The Pioneer Brigade at Stones River

There has already been a good amount written about the Battle of Stones River, however, the amount pales in comparison to other battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam. As I explained in my first post, I have a personal connection to the battle in that my great-great grandfather was wounded there while fighting with the Pioneer Brigade.  I think one of the least known aspects of the battle was the crucial part played in it by the Pioneer Brigade. General William S. Rosecrans, facing defeat on December 31st, as his right had been rolled-up by Bragg’s forces, was forced to pull the Pioneers away from their engineering duties and put them into the line. This was either a move born of desperation or a leap of faith, or quite possibly both.  However, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions of the Pioneers performed bravely in support of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery as they repelled no less than four Confederate charges by several brigades of Texans, who were veteran fighters.  As for the Pioneers, many were “seeing the elephant” for the first time.  As for the C.B. of T. battery, they had just arrived on December 25 and had spent eight hours a day training for battle.  Before the battle the Pioneers had strengthened a ford and built a bridge.  To end this post, I’ll let General Rosecrans speak for himself on the role and success of Pioneers in the Union victory after nearly two bitters years marked mostly by defeat, disorganization, and poor leadership.

After-Action Report, Battle of Stones River

“Among the lesser commands which deserve special mention for distinguished services in the battle the Pioneer Corps, a body of 1,700 men, composed of details from the companies of each infantry regiment, organized and instructed by Capt. James St. Clair Morton, Corps of Engineers, chief engineer of this army, which marched as an infantry brigade with the left wing, making bridges at Stewart’s Creek; prepared and guarded the ford at Stone’s River on the night of the 29th and 30th; supported Stokes’ battery, and fought with valor and determination on the 31st, holding its position till relieved on the morning of the 2d; advancing with the greatest promptitude and gallantry to support Van Cleve’s division against the attack on our left on the evening of the same day, constructing a bridge and batteries between that time and Saturday evening.  The efficiency and espirit du corps suddenly developed in this command, its gallant behavior in action, and the eminent services it is continually rendering the army, entitle both officers and men to special public notice and thanks, while they reflect the highest credit on the distinguished ability and capacity of Captain Morton, who will do honor to his promotion to a brigadier-general, which the President has promised him.”


Major General William Rosecrans, Commanding, Army of the Cumberland, U.S.A.



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