On this day in 1863, the Battle of Stones River concludes when the Union troops of William Rosecrans defeat Confederates under Braxton Bragg at Murfeesboro, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. The battle was a crucial engagement in the contest for central Tennessee, and provided a Union victory during a bleak period for the North.
The end of 1862 found Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, 30 miles north of Bragg's troops. Rosecrans had assumed command of the army only in October, with the understanding that he would attack Bragg and drive the Confederates from central Tennessee. This move was delayed throughout the fall by John Morgan's cavalry, who harassed the Federals and threatened their supply line. Finally, the day after Christmas, Rosecrans moved his force south to meet Bragg.
The armies collided along Stones River on New Year's Eve. Facing a larger Union force (42,000 Union soldiers to 35,000 Confederates), Bragg launched an attack in bitterly cold morning fog against the Yankees' right flank. The attack was initially successful in driving the Union back, but the Yankees did not break. A day of heavy fighting brought significant casualties, and the suffering was compounded by the frigid weather. The Confederates came close to winning, but were not quite able to turn the Union flank against Stones River. The new year dawned the next day with each army still in the field and ready for another fight.
The strike came on January 2, and the Confederates lost the battle. Bragg attacked against the advice of his generals and lost the confidence of his army. The Union troops repelled the assault, and Bragg was forced back to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The North was in control of central Tennessee, and the Union victory provided a much-needed morale boost in the aftermath of the Yankees' loss at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862. Stones River was a hard-fought, bloody engagement, with some of the highest casualty rates of the war. The Confederates lost 33 percent of their force, while 31 percent of the Union force was either killed, wounded, or missing. Combined casualties totaled nearly 25,000 men. Lincoln later wrote to Rosecrans, "...you gave us a hard victory which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."