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Setting the Stage

During the Civil War’s four years of fighting (1861-1865), Union strategies varied. An early strategy, meant to contain the armies of the South, involved dispersing small contingents of troops around the 6,000 miles of land and water borders of the Confederacy. When that strategy seemingly faltered, the Northern armies and river navies decided to break through Southern defenses along a 400-mile front in Tennessee and Kentucky. In mid-February 1862, the Union army in Tennessee, under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, captured two strategic forts, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Later that month, Union troops captured Nashville without a shot, and the first Confederate state capital fell. In April Grant won again at Shiloh. In October Confederate leader General Braxton Bragg aborted his once promising Kentucky campaign and settled at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the winter. Union General William Rosecrans followed Bragg from Kentucky as far as Nashville. The two armies were fighting for control of middle Tennessee’s railroads and rich farms. On December 26, 1862, General Rosecrans and his army left Nashville with the intention of sweeping Bragg and his army aside and continuing on to Chattanooga. As the Union troops neared Murfreesboro, the scene was set for a bloody battle that both sides would claim as a victory, but which would be remembered by the ordinary soldiers as a hell.



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