Battle of Stones River: The Harding House and the Brick Kiln

2004 Stones River National Battlefield, Historic Resource Study

The Harding House present at the time of the battle was a two-story log structure located near the Wilkinson Pike. This was the home of Giles Scales Harding and Mary Hollowell Blackman Harding and their family.

Prior to the war, the Hardings planned to construct a new brick home, and in preparation for this, they had bricks made on the place, most likely by slaves at a brick kiln located near the main house. However, construction of the house was interrupted by the war, and Union soldiers appropriated the Hardings’ bricks for military purposes.

The Harding House was in the midst of Stones River.

During the Battle of Stones River, the Harding House stood in the midst of the fighting on December 31, 1862. The Union army used the building as a field hospital. On the first day of the battle, the house was captured by Confederates and all of its patients made prisoners, but after the Confederate retreat towards Tullahoma, the house once again fell into Union hands.

On December 28, 1862, Water’s Alabama battery stationed themselves near the Harding place and saw no action until December 30 “when the enemy,
having forced in our skirmishers, got possession of a gin-house and other outbuildings, belonging to the farm of Mr. Harding . . . I was ordered to shell them out which I did.”

On December 31, Union and Confederate infantry and artillery units were again fighting around the Harding House and brick kiln. During the Confederate attack on the morning of December 31, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham stated: “About 8 o’clock, Colonel Manigault’s brigade
moved out and attacked the enemy directly in his front. He met with very strong resistance . . . General Maney’s brigade came up and took position on the left of Manigault’s when they moved forward and took position facing toward the Wilkinson pike, near the Harding house, when two batteries of the enemy opened upon them . . . Turner’s battery of Napoleon guns in position near the brick-kiln . . . in a short time silenced the battery on the east side of the road.

In the midst of the fighting, Union troops took over the Harding House for use as a hospital. On December 30 a chaplain and doctor serving in the Thirty-Sixth Illinois Infantry assisted an injured soldier in reaching the Harding House. In an account originally written shortly after the battle,
the minister provided the following description of the scene at the Harding House on that fateful morning: “This building, or rather series of buildings, is what we called “Hospital Harding,” and was our place of residence for over a week, where we had the care of upwards of 150 wounded. The
house was a third rate frame building, with the log cook-house, &c., attached and surrounded by negro cabins, as is the custom here, while at a
little distance was a barn, cotton gin and all the appliances of a cotton plantation. The owner was evidently a man of considerable wealth, owning about fifty negroes, and having an extensive plantation. There were evidences on the premises of considerable refinement, a well cultivated garden and good pianoforte being respectively the external and internal
representatives of it. Mr. Harding was at home, and two or three negroes. At the time we took possession they had sought safety in the cellar.

But the rest of the family, white and black, had been removed to the other side of Murfreesborough, the secesh commanders having informed him a few days before that the battle would be fought on his land. He looked
with anything but complacency upon the Federal army, and indeed there was nothing peculiarly attractive in a body of men taking forcible possession of a man’s house, covering his floors, carpet, beds and bedding with bleeding men, and appropriating anything within reach that might be made serviceable.”

The chaplain and doctor prepared to return to the field after assisting their charge but instead chose to remain as additional medical personnel to attend to the flood of wounded that entered the house. Anticipating that the Harding House would be in the midst of the battle on December 31, Union commanders ordered that the hospital be moved two miles to the rear. However, before this could be accomplished, the Confederates launched their attack against the Union right and captured the Harding House, which stood in their path. The chaplain and Dr. Pierce happened to be outside when the Confederate advance swept toward the Harding place, and they temporarily took shelter at the Gresham House, another nearby Union field
hospital. They were at the Gresham House when Confederates captured this home. After the Confederates paroled the soldiers without serious wounds and sent them to Murfreesboro, the chaplain and his companion elected to remain with the wounded. However, after they had helped for a
while, they obtained a pass from a Confederate officer in order to return to the Harding House where they expected most of the wounded from their regiment to be located.

Shortly after they arrived, a cannon ball pierced a wall of the house, killing four wounded soldiers and breaking the legs of the pianoforte. On January 1, the chaplain ventured to Murfreesboro in order to obtain desperately needed food for the hospital patients from their Confederate captors. They continued their work at the hospital, and the Harding place was retaken by Union troops on January 4 after the Confederate retreat from Murfreesboro.

The Harding family eventually returned to their home, finding one wounded soldier who had been left behind. This man became the charge of the family’s daughter Ellen Amy Harding who cared for him until he recovered enough to leave. To express his appreciation, the soldier gave Ellen Amy a 2-¾-dollar gold piece which she later had set into a broach as a memento of the war.

The original Harding House survived until the late 1870s when it burned. The family constructed a frame house as a replacement. The Harding property seems to have been a popular reunion site for Confederate
veterans. For example, the First Tennessee Regiment held an event there in October 1907. The site of the original Harding House is located on land
proposed for acquisition by Stones River National Battlefield’s 1999 GMP.

Many significant Civil War sites outside of Stones River National Battlefield

Archaeologists to pinpoint Harding House/Brick Kiln site

Battle destroyed Giles Harding’s dream of grandeur

Harding ‘evidence’ bolsters Stones River battlefield accounts

Rare Civil War spur found at Harding House site

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