Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Terribly Deadly Fight - 150 Years Ago

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River, or as the Confederates called it, the Battle of Murfreesboro, which occurred in Middle Tennessee, December 31-January 2, 1862, I thought I'd share a couple of short passages. One account is from the night before the battle, December 30, the other is from a Union soldier that was wounded on the first day of battle. These soldiers' vivid impression could have come from a soldier on either side, as on these days both Northerner and Southerner fought like furies in this terribly deadly fight.

"The thirtieth of December was a dreary day. 'Rain had fallen almost constantly,' reported A.M. Crary of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry, 'and soldiers were saturated with water. Toward night the wind swept coldly from the north, and . . . no bivouac fires were allowed. . . .' A soldier in the Nineteenth Ohio Infantry said that some of the men, "having lost their blankets and knapsacks suffered terribly from the cold.'

Just as the men were preparing to get what sleep they could, one of the strange events of the war took place. In the stillness of the winter night, the military bands of both armies began to play their favorite tunes, and the music became something of a contest. 'Yankee Doodle' was answered by 'Dixie,' and "The Bonnie Blue Flag brought out a resounding version of 'Hail Columbia.' Ultimately, a Federal band struck of the familiar 'Home Sweet Home,' and a member of the Nineteenth Tennessee Infantry wrote: 'Immediately a Confederate band caught up the strain, then one after another until all the bands of each army were playing 'Home Sweet Home.' And after our bands ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away on the cool frosty air on the Federal side.' It was a strange prelude to one of the bloodiest battles of the war."
From Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee by James Lee McDonough 

Ira Owen of the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry had been shot in the leg during the fight on December 31. He was carried to a field hospital and bore witness to the day's slaughter:
"It was impossible to supply all the wounded with tents. Rails were hauled and thrown in piles . . . and large fires built. The wounded were brought and lain by these fires. Men were wounded in every conceivable way, some with their arms shot off, some wounded in the body, some in the head. It was heart-rending to hear to hear their cries and groans. One poor fellow who was near me was wounded in the head. He grew delirious during the night, and would very frequently call his mother. . . . The poor fellow died before morning with no mother near, to soothe him in his dying moments, or wipe the cold sweat from his brow. I saw the surgeons amputate limbs, then throw the quivering flesh into a pile. Every once in a while a man would stretch himself out and die. Next morning rows of men were laid out side by side for the soldiers' burial."
From No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River by Peter Cozzens

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