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- The Army of the Cumberland - 20/43 -


the woods to the open field. Here he was re-enforced, and charging the rebels routed them, driving them back to their lines. On the 1st Zahm's brigade was sent to Lavergne to protect the wagon trains being sent to Nashville. He had several skirmishes with Wheeler, but finally secured the safety of the train and repulsed every attack of the rebel cavalry.

On the 2d and 3d of January the cavalry was engaged in watching the flanks of our position. On the 4th Stanley discovered that the enemy had fled. Collecting his cavalry he moved to the fords of Stone's River, in readiness to cross, and on the 5th, preceding Thomas, they entered Murfreesboro. Zahm's command went out on the Shelbyville pike six miles, meeting with no opposition. Stanley with the rest of his cavalry marched down the Manchester pike, encountering the enemy's cavalry strongly posted at Lytle's Creek in heavy force. Fighting here until sundown, the rebels were driven from one cedar-brake to another until Spear's brigade came up, when they were driven from their last stand in disorder. The cavalry returned and camped at Lytle's Creek to recuperate, after nine days of active campaigning. During this time the saddles were only taken off the horses to groom them, and were immediately replaced.

Bragg in his retreat left in his hospitals all his wounded in Murfreesboro. By this some 2,500 prisoners fell into our hands to be cared for.

Thus, after seven days' battle, the Army of the Cumberland rested in Murfreesboro having achieved the object of the winter campaign. The final battle for Kentucky had been fought by Bragg and lost. Nashville, too, was now beyond his hopes, and for the great victory of the 31st, which he claimed, Bragg had but little to show.

In the heavy skirmishing prior to the 31st, success attended every movement of the Federal army. The heavy fighting of the early part of the 31st was all in Bragg's favor up to the time his advance was checked by our centre and the new line on the right. From that time to the occupation of Murfreesboro every movement resulted in favor of the army under Rosecrans, and the retreat of Bragg after the defeat of Breckinridge gave the halo of victory to our army as the result of the campaign. In his retreat Bragg admitted that he had gained nothing but a victory barren of results, at the cost of him of 10,125 killed, wounded, and missing, 9,000 of whom were killed and wounded, over twenty per cent of his command. Bragg's field return of December 10, 1862, shows an effective total of 51,036, composed of 39,304 infantry, 10,070 cavalry, and 1,662 artillery. By reason of Morgan and Forrest being absent on their raids, Bragg's cavalry was reduced to 5,638. This gave an effective force of 46,604, which was the strength of the army with which Bragg fought the battle.

Rosecrans's force on the battle-field was: Infantry, 37,977; artillery, 2,223; cavalry, 3,200; total, 43,400. His loss was: killed, 1,553; wounded, 7,245. The enemy captured about 2,800 men. Making his total loss about twenty-five per cent. of his force in action. Rosecrans lost twenty-eight pieces of artillery and a large portion of his wagon train. Bragg lost three pieces of artillery.

Why did Rosecrans's plan of battle miscarry so fatally and Bragg's come so near absolute success? The fault was not the plan as conceived by the former. The near success of the latter proved a vindication of that. The originator of the plan was not at fault personally, for at no time during the battle did he falter or prove unequal to his command. When called on to give up his plan of the offensive and assume the defensive to save his army, the wonderful power of Rosecrans as a general over troops was never displayed to a greater advantage. With the blood from a slight wound on his cheek, in a light blue army overcoat, through the mud and rain of the battle-field, he rode along the line inspiring his troops with the confidence he felt as to the final result. To Rosecrans there was but one outcome to the battle at Stone's River, and that was victory. When some of his general officers advised retreat to Nashville, not for an instant did he falter in his determination to "fight or die right here." The demoralization of one of his division commanders was so great, that on Thursday afternoon, when the rebels were massing on Rosecrans's right, this general, commanding a division, announced to his brigade commanders that in the event of the anticipated assault resulting disastrously, he proposed to take his division and cut his way through to Nashville. To his troops--the greater part of whom had never seen Rosecrans under the enemy's fire--when on the return from the cedars, they formed anew in front of the Nashville pike--seeing the Commanding General of the army riding fearlessly on the extreme front, in the heat of battle, cool and collected, giving orders and encouraging his men--his mere presence was an inspiration. His personal bravery was never more fully shown than when he rode down to the "Round Forest" with his staff, under fire, at the time Garesche was killed by a shell that only missed the chief by a few inches. In this ride Rosecrans had three mounted orderlies shot dead while following him. When the entire extent of McCook's disaster in its crushing force was revealed to him, he felt the full burden of his responsibility, and rising to the demands of the hour he was superb. Dashing from one point to another, quick to discern danger and ready to meet it, shrinking from no personal exposure, dispatching his staff on the gallop, hurrying troops into position, massing the artillery and forming his new lines on grounds of his own choosing, confident of ultimate success, and showing his troops that he had all confidence in them, it was worth months of ordinary life-time to have been with Rosecrans when by his own unconquered spirit he plucked victory from defeat and glory from disaster.

But if the plan was not at fault, what was? Rosecrans started from Nashville for an offensive campaign, and before his plan of battle had met the test, he was compelled to abandon it, and assume the defensive. Where was the fault and who was to blame? The fault was McCook's defective line, and in part Rosecrans was responsible for it. He ought never to have trusted the formation of a line of battle so important to the safety of his whole army to McCook alone, and he certainly knew this. Rosecrans gave his personal attention to the left, but he should at least have ordered the change his quick eye had detected as necessary in McCook's line, and not trusted to chance and McCook's ability to withstand the attack with his faulty line. No one who saw him at Stone's River the 31st of December will say aught against the personal bravery and courage of McCook under fire. All that he could do to aid in repairing the great disaster of that day he did to the best of his ability. He stayed with Davis's division under fire as long as it held together, and then gave personal directions to Sheridan's troops, in the gallant fight they made against overwhelming odds. As Rosecrans himself says in his official report of McCook, "a tried, faithful, and loyal soldier, who bravely breasted the battle at Shiloh and Perryville, and as bravely on the bloody field of Stone's River." But there is something more than mere physical bravery required in a general officer in command of as large a body of troops as a corps d'armee. As an instructor at West Point, McCook maintained a high rank. As a brigade and division commander under Buell, there was none his superior in the care and attention he gave his troops on the march, in camp, or on the drill-ground. His division at Shiloh as it marched to the front on the second day did him full credit, and in his handling of it on that field he did credit to it and to himself. What McCook lacked was the ability to handle large bodies of troops independently of a superior officer to give him commands. This was his experience at Perryville, and it was repeated at Stone's River. With the known results of Perryville, McCook ought never to have been placed in command of the "right wing." Rosecrans at Stone's River, of necessity was on the left, and being there he should have had a general in command of the right with greater military capacity than McCook. Rosecrans's confidence was so slight in his commander of the left that he felt his own presence was needed there in the movement of the troops in that part of the plan of battle.

Rosecrans in his report repeatedly speaks of "the faulty line of McCook's formation on the right." But he knew this on the 30th, and told McCook that it was improperly placed. McCook did not think so. Rosecrans told him that it faced too much to the east and not enough to the south, that it was too weak and long, and was liable to be flanked. Knowing all this and knowing McCook's pride of opinion, for McCook told him he "did not see how he could make a better line," or a "better disposition of my troops," it was the plain duty of Rosecrans to reform the line, to conform to what it should be in his judgment. The order to McCook to build camp fires for a mile beyond his right was another factor that brought about the combination that broke the line on the right. Rosecrans was correct in his conception of this, in order to mislead Bragg and cause him to strengthen his left at the expense of his right. Had Bragg awaited Rosecrans's attack, this building of fires was correct--if it took troops away from the right to reinforce the left; but this it did not do. Bragg moved McCown and Cleburne's divisions from his right to his left on Tuesday, but after this Bragg brought none of his forces across the river until Wednesday afternoon. The building of the fires caused Bragg to prolong his lines, lengthening them to the extent that before Hardee struck Kirk's and Willich's brigades, he thought our line extended a division front to their right. Finding this not to be the case, he whirled his left with all the force of double numbers on to the right of McCook. The rebels then swinging around found themselves in the rear of Johnson's division before they struck any troops on their front. Of course it is mere guess-work to say just what the outcome might have been of any other formation of the line, but it is safe to say that had the left instead of the centre of Hardee struck the right of McCook, there would have been a better chance for the troops on the extreme right of his line to have shown the spirit that was in them, before they were overpowered by mere superiority of numbers.

Then there were some minor mistakes that aided in a great degree the bringing about of that mishap which imperiled the safety of the entire army. Even granting that Johnson was not in any way responsible for the position occupied by his troops on the front line of battle, still it is hard to find any excuse or even explanation for a general officer in command of a division who, knowing the enemy were in force on his front, and intending to attack his command at daylight the next morning, would place his headquarters a mile and a half in the rear. This too, when he knew that the post of honor and responsibility for the safety of the entire army had been committed to his keeping. What then shall be said for him when it appears by the report of the commanding officer of his reserve brigade that when it returned from the support of a cavalry reconnoissance, the general commanding the division ordered this brigade, on the eve of the battle, to take position in the woods, "near the headquarters of the division," instead of in supporting distance of the front line? He could not have thought that the division headquarters needed the support of the reserve more than the line of battle. It is safe to say that had the line of Johnson's division been properly formed, so as to give the most strength to the command--short and well centered, with a good brigade like that of Baldwin's in reserve, with all officers in their places--these troops would have given a very different account of themselves when the blow struck the right. There was no commanding officer in the front with Johnson's division, of greater command than a regiment--save


The Army of the Cumberland - 20/43

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