Report of Brig. Gen. William Preston, C. S Army, commanding Third Brigade
DECEMBER 26, 1862-JANUARY 5, 1863.--The Stone's River or Murfreesborough, Tenn., Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XX/1 [S# 29]
HEADQUARTERS PRESTON'S BRIGADE,
BRECKINRIDGE'S DIVISION, ARMY OF TENNESSEE,
January 12, 1863.
Col. T. O'HARA,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
COLONEL: In obedience to the orders of Major-General Breckinridge, I have the honor to transmit a report of the operations of the brigade under my command in the recent battles near Murfreesborough.
The Twentieth Tennessee, the Sixtieth North Carolina, the Fourth Florida, and the First and Third Florida Regiments, with Wright's battery of four pieces, constituted my command, numbering 1,640 effective men.
The enemy having advanced in force against Murfreesborough, dispositions for battle were made, and Breckinridge s division was posted on the extreme right in our front line, with its right near Spence s house, on the Lebanon turnpike, extending toward the ford, where the Nashville turnpike crosses Stone's River. Adams' brigade was on the right, mine next, and Palmer's and Hanson's extended westwardly toward the ford. This position was occupied from Sunday morning, December 28, with some few unimportant changes in our line of battle, until the succeeding Wednesday. On that day, not long after noon, we were ordered to cross the river at the ford, and, under the supervision of Major-General Breckinridge, my brigade, on the right, and that of Palmer on my left, were formed in line of battle on the ground originally occupied by Lieutenant-General Polk's command. The right of my brigade rested near the intersection of the Nashville Railroad and turnpike, and extended nearly at right angles westwardly, about half a mile south of Cowan's, or the burnt house.
These dispositions made, the order was given to advance in the direction of the burnt house toward a cedar forest beyond. Wide and open fields intervened, through which the command passed with great animation, in fine order. As we came near the farm-house, heavy batteries of the enemy, supported by strong lines of infantry near a railroad embankment, forming a strong defense, were visible obliquely to the right, on the northeast of the Nashville turnpike. The brigade advanced rapidly and steadily under a destructive fire from the artillery. The Twentieth Tennessee, passing to the right of the house, engaged the enemy with vigor on the right in some woods near the river, capturing some 25 prisoners and clearing the wood. The First and Third Florida, on the extreme left, pressed forward to the cedar forest with but little loss. The two central regiments (the Sixtieth North Carolina and Fourth Florida) found great difficulty in pressing through the ruins and strong inclosures of the farm-house, and, retarded by these obstacles and by a fire from the enemy's sharpshooters in front, and a very fierce cannonade, partially enfilading their lines, were for a moment thrown into confusion at the verge of the wood. They halted and commenced firing, but, being urged forward, they responded with loud shouts and gained the cedars. The enemy turned upon the wood a heavy fire from many pieces of artillery, across a field 400 or 500 yards distant, and, though we lost some valuable lives, the brigade maintained its position with firmness in the edge of the wood.
Having met Lieutenant-General Hardee, he ordered me, with Adams' brigade (under Colonel Gibson) added to my command, to hold the wood. We bivouacked for the night, establishing our pickets far in the field and very near the enemy. The Twentieth Tennessee, which had been directed by Captain [R. W.] Wooley, assistant adjutant-general, near the river, finding their force insufficient to advance, after losing many men, halted in good order and rejoined the brigade at nightfall in the cedars. Wright's battery, having been detached by General Hardee, took no part in the action.
At roll-call, about dark, it was ascertained that the loss suffered by my command was 155 killed and wounded. The companies of the Sixtieth North Carolina, under the immediate command of Colonel [Joseph A.] McDowell, were with me; but those separated from his regiment in passing the burnt house, to which? have alluded, fell back without orders to the encampment, with the exception of some of the men and officers who joined the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment, and who did not rejoin their regiment until after night. Some few prisoners were taken and 400 or 500 stand of arms were secured.
On Friday, about 2 o'clock, the two brigades under my command were withdrawn from the cedars and ordered to take position in line of battle across the river, near the original post of Hanson's brigade. This being done, preparations for attack were made, and Major-General Breckinridge formed his division in two lines, Pillow's and Hanson's brigades being in the front line, with mine 200 yards in the rear of Pillow's, to support his command, and Gibson's on my left, to support Hanson's.
About 4 o'clock, the order to advance being given, the division moved forward rapidly through a wood and an open field beyond to drive the enemy beyond the river and seize a hill that would enable our artillery to enfilade in reverse their batteries. As soon as the field was entered the engagement commenced, and our men, pressing forward with great ardor, drove the enemy over the crest of the hill and beyond the river. Wright's battery was advanced to the crest of the hill, and was soon hotly engaged. On our right the enemy far outflanked us, and the Twentieth Tennessee suffered severely, but dashed forward into the woods with its accustomed gallantry and drove the enemy down the hill, capturing some 200 prisoners. A division of the enemy, said to be that of [H. P.] Van Cleve, was driven down the hill-side in utter rout by our division. The enemy then rapidly concentrated large numbers of fresh troops on the other side of the river, and poured upon our dense ranks a withering fire of musketry and artillery. Our lines, originally very close in the order of advance, were commingled near the river, and this new fire from an overwhelming force from the opposite banks of the stream threw them into disorder. The division recoiled over the field in the direction of the wood through which we first passed. When withdrawing from the field, I met Brigadier-General Wharton with his battery and the cavalry, with which he was covering our right. He was about opening fire with the battery, when I advised him not to do so, as he might fire on some of our men. He detached Colonel Harrison, of the Texas Rangers, who, with my brigade, formed and supported Robertson's battery in the verge of the wood until General Breckinridge ordered me to resume my original lines. One of our batteries opened from its verge, and I succeeded in forming my brigade for its support, and was in that position when Major-General Breckinridge arrived and ordered me to resume our original lines, about a mile in the rear, as night had come on.
The loss sustained by my command in this action was 295 killed and wounded, and 90 missing, most of whom were doubtless killed or wounded. The total loss of my command in both actions was 537.
Wright's battery was bravely fought, but lost its gallant commander, who was killed at his guns. Lieutenant [J. W.] Mebane, though wounded, succeeded in withdrawing all of the battery except two of the pieces, which were lost, and which could not be got off, as many of the horses were killed.
For other details I refer to the reports of the commanding officers of the regiments and of the battery, which I inclose. During the battle both men and officers displayed great intrepidity, and I attribute the repulse on Friday to the manifest hopelessness of the attempt to hurl a single division, without support, against the cardinal position of the whole hostile army. This was apparent to the least intelligent soldier. The line fell back, rallied, and in half an hour was ready to re-engage.
In rallying the troops, I feel it my duty to notice and report the conspicuous zeal and gallantry displayed by yourself, and to testify my appreciation of the valuable assistance you rendered on the field.
Colonel Smith, of the Twentieth Tennessee, a brave and skillful officer, was severely wounded on Wednesday, and the command devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel [Frank M.] Lavender, who has not been heard of since the action on Friday. It is believed that he is wounded or a prisoner.
Colonel Miller, of the First and Third Florida, was wounded on Friday while bravely leading his regiment, which he withdrew, retaining the command, notwithstanding his wound.
The Fourth Florida in both actions bore itself gallantly, and was ably commanded by Colonel Bowen.
In the action of the 31st, Lieut. Edwin Whitfield, of my staff, was severely, if not fatally, wounded by my side while gallantly rendering me the most efficient aid, and Mr. Orville Ewing, a young gentleman of great promise, distinguished in the battle of Mill Springs, was killed nearly at the same moment.
Maj. J. C. Thompson, volunteer aide, and Captain Wooley, assistant adjutant-general, assisted me efficiently on Wednesday.
Mr. [W. R.] Chambliss, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain [H. P.] Wallace, and Lieut. [J. C.] Wheeler assisted me on Friday on my staff.
To Major [F.] Claybrooke, who volunteered on my staff on Friday, 1 am greatly indebted for his services.
I recommend for promotion Sergeant Battle for conspicuous gallantry. After four color-bearers of the Twentieth Tennessee had been shot down and the regiment was in confusion, he seized the colors and bravely rallied the men under my eye.
I remain, colonel, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Abstract from semi-weekly report of Preston's brigade, Brig. Gen. William Preston commanding, for January 12, 1863.
Command Officers Men Aggregate
Field and staff 6 --- 6 6 6 1st and 3d Florida 34 461 595 1,362 1,377 4th Florida 16 268 385 678 719 60th North Carolina 26 250 354 804 802 20th Tennessee 29 254 338 610 623 Wright's battery 4 71 86 92 95 Total 115 1,304 1,764 3,552 3,622
RETURN TO BATTLE OF STONE'S RIVER OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE