REDUNDANT SLAUGHTER IN THE ROUND FOREST
The object of Bragg's obsession has come down to posterity as the
Round Forest. A singularly unimpressive bit of timber, at its highest it
lay only three feet above the fields of cotton and winter wheat that
encircled it. From the southeast the charred remains of the Cowan farm,
resting on an elevation between the lines, dominated it completely.
Cruft's brigade of Palmer's division lay to the right of it, Wagner's
brigade to the left, and that of William Hazenan intense,
talented professional soldiercrouched behind crude breastworks in
the timber itself.
The first challenge to the Round Forest salient came from Brigadier
General James Chalmers's 2,000 Mississippians at 9:00 A.M. The wreckage
of the Cowan farm doomed their attack, as the brigade split in two while
negotiating the rubble. Chalmers's left regiments ran up against Cruft.
The Rebels fell in windrows. The ground in front of the 31st Indiana
was so heavily blanketed with bodies that it was labeled the
"Mississippi Half-Acre." His right regiments halted and cowered in a
small dip in the ground 200 yards from Hazen's line.
At 10:00 A.M. Brigadier General Daniel Donelson led the last
uncommitted Confederate brigade on the west side of Stones River into
action. Donelson's Tennesseans met scores of stragglers from Chalmers's
brigades hiding among the out-buildings of the Cowan farm, squarely in
their path. The Mississippians were too frightened to step aside, so the
brigade split to keep its alignmentthe 16th Tennessee and part of
the 51st Tennessee drifted north toward the Round Forest, while the
38th, 8th, and the rest of the 51st Tennessee drove west toward
A. E. MATHEWS ILLUSTRATION OF STARKWEATHER'S AND SCRIBNER'S BRIGADES ON
JANUARY 1. (LC)|
Donelson's right regiments were destroyed before the Round Forest.
The sudden appearance of Stewart to the right and rear of Cruft,
however, helped Donelson's left regiments carry their front. The
withdrawal of Cruft, although a setback, posed no real danger to the
army. Behind Cruft were several commands still intactParsons's
Battery remained in its first position on a rise near the intersection
of McFadden's Lane and the turnpike; Grose lay nearby with four
regiments; behind Grose, Shepherd had rallied his Regulars; still
farther to the rear stood Hascall's fresh brigade.
Rosecrans and Thomas responded to Cruft's withdrawal by sending the
Regulars back into the cedars to impede Stewart and Donelson and afford
Grose time to retire to a new position along the turnpike, perpendicular
to Hazen. The Regulars were doomed; extending only a quarter mile, their
front was easily outflanked by the more numerous Confederates. Four hundred
Regulars fell before they were recalled, but their losses were not
in vain. In twenty minutes of bitter fighting they decimated Stewart's
brigade so completely that Stewart was forced to halt at the edge of the
cedars, and Maney and Anderson followed his lead. Only Donelson's 8th
and 38th Tennessee dared to confront the Federals on open ground. There,
near the Round Forest, they were quickly and hopelessly overwhelmed.
A little after 12:00, the Tennesseans broke contact. They had come
within a few yards of the Nashville Turnpike but lacked the numbers to
An uncertain silence settled over the field. Rosecrans rode away to
supervise the final repulse of Cleburne, and Hascall found himself the
only general officer near the Round Forest. Well did he understand its
importance"The position ... must be held to the last man," he
reported. "The line they were trying to hold was that part of our
original line of battle lying immediately to the right of the railroad.
This portion of our original line, about two regimental fronts,
together with two fronts to the left, held by Colonel Wagner's brigade,
was all of our original line of battle but what our troops had been
driven from; and if they succeeded in carrying this they would have
turned our left, and a total rout of our forces could not then have been
avoided." Well aware that the lull represented only a respite between
attacks, Hascall moved swiftly to bolster the Round Forest line.
BRIGADIER GENERAL MILO HASCALL (USAMHI)|
At the headquarters of the Army of Tennessee, indecision prevailed.
During the critical late morning hours, while Hardee threw the exhausted
divisions of Cleburne and McCown against the Nashville Turnpike and
Leonidas Polk delivered his piecemeal blows against the Round Forest,
Breckinridge's division lay idle on the east side of the river.
The blame was not solely Bragg's. Breckinridge had been bedeviled by
chimera all morning long, convinced that a heavy Federal force was
moving beyond his front. He begged Bragg for reinforcements until
Pegram's cavalry rode forward and demonstrated his front to be
But precious hours had slipped by, and it was 1:00 P.M. before Bragg
summarily ordered Breckinridge across. The brigades of Dan Adams and
John Jackson, being nearer the river, forded first. A short time later,
Breckinridge led Palmer and Preston toward the crossing site.
Adams reported to Polk at 2:00 P.M. Polk was reluctant to commit the
brigade, but Bragg had repeated his desire to take the Round Forest.
Adams's Louisianans never stood a chance. Hascall had collected four
batteries near the forest, and they opened on the butternuts as they
stumbled over bodies and discarded equipment; at the same time, Wagner
charged Adams's right. His flank turned, Adams prudently pulled his men
out of range, less 426 dead and wounded.
As quickly as Adams cleared the field, Jackson's brigade stepped
forward. The ease with which the Federals repulsed this fourth attack
was ridiculous; the accompanying slaughter sickening, the more so for
Tragically, the slaughter was not over. As quickly as Adams cleared
the field, Jackson's brigade stepped forward. The ease with which the
Federals repulsed this fourth attack was ridiculous; the accompanying
slaughter sickening, the more so for its pointlessness.
And still more killing lay ahead. As darkness settled over the
dreary, winter landscape, Palmer and Preston marched out onto the
blood-soaked cotton field pounded flat by Chalmers, Donelson, Adams, and
Palmer's and Preston's assault was repulsed so handily that some
Federals wondered whether it really represented a serious effort.
Although they repelled this final attempt to carry the Round Forest
easily, the Federals had suffered. Cobb's Kentucky battery had torn
large gaps in the Federal lines with well-directed fire from atop
Wayne's Hill. In fact, one of Cobb's rounds almost robbed the Army of
the Cumberland of its commander. While riding toward the Round Forest,
Rosecrans felt a solid shot whoosh past; it spared the general but
decapitated his close friend in the army, chief of staff Julius
Garesche. Rosecrans, his overcoat spattered with Garesche's brain,
winced a moment, then regained his composure enough to turn to Phil
Sheridan and mutter something to the effect that good men must die in
DRAWING BY HENRY LOVIE OF THE DEATH OF COLONEL JULIUS P. GARESCHE.
(COURTESY OF MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH PRINT COLLECTION, NY PUBLIC