Lesson Plan

The Battle of Stones River: The Soldiers' Story

The Artillery Monument, Stones River National Battlefield.

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.3, 11-12.RH.4, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.8, 11-12.RH.9, 11-12.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 5 Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies.
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How can we understand and study the experiences of wartime?


1. To describe the Battle of Stones River and its aftermath;
2. To analyze and evaluate firsthand accounts related to the Battle of Stones River;
3. To investigate the way surviving participants commemorated the Battle of Stones River;
4. To determine how wars have been commemorated in their own community.


"If a soldier ever saw lightning, and heard the thunder bolts of a tornado at the same time the heavens opened and the stars of destruction were sweeping everything from the face of the earth, if he was in this charge, he saw it."¹

The bloody Civil War battle fought among the rocky cedar glades near the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, left an indelible imprint on the lives of many a soldier and his family. As one gazes across the narrow waters of Stones River today, it is difficult to imagine the carnage of a Civil War battle. The quiet waters no longer echo the sound of cannon fire or screams of death. The cold limestone and cedar thickets no longer resound with the sharp sound of 10,000 muskets delivering their deadly charges. But perhaps we can imagine soldiers struggling along what was once a cotton field, picking the harvest’s remains to stuff in their ears so that the din of battle might somehow seem more distant. For many, the quiet came too soon. The battle at Stones River claimed 23,000 casualties--it was the second bloodiest battle fought west of the Appalachians during the Civil War. The Stones River National Battlefield stands today as a silent reminder of those individuals who lost their lives there.

¹W. J. McMurray, M.D., History of the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Infantry C.S.A.

Lesson Hook/Preview

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.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Stones River National Battlefield
Stones River National Battlefield is a unit of the National Park System. Visit the park's web pages for more information about the park and Stones River National Cemetery.

The Civil War Preservation Trust
The Civil War Preservation Trust Web pages provide an account of the Battle of Stones River, including links to extensive biographies on both Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans.

The American Battlefield Protection Program:
The American Battlefield Protection Program, a division of the National Park Service, provides detailed on-line publications featuring different topics in the Civil War. Included is a battle summary of the Battle of Stones River.

National Park Service Civil War Website
Visit the official National Park Service Civil War website. Offering the current generation of Americans an opportunity to know, discuss, and commemorate this country's greatest national crisis, while at the same time exploring its enduring relevance in the present, the website includes a variety of helpful features such as a timeline and stories from various perspectives. Also included are links to Civil War Parks, NPS education programs, and much more.

Historic Places Honoring Those Who Served
The National Register of Historic Places online itinerary Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This itinerary explains where the idea of national cemeteries came from and their meaning today.

Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System
The National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System is a recently created database containing facts about Civil War servicemen, lists of Civil War regiments, and descriptions of significant Civil War battles. Also on this site is a descriptive history of African-Americans in the Civil War.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress created a selected Civil War photographic history in their "American Memory" collection. Included on the site is a photographic timeline of the Civil War covering major events for each year of the war.

The American Civil War Museum
The American Civil War Museum is a center to explore the war and its legacies from multiple perspectives. Their website contains photographs, flags, and online exhibits.

The Valley of the Shadow
For a valuable resource on the Civil War, visit the University of Virginia's Valley of the Shadow Project. The site offers a unique perspective of two communities, one Northern and one Southern, and their experiences during the American Civil War. Students can explore primary sources such as newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, military records, and much more.

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: October 12, 2018