Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Long December


Music defines my life.  I identify certain times in my life by the songs that were popular then.  People often joke about their life having a soundtrack, but mine really does.  One song that stand out in my mind to this day is "Long December" by the Counting Crows.  If you are not familiar with it, you may listen to it here.  I first heard it on the radio while I was driving home to attend my Grandmother's funeral in February 1997.  As those of you who listen to the radio are aware, popular songs tend to get played over and over again.  I became well versed, pardon the pun, in the song in a matter of a few weeks and could even hear it in my sleep.

So what do the Counting Crows have to do with the Civil War.  I imagine that if the Crows wrote this song during the War, the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee might very well have sang it following the Battle of Stones River which took place from Dec. 31st through January 2nd 1862-3.  This battle, called Murfreesboro in the South, doesn't get the air time that other battles do despite the fact that the two sides suffered a combine 24,000 casualties (including captured/missing).  It all started when Davis visited Bragg's army in mid December and said that things looked so good that Bragg could spare some of his infantry and ordered him to transfer Stevenson's Infantry Division to Vicksburg.  The Confederates felt that loss of 7,500 men during the ensuing battle.  Meanwhile in Nashville, the new commander of the Army of the Cumberland William Roscrans read about this in the newspapers.  Lincoln put pressure on Rosecrans to move against Bragg and so when he found out that Bragg's forces had been weakened by the transfer, Rosecrans set out from Nashville on Dec. 26th.

The night before the battle, the two armies camped within 700 yards of one another.  In a strange parody of the deadly contest to come, both armies waged a battle of the bands.  Confederate bands played "Dixie" and the "Bonnie Blue Flag" while the Federal bands played "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia".  Afterwards, one of the bands (I'm not sure which side) played "Home Sweet Home" and soldiers on both sides came together in song.  Voices drifted across the lines.  For many of the men, this was the last night of their lives.

The next morning, the Confederates attacked the Federal right flank, catching them by surprise.  Though initially successful, any battle in which Bragg had overall command was doomed to failure!  Confederate troops drove the Federals back on both flanks but this had the effect of pushing the them back into a tighter and more defensible position.  The two armies did little fighting on New Years Day, preferring to rest troops and tend to the wounded.  When the battle resumed on January 2nd, the Confederates suffered heavy casualties.  At the end of the day, Bragg realized that Rosecrans wasn't going anywhere and he made preparations to withdraw his army to Tullahoma, Tennessee.

The Battle of Stones River ended any Confederate threat to Kentucky or Middle Tennessee (at least until Hood's invasion in 1864).  This battle had one of the highest percentages of casualties to soldiers engaged of any battle of the war, yet it is not one that is "popular" such as a Shiloh or a Gettysburg.  That is a shame.  For those who would like further reading on this battle, I can recommend No Better Place to Die by Peter Cozzens.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who, like the song says, is hoping this year will be better than the last.

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