Part 3: Battle of Murfreesboro

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Shirley Farris Jones, Special to the Post, January 3, 2013

Illustration courtesy of the Stones River Battlefield

Illustration courtesy of the Stones River Battlefield

As the new year began and the Confederate Army departed, caring for the many sick and wounded soldiers left on their doorsteps was not the only problem faced by Murfreesboro townspeople.

Burying the dead, as well as disposing of the many animal remains, was also a major chore to be reckoned with. Everything was in short supply. And finding enough food to feed the sick and wounded was a major problem.

Murfreesboro resident John C. Spence noted, “death and destruction to the four-footed beasts, all the cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry, or any thing that came in the way – even the milk cows of citizens met a common fate.”

“It matter not whether it was Union or “Secesh” property they were using, hunger has no bounds,” Spence wrote, referring to secessionists who opposed the North.

One soldier with the 15th Ohio Infantry had an interesting story: “At one time while we were in the Smith Hospital, they ran short of proper food for the wounded, as all the chickens in the neighborhood had been killed. The doctors were troubled about it, and Mr. Smith, who owned the premises, suggested that they get robins.

“Doctor Park laughed and said there would be nothing left of the robin when shot by one of our guns. Mr. Smith then suggested that if the attendants would go out after dark with a lantern into the second growth of cedars where they roosted and tap them with clubs, they could get numbers of them. This was tried and the first party came back with a half-bushel full, and the next with a two-bushel bag and a basket full.”

Some of birds were then sent to another hospital about a mile away from Smith Hospital, the soldier wrote, adding, “They usually served them boiled with hulled barley, and they were fine eating. But they only gave us one a day for fear we would tire of them.”

Finally, on Jan. 7, 1863, C. Lewis Diehl, of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, wrote, “The United States commissariat supplied this hospital with stores today. … The hospital in which we are is an old Presbyterian church … we have nothing except straw ticks to lay on and a thin blanket for cover.

“The surgeons – rebel – treat us very kindly and are doing as much for us as they do for their own men. The ladies – rebel – who visit this hospital generally slight us. Some few will attend to our wants. There was a general apprehension by the rebels that our men would not treat them kindly, but since they have received our stores, with permission to help themselves to whatever they need, they think differently.”

But not everyone stayed in Murfreesboro.

Many people who had the means began finding refuge to south for a safer place to live.

The lovely new bride, Mattie Morgan, was no exception. Along with her sister, Alice, Mattie Morgan, the wife of John Hunt Morgan, was forced to take flight from home.

Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans used the Ready House for his headquarters in Murfreesboro, and while under previous Union occupation, Mattie Morgan’s father, Charles Ready Jr., and brother-in-law, Dr. William C. Cheatham, had both been arrested for their support and participation in rebel resistance.

Mattie Morgan would not see her parents again until after the Civil War, and there would be very little communication between them. Her life, as well as that of her parents, would be forever changed.

The lives of those who lived in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County were about to change, as well.

Even the spelling of their town would change from the original spelling of “Murfreesborough” to the present day ending, which was likely due to the length of the original spelling and the limited space sending a telegram.

Murfreesboro was not a good place to be at this point in time and things were downright uncivil.

Many felt as though the disrespectful and merciless invaders of Tennessee soil did not respect even houses of worship. At one point, the townspeople watched in anguish as the Presbyterian church was torn down before its bricks were used for huts and ovens for Union soldiers.

Why even the boards from people’s homes and outbuildings were being ripped off along with the rails from their fences, which were being taken for use in the construction of a huge fort and supply depot that was under construction until June 1863.

It would be called Fortress Rosecrans and would encompass more than 200 acres.

The trees and heavily forested areas of the region were all mutilated and the landscape changed dramatically.

“The country for several miles round has been striped of every thing that can possibly be spared, leaving many with very short allowance to subsist on,” Spence commented.

Upon its completion, to add insult to injury, there would even be a cannon at Fortress Rosecrans aimed at the Rutherford County Courthouse. Residents were told that they would be fired upon in the event of a Confederate attack.

Unfortunately, this was more or less the way things would stay until the end of the Civil War.

An occupied town is never good.

A captured town is even worse.

The people of Murfreesboro had not even had the opportunity to attend worship services for three months.

And, if those problems encountered with enemy occupation weren’t enough, there was the issue of the newly freed African-American population, formerly known as slaves, to deal with.

The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect and, even though Tennessee was not included in the coverage, a new age had dawned for African-Americans. That presented many challenges in trying to deal with a displaced people who few wanted.

Most African-Americans had neither the means nor the ability to care for themselves, and many were either sick or disease ridden.

The many changes taking place would have social, as well as military and political implications.

For everyone in Murfreesboro, times were tough.

Even Spence thought he was doomed.

“Things (are) gloomy,” he wrote. “Possibly, we are in the dark hours just before day. We could complain, if it would avail anything toward the relief of our troubles. But we are doomed.”

Many in Murfreesboro shared those same sentiments.

Murfreesboro would remain under Union rule for the duration of the Civil War, and conditions would actually get worse before they would begin to get better.

War was indeed hell for all of those directly associated with the Battle of Stones River and its aftermath.

Of the more than 23,000 casualties, one of the highest percentages of killed and wounded of any major battle during the Civil War, most soldiers wondered what, if anything, had been accomplished by the sacrifice.

None questioned the fact that the war would go on almost as if this carnage around the little town of Murfreesboro had never happened. Many lonely and despondent soldiers of both sides obviously felt that the death of the ordinary man in the ranks made little or no impression and would soon be forgotten.

But the soldiers and citizens of Murfreesboro would never forget. The scenes of horror, suffering and anguish would remain imbedded in their memory throughout the rest of their lives.

Murfreesboro would be forever changed as a result of the bloody aspects of war. And for the people of Murfreesboro, there would not be many happy new years to look forward to until the latter part of the century.

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