Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!