THE Battle of Murfreesboro.
The rebel batteries commenced the fight; but our artillerists were not slow in replying to them, and for about twenty minutes the country for miles around resounded with a continual roar. Then the firing ceased, as if by mutual consent, and both parties hauled off to repair damages; although during the course of the affair a rebel gun was dismounted, and the battery to which it belonged silenced.
The army felt in somewhat better spirits this morning, as it was evident from the events of the last twenty-four hours, that the rebel leaders were exceedingly diffident about renewing the battle, even with the advantage of the twenty-six guns which they captured from us on Wednesday. The news had also spread through the camp of Van Cleve's division having been sent across the river the evening before, and this convinced the men that they were not so completely surrounded as they had imagined. Re-awakened confidence begat fresh courage, and I felt sure that any engagement with the foe that day, would result in a signal triumph for our arms.
Hour after hour the enemy kept felling around our lines, as if he were trying to discover a week and unsupported place, upon which he might fall and break through — much apprehension was felt lest he should again assail the right, and gain, what had so long seemed to be one of his objects, possession of the Murfreesboro road in our rear. — Those, however, who knew the situation of Van Cleve's division upon the other side of the river, felt certain that when the rebel assaul did come, it would fall upon the extreme left.
It was about 4 o'clock, when a fierce cannonade, which had been going on for some time upon the left, was succeeded by a deafening crash of musketry; and the whole army at once comprehended that the battle was renewed in earnest.
In the corn-fields and in the woods, Van Cleve's division, now commanded by Colonel Beatty, of the 19th Ohio, was posted on Thursday evening — two of the brigades mostly in the open space, while the third was in a more covered position, and was protected by some slight fortifications of dirt and logs.
The enemy, pursuing his usual tactics, massed three of his divisions, Rain's, Anderson's, and Breckinridge's, the whole under command of the latter, and hurled them against Van Cleve.
Van Cleve's men did not yield at once to the rebel onset. They struggled for a time with great bravery against tremendous odds, but at length, being literally overwhelmed by superior numbers, two of the brigades were broken to pieces.
The rebels, rendered audacious by their success, were preparing to cross the stream and continue the pursuit, when the gallant Negley, who had been hurried over from the center of our lines to sustain the 6th division, suddenly appeared with his compact lines of battle on the other side.
The enemy had already recoiled before the intolerable fire poured into them by Negley's men, and the latter, determining to finish their portion of the business then and there, stepped boldly into the water, waded across, all the time continuing their fire, and then climbed up the bank to secure a foothold upon the narrow strip of timber destitute of underbrush, which lies between the fence and the stream.
At the fence the rebels rally; and as our men ascend the bank, they are greeted by a storm of bullets before, which even veterans might give way. They hesitate an instant; but brave old Stanley is there and urges them on. Colonel Stoughton of the 11th Michigan, is there, and will not retreat. Colonel J. F. Miller calls aloud to his men to stand firm. — Colonel Scott of the 19th Illinois, reminds his regiment at their well-earned honors. The division forms rapidly upon the bank; raises a loud shout as of coming victory; and, redoubling its fire, charges toward the rebel lines. The latter sway for moment, and then crumble to pieces. On! On! The rebels are retreating in confusion up the hill! the men of the 78th Pennsylvania follow closely, and the flag of the 26th Tennessee falls into their hands. The progress of Negley is steady on the march of fate, and Davis and Hascal follow close behind him. In vain the enemy seize upon every clump of bushes or cluster of trees, as a point of defense. They are still rolled backward, [unknown] batteries and reached, situated at the edge of the level cornfields. A charge is made upon these, and the fearless of the 19th Illinois capture three of the guns. Colonel Miller's command pushes forward and takes another. Away go the rebels over the cornfield, followed by such a deadly tempest of balls, that if all who fell were allowed to lie there, they would enrich the ground with their carcasses. Our troops advanced half way across the fields; but it is already night and Negley deems it inexpedient to enter, at that time, the dense forest beyond.
Our batteries, from every portion of the field, had been all the time thundering away upon the enemy, and the angry leaping of flames from the mouths of cannon continued until it was quite dark. From the bank of the river to the last woods in in front of Murfreesboro, a distance of more than a mile, the evidences of terrible carnage were everywhere visible. On both sides of the fence, along the slopes of the low hill, and on the sides and bottom of the ravine, and especially in the level cornfield, scores of rebels lay in every form of ghastly death.
At night, immediately after the battle, the whole field, from one end to the other, resounded with the shrieks and groans, and broken payers of the disabled rebels.
I was much struck with the nature of the prayers which some of these men in a dying condition were uttering. A disquieting doubt seemed to rest upon their minds as to whether they had been engaged in a righteous cause, and with one or two the entire burden of the prayer was a petition to Almighty God for forgiveness in case they had done wrong in taking part in the war.
The morale of the Union army was entirely restored, and when one of Gen. Rosecrans' aids galloped over the field to announce the victory of the other divisions, followed by a member of Gen. Negley's staff with a captured rebel banner, there was a burst of such tremendous cheering as had not been heard since the army left Nashville — cheering which must have sent a thrill of terror through the rebel legions around Murfreesboro.
Again had Negley shown his gallantry; again had Col. T. R. Stanley exhibited that earnest courage which deserves and insures success; and Col. J. R. Scott, seriously and painfully wounded, had proved himself a worthy leader of his regiment.