As dawn approached on the morning of Wednesday, December 31, the batªD tlefield was covered with mist, and a gray overcast hung overhead. The temªD perature was very cool as the men of McCook's Wing woke up and began to cook their morning meals. A strange lethargy characterized the actions of all Federals on the right flank. Taking their cue from McCook, who spent a leiªD surely time shaving at his headquarters tent near the Gresham farmhouse, officers and men alike failed to prepare for the coming attack. Everyone asªD sumed that Rosecrans's left would launch its assault while they simply held their ground. It was an odd parallel to the battle of Perryville nearly three months before, when Bragg's army caught McCook's corps by surprise and nearly crushed it.
On the far Federal right, Willich's brigade was fairly well set for a battle. Its regiments faced south, covering the intersection of Gresham Lane and Franklin Pike, taking cover in the trees with an open field in front. But the brigade next to it, led by Brig. Gen. Edmund N. Kirk, was poorly placed in the middle of a thicket. Kirk's pickets moved out to the wood's edge and found an open field, but no one ordered the battle line to move forward and take advantage of this excellent field of fire. Because Kirk's right rested on the Franklin Pike and the rest of his brigade spread out to the northeast, he joined Willich at an obtuse angle. The brigade of Col. Philip S. Post continªD ued the Federal line inside the woods to Kirk's left.
The Unionists were caught by surprise when McCown's division atªD tacked at about 6:30 A.M. Three brigades of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas regiments moved briskly across the open field, straddling the Franklin Pike as they marched nearly due west toward the angle where Willich joined Kirk. Only five hundred yards behind them