The staff at Stones River National Battlefield welcomed thousands of visitors to the park this past week to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River. The weeklong event started on Wednesday, December 26th, and will run through Wednesday, January 2nd.
The living history weekend held this past weekend highlighted the weeklong commemoration. It featured park rangers and nearly 200 living historians interpreting the major events of the battle.
The weeklong event is a culmination of over a year of planning by the park to embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity. Superintendent Gayle Hazelwood sees the 150th as more than just an opportunity: “We are using the 150th as a springboard to reach out to new audiences and expand stories told to ensure they are relevant to all.” As a site t hat commemorates the Civil War’s eighth largest battle, Stones River is one of the most important places to expand those stories.
The final battle of 1862 was significant for both sides given the abundant resources in Middle Tennessee. For President Lincoln and the Union, though, the importance was magnified by the Emancipation Proclamation that was set to go into effect as the battle was underway. Lincoln offered this observation in a message to General William Rosecrans, who commanded the Union forces: “I can never forget, if I remember anything, that at 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 country scarcely could have lived over,”
On Saturday and Sunday, visitors learned about the actions of Union and Confederate armies while getting a chance to see infantry and artillery living history units in action. With the help of cannon crews from Shiloh National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park, and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the park was able to setup a battery of six cannon along the same ridge that Union soldiers defended 150 years ago.
Other activities throughout the week included a family fun tent, where children could earn a special Junior Ranger badge available just for the 150th anniversary. Visitors could walk through a living history camp and learn about camp life during the Civil War as well as Civil War era medical techniques. Battlefield tours and ranger programs went beyond the battlefield and explored the impact the battle had on the civilian population of Murfreesboro and all of Middle Tennessee.
The commemoration continues today and runs through Wednesday, as rangers and volunteers recount the events of the battle as they happened exactly 150 years ago. On January 1st the park will welcome its centennial class from McGavock High School. These students will present their videos, which they created for the National Park Foundation’s “Expressions of Freedom” contest, in the park visitor center.
The park will mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with two programs on the 1st presented by an Abraham Lincoln living historian. Superintendent Hazelwood also plans to attend a “Watch Night” service at Ebeneezer Primitive Baptist Church in Murfreesboro. Watch Night services in the black community can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as “Freedom’s Eve”.
The park is being assisted by the Eastern Incident Management Team under the leadership (Jim King, IC). The team brought in 27 NPS employees from other parks, including the Southeast Region social media team, to assist with the event. Eastern National had seven employees at the park to run two stores throughout the weekend.