By Craig L Barry
After being silenced for most of the past eighteen months due to COVID-19 restrictions, Federal Artillery Historic Weapon Demonstrations return to Stones River June 12-13, 2021. How significant was the role of Federal artillery to the outcome of this important US Civil War battle? The Battle of Stones River
By Craig L Barry
After being silenced for most of the past eighteen months due to COVID-19 restrictions, Federal Artillery Historic Weapon Demonstrations return to Stones River June 12-13, 2021. How significant was the role of Federal artillery to the outcome of this important US Civil War battle?
The Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863) is known as an important moment for for the use of Federal artillery. Most accounts focus on the 57 guns overlooking McFadden’s Ford on January 2, 1863 and General Breckinridge’s ill-fated charge. Breckinridge reluctantly launched the attack with all five of his brigades at 4 PM. The Confederate charge quickly took the hill and continued pushing towards the McFadden’s Ford area of Stones River. As the Confederates attacked, they came within range of fifty-seven Union cannon massed on the west side of the Stones River. General Crittenden watched as his artillery began firing. He later recalled, “Van Cleve’s Division of my command was retiring down the opposite slope, before overwhelming numbers of the enemy, when the guns … opened upon the swarming enemy. The very forest seemed to fall … and not a Confederate reached the river.”
However, while less often discussed there was another critical moment where Federal artillery played an important role in the outcome of the battle. This involved a cluster of Federal guns which anchored the end of the Federal line on New Year’s Eve 1862, near the Nashville Pike. About noon on December 31, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee swept forward to attack the final line of William S. Rosecrans’ Federal Army of the Cumberland where Artillery stood on the hill near where the Stones River National Cemetery is now located, facing a cedar forest a half mile away.
Author and Editor of The Emerging Civil War column, Christopher Kolakowski, noted in his book “Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns: This Army Does Not Retreat” (History Press 2011) the following about of the action on December 31, 1862. “Meanwhile Bragg’s men came up against the final Federal line. In the center, Stewart’s command reached the edge of the cedars. Federal artillery opened on the Confederate infantry. “For some time we were exposed to a terrific fire of shell, canister, and spherical case,” recalled Stewart. “Having no battery of our own, and being nearly out of ammunition, it was impossible to proceed farther.” Stewart’s requests for artillery support were unavailing, and he had to be content with skirmishing in the field. “It is believed that if a battery could have been put in position . . . the enemy could have been shelled from their shelter in the ravine [roadbed] and behind the railroad, and the day might thus have been more completely ours,” lamented an officer of the 19th Tennessee.
General Ector remembered the effect of the Union shelling: “The cedars were falling and being trimmed by bombs, canister, and iron hail, which seemed to fill the air.” The Confederate infantry pushed to within 50 yards of the pike, but the Federal artillery fire proved too much. “After ten or twelve minutes of the severest fighting it has ever been my lot to witness, we were compelled to fall back with very heavy loss,” said Colonel Harper. McCown’s men rallied and took up a defensive position in the woods. Rosecrans’ center was safe.”
The Historic Weapons artillery programs will be offered at 10 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM & 4 PM on Saturday June 12th. Sunday June 13th will feature programs at 10 AM, 12 PM and 2 PM. Reservations are
required, and group sizes for each program will be limited to ensure the ability of visitors and staff to follow public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Reservation period will end at 7 AM of each program day. Please contact Stones River National Battlefield to make your reservations at 615-893-9501