What follows is titled and written by Otis Moody, originally first lieutenant of Company K, then brigade commander Luther Bradley's acting assistant adjutant general. Moody was killed in the first day's fighting at Chickamauga on September 19, 1863.

 

Account of the Battle of Stones River

Part One: Through Dec. 30, 1862.
We started on the 26th of Dec.; made an attempt on the 24th, which resulted only in the breaking up of camp & establishing it again next day. But this time it was no false start. We moved without tents or camp equipage of any kind. The men carried their blankets & the day's rations. The only wagons allowed to a regiment were ambulances, medicine wagons, & one wagon with hospital supplies. I was quite sick when we started & obliged to sit in one of the ambulances. The morning was dark and cloudy, & the fine weather we had enjoyed so long seemed about to give place to the rainy season, which usually commences here at about this time of year. But this was not one of the movements that admitted of postponement because of the weather. McCook's army corps advanced on the [sentence incomplete...] This would take us a little to the west of Murfreesboro, but it was held by rebels & of course must be cleaned out. Rain commenced falling very soon after we started & continued through most of the day. I lay in the ambulance covered up with blankets & tried to make myself comfortable as possible. Our advance skirmished with the enemy nearly all day. We passed through Nolensville a little before night & camped about two miles beyond. I had eaten nothing all day, but the driver made me a cup of coffee that night, & I stuck close to the ambulance, which insured me a tolerable night's rest, so that next morning (Saturday) I felt more comfortable though still weak and unable to march. It seemed rather of a novel predicament to be carried out to a battle lying on my back in an ambulance. But there was no help for it. I knew that as soon as there should be any work to be done, the excitement would carry me through it though I might drop down soon as it was over. But I trusted I might regain some part of my strength before the grand struggle should take place at Nolensville Pike. It was nearly noon on Saturday before we got started. Everything moveable was saturated with water & covered with muck. About 3 o'clock the ambulance hauled out of the road into the field & the troops moved on. This movement indicated that something was about to take place. So I buckled on my sword & pushed on to join my company. To make our situation still more uncomfortable just about this time the water commenced falling in streams. It is foolish to talk of rain drops in any such connection.

It was rumored that Hardee with 6,000 Rebels was in position a little in advance of us & we expected quite a sharp little fight. But after deploying into line & advancing through a corn field where the mud was not quite knee deep we found no enemy & finally moved off into a beautiful grove & camped I thought this was pretty rough experience for a sick man, but I dried my clothes as well as possible that night, got another night's sleep in the ambulance & felt next morning — at least no worse.

Sunday morning was clear, bright and beautiful as any May morning you ever saw. Birds sang sweetly in the trees & the whole scene was one of such tranquil beauty & loveliness as to make one forget the trials & discomforts of yesterday. In accordance with what is supposed to be the present policy of the Gov. in regard to keeping the Sabbath, it was announced in the morning that we should remain in camp today—a most welcome announcement to the soldiers. They spent the day drying out their blankets & getting something refreshing to eat, [illegible]ing sheep & cattle in the neighborhood constituting important elements in the last named operation. I invigorated myself with a confiscated chicken which I bought of a soldier for fifty cents. In the evening I attended a prayer meeting in the 22nd Ill Reg—held under the trees by the light of a camp fire. I didn't know their names & don't know whether they all survived the battle or not, but as the Regiment suffered severely, it is reasonable to presume they did not all escape. I have thought many times since then that I would like to know the fate of that little band.

Monday morning was clear & pleasant. The rest of Sunday allowed to the troops had a good effect & they were in fine spirits I felt so much better that I abandoned my place in the ambulance & resumed my position at the head of my company. It had been ascertained that Hardee had fallen back on Murfreesboro, which made it necessary for us to form a junction with the main forces of Rosecrans. In order to do this, we had to retrace our steps for a short distance & then cross over on a direct road to another pike, leading direct to Murfreesboro. It was a very quiet pleasant day's march of 13 or 14 miles with nothing to remind one of the deadly conflict so near at hand. The country through which we passed exhibited a wide contrast in its soil and productions. At one time we could make our way along the course of a small stream with rich plantations on either side — and then over a barren rocky hill which in some places would pass for quite a respectable mountain. Then again through a thick grove of cedars which seemed to grow out of solid rock. I thought & remarked to a friend of mine, as we were making this march, that these violent contrasts in the topography of the country were a type of the social institutions of the people.

About dark we came onto a short pike leading to Murfreesboro & known as Wilkinson's Pike. There we found indications of an enemy in front, a troop of the advance cavalry had some severe skirmishing, losing one major killed & another mortally wounded besides many of the lower grades. We pushed on about two miles farther & camped in the woods & now commenced the tug-of-war in earnest. The enemy were known to be in force only two or three miles in front of us. Fires were strictly prohibited & to make our condition still worse, our rations were exhausted, & there were no means for supplying the want. By some mismanagement common at such times the Commissary had brought along a lot of flour instead of hard bread. This would do very well in camp, but what could we do with flour on a march & especially on the battlefield? Nevertheless some of the boys from sheer necessity did mix up some of it with water, twist it around their ramrods or sticks & bake it in the ashes. Others borrowed a few crackers from the boys of a neighboring brigade.

Tuesday morning Dec 30th was cloudy & rainy. I should think it was nearly 9 o'clock when we marched out with empty haversacks, empty stomachs & a gloomy prospect. As we marched out onto the pike, Genls McCook & Sheridan sat on their horses looking at us, McCook burly & robust with a full red face indicative of plenty of good beef & brandy, Sheridan with his small diminutive figure presenting a strong contrast to McCook & most emphatically a light weight though I presume he would not deny the brandy. Well, our brigade marched on to our post, all the troops of the right wing to the very front until there was nobody between us & the enemy. So much for being old troops. Our brigade marched in the following order: 22nd Ill. 42nd, 51st, Houghtaling's Battery, 27th Ill. We very soon found our advance contested. The 22nd & 42nd Ill were deployed & sent forward as skirmishers, 51st & 27th filed out to the right & formed in line of battle in a cornfield while the battery took up a position in a point of timber on high ground a little further to the right. Col. Roberts1 instructed the men to keep down low for their better protection. We had scarcely got into position when a stray round shot came along, dropped into the ranks of the 51st severely wounding two men. Skirmishing had now become quite brisk all along the line. At times the cannonading was very spirited & it seemed almost like a battle. Still there was no serious attempt to advance on either side. About 12 o'clock an order came for the 51st to relieve the 42nd as skirmishers, their ammunition being exhausted. Whew! thinks I, this means work & is coming pretty near home. We were ordered to throw out alternate companies holding the others in reserve. My company, being the 9th (an odd one), I took sixteen men & two sergeants & "went in." The portion of the line that I relieved was in a thick cedar grove. Men sought the cover of the trees & fired whenever they could see an object. Sometimes it was pretty hot work. The 22nd were immediately on my left & we acted together. We made a rush forward at one time & were met by a tremendous shower of bullets & forced to fall back to our former position. The 22nd lost several men, three within a few minutes. You probably remember Charlie Peterson, that fine gentlemanly appearing fellow who used to cook for us in Camp Douglas. He was wounded here in the left arm. I helped him to the rear & then sent him to the hospital. That night he had his arm taken off just below the elbow. Charlie Hills says to me "this is about as good fun as snowballing in Camp Douglas." In less than five minutes his fun was brought to a sudden termination by a shot in the back of the head, knocking him down & flattening out the ball. This wound was not very serious & he has now quite recovered from the effects of it, but he was taken prisoner the next day in going to another hospital & is now paroled. He is with us in camp at present, but expects to be sent north soon. I had another man by the name of Coffin seriously wounded through the shoulder. I had another man by the name of [illegible] severely wounded through the shoulder. His wound did finely for three weeks when he went to a hospital in Nashville, & I have heard that he has since died. I hope it is not true.

We were relieved about sun down & fell back to our ravine & afterwards retired a little farther behind the crest of a ridge where we stacked arms & made preparations to bivouac for the night. It was a black cheerless night. A chill north wind swept over the wet muddy fields, dispelling all visions of comfort for this night. We also learned that our provision supply train had been captured at Lavergne by the rebels. This was a little unpleasant considering we had been 24 hours without food. They finally killed some cattle and distributed a supply of fresh beef to the men, & Sergeant Buck of our company found a sweet potatoe hole, which gave us about one to a man in our company. This was our position on Tuesday night. What were the thoughts & feelings of the men who lay down on the wet ground, thousands of them for the last time in this world, I cannot tell. We knew that a great battle must be fought on the morrow — knew it almost as certainly as after it occurred, for there were the enemy in force in front of us, evincing a determination to resist a further advance on our part, & we knew that Rosecrans was not the man to turn back at any such time as this. I fixed up as comfortable a place as possible & slept a few hours during the first part of the night, but it was cold comfort. About two o'clock in the morning I got up & roasted some beef steak on the coals.

Part Two: December 31, 1862

At day light we fell in & took arms & moved a little way to the front. The Rebels also were early risers & we had not long to wait for their appearance. While we were standing in line in the early morning, a general order from Rosecrans was read to us, commendatory of our actions on the previous day & telling us a great battle was to be fought this day, upon the issue of which depended the fate of the nation, &c. I thought it was very much like reading one's funeral oration in advance. I suppose it is well enough to try to inspire soldiers to deeds of heroism by such means, though to be effective I think they should be delivered in person by word of mouth instead of being read by a deputy. This course however would not be entirely practicable at such times.

The Adjutant had scarcely finished reading when the Rebel lines were seen approaching & we found we had work on our hands. Part of the 27th had been thrown forward as skirmishers to protect our position on the left. The Rebels were approaching to the right of them across open fields. Col. Roberts ordered the 51st & 42nd to charge on them & drive them back, which we did most effectually, but we came near running onto one of their batteries & in fact did go near enough to receive a charge of cannister, which injured several men in our right wing. We were then ordered to fall back as our right flank was without any protection. We took up several new positions as the enemy developed their strength in different directions, & finally our whole brigade were ordered into a point of cedar woods a little in advance & to the left of our present position. It was still quite early in the morning, I should think not more than 8 o'clock. We could tell from the firing that our right was giving way & had been from the very first. Our regiment was first formed along a fence, facing the position we had lately abandoned. The Rebels immediately took the commanding points we had left, & they seemed to swarm out on every side in countless numbers. Col. Roberts ordered a company to be thrown out as skirmishers, to watch the movements of a line of Rebel infantry, which had been seen in a certain direction & Col. Bradley detailed me for that purpose. By this means I separated from the balance of the regiment probably from half to three quarters of an hour. While in this position deployed among the trees, a Rebel officer rode up quite near, apparently for the purpose of ascertaining the position of Houghtaling's Battery which was close to where I left our Regiment & doing splendid work. It was an unfortunate curiosity which led him so near. One of my men snapped a cap, but the gun missed fire. The Reb probably began to think he was not in a safe locality & turned about but too late. Private Patterson2 of my company fired & he fell from his horse which galloped off ride less & alone. They had by this time opened upon us in good earnest. They had three batteries in position which were playing upon us & several times their line of infantry had advanced & tried to dislodge us from our position, but every time they were driven back in confusion by the sweeping charge of cannister from Houghtaling's battery & volleys from our infantry.

Other Accounts of the Last Charge of the 27th & 51st:
Alexander F. Stevenson

Colonel Harker, on the extreme right, had fought Confederate General Johnson's brigade successfully for about twenty minutes, when he observed that Colonel Fyffe had fallen back, and that the enemy was already to his rear on his left, and only two hundred yards from it. He thereupon quickly ordered the Sixty-fifty Ohio to take position behind a rail fence, obliquely to the first line of battle, and fire upon the enemy; then, ordering the Seventy-third Indiana to hold its position, he directed the Sixty-fourth Ohio to charge to the left, while [Cullen] Bradley's battery was ordered four yards to the rear. But the Sixty-fourth Ohio made an error in its direction, going too far to the right, and the two left regiments of Vaughan's brigade, observing a gap, quickly sent a volley on Harker's left.

Captain Bradley's battery, being in a very dangerous position, was compelled to fall back, leaving two pieces on the field. The Confederate infantry closely followed Harker, and, finding excellent shelter behind rocks and in the many sink-holes in the vicinity, they commenced a most destructive fire, killing a large number of Harker's men. The Thirteenth Michigan which had not before been engaged in the battle, stood their ground well, and held the enemy in their front at bay for some minutes; but the Confederates still pressed forward, advancing on the right and left, while some few, as is claimed in their reports, reached even the Nashville pike. This was, indeed, a critical time, and everything seemed lost.

At that very moment two Illinois regiments, exhausted by hard work, and in search of ammunition came slowly northward along the pike. They were the Twenty-seventh and Fifty-first of Roberts's brigade and Sheridan's division. As soon as General Rosecrans saw them he galloped at full speed towards Colonel Bradley, of the Fifty-first, while General McCook rode to Major Schmidt, commanding the Twenty-seventh. "Who commands these troops?" asked General Rosecrans. "I do," replied Colonel Bradley. "Send your regiments quickly into yonder thicket and stop the advance of the rebels," shouted Rosecrans. "Quick! quick! lose not a moment, Colonel; this battle must be won." — "My regiments are almost out of ammunition," replied Colonel Bradley, brave, yet always careful of his men; "but we will drive them with the bayonet."

In an instant, almost, the command was halted, faced to the left, aligned, and when the order to advance was given the two regiments moved steadily forward. The enemy lay concealed in sink-holes and behind rocks. As our men came near them the rebels fired from their ambush, and, being strong, compelled them to fall back a short distance. The rebels then arose from their hiding-places and followed them.

Again General Rosecrans and General McCook rode up to them and along their line, cheered the men, and inspired them with great enthusiasm, though bullets fell almost as thick as hailstones in a summer shower. "Colonel Bradley," shouted Rosecrans, "we must drive these rebels with the bayonet, or the day is lost"; and the gallant Colonel Bradley, full of bravery and determination, ordered the men to load their guns, which they did, in many instances using the last cartridge in the box. The order "Fix bayonets!" ran along the line; the men caught the spirit of their commanders. Officers, like Adjutant Rust, seized the muskets of falling men and marched in line. It was a grand moment... with bayonets fixed, and a loud hurray, they rushed for the enemy.

The rebels gave way. The Twenty-seventh and Fifty-first followed them far out into the open field. Many of our men wept for joy. The advance of these two regiments relieved the strong pressure on the Thirteenth Michigan; this regiment, thereupon, likewise charged forward with fixed bayonets, driving the enemy from its immediate front. When Smith's brigade gave way before Colonel Bradley's impulsive attack, Polk's, Johnson's, and Liddell's brigades became panic-stricken, the men crying out, "Our flank is turned! Our flank is turned!" A perfect rout ensued, and many did not stop in their flight till they had reached the Wilkinson pike. The Confederate generals say, in their reports, that this retreat is perfectly incomprehensible... Finally General McCook ordered Colonel Bradley to return, and the two regiments brought back with them two hundred prisoners, and the two guns previously lost by Harker were recaptured...

The importance of this success cannot be overestimated. If the Confederates had succeeded in taking and holding the Nashville pike, there can be little doubt that the battle would have been lost and a large part of the army captured.

From Alexander F. Stevenson, The Battle of Stone's River near Murfreesboro', Tenn., December 30, 1862 to January 3, 1863, Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1884, pp. 98-102. Stevenson was a lieutenant in the Forty-Second Illinois.

Wilbur F. Hinman, Sixty-Fifth Ohio Infantry

The guns are in the greatest jeopardy, for the exultant rebels are charging toward them. Just in time, the dead and wounded horses are cut loose and the section [of Cullen Bradley's Battery] dashes to the rear. At it reaches a depression in the ground the Confederates deliver a volley from their muskets. The bullets whiz over the head of Baldwin's men, but strike with deadly effect the two sections which had retired. Sergeant George W. Howard and Private Samuel M. Scott fall in death, and a number of others are wounded. Horses go down on every hand.

After a brief but fierce struggle at the fence we are again flanked upon the left and our decimated line is torn by a biting enfilading fire. There is no alternative and again we fall back, with the advancing rebels at our heels. We come upon the Twenty-seventh and Fifty-First Illinois regiments of Sheridan's division, lying in line. They have been sent to our aid. As soon as we have passed over them they rise, deliver a volley, and charge with fixed bayonets. Before the charge the Confederates recoil, turn about and scamper back to their own lines. Our fighting for the day is ended.... We re-formed our broken lines; but how much shorter they were than in the morning!

From Wilbur F. Hinman, The Story of the Sherman Brigade, By the Author, 1897, pp. 349-50.

Lieutenant Colonel Luther Bradley, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry

Then Col Roberts being killed and the next senior col (Col Harrington) being mortally wounded, Col Bradley took command of the Brigade and we moved through the thicket coming out upon the Murfreesboro Pike a mile in the rear of our first position. Here the 51st and 27th were formed in line again and the work given us to do was to dislodge a force of the enemy who had got possession of a cedar thicket adjoining the road. We are told that everything depends upon regaining and holding this position. We move forward but upon the brow of the hill are met with a murderous fire. We protect ourselves as best we can behind rocks, etc., but the fire is more than the men can stand. We present an admirable target to the Enemy while he is not exposed. We retire behind the brow of the hill, face about – this time determined to charge them from their position. The men are now reckless mad – infuriated – this time we accomplish our work. We drive five Tennessee regiments from among the rocks across the cotton field through a cornfield taking about one hundred prisoners and retaking two pieces of artillery one a 12 lb. Howitzer and the other a 20 lb parrot. We remained in this position the balance of the day, the enemy immediately across from us in the woods, the pickets continually firing.

From the 1862 Regimental Journal by Col. Bradley; fully cited on linked page.

From the "Historical Memoranda" of the Fifty-First Illinois

On the 26th, the 14th Army Corps having nearly all concentrated south of Nashville, struck their tents & commenced the movement against the army of Bragg, which lay a few miles further south between them & Murfreesboro. The Right Wing of McCook marched down the Nolensville Pike & encamped near Triune on the night of the 27th, having met with but slight opposition. The 28th the division remained in camp, on the 29th moved with the rest of the wing east toward the Murfreesboro Pike, to join there with the rest of the army. On the 30th, the regiment encountered the enemy in force & with the rest of the brigade was engaged in a very hot skirmish during the whole day, and this was the case with the entire front of the line of the army. The loss in the regiment that day was seven wounded. Dec. 31st, the next day, found the 51st in the thickest of the fight at the Battle of Stone River, losing 57 men in killed, wounded & prisoners. The Division lost its three brigade commanders; the 3rd Brigade, in addition its second-ranking colonel, Harrington of the 27th Ill; all killed very early in the action, except the latter who was taken prisoner & died a few days after. The Command of the brigade, at about 11 a.m. devolved on Col. Bradley of the 51st Ill & of the regiment on Major Davis, Lt. Col. Raymond being on detached service with Gen [Eleazar] Paine at Gallatin {Tennessee]. But Major Davis only had command a few hours, when he too was wounded & carried from the field, the command then devolving on Capt. Henry F. Wescott of Company A.

On Jan 1st, 1863, the regiment remained in the line of battle which Gen. McCook had formed parallel to the Murfreesboro Pike after the disastrous withdrawal of his command on the morning of the day before. Rough breastworks were built of stones and boughs, & behind them we lay til afternoon when Buckner tried to get past us to our right, in which attempt he was foiled, in part by the exertions of the 3rd Brigade, & after his retreat 70 prisoners were captured by Company C of the 51st who had been sent out as skirmishers. During the 2nd and 3rd all was quiet on the right, though heavy attacks were made on the left each day. On the 4th the enemy left our front & evacuated Murfreesboro, & the pursuit was commenced in which none of the Right Wing participated. The 4th & 5th were spent in burying the dead & removing the wounded.

From the Descriptive Roll Fifty-First Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Illinois State Archives, (301.023).

From the Fifty-First Illinois Regiment—Col. Bradley
[From The Chicago Tribune]

    By a private letter from the 51st Illinois regiment, (Col. Luther P. Bradley,) we learn that in the battle of Murfreesboro, that brave body of men performed the most gallant service for their country. They were hotly engaged for two consecutive days, during which they succeeded in driving the enemy from his first line of works, though with heavy loss on their own side.
    Major [Charles] Davis had his arm broken with a shot; Capts [James] Boyd and [Charles] Whitson, Lieuts. [Archibald] McCormick and [Henry] Buck are among the wounded; Lieut. [John] Keith was killed. Col. Bradley's horse was killed by a shell which exploded under him, but the Colonel himself was unhurt. The Colonel subsequently lost two other horses during the battle.
    The hardest fight occurred on Wednesday, the last day of the year. The 51st was under a very heavy fire, but not a man among them flinched. Both the color sergeants were killed, and the regimental flag presented by our citizensA was nearly torn to pieces by a large shell passing through it. Another shell soon after struck the gallant color sergeant in the breast, killing him instantly. All the men behaved with the utmost coolness and gallantry, and the wounded bore their sufferings unmurmuringly.
    The 51st was in General Sheridan's division, in the right wing, which suffered a temporary reverse, in consequence of the second division giving way. Several of the new regiments failed to stand fire, while others fought with the coolness of veterans. After the extreme right gave way, the 51st bore the brunt of the fight, and for three long hours contended with Hardee's entire army corps,B and only gave way when their ammunition gave out, and thirteen of their number had fallen.
    Every Colonel in that brigade was killed, except Col. Bradley, on whom the command of the brigade thus falls. On assuming command, Col. Bradley ordered the regiments from the field, and took up a new position, which he was ordered to hold at all hazards. A rebel brigade of five regiments made a desperate attempt to rive them from their position, but in vain. They were met with three rounds from our gallant boys, after which they were charged by the 27th and 51st, and completely routed with the loss of a large number killed and 200 taken prisoners. This was the enemy's last effort on our right.

From The Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1863.
AA group of Chicago citizens had sent municipal envoys to the camp of the Fifty-First Illinois near Farmington, Mississippi early in May with a set of flags for the regiment, the regiment's first set of colors.
BCertainly, the article exaggerates in stating that the Fifty-First alone bore the brunt of the fight and on its own fought Hardee's corps as if the regiment were not part of a brigade and in position with its sister regiments.

Other Pages on this Site: 51st at Stones River
Edward Tabler Diary
Edward Burns Diary
George Hoel Letter, Stones River TN, Jan 13, 1863
George Sylvester: Stones River, Feb 8, 1863
John McBride: Stones River, January, 1863
Adjutant Hall: Just before Stones River
Eads, Albert: Lt. Co C

You must remember that we now constituted the extreme right of all that was left of our army. The two divisions of Davis & Johnson had been driven clear back out of sight & hearing. The other two brigades of our division had in consequence been driven back though not without severe fighting. We settled down into this point of cedar woods before spoke of, a sort of jutting angle to what had been the line & there we held. We held both sides of the pike on which we had advanced, which at this point was about half a mile in a south easterly direction, from the Nashville & Murfreesboro Pike on which Rosecrans & the balance of the army was located, though at this time I knew nothing of the distance or location of the other forces. In fact I didn't know we had any army at all except what I could see around us.

After remaining out with my company after it was no longer necessary, I concluded to rejoin the regiment. I knew it had moved from its former location & didn't know exactly where or how far, but presumed not a great distance. The battle now raged with tremendous fury, round shot & shells were crashing through the trees as fast as three batteries could pour them in while the bullets filled up the intervals. Not wishing to expose the men needlessly, I had them lay down while I went to look up the regiment. I found they had moved only a short distance across on the other side of the pike. In this operation I had to make the trip through all this terrible fire three times, which gave me a fine opportunity of knowing what was going on. But I succeeded in taking the company through to the regiment without any of us being injured. I found the regiment lying down among the rocks just within the edge of the cedars and facing to our late rear. Col. Bradley greeted me with a smile of welcome & said he was glad to see me back but could not send for me. An absence of half an hour at such times was like a year of ordinary life.

I must now explain to you that the enemy were now on three sides of us, and for the most part they occupied higher ground than we did, consequently we were thrown entirely on the defensive & only used our infantry to drive them back when they came up within short range. We were here on the immediate right of Negley's division, part of which was mixed up with us at times, but they rendered very little service on this portion of the field as far as I could see. The 19th came in & took up a position in front of the 27th, remained there a few minutes, & then retired directly through their ranks. My opinion is that they done most of their fighting on the following Friday at which time Col. Scott was wounded.3 Meantime the fight continued to rage with unabated fury. The enemy had a cross fire on us from three sides. I saw myself guns from our batteries pointed in exactly different directions repelling the fire of the enemy. Our position now was a critical one. So far as one could see we were completely isolated & cut off. I thought of Gen. Prentiss at Shiloh & concluded a like fate awaited us. Gen. Sheridan had insisted that we hold this position as long as possible, that everything depended upon it & of course we could stay just as long as he said it was necessary & there was a man left to stay. At about a quarter eleven Col. Roberts was shot dead from his horse. Capt. Rose,4 who had been detached & was acting on his staff, was talking with him when he was killed. He was not killed while leading a charge as some of the papers represented, but was sitting quietly on his horse giving orders—not that Col. Roberts was not ready to lead any charge which was necessary, for I never saw a more perfectly fearless mann. He seemed utterly insensible to fear. I make the correction simply as a matter of fact. Col. Harrington of the 27th fell about the same time, mortally wounded. He died in Murfreesboro the next day.

We did not learn of either of these casualties until we had commenced to retire from the field. The last move our regiment made in the field was to change front forward [on] our last company taking up a position behind a fence along the pike to give us a better chance to meet the enemy, who appeared to be coming in that direction. They did not advance on us, but they evidently saw that movement for they changed the direction of their guns a little and dropped shells around us much thicker than was comfortable. It was there that Col. Bradley's horse was struck with a piece of shell while he was about dismounting. He had persistently sat on his horse throughout the whole of it until this time, when he was remonstrated with so earnestly that he consented to dismount and was about doing so when his horse was struck.

I suggested to the colonel about this time that it seemed to be useless to remain in that position any longer. Our men were lying down behind the crest of a ridge & could not fire a shot but were terribly exposed to the enemy's shells. The colonel replied that he would not leave the field so long as the 27th & Houghtaling's Battery remained & requested me to go out where I could overlook the field & report any change. I accordingly took a position a little to our left, on some rocks behind a large cedar tree, where I had a good view to the right & left & also of the enemy's batteries in front. I staid there until I saw the 27th face about & move to the rear. Houghtaling's Battery had already fired their last round of ammunition & put all their remaining horses onto three guns in the hopes of getting them off the field, but these were mostly shot down before they had gone far & they were obliged to abandon their pieces & leave them in the woods. I waited until I was satisfied they were leaving the field & there was nothing left but our regiment. I then reported the fact to Col. Bradley & we moved off by the right flank into thick cedar woods in the direction of the pike. It must have been nearly 12 o'clock when we left this portion of the field. We had seen nothing of Gen. Sheridan for nearly two hours. Our brigade commander was killed, our next ranking officer mortally wounded, the battery had fired their last round of ammunition, lost nearly half their men & nearly all their horses. Most of the infantry was nearly out of their ammunition & of course it would have been the most sheer folly for us to have remained there longer. But we moved off without the least hurry or confusion. We didn't even double quick a step. I had no idea of where we were going when we started & very little expectation that we should get out, but it was our duty to make an effort to save ourselves, and as it seemed to me providentially we passed out through a narrow place that was not occupied by the enemy & the only possible place where we could have got through. Arriving on the other pike, every thing seemed in confusion. It looked like a routed army. There were single stragglers & stragglers in groups, scattered all over the field. It seemed to me that our two regiments were the only ones that maintained any thing like good order, though I suppose we had a line somewhere. We passed up the pike towards Nashville, and soon Gen. Davis5 I believe ordered us to the support of Harker,6 who was endeavoring to hold the pike but was being driven back & suffering terribly. He had already lost two guns, & the enemy had gained a strong position in one of their eternal cedar thickets. Our orders were that the pike must be held at all hazards. We advanced to the edge of the thicket & endeavored to hold a position there, but we didn't have half a chance, & the fire was so hot from an unseen enemy that we had to fall back to the pike. Gen. McCook then came up furious & said the pike had got to be held, the safety of the whole army depended upon it. The only reply was the order to advance. There were only two regiments of us, the 27th & 51st, but we advanced again to the edge of the thicket, hung there for a few moments which seemed ages to me — my anxiety was so intense — & then both regiments charged into the thicket with a shout & a yell that ought to have been heard all over the Southern Confederacy. We drove the Rebels (5 Tennessee Regiments) completely out across the open fields beyond into the woods. It was really the most brilliant thing I saw of the whole day. None of the accounts mention it in connection with the operations of Sheridan's Division for the reason I suppose that there was nobody to see it (that is, no General) as our two regiments were the only ones from our division engaged. The importance of the results achieved I think cannot be appreciated or understood except by those who were there present. Had the enemy succeeded in gaining possession of the pike at this point, it seems to me that Rosecrans army must have been destroyed. But it was not to be. This was the last of our severe fighting. We held this position until after the evacuation.

Part Three: It came up the line like electricity

The position of our army at this time was justly considered to be one of extreme peril. The original plan of battle was entirely broken up. We were forced to act on the defensive, & our whole line of communication with Nashville was menaced by the enemy's cavalry. The night settled in cold and gloomy. We all supposed the fighting had only commenced. After the brilliant feat of the two regiments of our brigade, we settled back & established our line in the edge of the cedars fronting the open field. The other two regiments of our brigade joined us here & other troops afterwards came in on our right & left forming a continuous line. Night had come & I guess it was never more welcome to the men composing the army. How many times during the forenoon did I look at my watch & think of Wellington's remark at Waterloo.7 We had no Blucher to come, but if ever I wished for night it was then.

But even now another trouble was at hand & pressing. We had been without rations for 48 hours & knew not where we could get any. Genl Sheridan came around in the evening & was extravagant in his praises. He said our brigade had done more fighting than Crittenden's whole army corps. Col Bradley told him he thought we could do a little more of the same sort if we could get something to eat. He promised to try to get some rations & towards midnight we had a box of crackers issued to each company. The night was intensely cold for this climate. I had good reason to know for I had no blanket. Some time past midnight we received orders from Gen McCook to put out all fires & stand to arms, at 3 o'clock. This order was obeyed to the letter but it was terribly severe on the men, standing in line for three or four hours in that cold frosty atmosphere. I heard an officer say that after he saddled his horse at 3 o'clock the frost accumulated on his saddle to such an extent that he could scrape it up almost by the handfull. But the enemy did not attack us. After daylight the men were allowed to stack arms & prepare some breakfast having received a little coffee & sugar the night previous. The day wore on but the enemy showed no inclination to renew the attack. Occasionally different batteries would open & fire a few rounds but during the whole day there was no movement of any importance on either side. We threw up temporary breastworks in front of our position which served to establish the line & also afford us a little protection. In the afternoon the enemy made a little demonstration in front of us which looked like the prelude to something greater. They advanced a force of two or perhaps three regiments directly in our front with the seeming intention of learning our strength & position. We opened upon them at rather long range, killing some & scattering them [in] great confusion. We noticed that many of them did not retire but seemed to take shelter among the rocks. A small force was set out & brought in over a hundred prisoners. They were Tennessee troops & I suspect not altogether unwilling captives. Another night & as far as I could see no material change for the lat 24 hours. I confidently expected that Rosecrans would now retire his army on Nashville. It seemed to me it was the only way he could save it & from what I have since learned nearly all generals were of the same opinion. But fortunately for the country Rosecrans commanded the army in person. He assumed the responsibility & was equal to the emergency. Thursday night was one of active preparation for something though our brigade had no connection with it. We could hear the sound of axes, & troops were being moved to the left of us nearly all night. There were also corresponding movements on the part of the enemy, which were reported by our advanced pickets. We remained constantly in our position, which was to defend & protect the pike, for if this was lost everything was lost. We came to understand after a while that this was the job assigned to us, & we thought we could fill the bill.

Friday was comparatively quiet until between three & four o'clock in the afternoon. The Rebels then moved their forces & made a furious attack on our left. I don't know much about it of course, for it was nearly half a mile from us, but the firing was most terrific. I was out in front that day with the advanced pickets & for nearly an hour it was a time of fearful suspense. We could only judge of the nature of the attack & progress of the fight by the sound, & it would be curious to an unpracticed ear to hear how much is indicated by the noise of battle. We knew the attack was on our lines for the cannonading was all on our side. The enemy's firing seemed to be entirely musketry. Then we would listen with the most breathless attention to ascertain if the musketry was approaching or receding. Sometimes it would appear to be getting nearer & then we would get nervous. Then it would seem to be going the other way, & feelings would go up correspondingly. After a while the firing gradually diminished till it had nearly ceased. We felt that our side had maintained their position but further than this we knew nothing. We could hear the cheering during the progress of the fight but sometimes were considerably in doubt which side it was on. Very soon however our anxiety was relieved. We could hear at first way down the lines something that might be yelling or cheering. We could hardly tell which. Then it came nearer & presently we could distinguish genuine hearty cheers. It came up the line like electricity, being taken up by brigades & regiments in turn until it reached our own, & then I sent a man back to learn the result. He came back and reported that Gen Sheridan had ridden along our lines announcing that we had driven the enemy with terrible slaughter, gaining over a mile, took a large number of prisoners & some guns. This was about as definite information as we could get at that time. But success was on our side, & that put us in most capital spirits. This for the time it lasted was perhaps the most furious engagement of the battle. It was undoubtedly the most destructive to the enemy, for they charged across open fields in the face of our batteries in the most wild & reckless manner. It was in this engagement in which Joe Scott of the 19th was wounded. I have given you the details thus minutely that you might if possible understand something of my position & feelings. They may prove to be of little interest to you after all, for I know I have but little faculty for making things appear real. I will suggest however that it will be much better to take even a poor description than to realize it for yourself.

Saturday was much like Friday, quiet until there was another spirited engagement on our left & center. This was also successful to our side. I need not enter into particulars, for I did not see it, & you have probably read better accounts than I could give. This was the last of the battle of Stones River. The next morning saw no enemy in our front. We remained in the same position until Monday P. M. when we removed to our present camp.

In regard to the fighting of different regiments and brigades much has been said & written that is mere stuff & nonsense. It is the practice with many Generals to keep a newspaper reporter on their staff to lend their arts & write them into the position of heroes. Many regiments have been over praised & many have not had full justice done to them. The mortality list of any regiment is no sure criterion of its conduct in a fight. Probably some of Johnson's regiments suffered more in running from the fight without firing a shot than others did who fought well all day. As a general rule, I believe those regiments suffer the least who keep together the best. I am fully satisfied with our brigade & the work it done. Some others may have been more conspicuous, but I don't believe there is one that rendered more important service, & if there is any regiment that fought so long as we did & can show a smaller list of stragglers than the 51st, I should like to know it.

In regard to the course of the disaster on our right, I have no doubt they were surprised & taken at a disadvantage. The fault was mainly if not entirely in Johnson's Division. They had no line formed & some of the regiments had hardly time to break their stacks of arms when the Rebels were upon them. It was said his batteries were not even placed in position but were limbered up with guns pointing to the rear all through the night, & one of them had part of their horses gone to water when they were attacked. It is nothing against the bravery of troops that they did not fight under such circumstances. The fault is higher up. Some of their regiments I have been told were old troops who fought in the battle of Shiloh & fought well. If the line at the right of our division had not given way, we could have held our ground till this time if necessary. Gen Johnson is from Kentucky & I believe a brother of the Rebel general of that name who was killed at Shiloh. My individual losses were not large, a rubber coat which cost ten dollars, blanket worth five or six & haversack which cost five containing my diary, which I would give ten dollars to get back.


Source:
Otis Moody Papers, private collection of William Moody, used by permission, all rights reserved.

Notes:
1Colonel George Roberts was the colonel of the Forty-Second Illinois Infantry. By the time of Stones River Roberts commanded one of the three brigades in Major General Philip Sheridan's Division, Alexander McCook's Right Wing, Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland. The brigade consisted of the units Moody mentioned: the Twenty-Second, Twenty-Seventh, Forty-Second, Fifty-First Illinois infantry regiments, and Charles Houghtaling's artillery battery.
2William Patterson—later himself killed at Chickamauga, on September 19, 1863.
3Colonel Joseph Scott of the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry died (in July) of wounds received at the Battle of Stones River on January 2, 1863.
4Moody refers to Captain Rufus Rose, the first captain of Company K. Moody was in charge of Company K because Rose was on detached duty at headquarters.
5General Jefferson C. Davis commanded one of the divisions of McCook's right wing of the army. Richard Johnson and Philip Sheridan commanded the other two.
6Colonel Charles G. Harker was in command of a brigade in Thomas Wood's Division of Major General Thomas Crittenden's Left Wing of the army. Harker's Brigade consisted of the Fifty-First Indiana, Seventy-Third Indiana, Thirteenth Michigan, Sixty-Fourth Ohio, and Sixty-Fifth Ohio.
7At Waterloo, when Napoleon's army had Wellington in desperate straits and Wellington awaited reinforcement by Prussian forces under Blücher, Wellington paced and watched his watch, praying for "night or Blücher" to come. Blücher came.