The Civil War – Tennessee Activity and Emancipation

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

The closing days of 1862 and the first day of 1863 brought victory, defeat, and freedom. Two Tennessee battles had opposite outcomes. Parker’s Cross Roads added to the reputation and boldness of Nathan B. Forrest. The Union victory at Stone’s River brightened Yankee spirits after recent defeats. And on January 1st, 1863, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

The Battle of Parker’s Cross Roads in Henderson County was a victory for the Confederates, even though General Nathan Bedford Forrest was outnumbered and caught between two Union brigades. Since the Battle of Lexington on December 18, Forrest had been busy destroying railroad tracks and telegraph lines, creating supply problems for the Union.

Forrest and his men were ending their raids into Western Tennessee, when Union forces attempted to prevent the Rebels from crossing the Tennessee River. While some skirmishing started early on December 31st, the Confederate artillery got the early upper hand, causing significant casualties.

Union soldiers were attacked from all sides and the rear by the Rebels. Forrest sent a demand for an unconditional surrender, but Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham refused. Unexpectedly, Yankees led by Colonel John W. Fuller attacked the Confederate horse holders at their rear, with 300 Rebels captured. Now Forrest was between two Federal lines. When a member of his staff asked what to do next, Forrest ordered “Charge ‘em both ways!”

According to the National Park Service, “The Confederates briefly reversed front, repelled Fuller, then rushed past Dunham’s demoralized force and withdrew south to Lexington and then across the Tennessee River.” The Rebels had another victory.

The Battle of Stone’s River in the Murfreesboro area began on December 31st and ended on January 2. Union General William S. Rosecrans had recently taken command of the Army of the Cumberland and was told to attack General Braxton Bragg and run him out of Tennessee. After dealing with problems created by the raids of John Hunt Morgan, Rosecrans was close to meeting his challenge.

After his defeat at Perryville in October, and reorganizing his troops, Bragg headed for Murfreesboro and was preparing for winter camp. By December 29th the Union forces were encamped close enough to hear the Rebels. Bragg attacked at sunrise on the 31st, driving the Yanks back. However, with new reinforcements, the Union line held. The next day, the Rebels attacked again, but Federal artillery forced the Confederates back to their original position.

Tactically, the battle was indecisive, but with Rebel forces withdrawing, Federal forces claimed victory. Casualties were high – 12, 700 plus for the Union side and about 9,900 for the Confederates.

“On New Year’s Day 1863, the president greeted a large group of diplomats at a White House reception. Shortly after noon, he slipped upstairs to his office and signed the [Emancipation] proclamation. ‘I never felt more certain,’ he commented, ‘that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,’” according to History.com. This document reflected the change in Union objectives, from unifying the nation to the ending slavery.

The document addressed slavery only in the Confederate states. It did not address slavery in Union states. Vacated seats in the U.S. Senate and House were used to identify “states in rebellion.” However, the proclamation did nothing to actually free slaves in the South. As Confederate areas were occupied by Federal troops, slaves were freed there.

The Proclamation’s most crucial impact was denying Confederates aid from foreign countries. Before the Proclamation, Southerners was considered to be “freedom fighters” and countries like England and France were sympathetic. History.com commented, “The proclamation was a shrewd maneuver by Lincoln to brand the Confederate States as a slave nation and render foreign aid impossible.

The measure was met by a good deal of opposition, as many Northerners were unwilling to fight for the freedom of blacks; however, the proclamation signalled the death knell for slavery and had the effect on British opinion that Lincoln desired. Britain, which was ideologically opposed to slavery, could no longer recognize the Confederacy, and goodwill towards the Union forces swelled in Britain. With this measure, Lincoln effectively isolated the Confederacy and killed the institution that was at the root of sectional differences.”