A colleague and Army museum director recently published a new article about the Battle of Stones River. Chris Kolakowski’s article will appear in the Winter 2012 issue of Hallowed Ground Magazine. An abstract from the Civil War Historic Trust website summarizes the piece, but here’s the introduction directly from the author:
Nashville, Tennessee, bustled with activity on Christmas Day 1862. The Tennessee capital hosted over 70,000 Federal soldiers of Major General William S. Rosecrans’ army in addition to its 17,000 inhabitants. While the city’s citizens marked their first Christmas under Union occupation, the Federal camps in and around Nashville preparations were underway for a major movement. At dawn the next day Rosecrans’ soldiers marched south and southeast, seeking battle with Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. The armies met outside Murfreesboro, and the resulting three-day engagement produced the Civil War’s bloodiest battle by percentage of loss.
From an Army communications standpoint, the most impacting part of the piece is also the section which inspired the title. I’ve copied and pasted it below:
As the cedars fight ended about 11 A.M., the battle hung in the balance as fighting shifted to the area along the Nashville Pike. In this crisis, leadership made the difference between victory and defeat. In contrast to the passive Bragg, who preferred to remain in the rear, Rosecrans and his staff dashed around the battlefield giving advice, orders, and encouragement to the troops, often under fire. Scores of Federals wrote of seeing the commanding general on his gray horse, an unlit cigar clamped between his teeth. Rosecrans’ presence at the front heartened his army, as one officer later wrote: “I could not help expressing my gratitude to Providence for having given us a man who was equal to the occasion – a general in fact as well as in name.” General Palmer later said, “If I was to fight a battle for the dominion of the universe, I would give Rosecrans the command of as many men as he could see and who could see him.” Rosecrans also took time to visit McFadden’s Ford, where Colonel Samuel Price’s small brigade guarded the key crossing. “Will you hold this ford?” he queried Price. “I will try, sir,” was the reply. “Will you hold this ford?” Rosecrans asked with more emphasis. “I will die right here,” affirmed Price. “Will you hold this ford?” the general demanded again. “Yes, sir,” came the answer. “That will do,” replied Rosecrans, who rode off.
While some argue that the Civil War was the first ‘modern’ war, one particular sentence really struck me:
“If I was to fight a battle for the dominion of the universe, I would give Rosecrans the command of as many men as he could see and who could see him.”
Think about that statement for a moment. In contemporary warfare, leaders oversee troops that are often geographically separated from them. In the Civil War, leadership was restricted to line of sight. You maintained command, control, and effective communications only if you were close enough to see and hear the battle. Twentieth century technology dramatically changed the way wars were fought, and this trend has continued through the present.
Great job, Chris!