|Stones River, Tennessee Dec 31, 1862- Jan. 2, 1863|
|NASHVILLE, TENN., January 6, 1863.
SIR: On the morning of the 26th ultimo, the left wing of the Fourteenth Army Corps broke up its encampment, in the vicinity of Nashville, and moved toward the enemy. Reliable information assured us that he was encamped in force at and in the vicinity of Murfreesborough; but as his cavalry, supported occasionally by infantry, had extended its operations up to our outposts, and as we had been compelled for some days previous to the movement on the 26th ultimo to fight for the greater part of the forage consumed by the animals, it was supposed we should meet with resistance as soon as our troops passed beyond the line of our outposts. Nor was this expectation disappointed.
The order of march on the first day of the movement placed the Second Division, General Palmer, in advance, followed by my own. Several miles northward of La Vergne, a small hamlet nearly equidistant between Nashville and Murfreesborough, parties of the enemy were encountered by our advance guard, a cavalry force, and a running fight at once commenced. The country occupied by these bodies of hostile troops affords ground peculiarly favorable for a small force to retard the advance of a larger one. Large cultivated fields occur at intervals on either side of the turnpike road, but the country between the cultivated tracts is densely wooded, and much of the woodland interspersed with thick groves of cedar. The face of the country is undulating, presenting a succession of swells and subsidences. This brief description is applicable to the whole country between Nashville and Murfreesborough, and it will show to the most casual observer how favorable it was for covering the movements and designs of the enemy in resisting our progress.
The resistance of the enemy prevented our troops from gaining possession of the commanding heights immediately south of La Vergne during the first day's operations, and delayed the arrival of my division at the site-intended for its encampment until some time after nightfall. The darkness of the evening and the lateness of the hour prevented such a reconnaissance of the ground as is so necessary in close proximity to the enemy; but, to guard effectually against surprise, a regiment from each brigade was thrown over forward as a grand guard, and the front and flanks of the division covered with a continuous line of skirmishers.
The troops were ordered to be roused an hour and a half before dawn of the following morning, to get their breakfast as speedily as possible, and to be formed under arms and in order of battle before daylight. An occasional shell from the opposing heights, with which the enemy commenced to greet us shortly after the morning broke, showed these precautions were not lost.
As it was understood from the commanding general of the corps that the right wing was not so far advanced as the left, the latter did not move forward until 11 a.m. on the 27th. At this hour the advance was ordered, and my division was directed to take the lead. The entire cavalry on duty with the left wing was ordered to report to me. Being satisfied, however, from the nature of the country, that its position in advance would be injudicious, and retard rather than aid the progress of the infantry, I directed it to take position in rear of the flanks of the leading brigade. I ordered Hascall's brigade to take the advance and move in two lines, with the front and flanks well covered with skirmishers. The other brigades, Wagner's and Harker's, were ordered to advance on either side of the turnpike road, prepared to sustain the leading brigade, and especially to protect its flanks. These two brigades were also ordered to protect their outward flanks by flankers. In this order the movement commenced.
Possession of the hamlet of La Vergne was the first object to be attained. The enemy was strongly posted in the houses and on the wooded heights in our rear, whence he was enabled to oppose our advance by a direct and cross fire of musketry. Hascall's brigade advanced gallantly across an open field to the attack, and quickly routed the enemy from his stronghold. This was the work of only a few minutes, but more than 20 casualties in the two leading regiments proved how sharp was the fire of the enemy. The forward movement of Hascall's brigade was continued, supported by Estep's Eighth Indiana Battery.
The enemy availed himself of the numberless positions that occur along the entire road to dispute our further progress, but he could not materially retard the advance of Creeps so determined and enthusiastic. They continued to press forward through the densely wooded country, in a drenching rain-storm, until they reached Stewart's Creek, distant some 5 miles from La Vergne. Stewart's Greek is a narrow and deep stream, flowing between high and precipitous banks. It is spanned by a wooden bridge with a single arch. It was a matter of cardinal importance to secure possession of the bridge, as its destruction would entail much difficulty and delay in crossing the stream, and, perhaps, involve the necessity of constructing a new bridge. The advance troops found on their arrival that the enemy had lighted a fire on it, but he had been pressed so warmly there had not been time for the flames to be communicated to the bridge. The line of skirmishers and the Third Kentucky Volunteers, Colonel McKee's regiment, dashed bravely for ward, though exposed to a fire from the opposite side, threw the combustible materials into the stream, and saved the bridge. While this gallant feat was being performed, the left flank of the leading brigade was attacked by cavalry. The menaced regiments immediately changed front to the left, and a company of the One hundredth Illinois, Colonel Bartheson's regiment, succeeded in cutting off and capturing 75 prisoners, with their arms, and 12 horses, with their accouterments.
The result of the day's operations was some twenty odd casualties (wounded) in Hascall's brigade, and some 35 prisoners taken from the enemy. The enemy fell back in great disorder from Stewart's Creek. He left tents standing on the southern bank of the creek, and on this encampment the ground strewn with arms.
Sunday, the 28th ultimo, we remained in camp, waiting for the troops of the right wing and center to get in position.
Monday, the 29th, the advance was resumed. Wagner's brigade, of my division, was deployed on the left or eastern, and a brigade of General Palmer's division on the right or western side of the road. Cox's Tenth Indiana Battery, supported Wagner's brigade. Moving pari passu, the two brigades advanced, clearing all opposition till we arrived within 2½ miles of Murfreesborough. Harker's brigade was disposed on the left of Wagner's in the advance, and Hascall's held the reserve.
On arriving within 2½ miles of Murfreesborough, the evidences were perfectly unmistakable that the enemy was in force immediately in our front, prepared to resist seriously and determinedly our farther advance. His troops, displayed in battle array, were plainly to be seen in our front. Negley's division, which was to take position in the center and complete the connection between the right and left wings, was not up, but 7 miles in the rear. Van Cleve's division, which was to support the left, was in rear of Negley's, nor had the right wing, McCook's command, got into position. Consequently I halted the troops in advance, reported the fact to General Crittenden, commanding the left wing, and desired further orders.
Up to this moment the information received had indicated, with considerable probability, that the enemy would evacuate Murfreesborough, offering no serious opposition. But observations assured me, very soon after arriving so near to the town, that we should meet with a determined resistance, and I did not deem it proper to precipitate the force in advance (two divisions, my own and General Palmer's) on the entire force of the enemy, with the remainder of our troops so far in the rear as to make it entirely possible, perhaps probable, that a serious reverse would occur before they could support us. Furthermore, the afternoon was well-nigh spent, and an attempt to advance would have involved us in the obscurity of the night, on unexamined ground, in the presence of an unseen foe, to whom our movements would have rendered us fearfully vulnerable.
The halt being approved, my division was disposed in order of battle, and the front securely guarded by a continuous line of skirmishers, thrown out well in advance of their reserves. The right of the division Wagner's brigade, rested on the right of the turnpike, and occupied a piece of wooded ground with an open field in front of it. The center, Harker's brigade, occupied a part of the wood in which Wagner's brigade was posted, and extended leftward into an open field, covered in front by a low swell, which it was to occupy in case of an attack, and General Hascall's brigade was posted on the left of the division, with its left flank resting nearly on Stone's River. The entire division was drawn up in two lines. Stone's River runs obliquely in front of the position occupied by the division, leaving a triangular piece of ground of some hundreds of yards in breadth in front of the right, and narrowing to almost a point opposite the left.
Such was the position occupied by my division Monday night. It remained in this position Tuesday, the 30th, the skirmishers keeping up an active firing with the enemy. In this encounter of skirmishers, Lieutenant Elliott, adjutant of the Fifty-seventh Indiana, was very severely wounded.
In the afternoon I had three days' subsistence issued to the men, and near nightfall, by order, 20 additional rounds of cartridges were distributed to them. Commanders were directed to instruct their men to be exceedingly vigilant, and report promptly any indication of a movement in the front by the enemy. The artillery homes were kept attached to the pieces.
Between midnight and daylight Wednesday morning I received a message from Colonel Wagner to the effect that the enemy seemed to be moving large bodies of troops from his right to his left. I immediately dispatched the information to the headquarters of the left wing, and I doubt not it was sent thence to the commanding general, and by him distributed to the rest of the corps.
The division was roused at 5 o'clock on Wednesday morning; the men took their breakfasts, and before daylight were ready for action. Shortly after dawn I repaired to the headquarters of the left wing for orders. I met the commanding general there, and received orders from him to commence passing Stone's River, immediately in front of the division, by brigades. I rode at once to my division and directed Colonel Harker to commence the movement with his brigade, dispatching an order to General Hascall to follow Colonel Harker, and an order to Colonel Wagner to follow General Hascall. While Colonel Harker was preparing to move, I rode to the front to examine the ground. A long wooded ridge within a few hundred yards from the stream extends along the southern and eastern side of Stone's River. On the crest of this ridge the enemy appeared to be posted in force.
During the morning some firing had been heard on the right, but not to a sufficient extent, however, to indicate that the troops were seriously engaged; but the sudden and fierce roar and rattle of musketry which burst on us at this moment indicated that the enemy had attacked the right wing in heavy force, and soon the arrival of messengers, riding in hot haste, confirmed the indications. I was ordered to stop the movement of crossing the river, and to withdraw two brigades to the rear, for the purpose of re-enforcing the center and right. General Hascall's and Colonel Harker's brigades were withdrawn, and the latter, under an order from the commanding general, moved to the right and rear.
I ordered Colonel Wagner to hold his position in the wood at all hazards, as it was an important point, and, so long as it was held, not only were our left, front, and flanks secured, but the command of the road leading to the rear preserved. The vigorous attack on our right and center extended to the left, and our whole line became seriously engaged. Not only was the extreme left exposed to the attack in front, but it was much harassed by the enemy's artillery posted on the heights on the southern side of Stone's River, but the troops nobly maintained their position, and gallantly repulsed the enemy. Cox's battery was most splendidly served, and did most excellent service in repulsing this attack. A slackening of the enemy's fire at this moment in the attack on our center and left, and other indications that his forces were breaking in the center, rendered the juncture apparently favorable for bringing additional and fresh troops into action.
Hascall's brigade was now brought forward and put in position on the right of Wagner's brigade; but the abatement of the enemy's fire was but the lulling of the storm, soon to burst with greater fury. The attack was renewed on our center and left with redoubled violence. Hascall's brigade had got into position in good season, and aided, in gallant style, in driving back the enemy. Estep's battery, generally associated with Hascall's brigade, had been detached early in the morning and sent to the right and rearward to aid in driving back the enemy from our center and right.
The falling back of the right wing had brought our lines into to a crotchet. This rendered the position of the troops on the extreme left particularly hazardous, for had the enemy succeeded in gaining the turnpike in his attack on the right, the left would have been exposed to an attack in reverse. This danger imposed on me the necessity of keeping a rigid watch to the right, to be prepared to change front in that direction should it become necessary. Again the enemy was seen concentrating large masses of troops in the fields to the front and right, and soon these masses moved forward to the attack. Estep's battery was now moved to the front to join Hascall's brigade. The artillery in the front line, as well as that placed in the rear of the center and left, poured a destructive fire on the advancing foe, but on he came until within small-arm range, when he was repulsed and driven back.
But our thinned ranks and dead and wounded officers told, in unmistakable language, how largely we were suffering in those repeated attacks. Colonel McKee, of the Third Kentucky Volunteers, had been killed, and Colonel Hines and Lieutenant-Colonel Lennard, of the Fifty-seventh Indiana, and Colonel Blake and Lieutenant-Colonel Neff, of the Fortieth Indiana, with others, wounded.
During this attack the Fifteenth Indiana Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, counter-charged one of the enemy's regiments and captured 173 prisoners. The capture was made from the Twentieth Louisiana. While this attack was in progress, I received a message from General Palmer, commanding the Second Division of the left wing, that he was sorely pressed, and desired I would send him a regiment if I could possibly spare one. I sent an order to General Hascall to send a regiment to General Palmer's assistance, if his own situation would warrant it. He dispatched the Fifty-eighth Indiana Volunteers, Colonel G. P. Buell's regiment, to report to General Palmer. The regiment got into position, reserved its fire until the enemy was in close range, and then poured in a withering discharge, from which the foe recoiled in disorder.
Our extreme left next became the object of the enemy's attention. His skirmishers were seen descending the slope on the opposite side of the river, and also working their way down the stream, apparently with the design of gaining our left flank and rear. A few well-directed shots of grape and canister from Cox's battery drove them back. This battery did most useful service in counter-battering the enemy's artillery posted on the heights on the southern side of the river.
The afternoon was now well advanced, but the enemy did not seem disposed to relinquish the design of forcing us from our position. Heavy masses were afresh assembled in front of the center, with a view evidently of renewing the onset, but the well-directed fire of the artillery held them in check, and only a small force came within range of our small-arms, which was readily repulsed.
The enemy concluded his operations against the left, as night approached, by opening on it with his artillery. Cox's and Estep's batteries gallantly and effectually replied, but darkness soon put a conclusion to this artillery duel, and when the night descended and brought a period to the long and bloody contest of this ever-memorable day, it found the First and Second Brigades, Hascall's and Wagner's, occupying, with some slight interchange in the position of particular regiments, the ground on which they had gone into the fight in the morning. Every effort of the enemy to dislodge them had failed; every attack had been gallantly repulsed.
I cannot speak in too high terms of the soldierly bearing and steadfast courage with which the officers and men of these two brigades maintained the battle throughout the day. Their good conduct deserves, and will receive, the highest commendation of their commanders and countrymen. The commanding general of the enemy has borne testimony, in his dispatch, to the gallantry and success of their resistance.
Cox's and Estep's batteries were splendidly served throughout the day, and did the most effective service. They lost heavily in men and horses, and it was necessary for Estep to call on the One hundredth Illinois Volunteers for a detail to aid in working his guns.
I have previously remarked that the Third Brigade, Colonel Harker, was detached early in the day and sent to re-enforce the right. It remained on that part of the field during the entire day. I am unable, consequently, to speak of its services from personal observation; but its extremely heavy list of casualties shows how hotly it was engaged and what valuable service it rendered. I am sure it fully met the expectations I had ever confidently entertained of what would be its bearing in the presence of the foe.
Bradley's Sixth Ohio Battery was associated with this brigade during the day; was skillfully handled, and did most effective service. It lost two of its guns, but they were spiked before they were abandoned. They were subsequently recaptured by the Thirteenth Michigan Volunteers, attached to the brigade.
From all I have learned of the service of the Third Brigade and Bradley's battery, I am sure they deserve equal commendation with the two brigades and batteries which so stoutly held the left.
An official report of events so thrilling as those of the battle of the 31st ultimo, made from personal observation, amid the din and roar of the conflict, and unaided by the reports of the subordinate commanders, must necessarily present but a brief and meager outline of the part enacted by the troops whose services it professes to portray. A report so prepared may, unintentionally on the part of the writer, do injustice to particular troops and officers. From inability of reference to the reports of subordinate commanders, I cannot give any detail of the heavy casualties of the battle of the 31st. I must leave them to be reported, with the subsequent casualties, by my sucessor in command. The absence of such reports prevents me from signalizing by name such regimental and company officers as particularly distinguished themselves; but, where all did so well, it would be difficult, perhaps invidious, to discriminate among them.
To my brigade commanders, Brigadier-General Hascall, commanding First Brigade; Colonel Wagner, Fifteenth Indiana Volunteers, commanding Second Brigade, and Colonel Harker, Sixty-fifth Ohio Volunteers, commanding Third Brigade, my warmest thanks are due for their valuable assistance, their hearty co-operation, and intelligent performance of duty throughout the whole of that trying day. For these services, and for their gallant and manly bearing under the heaviest fire, they richly deserve the highest commendation and the gratitude of their countrymen. Colonels Wagner and Harker have long and ably commanded brigades, and I respectfully submit it would be simply an act of justice to confer on them the actual and legal rank of the command they have so long exercised.
To Surg. W. W. Blair, Fifty-eighth Indiana Volunteers; Capt. M.P. Bestow, assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. J. L. Yaryan, Fifty-eighth Indiana Volunteers, aide-de-camp; Capt. T. R. Palmer, Thirteenth Michigan Volunteers, inspector-general, and Major Walker, Second Indiana Cavalry, volunteer aide- de-camp, my thanks are due and cordially given. Capt. L. D. Myers, division quartermaster; Capt. S. D. Henderson, commissary of subsistence to the division, and First Lieutenant Martin, Twenty-first Ohio, signal officer, but for some time engaged in performing the duties of acting assistant quartermaster, great credit is due for the intelligent and efficient performance of duty in their respective departments. Captain Bruce, Fifty-eighth Indiana Volunteers, ordnance officer of the First Brigade, deserves credit for valuable services rendered in the ordnance department, for the entire division, during the absence of the division ordnance officer.
My division is composed of regiments from the States of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky. To the relatives and personal friends of those who have fallen in defense of their country, I would respectfully offer my sympathy and condolence.
About 10 o'clock Wednesday morning, during one of the heaviest attacks, I was struck by a minie ball on the inner side of the left heel. Fortunately the ball struck obliquely, or the injury would have been much severer. My boot was torn open, the foot lacerated, and a severe contusion inflicted. I did not dismount from my horse until 7 o'clock in the evening.
The coldness of the night, combined with the injury, made my foot so painful and stiff as to render it evident I would not be effective for immediate service. I was ordered by the commanding general of the corps to repair that night, by ambulance, with an escort, to this city. It was with extreme regret I found myself in a condition to make it necessary, on account of my injury, to leave the division I had formed and so long commanded; but the regret was alleviated by the reflection that I had left the division in command of an able and experienced officer, one who had long served with it, knew it well, and in whom it had confidence.
I am still confined to my room, but trust ere long to be able to resume my duties.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
TH. J. WOOD,
Brigadier-General of Volunteers.
Maj. LYNE STARLING,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Left Wing, Fourteenth Army Corps.
DAYTON, OHIO, January 28, 1863.
SIR: In my official report of the operations of my division, from the time it moved from Nashville, on the 26th ultimo, to the date of my relinquishing command of it, I omitted to mention the passage of Stone's River the evening of the 29th ultimo by the Third (Harker's) Brigade. After the division had marched within 2½ miles of Murfreesborough, in obvious view of the enemy's battle array, halted, as explained in my report, and precautionary dispositions commenced for the night, an order was received to continue the advance on Murfreesborough. The order was received just at nightfall, when darkness was beginning to shroud the ground to be passed over with obscurity. The movement was at once commenced, but was subsequently suspended by General Crittenden until further communication could be had with the commanding general of the army. Before, however, the order was suspended, Harker's brigade had crossed Stone's River under a galling fire, driven in the enemy's outposts, and seized a strong position, which it held until nearly 10 o'clock that evening.
The commanding general having approved the suspension of the order, and it not being prudent to leave the brigade in so exposed a position, it was ordered to recross the river. It performed the retrograde movement handsomely, in good order and with perfect success, though confronted by an entire division (Breckinridge's) of the enemy. This fact was learned from a prisoner, captured when the brigade first crossed the river. Bradley's (Sixth Ohio) battery accompanied the brigade in the entire movement.
I desire to repair the omission in my previous report, and request that this communication be made part of it. It will readily be perceived how the omission occurred when it is remembered that my original report was prepared without the aid of the reports of subordinate commanders, and written under the compound embarrassment of inconvenience from my wound and suffering from a quotidian intermittent fever, with which I had been afflicted for ten days previous to the battle of the 31st ultimo.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
TH. J. WOOD,
Brigadier-General of Volunteers.
Maj. LYNE STARLING,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Chief of Staff, Crittenden's Corps.
| Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood's Report
Source: Official Record, Vol XX, Series 1, Part 1
|Brigadier General Hascall's Reports|
|Stones River Battlefield Location Photos|