December 24, 1862 (Wednesday)
The month of December was not going well for William Rosecrans, commanding the Union Army of the Cumberland. For what seemed like ages, his force of 80,000 or so sat in and around Nashville, Tennessee, waiting. At Murfreesboro, thirty miles southeast, Confederates under Braxton Bragg, 30,000-strong, were doing much the same.
On Rosecrans’ left and rear, Rebel cavalry under the infamous and feared John Hunt Morgan had been raiding for the past couple of weeks. They sacked supply depots, captured more Federals than they had men, cut telegraph lines, tore up track and generally did what Rebel cavalry did so well.
Also on his left came rumors of a mysterious gray column of 10,000 poised to swoop down to further sever Rosecrans’ communications. The Federals sent their own columns to suss it out, but nothing came of it. These were only rumors.
On Rosecrans’ right flank, there was Nathan Bedford Forrest, like Morgan, plying his infamous trade. Farther away, General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee appeared to be sliding back north from their position at Holly Springs, Mississippi after their supply depot was annihilated by even more Rebel cavalry under Earl Van Dorn.
It must have seemed to Rosencrans that he was completely surrounded. True, there were 30,000 additional troops left in Kentucky to prevent the raid that Morgan was currently riding. This was the real job of the cavalry – keeping as many troops as possible from flooding to the front.
On this Christmas Eve, the rumors were that Morgan would descend upon Gallatin, Tennessee with 10,000 cavaliers. Held by two divisions from the Army of the Cumberland, Gallatin was thirty miles northeast of Nashville. The Federals waited all day, but nothing happened.
This was because John Hunt Morgan and his 2,000 (not 10,000 as previously rumored) were raiding Glasgow, Kentucky, seventy miles north. Morgan would remain in that area causing little damage, but forcing Rosecrans to send even more troops to stop him. He whittled off four more divisions just in case.
At Nashville, another rumor was taking shape. The Army of the Cumberland was about to move out. Rosecrans had sensed an opportunity – a silver lining in the gray pillow that was placed over his sleeping face by the Confederates. The raids by Forrest and Morgan had wrought a bit of destruction, but they had also taken the Rebel cavalry out of supporting distance of Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, at Murfreesboro.
More good news was that the mysterious gray column hovering like a specter on the Rosecrans’ left flank turned out to be Kirby Smith’s army of 10,000. It was confirmed that they were instead much father away and in winter quarters. Even better, Rosecrans believed that Bragg himself had nestled his army into winter quarters. Apparently, nobody expected the Federal Army of the Cumberland to budge till spring thaw.
As the plan congealed in the mind of William Rosecrans, he decided to wait just two more days. Rations and supplies were in very short order and he expected a large wagon train to show up as a sort of Christmas miracle. The next day, he would call together his commanders for a council of war and plan his attack upon the Confederates under Braxton Bragg at Murfreesboro.
((Sources: No Better Place to Die by Peter Cozzens; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel; Stones River by James Lee McDonough.))