Book Chat
No Better Place To Die
The Battle of Stones River
Peter Cozzen's

This chat took place in the Civil War Home Chatroom on 04/22/07 and covered Chapters 7, 8, & 9

4/22/2007 8:13 pm (et) Basecat: Welcome to the Sunday Night Book Chat. Tonight our discussion will focus on Chapters 7, 8, and 9 from Peter Cozzens's book No Better Place TO Die: The Battle of Stone's River. Chapter 7 opens very eerily quiet, and he describes the scene perfectly, until 6:22 AM, when all hell breaks loose.

4/22/2007 8:13 pm (et) Widow: The title "No Better Place to Die." It's a quote, but I for one can think of lots of better places to die.

4/22/2007 8:14 pm (et) Widow: Yes, Basecat, and Cozzens uses "twilight" to describe it. First time I've seen it to mean "dawn's early light."

4/22/2007 8:15 pm (et) mobile_96: Along the line of "Its a good day to die" .

4/22/2007 8:15 pm (et) Basecat: Widow it also shows just how quiet the Rebs must have been when they moved to attack...Hard to think that they could be caught as surprised they were, but they were.

4/22/2007 8:16 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Unusual to say the least, that an army deliberately advancing against an enemy, finds itself "surprised."

4/22/2007 8:16 pm (et) Widow: Cozzens remarks on page 82, "Kirk, like his division and corps commanders, continued to display a singular lack of concern for preparedness." That sounds like Shiloh all over again. I guess the commanding generals didn't compare notes to learn from each other.

4/22/2007 8:16 pm (et) Basecat: This battle also reminds me of the First Battle of Bull Run, in terms of both commanders, in essence had the same battle plans.

4/22/2007 8:17 pm (et) Widow: Yes, Basecat, the circles chasing around each other.

4/22/2007 8:17 pm (et) Widow: By the way, what does "formed in double column" mean? Page 81, last line.

4/22/2007 8:18 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Stones River is a perfect example of the contagiousness of fear.

4/22/2007 8:19 pm (et) Basecat: Widow..2 lines of about the same length separated by a few yards.

4/22/2007 8:19 pm (et) Widow: AHG, so was Shiloh.

4/22/2007 8:20 pm (et) Widow: Basecat, by line, do you mean they're standing side by side?

4/22/2007 8:20 pm (et) Basecat: In other words a column of densely packed men. Not as spread out as they could have been.

4/22/2007 8:20 pm (et) Basecat: One is in front of the other Widow.

4/22/2007 8:21 pm (et) Widow: Oh, so it means the same as "column of twos"?

4/22/2007 8:22 pm (et) Basecat: Much the same Widow...the rear line is supposed to be a back up to those in front. but in this case it did not work because the attacking force was overwhelming.

4/22/2007 8:23 pm (et) amhistoryguy: The first chapter for tonight also has a wonderful example of mans ability to hold on to some of his humanity, even in battle. The story of the man providing comfort to a wounded Yankee, and the Yankees sharing of his water.

4/22/2007 8:24 pm (et) Widow: AHG, I can't imagine the Romans doing that. The pride of Roman civilization.

4/22/2007 8:24 pm (et) Basecat: Especially in what had to have been chaos at the time...It's a very good point, and happened all the time on the battlefields of this war.

4/22/2007 8:25 pm (et) Widow: I suspect it happened because the object was not to annihilate the enemy, but to make him stop fighting.

4/22/2007 8:25 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I think the shared history, shared language, shared religion etc, may have had something to do with their seeming to be so many cases like that.

4/22/2007 8:26 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Make him stop fighting by annihilating him.

4/22/2007 8:26 pm (et) Widow: Agreed, AHG. So many men had trouble with that conflict. The enemy is us, quote Pogo.

4/22/2007 8:26 pm (et) mobile_96: I've heard the same idea amhg.

4/22/2007 8:26 pm (et) Basecat: It also shows just how unprepared the Union forces were for an attack like this. Numerous mentions of lines actually facing the opposite direction during the opening stages of the attack... IMHO, the soldier's worst fear in the war was being attacked from behind and that is what exactly happened at the start.

4/22/2007 8:26 pm (et) Widow: AHG, no, I meant stop fighting as the OPPOSITE of annihilation.

4/22/2007 8:27 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Given the opportunity, I think both sides would not have balked at the notion of annihilating the other.

4/22/2007 8:27 pm (et) Basecat: me the whole idea on both sides was to wipe out the other's army the sooner the better.

4/22/2007 8:27 pm (et) mobile_96: The fighting here certainly shows that amhg.

4/22/2007 8:28 pm (et) Widow: Meanwhile giving a single soldier a sip of water and a little comfort. When they were one on one, it was hard to see him as an enemy to kill.

4/22/2007 8:28 pm (et) Basecat: That's why these attacks were so ferocious, IMHO...Done so under the opinion that if we wipe them out the war is over.

4/22/2007 8:29 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Individual soldiers may have had other thoughts and feelings, and those came out on the battlefield in incidents like the one mentioned, but as far as the armies of both sides went the object was to kill the enemy.

4/22/2007 8:29 pm (et) Widow: Basecat, compare that with McClellan's Theory of Aggressive War-Fighting. Play soldier for a while and go home.

4/22/2007 8:29 pm (et) mobile_96: But at the same time, both sides actually respected each other (most of the time).

4/22/2007 8:30 pm (et) Basecat: Widow...I don't think Little Mac ever knew what aggression meant. ;)

4/22/2007 8:30 pm (et) Widow: See, we keep bumping into these contradictory observations. They must have felt confused in their feelings sometimes.

4/22/2007 8:31 pm (et) Widow: Yup, my point exactly, Basecat.

4/22/2007 8:32 pm (et) Widow: But at Stones River, there was a lot of aggressive war fighting. Maybe not such terrific command leadership, but on the ground, there was no lack of fighting spirit.

4/22/2007 8:32 pm (et) amhistoryguy: For many of these Union soldiers this was only their second battle, the first being Perryville.

4/22/2007 8:32 pm (et) Basecat: Interesting also that when Cleburne went to fight...he really went to fight...IMHO, his soldiers are the best of the AoT, and am amazed anyone survived the war who fought with that outfit. Here at Stones River, he knew how to add pressure to the attack when it was needed.

4/22/2007 8:33 pm (et) Basecat: Very true AMHG, unlike the boys who wore gray...and who had seen the elephant a lot more than their counterparts.

4/22/2007 8:34 pm (et) Widow: I think he had X-ray eyes, he usually could "see" the Yankees' movements, plan his countermoves, and then do it.

4/22/2007 8:34 pm (et) Basecat: Widow...Technically there was no command leadership on the Union side...they all took off..:)

4/22/2007 8:34 pm (et) Basecat: For the most part.

4/22/2007 8:34 pm (et) Widow: Or were getting shaves and eating breakfast.

4/22/2007 8:35 pm (et) amhistoryguy: It took a while for the cream of Union command to rise to the top.

4/22/2007 8:35 pm (et) mobile_96: And after they had been warned about being alert.

4/22/2007 8:35 pm (et) Widow: Most of them were yogurt, plain vanilla.

4/22/2007 8:35 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Many of the best commanders were at the brigade or even regimental level at that point in the war.

4/22/2007 8:36 pm (et) Basecat: I know amhg has been there, as I have, but for those who have not, just wait until we walk in these woods were the attacks began...You can imagine the chaos there by walking the ground.

4/22/2007 8:37 pm (et) Widow: Ahg, they knew much better their men's capabilities. Also, would go out and look at the ground, which the brass didn't seem to think about. Bragg included.

4/22/2007 8:37 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Just reading the words "cedar thicket" brought back that smell to me Basecat.

4/22/2007 8:37 pm (et) Widow: A comment about the map on page 93. The legend is "7:30 a.m. Collapse of Johnson's Reserve."

4/22/2007 8:38 pm (et) Basecat: Same here amhg...Brought back some pictures stored in the mind here as well.

4/22/2007 8:38 pm (et) Widow: That confused me, as there was a Johnson on each side. BG Richard Johnson, USA, and BG Bushrod Johnson, CSA.

4/22/2007 8:39 pm (et) Widow: Richard Johnson's reserve collapsed, not Bushrod's.

4/22/2007 8:39 pm (et) Widow: Did they call him Bushy or Roddy?

4/22/2007 8:39 pm (et) Widow: :=))

4/22/2007 8:41 pm (et) Widow: Those thickets, whether cedar or briars, are impassable and impossible. Why didn't the commanders take a look?

4/22/2007 8:41 pm (et) Widow: Their plans get skewed because the men can't get through.

4/22/2007 8:42 pm (et) mobile_96: Because they moved after dark maybe.

4/22/2007 8:42 pm (et) Widow: Gaps open between brigades, or they get bunched up and start drifting west toward Overall Creek.

4/22/2007 8:42 pm (et) Basecat: Widow, because the focus of the Union plans started with an attack on the Confederate right...Had no clue that Bragg would hit them on their left as hard as they did, and before the union troops could move.

4/22/2007 8:43 pm (et) Widow: Mobile, Kirk (US) arrived in full daylight the previous afternoon, but was lackadaisical.

4/22/2007 8:43 pm (et) Basecat: Hit them on his right I should confusing things here.

4/22/2007 8:44 pm (et) mobile_96: I have to admit, I had a very tough time trying to follow the movements, in all three chapters.

4/22/2007 8:45 pm (et) Basecat: Actually the retreat to the west helped Rosecrans' in setting up lines to repel the latter portions of the attack...Confederates followed those who were retreating and soon found themselves being hit on their flanks.

4/22/2007 8:45 pm (et) Widow: Bragg's assault on the Union right looked like Jackson at Chancellorsville 6 months later.

4/22/2007 8:45 pm (et) Basecat: Mobile...:) Why do you think I spent close to an hour with a Ranger when I visited there, It confused the heck outta me..;)

4/22/2007 8:46 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I had the advantage of using my "Stones River National Battlefield Troop Movement Maps," but there is so much movement it is had to follow mobile.

4/22/2007 8:46 pm (et) Basecat: And it is a very dense area...this part of the Union lines.

4/22/2007 8:46 pm (et) mobile_96: I think even Cozzens got lost a bit, when writing.

4/22/2007 8:46 pm (et) Widow: Mobile, that was the writer's fault, not yours. Cozzens just wasn't very good at keeping things clear.

4/22/2007 8:46 pm (et) mobile_96: Can I get a set of those maps?

4/22/2007 8:47 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Adding to the confusion is the fact that many brigades and even regiments get mixes in the confusion.

4/22/2007 8:47 pm (et) Basecat: Hard to do so in the limited amount of pages he used for his chapters. Crammed in way too much info, in the amount of pages he used.

4/22/2007 8:47 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Probably have them at the park, maybe even some better ones.

4/22/2007 8:48 pm (et) Basecat: IIRC, they do AMHG....and will pick one up when I get there.

4/22/2007 8:48 pm (et) Widow: And Basecat, I agree with last week's chat comments about the inadequate maps. No way of matching a location on one map with the same spot on another.

4/22/2007 8:48 pm (et) mobile_96: In chapter 8, pg 102he says Eight hundred yard to the east.....and this from the smith home.....the Gresham house is north, not east.

4/22/2007 8:49 pm (et) mobile_96: We need to have them make sure they have enough for us when we get there!

4/22/2007 8:50 pm (et) Widow: I managed to coordinate the maps so I could at least tell which way each side was moving. I'm not so good with measurements more than 2 yards.

4/22/2007 8:50 pm (et) ole: Mobil: We'll have time Wednesday to slip down and make sure we get ours.

4/22/2007 8:51 pm (et) Basecat: Mobile...Am sure they won't run out...When I was last there, it seemed like I was the only visitor there that morning.

4/22/2007 8:51 pm (et) Widow: If those maps are like the 2nd Manassas maps which Shotgun has, they're terrific. Big, about 2x3 feet.

4/22/2007 8:52 pm (et) mobile_96: I'll probably get 2 sets and have 1 laminated

4/22/2007 8:52 pm (et) Widow: If you could stack them and flip through like those old flip books, you could see the troop movements, hour by hour.

4/22/2007 8:54 pm (et) Widow: Hm, that's an idea. A flip book of a battlefield.

4/22/2007 8:55 pm (et) Basecat:  Any more comments on Chapter 7?

4/22/2007 8:56 pm (et) Basecat: Will just add about the comment Boys, This is Fun...was not fun after Mathews said this he was wounded horribly in his arm...

4/22/2007 8:59 pm (et) Basecat: Opening sentence of Chapter 8 shows just how thorough the Union forces were scrambled. 5 Brigades were in full less than one hour.

4/22/2007 9:00 pm (et) Widow: Maybe the adrenalin rush was fun.

4/22/2007 9:01 pm (et) mobile_96: Wonder if Thruston ever thought he'd get out of the mess he was in, Alive, much less getting the ammo wagons away safely.

4/22/2007 9:01 pm (et) Basecat: Widow...I tend to think it was too easy, and was forewarned not to be so cocky, which was proven correctly a few minutes later.

4/22/2007 9:02 pm (et) amhistoryguy: The theme of every incompetent officer being drunk seems to be common. Wonder if it is an excuse, or out of necessity, or ?

4/22/2007 9:02 pm (et) Basecat: Mobile...Hard to imagine he did get away, especially in the terrain he was in.

4/22/2007 9:03 pm (et) Widow: AHG, the ? could be the soldiers' willingness to believe the worst about their incompetent officers.

4/22/2007 9:04 pm (et) mobile_96: Wondered the same amhg

4/22/2007 9:04 pm (et) Basecat: AMHG....Bothers me there were a lot of incompetent officers who were in the ranks. Hard to think that being ordered to be prepared was taken as time for me to get drunk by everyone. :)

4/22/2007 9:04 pm (et) mobile_96: Or it was.......true

4/22/2007 9:04 pm (et) Widow: Soldiers are willing to die for an officer they trust to lead them wisely, but have contempt for those they believe will waste their lives.

4/22/2007 9:06 pm (et) Widow: And soldiers can always tell the difference. If it's unwise to sit in camp and wise to attack, the men would rather attack than be bored in camp.

4/22/2007 9:07 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Accusations against Cheatham surprised me, not so much that he could get drunk, but I had the impression that he liked a good fight, and didn't need to drink to get his job done.

4/22/2007 9:08 pm (et) Widow: Yes, AHG, it seems that every other page mentioned Cheatham's "illness." Falling off his horse, was it?

4/22/2007 9:08 pm (et) Widow: Our next read is about Cheatham. Will be interesting to compare the two authors' viewpoints of the man's drinking.

4/22/2007 9:09 pm (et) Basecat: IIRC amhg, during the book on Spring Hill and Franklin, wasn't it intimated that he must have been drunk at Spring Hill as well?

4/22/2007 9:09 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Everyone was drunk or on drugs : )

4/22/2007 9:09 pm (et) Widow: What about the CS commanders who gave their men whiskey without food on the early morning attack of the 30th? Doesn't seem like a good plan to me.

4/22/2007 9:10 pm (et) Widow: But then, I seldom drink whiskey for breakfast. :=))

4/22/2007 9:10 pm (et) Basecat: Widow..But back then they thought alcohol was a stimulant, IIRC.

4/22/2007 9:10 pm (et) ole: A little whiskey was fairly common. It was especially unwise when the soldiers hadn't eaten for quite a while.

4/22/2007 9:11 pm (et) Basecat: amhg...Or crazy...:)

4/22/2007 9:11 pm (et) Widow: Sure, it raises the blood pressure and relaxes the inhibitions. Fighting drunk, I think is the phrase.

4/22/2007 9:11 pm (et) Widow: But the happy drunks must have had a hard time feeling mad at the enemy.

4/22/2007 9:12 pm (et) Basecat: Was a cold day...and was used to warm up the insides. No whiskey drinker here, but am sure the late KY Reb would have the correct answer for us if he was still around.

4/22/2007 9:13 pm (et) amhistoryguy: It warms you up alright !!

4/22/2007 9:13 pm (et) Widow: OK, tipsy soldiers led by drunk officers. Something's bound to go right, somewhere along the line.

4/22/2007 9:13 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Initially makes you feel less hungry too.

4/22/2007 9:14 pm (et) Widow: AHG, it's still no substitute for plenty of nutritious food, warm clothes, and early bedtimes.

4/22/2007 9:15 pm (et) Widow: Not that I eat nutritious food or have early bedtime, mind you. :=))

4/22/2007 9:17 pm (et) Widow: General question about aides from the CG's staff. They ride around checking on things to report back, I suppose. Are they authorized to issue orders to the brigade and regimental commanders?

4/22/2007 9:18 pm (et) Widow: Anybody? Feel free to pitch in, here.

4/22/2007 9:19 pm (et) amhistoryguy: CG's order deliver service. The had no real authority other than to deliver " The commanding general directs...."

4/22/2007 9:19 pm (et) Widow: OK, ahg, thx. That clarifies it.

4/22/2007 9:20 pm (et) ole: And sometimes they got mixed up or forgot what they were supposed to say. Played hob with Generals who didn't write the orders.

4/22/2007 9:20 pm (et) Widow: Sometimes the CG was confused himself. Bragg comes to mind.

4/22/2007 9:20 pm (et) ole: And there wasn't always time for written orders.

4/22/2007 9:23 pm (et) Widow: Add to that, ole, that the CG's intel wasn't timely. Could be a gap of 15 minutes to several hours between an event and his knowledge of it. His orders would be outdated before he issued them.

4/22/2007 9:24 pm (et) ole: Some managed to stay on top of developments -- even anticipate or cause them.

4/22/2007 9:24 pm (et) Widow: Then another delay until they're delivered. By that time the whole situation has changed, and the brigadier wonders What the heck?

4/22/2007 9:25 pm (et) Widow: That's why it's better to let the commanders close to the front lines make their on-the-spot decisions. The CG just directs from the read.

4/22/2007 9:25 pm (et) Widow: Ole, Cleburne was superb at anticipating trouble, and at causing it too.

4/22/2007 9:26 pm (et) amhistoryguy: I should mention here that when I read of the 24th WI infantry, I immediately thought of their 17 year old adjutant, Lt. Arthur McArthur.

4/22/2007 9:27 pm (et) Widow: AHG, last week the question was, Father or grandfather of Douglas. Believe Arthur was Douglas' father.

4/22/2007 9:27 pm (et) ole: Anybody ever determine if that was Douglas MacArthur's father or grandfather?

4/22/2007 9:27 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Yes, father of Douglas.

4/22/2007 9:28 pm (et) Widow: Arthur 17 in 1862 = born in 1845. Douglas born in 1800s or 1890s, so yes, father.

4/22/2007 9:28 pm (et) Widow: 1880s or 1890s.

4/22/2007 9:28 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Arthur's father was a prominent Milwaukee banker.

4/22/2007 9:28 pm (et) Basecat: Folks I am having a problem here that just does not want to end. My apologies to all, but I have to go. Homework for next week will be Chapters 10, 11, and 12. I will send ks an e-mail when I get a chance so she can post it on the YODB.. Once again I am sorry for having to leave right now.