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General William S. Rosecrans
The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Ninth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 9th, 1898.
Among the fifty-six cadets who were graduated fifty-six years ago, in June, 1842, William S. Rosecrans was deservedly prominent, and among all the graduates of the Academy, since its organization, few have reflected more honor upon it, or rendered more important services to their country than he.
p52 In attempting a sketch of his life, which must necessarily be brief, I am reminded that he was the last of the Generals in the late war who commanded large armies in the field, and, therefore, that more special mention of his career may be expected than is ordinarily given to graduates who have been less distinguished.
It would require a volume to elucidate the important events in the history of this graduate, who was prominent in civil as well as military affairs. The records of the late Rebellion furnish the material for the history of his public military career, whilst the files of the Congressional Record, and of the State and Treasury Departments of the Government, supply most of the data for a sketch of his long, useful and busy life.
In cadet days Rosecrans was a bright scholar, a close student, frank and pleasant in his intercourse with his classmates, of ready wit, and possessed of a constant fund of good nature. If, at the time of graduation, one had been called upon to select from his class those who would be most distinguished in after life, although all of the first five might not have been chosen, he surely would have been among the foremost named.
Graduating fifth in his class, he was appointed a Lieutenant of Engineers; was occupied for a few months in the work of that corps at Hampton Roads and other forts; and then detailed as Assistant Professor of Engineers at the Academy, where he remained as such, or as Assistant Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, until September, 1847. He was, therefore, not in the Mexican war, and thus lost the education which that experience gave to many officers, by enabling them to put in practice, and fasten in memory, the theoretical lessons of war operations which they had learned. In 1842 very little attention was paid to the art of war at the Academy. The theories of the construction of forts, their attack and defense, Scott's Infantry Tactics, and Mahan's Field Fortifications, all of which consumed but little time in the study, were about the extent of the teaching in the principles of war. The cadet graduate was p53better equipped for the pursuits of peace, but many made up for the deficiency in this respect by assiduity in their after lives.
Rosecrans resigned as First Lieutenant of Engineers April 1, 1854, and thereafter, until the breaking out of the war in 1861, was at Cincinnati, Ohio, occupied as a civil engineer, the superintendent of a coal company and manufacturer of coal oil. The oil manufactured from coal was soon superseded by the petroleum discovered in Western Pennsylvania, the immense production of which rendered the coal oil factories worthless and drove their owners into other industries and vocations.
When the War of the Rebellion broke out, General Scott naturally looked towards West Point for new commanders, and recommended for appointment those who had seen service in Mexico, and from the head graduates. Among others selected was McClellan. To him Rosecrans offered his services in Ohio, and became his aid in organizing home guards at Cincinnati in April, 1861; was commissioned Brigadier General of the United States army May 16, 1861; was in command of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteers, as Colonel, June 10, 1861, and was soon after in command of a brigade.
The Ohio Volunteers, under McClellan, moved early and rapidly into Western Virginia, and there, on the 11th of July, 1861, had an engagement with Floyd's southern troops at Rich Mountain. In this fight, Rosecrans, as McClellan expressed it in his report, conducted his brigade "up the very precipitous sides of the mountain and overcame formidable objects which impeded his progress." He "turned Floyd's intrenchments, had a spirited fight on the summit of the mountain," and with the loss of about sixty, captured seven cannons, killed and wounded two hundred of the enemy, among whom was the brave Confederate General Robert S. Garnett, and forced the retreat of Floyd, leading to the surrender of Pegram's command, thus, as McClellan reported, "annihilating" the enemy in Western Virginia.
The combat of Rich Mountain and skirmish of Carnifex p54Ferry which followed, though, in numbers engaged and losses, not to be compared with subsequent battles, yet in importance cannot be over-estimated. The immediate effect of them was to give encouragement and spirit to the Union forces and, incidentally, to promote McClellan to the command of the Army of the Potomac, and to advance the command and influence of Rosecrans.
In the autumn of 1861, and up to May, 1862, Rosecrans was in command of the Departments of Ohio and Western Virginia. He was appointed a Major General of Volunteers March 21, 1862, and was in command of a division of the army at the siege of Corinth, in May, 1862.
June 11th, 1862, he took command of the Army of the Mississippi. General Grant, having captured Fort Donelson on the 13th of February, 1862, was appointed Major General of Volunteers of that date, and thus, when he joined his Army of West Tennessee with that of Rosecrans, became the ranking officer, although Rosecrans had the senior commission of Brigadier General. In the siege of Corinth, these Generals, each commanding a separate army, co‑operated, as also in the battles of Iuka and Corinth, which occurred soon thereafter.
The battle of Iuka, which took place September 19th, 1862, was a very important one. On the 18th the divisions of Generals Stanley and Hamilton, under Rosecrans, bivouacked at Jacinto, Mississippi. Some misunderstanding as to Grant's purpose delayed their advance. On the 19th, at 6 A.M., they were put in motion, and after a march of eighteen miles, arrived at Iuka two hours before dark, going immediately into action, and, after an exceedingly spirited and fierce contest, obtained complete victory over Price's Confederate army before the day closed. The next morning it was found that Price had retreated during the night. The Union loss, in killed and wounded, was about thirteen hundred, and the Confederate loss greater, with eight hundred stand of arms and numerous prisoners. This battle had the effect to relieve Buell from attack on his flank by p55Price while moving against Bragg in Kentucky. Bragg was then confronting Buell. He had issued his proclamation to the people of Kentucky, September the 18th, stating that the heart of that State was with the Confederates, and pointing to Marshall, Breckinridge and Buckner as their leaders.
General Grant, who did not hear of the battle of Iuka till the day after it was fought, said, in his report of it, "I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in this attack, and of the endurance of the troops under him."
In a few days Rosecrans occupied Corinth, where, on the 3rd of October, a bold and impetuous attack was made upon his position by the Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn. Van Dorn believed the taking of Corinth was a "condition precedent" to anything of importance in West Tennessee. He said in his report of the battle to the Confederate government, — which I quote from to show his estimate of Rosecrans, — "that as it (Corinth) was being strengthened daily by that astute soldier General Rosecrans," he "determined to begin the attack immediately" — that he "hoped to end the battle the first day, but night coming on, and because of the more than equal activity and determined courage displayed by the enemy, commanded by one of the ablest Generals of the United States army, who threw all possible obstacles in (his) way that an active mind could suggest," it was prolonged: that "the next day it was resumed and a hand to hand contest was being enacted in the very yard of General Rosecrans' headquarters, and the streets of the town" when "reinforcements" and "fresh troops to Rosecrans changed the day." He pathetically added, "men exhausted, gave way. The day was lost. The attempt at Corinth has failed. In consequence, I am condemned and superseded in my command."
Before the Court of Inquiry, which Van Dorn requested to investigate his conduct of this battle, he said that his "plan was to take Corinth by a coup de main," and that as he "calculated the force of the Federals, including outposts, did not p56exceed twelve to fifteen thousand, and as his effective force was twenty-two thousand," he "thought by a sudden attack to take the town before the outposts and reinforcements could be drawn in." Van Dorn was a graduate of the Academy, of the class of 1842, and was well acquainted with Rosecrans.
The victory of Corinth, as Grant expressed it in his report, "was most triumphant." All the testimony unites in praise of Rosecrans for his conspicuous action and personal bravery in this battle.
General Grant was not present at the battle of Corinth, being separated from it "some seven or eight hours' ride," and Ord's division and Rosecrans', there should be the warmest bonds of brotherhood." This expression, as Rosecrans dispatched to Grant October 11th, "amazed" him, as he "knew nothing to suggest that it might be otherwise."
Soon after the battle Rosecrans pushed forward his divisions in pursuit of the enemy. He sent a number of dispatches to Grant on the 7th of October, from which it appears that a difference had arisen between them as to Rosecrans' movements. He said in one: "I repeat it is of the utmost importance to push the enemy to Mobile and Jackson." In another: "Don't call Hurlbut back," and at last sent an earnest one, dissenting from Grant's views, and arguing the case, closing with the expression, "if, after considering these matters, you still order my return to Corinth, I will obey and abandon the chief fruits of a victory." October the 8th, Grant dispatched to Halleck that he had ordered Rosecrans to return and that Rosecrans was reluctant. Halleck replied: "Why order his return?"
This seems to have been the beginning of a breach between Rosecrans and Grant, which I fear was never closed. It is not my purpose to express an opinion as to the differences p57between them, or any other Generals, but as they are preserved in the records, they cannot be entirely overlooked. It seems to me, however, that Rosecrans was not to blame for the estrangement, unless it was by making too much reference to it.
October 22d, 1862, he telegraphed to Halleck that "mousing politicians" on Grant's staff were exciting jealousy; that Grant had telegraphed to him that "leading members and correspondents justified him in insinuating that he (Rosecrans) was getting up a spirit of division, and trying to make his army independent of him; and that he had replied to Grant that he had not a truer friend or more loyal subordinate than himself."
This evil of the staff officers fomenting mischief between commanding Generals, has been manifest in all our wars. It is the spirit which forces leaders to be rivals in spite of their own sincere desires and earnest opposition to such an attitude.
On the 22d of October Rosecrans was ordered to Cincinnati, to prepare for a new campaign. He was placed in command of the Army of the Cumberland October the 27th. What remained of Buell's army was heavily reinforced till it became only second in size to the Army of the Potomac. The preparation for the Tennessee campaign required no ordinary effort. The new troops were to be disciplined. The country had been swept of forage by the armies of Buell and Bragg. On the first of November Rosecrans moved to Bowling Green, and on the 10th to Nashville, where, till the close of the year, he was reorganizing, re-equipping and disciplining his army.
By the first of December the Government at Washington had become impatient of his "long stay" at Nashville. So General Halleck, who was then General in Chief at Washington, dispatched to him on the fourth, saying: "Twice I have been asked to designate someone else to command your army. If you remain one more week at Nashville, I cannot prevent your removal." Rosecrans replied the same day that he had lost no time; that everything he had done was absolutely necessary, and had been done as rapidly as possible. He explained the p58situation at some length and concluded by saying: "If my superiors have lost confidence in me, they had better put someone else in my place, and let the future test the propriety of the change. I have but one word to add, which is that I need no other stimulus to make me do my duty than the knowledge of what it is. To threats of removal, or the like, I may be permitted to say that I am insensible."
Halleck replied that his telegram was not a threat, but a statement of facts; that the President said there were imperative reasons that the enemy be driven across the Tennessee at the earliest possible moment, and that his anxiety could hardly be conceived. Halleck "guessed" that the President feared "the political pressure of starving operatives, might force the British Parliament, in January, to join France in intervention, and if the enemy were left in middle Tennessee, it would be said they had gained on us." "The whole cabinet were inquiring daily why don't he move?" "Can't you make him move?" "Delay there may prove more fatal than anywhere else!" "A pressure for you to advance much greater than you possibly can have imagined!" "The very turning point of our foreign relations!" These were some of the exciting expressions used by Halleck in his dispatch to Rosecrans. One wonders whether similar expressions were made to Burnside to impel him to his disastrous repulse at Fredericksburg on the 12th of December.
Rosecrans needed no pushing. If anything, from his nature and previous operations, he was in danger of moving too rapidly. Halleck's telegram had not, however, the effect to change his plans. Speedily and carefully, as was his custom, he made his preparations, and his able Generals seconded his movements, so that on the 26th of December his army was put in motion. The several columns met advance parties of Bragg's forces and had a series of skirmishes with them till the 31st, when, on that day, and on the 2nd day of January, 1863, there were terrific contests between the contending armies, which were ended by the Confederates fleeing with great precipitancy during the night.
p59 The result of this battle of Stone River, fought near Murfreesboro, gave joy to President Lincoln. He telegraphed to Rosecrans January 5, 1863, "God bless you and all with you. Accept the nation's gratitude for your and their skill, endurance and dauntless courage." And Halleck telegraphed January 9th that "the victory was one of the most brilliant of the war," and that the "Rebel accounts fully confirmed Rosecrans' telegrams." He added: "You and your brave army have won the gratitude of your country and the admiration of the world." In this bloody battle of Stone River the killed and wounded on the Federal side were 9,532, and on the Confederate 8,997.
The report of Bragg was not immediately published at Richmond by the Confederate government. As there was clamor against him for the loss of the battle, he strenuously requested the publication of his report in his vindication. J. A. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, then gave it to the press with this note at the foot of it: "(March 9, 1863. Adjutant and Inspector General. Let this be copied for Congress, leaving out the compliment for General Rosecrans. J. A. S.)" Bragg's omitted compliment, which was possibly thus destroyed, may have been like that of Van Dorn's after Corinth, and for the same reason, to show the prowess of the General against whom he fought. The praise of adversaries is to be scanned as well as that of friends, but, whatever the motive, the compliments to Rosecrans by Van Dorn and Bragg were evidently wrung from them by his masterly abilities in his campaigns.
Rosecrans remained some time at Murfreesboro recruiting strength and preparing for the advance south through middle Tennessee. The government at Washington again became impatient at the delay. Halleck telegraphed March 6, 1863, offering the vacant Major Generalship in the United States army to the General who would first win "an important and decisive victory." Rosecrans, indignant at this bid for his exertions, replied with great spirit that he felt "degraded at such an auctioneering p60of honors." In this Rosecrans may not have been wise. He certainly was not prudent. But he had reason to think that the offer of Halleck was personal, and savored of a sarcastic allusion to his delay. The same offer may have been made to the Generals commanding other armies in the field. Halleck and the cabinet had got to that point in which past services were forgotten in the anxieties for future successes.
The capture of Vicksburg by Grant took place on the 4th of July, 1863, and the close of the battle of Gettysburg under Meade on the 3rd of July, 1863. Grant was appointed to the vacant Major Generalship, and Meade was made Brigadier General only, although he gained the first victory after Halleck's offer. The victory of Grant, in consideration of its completeness, was doubtless considered the most important. Whether it was the most decisive may admit of question.
In the summer of 1863 Bragg had an intrenched position at Tullahoma. Rosecrans, by skirmishes and skillful maneuvers, forced him to retire beyond the Tennessee. Rosecrans' abilities as a strategist now became conspicuous. By common consent of the historians of the campaign, he had a genius for strategy. Charles A. Dana, a war correspondent who was sent to Chattanooga by Secretary Stanton, dispatching to the latter from Rosecrans' headquarters, September 14, 1863, said, Rosecrans' "army has gained a position from which it can effectually advance upon Rome and Atlanta and deliver there the finishing blow of the war." "The difficulties of gaining this position, of crossing the Cumberland mountains, passing the Tennessee, turning and occupying Chattanooga, traversing the mountain ridges of Northern Georgia and seizing the passes which led southward have been enormous, and can only be fully appreciated by one who has personally examined that region."
The government at Washington got wind early in September that Lee was sending, from his army in Virginia, reinforcements to Bragg, but it was almost too late to warn Rosecrans, and too late to reinforce him. He was reminded, however, by p61President Lincoln, that he was moving too far south. Bragg, reinforced by Longstreet, had turned upon him. Rosecrans discovered Bragg's intention in the nick of time, and by rapid orders succeeded in drawing together all of his army before Bragg could reach him.
He formed his line of battle at the Chickamauga Creek, some miles south of Chattanooga and awaited Bragg's approach. The battle began on the 19th of September, 1863. General Thomas commanded the left corps or wing of Rosecrans' army. General Polk commanded the right wing of Bragg's army, and General Longstreet the left wing. A very heavy attack, mostly by Polk on Thomas, was made on the first day. On the 20th the battle was renewed with great vigor. There was heavy and continuous firing on the left of the Federal line. Rosecrans ordered every available brigade to the support of Thomas. But having seen that the right of his line of battle was too much extended, he was solicitous that it should be closed in to the left, and having misapprehended that there was a gap between Wood's and Reynolds' divisions, he gave an order through his aid, Major Bond, to Wood to "close up on Reynolds as fast as possible and support him." Brannan'sº division was then between Wood and Reynolds, and Wood, seeing that the first part of the order was unintelligible, concluded to obey the remainder of it — to support Reynolds. He withdrew his division to march in flank to the rear of Reynolds. This left a gap in the line, through which the troops of Longstreet rushed with terrific and irresistible force. The right wing of the Federal line became panic stricken, turned and fled, pell-mell, sweeping everyone in its way, even the corps and division Generals. Rosecrans himself, cut off from Thomas, and believing that the day was lost, retreated to Chattanooga. There he heard that Thomas had heroically maintained his position until night-fall. But as, under the circumstances, he could give Thomas no effective support, the latter fell back during the night to Rossville, covering Chattanooga, in good order, though p62his force was greatly exhausted. The troops were set to work to fortify Chattanooga, and in a few days it was safe from immediate attack. As, however, it was still besieged by Bragg's army, its condition excited the War Department to great activity in reinforcing and reorganizing its forces.
The battle of Chickamauga had for a time a disastrous effect upon the reputations of Rosecrans and some of his corps and division Generals. There were criminations and recriminations. The war correspondents added much fuel to the dissensions. Stanton's confidential correspondent kept busy his prolific and unscrupulous pen in sending dispatches, giving free and injurious opinions of the characters and capacities of the Generals. Whether he took his cue from the War Department is not known. His dispatches have been preserved in the War Records. As they were sent in secrecy, and the instructions and letters he received were not published in connection with them, it would have done no harm if they had remained buried in secret until the end of time.
Among other things, whilst the army was enjoying a much needed rest after the battle, Dana dispatched to Stanton, Rosecrans "devotes part of the time which is not employed, in pleasant gossip to the composition of a long report to prove that the government is to blame for his failure." In Rosecrans' report of the battle, which included also the previous operations from Murfreesboro, I think one will fail to discover any fault found with the government. As a result of the criticisms in the public press, Courts of Inquiry were requested by Generals McCook, Negley and Crittenden, one of which, ordered for all the cases, met at Louisville, heard evidence and exculpated these Generals from blame.
Rosecrans himself got into a heated discussion with Halleck, by saying in his report that Wood had mistaken his order. Wood, in some way, obtained a copy of the report before it was published, and sent his statement to Halleck without first submitting it to Rosecrans. The statement was published p63as an appendix to the report of Rosecrans. This caused an angry letter of Rosecrans to Halleck, in which Wood was severely handled.
On the 19th of October, General Grant, who was ordered to relieve General Rosecrans, met, by appointment, the Secretary of War at Louisville. As Chattanooga was considered then a most important position, Grant telegraphed Thomas to hold it. The position had been gained by the Army of the Cumberland under Rosecrans, and served as the base of the future operations leading to the capture of Atlanta and the great march of Sherman to the sea.
After Chickamauga, the War Department seemed closed against Rosecrans, and thenceforth he had no opportunity for further distinction. He awaited orders at Cincinnati from October 30th, 1863, to January 28th, 1864, when he was placed in command of the Department of Missouri, with headquarters at St. Louis, "from which he directed operations terminating in the expulsion of Price from the State." From December 10th, 1864, to May 28th, 1865, he was awaiting orders at Cincinnati, when he was given leave of absence. He resigned March 27, 1867, his commission of Brigadier General in the United States Army. This closed his military career.
On the 27th of July, 1868, he was appointed Minister to Mexico by President Johnson, which office he held only until June 25, 1869, when, under General Grant's administration, he was relieved by the appointment of a successor.
In politics Rosecrans was a democrat, but, like most of the army officers, he had taken no part in election campaigns while in the army. He turned his attention to civil and mining engineering and was engaged in railroad operations in Mexico. He afterwards became president of a mining company, and a powder company in San Francisco. He made his residence in that city, and was elected a member of the House of Representatives of the United States, to the 47th and 48th Congresses. In the 47th Congress, which was republican, he was p64a member of the Committee on Coinage. In the 48th, which was democratic, he was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. A glance at the index of the Congressional Record for that Congress will show that he was actively and constantly employed in the committee room, and on the floor of the House, in preparing and presenting reports on the numerous bills which were referred to his committee. While in that Congress he was appointed by the Speaker a visitor to West Point to attend the annual examination in June. His principal speech in Congress was delivered on the 22nd of March, 1882, on the bill "to enforce treaty stipulations relating to the Chinese." From this speech I quote the opening and closing sentences, which are characteristic:
"That what I may say may have the weight and consideration which is due, I declare at the outset that I love justice and hate iniquity. I believe that the Chinese, and the men of all other lands, have the same Creator, and that their souls have been bought at the same price as my own. I appeal to my past life to attest that neither fear of popular odium, nor love of popularity, has hitherto sufficed to prevent the avowal of my convictions, or the acceptance of the duties they involved."
And then, after an able argument as to the impossible assimilation of the Chinese with the European-American population, he concluded thus:
"As an American citizen, standing on the verge of the winter of life, and whitening beneath its descending snows, I appeal to you members of the House, in the name of the working people of the United States, and of the millions on the Pacific coast, to do as much for your own people, as England has done for her Australian subjects, by passing this bill."
On Mr. Cleveland's accession to the Presidency, Rosecrans was appointed Register of the Treasury of the United States, which office he held for eight years, until the 1st of July, 1893.
On the 27th of February, 1889, an act was passed providing for his appointment as Brigadier General of the United States p65army, under which he was immediately commissioned and placed on the retired list.
While Register of the Treasury he had the respect and esteem of his subordinates in a great degree. After his retirement, he sought again the peaceful shores of the Pacific, for which he appeared to have formed much attachment, and there he spent, in feeble and declining health, the remainder of his days.
For the last three years of his life his health was very precarious, with repeated attacks of nervous prostration. His last illness, occasioned by a cold terminating in pneumonia, was about of two weeks' duration. He suffered but little pain and passed quietly away. Five years before he had had, at Washington, a critical illness, and at the urgent request of his son Carl, who has a farm near Bernardo Beach, the General went out to Southern California. There, under the kind attentions of his son, he enjoyed, during the last years of his life, the healthful climate — when well enough, taking his regular drive, or walking through the orchards, taking a keen interest in his sons agricultural operations. He was never tired of admiring the landscape and climate. His memory of past events, even to the smallest details, was wonderful, and from its storehouse he nightly gave his son interesting information reminescences."º
For the incidents of Rosecrans' early life, before he became a cadet, I refer to a book entitled, "Ohio in the War," by Whitelaw Reid, in which there is an able and interesting sketch of him from which I quote:
"He was born in Kingston, Delaware County, Ohio, (December 6), 1819. His parents were Crandall Rosecrans, whose ancestors came from Amsterdam, and Jemima Hopkins, of the family of Timothy Hopkins, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Crandall Rosecrans was a native of Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and his wife Jemima was also reared in the same valley. She was a daughter of a soldier of the Revolution. They emigrated to Ohio in 1808." In the sketch I have p66quoted from Mr. Reid's book, it is said that William S. Rosecrans, at West Point, was a recluse and religious enthusiast. If this refers to the time when he was a cadet, I am sure it is a mistake. He was very correct in his deportment, but if he had been a religious enthusiast it would have been known. I was quite intimate with him. The last two years of the course I did not see much of him. He was Quartermaster Sergeant and Quartermaster of the Corps, whose rooms were in the east wing of the old South Barracks, and separate from the other quarters of the cadets, which opened to the porches of that building on the north and south sides.
In after life I learned that he was of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and that his brother was a bishop in that church, but though I frequently conversed with him at Washington, on the most friendly terms, I do not recollect that he ever mentioned the sect to which he belonged. He was, I have no doubt, a very sincere and faithful communicant of that church. He did no discredit to it. His walk and conversation were consistent with his profession. He was a courteous christian gentleman.
I allude to this because Rosecrans' religious, as well as political, opinions were used, exaggeratedly, by his enemies to his disadvantage. That they did not succeed in crushing him, or in materially lowering him in the estimation of his army, or the country, is the best proof of his eminent merits.
The accounts of him seem to agree that he had acquired the habit of excessive smoking in the army, and of sitting up very late at night at his work. He did not form the foundation for either of these habits when a cadet. Nor do I remember seeing him indulging in tobacco smoking while he was Register of the Treasury. He may, on account of its effect on his nervous system, have abandoned the habit. In reviewing his life, I have the impression, from my recollection of him at West Point, that when a cadet he did not show a penchant for tactics; but that his quick comprehension and methods of thought must have made strategy to him a pleasant study.
p67 The lateness of the hours he kept possibly interfered with his tactical combinations in the field in the early part of the day. His habit of excessive smoking could not but have been sooner or later injurious to his nervous system. I prefer, however, not to think of any fault in him. His constant friendship, and the frank and hearty greetings with which he always met his companions of other days, are the features of his character which have a lasting place in my memory.
"After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;
Malice domestic **** nothing
Can touch him further."
[Whilst preparing the above, General David S. Stanley, who was distinguished in numerous battles in the western campaigns, at my request kindly noted the following memorandum, which I think would be as acceptable to the Association as it has been interesting and helpful to me. — J. S. McC.]
General Rosecrans was very lucky at the outbreak of the war in 1861. Early appointed Colonel of the Twenty-third Ohio Infantry, he was called to West Virginia by General McClellan and had barely arrived there when, upon the recommendation of General Scott, he was appointed a Brigadier General in the regular army. Rosecrans was McClellan's great Lieutenant in all his successes in West Virginia, and bid fair, like David fighting under Saul, to carry away more laurels than his commander. In April, 1861, Fremont's friends had become so strong with Mr. Lincoln, that he must have a command to solace him for his removal from Missouri. This resulted in Rosecrans being ordered to report to General Halleck, then making his famous advance on Corinth, Mississippi, at the rate of •one and one-fifth furlongs per day. Halleck assigned Rosecrans to General Polk's command, in the Army of the Mississippi, which had a brief existence, beginning in April and ending , 1862. Few people now know there was an Army of the Mississippi. Rosecrans was put in command of Hamilton's and Stanley's divisions. p68He was at this time about forty-two years of age, a strong, vigorous man, a ceaseless worker, busy all the day long, riding, reconnoitering, examining roads, getting the topography of the locations, and withal the genial, cheerful person, having a good word or a little joke for everyone, was a man to whom officers and soldiers gave their confidence and affections very readily, and Rosecrans soon became and continued to be a great favorite with his new command.
Beauregard retreated from Corinth soon after Rosecrans joined his new command, and new combinations soon followed. General Grant succeeded General Halleck, and Rosecrans took the place of General Polk. During the stay at Corinth, Rosecrans was busy all the time in disciplining his army, instructing his men, even to their cooking and personal cleanliness. In August Van and Price advanced; the former to the west of Corinth, the latter to the east. General Grant moved to attack the latter at Iuka, Mississippi, directing Rosecrans to make a long circuitous march, and attack Price from the south and upon his line of retreat, the time being set at four P.M., on the 19th of August. Rosecrans was prompt to attack at the given hour, and fought a severe battle, ending at dark. General Ord's column, under Grant's orders, was only four miles distant, did not even hear the sound of the cannon and failed to co‑operate. Price retreated during the night, and excepting that the enemy had received a good beating, the combination failed. On the 4th of October, succeeding this battle, the battle of Corinth was fought, which was one of the most important battles of the war. Van Dorn joined his force to that of General Price, and using the Hatchee River as a shield, passed Corinth to his right, then suddenly wheeled his army and attacked Rosecrans from the north. The battle lasted two days and resulted in a very bloody repulse of Van Dorn's army. Rosecrans pressed the retreating Confederates closely, but was re-called by General Grant. This recall, and the failure to co‑operate at Iuka, brought about ill feeling between these Generals, which led to very unhappy results p69for General Rosecrans later on. This battle of Corinth ended the offensive on the part of the Confederates in the zone of the Mississippi River. Until the end of the war they stood henceforth only on the defensive. Rosecrans' conduct on this battlefield was splendid. When Davies' division broke on the second day, Rosecrans rode furiously under the enemy' fire, rallying our retreating soldiers. His star was now rising and he was ordered to Kentucky to relieve General Buell. Here from the very start friction commenced with General Halleck and Mr. Stanton. They insisted on General Rosecrans following Bragg's army across the Cumberland mountains into east Tennessee. The intervening country was mountainous and barren. Rosecrans could not feed his army, and he answered them that he could not and would not march into East Tennessee. Stanton and Halleck had to yield, but their day of settlement was only deferred. Rosecrans concentrated his army at Nashville, and day after Christmas, 1862, marched to attack Bragg's army at Murfreesboro, thirty-one miles distant. This bloody battle was fought on the forenoon of the last day of the year. Bragg's attack at day break defeated McCook's entire command, comprising the right wing of the army, and threw it back at right angles to the original line of battle. Rosecrans quickly changed his whole plan to rescue McCook, and by the most gallant and heroic personal example he rallied, encouraged his men, stayed right with the center of his line, until the enemy was repulsed and driven off. He rode his lines when they were hard pressed, calling to the men to shoot low, "shoot at their shins, men, shoot at their shins," knowing the proneness of an excited soldier to overshoot.
In this day's battle the enemy was everywhere repulsed, and on the first of January, each army stood awaiting a movement from the other. On the second, Rosecrans commenced a movement on the left, which brought on a second battle, in which the Confederates were beaten with a great loss of life. Bragg retreated and Rosecrans was the victor in one of the grandest battles p70of the war. Rosecrans' popularity was now established with the army and with the people, but it was not well with him in Washington. Bragg took up the line of Duck River, and Halleck demanded that Rosecrans dislodge him from Tennessee. Rosecrans contended that he could not move for the want of forage in the country in which he would be compelled to operate, but finally he moved to attack Bragg on the 23rd of June, 1863, and inaugurated what is known as the Tullahoma campaign. We cannot describe this campaign here, but the skillful manner in which he dislodged Bragg's army from its strong position and forced it across the Tennessee River, immediately following with his own army, may be recommended to the military students as one of the finest pieces of successful strategy, with some severe fighting, one will find in the history of campaigns. The battle of Chickamauga followed, Rosecrans' only defeat. We cannot, in this paper, give the slightest detail of this great battle. Volumes have been written on this subject. The defeat turned on Wood's division withdrawing from the line of battle at the very moment that Longstreet was advancing to attack that line. It matters not whether Rosecrans, who dictated the order, Major Bond who wrote order, or General Wood, who construed the order, committed the grand mistake, but we now know that if Wood's division had remained in line and had met Longstreet's attack, Bragg's left, under Longstreet, would have been beaten as badly as was his right under Polk, and Chickamauga would have been a victory for the Union army. Rosecrans was now relieved from the command of the Army of the Cumberland and his beloved Lieutenant — General George A. Thomas — succeeded him. This ended the brilliant career of General Rosecrans in the War of the Rebellion.
Rosecrans habitually used himself badly in time of excitement. He never slept, he overworked himself, he smoked incessantly. At Iuka, at Corinth and Stone River, the stress of excitement did not exceed a week. His strong constitution could stand that, but at Chickamauga, this strain lasted a month p71and Rosecrans' health was badly broken. Many of his best friends think that this accounts for his debatable order to Wood to close up promptly on Reynolds and support him, so written, ignorant of the situation and undoubtedly causing the loss of a great battle. Rosecrans was a most amiable man, but when he thought himself unjustly assailed, he answered very offensively in writing, and this made for him enemies, men in high power, who retaliated on him upon his first misfortune.
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