Facts, information and articles about William Starke Rosecrans, a Civil War General during the American Civil War

William Starke Rosecrans Facts


September 6, 1819 Delaware County, Ohio


March 11, 1898 Redondo Beach, California

Years Of Service

1842–54, 1861–67


Major General


Army of the Mississippi
Army of the Cumberland


Battle of Rich Mountain
Battle of Iuka
Second Battle of Corinth
Battle of Stones River
Tullahoma Campaign
Battle of Chickamauga
Price’s Raid

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William Starke Rosecrans summary: William Starke Rosecrans was born in Delaware County, Ohio. He was the son of Jemimah Hopkins and Crandall Rosecrans. In his early years, Rosecrans did not have much of a formal education. In fact, most of the education he got came from reading books. By the age of 13 he was working in Utica as a store clerk and later moved to Mansfield, Ohio. Since he could not afford to go to college, he started looking for a way to get an appointment to the US Military Academy. He had an interview with Congressman Alex Harper who himself was saving his appointment for his son. Rosecrans, however, impressed the congressman so much that he received the nomination. Rosecrans became a model student at West Point, especially in math, English grammar, French and drawing. He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point fifth in his class with other generals such as D.H. Hill, James Longstreet and Earl Von Dorn. He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant for the Corps of Engineers. He met Eliza Hegeman during his graduation and eventually married her in 1843. They both had a total of 8 children.

William Rosecrans In The Civil War

Rosecrans was assigned by Ohio governor William Dennison as a volunteer aide-de-camp to George B. McClellan, commander of the Department of the Ohio. Rosecrans commanded for a short time the 23rd Ohio Infantry; among the soldiers in this unit were two future U.S. presidents, William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes. He then received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general in the army. He was very effective during the 1861 campaigns in Western Virginia (now West Virginia). There, he won a victory at Rich Mountain, but the credit was given to his superior, McClellan, who was subsequently summoned to Washington to take command of the Army of the Potomac. Rosecrans replaced him as commander of the Army of Occupation—West Virginia, Department of the Ohio and rose to command the Department of Western Virginia (October 11, 1861–March 11, 1862) and cleared Confederate forces from the Big Kanawha Valley following the Battle of Carnifex Ferry in September 1861.

He requested and received a transfer to the Western Theater. On September 19, 1862, he engaged Confederate troops at the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi, but he had moved slowly and used one road instead of using two as he had been ordered to do, which allowed his enemy to escape after the battle. Animosity arose between Rosecrans and his superior, Ulysses S. Grant, after Iuka and the subsequent battle of Corinth, Mississippi. Grant felt Rosecrans had moved too slowly and allowed a Confederate army to escape. But Rosecrans got positive writeups in the press while Grant came in for criticism, and this likely contributed to the animosity. Regardless, the War Department named Rosecrans to replace Major General Don Carlos Buell, who had moved sluggishly and failed to pursue the enemy during the Kentucky campaign that had been going on while Rosecrans was in Mississippi. On October 30, 1862, Rosecrans officially became commander of the Army and Department of the Cumberland.

"Old Rosey" was beloved by his troops but was hard on his officers. The excitement of battle tended to make him stutter. It also often led him to bypass the chain of command and issue orders directly to regimental and brigade commanders, which may have served him well at the Battle of Stones River (Battle of Murfreesboro) but proved to be his undoing at the Battle of Chickamauga.

On December 26, he marched southeast from Nashville with 44,000 men to fight General Braxton Bragg’s 37,000 Confederates encamped at Murfreesboro. On December 31, however, Bragg struck first, attacking the camps of the Union right in the pre-dawn hours while Rosecrans was engaged in trying to move his left across Stones River a few miles from Murfreesboro. After initially being thrown back, Rosecrans stabilized his lines, dashing from one part of the field to another, while Bragg remained at his headquarters and left the conduct of the battle to his subordinates. After a costly day of fighting, the two sides spent New Year’s Day peacefully before renewing activity on January 2. A Confederate charge across Stones River was halted by a massed battery of over 50 cannon, and Bragg withdrew the army to his supply base at Tullahoma, Tennessee.

The following summer, Rosecrans maneuvered Bragg completely out of Tennessee and into north Georgia. But Bragg was not in retreat. He was luring Rosecrans into a trap at Crawfish Cove near the Chickamauga River. During the Battle of Chickamuaga, September 19–20, Confederate troops slammed into a portion of the Union line that had become unprotected because Rosecrans, ignoring the chain of command, had ordered the troops there to move to fill a gap in the line that didn’t exist. Most of the Army of the Cumberland routed back to Chattanooga, with Rosecrans himself galloping with them. He later said he was trying to halt the rout. Only a determined stand on Snodgrass Hill by men under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas saved the Union army from a complete catastrophe. On October 23, Rosecrans was relieved of command and replaced by Thomas. From January 30 until December 9, 1864, he commanded the Department of the Missouri before again being relieved of command. In March 1867, after two years without a command, he resigned from the military.

William Starke Rosecrans After The War

After the war Rosecrans settled in California. He appointed minister to Mexico in 1868 but was removed the following year, after Ulysses Grant reached the presidency. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1880, Rosecrans chaired that body’s Military Affairs Committee. He resigned from Congress in 1885 to accept an appointment as register of the treasury, where he served until 1893. Rosecrans died from pneumonia at Redondo Beach, California, March 11, 1898. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


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