Stones River National Battlefield

James N.

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#1
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Diorama in Park Headquarters depicting Confederate assault on the Round Forest on the afternoon of the batle's first day, Dec. 31, 1862.

I hadn't been to Murfreesboro and Stones River National Battlefield Park since about 1987; needless to say, things have CHANGED, and mostly for the worse. The park itself has grown slightly since then, but still takes in only about 10% of the area over which the battle was fought. Seeing it in the full bloom of spring-turning-into-summer doesn't help much toward imagining it as it was during the battle, either. On a positive note, I approached from Nashville, as did the Federal Army of the Cumberland, on what is now called The Old Nashville Highway, no longer used for heavy traffic; I could almost believe it was like I remembered from before.

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One important difference wasn't immediately apparant, however: in the past few years a striking new Visitor Center has been built on the foundations of the old, complete with an impressive new film and exhibits. ( Quite an improvement from the TRAILER I remember when I first visited here back in the 1960's! ) Also familiar was the nearby National Cemetery, placed between the wartime railroad and Nashville Pike. Cannon inside not only stand guard over the graves of the dead, but also mark the final position of Union batteries during the battle.

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An unfathomable change now involves the once-looping park road - it's been ELIMINATED, reduced to only half what it was! To access the former "other half", visitors are forced to use trails that incorporate the old park road, reducing also the number of stops and their parking areas. The guns below are along that part that survives; the park tour now takes you pretty quickly out of the park to other areas, unless you choose to brave the mosquitoes and walk the trails.

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The oldest battlefield monument is at the site of what used to be the Round Forest and was erected in 1863 by the members of Hazen's brigade which held this spot, termed H ells' Half Acre by the troops. It includes the graves of brigade members killed in the battle and collected here even prior to creation of the National Cemetery. Names of the dead and the regiments they belonged to are inscribed on individual gravestones as well as the sides of the stone monument ( below ). The inscription has eroded considerably from what I remember, and is illegible in part; a metal sign transcribes it for visitors.

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Unfortunately, it becomes necessary to leave the comparative tranquillity and safety of the environs of the National Battlefield and venture out into "modern" Murfreesboro's highways and streets with their hectic traffic. The city has grown tremendously since I first visited in the 1960's when it was a sleepy county seat. As a suburb of the Nashville metro area it has suffered the same unfortunate growth I was familliar with at nearby Franklin. Soon, however, a fortunate turn returns to parkland along meandering Stones River, scene of the action of the battle's second day, Jan. 2, 1863.

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The last "official" stop is the area where Rosecrans'chief of artillery, John Mendenhall gathered some 57 Union cannon to blast the final Confederate attack, that of John C. Breckinridge's Division, at 4 PM the evening of Jan. 2, 1863. Fearing the effort a waste of lives, Breckinridge remonstrated with Bragg, then finding him unmoveable, postponed the attack as late as possible in the short winter day. Predictably, after startling initial success, the massed Union guns turned the attack into a debacle and Stones River into an important Union victory in the dark days following Fredericksburg.

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Personally, the most disgusting thing about Murfreesboro and Stones River Battlefield is the virtual total destruction of the staging area for the opening of the Confederate attack and overrunning of McCook's entire Corps on the morning of the first day of the battle. I remember it as an area of bucolic farmland and quiet country lanes along the Franklin Pike. Now it is a wasteland of strip malls, convenience stores, gas stations, fast food restaraunts, and all the other dietrius of modern urban sprawl, as befits a Nashville suburb. This is especially annoying to me, because this is the area Cleburne's and McCown's Divisions formed and went into the battle; even the roadside historical markers have disappeared!
 
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#5
Great photos. My GG Grandfather fought here with the 21st Illinois-his regiment having the highest casualty rate of all of the regiments.Over half of the Company he commanded were either killed or wounded.
 
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#6
I've been there twice, both time in the early 90's. As I began reading your thread I immediately asked myself "Is he going to say the town has grown over the park?". I got the answer I was afraid of. That is a shame.

You did have a beautiful day though!

Thanks for the pics.
 
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#8
Enjoyable pictures, but the changed configuration did help me follow the flow of the battle a little better. For whatever reason, the Stones River Battle has always given me fits.
 
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#9
I visited Stones River for a third time just a few weeks ago. I must disagree with James N. on one point about the changes to the park -- the winding road was blocked in places so as to turn it into a paved bike and walk path. I actually like that quite a bit; when I heard that was the case, I made a point of renting a bike and riding around the park. Of course, I freely admit that it was never like someone on a bike was likely to be run off the road by a car...

Keep in mind that I always prefer to explore these battlefield parks on foot or on a bike whenever possible, and when I can't that park becomes a priority candidate for revisiting so I can.

On a broader level, things have changed quite a bit and for the worse outside the park. Now the commercial development has grown right up onto the park's boundaries. It's a shame the NPS wasn't able to get more of that land in years past; now the area where McCown and Cleburne routed McCook is a giant, brand new set of strip malls and office buildings. My guess is that 3/4s of that stuff wasn't there during my previous visit, just five years ago in 2007. Scary as hell, isn't it?
 

James N.

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#13
I must disagree with James N. on one point about the changes to the park -- the winding road was blocked in places so as to turn it into a paved bike and walk path. I actually like that quite a bit; when I heard that was the case, I made a point of renting a bike and riding around the park. Of course, I freely admit that it was never like someone on a bike was likely to be run off the road by a car...
I usually don't mind the idea of getting out of our vehicles and actually walking ( or cycling ) the park. In fact one of the most annoying experiences in recent years occurred 6 years ago during a trip to Shiloh where I was forced to watch the entire battlefield ROLL BY from the window of a friend's truck! He and a lady friend of his with us both have health problems related to obesity and resultant diabetes, so wouldn't DARE think of WALKING. At last year's 150th Shiloh I actually got him to walk from the Visitor Center parking lot all the way through the tiny National Cemetery to the Tennessee River overlook, and from the fuss he made, you'dve thought I wanted him to hike the Appalachian Trail!

Unfortunately, many modern visitors are little better for one reason or another, and I think restricting areas like this a mistake. I suspect in major parks like Gettysburg, another element is at work, trying to get crowds through as quickly and efficiently as possible. I was especially annoyed at Mount Vernon ( NOT a National park or Historic Site, but the idea applies ) to be given virtually "the bum's rush" going through the house itself! You could take as long as you liked to explore and wander the grounds of the estate, but ONLY see the inside on a hurried guided tour.

This could also explain why park tour stops have noticeably dwindled, with an also noticeable lack of specifics in park folders. Most battle actions are now reduced to generalizations stressing large-unit movements. At Stones River, for example, there is no longer any mention of Mendenhall or Breckinridge in the battle's second day, just Union artillery and Confederate infantry.
 

ExNavyPilot

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#15
My gg-granduncle's unit, the 3rd Wisconsin Battery, spent most of the battle (Dec 31-Jan 2) at McFadden's Ford, either where the artillery monument is now placed (west bank) or on the east side of the river. They were actually the only battery on the east side of the river when Breckenridge's division attacked. After getting off a number of shots, they were in jeopardy of being overrun and had to pull their six guns back across to the west side (losing only a couple of horses). The battery then took part in Mendenhall's gun line, blasting away at the Confederate forces across the river and bringing the attackers to a halt, and then driving them back to where they started.

When I visited the Stones River battlefield a couple of years ago, I liked seeing the monument recognizing the Union artillery's contribution to the victory on Jan 2nd. However, I was quite disappointed to see that the battlefield on the east bank of the river, where almost all of the fighting and dying took place on the 2nd, was covered with suburban neighborhoods. I drove through that area and saw no signage commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of Breckenridge's Orphan Brigade or the hard fight put up by Van Cleve's (Beatty's) Union forces; nothing that recognized the significance of that ground, once soaked in American blood.
 
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#17
Great pics.....thank you. William B Hazen was one of my ancestors so I've always been most interested in this battle. I haven't had the opportunity to visit the site but its on my bucket list. Unfortunately, urban sprawl is the enemy of far too many battlefields. I saw this very clearly when touring some of the eastern sites a few years ago.
 

ExNavyPilot

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#18
Great pics.....thank you. William B Hazen was one of my ancestors so I've always been most interested in this battle. I haven't had the opportunity to visit the site but its on my bucket list. Unfortunately, urban sprawl is the enemy of far too many battlefields. I saw this very clearly when touring some of the eastern sites a few years ago.
Despite the sprawl, it's still worth the visit. The core of the battlefield is well preserved and nicely interpreted, and of course, your lineage demands that you visit the Hazen Brigade Monument. :wink: Chickamauga/Chattanooga are also within two hours of Murfreesboro so you can easily work in those battlefields in one trip (just not one day--too much to see).
 

James N.

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#20
Great pics.....thank you. William B Hazen was one of my ancestors so I've always been most interested in this battle. I haven't had the opportunity to visit the site but its on my bucket list. Unfortunately, urban sprawl is the enemy of far too many battlefields. I saw this very clearly when touring some of the eastern sites a few years ago.
Of course Hazen and his brigade have come off quite well at Stones River, partly due to their wartime efforts gathering and burying their own dead and then constructing the monument at the very heart of the Union position. It also helps that it's close to the 1866 National Cemetery, too, its own monument seen below. I think when you finally get around to visiting, you'll be pleased.

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