Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anniversary events next week at upgraded Stones River battlefield

A new entrance, more wayside exhibits and improved trails and parking greet visitors to Stones River National Battefield, where events next week mark the 149th anniversary of the high-casualty clash in middle Tennessee.

From December 26 through January 2, 2012, park rangers and volunteers will present living history, artillery demonstrations and provide caravan tours of the site near Murfreesboro. (• Click here for details)

The Battle of Stones River was one of the most significant battles in the Western Theater, according to Gib Backlund, chief of operations at the park.

After three days of intense fighting, nearly one third of the 81,000 men who fought there became casualties, according to the National Park Service.

Monday through Friday next week (Dec. 26-30), park rangers will present a guided walk at 10 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. program detailing the events of each day of the 1862 campaign. Daily programs will conclude with a guided caravan tour of the battlefield at 2 p.m.

Living history programs on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 (Saturday-Sunday) include stories of the most pivotal battle actions through the stories of soldiers. Programs will be presented at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.

Union artillery will take center stage on January 2 (Monday), with firings at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Between firings, Union cannoneers will share their perspectives on the battle’s bloody climax on January 2, 1863.

Backlund said current plans for 2012 -- the 150th anniversary of the battle -- include a scholarly symposium in late October and a program in May that features baseball and other recreational pastimes during the Civil War.

Stones River currently receives about 200,000 visitors a year. A new entrance (above) on Thompson Lane might lure more.

"We think the new main entrance may make it easier to find us," said Backlund.

The battlefield has added pedestrian and bicycle amenities, including a path from the visitors center to the cemetery, which holds about 6,100 dead from the four-year conflict.

The park is trying to reach more school groups and a broader audience. "I think there is a little more diversity" among visitors, Backlund said.

Exhibits at the visitors center touch on secession and Reconstruction.

Additional wayside exibits are designed to capture the attention of visitors, who tend to spend only a minute reading them.

"They tell you what happened on the piece of ground you are standing on," Backlund said.

Telling the story of what happened at Stones River is hindered somewhat by the lack of any wartime photographs showing the site.

After Gen. Braxton Bragg’s defeat at Perryville, Ky., he and his Confederate Army of the Mississippi retreated, reorganized and were redesignated as the Army of Tennessee. They then advanced to Murfreesboro and prepared to go into winter quarters.

Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’s Union Army of the Cumberland found Bragg’s army on December 29, 1862, and went into camp that night, within hearing distance of the Rebels, according to a National Park Service summary of the battle.

On Dec. 31, Bragg’s men attacked the Union right flank, where they made progress before being stopped by a stronger Federal line. On Jan 2., 1863, Bragg hurled a division at a Union unit. The Confederates drove most of the Federals back across McFadden’s Ford, but with the assistance of artillery, the Federals repulsed the attack, compelling the Rebels to retire to their original position. Bragg left the field on the January 4-5, retreating to Shelbyville and Tullahoma, Tenn.

"Stones River boosted Union morale," according to the NPS. "The Confederates had been thrown back in the east, west and in the Trans-Mississippi."

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service. Stones River National Battlefield is at 3501 Old Nashville Highway, northwest of Murfreesboro. Additional information is available at the visitors center or by calling (615) 893-9501.

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