Here are the Top 10 sites associated with the Battle of Stones River, which was fought 144 years ago this week.
This is the oldest intact Civil War monument in the nation.
They were culled from a list of more than 25 significant actions during the battle determined by the National Park Service. While most of them are located at the national military park, some of them are on private property.
1. The Round Forest (Hell’s Half Acre)
The Round Forest was a crucial position for the Federal Army of the Cumberland. Poised between the Nashville Pike and the Stones River, the forest anchored the left of the Union line. Col. William B. Hazen’s Brigade was assigned this crucial sector.
At 10 a.m. Dec. 31, 1862, Gen. James Chalmers’ Mississippians advanced across the fields in front of Hazen’s men. The partially burned Cowan house forced Chalmers’ men to split just before they came within range of the Union muskets. Artillery batteries guarded Hazen’s flanks with deadly fire while the infantry poured volley after volley into the Confederate ranks. General Chalmers was wounded as his men wavered, then broke. The line was to hold against four Confederate advances.
The carnage as described by J. Morgan Smith of the 32nd Alabama Infantry prompted soldiers to name the field Hell’s Half Acre. This was the only Union position to hold throughout the first day of the battle. This along with Hazen’s Monument is Tour Stop 5 at Stones River National Battlefield.
2. Hazen’s Monument
The monument erected in 1863 by the survivors of Col. William B. Hazen's brigade is the nation’s oldest intact Civil War memorial. An engraving on the monument says: “The Veterans Of Shiloh Have Left A Deathless Heritage Of Fame Upon The Field Of Stone River.”
3. McFadden’s Ford/Breckinridge’s Charge
After spending Jan. 1, 1863 reorganizing and caring for the wounded, the two armies came to blows again on the afternoon of Jan. 2. Gen. Bragg ordered Gen. John C. Breckinridge to attack Gen. Horatio Van Cleve’s Division (commanded by Col. Samuel Beatty) occupying a hill overlooking McFadden’s Ford on the east side of Stones River.
Breckinridge reluctantly launched the attack with all five of his brigades at 4 p.m. The Confederate charge quickly took the hill and continued on pushing toward the ford. As the Confederates attacked, they came within range of 57 Union cannon massed on the west side of the Stones River. Gen. T.L. Crittenden watched as his guns went to work.
“Van Cleve’s Division of my command was retiring down the opposite slope, before overwhelming numbers of the enemy, when the guns … opened upon the swarming enemy. The very forest seemed to fall … and not a Confederate reached the river.”
Incidentally, Breckinridge was the former vice president of the United States. Brig. Gen. Roger Hanson of Kentucky lost his life in the charge. Col. Joseph Palmer’s Rutherford County troops joined the fray and Palmer, former mayor of Murfreesboro, was seriously wounded.
This is Tour Stop 6 at Stones River Battlefield.
4. The Slaughter Pen: The broken cannon
Here the men of Union Gen. Phil Sheridan's and Negley's divisions warded off several determined Confederate assaults Dec. 31. In an attempt to crack the Union line, the Confederates wheeled up artillery to within 200 yards of Sheridan's position, but attack after attack still failed, with costly losses to both sides. Although Sheridan finally had to abandon his position, his delaying action during the withdrawal gave Union troops time to form a new line along the Nashville Pike.
A monument at the Slaughter Pen salutes soldiers from Michigan who fought at the site. It states:
“This marker is dedicated to all the Michigan soldiers engaged in this great battle, to the 71 men who lost their lives and to the 6 regiments which fought bravely for their country: 21st Michigan Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. William B. McCreery (Flint), 18 killed, 89 wounded, 25 missing; 11th Michigan Infantry, commanded by Col. William L. Stoughton (Sturgis), 30 killed, 84 wounded, 36 missing; 13th Michigan Infantry, commanded by Col. Michael Shoemaker (Jackson), 17 killed, 72 wounded; 4th Michigan Cavalry, commanded by Col. Robert H. G. Minty (Detroit), 1 killed, 7 wounded, 12 missing; 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, commanded by Col. William P. Innes (Grand Rapids), 2 killed, 9 wounded, 5 missing; 1st Michigan Artillery Battery, Company A, commanded by Col. Cyrus O. Loomis (Coldwater), 1 killed, 10 wounded, 2 missing. Michigan men fought at Stones River for the preservation and perpetuity of the Union.”
This is Tour Stop 2 at Stones River and is the site of the broken cannon often used in depictions of the battlefield.
5. The Cotton Field
Union troops retreating from the south Dec. 31, 1862 established a last line of defense along the railroad and Nashville turnpike. As pursuing Confederates emerged from the woods and entered the cotton field they were greeted by "three lines of battle with Napoleon guns [12-pounder smoothbore cannons] between the regiments."
A Tennessean recalled, "the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, running parallel to our lines, was plainly visible...while in front of it a long line of blue coats was stretched."
Confederates crossing the field stuffed their ears with bits of cotton from the field to help deaden the noise of artillery.
The Confederate attacks were stopped due to the lack of artillery support. The fighting died down after sunset and both sides dug in for the night. Although units of Rosecrans' army had been pushed back three miles, the Confederates had failed to capture the Nashville Pike.
This is Tour Stop 3 at the battlefield.
6. Defending the Nashville Pike: The Chicago Board of Trade Battery
Thousands of retreating Union troops burst from the cedars located across the field in front of these cannon and were followed closely by victory-confident Confederates. The six-gun Chicago Board of Trade Battery, so called because the Board of Trade provided the money to establish and equip it, sprang into action on this rise.
Their charges of canister shot forced the Confederates to withdraw to the cedars. A second battery joined in on the left, and the combined force broke up the Confederate attack and kept the Nashville Pike in Union hands.
This is Tour Stop 4 at Stones River.
7. The start of the battle.
Located outside of Stone River National Battlefield, this site is near the modern-day intersection of Old Fort Parkway and Gresham Lane. A small strip mall marks the spot where advancing Confederate troops under the command of Gen. William Hardee first encountered Union forces under the command of Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson Dec. 31. The Union forces began to fall back under the Confederate onslaught after taking heavy losses.
Both the Union and Confederate armies had the same battle plan: Strike the right flank of the opposing army. The Confederates hit at daylight, catching Johnson’s men still at breakfast. Caught unprepared, many of the Union troops ran.
8. The Harding House/General Sill’s death site.
This was the scene of heavy fighting during the initial Confederate attack as Confederate Col. Arthur M. Manigault and Brig. Gen. J. Patton Anderson attacked the forces of both Union commanders Brig. Gen. Joshua Sill and Col. George Roberts. The Confederates forced the Union troops to retreat, and at one point Confederates were firing upon Roberts’ troops from two sides. Not located in the national battlefield, the Harding House was on the south side of Wilkinson Pike. The current path of Medical Center Parkway runs on or near the site between Thompson Lane and Interstate 24. General Sill was killed during the opening stage of the battle near here. Troops attempted to take Sill’s body back to Union lines at the Gresham House, but were forced to abandon him. After the Civil War, Sill’s friend Gen. Phil Sheridan was instrumental in having Fort Sill, Okla. named in Sill’s honor. The site is not marked.
9. Stones River National Cemetery
The federal government established Stones River National Cemetery by means of an order issued by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to Brig. Gen. Horatio Van Cleve March 29, 1864. Assistant Quartermaster Capt. John Means selected the site, designed the layout of the cemetery and initiated the construction.
Chaplain William Earnshaw supervised most of the work of creating the cemetery. During 1865 and 1866, the 111th Regiment United States Colored Troops performed the arduous and gruesome labor of disinterring and then reburying Union soldiers’ remains in Stones River National Cemetery. Earnshaw reports that he oversaw the process of disinterring the bodies of Union soldiers from various locations such as Stones River battlefield, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Shelbyville, Tullahoma and Cowan, within approximately 90 miles of the cemetery. Most of the work of reburying remains in the cemetery was completed by 1867.
Today, more than 6,100 Union soldiers are buried in Stones River National Cemetery. Of these, 2,562 are unknown. Nearly 1,000 veterans, and some family members, who served in the century since the Civil War are also interred there.
10. Fortress Rosecrans
Shortly after the Battle of Stones River, the men of the Army of the Cumberland began building a massive fortification that was named after their commander Gen. William S. Rosecrans.
Designed by Brig. Gen. James St. Clair Morton, the earthworks of Fortress Rosecrans covered more than 225 acres and protected vital segments of the railroad and a multitude of warehouses that held supplies for the coming campaign. It was the largest fort built during the Civil War.
Fortress Rosecrans served as a critical forward supply base for the Federals during their campaigns to seize and hold the vital rail junction town of Chattanooga, as well for the campaign on Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea.
The fort consisted of eight lunettes and four redoubts linked by a series of curtain walls and abatis. Numerous buildings (saw mills, quartermaster depots, warehouses, magazines and quarters) covered the site. The fortress was placed astride the junction of the Stones River and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad as well as the intersection of Wilkinson Pike and the Old Nashville Pike.
Acquired by the city of Murfreesboro in 1966, the property was transferred to the National Park Service in 1993, becoming a unit of Stones River National Battlefield. Fortress Rosecrans, Redoubt Brannan and the national battlefield have been connected since 1997 by the Stones River Greenway.
11. Col. Garesche’s Death Site
On the afternoon of Dec. 31, 1862, Gen. Rosecrans was riding along Union Army lines near the Round Forest. Accompanying him was his popular chief of staff, Lt. Col Julius P. Garesche.
Capt. Henry Semple of Semple’s Alabama Battery spotted the officers and told a gunner to fire at them. A round of solid shot missed Rosecrans, but struck Garesche, decapitating him. Garesche’s blood and brains covered the commanding general.
Garesche's horse galloped another 20 yards before his body fell off near the tracks of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.
After dusk, his West Point classmate, Gen. William S. Hazen searched for his body. Hazen discovered it and recovered his West Point ring and his well-read Catholic devotional, “Imitation of Christ.”
Hazen and a group of volunteers then buried Garesche in a temporary battlefield grave. The rare nighttime burial became fodder for newspaper stories in Union states.
His death site is memorialized by a marker near the railroad tracks not far from Stones River National Cemetery.