Nancy De Gennaro, Daily News Journal, May 24, 2015
MURFREESBORO – For more than 80 years, Murfreesboro residents have had a national park in their backyard. And it just got bigger.
Recently the Civil War Trust purchased two tracts of land, approximately 2 acres total in size, which will help protect current park land as well as increase visibility.
“It’s a tract a couple of hundred of yards from here. There’s a small house on the property. We will remove the house then restore the land to what it would have been like during the Battle of Stones River. It was a little over a tenth of an acre,” said Gib Backlund, Stones River National Battlefield and National Cemetery spokesman. “Then they bought a piece of property across Broad Street near what we call the artillery monument, near the dance studio and a car dealership and next to the Harley-Davidson (dealership).”
Located on Van Cleve Lane, near where the old drive-in theater once stood, the area is a little under 2 acres in size, Backlund said. The land was subdivided and would have been developed had the Civil War Trust not purchased the land, he said.
“What it does is it helps protect some open land alongside and allows us to manage land on both sides of Van Cleve Lane, which will help get people’s understanding of the landscape. We’ll again restore it to the general appearance of the Civil War. It was probably an open field, and we’ll put a fence on it, as there would have been during the battle, to help people identify it as battlefield land,” Backlund said.
Stones River National Battlefield and National Cemetery serve as a memorials to those who died at the Battle of Stones River in late 1862 and early 1863 and as a reminder of the Civil War’s devastation on the area.
Built and managed by the National Park Service, the 650-plus acres of the battlefield property offer a glimpse at what the landscape and life would have been in Middle Tennessee during the Civil War.
The Visitors Center is located at 3501 Old Nashville Highway and has always been a bit off the beaten path, often hard for tourists to find, Backlund said.
But a fairly new entrance on Thompson Lane, which winds through wooded areas of the park before arriving at the Visitors Center, has increased visibility and brought a 33 percent increase in visitors, Backlund said. Last year an estimated 270,000 people visited the park.
During a visitors survey done within a nine-day period, 73 percent were first-time visitors and 35 percent were from Tennessee, although only one in five were within a one-hour distance from the park, he noted. Visitors also come from other countries like Japan, the U.K., Germany and France.
“In June we increase the number of programs we do. Daily there are four different programs, and usually about one weekend a month from April through December, we do a living history program,” Backlund said.
One of the most popular programs is the Lantern Tour of the Stones River National Cemetery. Only 35 guests are allowed on the tour. Reservations open the Monday before each tour, and reservations fill within 15 minutes, Backlund said.
“There’s a certain fascination with that particular tour because it’s really evocative of the time and place,” Backlund said.
Along with the Civil War as a central focus, the battlefield serves as a historical destination on the infamous Trail of Tears. One segment of the Trail of Tears passed through part of the area of what is now the battlefield land.
There are exhibits focused on the Reconstruction Era post-Civil War, along with exhibits about an African-American community that sprang up during that time period, he said.
“We tell a whole sweep of American history, from the Trail of Tears through the Civil War and on through Reconstruction, and the important parts this place played in the American story,” Backlund said.
Visitors can check out the park in various ways.
“Within park we have combination between paved and unpaved trails, about 7 or 8 miles, that includes a mile of paved trail at Fortress Rosecrans at Old Fort Park, which is part of battlefield as well,” Backlund said.
Paved trails are generally for bicycles, and there is a bicycle tour of the battlefield which begins at the Visitors Center at 9AM each Saturday from April through October, weather permitting. Many local races incorporate the trails at the battlefield into the course, and visitors are welcome to walk the trails anytime as well. More than 40 wayside exhibits are scattered throughout the park for visitors to stop and read.
“The best way to see the battlefield is close to the ground. It’s easy to stop, and you’re not in a cocoon like you are when you’re in a car. And you can cover ground fairly quickly if you just have a couple of hours,” Backlund said.
Visitors can also drive to areas of the park. A free cellphone tour is available by calling 585-797-0076. Each numbered stop has a short message explaining details of the battle at those points.
The battle started on Franklin Road near the corner of Cason Lane and swept north toward Nashville Pike (what is now Old Nashville Highway), going all the way up near the intersection of Thompson Lane and Haynes Drive. Soldiers were scattered throughout the 4,000-acre battlefield, although the national park only incorporates a little more than 650 acres of it.
“I think people are surprised at how big of an area it involved. But there were more than 80,000 soldiers who fought here when the town of Murfreesboro was only around 3,000. That’s a pretty big contrast if you think about it. … Murfreesboro was overwhelmed by war, by battles taking place and the number of soldiers,” Backlund said.
Thousands of muskets firing and more than 200 cannons created an acoustic echo that could be heard for miles, reportedly as far as Kentucky, Backlund said, although that hasn’t been confirmed.
Some may be surprised to find out the Stones River National Cemetery contains graves of Union soldiers, not Confederate. And out of the 6,000 graves, 2,500 are unknown soldiers, Backlund said. Confederates are instead buried in a memorial plot in Evergreen Cemetery called Confederate Circle.
Families and school groups make up a good number of those who visit. With that in mind, the National Park Service offers Junior Ranger programs, and Stones River National Battlefield and National Cemetery also has one.
“Children really enjoy it. … It’s a great program for kids and adults,” Backlund said. “They have to answer six questions after seeing the movie (about the battle) and going out onto the battlefield. I think the adults learn as much as the kids do.”
To learn more about Stones River National Battlefield and National Cemetery, call 615-893-9501 or visit nps.gov/stri. There are maps and program listings, along with history of the area. Different brochures located at the Visitors Center, 3501 Old Nashville Highway, also document the history of the battlefield.
Contact Nancy De Gennaro at 615-278-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter @DNJMama
2015 Battlefield Events
Stones River National Battlefield Visitors Center is located at 3501 Old Nashville Highway. Visitors Center hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Contact the facility at 615-893-9501 or visit nps.gov/stri.
Here are some upcoming events:
•Ranger talks during weekdays at varying times
•Bicycle tour of battlefield at 9 a.m. each Saturday
•June 13-14: On to Chattanooga: Musket, cannon and Signal Corps demonstrations
•July 18-19: Artillery Saves the Day: Cannon demonstrations
•Aug. 8-9: Hell’s Half Acre: Cannon and musket demonstrations
•Sept. 12-13: Tennessee Troops at Stones River: Cavalry, musket and cannon demonstrations
•October: Sharing Our Past: Special programs throughout the month exploring the history of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County
•Dec. 26-Jan. 3, 2016: 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Stones River programs