November 16, 1862 (Sunday)
General William Rosecrans, recently placed in command of his army, had moved the main body of his force to Nashville, Tennessee. Previously, it had been led by Don Carlos Buell, but after an incredibly bad showing in Kentucky, Buell was ousted and Rosecrans, snatched from General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee near Corinth, Mississippi, was given the job. Soon, it would be known as the Army of the Cumberland, but for now, it was simply the XIV Corps.
Rosecrans had been tasked by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck with two difficult jobs: “First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee.” So far, Rosecrans had managed to accomplish about half of the first job.
“The enemy” of which Halleck spoke was General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee, which had invaded Kentucky in October, only to return to Eastern Tennessee, having little to show for their efforts. Rosecrans could hardly take credit for driving Bragg from Kentucky, as Bragg had started his retreat while Buell was still in charge. In fact, that was one of the reasons why Buell was no longer in charge.
For awhile, it seemed to Rosecrans, who had now moved his headquarters from Louisville, Kentucky to Nashville, had in fact driven the enemy from Middle Tennessee. As November crawled by, however, it was becoming clearer and clearer that Bragg’s Confederate Army was no longer far away in Eastern Tennessee, but fifty or so miles southeast of Nashville.
The first to arrive was John C. Breckinridge and his division-sized Army of Middle Tennessee. They had been at Murfreesboro, twenty-five miles southeast of Nashville, since late October. Bragg had quickly traveled to Richmond to confer with President Jefferson Davis and, upon his return, began following his Army of Tennessee west from Chattanooga. On November 14, he established his headquarters at Tullahoma, seventy or so miles southeast of Nashville.
Bragg’s army was an unhappy one. With desertions and sick, it was down to nearly half-strength. Even with the addition of Breckinridge’s force, as well as another under Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, which had come up from Bridgeport, Alabama, he could muster only 38,000. In contrast, Rosecrans commanded over 60,000 Federals.
General Rosecrans seems to have become aware of Bragg’s presence on this date and wrote to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to let him know that the enemy was once again in Middle Tennessee.
“It seems pretty certain that four divisions of Bragg’s army have come to Middle Tennessee,” relayed Rosecrans. “They designed to take Nashville. They began winter quarters at Tullahoma, and are now at that place and McMinnville, with Breckinridge at Murfreesborough.”
Bragg’s plans were simple. Actually, they were so simple that they basically did not exist. He realized that though he wanted Nashville, there was no way that he would be able to take it. Instead, he decided to establish a strong defensive position and somehow or another coax Rosecrans to assail it.
That was the problem, however. Where would such a defensive position be found? Scouts had reported that very little good ground existed between Stones River and Murfreesboro. But as Bragg surveyed Tullahomah, he realized that there wasn’t much there, either. Besides, it was so far away from the enemy in Nashville.
Contrary to what Rosecrans was thinking, Bragg’s troops weren’t building a winter camp. Not yet, anyway. Bragg still wasn’t sure where he wanted to be. With Breckinridge fifty miles up the line, he spread his own troops out, from McMinnville to Shelbyville and various other places. The pantries and barns had been stripped clean the previous season by Buell’s Federals, and so there was little in the way of sustenance for Bragg’s army. Their supply line into Middle Tennessee ran along a 100-mile long, rickety rail line from Chattanooga. This wasn’t the most auspicious start to a new campaign, but Bragg would try to make it work.
Aside from the decision to show up in Middle Tennessee without so much as a plan, Bragg made another curious decision. Newly raised cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest had been patrolling and attacking out of Murfreesboro for quite some time. It seemed only ideal that Bragg would keep Forrest’s men, hand-picked by their leader, around to act as his cavalry.
Instead, he swapped out Forrest’s command for the troopers under Joseph Wheeler, who had to come the 100 miles from Chattanooga. He needed regular cavalry to accomplish the regular cavalry duties required by the army. He needed Forrest’s irregulars for things like raids, and would soon receive orders to strike at Rosecrans’ supply lines.
Meanwhile, Rosecrans was preparing for winter, having no dreams at all of marching out to Stones River to ask Bragg just what he thought he was doing there.1
- Sources: Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; No Better Place to Die by Peter Cozzens; The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman by Brian Steel Wills; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 20, Part 2, p58-59, 403. [↩]