Major General William S. Rosecrans


     William S. Rosecrans certainly was not the typical ring knocker from the United States Military Academy graduating fifth in his class of 1842. He spent the next ten years in the service of the Army Engineers and saw no action in Mexico at all. When the American Civil War broke out he was found in Cincinnati, unsuccessfully refining kerosine.

     After some significant successes in the east, William Rosecrans, ordered west had made the rank of Major General in March 1862 and given command of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio in October, renaming these three corps the Army of the Cumberland.

     Life would never be the same for Washington City with Rosecrans in charge of an army. Although the General In Chief already had his hands full with keeping a handle on other eccentric personalities in the field, nobody seemed ready for the persona of William Rosecrans.

     The telegraph, Samuel Morris' brainchild now shooting communications across the country at lightning speed, happened to be a favorite to the army commander in Tennessee. Every trivial matter was launched back at the General In Chief when less expedient means would have sufficed. Washington had to remind him in writing, the unnecessary cost to the government in sending messages of routine matter and trivial concern, clogging up the wires.

     During the days of stalemate trying to open up the Mississippi River, and before the opening of operations in the east, Halleck announced the vacancy of a Major Generals commission in the regular army to the first commander who wins an important and decisive victory. This message sent out by authority of Secretary Stanton to Generals Grant, Hooker, Wright, and Rosecrans.

     It is believed most of them accepted it for what it was. Not Rosecrans, however. He became disgusted that the commission would be offered as a dangling carrot in front of their faces, an offer that auctioneers honor. It was pointed out by Halleck the general might as well accuse the President of such conduct as well, for he was not going to reward defeated generals in the field.

     Not satisfied that the power of his rank in command of an army was enough, the major general wrote to Washington for express authority to shoot deserters without Washington getting involved in the process. Rosecrans argued his point back and forth between he and the general in chief; however, the law was not going to change even in times of war. The United States could not have military powers executing men in the field, without the express written consent of the President of the United States.

     In the grand rejoicing marking the first week of July 1863, both Generals Grant and Meade were openly praised, one for opening the Mississippi and the other for driving Robert E. Lee out of Pennsylvania and back into Virginia. Major General William Rosecrans' army, the third prong of military successes in the field at that time went virtually unnoticed. The government included a note of prodding him on delivering something significant to add to these trophies. Rosecrans was furious, he wrote back pointing out that he kept Bragg from a significant re-enforcing of Pemberton at Vicksburg, drove him from Tullahoma and kept him out of Chattanooga. The lack of recognition did not impress the Ohioan in the least, again writing Washington, thus bouncing his stars off the head of Major General Halleck. What on earth did the government want from him?

     William Rosecrans proved to be a personality in field command unlike probably any other general officer that Washington had to deal with. His correspondence was nothing less than colorful and most certainly gave the General In Chief, a character unlike anything he's dealt with before or since.

Daniel Moran
© 2001

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