Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: The Battle of Stones River

By Larry J. Daniel

The three day battle between the Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General William S. Rosecrans, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee between December 31, 1862 & January 2, 1863 was largely overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863.  Though the casualty figures equaled those at Shiloh in Western Tennessee nearly ten months earlier, it has since been largely overlooked and all but forgotten.

Larry J. Daniel, the author or coauthor of six books on the American Civil War, including Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 and Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War, has resurrected The Battle of Stones River from the shadows of the distant and murky past, and rightfully restored it to its place in the narrative of the American Civil War.

With only approximately 15% of the battlefield currently preserved within the boundaries of Stones River National Battlefield, nearly no monumentation, and large scale development encroaching over the ground on which the battle was fought, it is difficult to grasp the events that unfolded there during those three savage and bloody days when visiting the battlefield.  Matt and Lee Spruill’s guidebook, “Winter Lightning: A Guide to the Battle of Stones River,” can help guide you around Murfreesboro and the battlefield, and the military action that took place there, but it lacks a cohesive narrative that Daniel’s “Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of the Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland” possesses.

Drawing comparisons of the battle’s commanding generals, Rosecrans and Bragg, Daniel states they both made errors.  Both essentially had the same battle plan, to attack the other’s right wing. Bragg struck first and placed Rosecrans on the defensive.  While contrasting their leadership styles, he points out Rosecrans was personable and liked by the Union soldiers he commanded, whereas the cesspool of contempt against Bragg by the officers who served under him contributed to the dysfunction of the Confederate command structure and ultimately the loss of the battle.

Given Burnside’s bloody defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia and Sherman’s loss at Chickasaw Bayou, the tactical draw at Murfreesboro was turned into a strategic victory for the North once Bragg and his troops retreat from the field giving the Union and its cause a boost to its morale.

“Battle of Stones River” is written in an easily read linear narrative.  Daniel’s book is well researched and more than a handful of scholars who study the battle contributed to the book, including Gib Buckland, Jim Lewis and John George, staff members at the Stones River National Battlefield, Lanny K. Smith, author of a two volume micro-study of the battle, and Dan Masters, the latter of which scoured dozens of Illinois and Ohio newspapers for soldier’s letters of the battle.  Daniel’s only flaw is that he leans a little too heavily on Master’s research and thus his narrative tilts more favorably in coverage to the Union.

ISBN 978-0807145166, Louisiana State University Press, © 2012, Hardcover, 336 pages, Maps, Photographs, Illustrations, Appendices, End Notes, Bibliography & Index. $38.50.  To purchase this book click HERE.

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