The comfort of warming chilled fingers and toes and drinking a grateful cup of hot coffee outweighed for the moment any consideration of danger…. As all was so quiet, not a shot having been fired, I…walked out until the enemy’s breastworks were in view and there, sure enough,…a succession of long lines of Gray were swarming over the Confederate breastworks and sweeping towards us but not yet within gun shot range.
[Later journal entry about the battle]
Our only salvation was to lie flat as possible, for the air seethed with the ‘Zip’ of bullets…. It reminded me of the passage of a swarm of bees. Bullets plowed little furrows around us, throwing up grass and soil into our faces or over our bodies, and others struck with a dull ‘thud’ into some poor unfortunate soul.
Sergeant Major Widney, 34th Illinois Regiment, Battle of Stones River
Battle of Stones River
Fought on December 31, 1862 through January 2, 1863, the Battle of Stones River was literally fought in two years. (Not too many Civil War battles have that claim to fame.) After the Confederate defeat at Perryville, Southern General Braxton Bragg resupplied his army around Murfreesboro while the Union army – commanded by General William Rosecrans – congregated around Nashville. For several weeks neither side seemed anxious to reengage the fight for Tennessee. However, in the December, Rosecrans followed orders and moved toward Murfreesboro, encountering the Confederates near Stones River – not far from the city.
On the night of December 31st, both commanders in their opposing headquarters came up with similar plans: attack the enemy’s right flank. The Confederates attacked first, though, driving back the Federals for three miles, and when Bragg attacked, Rosecran’s line curved into a sort of circle. For January 1st and 2nd, the fighting continued with the Union holding their position (awkward circle). Confederate General Breckinridge launched an attack on the Union’s left toward the end of the day on January 2nd, but was driven back by artillery.
The Confederates retreated on the 3rd, leaving both sides with a tactical draw while the Union got the strategic victory. Estimated casualties for both sides totaled 24,645. The Battle of Stones River crushed Confederate hopes for controlling the Middle Tennessee region and gave the Union cause a much-needed morale boost.
34th Illinois Regiment
Mustered into service on September 7, 1861, the 34th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment had been recruited from the northwestern part of the state. Commanded by **Colonel Edward N. Kirk (wounded at Stones River and died later in 1863), the regiment fought in many battles, including:
Shiloh, Perryville (1862)
Stone’s River, Missionary Ridge (1863)
Atlanta, Jonesboro, The March To The Sea (1864)
As part of Sherman’s Army at the end of the war, the regiment was reviewed in the Grand Review and was mustered out of service on July 12, 1865.
At the Battle of Stone’s River, the 34th Illinois (part of Richard W. Johnson’s Division, Kirk’s Brigade) was on the right wing of the Union army. On the 31st, they were caught in the Confederate attack and retreated with the rest of the army. For the next battle days, they stayed on the right wing, holding position and fighting back.
**Note: Lt. Colonel Hiram W. Bristol commanded the regiment at Stones River since Colonel Kirk was commanding the brigade.
The journal excerpt starts out so simply. Just morning coffee and walk in the day’s quiet beginning. But while walking beyond the, Widney sees the beginnings of a Confederate attack that would completely ruin his peaceful stroll and coffee break.
It’s not a grandiose details, but it’s a little thing that stands out to me. I like to find reminders that people who lived 155 years weren’t so different from us. It’s fun to find similarities – like coffee on a quiet, historic morning.
P.S. What small everyday details in other primary sources have helped those long-gone writers seem “friendly”?