The Cyclone of Stones River

Being the end of July, one might not necessarily think of the battle of Stones River when thinking about Civil War action. The fight took place as December 1862 turned into January 1863, not in the scorching days of high summer.

But Stones River nonetheless came to mind for me the other day because a box of books about the battle showed up on my porch from the printer. Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River by Caroline Davis and Bert Dunkerly—part of the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie—has been years in the making. When it finally arrived, it felt a little like Christmas in July for me.

Both Caroline and Bert worked at Stones River early in their respective careers, and both were interested in revisiting the battle for the ECWS. It’s a battle that often gets overlooked in larger stories of the war, so I was glad to have some authors who wanted to give it some attention for the book series.

This was Caroline’s first-ever book, so I was especially glad to see her get her name in print like that for the first time. Her co-author, Bert, is an authorial workhorse with plenty of titles under his belt, so his mentorship of Caroline on the book was something I especially appreciated.

I also really appreciated historian Jim Lewis’s willingness to write a foreword for the book. Jim is a longtime institution at Stones River, which has given him unique insight into its story. One of my own favorite days on a battlefield was spent with Jim as he showed Kris White, Garry Adelman, and me around as part of a video swing for the American Battlefield Trust (see videos 23–27).

I hope you’ll take the time to step out of summer and page back to the 1863 New Year with Caroline and Bert’s Force of a Cyclone.


About the Book:

All of Middle Tennessee held its breath when the new year dawned in 1863.

One day earlier on December 31, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee faced off against William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland just outside Murfreesboro along Stones River. The commanders, who led armies nearly equal in size, had prepared identical attack plans, but Bragg struck first. His morning attack bent the Federal line back upon itself.

The desperate fighting seesawed throughout the day amid rocky outcroppings and cedar groves. The Federals managed to avoid a crushing defeat and hold on until dark as the last hours of the old year slipped away. The cold and exhausted soldiers rang in the New Year surrounded by the pitiful cries of the wounded punctuated by cracks of skirmish fire while the opposing generals contemplated their next moves.

With the fate of Middle Tennessee yet to be determined, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. The president had signed the proclamation back in September of 1862, but he needed battlefield victories to bolster its authority. The stakes being gambled outside Murfreesboro were enormous. Determined to win the battle outright, Bragg launched another large-scale assault on January 2. The fate of the Army of the Cumberland and the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation hung in the balance.

In Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863, authors Caroline Davis and Bert Dunkerly explore a significant turning point of the Civil War, and one that had the highest percentage of casualties on both sides of any Civil War battle. Lincoln himself would often look back on that fragile New Year’s Day and ponder all that was at stake. “I can never forget whilst I remember anything,” he told Federal commander Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, “that about the end of last year and the beginning of this, you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, had there been a defeat instead the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

2 Responses to The Cyclone of Stones River

  1. Visited the field last year, tragically much has been lost to Murfreesboro’s sprawl. What’s there is a gem. Probably the best use of artillery in the Western Theater, by Mendenhall on the second day of battle. My fellow Centre alumnus Breckinridge never forgave Bragg for the waste of his Kentuckians. And I had an ancestor there on the losing team with the 2d Arkansas Mtd Rifles, on the far left of the Confederate line. Will have to request this from a family member!

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