Book Review: Force of a Cyclone: The Battle of Stones River: December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863


by Caroline Davis and Robert Dunkerly.

El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie. 2023. Pp. xx, 172. Illus., maps, appends, online notes, biblio. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611216397

The “Hard-Earned Victory” at Stones River

Authors Dunkerly and Davis offer a highly readable account of one of the most hard- fought battles of the Civil War. Lincoln called the battle (also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro), “a hard-earned victory, which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.” The victory of William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland, which cost the two sides 24,000 killed, wounded, or missing, of some 79,000 engaged, was “the second bloodiest battle fought west of the Appalachians”, and contributed greatly to the largely favorable acceptance of Lincoln’s, “Emancipation Proclamation.”

The authors argue that Rosecrans was inclined to be cautious with his army, which worked out well for him. In contrast, they make the case his opponent, Braxton Bragg was unwilling to listen to his subordinates and, moreover, had, as earlier at Perryville and First Murfreesboro, retired before a physical decision had been reached, having decided that the battle was no longer worth fighting. His subsequent abandonment of Kentucky and middle Tennessee further deteriorated his relations with his officers and troops.

The authors distribute criticism with an even hand, and there’s a lot to be had. Both commanders, planned to attack the other’s right flank, in the hope of cutting off supply lines and ultimately escape routes. These plans failed partly due to dangerous river crossings, and also to command failures on both sides in preparing troops for battle. They also have some interesting comments about the terrain, the battle area being relatively small, which ultimately probably favored the Union.

They also remind us that the Civil War was a struggle in which many relatives fought against each other especially during this battle, and we get some excellent examples: the Crittenden brothers fought each other at Murfreesboro, while Union Maj. Gen. George Thomas, a Virginian, fought for the Union, while the rest of his family supported the Confederacy. They also mention the extraordinary fighting McCook family, with fourteen members in Union blue, five of whom became Generals.

We get a look at a lot of generals in action, Rosecrans of course, on the Union side, but also Sheridan and Negley, who put in an excellent performance buying time by beating off several Confederate assault at the “Slaughter Pen,”, at a terrible loss of men and artillery. Braxton Bragg, of course, comes in for some serious criticism, for underestimating Rosecrans’s intentions, which ultimately cost him the battle.

A well-researched and engaging book, Davis and Dunkerly give us a must read on the Battle of Stones River.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, and All That Can Be Expected.


Note: Force of a Cyclone is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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