
furnished to the powers of Washington for any such use or purpose as they
have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern states and the
requisition made upon me for such a object-an object in my judgement not
within the purview of the constitution or the act of 1795, will not be
complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war; having done so we
will meet you in a spirit as determined as the administration has exhibited
toward the South."

The WAR BETWEEN THE STATES 1861-1865 occurred due to many complex causes
and factors as enumerated above. Those who make claims that "the war was
over slavery" or that if slavery had been abolished in 1776 when the
Declaration of Independence was signed or in 1789 when The Constitution of
the United States of America was signed, that war would not have occurred
between North and South are being very simplistic in their views and

The following conversation between English ship Captain Hillyar and Capt. Raphael Semmes-Confederate Ship CSS Alabama occurred during the war on August 5th, 1861. It is a summary from a well-educated Southerner who is stating his reasons for fighting.
Captain Hillyar expressed surprised at Captain Semme's contention that the people of the South were "defending ourselves against robbers with knives at our throats", and asked for further clarification as to how this was so, the exchange below occurred. I especially was impressed with Semmes' assessment of yankee motives - the creation of "Empire"!
Semmes: "Simply that the machinery of the Federal Government, under which we have lived, and which was designed for the common benefit, has been made the means of despoiling the South, to enrich the North", and I explained to him the workings of the iniquitous tariffs, under the operation of which the South had, in effect, been reduced to a dependent colonial condition, almost as abject as that of the Roman provinces, under their proconsuls; the only difference being, that smooth-faced hypocrisy had been added to robbery, inasmuch as we had been plundered under the forms of law"
Captain Hillyar: "All this is new to me", replied the captain. "I thought that your war had arisen out of the slavery question".
Semmes: "That is the common mistake of foreigners. The enemy has taken pains to impress foreign nations with this false view of the case. With the exception of a few honest zealots, the canting hypocritical Yankee cares as little for our slaves as he does for our draught animals. The war which he has been making upon slavery for the last 40 years is only an interlude, or by-play, to help on the main action of the drama, which is Empire; and it is a curious coincidence that it was commenced about the time the North began to rob the South by means of its tariffs. When a burglar designs to enter a dwelling for the purpose of robbery, he provides himself with the necessary implements. The slavery question was one of the implements employed to help on the robbery of the South. It strengthened the Northern party, and enabled them to get their tariffs through Congress; and when at length, the South, driven to the wall, turned, as even the crushed worm will turn, it was cunningly perceived by the Northern men that 'No slavery' would be a popular war-cry, and hence, they used it.
It is true that we are defending our slave property, but we are defending it no more than any other species of our property - it is all endangered, under a general system of robbery. We are in fact, fighting for independence.

The Union victory in 1865 destroyed the right of secession in
America,which had been so cherished by America's founding fathers as the
principle of their revolution. British historian and political philosopher
Lord Acton, one of the most intellectual figures in Victorian England,
understood the deeper meaning of Southern defeat. In a letter to former
Confederate General Robert E. Lee dated November 4,1866, Lord Acton wrote "
I saw in States Rights the only available check upon the absolutism of the
sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction
but as the redemption of Democracy. I deemed you were fighting the battles
of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization and I mourn for that
which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was
saved at Waterloo (defeat of Napoleon). As Illinois Governor Richard Yates
stated in a message to his state assembly on January 2,1865, the war had "
tended, more than any other event in the history of the country, to militate
against the Jeffersonian Ideal ( Thomas Jefferson ) that the best government
is that which governs least.

Years after the war former Confederate president Jefferson Davis stated " I
Am saddened to Hear Southerners Apologize For Fighting To Preserve Our
Inheritance". Some years later former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt
stated " Those Who Will Not Fight For The Graves Of Their Ancestors Are
Beyond Redemption".

James W. King

Commander Camp 141

Lt. Col. Thomas M. Nelson

Sons of Confederate Veterans

PO Box 70577 Albany, Georgia 31708


Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: