Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Battle of Stones River: A Driving Tour

Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River
Matt Spruill & Lee Spruill

In the library of Civil War literature the Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863, is one of the most under represented large scale battles of the war. One can easily count the number of volumes dedicated solely to the battle on the fingers of one hand.

Having moved to Murfreesboro nearly five years ago I am a regular visitor to Stones River National Battlefield, but I have never been able to make much sense of the battle by my battlefield visits, even when using the park brochure’s guided tour. I suppose my confusion about the battle stems from the fact that the park’s current 600 acres represents only about 15% of the total area where fighting took place.

Matt & Lee Spruill have come to my rescue with their book, Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River. With twenty-one tour stops (as opposed to the National Park’s six) the Spruill’s lead you on a driving tour over the ground, both outside and inside of the park, where the three day battle between the Confederate Army of the Tennessee with General Braxton Bragg at its head, and the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General William S. Rosecrans.

The evening of December 30, 1862 found both armies facing each other northwest of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in opposing lines of battle, stretching diagonally from the town’s west to its north, and each preparing to attack the other’s right. Which ever side to launch their attack first would have the advantage. At sunrise, Bragg and his Confederate Army was the first to strike.

The Spruill’s follow the battle chronologically as it progressed, following the action as the Confederate troops rolled up the Federal right and sending Union regiments, one after another, fleeing to the rear, to the Federal’s stand at The Round Forrest, and finally to the fighting at McFadden’s Ford on January 2nd. At each stop we are provided narration by the authors, giving the reader an overview of what happened, and then we are presented with a balanced view of the action from both sides with first hand accounts from the soldiers who were there, usually from official reports, but some times from diaries or letters.

The book contains 41 maps, which vary widely in scale from theater maps down to maps on the regimental level, depending on the situation or topic being covered. One only reading the book may find the maps a little cumbersome as north is not always oriented to the top of the page. This book was intended to be a tour guide, and the maps are presented to the reader at each of the stops as the reader would see the landscape that is in front of him. Therefore if you are directed to look to the southeast, southeast would be oriented to the top of the page. Not only do the historic roads appear in the maps but also the roads of the present and are clearly marked, for example: “Medical Center Pkwy (today).”

Not only have Matt & Lee Spruill added a book to the small library shelf dedicated to the battle, they have also given me a greater understanding of it. I can now point to a spot of land just south of the present day Medical Center Parkway and say with confidence that is where my great great grandfather, Walter E. Partridge (Company F, 36th Illinois Infantry) was during the battle.

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