When the Battle of Stones River ended on January 2, 1863, over 3,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lay dead. Most were buried in hastily prepared graves on the battlefield. In October 1865 soldiers from the 111th United States Colored Infantry began the arduous and gruesome task of disinterring the bodies of the Union soldiers and reburying them here in newly opened Stones River National Cemetery.
By April 1866 what Chaplain William Earnshaw called "the precious dust" of over 6,000 Union soldiers had been brought here for reburial. Included were not only soldiers killed at Stones River but others who had died elsewhere in Middle Tennessee. Of these, 2,562 are unknown. The Confederate dead, not eligible for burial in national cemeteries, were taken to their home towns or to public cemeteries in nearby Murfreesboro.
[These were] men who had given their lives for the country eager to strike the death blow to the rebellion, shouting and cheering as they passed to the front, where they fell in the van of the grand old Army of the Union, and now sleep beneath the green sod of our beautiful cemetery, on the immortal field of Stone's River.
Chaplain William Earnshaw
Chaplain William Earnshaw, first superintendent of Stones River National Cemetery, supervised the reburials of Union soldiers here in 1865-66. Stones River National Cemetery was established in 1864 after Congress provided for the creation of the National Cemetery System on July 17, 1862.
(Background photo caption): Burial parties are shown at work in this 1866 photograph of the Stones River National Cemetery. The rounded mounds mark the graves of recently interred Union soldiers.