Blood and Buttons: Charles Anderson at Stones River (Part Two of Two)

Anderson’s letter continues with his report of action during the initial Confederate assault of December 31, 1862:

Union Artillery Defending the Nashville Pike on the Union Right at Stones River

The battle began slightly on Tuesday afternoon. The Armies slept under arms face to face –in 200 yds- Wednesday morning they surprised us – drove in the other two Brig almost without a contest- captured 2 batteries without them firing a shot- fell upon us, the Reserve – a thin line of now front  defenders almost without a commander (Col. Baldwin)- flanked and drove us back with great slaughter, until Crittenden’s and Rousseau’s men (not surprised then of course) stopt our retreat- repulsed the enemy & saved the day. Many other attacks and repulses – the repulses all by us – the attacks all, but one, by them, kept us fighting until Saturday night, when they broke up camp and fled in haste away.

The 2d great battle was – say- from 10 to 12 o’clock of Wednesday in which Nick – Fred & Guardire figured so much. The 3rd (greatest) by Crittenden over the river – on Friday morning 4 O.C. – repelling the enemy with great slaughter. The most stupendous & continuous fire of artillery & small arms in a small space (Fredericksburg only excepted in a larger area) – as to Artillery ever heard on the continent – fighting us for a key position. A 4th great contest was a night battle for 2 hours – from 5 to 8 pm Saturday in driving them from their trenches – That night – perhaps not in consequence of this fight – they retreated finally, Altogether; we are lucky that they came out from their barricades (if they existed in Wednesday morning?) to attack us. Altogether, I think, notwithstanding our great loss (perhaps 10,000 in all classes and as great as theirs in Killed and Wounded – probably greater in prisoners – certainly in lost artillery) we have gained a decisive victory. Have the y not fled greatly crippled form the field- neighborhood – perhaps state? Whose is the show – name – morale of victory? I say it is ours.

I ought to say that under my own eye – occurred an incident which I believe was turning point in the fight. If Genrl McCook had not been present and personally turned back a retreating column which held a certain Cedar grove, the enemy would have cut our Right Wing from the others – captured our whole train – attacked the Center and Left, in their rear. Then preoccupied in front and I think had the whole army in a Bulls Run flight in ½ an hour.  I do not wish this to give undue praise to the Genl. Perhaps it was no great foresight to see the importance of this point. Doubtless; in scenes so various & stifling  several  critical points must occur – But I cannot doubt that this was one of them.

Fixing my new Camp makes it impossible to write much more. I have directed the Adjutant to make out for Col. Strong’s use, our brief diary – Report of the several days life. Kitty can copy it if she pleases, as with this and other letters, the order & places of events may be better understood. Did I tell you that Mr. Bunting was Chaplain to the Regt which we drove from Triune – where I saw young Blair (son of the Goliad Parson) wounded? Bunting wrote a letter to the Ledger (“for his friends”) giving the whereabouts of Col. Anderson.  Mrs. B is at home in Ohio.

I try to make a map of our fights & Neighborhood.  (Author note: Hand drawn map of battlefield, detailed with legends follows. Orig. done in pencil, geographic features appear to be later traced over in brown ink, but unaltered as original in pencil as was entire letter).

In regard to Genl Sills commanding our Division – I do not yet decide that he is altogether Johnson’ superior. On the contrary, I suppose the latter to excel him in several important respects – command over men, &c. But Sill had the unlimited love of the Division and the Ardent love of the Brigade – great advantages in such emergencies. Whilst Johnson was a stranger to all – beginning of course in prejudice against him.

8th Jany.              I wrote this much yesterday. This morning we are dressing up a new camp with all appearances of a month or longer stay in it.  Genl Rosecrans (who asked me if I did not command a Brigade) told me yesterday that he intended to gather this reorganizing the Army (as I understood it). Here much depends upon what the enemy does of course. I suppose we ought to consolidate Regts as a wholesale task if it be lawful. Not do I care much what they do with me. We have numbers of Regts – not equal to two Cos. What a waste of money to be keeping up corps of regimental officers & equipment for such squads?

You say nothing of money matters in your last. How as to the N. York bank draft I sent you for our balance there? Seaver debt to me? Don’t get out of money. I hear nothing of our pay. If I get it I will send you the bulk of it.

I have written you already more of myself, wounds, etc. than is in good taste perhaps. But I find by this letter experience how natural it is for one to “blow” about his wounds – as natural and disgusting as for a Texas crow fly about his dainty spot. For the rest – both wounds are getting on admirably. The huge surrounding black surfaces are subsiding into the usual yellow-green of recovering bruises. The wound on the rib is sloughing much and therefore hurts more daily, under the bandages, perhaps in the naked bone. And that on the hip has become a thick dry scab in a few days almost. I shall be well or without the consciousness of wounds. How different form poor Martin, Falconer, Tingle and other heroes – who suffer more and more every day? I am greatly concerned about Capt Martin in fact that the top of his left lung may have been perforated. He is brave, honest, sincere, amiable, and a patriot. What a loss is such a man. Strong – another noble man- will be miserable that he left us on the verge of the critical hour. But he would just as surely have been killed – as he had staid. Two such accidents – miracles – could not have happened in the way of escape in such ____ especially with one so slow in motion as he & his horse. Tell him that as none but fools or scamps can censure him to rejoice that his wife is not a Widow. Ever yrs                    Charles Anderson


The letter itself is extraordinary in its candor and detail, but the most exciting feature was a hand-drawn map of the battlefield, complete with Union troop positions on December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863. I included the map in illustrations for the book, but it is difficult to study in that format, so I will be making a high-resolution scan available as a free bonus to Emerging Civil War Patreon subscribers, who may download it for closer examination.

David T. Dixon is also the author of Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2020). His website is

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