Battle of Stones River: Characters



1) Leader William S. Rosecrans (Union)

- As Rosecrans raced across the battlefield directing units, seeming ubiquitous to his men, his uniform was covered with blood from his friend and chief of staff, Col. Julius Garesché, beheaded by a cannonball while riding alongside.

- Rosecrans's predecessor, Buell, had been relieved because of his desultory pursuit of Confederate General Braxton Bragg following the Battle of Perryville. And yet Rosecrans displayed similar caution, remaining in Nashville while he reprovisioned his army and improved the training of his cavalry forces. By early December 1862, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck had lost his patience. He wrote to Rosecrans, "If you remain one more week in Nashville, I cannot prevent your removal." Rosecrans replied, "I need no other stimulus to make me do my duty than the knowledge of what it is. To threats of removal or the like I must be permitted to say that I am insensible."

- As he realized the severity of the surprise attack, Rosecrans demonstrated the nervous hyperactivity for which he was known in battle. He personally rallied his men along the line, and gave direct orders to any brigades, regiments, or companies he encountered. Disregarding his own safety, he rode back and forth at the very front of his line and sometimes between his men and the enemy.

- The battle was important to Union morale following its defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg a few weeks earlier, and President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans: "You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."

2) Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan (Union)

-What saved the Union from total destruction that morning was the foresight of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan (McCook's wing), who anticipated an early attack and had the troops of his division up and ready in the center of the right half of the line by 4 a.m.

- More than one third of Sheridan’s (Union) men were casualties in four hours of fighting in a cedar forest surrounded on three sides that became known as "The Slaughter Pen".


3) Leader Braxton Bragg (Confederate)

- Before Rosecrans could attack, Bragg launched a strong, surprise attack against Rosecrans's right flank on December 31, 1862, the start of the Battle of Stones River. The Confederates succeeded in driving the Union army back to a small defensive position, but could not destroy it, nor could they break its supply line to Nashville, as Bragg intended. Despite this, Bragg considered the first day of battle to be a victory and assumed that Rosecrans would soon retreat.

- Bragg's subordinate generals were vocal in their dissatisfaction of his command. He reacted to the rumors of criticism by circulating a letter to his corps and division commanders that asked them to confirm in writing that they had recommended withdrawing after the Stones River battle, stating that if he had misunderstood them and withdrawn mistakenly, he would willingly step down. Unfortunately, he wrote the letter at a time that a number of his most faithful supporters were on leave for illness or wounds. Bragg's critics, including William J. Hardee, interpreted the letter as having an implied secondary question—had Bragg lost the confidence of his senior commanders? Leonidas Polk did not reply to the implied question, but he wrote directly to his friend, Jefferson Davis, recommending that Bragg be replaced.

4) Leonidas Polk (Confederate)

- Polk was a subordinate of Bragg . Polk didn’t respect of get along with his boss.

- Polk fought under Bragg at the Battle of Stones River in late 1862 and once again Bragg's subordinates politicked to remove their army commander after an unsuccessful battle (the battle was tactically inconclusive, but Bragg was unable to stop the advance of the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans

- On May 6, 1830, Polk married Frances Ann Deveraux, daughter of John and Frances Pollock Devereaux; her mother was the granddaughter of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards. The Polks had eight children.

5) Misc. Union or Confederate band members from Dec. 30th night

- The armies bivouacked only 700 yards (640 m) from each other, and their bands started a musical battle that became a non-lethal preview of the next day's events. Northern musicians played Yankee Doodle and Hail, Columbia and they were answered by Dixieand The Bonnie Blue Flag. Finally, one band started playing Home Sweet Home and the others joined in. Thousands of Northern and Southern soldiers sang the sentimental song together across the lines.

Other Battle of Stones River sections: