The autumn of 1862 was one of Confederate invasions. In the East, General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland in an effort to take the war onto Northern soil. In the West, General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi and General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Army of Kentucky invaded the Bluegrass state to bring it into the Confederacy. Like Lee’s invasion in the East, Bragg’s campaign in Kentucky ended in failure after defeat at the Battle of Perryville.
Lacking supplies and with winter approaching, Bragg retreated into Tennessee, halting his army near the town of Murfreesboro, where he combined with Smith’s Army of Kentucky to form the Army of Tennessee. Bragg deployed his forces in defensive positions along Stones River and hoped for a chance to reorganize his army. President Jefferson Davis visited the scene and determined to send 7,500 men to assist in the defense of Vicksburg. This left Bragg with a weakened force to confront Federal operations.
Meanwhile, frustrated with his failure to pursue Bragg’s retreating army into Tennessee, President Abraham Lincoln removed General Don Carlos Buell from command and replaced him with General William Rosecrans. Rosecrans arrived and set about reorganizing the army Buell left behind before advancing south to Nashville where he secured his supply base and headed toward Murfreesboro on December 26. For five days opposing cavalry forces skirmished as the Federals drew closer to Bragg’s position. Finally, on December 29, Rosecrans reached Stones River and prepared to confront Bragg.
On December 31, Bragg launched an attack upon Rosecrans’ right flank opening the Battle of Stones River. Following the final repulse of Southern attacks on January 2, Bragg retreated south toward the Duck River. The Confederate retreat sealed any hope that they could control Middle Tennessee.