Here in the quiet fields and forests along Stones River outside Murfreesboro, two great armies fought - and spilled the blood of tens of thousands of Americans in one of the most costly battles of the Civil War. Why here?
The answer is found in two places you cannot see from this location: the Cumberland River wharfs of Nashville, 28 miles to the northwest, and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad tracks hidden behind the national cemetery. For any army - Union or Confederate - to move and fight successfully here in the states west of the Appalachians, railroads and riverboats were the keys to ultimate victory.
Pressure from the Top
...President [Lincoln] is very impatient at your long stay in Nashville. The favorable season for your campaign will soon be over. Twice have I been asked to designate someone else to command your army. If you remain one week more at Nashville, I cannot prevent your removal. As I wrote you when you took command, the Government demands action, and if you cannot respond to that demand then someone else will be tried.
General Halleck writing to General Rosecrans.
Major General William S. Rosecrans
For the Union Army of the Cumberland, Nashville was a secure base where steamboats and trains could haul in the thousands of tons of supplies and food that it takes to keep an army fed and ready to fight. But sitting safe near the riverboats and warehouses of Nashville would not break the back of the rebellion, nor restore the Union. To win, Rosecrans's 43,000-man army had to march southeast toward the rail yards of Chattanooga and Atlanta piercing the heart of the Confederacy.
General Braxton Bragg
By Christmas 1862, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee was at rest. Their winter quarters spread out more than 65 miles over the rich farmlands of central Tennessee. Then, unexpectedly, scouts announced that their enemy was on the move. The best place for Bragg to pull together his 38,000 men was Murfreesboro, the hub of a spider web of country roads. Two traffic arteries - the Nashville Pike and the railroad - ran side-by-side here. The Federals would have to come this way.