150 Years Ago This Week: Bloody Murfreesboro

January 1863

In the beginning of January, savage fighting continued in Tennessee in the Battle of Murfreesboro (or Stone’s River) after Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans’ Federal army advanced from Nashville on Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates encamped at Murfreesboro. By attacking first, the Confederates surprised the Federals and drove the Union troops back. After three days of intense winter combat, Gen. Bragg’s men were unable to dislodge the Federals from their positions, and Gen. Bragg ordered the Confederates to withdraw to Shelbyville and Tullahoma, deeper into Tennessee.

Gen. Rosecrans claimed a much-needed victory to offset the bad news from other fronts. Casualties were high: U.S. troops suffered 13,250 killed, wounded, missing or captured; Gen. Bragg’s army lost some 10,200 casualties. On Monday, Jan. 1, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became effective, but still faced resistance in the North. This document made slavery illegal throughout most of the South; the border states, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia and Louisiana were exempted. It was unclear, though, if the Federal armed forces would ever be able to quell the rebellion and enforce the new law.

On Sunday, Jan. 4, in Washington, Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, ordered by President Lincoln, instructed Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant in Tennessee to revoke his highly inflammatory and controversial Gen. Order No. 11 of Dec. 17, 1862, which expelled the Jews from Gen. Grant’s sphere of operations. Three days later, Gen. Grant complied with Gen. Halleck’s instructions.

On the Mississippi River, Maj. Gen. John McClernand, with the Federal Army of the Mississippi, including Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s corps (just back from the unsuccessful attempt to take Vicksburg) began an unauthorized movement up the Arkansas River with 30,000 troops and 50 river transports and gunboats. His objective was the Confederate troops in Arkansas at Ft. Hindman or Arkansas Post. A clash seemed certain.

President Jefferson Davis was back in Richmond on Jan. 5 from his tour of the western theatre of war. That evening, as he was serenaded by bands and a crowd at the Executive Mansion, he told the crowd that the Confederacy was “the last hope for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded – the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty. Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader.”

Near Fredericksburg, Va., Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, his Army of the Potomac still pinned down by Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, wrote to President Lincoln that, despite the opinion of his subordinates, he still thought a crossing of the Rappahannock River should be attempted. Again, he formally tendered his resignation, telling Mr. Lincoln, “I want to relieve you of all embarrassment in my case.”

On Jan. 6, a British steamer was captured by Union blockaders off the coast of Mobile, Ala., one of numerous captures and narrow escapes which marked the daily operations of the Union blockade of Southern coastlines. Fighting in Missouri on Jan. 7 attended the continued Confederate operations of Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke as he neared Springfield, an important Union communications center and supply depot.. The next day, the Confederates attacked the garrison; the fighting was bloody and intense but the Confederates could not dislodge the Federals nor take Springfield and withdrew.

In Arkansas, Gen. McClernand’s unauthorized expedition continued toward the Confederate fortifications at Arkansas Post. On Friday, Jan. 9, Gen. Halleck wrote to Maj. Gen. Burnside at Falmouth; he supported Gen. Burnside’s plan to attack again across the Rappahannock River, saying “our first object was not Richmond, but the defeat or scattering of Lee’s army.” President Davis wrote to Gen. Lee, asking him to call upon the commander of U.S. forces at Fredericksburg and “prevent savage atrocities which are threatened. Failing this, you should tell the Unionists that measures will be taken by retaliation to repress the indulgence of such brutal passions.”

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.