Driving the Rebs to Murfreesboro with the 15th Indiana

     As yesterday's post examined the actions of the 15th Wisconsin at Knob Gap along the Nolensville Pike, today's post switches over to the Left Wing of the Army of the Cumberland and focuses on the efforts of the 15th Indiana to push the Confederates down the Murfreesboro Pike towards Murfreesboro.  The atmospheric conditions which made the march for the Right Wing a rain-soaked muddy enterprise also played true over on the Left Wing, the notable advantage being that the Murfreesboro Pike over which the Left Wing marched was macadamized and held up somewhat better in the rainy weather. 

    The mission of the Left Wing was the same as that of the Right: to push the Confederates and develop their main defensive position. General Rosecrans moved on three parallel paths from Nashville towards Murfreesboro, keeping each corps within close supporting distance of one another such that when primary concentration of the Confederate army was developed (as of December 26th, that was still an unknown), the Federal army could quickly concentrate on that point and give battle. So the small engagements of the opening days of the campaign were very much a situation of the Federal army feeling out the Confederate position, while the mission of the Confederate cavalry was simply to observe and delay the Federal march. Each outpost then sent back information to General Braxton Bragg headquartered in Murfreesboro, and once it was clear that the Federals were truly advancing in force (not just sending out a division to get forage), Bragg ordered the concentration of his army and prepared to give battle.

    The 15th Indiana, part of Colonel George D. Wagner's Second Brigade of General Thomas J. Wood's First Division, gained much favorable notice for its hard fighting during the Battle of Stones River, and along with the 57th Indiana held the Union left flank on December 31st and did much to help hold the critical Round Forest position. As a matter of fact, the 15th Indiana captured 173 members of the 13th/20th Louisiana regiment late on the first day of the battle, the largest recorded capture of Confederate troops by a single Union regiment throughout the campaign.

Captain Joel W. Foster of Co. G of the 15th Indiana Infantry was killed in action December 31, 1862 at Stones River. The night before he was killed, Adjutant Edwin Nicar found the usually talkative Foster "quite despondent. Pressed for the reason, he replied that he had an earnest conviction that he would be killed in tomorrow's battle. He said, however, that he would strive to do his whole duty, let the consequences be what they might. Chaplain John Whitehead and I made light of his forebodings and tried our best to cheer him up, but it was no use and he hailed us good night as it proved for the last time." Captain Foster died in the arms of his next door neighbor Chaplain Whitehead the following afternoon, felled by a single bullet that struck two other soldiers. The chaplain was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on December 31st attending to the casualties. 

    Today's focus will be on the actions of the 15th Indiana during the period of December 26th-29th along the Murfreesboro Pike. The regimental official report for Stones River virtually ignores this period of time, except to state that the regiment "was not actually engaged prior to the 31st" but offers that on December 29th, two companies of the regiment were in the advance line as skirmishers and suffered one man wounded. Two accounts, one from Adjutant Edwin Nicar and a second from Sergeant Samuel Stallard of Co. A provide some more insight into what the 15th Indiana did to help drive the Rebels into Murfreesboro, while a supplemental account from Wilbur Hinman of the 65th Ohio helps explain a bit of what it was like driving the Rebels from LaVergne on December 27th.

"The rain had again commenced and plodding over plowed fields, pushing through dense underbrush, crowding through cedar thickets, and often on the double-quick, was anything but pleasant work." ~ Adjutant Edwin Nicar, 15th Indiana

Adjutant Edwin Nicar, 15th Indiana:

    When Wood's Division broke camp near Nashville, Tennessee on the morning of December 26, 1862 and commenced its march towards Murfreesboro, very few boys of the 15th Indiana had any idea of the trials in store for them. Christmas Day had passed pleasantly and if any rumors that we were to march on the enemy had gained circulation, they were relegated to the rear with all speed as so many others had been before them. But on this morning, soon after reveille, the 'general' also sounded and in a short time tents were struck, wagons packed and we were off sure enough.

    Now that the march was commenced, we had reason to suppose that we should meet the Rebels, perhaps fight them, but that a three days' battle was in store for us no one believed. If we gave any special thought to the matter of individual safety, I am of the opinion that each one with an occasional exception, thought he was to be one of the lucky ones, and if anyone was to be killed or wounded it was certain to be the other fellow. As for myself, I had an abiding conviction that I should come out all right, but this thought did not prevent my seeking cover or bowing my head in deep respect when a solid shot, shell, or Minie ball came uncomfortably close to me.

The Murfreesboro/Nashville Pike had not changed much from the Civil War era as depicted in this image dating from about 1900. A macadamized road had a single layer of crushed stone atop the native soil which served to provide a much more robust road surface in wet conditions than plain dirt. Over time, the continued crushing of the stone from traffic combined with the rain formed a hardened layer of "paste" that helped keep the road dry by shedding water. A fresh layer of crushed stone was added periodically over the years to refresh the surface and these roads proved themselves in the war years, being essentially the equivalent of interstate highways for army traffic. The Left Wing of the Army of the Cumberland arrived in front of Murfreesboro more quickly than the Right Wing and Center Corps largely because they traveled on this type of improved road. 

    I was regimental adjutant at this time and as I rode along the lines that morning I was greatly impressed with the martial bearing of the men and the soldierly appearance they presented. I was always proud of our regiment, always had implicit faith in it, and that faith was never shaken. The rain was pouring down, and during the day we had plenty of it, so the march was very disagreeable. The day of the week was Friday, and one splendid soldier, a sergeant yet living, intimated to me in a low tone of voice that our expedition would be a failure as Friday was an unlucky day. I laughed at him, and said I considered Friday a lucky day and I was sure that no harm could come to the splendid army of men whose faces were then setting southward. We were both right and both mistaken, for our gallant army met with sore reverses at first, yet came off the final victor in one of the most bloody and hotly-contested battles of the war.

    Crossing the fields which led to Murfreesboro Pike we soon reached that road and our march proper was begun. Frequent halts were made as became necessary to allow the troops in advance to clear the ground in front of them, and during one of these General Rosecrans and his brilliant staff rode through the lines. The General's face shone with pleasure at the reception accorded him, and the cheers that greeted his presence seemed most welcome music to his ears. Palmer's division had the lead and a spattering fire from his skirmishers indicated that all was not pleasant in front. Off to the right and left there was also brisk firing, and the deep boom of an occasional cannon gave notice that the dogs of war were unloosed. 

This map, included with the Congressional set comprising Rosecrans' report of the Stones River campaign, was drawn by Captain Nathaniel Michler and shows the railroad stop of LaVergne, Tennessee located along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad and within short distance of the Murfreesboro Pike which runs south in Stewartsboro (listed as Stewardsboro on this map). Note the proximity of Nolensville ten miles to the southwest of LaVergne; the Right Wing pushed through Nolensville on December 26th. The Left Wing, including the 15th Indiana, would drive south on the Murfreesboro Turnpike on December 27th and spend Sunday December 28th in camp at Stewart's Creek south of Stewartsboro. LaVergne was later the scene of a sharp fight between the 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics and Joe Wheeler's cavalry on January 1, 1863. 

    Night had fallen before we reached LaVergne and in the midst of a dense fog we went into camp. At the earliest dawn, we were ready to march, but the fog had not lifted and the morning was well along before we started. This day Wood's division was in the lead with Hascall's brigade on the right and Wagner's in support and hardly had the march begun before the skirmishers were at work. Off to the right and left, the story of yesterday was repeated, and it was evident that the Rebels were concentrating and doing all they could meanwhile to delay our advance. Hascall rapidly swept away the force in his front and pushed on, with Wagner closely following. The rain had again commenced and plodding over plowed fields, pushing through dense underbrush, crowding through cedar thickets, and often on the double-quick, was anything but pleasant work. Thus the day passed, and just before nightfall we reached Stewart's Creek, the bridge over which had been saved by a gallant dash of Hascall's cavalry, supported by the 100th Illinois. We remained at Stewart's Creek over Sunday and the next day, Monday December 29th, with our brigade in advance, the march was resumed.

Cherry Shade, a home long disappeared from LaVergne, was a field hospital during the Stones River campaign. "A Union soldier who died in the home while it was being used as a hospital was buried in the front yard, but his body was later disinterred and removed to the National Cemetery," it was reported. The few wartime structures of LaVergne had all but disappeared by the mid-20th century. 

    It was the old story of brisk skirmishing, smart resistance, and final retreat on the part of the Rebels and for us it meant discipline and self-reliance, both of which came into splendid play later in the drama. Before night closed in, we were in sight of Murfreesboro and most of us through the Rebels were in retreat. That they were not we soon discovered, and had we attempted to enter Murfreesboro that night we should have met a very warm reception. 

"They slowly yielded, however, and we at no time receded from our forward movement.  We did not sit down for half a day whenever a shot was fired as we did under General Buell. We just kept right on steadily pressing the enemy." ~ First Lieutenant Wilbur F. Hinman, 65th Ohio

Sergeant Samuel T. Stallard, Co. A, 15th Indiana:

    On the 26th of December, we struck tents and loaded them with our other baggage on wagons which were driven and parked near the city. The army, with the exception of a large force that was left to protect Nashville, began to move towards the enemy. We had gone but a short distance when the Rebels began to sharply contest our advance. On the 27th, our division in front, we marched in line of battle through muddy cornfields. We advanced five miles, part of the time it rained very hard and we were compelled to fight the whole distance.

    December 28th was Sunday and a beautiful Sunday it was, so well-calculated to make a soldier's heart rejoice after being, as we had been, two days and nights exposed to cold and rain without the means of shelter. On the 29th, we advanced to within two miles of Murfreesboro and before this place our lines were formed. Our regiment lay to the left of the Murfreesboro and Nashville Poke and formed part of the front line. In front of this main line was a line of skirmishers. 

First Lieutenant Wilbur F. Hinman, Co. E, 65th Ohio:

    December 26th: After frequent halts, on account of the delay of the troops in front, just before dark, we filed off the pike into a muddy field near LaVergne. A spirited skirmish had taken place here a few hours before and several dead horses lay around and here and there the ground had been torn up by shells. Night, dark and dripping, settled down upon the great bivouac. We could do nothing except spread our blankets upon the wet ground, choosing the spots where there was the least depth of mud. Rain drizzled down upon us during the whole night. We slept, however, but arose well-soaked and in a most forlorn condition. An early movement was prevented by a dense fog, so thick at times that objects could not be seen at ten yards distance. The Rebels were reported to be in force a mile to the front. 

    At noon, an advance was ordered. We moved in line of battle by brigades with Hascall's leading, with the 26th Ohio and 15th Indiana deployed in heavy skirmish line. There was constant irregular firing, the Rebels stubbornly contesting the ground. They slowly yielded, however, and we at no time receded from our forward movement. As we approaching the little straggling village of LaVergne, we were much annoyed by the enemy's riflemen who were concealed in and around the buildings. The Rebel artillery took advantage of every favorable position to retard our progress. But we did not sit down for half a day whenever a shot was fired as we did under General Buell. We just kept right on steadily pressing the enemy. 




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