Wednesday, December 31. In Tennessee, the Battle of Stone’s River (or Murfreesboro) began, as Federal General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg resolved to attack each other. Both commanders planned to move left and crush the enemy right, but Bragg moved first and put the Federals on the defensive. After several Confederate assaults, the Federals withdrew to the Murfreesboro-Nashville Pike, pinned against Stone’s River.
Both sides inflicted heavy casualties, but the fighting was inconclusive and the Federal lines held. Bragg and Rosecrans remained within range of each other, each hoping that the other would withdraw. The Confederates entrenched, and the Federal command discussed the situation. Bragg prematurely wired the Confederate government that his men had scored a victory.
In Mississippi, General William T. Sherman’s Federals continued exploring various plans for attacking the bluffs north of Vicksburg.
In Tennessee, General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry was surprised by Federal forces at Parker’s Crossroad. After raiding General Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines, Forrest was confronting a Federal force in his front when a second force unexpectedly attacked from behind. When his staff asked for orders, Forrest said, “Split in two and charge both ways.” They followed the order and escaped, losing 300 troops.
Thursday, January 1. In Washington, the traditional New Year’s reception took place in the White House. After receiving guests, President Abraham Lincoln retired to the Executive Office, where administration officials witnessed him signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Copies were sent to the press, and news of the signing was spread throughout the world. Although the proclamation technically freed nobody, it gave the U.S. a foreign relations advantage over the Confederacy. It also opened the path to permanently abolishing slavery. And perhaps most importantly, it authorized the recruitment of blacks into the military, giving the North an overwhelming manpower advantage. Celebrations and salutes were held among free blacks, former slaves, and abolitionists in Boston’s Tremont Temple.
Federal General Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac, met with Lincoln to discuss a new plan of attack following the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg the previous month. Lincoln informed the general that several army subordinates had no confidence in him. Burnside offered to resign, but Lincoln refused because he had no practical replacement. Hoping to redeem himself, Burnside promised to strike “a great and mortal blow to the rebellion” by moving north along the Rappahannock River and attacking Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s left flank. Lincoln reluctantly approved the plan.
In Texas, General John B. Magruder’s Confederates landed at Galveston to free the town from Federal occupation. Improvised gunboats landed on the lowlands, while cotton steamers attacked Federal ships in Galveston Harbor. When the Federal flagship was run aground, the naval flotilla abandoned the town, and the Federal garrison at Kuhn’s Wharf surrendered. The Confederate capture of Galveston temporarily broke the Federal naval blockade.
In Tennessee, General William Rosecrans’s Federal Army of the Cumberland and General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee remained in their positions from the previous day, poised to strike each other at Stone’s River. In South Carolina, Robert Yeadon of Charleston offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Federal General Benjamin F. Butler, dead or alive.
Friday, January 2. In Tennessee, the Battle of Stone’s River (or Murfreesboro) resumed after a one-day respite. Braxton Bragg’s Confederates resumed their attacks, but the Federal lines had been strengthened and the attacks were repulsed. By nightfall, both armies fell back, and rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire.
Saturday, January 3. In Tennessee, Braxton Bragg’s Confederates began withdrawing to Tullahoma. William Rosecrans was surprised by Bragg’s withdrawal and did not pursue. This prompted Bragg to claim a tactical victory, but it soon became apparent that this was a significant Confederate defeat. The Battle of Stone’s River secured Kentucky and Tennessee for the Federals. It also boosted the morale of pro-Union eastern Tennesseans and demoralized Confederate sympathizers in central Tennessee and Kentucky. Many Confederates saw this as a missed opportunity to destroy the northern war effort after the Federals had been so soundly beaten at Fredericksburg the previous month.
In Mississippi, William T. Sherman’s Federals began withdrawing from the bluffs north of Vicksburg across the Mississippi River to Milliken’s Bend. Their effort to capture Vicksburg ended in failure, but the overall commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, soon began developing another plan of attack. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederates recrossed the Cumberland River after raiding Federal supply lines in Kentucky. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates crossed the Tennessee River at Clifton after attacking Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines.
Sunday, January 4. General John A. McClernand’s 30,000-man Federal force began an unauthorized move up the Arkansas River with 50 transports and gunboats commanded by Admiral David D. Porter. McClernand’s force included the corps belonging to William T. Sherman that had just withdrawn from Mississippi, and this move sought to avenge the Federal defeat at Chickasaw Bluffs last month. Their target was Arkansas Post, or Fort Hindman, on the Arkansas River.
Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered Ulysses S. Grant to rescind his controversial General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military department. President Lincoln endorsed Halleck’s order, and Grant complied on January 7.
In Tennessee, various skirmishes occurred as Braxton Bragg’s Confederates continued withdrawing from Murfreesboro. In the New Mexico Territory, Federal forces began operations against various Indian tribes that continued until May. U.S.S. Quaker City captured a Confederate blockade-runner carrying important dispatches off Charleston, South Carolina.
Monday, January 5. In Tennessee, Federal troops entered Murfreesboro as skirmishing continued. President Lincoln wired William Rosecrans, “God bless you and all with you… I can never forget… that you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, if there had been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.” Rosecrans soon began planning a Federal advance on the vital railroad city of Chattanooga.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis returned to Richmond after completing his southern tour. Davis told a serenading crowd that the Confederacy was the last hope “for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded–the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.” Davis added, “Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader.” Noting the recent victory at Fredericksburg, Davis quipped that the only Federals who had reached the Confederate capital thus far had been prisoners.
Tuesday, January 6. General John Marmaduke’s Confederates raided Missouri and fought skirmishes at Linn Creek and Fort Lawrence, Beaver Station.