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December 30, 1862, outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee: the 43,000 men of General William Starke Roscecrans’s Army of the Cumberland faced the 38,000 Confederate soldiers of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. It had been a dismal month for the Union. In the east, the Army of the Potomac suffered a terrible defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia; in the west, Grant failed yet again to breach the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Emancipation Proclamation was to go into effect on New Year’s Day, but after the disasters of December, Lincoln’s decree seemed less the assertion of a great moral imperative than a desperate attempt to shore up a crumbling cause. Rosecrans was to engage Bragg and win. That evening, the bands of both armies played, while the 80,000 soldiers joined in singing Home Sweet Home. At dawn, they would set about killing each other.
At the Battle of Stones River, thousands fall in three days of savage fighting across the fields and woods of middle Tennesse. The carnage awakens the best in some men––courage, sacrifice, and honor; the worst in others––cruelty, cowardice, and depravity. In arenas dubbed “the Slaughter Pen” and “Hell’s Half Acre,” Blue and Gray together collide.
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