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Union soldiers crouched between these rocks during the first day of battle. (NPS Photo)

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Soldiers take a meal in front of a battery wagon during a living history demonstration. (NPS Photo)

Stones River
The Stones River flows quietly through Murfreesboro. (NPS Photo)

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Stones River National Battlefield

“Load! Ready! Fire!” BOOM!

Even though you clap your hands to your ears, the sound of artillery fire reverberates through your core. The soldiers continue to drill, unshaken by the power of the cannon. A command of “Cease firing!” brings them to a halt.

After the cannon's roar echoes down the historic turnpike, a park ranger captivates you with the story of a bloody Civil War battle. Crystal flurries scudding from the ominous sky accent the morning's chill as you gaze upon the field of fighting. The 81,000 soldiers who struggled here faced miserable winter conditions during the Battle of Stones River from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863. While many businesses close their doors to celebrate New Year's Day, Stones River National Battlefield invites visitors to commemorate the days of the battle at the park.

Stones River National Cemetery lies peacefully within the boundaries of Stones River National Battlefield. The pale headstones of 6,100 Union soldiers represent those who paid what Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” during the four years of cruel war. From the cemetery, a walk down the Old Nashville Highway leads you to a plot of ground enclosed by a stone wall, behind which Hazen's Brigade Monument, the nation's oldest intact Civil War monument, emerges solidly.

Sites on the battlefield tell stories of people who lived, fought, and died here. Pause and discover the two lone headstones proudly standing outside the Hazen Monument wall. Crouch in the protruding limestone labyrinth in the area that soldiers called “the slaughter pen”and imagine these rocks protecting you during the battle. Remember the army's lifeline—the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway, which today stretches through the park—as a locomotive and rail cars rumble past.

Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Stones River National Battlefield preserves 650 acres of the 4,000 acre battlefield. Drive, hike, or bike to explore the Slaughter Pen, Hell's Half Acre, and the Fight for the Cedars. Families with children can complete the Junior Ranger program during their visit. To become a Junior Ranger, kids explore history while earning a badge and a patch.

After the ranger concludes and the roar of cannon, the clap of muskets, and the smoke of gun powder fade away, the battlefield remains, beckoning visitors to experience and remember the Civil War that shaped our nation.

By Elizabeth Goetsch, Park Ranger, Stones River National Battlefield homepage photo: Living history volunteers fire a cannon across the cotton field where Union troops defended the Nashville Pike. (NPS/Amy Hardman)