When the Civil War began in earnest, the U.S. government had one very decided advantage in the form of a trained, standing army with officers trained at West Point.
But as Southern states began to succeed, many top officers quickly put aside their allegiances to the United States and accepted leadership roles with Confederate military.
Southerners like Robert E. Lee and Albert S. Johnson were highly respected combat veterans who resigned their U.S. commissions. Confederate President Jefferson Davis even had served as U.S. Secretary of War under the Pierce administration.
This sharp division caused a shortage of command level officers at the regimental and brigade level. These posts were filled with political appointees or by local leaders who raised regiments in their own communities. A number of those came from military families whose service dated back to the Revolution. Other officers had prior experience in European armies. Many of them were railroad men. The leaders at Stones River shared this curious mix. Here are a few examples from the Federal Army of the Cumberland:
Gen. Jefferson C. Davis
This Indiana native is best known for two things: The similarity of his name to that of the president of the Confederacy; and for killing his superior officer, Maj. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson at the famous Galt House in Louisville.
Davis fought in the Mexican-American war, rising through the ranks of U.S. Army. At the start of the Civil War, he found himself at a curious spot. He was in the garrison of Fort Sumter when the opening shots of the war were fired in 1861,
He fought in the early battles of Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge and at Corinth.
Davis was recovering from an illness when his altercation with Nelson occurred. He was arrested, but fired from jail due to lack of Union commanders with combat experience. However, the killing limited his career to never receiving a promotion higher than brigadier general of volunteers.
Brig. Gen. Speed S. Fry
A Kentuckian, Fry was a Mexican War veteran turned lawyer and judge. He organized the 4th Kentucky (Union) Infantry in 1861.
Fry is best known in history as the man who shot and killed Confederate Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer during the final moments of the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky. Zollicoffer was born in Maury County, Tenn. His grandfather, George, fought in the Revolution. A printer and newspaperman, he was the father of 14 children. In 1843, he became the editor of the Republican Banner, the state organ of the Whig Party. He served three terms as a U.S. Congressman and served as a member of the 1861 peace convention.
Zollicoffer's death was a huge news story at the time and the topic of continuing debate since then.
Col. John T. Wilder
One of the more interesting figures at Stones River, Wilder was a New York native whose grandfather lost a leg at the Battle of Bunker Hill. At age 19, Wilder traveled west, hoping to earn his fortune. Taking his experience at a foundry, Wilder moved to Indiana where he founded his own foundry. Ingenious, he invented a number of hydraulic machines and built mills and hydraulic works in a number of states.
When war began, Wilder turned his ingenuity to military matters. He made his infantry unit more mobile by mounting them on horseback. They were the first to be equipped with Spencer repeating rifles.
After the war, Wilder settled in Tennessee. He built and operated the first blast furnaces in the South at Rockwood. Later, he entered politics and was elected mayor of Chattanooga. He was a railroad man and tourism promoter. He was commissioner of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park.
Col. Eli Lilly
Soldier, pharmacist and industrialist, Eli Lilly ran a drug store in Indianapolis before founding and recruiting the 18th Battery of Indiana Light Artillery. The founder of the huge Eli Lilly and Company resigned his post in the winter of 1863 to become a colonel of cavalry. Lilly was captured by Nathan Bedford Forrest in Alabama in 1864. He was paroled and returned home to Indiana.
Gov. Charles Anderson
A Kentucky native, Charles Anderson moved to Ohion where he began a law practice and was elected to the Ohio Senate where he earned himself a name as an advocate for black rights. His father was an aide to the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolution.
President Lincoln sent Anderson on a pro-Union speaking tour of Europe. After his return he was named commander of the 93rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Anderson was serious wounded at Stones River. His union was to play a very curious role at Stones River. Recovering, he resigned and returned to Ohio where he was elected lieutenant governor and became governor in 1965 following the death of Gov. John Brough. Anderson's brother was a better-known figure, renowned for his role in defending Fort Sumter.