Letter Undated [January, 1863]: John McBride, Company D, Fifty-First Illinois
To His Mother

Camp on Stone River near Murfreesboro Tenn

Dear Mother. We are again settled down in camp and I suppose we will stay some time. We have been through a most terrible siege of hardships and I have not much news to tell except the fight so I will give it by detail. We started on the march on the 26th of Dec. Marched slowly all day through the rain, had some little skirmishing and was on picket at night without any fire. Slowly the night went on without any supper, hard bread alone. In the morning we started again it having rained all night and was still raining. We were soaked through and no fire to dry by. The next day passed the same except more fighting went on. Sundown came and it cleared up for the first time. We made our fires and began to get supper and dry our blankets which took us nearly night and got little or no sleep. Having eat up our rations we had nothing to eat. Sunday we lay still with the exception of small foraging parties which were sent out to get grub. They got some fresh pork which we cooked that night and put in our haversacks and had nothing to eat but that for three days. Monday we started, marched about two hours and it began to rain again. We marched till after dark and camped near the rebels pickets and we was not allowed any fire at all till daylight. We got about a cup full of flour a piece which we had to mix up and bake on sticks. Some had salt and some had none. We shelled corn and threw it in the fire to roast. Tuesday the 30th we marched about 2 miles and run onto their pickets. Then the fight began. One regiment was thrown out as skirmishers, we laid down back of the reserve but it was not long till they began to shell us. The second one they shot went through our Co and wounded three. Broke one's leg twice, one was wounded in the hand slightly and the other on the thigh. The fighting in front was kept up till night closed the action. Wednesday the 31 we were ordered out and took our position on the line but were attacked as soon as we moved. They came out of the wood yelling and charged on our battery but we drove them back. They then went towards the right and surprised general Johnson, his men were having their breakfast. They advanced within 40 rods before his men took their guns. Although his men fought well he was routed and driven back losing his battery. We then seeing his battery taken made a charge toward their battery which made them leave Johnsons and protect their own so four of the guns were taken back. They then opened their artillery on us. We had to retreat to our old position but still they advanced on Johnson's division and drove him back till it changed our front from south to the west. Just then our Brigadier general Roberts was shot and Col Harrington of the 27th fell mortally wounded.

We had no orders for an hour and all the time under a hot shelling on our right and left flank and directly in front being almost surrounded. Our Col then took command of the brigade and retreated back to the new line which was forming. They followed Johnson up closely. Houghtaling's battery was the one in our brigade and before we fell back his horses were all killed and two thirds of his men were killed, but he fired his last shot at them and was unable to bring his guns off from the field so they were taken. We then formed in line to wait till the 27th got ammunition but were soon attacked again and were ordered to charge on the rebs with loaded guns and unfixed bayonets which we did at our own risk and such a yell went up, at full speed we rushed on and routed them and such a scattering of men I never saw before, they ran every way. We poured our bullets into them so thick they dropped in every direction. The regt halted but I wished for spoils. I ran on about 20 rods and found 8 of them hid in a cave in the rocks. When I came up one of them was going to shoot me but I stepped behind an oak tree and was going to fire when they threw up their hands and they were mine. I took them to the Col. He sent me with them to Gen McCook where they were taken care of. I then joined the regt and they didn't attack us again that day. The dead lay strewed over the ground. It began to rain and rained all night and the next day we were allowed no fire at all. We were ordered to bring rails from the fences to make breastworks and cover them with cedar bows to hide our position. We layed behind there till the next day afternoon when they again advanced and not seeing our position they rushed on and were about to charge on a battery when we raised from behind our works and poured such a volley into them that they hid in the rocks and buildings for protecting. Having killed their Col and some Capts we then sent out skirmishers and got in the rear of the horses and ordered them to surrender which they did. Then one hundred fifteen more belonged to the 51st. We had no more hard fighting except the two days, but they attacked the left next day and we fairly slaughtered them. There was five days of hard fighting and had it not been for Johnson they would not have made a beginning to what they did. Those that were at Shiloh say it was nowhere to this one. Our train being captured we had nothing to eat but fresh meat and corn.

Uncle [David Christian, Co. D] was back at N[ashville] with the wagons. He feels sorry to think that he was not in the fracas Saturday and Sunday. They evacuated through the rain and mud and had it not been for Johnson I think they would have been prisoners. General R[osecrans] having sent cavalry around and cut off their railroad they had to take it on foot, cavalry and artillery chased them beyond Tullahoma as they retreated. They must have suffered awfully for they had brick ovens built inside their tents and were as comfortable as though they were in houses. It is getting dark so fall in for roll call. So goodnight.

Saturday morning after breakfast
General Rosecrans after seeing Johnson's conduct rode up and uttered an oath at him and told him he might consider himself retired of his command. Rosecrans is as curious a man as I ever saw. He rode up one day while the fight was going on, stopped behind our reg, looked through the woods once or twice and said, "See here", "Look here". Of course we all looked towards him. Says he, "Do you see that man over there? He is spying you out and trying to get a battery on you. He will shell you out of here if you don't look out". He then rode along smiling but we all knew it was only for a joke that he did that. Sunday he rode along and as he came up each regt gave him three hearty cheers that made the earth fairly shake. The prisoners that we took said our brigade fought General Hardee's whole division all the while Johnson was falling back. Hardee himself said he did not know what we were made of. He said we more than fought. Uncle came out Monday and said he had not had the honor to be in the fight but he wanted to go over the battleground so I went with him. Such sights I never want to see again. One place we found 13 of their men in one pile and some of them were half carried away by cannon balls. Our men were not half so badly mangled as theirs. Where we fought there was about 16 of them to 13 of ours but on the left they lost 3 to our 1. The reason they killed so many on the right was Johnson's being surprised, retreating under heavy fire from their artillery. There was between 70 and 80 wounded and killed in our regt. None of Co D was killed, 6 were wounded and two missing. Our colors were shot down twice, one of the sergeants killed the other wounded. In the heat of the action a cannon ball struck our Col's horse and knocked the Col from the saddle killing the horse but not hurting the Col. He is in command of the brigade now. We are all well now. I have not heard from home for a good while. Our Capt has not come yet. Write soon. Goodbye from your affectionate son, J. L. to his loving mother.

Let this answer for all the folks this time if you can. Please send a Tribune. We have heard that Richmond was taken. Is it so or not? If it is Secesh is about played out. Good bye.

John L. McBride Letters, Mohler Family Papers, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Note: Other materials on this website relative to Stones River: Edward Tabler's Diary, Edward Burns' Diary, 1862 Regimental Journal, Albert Eads biographical sketch.