Union soldiers fiercely defended their position here. Confederates launched attack after failed attack, causing heavy losses to both sides. Bodies piled up in the rocks, and blood soaked the ground. The Union retreated, but the delay gave their army time to form a new line along the Nashville Pike.
My name is Emily Brandon, and I'm an SCA intern at Stones River National Battlefield. And today, we're at tour stop two. And we're going to go over the events that happened here-- during the battle of Stones River.
On the morning of December 31, 1862, General William J. Hardee sent 10,000 men from McCown's and Cleburne's divisions, storming through and around the unprepared Union right flank. The men of Richard Johnson's division were so terrified they immediately retreated. As more men began to retreat, it created even more fear and chaos throughout the Union right wing.
The Confederate line began to wrap around the Union line, breaking up Johnson's division and then rolling around the positions of General Jefferson C. Davis's division. When the fight came to General Philip Sheridan and his men, they stopped the advance because they were ready to fight by 4:00 AM. Sheridan bent back his lines grudgingly as the Rebels began to push them all the way back to this spot, north of the Wilkinson Pike. Sheridan's lines and those of General James Negley formed a v-shaped salient here.
General William S. Rosecrans, realizing his initial attack plan was failing, began to change his focus from defending the vital Nashville Pike. And he began to reform the line. But he needed time to be able to do so. So he sent word to Generals Sheridan and Negley to hold their positions here to give him that time. These woods and limestone outcroppings provided shelter and protection to those worn out soldiers of Sheridan's and Negley's brigades.
For two hours, General Sheridan and General Negley held their position, fighting off attacks from three different sides. Eventually, Sheridan's men, exhausted from fighting for several hours and low on ammunition, retreat leaving Negley and his men nearly surrounded. While this area was a great source of cover, it quickly turned into a death trap as the men tried to retreat through the rocks and trees.
There was so much blood that when the soldiers of Chicago saw the area after the fighting, they nicknamed it the "Slaughter Pen", as it reminded them of the slaughter houses back home. While the terrible losses they suffered by Sheridan and Negley's men here surely had them thinking that all hope was lost, the seeds of ultimate Union victory were sown by their sacrifices. Five Union brigades had stalled nearly half of the Confederate Army for two hours. This gave Rosecrans the time he needed to set his troops for a final decisive stand along the Nashville Pike.
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Student Conservation Association intern Emily Brandon tells the story of the bloody delaying action that turned the tide of battle.
The Battle of Stones River began at 6 AM on December 31, 1862. The Confederate divisions of Generals McCown and Cleburne smashed into the right flank of the Union lines near the intersection of Gresham Lane and the Franklin Pike. The Union right crumbled and were soon sent flying north and west in disarray.
While Sheridan's division slowly bent back to the Wilkinson Pike, Gen. James Negley's men stood their ground. They beat back several Confederate attacks from the east.
Private J.E. Robuck of the 29th Mississippi Infantry described the fighting here:
By 10 AM, the Confederates had pushed Sheridan and Negley into a "V' formation. Sheridan's lines faced south, while Negley's division still fired to the east. This dangerous position risked seeing both divisions cut off from the rest of the army as the Confederates attacked from all sides.
Upon receiving their orders to stand fast, Gen. Negley's men sought safety among the limestone outcroppings and trees behind them. It worked for a time. The Union forces here stalled nearly half the Confederate army for two hours. At noon, Sheridan's lines finally broke. This allowed Confederate soldiers to begin to surround Negley's men from the rear. The boys in blue found their rocky shelter had now become a death trap.
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Last updated: July 23, 2022