Major C.S. victory at the Battle of Stones River

Generic Username

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From Stones River - Bloody Winter in Tennessee, by James Lee McDonough:

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So let's say the Army of Tennessee pulls it off, cutting the Nashville Pike and forcing the surrender of the Army of the Cumberland with its 43,000 troops. Lincoln, in private correspondence with Rosecrans after the battle, speculated that defeat here-concurrent to that in Fredericksburg-might have broke Northern morale and possibly triggered foreign intervention.
 

Generic Username

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For those wondering, here's what Lincoln's letter to Rosecrans in the months after the battle said:

To William S. Rosecrans​
Executive Mansion, Washington,
My dear General Rosecrans August 31. 1863.​
Yours of the 22nd. was received yesterday. When I wrote you before, I did [not] [2] intend, nor do I now, to engage in an argument with you on military questions. You had informed me you were impressed, through Gen. Halleck, that I was dissatisfied with you; and I could not bluntly deny that I was, without unjustly implicating him. I therefore concluded to tell you the plain truth, being satisfied the matter would thus appear much smaller than it would if seen by mere glimpses. I repeat that my appreciation of you has not abated. I can never forget, whilst I remember anything, that about the end of last year, and beginning of this, you gave us a hard earned victory which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over. Neither can I forget the check you so opportunely gave to a dangerous sentiment which was spreading in the North. Yours as ever​
A. LINCOLN.​

The National Park Service largely agrees with Lincoln in this, giving further context:

December had been nothing short of disastrous for the Lincoln administration. Earlier that month two major Union offensives, launched in concert, had ended in disaster. At Fredericksburg, in northern Virginia, another Federal commander went down before Robert E. Lee when Major General Ambrose Burnside lost over twelve thousand men in a series of brutal and fruitless assaults. And in Mississippi, major generals U. S. Grant and William T. Sherman floundered in the bayous and backcountry above Vicksburg as what was to have been a two-pronged thrust against the Mississippi River citadel degenerated into a comedy of errors. Confederate cavalry under Earl Van Dorn descended on the huge Federal supply depot at Holly Springs, destroying everything in sight and forcing Grant to abort an already bankrupt offensive.​
The repeated humbling of Union arms that culminated in the defeats of December 1862 deepened Northern war weariness, particularly in the Old Northwest, home to most of the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland. Republican governors Oliver Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois feared open insurrection in their states when their legislatures convened after the new year.
Then news of Rosecrans's victory, won largely by troops from the Northwest, exploded in the headlines of the Union press. "Rosecrans Wins a Complete Victory; the Enemy in Full Retreat," trumpeted the Chicago Tribune as the first reports came in from the field. The overstated claims of the Tribune and other pro-administration dailies were effective. Pro-war mass meetings were held throughout the Northwest surpassing antiwar gatherings in militancy. Public sentiment shifted from antiwar Democrats. The General Assembly of Ohio offered a vote of thanks to Rosecrans for his "glorious victory." The General Assembly of Indiana passed a similar resolution.​
None were more grateful for the defeat of Bragg than the beleaguered president himself. "God bless you, and all with you," Lincoln wrote Rosecrans. "Please tender to all, and accept for yourself, the nation's gratitude for your and their skill, endurance, and dauntless courage." Time and later reserves did not diminish Lincoln's gratitude. Eight months later, on the verge of Rosecrans's thrashing at Chickamauga, the president wrote him of his continued belief in the importance of Stones River to the Union cause: "I can never forget, whilst I remember anything, that about the end of last year and the beginning of this, you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."​

Again, McDonough explains further the extent of war weariness and outlines some of the considerations being outlined in regards to foreign intervention:

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Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals, by Chester G. Hearn also outlines the foreign angle:

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Luke Freet

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It's a probability. More likely the war would continue, with the western situation changed dramatically. Guessing Grant's AotT would be transferred to deal with Bragg (and having recently themselves been repulsed at Chickasaw Bayou).
I presume the immediate threat to Vicksburg would be removed and substantial troops (namely Stevenson's division) could be transferred back to Bragg.
 

Pat Answer

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Defeats on the Mississippi, in Virginia, and in Tennessee in December 1862 (especially in the historically unlikely event that the surrender of over 40,000 troops is involved in the last), following the election results the previous month, might not have ended the war but the political situation for the Union would be just short of disastrous. And then if Chancellorsville happens without a serious threat to Vicksburg being mounted...
 

Generic Username

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Defeats on the Mississippi, in Virginia, and in Tennessee in December 1862 (especially in the historically unlikely event that the surrender of over 40,000 troops is involved in the last), following the election results the previous month, might not have ended the war but the political situation for the Union would be just short of disastrous. And then if Chancellorsville happens without a serious threat to Vicksburg being mounted...

Important to note the Roebuck Motion was just starting to emerge by the start of 1863 and in December of 1862, the French did propose a joint intervention/mediation effort publicly to the British.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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So let's say the Army of Tennessee pulls it off, cutting the Nashville Pike and forcing the surrender of the Army of the Cumberland with its 43,000 troops. Lincoln, in private correspondence with Rosecrans after the battle, speculated that defeat here-concurrent to that in Fredericksburg-might have broke Northern morale and possibly triggered foreign intervention.

Oh I'm sure Braxton Bragg would have screwed up shortly after a great victory at Murfreesboro, and caused a greater disaster as a result.

He had a healthy track record of that....
 

19thGeorgia

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What was Grant's opinion of this battle?- "More victories like that and we'll be ruined" -or something to that effect.
 

19thOhio

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Honestly, I had never heard of the Battle of Stones River until a local interest in bands led to Civil War bands and then the story at Stones River the night before the battle. Then, on site, following the path/role of the 19th Ohio under Sam Beatty and Van Cleve gave me an appreciation of the events there. It seemed to me, a beginner in ACW, even early on to be an important link in the Western Theater chain of events.

We are fortunate that some of the books (post above) are available on line to researchers.
 

jackt62

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Stones River is another battle that showed Bragg's strengths and weakness as a commander. He planned and executed a classic flanking maneuver around the Union right to cut off the AOTC's supply line at the Nashville Pike. It almost succeeded but for stiff Union resistance at the so-called Round Forest. But Bragg was too quick to proclaim victory at the end of the first day's fight on December 31st, and when Rosecrans did not retreat from the field the following day, Bragg ordered an ill-advised assault by Breckenridge's Division on the Union left flank on January 2nd, which was repulsed by Union artillery with heavy casualties. After which point, Bragg ordered the AOT to withdraw, leaving the Union with a strategic victory that would lead to the eventual takeover of middle Tennessee by the AOTC.
 

OldReliable1862

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Stones River is another battle that showed Bragg's strengths and weakness as a commander. He planned and executed a classic flanking maneuver around the Union right to cut off the AOTC's supply line at the Nashville Pike. It almost succeeded but for stiff Union resistance at the so-called Round Forest. But Bragg was too quick to proclaim victory at the end of the first day's fight on December 31st, and when Rosecrans did not retreat from the field the following day, Bragg ordered an ill-advised assault by Breckenridge's Division on the Union left flank on January 2nd, which was repulsed by Union artillery with heavy casualties. After which point, Bragg ordered the AOT to withdraw, leaving the Union with a strategic victory that would lead to the eventual takeover of middle Tennessee by the AOTC.
Do you think you might be talking about Hell's Half Acre? The fighting for the Round Forest was on 2 January.
 

Rhea Cole

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Map Round Forrest 4-00 pm.jpeg

Bragg ordered Polk to attack the Round Forrest because it was the key to Rosecrans' line on the afternoon of Dec. 31, 1862. Parson's Battery fired almost 2,000 rounds in the repulse of repeated attacks. The banks of Stones River between the fords are sheer limestone bluffs except for the fords. The tactical bind the attackers were in is obvious. Numerous letters & journals state that it was possible to walk from a swale where the attackers went to ground back to the RR crossing stepping on bodies. Regiments that took part in the assault lost 50% & more of their strength. On January 2nd, Polk ordered an abortive attack on the Round Forrest that accomplished nothing.

Had the leadership of the 14th Army Corps (This battle predated the Army of the Cumberland designation.) been like that of the McClellan led Army of the Potomac, a retreat to Nashville would have been put in motion during the night of the 31st. That is exactly what Bragg expected. These were Western men, retreating & surrendering was not what they did.

Just to clarify, Bragg did not plan the sweeping flank maneuver by Cleburne & McCowen of Hardee's Corps. Because he did not actually know where Rosecrans' line was, the assault followed an entirely unanticipated axis. The roll back of Rosecrans' right was, in fact, a fruitless victory because it did not take the Pike & RR. It was like football drive stopped on the 5 yard line. It looks good in the highlights, but scored no points.

As the sun set, Cleburne made a final attempt to take the Nashville Pike & the Nashville & Chattanooga RR. His men were fought out. A panicked retreat caused by cast off great coats in a field on their flank attests to their exhaustion. Nearly trampled by his stampeding men, Cleburne called off any further attacks. There were no forces available to support Cleburne because every available unit was beating itself to death on the point Bragg had meant to be the focus of his attack. Like all military plans, Bragg's did not survive the first shot.
 
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Generic Username

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Posted this elsewhere and the response I got made me do further research. Of note is the OR of Rosecrans:

We had lost heavily in killed and wounded, and a considerable number in stragglers and prisoners; also twenty-eight pieces of artillery, the horses having been slain, and our troops being unable to with draw them by hand over the rough ground; but the enemy had been thoroughly handled and badly damaged at all points, having had no success where we had open ground and our troops were properly posted: none which did not depend on the original crushing in of our right and the superior masses which were in consequence brought to bear upon the narrow front of Sheridan's and Negley's divisions, and a part of Palmer's, coupled with the scarcity of ammunition, caused by the circuitous road which the train had taken, and the inconvenience of getting it from a remote distance through the cedars. Orders were given for the issue of all the spare ammunition, and we found that we had enough for another battle, the only question being where that battle was to be fought.​
“Personal Recollections of the Battle in the Rear at Stone’s River, Tennessee” in Sketches of War History 1861-1865: Papers Prepared for the Commandery of the State of Ohio, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States., Volume VI -

As aide to General McCook, assigned to duty as ordnance officer of the right wing, I had charge of some seventy six or seventy seven heavily laden ammunition wagons, as I remember, each drawn by four horses or mules. General McCook had the largest corps in the army, and his ammunition trains were relatively large. But a single infantry company of about seventy five men and two mounted orderlies had been assigned to me as train guards. I was proud of this new command, but these ordnance treasures carried with them grave responsibilities…Danger already threatened, and it was soon prepared for movement…I decided to direct my train toward the center of the infantry line, keeping well to the front. At the very start a detachment of Confederate cavalry charged wildly upon the train, attacking and endeavoring to stampede our teamsters and animals, but with the aid of the plucky train guards and some help from Captain Pease, of General Davis’ staff, we repulsed the attack and moved on…​
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…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, Second East Tennessee, and a battalion of the Third Ohio Cavalry were near at hand.​
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. Colonel Minor Millikin, the gallant commander of the First Ohio, led a portion of his regiment in a most brilliant counter charge, but it 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.​
There was no staying the Confederates. They outnumbered and outflanked us, and to tell the melancholy truth, our defending cavalry retired in confusion to the rear and left the ammunition train to its fate–high and dry in a cornfield. 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 rear of a friendly fence and in the nearest thicket…The Confederates began to collect and lead away our teams and wagons, and our condition seemed desperate–indeed, hopeless.​
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. Captain Elmer Otis, with six companies of the Fourth Regular Cavalry [4th U.S. Cavalry] , attacked Wharton’s command with great vigor and success. Soon two battalions of the Third Ohio Cavalry came up from the rear…and nearly every wagon was finally recovered…and we were soon moving toward the Murfreesboro pike and the left of our army at double quick speed.
The enemy, still bent on destroying our train, followed us like sleuth hounds. Pat Cleburne’s artillery fired some hot shots at us from a hill on the main battlefield, and just as we reached the Murfreesboro pike General Wheeler’s troopers charged furiously upon escort and train and captured several wagons, but with the aid of our infantry they were soon repulsed, and the wagons recaptured.​
Thus ended for the day the campaign of the ammunition train. Our army front on the new right, was finally established, and for the first time in many hours train guards and animals breathed freely and rested in safety.​

In essence, if Wheeler had supported Wharton, as McDonough proposes as a missed opportunity, not only is the Nashville Pike cut but McCook's 18,000 men are out of ammunition by 12 PM on the 31st. Rosecrans would only have 25,400 equipped men to Bragg's 35,000 and basically his entire right flank would collapse.
 

OldReliable1862

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Assuming Rosecrans was dealt a serious defeat at Murfreesboro, can it then be assumed they'll withdraw to the Nashville defenses? The Confederacy has no way to block the Cumberland, so it would seem Rosecrans is safe once he reaches there.
 

Generic Username

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Assuming Rosecrans was dealt a serious defeat at Murfreesboro, can it then be assumed they'll withdraw to the Nashville defenses? The Confederacy has no way to block the Cumberland, so it would seem Rosecrans is safe once he reaches there.

He will certainly attempt to do so, but with the Turnpike cut off, he'll have to take the longer, more circuitous right over the Stones River itself, which means Bragg can and will beat him to Nashville given the latter has the most direct route. This is why I think Stones River could have been an annihilation battle for the Army of the Cumberland; if it isn't destroyed there, Bragg can get it before Nashville.
 
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