Confederate General Bragg tells his men to hold the line at Stone River. Union Gen. Johnson is prepared to cut and run, but Rosecrans and Van Cleve stand firm. Singer sees the ground red with blood; Sills is killed. They fight until the rebels retreat
The battle took place along the banks of the Stone River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The generals: Braxton Bragg, of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee; William Rosecrans, Richard Johnson, Horatio Van Cleve and Joshua Sills, of the Union Army of the Cumberland. Gen. Sills was killed by one Col. Perry, a rebel in an area with Union sympathies. Parks tells of singing a snatch this song in the woods one day when Col. Perry himself came up and made him sing the whole thing, then said, "I'm the very goddam man that shot him." - PJS
Despite the title of the song, the correct name of the battle was not Stone River but Stones River, or Murfreesboro to the Confederates -- and it was actually a multi-part battle spread over three days. On the first day, Bragg's Confederate army hit the Union right flank. The division of Richard W. Johnson (1827-1897) was the extreme flank element in the union line, and naturally was driven hardest in the assault in which Hardee's Confederate corps drove McCook's through a 180 degree angle and almost back onto the Union left rear.
It's odd to see Van Cleve (Horatio Phillips Van Cleve, 1809-1891) mentioned as one of the key props of the Union line (if we had to name one officer, it would surely be Philip Sheridan); his troops were on the Union left, intended to attack the Confederate right, and served only to strengthen the final Union line.
"Sills" is properly Joshua Woodrow Sill (1831-1862), a brigadier killed on December 31.
December 31 was the big day at Stones River, but Bragg did mount a minor second assault on January 2, 1863, which failed. The Confederates had achieved a significant tactical victory, having driven the Union troops badly, but they could not exploit the win, and Bragg retreated after the battle. On the other hand, Rosecrans and his army had been so stunned that they spent six months licking their wounds -- a lull that the Confederates could have made good use of had they had a true central command to coordinate their efforts. - RBW