Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Dead at Stones River

Stones River National Cemetery 1866
  For many years it was believed that at least 620,000 men died in the Civil War. Over half of these were from disease. In the last few years that number has been revised upward by experts to over 750,000 men that died in the Civil War. This was almost 2% of the total population at that time. More men died in the Civil War than all the American wars put together from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were 22 million people living in the Northern states of who the majority were white. There were 9 million people living in the south or the 11 Confederate states. Five million whites, and 4 million slaves and free blacks. One in five Southern men died in the Civil War. An estimated fifty thousand civilians died in the war. The population of Murfreesboro was 1,671 whites and 1, 190 blacks,who were mostly slaves. The total was 3,861 The population of Rutherford County was 14,743 white people and 13, 174 slaves and free blacks, a total of 27,917. Counting Murfreesboro and Rutherford County together it was 31,778. When the Confederate Army of Tennessee concentrated in Murfreesboro in December 1862 it totaled 37,317. The Union Army that concentrated in front of Murfreesboro on December 30. 1862 totaled 43,400. Both armies totalled 80,717. This in a town that only had a population of less than 4,000.

  After the battle of Stones River there were 10, 268 Confederate casualties and 13, 249 Union casualties. Making a total of 23, 417. Casualty totals included killed, wounded and captured. Confederate killed were 1,294, wounded 7,945, captured 1,027. Union killed were 1,730, wounded 7,802, captured 3, 717. To put this in perspective America lost 3,527 combat deaths in eight years of fighting in Iraq. Union and Confederate forces at Stones River or Murfreesboro lost 3,024 in just three days. In reality it was primarily over two days because there was little fighting on the second day January 1, 1863. The same day that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. You can figure over the next few days and months after the battle at least several more thousand men died of their wounds. The Union army occupied Murfreesboro after the Confederate withdrawal. Although the battle was a tactical draw it was a strategic victory for the North. It is said that virtually every house along the railroad between Murfreesboro and Gallatin were packed with the wounded. Murfreesboro resident John Spence recalled that "The three college buildings were used as hospitals, all the churches, several of the storerooms, and several large dwelling houses....Nearly all the families had one or two wounded men in care". Nashville hospitals were also flooded with the wounded. Stones River for the Union Army when you consider the ratio of forces engaged to the number of casualties was the bloodiest battle of the war. Gettysburg was the worst for the Confederacy. 

  Identification of the dead was usually accomplished by fellow soldiers.. At Stones River a wooden headboard was fashioned with the name and unit etched on it. The reason so many men were eventually listed as unknown when they were moved to Stones River National Cemetery is because poor whites and the freed slaves used many of these markers for firewood.  Men sometimes wrote their name on a piece of paper or bought an identification necklace from a sutler. I found one of these on the battlefield of Liberty Gap near Bell Buckle. I only found half of the ID and it had the last name Leach on it and Boro Tennessee. It could have been Murfreesboro or any Boro in Tennessee. Many times burial trenches were used to bury soldiers. There are at least twelve at Shiloh. I believe that because of the rocky nature of the soil around the battlefield at Stones River most soldiers were buried individually. These graves were shallow and it wasn't uncommon that after a heavy rain weeks and months later to see hands and other body parts sticking up out of the soil. When I hunted battlefields like Stones River I would find buttons that had residue on them that I was told that was from being on the uniform of a decaying soldier. Or I would find bullets that looked like someone or something had chewed on them because they would be saturated with teeth marks. Wild hogs roamed the battlefield rooting out dead bodies and when they ate the flesh they would sometime find the bullet or bullets that had killed the particular soldier that they were eating.
Wooden head board of a Union soldier who died at Stones River

Bayonet that was possibly used for moving decomposing bodies by hooking on to the clothes of the dead soldiers
Early form of a dog tag used by a Confederate soldier found on the battlefield of Liberty Gap
Union Eagle button that has residue possibly from a decomposing body

  An attempt was made to identify Union dead because they occupied the battlefield after the battle. No attempt was made to identify Confederate dead unless they were found by family members and taken home to be buried in family cemeteries. The following is from a Daily News Journal article called Hallowed History: Stories from Evergreen Cemetery. Confederate Circle is the mass grave of more than 2,000 soldiers who died in the Battle of Stones River and other area skirmishes. “There are men from nearly every Southern state buried here, most of them unknown”. Those who are known, less than 10 percent, are listed on the marble monuments flanking the central obelisk. The Confederate soldiers were originally buried at Stones River National Battlefield. In 1867 they were moved to a cemetery 2 miles south of Murfreesboro on Shelbyville Highway. “Confederate Circle was established in 1890 when this plot was granted to Gen. Joseph B. Palmer of the association of Confederate Soldiers Tennessee Division.” The Murfreesboro Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy moved the soldiers to their final resting place in 1891. 

  Some Confederates were buried by mistake in Stones River National Cemetery. One grave holds at least eleven Confederate soldiers. After the battle there were also thousands of dead horses that had to be disposed of. They were usually thrown on a pile and burned. The Union Army camped around Murfreesboro for six months after the battle before starting the Chickamauga campaign in late June 1863. On July 17, 1862 Lincoln signed the bill authorizing the establishment of National Cemeteries for the burial of dead Union soldiers. The reburial took five years nationwide and 250,000 Union soldiers were found but only 58% were identified. The cemetery at Stones River took two years to place the graves of 6100 Union soldiers from the Stones River battlefield and from all over Middle Tennessee. Union soldiers killed at Franklin are also buried there along with black Union soldiers who died in Middle Tennessee. Of these burials 2,562 are unknown.
Black soldiers recovering Union dead at Cold Harbor. 


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