G. C Kniffin.

Army of the Cumberland and the battle of Stone's River.. online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryG. C KniffinArmy of the Cumberland and the battle of Stone's River.. → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E 474
Copy 1

Military ©rder of ff?e Isoyal lse|ion


Onifed States.




o^rmy of the dumber-land and the Battle of
Stone's I^iver.

prepared by companion


U. S. Volunteers,


■ 11

Armg of % (Ewmforlatto atto tlj* 2Jatth> of
j^iotu? jRioer.

The Army of the Ohio, after crowding into the space of six
weeks more hard marching and fighting than fell to the lot of
any other army in the United States during the summer of
1862, was, on the last of October, encamped in the vicinity of
Bowling Green, Kentucky. General Bragg and Kirby Smith,
turning Buell's left flank, had invaded Kentucky, gained the
rear of Buell, threatened his base at Louisville, and but for the
vis inertia which always seemed to seize upon the Confederates
when in sight of complete victory, would have captured Louis-
ville. The battle of Perry ville resulting in the hasty exit of
the combined armies of Bragg and Smith through Cumberland
Gap into East Tennessee, the deliberate sweep of Buell's col-
umns in their rear, the halt at Crab Orchard, and the return
march towards Nashville are part of the events of an earlier
chapter in the history of the rebellion. The occupation of
East Tennessee by the Lmion Army had from the commence-
ment of hostilities been an object dear to the great heart of
President Lincoln. He had hoped for its accomplishment
under General Sherman. It had been included in the instruc-
tions to General Buell, but eighteen months had passed and
the Confederate flag still waved in triumph from the spire of
the court-house at Knoxville. The retreat of the Confederate
Army into East Tennessee in what was reported as a routed
and disorganized condition had seemed like a favorable op-
portunity to carry out the long-cherished design of the Gov-

ernment. The movement of large armies across the country
upon a map in the War Office, although apparently practicable,
bore so little relation to actual campaigning as to have already
caused the decapitation of more than one general.

The positive refusal of General Buell to march 60,000 men
into a sterile and hostile country across a range of mountains
in pursuit of an army of equal strength with his own, when by
simply turning southward he could meet it around the western
spur of the same range, although it has since been upheld by
every military authority, caused his prompt removal from
command of the army he had organized and led to victory.
The army had been slow to believe in the incapacity of Gen-
eral Buell, and had recognized the wisdom of his change of
front from Cumberland Gap towards Nashville, but there were
causes for dissatisfaction, which, in the absence of knowledge
as to the difficulties under which he labored were attributed to
him. A full knowledge of all the circumstances would have
transferred them to the War Department. Major-General
William S. Rosecrans, the newly-appointed commander of the
Army of the Cumberland, graduated at West Point July 1,
1842, as brevet second lieutenant corps of engineers. He
resigned from the army April 1, 1854, and entered civil life at
Cincinnati as a civil engineer and architect. His energy and
capability for large undertakings, coupled with an inherent
capacity for command, caused him to be selected as superin-
tendent of a cannel coal company in Virginia and president of
the Coal River Navigation Company.

The discovery of coal oil at this period at once attracted his at-
tention, and he had embarked in its manufacture when the
tocsin of war called him into the field. His first duty was as
volunteer aid to General McClellan, where his military expe-
rience rendered him very efficient in the organization of troops.

He became commander of Camp Chase, colonel on the staff,
chief engineer of the State of Ohio, and colonel Twenty-third
Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanded later by Rutherford B.
Hayes and Stanley Matthews, and was appointed brigadier-
general U. S. A., May 16, 1861. After conducting the cam-
paigns in West Virginia to a successful issue he was ordered
South and assigned to command of a division in the Army of
the Mississippi under General Pope. He participated credit-
ably in the siege of Corinth, and after its evacuation, and the
transfer of General Pope to the eastern army assumed com-
mand of the Army of the Mississippi and District of Corinth.
His heroic defense of that post and pursuit of Van Dorn's de-
feated army following closely upon his military record in
West Virginia again attracted the attention of the President
and pointed him out as eminently fitted to succeed General
Buell. General Rosecrans ordered to proceed to Cincinnati
did not specify the command to which he was to be assigned.
His commission as major-general, dated September 16th, was
of much later date than the commissions of Buell, Thomas,
McCook, and Crittenden. General Thomas ranked him five
months — McCook and Crittenden two months. On opening
his orders at Cincinnati he found an autograph letter from
General Halleck directing him to proceed to Louisville and
relieve General Buell in command of the Army of the Ohio.
The usual method has always been to issue simultaneous or-
ders to both officers, thus affording time to the officer to be
relieved in which to arrange the details of his office, but Hal-
leck was a law unto himself, and in relieving an army officer
usually did it in a way to render it equivalent to dismissal from
the service. Rosecrans afterward referred to his visit to Buell's
headquarters as more like that of a constable bearing a writ
for the ejectment of a tenant than as a general on his way to

relieve a brother officer in command of an army. The diffi-
culty of rank was bridged over by antedating Rosecrans' com-
mission to March 16th. In a subsequent interview with Gen-
eral Thomas, when that splendid soldier expressed the pleasure
it would give him to serve under a general who had given such
satisfactory evidence of fitness to command, but felt doubts as
to his right to do so on account of the disparity of their rank,
General Rosecrans frankly revealed the means by which his
commission had been made to date from the period of his
operations in Western Virginia, and that as it now stood, Gen-
eral Thomas need have no fears of compromising his dignity
as a United States officer. The explanation was entirely sat-
isfactory, and no question of the superior rank of the com-
manding general was ever raised. After a rest and visit to
his family of only sixty hours, General Rosecrans proceeded
to Louisville, and assumed command of the army on the 28th
of October, and on the 30th joined it at Bowling Green.

Here the first interview took place between the General and
his corps commanders. Major-General George H. Thomas,
strong, grave, benignant, majestic in deportment, had now
been with the army a year ; revered by the entire army, loved
by his old division, he was a man to be trusted. Major-Gen-
eral Thomas L. Crittenden, a son of Senator Critten-
den, of Kentucky, bold, impetuous, and of knightly
grace of manner, possessed of that cheerful courage which
finds its best expression on the battle field, the idol of his old
division, whose gallant conduct at Shiloh had won for its
brave commander promotion to the rank of major-general.
Major-General Alexander McD. McCook, the antipodes of
Thomas, of never-failing good humor and undoubted courage,
apt to neglect proper precautions for the safety of his com-
mand, but ever ready to assume all the responsibility of failure,

over-confident, generous, yielding in his disposition, yet en-
joying the confidence of the men whose heroism at Shiloh had
won the eulogies of Sherman, added a second star upon his
broad shoulders, and saved him from reproach after the re-
pulse upon the field at Perryville. In physique the three corps
commanders were as unlike as in personal character. Thomas
had a massive, full-rounded, erect and powerful figure, six
feet in stature. His features heavy but well carved, with
a strong, combative nose, his upper lip and square jaws and
chin covered with a growth of sandy beard slightly silvered,
bushy brows set like a canopy over clear blue eyes, a broad,
white forehead, and curly golden hair in luxuriant profusion,
covering a large, well- formed head. Out of fifty- four years
of life he had worn the uniform of a United States officer
twenty-two years, and in all that time he had borne himself
as an officer and a gentleman. Altogether a soldier, simple
and unaffected, honest, truthful, patient, obedient to orders
and requiring obedience, he never swerved an iota from the
path of duty; acting upon well-matured opinions, he was a
friend to be loved and an enemy to be feared.

Crittenden was tall, slender, and straight as an arrow. His
clean-cut features were handsomely modeled, his eyes dark and
full of expression, were full of mirth when there was no cause
for anger — then they shone with a dangerous light — a thin
black beard worn full and pointed at the end, long flowing
locks of raven hair falling nearly to his shoulders, beneath a
black felt hat turned up at the sides, booted and spurred, with
sword dangling at his side, and mounted upon his blooded
horse, he was indeed a knight "without fear and without re-
proach." A long experience in the diplomatic service and in
refined society had imparted a high degree of grace and polish
of manner, which united to fair intellectual attainments and

a magnetic smile which greeted all, from the simplest private
soldier to the highest officer in his command, won the admira-
tion and boundless affection of all who knew him.

McCook, low in stature, was inclined to be fleshy, a full
face innocent of beard, with the exception of a slight mus-
tache, a broad low forehead, regular features easily wrought
into a smile, light hair and a well-shaped head gave him a
boyish appearance. Closer observation revealed the presence
of more character. There was in the steadiness of gaze, the
massive jaws, and the respectful demeanor of his subordinate
officers, reason to believe that the youthful major-general had
fairly won the twin stars that shone upon his shoulder. He
had graduated from West Point with the brevet rank of second
lieutenant, had served in several campaigns against the Indians,
been instructor in infantry tactics at West Point, where the
breaking out of the war found him at thirty years of age.
Ordered to Columbus, Ohio, as mustering and disbursing offi-
cer, he was appointed colonel of the First Ohio Infantry, which
he led in the first battle of Bull Run, receiving commendation
where so many failed to deserve it. Reward came in the form
of a commission as brigadier-general, with orders to report
for duty to General Buell. The heroic conduct of his division
at Shiloh added another star, and, but for the censure of Gen-
eral Buell for bringing on the battle of Perryville without or-
ders, there was no reason why he should not be entrusted with
the command to which his rank entitled him.

Notwithstanding General Rosecrans was a stranger to the
army, to the command of which he had been assigned, his name
had long been familiar to both officers and men, for war litera-
ture had sounded his praises. They had followed him through
his campaigns in Western Virginia, had heard the sharp vol-
leys of his musketry on their left at the siege of Corinth, and

more recently the country had been electrified by his brilliant
victory over Van Dorn. The contrast between Generals Bueft
and Rosecrans was not more marked in personal appearance
than in methods. The former was cold, impassive, and polite ;
the latter boisterous, warm-hearted, and brusque. The frigid
dignity which hedged the person of Buell, enclosing depart-
ment headquarters as within a wall of ice, behind which silence
reigned, and through the guarded portals of which none ven-
tured unbidden, was swept away by General Rosecrans, who
transformed its solemn precincts into a busy workhouse, where
chiefs of staff departments, surrounded by an army of clerks,
wrought at their respective vocations, placing the new com-
mander en rapport with the most minute details of his army.
Most of his staff accompanied him from the Army of the Mis-
sissippi. They had proved themselves capable and trustworthy.
and the general naturally desired the presence of old friends
in his military family. But there was at least one officer of
the old department staff with whom the entire army parted with
sincere regret — Colonel James B. Fry, Buell's adjutant-general
and chief of staff. The kindness of manner, the inexhaustible
patience and good humor and never-failing knowledge of mili-
tary affairs which this officer possessed had gone far to soften
the asperities and dispel the chill which hung about depart-
ment headquarters.

Brigadier-General D. S. Stanley reported for duty as chief
of cavalry early in December, and at once assumed command.

General Stanley graduated at West Point in the class of
1852. and was assigned to the Second Dragoons with t!*e rank
of second lieutenant. After three years' >ervice on the plain-
he was transferred to the First Cavalry as first lieutenant, then
under command of Colonel E. V. Sumner. Joe Johns*on waj
lieutenant-colonel, and John Sedgwick and William H. Emor\


majors. In 1857 he accompanied Colonel Sumner on an ex-
pedition against the Cheyenne Indians, in which he was en-
gaged in a sharp fight on Solomon's Fork of the Kansas River,
in which the Indians were defeated. In 1858 he was engaged
in the Utah Expedition, and in the same year he crossed the
plains to the northern boundary of Texas. In a sharp and de-
cisive battle with the Comanches Lieutenant Stanley displayed
such courage and skill in handling his command as to receive
the complimentary orders of General Scott. The opening of
the rebellion found him stationed at Fort Scott, Arkansas,
where, in March, he received his commission as captain in the
Fourth Cavalry. His command was included in the surrender
made by General Twiggs, but the heart of the brave officer
beat loyal to the flag of his country, and he resolved upon a
march northward to Kansas City, Mo. Uniting his force with
that at Fort Smith, the column moved through the Indian
country. A Confederate force sent against them was, on
the eighth of May, captured and paroled. On the fifteenth of
June they occupied Kansas City, and marched at once upon
Independence, where Captain Stanley was fired upon while
carrying a flag of truce. He joined General Lyon in his ex-
pedition against Springfield, which was occupied July twelfth.
He participated in the various engagements in Missouri in the
summer of 1861, displaying in an eminent degree the dash and
conspicuous courage which so distinguished him in his subse-
quent career, and in September he reported with his regiment
to General Fremont at St. Louis. He marched against Price
from Syracuse, and in November moved against Springfield.
Captain Stanley was appointed brigadier-general in November,
1861, and in March, 1862, was assigned to the command of
the Second division of Pope's army in the expedition against
New Madrid and Island No. 10, the Fort Pillow Expedition,


and in the siege of Corinth. Here his acquaintance with Gen-
eral Rosecrans began, ripening into sincere attachment under
the fire of Price's guns at Iuka, and the yet fiercer blaze of
Van Dorn's hard-fighting battalions at Corinth in October.
His conspicuous gallantry on this occasion added a second star
to the insignia of his rank and caused him to be selected by
his old commander in arms to organize and lead the cavalry
of his new command. In person General Stanley was tall and
erect. A handsome face and long, flowing beard, slightly sil-
vered, engaging in manner and full of enthusiasm for the suc-
cess of the cause in which he held his own life as nothing in
comparison, he soon impressed his personality upon the cavalry
of the Army of the Cumberland and made it a reliable branch
of the service.

December, 1862, was a busy month. The year was fast
drawing to a close, and both Union and Confederate generals
had little to report save plots and counter-plots. On the part of
each there was little that was encouraging. The early spring
had found Middle and West Tennessee in the possession of
the former. Two large armies occupied all prominent points,
and the beaten Confederates encamped in Mississippi were con-
fronted by an army too powerful for them to attack.

Early autumn witnessed the enforced retirement of Buell's
army to the line of the Ohio River, while the Confederates
reaped the harvests in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.

The tenth of October found Grant embarked upon his march
southward to Vicksburg, driving Pemberton before him. Sher-
man arranging for co-operation by water, the Army of the
Cumberland encamped near Nashville, with Bragg's twice de-
feated army in its front, and Hindman's beaten troops flying
before the victorious divisions of Herron and Blunt from the
battle field of prairie Grove.


East Tennessee being left comparatively free from molesta-
tion by the abandonment of pursuit through Cumberland Gap,
General Kirby Smith was at liberty to reinforce points more
strongly threatened. He had no sooner succeeded in collecting
his stragglers and reorganizing his army, reinforcing it by
several new regiments, than, in compliance with orders from
the Confederate War Department, he dispatched Stevenson's
division to the relief of Pemberton at Grenada, and McCown,
with his division, to report to Bragg at Murfreesboro.

Orders for a forward movement were issued by Gen-
eral Rosecrans on Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of
December, and on Christmas morning the camps were
alive with preparation. The day was spent in writ-
ing to loved ones far away among the snow-covered hills
of the great Northwest. Tattoo found men discussing the
chances of coming battle. Here and there was a soldier giving
the last finishing touch to the gleaming gun-barrel. The sur-
geon, in his tent, sat before a table on which in glittering dis-
play lay the implements of his craft. The long, keen knife,
the saw, the probe, were each in turn subjected to close inspec-
tion and carefully adjusted in the case. Field officers paid a
last visit to their faithful chargers and exhorted grooms to feed
early and not to forget to bring along an extra feed lest per-
chance the following night would find the troops far in ad-
vance of the wagons. Quartermasters, that hard- worked and
little-appreciated class of officers, toiling through the long night
with their loaded wagon trains getting into position for an
orderly march ; commissaries, upon whose vigilance all de-
pended, carrying out orders for three days' rations in haver-
sacks and five days' more in wagons. A busy day was fol-
lowed by a busy night. The clatter of horses hoofs upon the
turnpike roads leading out of Nashville to the encampments


sounded all through the night. Now a solitary orderly gal-
loped down from division headquarters bearing a message to
a brigade commander. Soon a group of officers rode gaily
by from a late carousal at the St. Cloud ; then came a corps
commander with staff and escort from conference with the
chief, his last injunction ringing in his ears, "We move to-
morrow, gentlemen. We shall begin to skirmish probably as
soon as we pass the outposts. Press them hard. Drive them
out of their nests. Make them fight or run. Strike hard and
fast ; give them no rest. Fight them ! fight them ! fight them !
I say," as the uplifted right hand emphasized each sentence
upon the palm of the left hand. Thomas received the orders
with a grim smile of approval ; McCook's sharp eyes twinkled
with enjoyment ; Crittenden straightened his trim figure, and
his eyes shone as he stalked out of the room, followed by his
aides, as if in haste to begin his part of the programme. There
was glorious assurance in the manly stride, the determined
look, and in the triple armor with which he is clad who hath
his quarrel just; and his must have been a dull ear, indeed,
who did not note, in the merry jest and tuneful song that
floated along the ranks, the augury of victory.

At the head of their respective columns rode Thomas, ac-
companied by his staff officers, with the brave and accom-
plished Major George E. Flynt at their head. There was Yon
Schroeder, Mack, Mackey, and the rest. McCook, with Lang-
don, Xodine, Thruston, Campbell, and Williams. Crittenden,
followed by Starling, Loder, Mendenhall, Buford, John Mc-
Cook, Knox, and the writer of this chronicle. Brave hearts
beat high that day. On the right, far in advance of the in-
fantry, rode Stanley, with trusty Sinclair by his side, while his
cavalry swept on out the Nolensville pike, driving Wheeler's
pickets before them.


Sturdy John Kennett, with a brigade of cavalry at his heels,
advanced upon the broad turnpike road straight toward the
enemy, nor stopped until nightfall, notwithstanding constant
skirmishing, when, on reaching an eminence that overlooked
La Vergne, a large force was encountered. The plain below
was dotted with groups of cavalry. Suddenly a puff of smoke
and a shell well aimed along the line of the road, carried death
in its track. Another and another followed in quick succes-
sion, clearing the road as fast as men's legs could carry them.
The head of Palmer's infantry column came up and halted at
the side of the road. General Crittenden and his staff rode
forward to watch the artillery duel now in progress — for
Newell's battery had unlimbered at the first shot and was
firing rapidly. Mr. Robert H. Crittenden (a brother of the
general), and the writer, his boon companion, riding side by
side, advanced beyond their companions in full view of the
artillerists, presenting a conspicuous mark. Quick as light-
ning a shell came hissing through the air and passed in the
narrow space of a yard between their horses. It is needless
to add that, their curiosity being gratified, they lost no time
in seeking the friendly cover of a log-house by the roadside.
Newell planted his shots from two three-inch Rodmans with
such dexterity as to silence the enemy's battery of four guns.
Colonel Enyart, with the First Kentucky and the Thirty-first
Indiana Infantry, supported on the right by Colonel W. C.
Whitaker with the Sixth Kentucky and the Thirty-first In-
diana Infantry, supported on the right by Colonel W. C. Whita-
ker with the Sixth Kentucky and Ninth Indiana, preceded by
Colonel Murray with the Third Kentucky Cavalry, now moved
to the left and advanced through the cedars towards Stony
Creek, where they were met by a force sent to intercept them.
The order to charge with the bayonet was followed by a swift


rush across the creek, the routed Confederates flying before
the gleaming steel, and the army bivouacked for the night be-
fore La Vergne.

After five days' fighting into position the army formed line
of battle in front of Murfreesboro. Summoning his corps
commanders the General promulgated his plan of battle. Gen-
eral McCook was to occupy the most advantageous position, re-
fusing his right as much as practicable and necessary to secure
it, to receive the attack of the enemy, or, if that did not come,
to attack sufficiently to hold all the forces in his front. Gen-
erals Negley and Palmer to open with skirmishing, and engage
the enemy's center and left as far as the river. Crittenden to
cross Van Cleve's division at the lower ford, covered and sup-
ported by Morgan's pioneer corps, 1,700 strong, and to advance
on Breckinridge. Wood's division to cross by brigades at the
upper ford, and moving on Van Cleve's right, to carry every-
thing before them to Murfreesboro. This movement would, it
was supposed, dislodge Breckenridge, and gaining the high
ground east of Stones River, Wood's batteries could obtain an
enfilading fire upon the heavy body of troops massed in front
of Negley and Palmer. The center and left, using Negley's
right as a pivote, were to swing around through Murfreesboro
and take the force confronting McCook in rear, driving it
into the country towards Salem. The successful execution of
General Rosecrans' design depended not more upon the spirit
and gallantry of the assaulting column than upon the courage
and obstinacy with which the position held by the Right Wing
was maintained. Having explained this fact to General Mc-


Online LibraryG. C KniffinArmy of the Cumberland and the battle of Stone's River.. → online text (page 1 of 2)