We’re at the start of a long road trip to see a large number of national park units. Most may be considered “minor” units—battlefields, historic sites, national monuments—but that’s what I’m after. So first day, Stones River National Battlefield, just outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
This 700-acre site commemorates a two to three day Civil War battle – Dec. 31, 1862 to Jan 2, 1863. After the first day of fighting, the Union and Confederates were too exhausted to fight and spend New Year’s Day collecting and burying their dead.
As the museum says, soldiers joined up for adventure, to defend their nation, protect their homes, defend or end slavery or to earn money. Soldiers were hungry and bored most of the time; then every once in a while, they were terrified and exhilarated by the battle. The Civil War took advantage of the new technology of the day, such as photography, telegraphy, railroad, and mass production of weapons.
It was one of the bloodiest battles with over 30% casualty rate. Tactically, the outcome of the battle was a draw but strategically, a win for the Union because Bragg, the Confederate commander retreated. Well, retreating was dumb. The Union forces, led by William Rosencrans, then marched his Union army into Murfreesboro and declared victory.
On Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln freed the slaves and this immediate victory added muscle to the Emancipation Proclamation. Murfreesboro was now occupied by Union troops. Stones River Battlefield was preserved in 1927, under the department of the Army.
So what is there to do here?
A new visitor center houses a museum, which discusses conditions before, during and after the battle. A small theater shows a short movie. But the best interpretation is on a 2.2-mile walk through fields and a rocky area called “slaughter pen.” See the photo above. A spirited ranger ended his talk with
“The South wasn’t going to win the war, no matter how brutal or bloody the battles.”
Then we walked across the street to the national cemetery, where over 6,000 Union soldiers are buried. The Confederates were interred in another cemetery.
A little further on, the Hazen Brigade Monument commemorates Colonel’s Hazen’s who didn’t retreat during the first day’s fight. The most amazing part was that the survivors of that battle build the monument in 1863, while the Civil War was still raging.
Tomorrow, another Civil War site.