Stones River
National Battlefield
Park Photo
NPS photo

I can never forget . .. that about the end of last year and the beginning of this, you gave us a hard-earned victory.

—President Abraham Lincoln to Major General William Rosecrans, August 1863

Rivers and Railroads

Lincoln was worried as 1862 came to a close. Confederate attacks in Maryland and Kentucky had shaken Northern confidence. Generals McClellan and Buell wasted victories at Antietam and Perryville by refusing to advance on the Confederates. The Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect on January 1, but military success to enforce it seemed impossible. The Union war effort was stalled.

Lincoln needed a victory soon, and he pushed his generals to strike a blow. In December Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Army of the Potomac met with disaster at Fredericksburg, Virginia. General Grant's Army of the Tennessee proved unable to crack defenses north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lincoln's only hope lay with Gen. William S. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland.

On December 26, 1862, Rosecrans led his army out of Nashville to seek the victory Lincoln demanded. Their target: Murfreesboro and Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. From December 31, 1862, through January 2, 1863, the armies ravaged each other. Each side lost nearly one-third of its men. The Confederates limped away from the battlefield. Rosecrans marched his battered Union army into Murfreesboro and declared victory.

Union forces held Murfreesboro and much of Middle Tennessee in an iron grip. Soon the earthen walls of Fortress Rosecrans protecting a vast supply base loomed over the town. Murfreesboro became a launching point for campaigns that slashed through the heart of the South and dealt a deathblow to the Confederacy.

The success at Stones River bolstered Northern spirits. Victory, and the Emancipation Proclamation, crushed Confederate hopes for international assistance and shifted the war's aims from restoring the Union to remaking the nation.

A relieved and grateful Lincoln thanked Rosecrans and his men for a "hard-earned victory which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."

The Plan to Win—Union Strategy in the West: Control Railroads, Rivers and Ports

Union strategy was three-pronged: gain control of the Mississippi River, drive a wedge through the Confederacy along rivers and railroads across Tennessee and Georgia, and blockade major ports.

Victory at Stones River opened the way into the Confederate heartland. Union advances to Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Savannah crippled the South's ability to supply its armies and sapped civilian support for the war.

Key Commanders

Braxton Bragg, Confederate Commander, was "a puzzling mixture of competence and ineptness." He gained distinction in the US-Mexican War. Bragg stayed in command despite his subordinates' criticism of his withdrawal from Murfreesboro. He defeated Rosecrans at Chickamauga but was routed at Chattanooga, a loss that cost him his command.

William Rosecrans, Union Commander, left the Army to work as an architect, mining engineer, and inventor. He rejoined at the outbreak of the war. Rosecrans was popular with his troops, who called him Old Rosy. His "impulsive excitable personality" served him well at Murfreesboro but caused problems that led to his defeat at Chickamauga.

Highlights of the Civil War Era 1860-1877

Lincoln elected; seven states secede, Fort Sumter, SC, attacked; Civil War begins.
Nov. 1860-Apr. 1861

Confederate victory at First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), VA; shows war won't end> July 1861

Union armies take Fort Donelson and state capital, Nashville, TN.> 1862

Union victory at Antietam, MD, war's bloodiest single day; 23,000> September 1862

Battle of Stones River, Emancipation Proclamation issued; US Colored Troops> Dec. 1862-Jan. 1863

Union victories at Gettysburg, PA, and Vicksburg, MS; New York City draft> July 1863

Battles of Chickamauga, GA, and Chattanooga, TN; Gettysburg> Sept-Nov. 1863

Union armies capture and burn Atlanta, GA; Sherman begins March to the> May-Nov 1864

Lincoln reelected; Union victories at Battles of Franklin and Nashville, TN. Nov-Dec 1864

Lee surrenders at Appomattox, VA; Lincoln> April 1865

13th Amendment ends slavery; 14th defines citizenship, protects civil rights; 15th allows male citizens the right to vote regardless of race or> Dec. 1865-Feb. 1870

US Army finally ends occupation of> 1877

We were building fires and making coffee, for such permission had been granted just before daylight... Suddenly a succession of long lines of Gray were swarming over the Confederate breastworks and sweeping toward us...

—Sergeant Major Widney, 34th Illinois, USA, 1862

December 31, 1862

Confederates struck first, assaulting the Union right wing at dawn. By 10 am they had driven the Union through the cedar woods to the Wilkinson Pike. Only stubborn fighting in the Slaughter Pen prevented a Union rout.

Rosecrans rushed his troops into position along the Nashville Pike and the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Ordered to "contest every inch of ground," they beat back the Confederates, inflicting heavy casualties. Bragg tried to revive his offensive by striking the Union left in the Round Forest. Soldiers from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio stood their ground and left hundreds of Confederates lying dead or wounded on Hell's Half Acre.

Wounded began filling field hospitals. A soldier from Ohio saw surgeons amputate limbs "then throw the quivering flesh into a pile."

The battle ended at dusk, but few felt like celebrating New Year's Eve. On January 1 both armies rested and prepared for the next onslaught.

There was a hill... on the left flank of the Federal army, which, could it be taken and held by Confederate forces, would necessitate the evacuation of the Federal position.

—Major Pickett, Asst. Inspector General, CSA 1863

January 2, 1863

Bragg, confident that Rosecrans would withdraw, was surprised to find Union troops on a hill east of Stones River, threatening his right flank. Bragg ordered 4,500 men to seize the high ground and drive the enemy across the river.

The assault began in late afternoon, the Confederates gaining the crest. Union soldiers retreated down the back slope to a river crossing at McFadden's Ford. There pursuing Confederates encountered a deadly surprise. Captain Mendenhall, supporting Union troops across the river, had 57 cannon aimed at the Confederates' approach.

Union gunners fired as enemy soldiers came into range, wounding or killing 1,800 in minutes. Confederates withdrew as Union troops crossed the river to reclaim the heights. Mendenhall's artillery turned a dashing charge into a deadly retreat.

The Battle of Stones River cost 13,249 Union casualties and 10,266 Confederate. Bragg left Murfreesboro and Rosecrans claimed victory, boosting northern morale. President Lincoln thanked Rosecrans and his soldiers for their "skill, endurance, and dauntless courage."

Life in Murfreesboro and on the Battlefield

Murfreesboro—Tennessee's state capital from 1818 to 1826—was a proud town. Early legislators included Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and future Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Polk. By the 1850s Murfreesboro boasted schools, stores, churches, a railroad, nearby estates, and over 2,000 white residents. Many owned enslaved workers.

Spirits were high in December 1862. Local soldiers reunited with their families. Confederate President Jefferson Davis visited Murfreesboro with the hopeful, but incorrect, news that the Union army was starving in Nashville. Residents and soldiers celebrated the holidays with parties and dances, not realizing that the hard hand of war was about to strike their town.

Union forces occupied Murfreesboro after the battle. Soldiers tore down houses for lumber, destroyed churches, desecrated cemeteries, and confiscated supplies. Slaves flocked to Union camps to seize their freedom, leaving hundreds of farms untended. The Union occupation lasted beyond the war's end to 1877.

The noise of battle was terrible, Southern boys advancing through a cotton field stuffed their ears with the white fibers as ear protection.

... cannon fire, shells bursting, men yelling, horses neighing, and wounded screaming made an awful crescendo.

—Oscar Pinney, 5th Wisconsin Light Artillery, USA, 1863

In the Midst of Cotton

Murfreesboro's rich agricultural district was the breadbasket of Middle Tennessee. Turnpikes and a railroad branching out from town carried goods to markets. Family farms worked by whites and enslaved blacks produced hogs, horses, corn, wheat, and cotton.

Women Do Their Part

During the war women worked in factories, hospitals, and schools. They struggled to keep their families together while husbands and sons fought and died. In Murfreesboro women formed a soldier's relief society to support the hospital at Union University.

Women took food, clothing, medicine, and other supplies to the front lines. They improved cleanliness in the camps and hospitals, saving thousands of lives.

The war separated families, many for the first time. Traveling photographers provided quick, inexpensive tintype photos as mementos. This woman holds a photo of a Confederate soldier; both unidentified.

Touring Stones River National Battlefield

Stones River National Battlefield preserves a small part of the original battlefield. You can reach points of interest on the self-guiding auto tour. Numbered markers identify stops. Events are explained along short trails and on exhibits. Please use caution when crossing highways.

Go out the back door of the visitor center. Look across the field where Union and Confederate soldiers fought. Imagine opposing armies totaling 81,000 men battling to control Middle Tennessee in one of the Civil War's bloodiest encounters.

Union troops made their final stand here, defending the Nashville Pike and railroad—both vital lines of supply. Today's scene differs little from 1862. The railroad and pike are in the same place, and fields are now planted with native grasses between cedar thickets.

Eve of Battle On December 30, after Rosecrans's Union army arrived at Murfreesboro, troops occupied this area along McFadden's Lane. Soldiers struggled to sleep in the freezing mud without campfires, knowing a major battle was imminent. For thousands, that night would be their last.

Slaughter Pen Union soldiers fiercely defended their position here. Confederates launched attack after failed attack, causing heavy losses to both sides. Bodies piled up in the rocks, and blood soaked the ground. Union soldiers retreated, but the delay gave their army time to form a new line along the Nashville Pike.

Cotton Field On December 31 Union troops established a defensive line along the Nashville Pike. Pursuing Confederates entering the cotton field were greeted by cannon fire. A Texan recalled, "the artillery opened up on us . . . and it seemed that the heavens and the earth were coming together." At dark both sides dug in for the night. Rosecrans's army had been pushed back three miles, but the Confederates had failed to capture the pike.

Defending Nashville Pike Thousands of retreating Union troops burst from the cedars in front of these cannon, followed by Confederates. The Chicago Board of Trade Battery sprang to action as the Pioneer Brigade poured volley after volley into the gray ranks. Canister charges forced the Confederates back to the cedars.

Round Forest This was the only Union position that held throughout the first day. Artillery and infantry halted the first attack at 10 am and beat back three more as the day wore on. By dusk the fields of Hell's Half Acre were covered with Confederate dead and wounded.

McFadden Farm Union soldiers hid behind stone and rail breastworks as men fled across the river chased by Confederates. Union cannon firing from above McFadden's Ford halted the Confederates with shot, shell, and canister, killing and wounding over 1,800 men in less than an hour. This was the battle's final action.

A Fortress Like No Other

Fortress Rosecrans

In 1863 Rosecrans's army and hundreds of formerly enslaved men built a depot and fort at Murfreesboro to distribute weapons, food, and supplies. Fortress Rosecrans had three miles of earthworks enclosing storehouses, powder magazines, and four interior redoubts (small forts), including Redoubt Brannan.

The 200-acre fort could shelter 15,000 troops, and its stores could supply an army of 65,000 men for months. Its strategic location allowed the Union army to attack the Confederate rail center in Chattanooga and split the Confederacy along transportation routes in Tennessee. This fort was the largest enclosed earthen fortification built during the war.

Black Men in Blue Uniforms

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button... and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States. Frederick Douglass

By war's end United States Colored Troops made up 10 percent of the Union Army. Over 20,000 formerly enslaved men from Tennessee chose to fight for their freedom. Several units formed or served at Murfreesboro.

Keeping Memories Alive

Hazen Brigade Monument
Colonel William Hazen's men were the only Union soldiers who didn't retreat during the fighting on December 31. They repelled attacks so horrible that soldiers named the place Hell's Half Acre. Over 400 of Hazen's troops fell in the battle, and the survivors didn't want the world to forget. Hazen's men built this monument in 1863. It is one of the oldest Civil War memorials.

Stones River National Cemetery
After the battle most Union and Confederate dead were quickly buried on the field. In 1865 soldiers of the 111th US Colored Infantry began the grim job of reburying Union dead in the new Stones River National Cemetery. Each mound in the 1866 photo is the grave of a newly buried soldier. Over 6,100 Union soldiers are buried here, 2,500 of them unknown.

Evergreen Cemetery
About 2,000 Confederates are buried in Confederate Circle at Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro. For many, first buried on the battlefield, this was their third resting place. In 1867 their remains were moved to a cemetery south of Murfreesboro. In the 1890s they were moved again, this time to Evergreen Cemetery.

park map

topo map
(click for larger maps)

The Community of Cemetery
After the war, 111th US Colored Infantry soldiers, including William Holland and other formerly enslaved people, started a new life in the area around the national cemetery. They built homes, a school, churches, and a store. Their community, named Cemetery, endured until 1927 when creation of the national battlefield park uprooted many residents, beginning a period of decline.

Touring by Rail
Battle sites became tourist attractions after the war. Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway excursions to Stones River brought tourists—and much needed dollars—to Murfreesboro. Signs along the tracks helped passengers imagine the bloody actions. In 1890 the railway published Southern Battlefields with battle accounts and maps showing rail lines near battlefields.

Artillery Monument
Artillery Monument marks the battle's final attack on January 2. Here 57 Union cannon fired upon the approaching Confederates, killing or wounding 1,800 men in a short time. In 1906 the railway built this 34-foot-tall monument so that passengers could see it from their train windows—and offered special fares for Confederate veterans.

Planning Your Visit

Visitor Center The visitor center has information, museum exhibits, a film, and bookstore. It is open daily except Thanksgiving Day and December 25. For details about activities, special events, and hours, contact park staff or visit

There's a Lot to See Here You can see part of Fortress Rosecrans in Old Fort Park on Highway 96. Redoubt Brannan is on West College Street. Paved trails lead to the earthworks. Stones River and Lytle Creek greenways offer places for activities and the chance to see important battle sites. Don't miss the Hazen Brigade and Artillery monuments, the National Cemetery (Union), or Evergreen Cemetery (Confederate). Ask at the visitor center about historic sites and places to see in Murfreesboro.

Accessibility We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For more information go to the visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

Safety and Regulations Please be careful. Remember, your safety is your responsibility. • Stay on marked trails. Watch for exposed roots, uneven ground, poison ivy, ticks, and slippery rocks. • Pets must be attended and leashed. • Do not climb or sit on cannon. • Relic hunting and climbing on earthworks are strictly prohibited. • All natural and cultural features are protected by federal law. • For firearms and other regulations check the park website or ask a ranger.

Emergencies call 911

Source: NPS Brochure (2015)


Stones River National Battlefield — April 22, 1960
Stones River National Military Park — March 3, 1927

For More Information
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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


Administrative History, Stones River National Battlefield (Angela Sirna and Rebecca Conard, November 2016)

Cavalry Operations — Battle of Stones River (Edwin C. Bearss, April 1959)

Cemetery Community: A Brief History (Stones River) (Rebecca Conard, February 2016)

Cultural Landscape Report: Stones River National Battlefield 85% Draft (Quinn Evans, September 2021)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Curtain Wall No. 2 and Lunettes, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: General Bragg's Headquarters Site, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: General Rosecrans's Headquarters Site, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Hazen Brigade Monument, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: McFadden Farm Unit, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Nashville Pike Unit, Stones River National Battlefield (2007)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Redoubt Brannan, Stones River National Battlefield (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Stones River National Battlefield Landscape (1994)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Stones River National Cemetery (1998)

Cultural Landscapes Report: Stones River National Battlefield (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and John Milner Associates, Inc., June 2007)

Cultural Landscapes Report: Stones River National Cemetery (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., John Milner Associates, Inc. and Liz Sargent HLA, November 2015)

Cumberland Piedmont Network Ozone and Foliar Injury Report — Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP, Mammoth Cave NP and Stones River NB: Annual Report 2010 >NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/CUPN/NRDS-2011/219 (Johnathan Jernigan, Bobby C. Carson and Teresa Leibfreid, December 2011)

Development Concept Plan for Improvements to the Self-guding Tour Routes, Environmental Assessment, Stones River National Battlefield (September 2005)

Fence and Ground Cover Map (Edwin C. Bearss, December 1961)

Final General Management Plan/Development Concept Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, Stones River National Battlefield (November 1998)

Final Report of Bird Inventory: Stones River National Battlefield, 2003-2005 (Stephen J. Stedman and Barbara H. Stedman, c2006)

Fire Management Plan, Stones River National Battlefield (2003)

Fish Inventory at Stones River National Battlefield (Dennis Mullen, September 2006)

Foundation Document, Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee (November 2014)

Foundation Document Overview, Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee (November 2014)

General Management Plan, Development Concept Plans, Environmental Impact Statement: Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee Draft (1997)

General Management Plan, Development Concept Plan, Environmental Impact Statement, Stones River National Battlefield (Final, November 1998)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Stones River National Battlefield NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/GRD/NRR-2012/566 (September 2012)

Historic Resource Study: Stones River National Battlefield (Sean M. Styles and Miranda Fraley, February 2004)

Impacts of Visitor Spending on the Local Economy: Stones River National Battlefield, 2013 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR-2014/812 (Philip S. Cook, May 2014)

Inventory of Amphibians and Reptiles of Stones River National Battlefield (Brian T. Miller, Jeremy Spiess and Matthew L. Niemiller, November 2005)

Junior Ranger, Stones River National Battlefield (Date Unknown)

Living History Program Guidelines, Stones River National Battlefield (2012)

Long-Range Interpretive Plan, Stones River National Battlefield (November 2015)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

Stones River National Military Park (Ron A. Gibbs, September 22, 1975)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Stones River National Battlefield NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/STRI/NRR-2016/1141 (Henrique Momm, Zada Law, Siti Nur Hidayati, Jeffrey Walck, Kim Sadler, Mark Abolins, Lydia Simpson and Jeremy Aber, February 2016)

Personal recollections and experiences concerning the Battle of Stone River (Milo S. Hascall, 1889)

Preservation and Management Plan / Environmental Assessment: Remnants of Fortress Rosecrans: Lunettes Palmer and Thomas, Old Fort Park, Murfreesboro, Tennessee (December 1991)

Report on the battle of Murfreesboro Tenn. 1863) (Major Gen. W.S. Rosecrans, 1863)

Rousseau's Division at Stones River (Daniel A. Brown, October 1984)

Shining Light on Civil War Battlefield Preservation and Interpretation: From the "Dark Ages" to the Present at Stones River National Battlefield (Angela Sirna, extract from The George Wright Forum, Vol. 34 No. 3, 2017, ©George Wright Society, all rights reserved)

State of the Park Report, Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee State of the Park Series No. 41 (2017)

Stones River, The Turning-Point of the Civil War (Wilson J. Vance, 1914)

The Battle of Hartsville and Morgan's Second Kentucky Raid (Edwin C. Bears, January 1960)

The History of Fort Rosecrans (Edwin C. Bears, December 1960)

The Legacy of Stones River Symposiums:

Flyers/Posters: 200220042005200720102012

Summaries of Speakers' Presentations: 200420052007

The Rebels Concentrate at Stones River (Edwin C. Bears, March 1960)

The Union Artillery and Breckinridge's Attack (Edwin C. Bears, July 1959)

Vascular Plant Community Classification for Stones River National Battlefield (Carl Nordman, ©NatureServe, October 2004)

Visitor Study: Fall 2002, Stones River National Battlefield Visitor Services Project Report 140 (Bret H. Meldrum and Margaret Littlejohn, July 2003)

Visitor Study: Fall 2002 (Appendix), Stones River National Battlefield Visitor Services Project Report 140 (Bret H. Meldrum and Margaret Littlejohn, July 2003)

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


Stones River National Battlefield

Last Updated: 03-May-2022