Murfreesboro Stones River National Battlefield

James N.

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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.

Interestingly, according to current NPS information, what I'd always previously heard about this being the Mendenhall Artillery Monument is apparantly hogwash! ( As I saw for myself, Mendenhall's name does NOT appear anywhere on it. ) They now say the white concrete pylon was placed here around the turn of the century when train travel was the norm and vets and their families made up the bulk of passengers. Supposedly this was placed by the RAILROAD on this conspicuous elevation, easily seen from train windows, as part of their ongoing program to woo passengers! ( The so-called Meade Pyramid at Fredericksburg was another such "attraction" for visitors travelling by rail, as was the totally bogus railside site of "Molly Pitcher's Well" at Monmouth, N.J.! )
 

James N.

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Like the Franklin battlefield or Atlanta Campaign battlefields, it is a shame what has happened to Stones River. The battle itself, like Franklin and some of the Atlanta Campaign battles, was one of the bloodiest and fiercely fought battles of the war in the West, yet is many times over looked and forgotten. The casualty percentage of Stones River was the highest of any other major battle in the war, of 76,400 men engaged, 24,645 were killed or wounded.

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.


Unlike the much better-known eastern battlefields, those in the west were a long time "finding" their chroniclers, especially once the men who fought over them were gone. Fortunately, this began to change, especially in the 1980's and 1990's with a "new" crop of historians who began to concentrate on these regional and lesser-known battles like Stones River. Though there are even more recent ones, I read James Lee McDonough's 1980 Stones River - Bloody Winter in Tennessee in preparation for my visit, along with the good general account in Shelby Foote's The Civil War.

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AUG

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Unlike the much better-known eastern battlefields, those in the west were a long time "finding" their chroniclers, especially once the men who fought over them were gone. Fortunately, this began to change, especially in the 1980's and 1990's with a "new" crop of historians who began to concentrate on these regional and lesser-known battles like Stones River. Though there are even more recent ones, I read James Lee McDonough's 1980 Stones River - Bloody Winter in Tennessee in preparation for my visit, along with the good general account in Shelby Foote's The Civil War.

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Another great book is Eyewitness at the Battle of Stones River by David R. Logsdon, which is a great read if you're looking for first hand accounts of the battle.
 
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ExNavyPilot

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Interestingly, according to current NPS information, what I'd always previously heard about this being the Mendenhall Artillery Monument is apparantly hogwash! ( As I saw for myself, Mendenhall's name does NOT appear anywhere on it. ) They now say the white concrete pylon was placed here around the turn of the century when train travel was the norm and vets and their families made up the bulk of passengers. Supposedly this was placed by the RAILROAD on this conspicuous elevation, easily seen from train windows, as part of their ongoing program to woo passengers! ( The so-called Meade Pyramid at Fredericksburg was another such "attraction" for visitors travelling by rail, as was the totally bogus railside site of "Molly Pitcher's Well" at Monmouth, N.J.! )

The obelisk might have originally been placed to mark the general battlefield area for passing rail passengers, but the monument now has a brass plaque on it reading:
On January 2nd, 1863 at 3:00 P.M. there were stationed on this hill fifty-eight cannon commanding the field across the river, and as the Confederates advanced over this field, the shot and shell from these guns resulted in a loss of eighteen-hundred killed and wounded in less than an hour.

It's true that it doesn't have Mendenhall's name on it, but the NPS calls it the Artillery Monument and the monument has the plaque commemorating the artillery's roll in the battle, so I guess we can safely say that the monument is now an artillery monument (no matter its original purpose). I would have liked to have seen Mendenhall mentioned somewhere on the monument, but hey, war is a team effort so I won't complain.
 

ExNavyPilot

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Though there are even more recent ones, I read James Lee McDonough's 1980 Stones River - Bloody Winter in Tennessee in preparation for my visit, along with the good general account in Shelby Foote's The Civil War.

I liked McDonough's book. Cozzen's No Better Place to Die (1991) and Larry Daniels' Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict... (2012) are also good full treatments of the battle, while Chris Kolakowski's The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns (2011) provides a broader, less in-depth treatment. If you want a battlefield guide to take you to significant places outside as well as inside the current park boundaries, Matt and Lee Spruill's Winter Lightning is worthwhile. For maps, you can't do much better than the Ed Bearrs Troop Movement maps available (download free!)on the NPS site here. However, if you're looking for an in-depth, movement by movement, unit by unit treatment of the tactical situation, you might want to invest in Lanny Smith's The Stones River Campaign, Vol 1 (Union), and Vol 2 (Confederate), which collates all the OR for the battle in chronological narratives, one for each side.
 

ExNavyPilot

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Another great book is Eyewitness at the Battle of Stones River by David R. Logsdon, which is a great read if you're looking for first hand accounts of the battle. Logsdon compiled tons of accounts from privates, generals, and civilians of the battle and placed them in order with the battle as well. David Logsdon has also done many other western battles, Shiloh, Perryville, Fort Donaldson, Chickamauga, Franklin, and Nashville
Concur. Logsdon's compilation of personal accounts adds some flesh and blood to the tactical narrative of Stones River. Great to read alongside one of the other books (i.e. McDonough, Cozzens, or Daniels.)
 

James N.

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The obelisk might have originally been placed to mark the general battlefield area for passing rail passengers, but the monument now has a brass plaque on it reading:
On January 2nd, 1863 at 3:00 P.M. there were stationed on this hill fifty-eight cannon commanding the field across the river, and as the Confederates advanced over this field, the shot and shell from these guns resulted in a loss of eighteen-hundred killed and wounded in less than an hour.

It's true that it doesn't have Mendenhall's name on it, but the NPS calls it the Artillery Monument and the monument has the plaque commemorating the artillery's roll in the battle, so I guess we can safely say that the monument is now an artillery monument (no matter its original purpose). I would have liked to have seen Mendenhall mentioned somewhere on the monument, but hey, war is a team effort so I won't complain.


According to a caption in the 1959 Stones River NMP folder, Artillery Monument was erected in 1906 by the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad, through its president, Maj. John W. Thomas. The plaque probably dates from the erection of the monument.

Forgot to mention the Blue & Gray magazine issue on Stones River (Volume XXVIII Issue #6) by Jim Lewis, Stones River Natl Battlefield Park ranger/historian. Great issue, and I believe it's still available for purchase (backorder.)

They're still available ( autographed by Jim Lewis, no less! ) in the visitor center gift shop; I made sure to pick one up before taking the tour drive. The only truly disgusting thing about it is the information and photos of the 3 period houses lost to "development" since the previous issue on the battle was done a number of years ago!
 

sflickinger

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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).

I am going to visit Stones River this spring on our break from school. I'm sorry that the battlefield has been reduced. I'm most interested in the section at which the Pioneer Brigade and the Chicago Board of Trade Battery made their stand. Even though he was wounded at Stones River, my gg-grandfather was at the subsequent battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga/Missionary Ridge with the Pioneers. I hope these have been preserved well. Thanks for all the information about these battlefields.
 

sflickinger

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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!
Thanks for the pictures. I look forward to seeing the battlefield in the spring.
 

James N.

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Great pictures and great narrative, as always. Thank you, James.
Thanks for the pictures and the commentaries.

Here are a few more from my recent visit, many taken within the National Cemetery there, like the one above.

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The pyramid of cannon balls that marks the site of Rosecrans's headquarters in a cabin beside the Nashville Turnpike.

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Above and below, a Napoleon cannon marking the position of a Union battery, now within the National Cemetery.

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The six-pounder Wiard cannon above and below is an unusual type that saw use here and also in the earlier Battle of Shiloh.

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