Rosecrans in His Own Words (Part 1)

Despite his family’s pleadings, William S. Rosecrans never wrote his memoirs. Although he did pen several small articles about a few of his battles, Rosecrans preferred to focus on regaining his honor and fortune in western mining and railroad ventures to taking the time to tell his side of the story. That turned out to be a bad decision on his part, for it allowed other generals to tell their version of history to his detriment. No one did more damage to Rosecrans’s reputation than his old rival, Ulysses S. Grant, who attacked Old Rosy and many other generals he despised in his widely read Memoirs published in 1885.

Rosecrans did leave behind a few unpublished autobiographical writings in his own hand, most of which are located at the University of California at Los Angeles Library’s Special Collections. One of those documents, a condensed personal report of his “military services and commands during the Rebellion” that he filed at the direction of the U.S. Army’s adjutant general, Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, is also located at the U.S. National Archives.

Rosecrans’s personal report is very valuable to scholars seeking to understand his version of events and get a sense of how he viewed his generalship from April 1861 through to his final dismissal from command in Missouri in December 1864. What follows is my transcription of the first half of this 28 page report, covering the start of the war through his victory at Stones River in January 1863.

I have tried to standardize punctuation and formatting throughout while presenting a faithful transcription. Rosecrans used the left-hand margin for dating his work and thus I was sometimes forced to create line breaks within sentences to align portions of the report with specific dates. Hence this transcription is best viewed on a desktop or laptop. For those unfamiliar with his campaigns, I would suggest reading this report next to his congressional testimony in 1865 or in conjunction with William Lamers’s biography, The Edge of Glory (1961). I will finish transcribing the report next month.

William S. Rosecrans to Lorenzo Thomas, June 15, 1865, ALS,
Commission Branch File, RG 94, U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Cincinnati, O[hio].

June 15, 1865


In compliance with the Department’s circular requiring it, I submit the following condensed narrative of my military services and commands during the Rebellion, giving as far as practicable dates of the events in the margin of each page.



 I aided in organizing and drilling the “home-guards” of Cincinnati, until the 19th.


 Repaired to Columbus, O., offered my services to the Governor, and was requested by Genl. McClellan, whom he had just appointed, to select a place for a military camp of instruction. Selected Camp Dennison which he approved.

During the remainder of April and early part of May I acted as volunteer aide and engineer to General McClellan, encamping the troops at Dennison.

May 18

 Went to Philadelphia under orders to examine Justus’s arm factory, and thence to Washington

1861 June

where I undertook to secure a proper provision for clothing and paying Ohio troops, on which I was successfully engaged until June 7.


 I returned to Cincinnati, and was commissioned Chief Engineer of the State of Ohio, under a special law creating that office.


 I was commissioned Colonel of the 23d. O[hio].V[olunteer]. Inf[antry]. and took command of “Camp Chase” Columbus, O.


 Received my appointment as Brig. Genl. U.S. Army to date from May 16, 1861.


 I was ordered to join Genl. McClellan for Western Virginia.


 I went with him to Parkersburg.


 I received command of a provisional brigade—17th &19th O.V. Inf. and the 8th and 10th Ind[iana]. V[o]l[unteer]s.


 I moved my troops by rail to Clarksburg, Va.


 Thence marched to Buckhannon, Upshur Co. Va. where Genl. McClellan

July 4

joined us with two more brigades.


Battle of Rich Mountain.

My brigade after a march of ten hours over pathless mountains gained the Gap two and a half miles in rear of the rebel entrenched camp, where he met and fought us with all the infantry and artillery he dared spare from his camp, which Genl. McClellan contrary to agreement and military prudence failed to attack.

By six o’c[lock] P.M. the enemy was routed.


The next morning we took his camp, quartermaster’s & commissary stores and artillery.

This battle caused Garnett to retreat on the night of the 10th from Laurel Hill and thus drove the rebels from Western Virginia.


 I was placed in command of the Department embracing Western Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

July and Aug.

Head Quarters at Clarksburg.

Engaged in fortifying Red House, Cheat Mountain, Elkwater, and Gauley passes, and preparing to resist Genl. Lee who undertook to gain possession of Western Virginia.

Sept. 1

 About this date I learned from General Cox’s reports that he was being pressed at Gauley by Wise with 5,000 men while Floyd with a heavier column was crossing the Gauley at the mouth of Meadow River, either to get in his rear or advance on our depots at Weston.


 I marched with seven and a half (7 ½) regiments of infy. to attack Floyd. After a march of 112 miles over a difficult mountainous road on the 10th of Sept. making 17 ½ miles I attacked him, entrenched on the north side of the Gauley, and fought the Battle of Carnifex Ferry—in which we took 8,000 linr. feet of entrenchments, and considerable camp and garrison equipage. The enemy escaped under cover of the night, crossing the river by means of two ferry boats and a temporary foot bridge all of which [t]he[y]


destroyed behind them.


 As soon as supplies of ammunition and provisions could be brought forward and means of crossing prepared we pursued the enemy to Big Sewell where Lee, Wise, and Floyd united to oppose our advance.

Their superior numbers—14,000 strong while we were 5,300—the lateness of the season and the rains which made the roads almost impassable obliged us


to fall back to near Gauley Mountain, at least until our troops could be supplied with food and clothing of which [the] latter they were nearly destitute.

Oct. 27

 We found Lee and Floyd had devised a plan for Floyd to cut our communications by a march down the west side of the Kanawha while Lee attacked us in front.

Nov. 8

 But we defeated this and


drove Floyd out of the country towards North Carolina.


 About this time sent 12 regts. of infy. to Genl. Buell.

Dec. 6

 I moved my H’d Quarters to Wheeling, Va. & organized a pack mule train of 300 and proved by exp’t. the great economy thereof for conveying supplies to Reynolds troops at and beyond Beverly during the winter.


 I went to Washington on business of my Dept., part of which was to propose a plan of using my troops to seize and fortify Winchester.


Jany. 10

 Returned to Wheeling without having seen Genl. McC. I sent most of my troops to Lander who had been placed in command of the B. & O. R.R. by Genl. McC.’s order.

I then prepared a plan of campaign for the coming season embracing the seizure and holding of the Tenn. and S.W. Va. R.R. for which I received complimentary letters from Genl. McC. And the Secy. Of War, but was nevertheless relieved from the command of my Dept. by Genl. Fremont and ordered to report at Washington

Mar. 7

for orders.

April 7

 Received an autograph letter of instruction from the Secy. Of War to find Genl. Blenk[er]’s division and conduct it to Genl. Fremont; and moreover “to visit the Head Quarters of Genl. Banks and confer with him, and to report to the Department from each telegraph station.[”]


 I found Genl. Blenker’s troops at Berry’s Ferry where in attempting to cross the Shenandoah they had swamped an old Ferry boat and lost some 38 lives. I ordered them to the flying bridge at Snicker’s Ferry and proceeded to the Head Quarters of


Genl. Banks where I formed and submitted to him a plan for a combined movement of the troops of Genls. McDowell, Fremont, and his own command, on the enemy’s left and rear by which the operations of our army on the Peninsula would be greatly aided and we acquire all the Great Valley and threaten, if not seize, the line of the James from Gordonsville to Lynchburg.


 As this required the prompt stoppage of Blenker’s movement


to Genl. Fremont, I telegraphed this plan in cypher to the Secy. Of War but receiving no orders

May 4

continued the movement of that division, as soon [as] shod and clothed, by Romney to Moor[e]field near the foot of the Alleghenies which the division reached on the 9th.


 Having turned over the command with a full report of its condition to Genl. Fremont, and spent three days at New Creek Station using the authority of my rank to expedite the going forward of his supplies I repaired to Washington pursuant to orders, and reported to the Secy. Of War the complete


execution of my duties.


 Left Washington to join Genl. Halleck before Corinth, Miss., where a great battle was supposed to be impending.


I arrived there in advance of my staff, reported to Genl. H. and


was assigned to Genl. Pope, who formed a division of Genls. Jeff. C. Davis’s & Asboth’s brigades then just arriving from Pea Ridge


to which he assigned me.


 He assigned me to the command of the right wing of the Army of the Mississippi. It consisted of Paine’s and Stanley’s divisions.


 At daylight hearing explosions in Corinth ordered an advance from each division to move on Corinth which they entered at 7 A.M. and found the enemy had evacuated it during the night.

I was ordered with my command to pursue the enemy on the Danville Road. Reached Tuscombia creek at 11 P.M. that night where I found our cavalry stopped by the enemy’s rear guard which had destroyed the bridge and held the opposite bank.


 The enemy, after holding his position during the day yielded the crossing that night and we bridged the stream & advanced to Rienzi and the next day to Booneville.

June 2

 Reconnoitered the enemy on Twenty Mile Creek where he was found and reported in force a[t] seven points covering a front of ten miles.


 By order of Genl. Halleck we returned to Camp Clear Creek six miles south of Corinth.


 I assumed the command of the Army of the Mississippi on the departure of Genl. Pope.

July and August

 The months of July and August were spent in guarding our front lines, securing the prestige of our cavalry, and in introducing the system of preparing photograph “information maps” for the army under my command.

[Aug.] 2

Sent two divisions of my command to Middle Tennessee to reinforce Genl Buell.


 Sent Genl. G. Granger with five infantry regiments to Genl. Wright at Louisville and Genl. Sheridan with the 2nd Michigan Cavalry to the same point.

Sept. 13

 Price with from 15,000 to 20,0000 rebels occupied Iuka. I reconnoitered his position and reported it to Genl. Grant who decided to attack him.


 I proposed to Genl. Grant that I should march my whole force by Jacinto and surprise their rear while he should attack the rebels in front,


which he approved.


 According[ly] I marched for Jacinto while Genl. Grant went to Burnsville seven and a half miles west of Iuka in front of which his troops were already concentrated.


 I march[ed] from Jacinto 18 ½ miles to Iuka, met the enemy advantageously posted about 1 ½ miles south, a little west, of the town. About 4:30 P.M. the battle commenced and continued until dark. The rebels finding no attack from Genl. Grant’s side bent nearly all their power on our troops.

We brought about 11 regts. into action and held the ground.

The enemy retreated during the night leaving his dead and wounded on the field. We followed at


his rapid flight as far as practicable towards Tupelo whither he retreated.

In this battle of Iuka the enemy fought us with about 15,000 men.

We had about seven thousand in action, while the remainder of Genl. Grant’s forces under his immediate command, which had been concentrated in front of Burnsville, and only three or four miles from the enemy’s picket line, lay inactive during the whole of the 19th and did not enter Iuka on the morning of the 20th until after our pursuing troops had passed through the town.

I this day received notice from the War Dept. of my appointment as Maj. Genl. of Vols. to date from Sept. 16, 1862.


 I was assigned by Genl. Grant to the command of the district of Corinth, who  moved his Head Quarters to Jackson, Tenn.


 I repaired to Corinth and at once set about putting it in a defensible condition to meet emergencies. In this work I employed a battalion of colored engineer troops which I had organized a few weeks previously, the first I believe in the service.

Oct. 2

 I received information that the rebels, Price and Van Dorn with all the troops they could gather in Mississippi had reached Pocahontas advancing to attack us or to feint on us and attack Bolivar.


 The battle of Corinth began. The operations of the day showed the enemy in great force moving on us and heavy fighting was done from ten A.M. to dusk.


 New lines were formed for the final battle of October 4th in which we beat them before 3 o’c[lock] P.M. and pushed them back until dusk.


 We pushed their rear guard all day through the Jack. Oak hills toward and five miles beyond Chewalla.


 We pursued them to Ripley


whence we were recalled by Genl. Grant to Corinth.

In this battle we had about 15,700 infantry and artillery and 2,500 effective cavalry.

We took prisoners from 53 regts. of Infantry, 18 regts. of cavalry and 16 batteries. And from this and other corroborative evidence believed the enemy’s force against us was not less than from 35,000 to 40,000 men.


 I ordered the planning of the inclosing works around Corinth which I had pressed upon Genl. Grant to have constructed during the summer, and the distribution among our troops for execution.


 I received orders from Washington to repair to Cincinnati where I found orders awaiting me to relieve Genl. Buell from his command.


 I assumed command of the Department of the Cumberland which then consisted of the garrison of Nashville and that part of the Army of the Ohio then on its way to concentrate at Bowling Green, Ky.

Nov. 1

 I reviewed these troops, replenished their clothing and ammunition, and opened the L. & N. R.R. to Mitchellsville. I arrived with three divisions of the army under Genl. McCook at


Nashville on the 8th of November, the garrison of which lacked almost everything except discipline, courage, and ammunition.


 I bent every effort to repair the R.R. to Nashville and get supplies through to that point which I made my supply depot for future operations. On the 26th the 1st train came through but so feeble was transporting power of the road that it was not until Dec. 26 that we had accumulated a supply of 20 days subsistence.

Dec. 26

 When having accumulated 20 days subsistence we began the advance on Murfreesboro with daily skirmishing until the night of the 30th when final orders were


given for the Battle of Stone River which terminated on the night of


Jan. 4

Jany. 4th when the enemy received the last heavy blow and which gave us Murfreesboro and drove Bragg behind


Duck River.