Lunette Thomas and Lunette Palmer remain Integral Earthworks in Stones River Battlefield

June 22, 2020, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal

Stones River Battlefield was chartered on April 28, 1896 and is a treasure untold in our community. High action was bitterly fought over an expanse of 3,000 acres. Through the years, I have witnessed military reenactments that are quite extraordinary to view firsthand.

There is very specific historical data regarding the Lunettes (military installations); yet, we will touch the bare highlights today to offer an overall picture of this important earthwork in our historical battlefield. Many refer to the lunettes as an attraction for the hard-core Civil War buffs; yet, these features are for everyone to thoroughly enjoy, as visitors are educated by excellent guides on this crucial battle that was a turning point for the War Between the States. The eight lunettes of the original Fortress emerged with careful contrivance to permit infantry or artillery to sweep every crevice of terrain in front of the fort. There were no available spaces the enemy could seek haven. Each lunette provided batteries up to nine guns under the directive of a commissioned officer with a maximum of 100 enlisted soldiers. These armed earthworks along the outer periphery furnished strong positions along a line of rifle trenches that linked them together. The remaining walls from Lunette Thomas to Lunette Palmer are 15 feet high and 25 feet thick and covered by dense underbrush and large trees. These features lay on the south bank of Lytle Creek.

Soldiers utilized sod to prevent these earthen walls from eroding. The Park seeds native grasses to stabilize the earthworks.

To begin, the word ‘Lunette’ is derived from a resemblance of a Crescent or half-moon. Lunette Palmer and Lunette Thomas are two of the last remaining features of Fortress Rosecrans. The lunette is a fortification containing ditch, embankment, and angles in front, yet open to the rear. Most lunettes are irregular half circles with no protection immediately behind them. In short, a lunette is a fortification with two faces forming a projecting angle and two flanks.

The two famed lunettes are Palmer and Thomas. Lunette Palmer (1863-1866) is a namesake for a Union Colonel John McAuley Palmer of the 14th Illinois Infantry. He ascended to Brigadier General on December 20, 1861 in a brigade under Major General John Pope, who served the Union Army 1842-1866 and fought in paramount Civil War battles. John Palmer was Governor of Illinois in 1869 and State Senator in 1891. On December 31, 1862, he fought with the left wing of the Army at Stones River under Crittenden’s Corp, and his division held the advance for several hours. He was heralded for his gallantry while ‘standing like a rock and unmovable.’ On March 16, 1863, Palmer was promoted to Major General before moving forward to the Battle of Chickamauga.

On January 14, 1864 a Union battery at Lunette Palmer was under command of 1st Lieutenant James Garrard Jones of the 79th Indiana Volnteers Infantry. The soldiers were equipped with four 6-pounder Parrott field guns and one 8-inch Siege Howitzer, while fighting was brutal.

Lunette Palmer, the westernmost surviving feature, was established in 1863 as a multi-sided oblique earthwork that projected outward from the basic contour of the fort. This lunette contained a cross-shaped blockhouse. Inside the walls are two traverses and an earthen magazine. Lunettes Palmer and Thomas were abandoned in 1866 after Fortress Rosecrans was unoccupied.

Lunette Thomas, southernmost feature, is named for Major General George Henry Thomas of Virginia, who was a principal commander in the Western Theater. In Tennessee Civil War engagements, we remember him from the Battle of Franklin, Battle of Chickamauga and Battle of Nashville. Thomas occupied the 24th Corps of Rosecrans army in a prominent role in 1863. To the left of Lunette Thomas lay a tall earth mound that was once the eastern wall of this defense.

After the Battle of Stones River, occupation began in January 1863. Major General William Starke Rosecrans retained his Federal Army in Murfreesboro, and labor commenced on a large supply depot for the next season’s campaigns. It was constructed as Fortress Rosecrans and covered 200 acres with 14,000 feet of earthworks and linked by abatis with the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards towards the enemy. The depot was to supply troops as they marched to Atlanta for the final chapter of the war. Further, transportation routes were controlled for rail and roadways into Murfreesboro effectively dominating movement in Middle Tennessee. Much of the fort was constructed by the Pioneer Brigade of Michigan, who were skilled soldiers. Brigadier General James St. Clair Morton was chief engineer and designer of Fort Rosecrans that occupied both north and south sides of Stones River. Morton also composed a comprehensive guide for the defense of Fortress Rosecrans. Construction took place from January to June 1863 and utilized 40,000 men camped in the area. Many buildings (saw mills, quartermaster depots, warehouses, magazines, and living quarters) covered this site. Morton taught engineering at West Point and personally chose the namesake for the fort as Rosecrans. Around 3,000 feet of earthworks remain in Lunette Palmer and Redoubt Brannon.

Fortress Rosecrans was the largest field fortification assembled during the War Between the States. This massive earthen fortification was composed of a line of detached lunettes and connectors that permitted the defending force to counter-attack out of the camp. Curtain Wall Number 1 was developed between Lunettes Thomas and McCook on the fort’s southeastern side; and Curtain Wall Number 2 was between Lunettes Thomas and Negley on the southwestern side. The lunettes and curtain walls were equipped with embrasures, V-contoured openings in the earthwork through which defending soldiers fired cannon.

Fortress Rosecran retains remnants of the authentic earthworks of Lunette Palmer, Curtain Wall #2 and Lunette Thomas, which is the smallest fortification. Together, these features formed the southernmost defensive wall of the original fortress.

Following the war, the site was primarily converted to farming; yet the west wall of the fortress and one redoubt are still intact. The Lunettes configure an irregular circle on both sides of Stones River and are ever-present for all to view and enjoy in learning the deep history of the monumental battle.

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