Charles Barney Dennis at Stones River Part II: Marching to Murfreesboro December 27-30, 1862
The days between the 26th of December and the 31st were put into maneuvers for position and it was not until the afternoon of the 30th that things began to take tangible form. Our army had straightened out on a line some three or four miles long on the north side of Stones River. Stones River is not a very large stream; it is not used for navigation but at times is rather turbulent and has places deep enough to drown men and horses. It was in that condition when it divided the contending Union and Rebel forces.
Our army was divided into three grand divisions, or more properly, three corps but each was designated as a wing: right, center, and left. The Battle of Stones River was fought by a Union force of 43,400 men of all branches. It took more than 3,000 men to guard our line of communications and the trains in our rear. The Pioneer Brigade is not counted in the men who fought the battle of the reason that its duties do not take it on the firing line. Of the number actually engaged, there was 37,977 infantry, 3,200 cavalry, and 2,223 artillery. The Rebels had about 40,000 men of all grades.
The night of the 30th we swung into position against the Rebel left wing and had a pretty severe action to make the enemy let go of ground that we thought we needed. It took us into what is called in Tennessee a cedar brake, that is a growth of small cedar trees and other undergrowth. To get there we left an open cotton field to the rear at least 300 yards and this open field was considerably higher ground that that we had fought into and in fighting into it we had lot quite heavily in killed and wounded. [Major Isaac M. Kirby stated this the action Dennis is describing occurred starting in the afternoon, not at night. “On Tuesday morning the regiment was moved forward in double column at half distance supporting the 21st Illinois. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon the 21st became engaged with the enemy, the 101st lying a short distance in the rear supporting the 2nd Minnesota Battery which was engaging a battery of the enemy. Just at dark the 21st fell back through our lines, leaving us in front. This day our loss was two men wounded.’ The 21st Illinois took heavy losses attempting to charge an entrenched Confederate battery with heavy infantry support.]
Personally I lost heavily in rations which happened this way. The regiment came across a large open cotton field in column of fours, and as we neared the cedar brake where the fighting was going on, we were ordered into line of battle ‘by the right flank;’ this means that the regiment must lose its formation in fours and get into two lines from right to left and standing close enough that elbows just touch. In getting into this latter formation the order is ‘right into line,’ which movement is very similar to the old school game of ‘cracking the whip.’ Our company happened to be at the left of the regiment that day and that gave us the long end of the turn. It was made at a double quick. My haversack string broke and away went my grub bag, tin can and all. I stopped to recover it, but some officer gave me a slap with his saber and told me to rush on, never mind the lost haversack, ‘there’d be plenty to eat,’ but there is where he talked about what he didn’t know, for I had no rations except one tin cup of coffee for the next two days. I lived principally on hickory and black walnuts which were plenty in the woods and groves on the battlefield. We lay under the fire of the Rebels that night and there was plenty of night fighting. We slept, what little we did sleep, laying flat down with our guns under our right arm in position to bring it up for use quickly.
Well along in the evening, and while the fighting was rather lively, and the wounded were being brought back in liberal numbers, the members of what was called the hospital corps of our regiment went back well to the rear and made ten of these big 10-gallon camp kettles full of coffee and brought it to the firing line. We of Co. B of course got our share. I got one big tin cup of full-black coffee, no milk, no sugar, but I think it was the most delicious drink I ever had in my life. I remember now how perfectly contented I felt and how I thought this wasn’t such a bad world after all…
[Regimental historian Lewis W. Day recorded the tense night of December 30th: ‘All night long we could hear the movement of troops and artillery to our right. So serious did this seem to us that we several times sent word to regimental headquarters calling attention to the fact. Colonel Stem forwarded the report to brigade, division, and corps headquarters, but nothing was done about it. Similar reports were sent from other parts of the picket line but to not effect.’ Captain Lyman Parcher and his Co. E from Bucyrus drew skirmish line duty for the evening of December 30-31st and wrote the following: ‘We went in front to our posts for the night, our anxious watch rendered melancholy by the presence of many dead around us. This I believe to be to most unpleasant night of my life. Extremely cold for this latitude, where we dare not trust our eyes to close lest we sleep; nothing but the anxiety and peril served to nerve us up and render our condition tolerable.’]
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