Part 2: Battle of Murfreesboro

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Shirley Farris Jones, Special to the Post, December 30, 2012

Park Ranger Jim Lewis speaks about the events of the Stones River Campaign, which happened 150 years ago. Commemorative programs continue through Jan. 2 at Stones River National Battlefield. Photos courtesy of SRNB.

Park Ranger Jim Lewis speaks about the events of the Stones River Campaign, which happened 150 years ago. Commemorative programs continue through Jan. 2 at Stones River National Battlefield. Photos courtesy of SRNB.

The Confederates soldiers were gone – many of whom would never see their homes and families again.

Murfreesboro was forever changed and with the new  year a new era had begun for our town and her citizens. One can easily assume under the existing conditions there had been little time or inclination for friends and neighbors to wish one another a “Happy New Year.”

By Monday, Jan. 5, the Federal army had begun to move into town.

“Federal cavalry make their appearance in the streets of Murfreesboro with guns in hands and thumb on the cocks, looking round in a suspicious manner, ready to repel any attack that might be made on them …” John C. Spence noted. “In a short time after, the infantry enter with a brass band at the head of the column, playing martial music, blowing and beating their instruments, as if it were their intent to burst them. … The Yankee soldiers … are fine looking, have regular uniforms, all sky or deep blue. … Wear either slouch hats, or scull caps with badges, some with a black feather, some without, … some with boots, moderate length, others with boots apparently nearly to ankle.”

And the soldiers making their way across the battleground and into Murfreesboro saw the carnage of the battle first hand.

“Soon the Brigade were on the way to Murfreesboro,” US Cavalryman Otis G. Gerould, 7th Pennsylvania said. “Our rout (sic) lay through the battlefield of Wednesday … the dead were still laying unburied.”

Other soldiers saw the brutality of war on the fields of Murfreesboro.

“I ride over the battlefield – in one place a caisson and five horses are lying, the latter killed in harness, and all fallen together,” US Brigade Commander, Col. J. Beatty said. “Nationals and Confederates, young, middle-aged, and old, are scattered over the woods and fields for miles. … We find men with their legs shot off, one with brains scooped out with a cannon ball, another with half a face gone, another with entrails protruding, young Winnegard of the Third, has one foot off and both legs pierced by grape at the thighs, another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer. Many Confederate sharpshooters lay behind stumps, rails, and logs, shot in the head. A young boy, dressed in the Confederate uniform, lies with his face turned to the sky and looks as if he might be sleeping. … Many wounded horses are limping over the field.”

US 1st Sgt. R. W. Dinsmore, 78th Pennsylvania wrote, “our (regiment) had the honor of entering the town first and we are now the provost martial quartered in the Courthouse. … I am tonight the officer in charge of the prisoners. I have the jail crowded full. I give them blankets and everything I could for their comfort.”

The doctors on both sides had their hands full.

Spence noted “the whole town appeared to be one general hospital.”

And US Capt. Philip Welshimer, 21st Illinois, saw “in Murfreesboro every house is a hospital mostly filled with the worst wounded rebels .. There is from five to

7,000 of them. In fact every house through this country is filled with their sick and wounded.”

Spence verified “the (wounded) Confederate soldiers fared badly, at first. There was great suffering among them. Their physicians did all they could under the circumstances. … At first great numbers of the Confederate died – in fact, so fast that coffins could not be procured for them.”

And Ira M.B. Gillespie, 11th Michigan, US, wrote “I was detailed Corp. of the buryal guard. We buryed 27 dead bodeys and one extra leg and three arms. The wounded men are dieing off very fast now.”

Confederate Cpl. McKay of the 18th Tennessee, Palmer’s Brigade, Breckinridge’s Division, had been wounded in the charge on Jan. 2 at McFadden’s Ford and had lain unattended at a Federal field hospital when he wrote of his suffering.

“On Monday (Jan. 5, 1863) I was given breakfast, the first food offered me, and the first I had eaten since Friday … (A) surgeon examined me and decided to amputate my leg, my arm could not be saved … I begged them not to cut if off. This attracted the attention of the chief, a big Dutch surgeon, who came and examined me and said, ‘Let him alone. If the damn Rebel wants to die, let him go.’ The young surgeon in charge of the tent … was very kind to me.”

Unfortunately, dealing with the wounds of war was not the only issue facing the doctors and hospitals.

Soldiers were also suffering from such maladies as measles, mumps, and camp cough. “While I was in the hospital (recovering from wounds) I had the measles, which kept me in bed closely for 10 or 12 days,” Confederate Lt. Asbury, of the 45th Mississippi, wrote. “While convalescing I unluckily had a craving appetite for whiskey and as the hospital was well supplied with it, I took down about a pint and became most happily drunk and was very sorry for my capers afterwards.”

Adding to the already terrible plight of human suffering was the aggravating and uncomfortable effects from body lice.

Although not life-threatening, it none the less added to the misery and suffering of an already terrible existence.

These pesty little critters excluded no one.

But there was humanity and kindness and the poor, suffering soldiers of both armies brought out the good and tender mercies of the folks of Murfreesboro, who were untiring in their efforts to bring relief in any and every way possible to those in need.

“The ladies are untiring in their exertions for our wounded …” Confederate Volunteer Nurse James Searcy stated. “James Maxwell and I are of great value here, even our inexperienced services. Nurses are scarce, hardly enough to bury the dead. … The enemy have treated us well so far. We have friends here.”

Friends were important to easing the suffering of the wounded as observed by Union surgeon Dr. Hickman, who related this account: “Mrs. Payne, … a frequent visitor at the hospital, … had cared for several Confederate soldiers, one of whom was Capt. Bramlett, who had died at her house. She said that when he was about to die she concluded to remove the coarse blankets and replace them with neater ones; that he caught her hand and said, ‘No, do not remove those blankets, for they saved my life at Stone’s River. They were placed over me that cold night by the hand of an enemy, but a brother. You may come across him sometime, and if you should, tell him I died under the blankets he placed over me that night.’ She sent them to his parents in Paris, Ky.”

Many parents who were near enough and had the means choose to make the journey to Murfreesboro to do what they could for their wounded son, to ease the suffering, or spend the final hours with him.

The parents of young Monroe Bearden traveled from Fayetteville in search of their son. “Jan. 2, 1863. Found Monroe in the Soule Female College which was made use of for Cheatham’s Division,” his father wrote. “At which place hundreds of our poor boys lay wounded in every conceivable manner.

“Jan. 3, 1863. Monroe seems to be doing well, many deaths among the wounded. Moved Monroe to the room which I rented. He seemed quite comfortable after the change of quarters.”

But his recovery was not to be, and on Jan. 20, the father finally accepted his son’s fate.

“Monroe much worse. I lost all hope of his recovery. O God who could describe my feelings just to think of giving up my dear boy. … O God this is the hardest trial of my life.”

Two days later, on Jan. 22, 1863, Monroe lost his battle. “4:00 o’clock 20 min. a.m. Died in the north end room of Dr. Tompkins residence Murfreesboro, Tenn. Capt. Napoleon Monroe Bearden, Capt. Of Co. E, 8th Tenn Volunteers.”

For these parents, and all other parents or family members who lost a loved one during the Battle of Stones River, it was most definitely not a Happy New Year.

War was certainly hell.

Writer’s note: After much research, it is the conclusion of the writer that the “Dr.” Tompkins referred to by Monroe Bearden’s father, was not a medical doctor as such and that the title, “Dr.,” is an error in transcribing.

It is further believed that the home in question where Monroe Bearden died was the residence of James Monroe Tompkins, former mayor, city alderman, sheriff, and representative to the Tennessee State Legislature.

This home was purchased in 1860 by Tompkins and his wife, Kitty Rucker Tompkins. It is now the home office building of the Daily News Journal, located on North Walnut Street.


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