The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – December 24-31, 1862

Here is a look at events in the Civil War this week in December 1862. There’s a reason why this post, unlike others in the series, has no images – you’ll find it at the end.

As you read the massive blocks of text below, try to think of the soldiers, most of whom simply signed up “to save the Union” or “to protect our rights” and then underwent frequent heavy fighting and the deprivation, muck and labor of campaigning all year long. They’re now fighting in some of the coldest weather Tennessee has ever seen.

On one long, miserable night near the end of this year of horror, two vast armies are camped within yards of each other, waiting for the fight to begin at dawn. And then a band strikes up a familiar song . . .

December 24

Military events: Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: CS General John Hunt Morgan fights 3 companies of Union cavalry at Glasgow, Kentucky. (2)

In North Carolina, Foster’s Raid/Goldsborough Expedition ends just before Christmas when Foster and his men arrive back at New Bern. (15)

December 26

Military events: Tennessee operations: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his brigade, returning back to base, reach the Obion River. They head for Dresden, where they camp that night and plan to spend the next day resting. (4)

Murfreesboro/Stones River: Meanwhile, General Rosecrans and his army of some 42,000 men move out of Nashville to engage General Bragg. (3) Confederate positions on the Nashville Pike and at Franklin are gone by 9 a.m.

On the Nashville-Murfreesboro Pike, Rosecrans’ men beat back Confederate cavalry along Hurricane Creek north of Lavergne. CS General Wheeler rushes his entire cavalry brigade to Lavergne, only 15 miles from Bragg at Murfreesboro. A tough fight goes on there throughout the day as Wheeler struggles to keep the large Union force north of Hurricane Creek.

In Nolensville, Union troops are busy pushing the Confederates out. The Southerners regroup at Knob Gap between Nolensville and Triune, and long artillery fight, which can be heard at General Bragg’s headquarters, begins.

By 2 p.m., Wheeler sends word to Bragg that the entire US army is advancing on the Triune and Nashville pikes. (18)

Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: At Upton, where Lightning Ellsworth once again “hacks” the telegraph, pretending to be a Union general and getting information on US troop locations, Morgan splits his force to maximize damage and confuse his foes.

One unit of raiders is to make a feint toward Munfordville, another is sent to attack a Union stockade at Bacon Creek, while a third unit is sent ahead to take the stockade and burn the bridge in Nolin (in Kentucky, not to be confused with Nolensville in Tennessee where blue and gray are clashing).

Forces at Nolin surrender quickly, but those at Bacon Creek make a real fight of it, tying up Morgan’s men for hours. The day is rainy, and attempts to set fire to the bridge fail. When the other units return, Morgan takes them to Bacon Creek, where he identifies himself and demands a surrender, which the Federal troops give him. The bridge and stockade are burned, and the raiders head on to Elizabethtown, burning bridges and wrecking rail lines as they go.

Meanwhile, US Colonel John Harlan sets out from Gallatin by rail with 5 infantry regiments and an artillery battery with orders to drive Morgan away from the L&N. There are also Federal units deployed to cut Morgan off at Bowling Green and Glasgow, as well as 1,300 (soon to be 4,300) US troops at Lebanon. (2)

December 27

Military events: Tennessee operations: At Dresden, General Forrest’s scouts report that Federals are advancing by road from Trenton to Union City, while another movement in force is coming up the Obion River, headed for McLemoresville and Huntington in an attempt to cut him off from the Tennessee River. At this news, Forrest, “as wary at such a juncture as adventurous and daring at other times,” moves toward Huntington, camping for the night at McKenzie’s Station on the Memphis & Nashville Railroad, with the Fourth Alabama some four miles ahead.

Around 8 or 9 p.m., scouts report that Union troops have destroyed all bridges over the Obion south of the main road from Jackson to Paris, Tennessee; also, the Fourth Alabama has engaged a heavy force while trying to cross the Olbion but nonetheless held the position and made the crossing.

Forrest immediately sends a unit out to seize the road leading from Paris to Huntington and then move down toward Huntington until they make contact with Federal forces. When the unit has to give way, they are to move toward the Tennessee River.

There is one bridge left over the Olbion, but it is impassable and thus was ignored by the Federals. Forrest then sets out for it with plans to have his men cut timber for enough reinforcement to allow passage of his artillery and wagon train.

General Forrest himself drives the first wagon over the bridge to encourage his men, but following wagons get bogged down, and at 3 a.m. the Confederate cavalrymen are busy filling mud holes with flour and coffee and anything else they can use to make it across the river. Each artillery piece makes it across the Obion surrounded by fifty men waist deep in water and drawn by horses heavily bogged down. In the dark. Through a flooded river. In sleet. After a long and hard-fought campaign.

By dawn they are all across, and the battery is once again ready for action. (4)

Murfreesboro/Stones River: General Bragg has spent the entire night and early morning trying to get more information. His troops are scattered along a roughly 50-mile front meant to guard all approaches, and now he must draw them together. (18)

Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: As Morgan approaches Elizabethtown, US Colonel H.S. Smith, the commander of the 652 Union troops stationed in town to build a stockade, tries to trick the Confederates into thinking his force is much larger. When that doesn’t work, he withdraws his men into town but sends a demand that Morgan surrender.

The Confederate raider doesn’t fall for it and tells Smith that in 10 minutes his own batteries will open fire on the town. Smith replies, “In reply, I would say that it is the duty of U.S. soldiers to fight and not surrender.” In a 20-minute barrage, 107 artillery rounds are fired on Elizabethtown. Smith’s men themselves, not Smith, surrender.

Meanwhile, Colonel Harlan and his men reach Munfordville late that night and set out at 3 a.m. for Elizabethtown, reinforced by the 13th Kentucky Infantry and the 15th Kentucky Cavalry. (2)

December 28

Battles: Grant’s First Vicksburg Campaign: Chickasaw Bayou. Dates for this vary among sources, but it was certainly ongoing around this time. General Sherman and the US 15th Corps debark and attempt to approach Vicksburg’s defenses, but without Grant’s overland support, they fail and Sherman withdraws. (6)

Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas. (18)

Military events: Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: Morgan and his men leave Elizabethtown, after destroying the bridge and US depot there, and head for the huge railroad trestles at Muldraugh Hill. Union defensive positions there aren’t finished, and the defenders have no artillery. They surrender after a couple of hours and everything is burned. The raiders then head for the Rolling Fork River, but can’t cross as recent heavy rains have flooded it. They camp there for the night. (2)

Tennessee Operations: Murfreesboro/Stones River: In the wee hours of the morning, General Bragg holds a council and draws up a defensive line, though all his cavalry are out in the field and he has no idea where Rosecrans is or from what direction(s) the Yankees will attack. By nightfall, his men are moving into position on Stones River. (18)

December 29

Military events: Tennessee operations: General Forrest and his men reach McLemoresville and rest, but only for a couple of hours. Scouts bring word of a 10,000-man Federal force about 12 miles away, and by 10 a.m., the cavalrymen are on a rough, hilly road, heading for Lexington.

They camp some 9 miles from Lexington. The men and horses rest while Forrest sends his brother and a company to slow the enemy as much as possible and report on their movements. In the meantime, Forrest decides to meet the enemy in the morning and lets his men sleep until around 4 a.m., when they march to Parker’s Cross-Roads (Red Mound)about a mile and a half away.

Forrest deploys his men just as the Union forces arrive. The morning and part of the afternoon is spent in a artillery battle punctuated by cavalry action, and the Confederates come out the winners.

However, a scout arrives to report that a new and fresh unit of Federals has reached the field and is forming on Forrest’s rear. The general himself gallops to the position and finds two brigades already in possession of parts of the battlefield and within 80 yards of Forrest himself.

The Union soldiers spot Forrest and order him to surrender. The quick-thinking general replies that he already has but would like to bring up the rest of his unit and surrender in style and immediately gallops back to his command, stopping at a local hospital along the way long enough to order the inmates to get out of the way.

The Confederates move out at the double-quick, while Union soldiers hold their fire until new troops come up and start shooting at the retreating cavalrymen. With the help of a rearguard action as well as the arrival of a reserve unit, all the raiders escape except 250 men and on officer, who are captured.

Forrest then takes a group of men and attacks an exposed Union position, capturing their wagon train and baggage before departing. They then all move on to Lexington and camp there for a while, before moving out at night toward Clifton. (4)

Stones River/Murfreesboro, Tennessee: As General Bragg’s army moves into position at Stones River, General Wheeler and his cavalry launch a ride completely around the Union rear, where they wreck supply wagons and capture some of the Federals reserve ammunition. Rosecrans keeps advancing. (3, 18)

Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: Morgan is at Hamilton’s Ford. While most of his men prepare to cross the Rolling Fork River, some are preparing to go out on final raids before the crossing. In the meantime, Col. Harlan has reached Elizabethtown in the morning and learned that Morgan is only 10 miles away. By noon, the Federals are within a mile of Morgan’s men and open up with artillery. While hit hard, Morgan and his men manage to cross the river. (2) (I’m not sure, but this may also be the Battle of Elk Fork mentioned in some sources, though the date given is the 28th.)

Emancipation: President Lincoln reads the Emancipation Proclamation to cabinet for criticism. (5)

December 30

Military events: Tennessee Operations: General Forrest and his men head for the Tennessee River, but word reaches them that a strong Union force of combined infantry and cavalry is moving in from Purdy to try and cut off the Confederates. Some 15 miles up the road, they meet the Union cavalry and cut their way through, reaching the Tennessee at around midday. It’s a massive crossing, spurred on by the news that Union troops are coming with forced marches. By about 8 p.m., Forrest and his men are back on friendly ground. Their raid is over, and it has been a successful one.(4)

Stones River/Murfreesboro: During the day Rosecrans’s men move into line two miles north of Murfreesboro to confront Bragg’s divisions along the Stones River. As the two armies, now only a few hundred yards apart, bed down to wait out the night, military bands on either side start their own “war.” Southern musicians answer the North’s “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia” with “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”

However, one band starts up “Home Sweet Home,” and soon men on both sides are singing the song together. (3)

Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: Colonel Harlan and his men move on to Lebanon Junction and drive off a Confederate force there. Meanwhile, at vulnerable Lebanon, US Colonel William A. Hoskins and some 1300 Union soldiers await Morgan’s attack. Skirmishers during the day have told them Morgan has a force of some 11,000 men. However, during a sleet storm that night, Morgan’s raiders bypass the town. (2)

North Carolina: Off Cape Hatteras, the USS Monitor founders in heavy seas (probably not during a hurricane), with the loss of 16 men; the rest of the crew is rescued by one of her escorts and the ship is towed to port. (6)

Emancipation: President Lincoln provides cabinet members with a copy of the preliminary draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation and asks for suggestions.(5)

December 31

Battles: The Battle of Stones River/Murfreesboro begins. The casualty rate of this battle will be 29%, second only to the 31% rate at Gettysburg in 1863, and higher than any 1862 battle, including Shiloh (26%) and Antietam (18%).

Military events: Morgan’s “Christmas” Kentucky raid: Colonel Hoskins and his men set out after Morgan and learn at New Market that the Confederate raiders are in camp on the Rolling Fork River about 2 miles ahead. Hoskins deploys his men but does not move forward until morning, by which time the raiders are gone. Meanwhile, General Joseph Reynolds moves out of Glasgow, crosses the Green and follows Morgan, hoping to trap him against the Cumberland River. (2)

Emancipation: Lincoln holds a special cabinet meeting at 10 a.m. to make final revisions of the Emancipation Proclamation. (5)

(Bobby Horton performed this during the 150th Anniversary events at Shiloh National Military Park earlier this year.)

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singing gayly, that come at my call —
Give me them — and the peace of mind, dearer than all!
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

I gaze on the moon as I tread the drear wild,
And feel that my mother now thinks of her child,
As she looks on that moon from our own cottage door
Thro’ the woodbine, whose fragrance shall cheer me no more.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

How sweet ’tis to sit ‘neath a fond father’s smile,
And the caress of a mother to soothe and beguile!
Let others delight mid new pleasures to roam,
But give me, oh, give me, the pleasures of home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

To thee I’ll return, overburdened with care;
The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

John Howard Payne

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everybody!


(1)  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2)  Morgan’s Raiders and The L&N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee (2011).

(3)  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(6) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(7) Henry Halleck’s War: A Fresh Look at Lincoln’s Controversial General-In-Chief, by Curt Anders (1999).

(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.

(10) Civil War Home’s “The Eastern Theater: 2nd Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

(11)  The Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, by William Allan (1892)

(12)  Conquest of the Lower Mississippi.

(13) The Strategy of Robert E. Lee, by J. J. Bowen (1914).

(14) (14) The Goldsboro Expedition.

(15) Rolling Ford – John Hunt Morgan’s Second Raid Into Kentucky.

(16) Civil War Interactive.

(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).

(18) Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, by Thomas Lawrence Connelly (1971)

(19) Those Damn Horse Soldiers, by George Walsh (2006).

Categories: American Civil War

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