Rosecrans in His Own Words (Part 2)

Having published the first half of General William S. Rosecrans’s personal report last month, I am now glad to be able to present the second part. This section follows Rosecrans from the spring of 1863 through the Tullahoma campaign, the capture of Chattanooga, his defeat at Chickamauga, and his ten-month long command of the Department of Missouri. It finishes with his clear frustration at Grant and others for removing him from command “without a single official or private reason ever having been communicated to [him].”

His long post-war career would be a series of attempts to recoup his fortune and good name tarnished by his failure at Chickamauga. But that story, which I briefly explored in an article for the U.S. Catholic Historian, must wait for another day, or perhaps a future biography, to be told in full.

[1863 Jany.] 21 I opened R.R. communication with Nashville as soon as possible but not until the great turnpike was so worn as to be almost impassible.
[Feby. to April] The impassability of the roads and the immense superiority of the enemy’s cavalry rendering a further advance impracticable at that season I devoted the months of Feby., March, and April to securing our position by fortifying our depots at Nashville, Franklin, and Murfreesboro and the post at Triune, as a basis for our further operations and reorganizing, arming, and hardening our cavalry for that superiority which they soon after acquired and have ever since retained over the enemy; creating and drilling a pioneer Corps; establishing an Inspector General’s Dept. and giving arms of uniform caliber to each regiment and as far as practicable to each brigade and division instead of having four or five calibers in a single regiment as had theretofore been the case.

During the winter various “affairs” of more or less moment occurred, which as incidents of my command were duly reported at the time of their occurrence, but hardly enter into this personal narrative.

Such was the battle of Fort Donelson in which the rebel Genls. Wheeler & Forrest were defeated by our troops under Col. Harding. The battle of Liberty, where Col. Hall whipped John Morgan; of Snow Hill where Genl. Stanley routed the entire rebel cavalry on our left; of Franklin when Stanley and Granger beat Van Dorn.

MayEarly in May a plan of advance for the capital of East Tennessee and Chattanooga was matured, in which Genl. Burnside was to co-operate. But the detachment of his troops to Vicksburg, the uncertainty of our operations there, and the necessity of “nursing”—so to speak—Genl. Bragg on my front to keep him from retiring behind the mountains and the Tennessee, whence he could, and would have been obliged to send heavy reinforcements to Johns[t]on, delayed the advance of my army until the
June 2323rd of June, when the circumstances at Vicksburg and the arrival of our cavalry horses warranting it, we began the campaign against Bragg’s fortified camps at Shelbyville and Tullahoma.
28 Surprising and holding, after a sharp contest, the gap covering these positions, we drove Bragg from Shelbyville by moving on his flank.
July 4 Tullahoma fell into our hands by a similar movement, performed in one of the most unexampled rains ever known at that season, over roads where the movement of supply trains and even of artillery was next to impossible.
8 The enemy retreated over the mountains and across the Tennessee destroying the railroad and the bridges behind him, and we pursued as far as our supplies would permit.

The first necessity was to open the Nashville and Chattanooga R.R. from Murfreesboro to Cowan and thence to the Tennessee river, and every effort was directed to the speedy accomplishment of this work.

25 The road was opened to Cowan, and soon after to Stevenson and Bridgeport which I occupied by Sheridan’s division and began to bring forward stores which with the growing crops of corn might serve to subsist the men and animals of my command for the campaign against Chattanooga.

About this date I sent Genl. Rousseau to Washington to get what supports were possible for the great movement on Chattanooga—especially mounted infantry which the governors of several states offered promptly to raise for this work. Also advised Genl. Halleck of the gravity of the impending movement but obtained nothing, save an order to move.

Aug. 4 Gave him my plans, observed the necessity of deceiving the enemy as to our point of crossing the Tennessee and of not beginning the movement until we were fully prepared to continue and consummate it. And, as there could be no difference of views as to the objective point, if my judgement as to the mode of attaining it should not be approved I desired to be relieved from the command of the army.
15 The army began the movement over the Cumberland Mountains, as soon as the necessary stores were accumulated at Stevenson, and the corn on the south side of the Tennessee was ripe enough for horsefeed.

I deceived the enemy and crossed the Tennessee at several points, between Shellmound and Carpenter’s Ferry, with the whole army except four brigades, which were demonstrating against the enemy’s lines above Chattanooga between the

Sept 228th Aug. and Sept. 2d carrying provisions for 20 days and ammunition for two great battles.
9 Had crossed the Sand Mountains, Lookout Valley, and seized and held the gaps in Lookout Mountain 26 and 42 miles south of Chattanooga, compelling the enemy to abandon Chattanooga, fall back and concentrate at Lafayette, Ga. to protect his communications.
12 Ascertained, as I had apprehended, his whereabouts, which was not at Rome, whither he had endeavored to persuade the inhabitants he was going, and strained every nerve to concentrate my troops as rapidly as possible behind the Chickamauga between his positions and Chattanooga.
15 Received information from a Confederate officer captured on the 14th of the arrival of Longstreet’s command at Atlanta, and a dispatch from Genl. Halleck assuring me that no troops had gone from Lee to reinforce Bragg.
18 McCook’s corps began to join Thomas, and during the afternoon the enemy commenced fording the Chickamauga on our left, while our center and right were yet twelves miles away coming up. But by marching all night, the head of Thomas’s corps got the Lafayette road between Gordon’s Mills and Rossville before the enemy, and before ten o’clock.
19The battle of Chickamauga began for the possession of that road which after a hard days fighting we held, having had every brigade but one in action, and been greatly outnumbered at all points of the field.
20 The next morning, confident in the superiority of his numbers, and bent on destroying our relatively small army, the enemy renewed his attack. But, though he shattered five or six brigades from our right, by concentrating on the main road, and with desperate fighting we held our position until the trains could all be gotten into Chattanooga, all our slightly wounded carried away and the lines of our entrenchments selected.
21When after offering them battle at Rossville, three miles from the battle ground of the 20th and the nearest position affording a protection to our flanks, we quietly withdrew from further risk in an unequal contest, and during the night securely occupied and began entrenching the long desired and most important objective point of all our previous operations in Tennessee—Chattanooga.

Having ordered the construction of four light draught steamers at Bridgeport and contracted for the construction of R.R. bridges across the Tennessee and Running Water before leaving the river on our advance, we had now only to secure our position and depots at Chattanooga, construct the necessary pontoons for bridging [thus] assuring our free communications and movements, and keep up supplies until the rail road and river should be opened by which to supply those re-inforcements, which when too late to save the lives of many of our brave men and crush the rebel power in the South west by a single blow at Chickamauga, had been ordered to the Army of the Cumberland.

Oct. 4 Formed the plans, which subsequently executed gave us possession of Lookout; pushed the construction of pontoons for the necessary bridge; established batteries to keep the rebels from passing with artillery over the end of Lookout into the valley; urged forward supplies; and when the rebels with three divisions of cavalry crossed the Tennessee fifty miles above Chattanooga between us and Genl. Burnside, designing to cut off our communications with Nashville, concentrated and sent in pursuit of them all out available cavalry, which overtook and defeated them at Farmington sixteen miles southeast of Shelbyville and drove them routed and demoralized across the Tennessee below Decatur.

Meanwhile, warned of the movement, Genl. Hooker took such efficient measures that the enemy only succeeded in doing a very little harm, which he so promptly repaired, that supplies were coming forward to Bridgeport when the transport steamers before spoken of were being constructed with the certainty they would soon be ready for use.

16 Issued preliminary orders for Genl. Hooker to concentrate his troops at Bridgeport and Stevenson and be ready to move across the Tennessee and occupy Lookout Valley so soon as enough of his transportation should arrive to subsist his troops by hauling from Shellmound whither we would carry his supplies by water from Bridgeport.

Ordered Genl. W. F. Smith, chief engineer, to examine the ground on our left above Chattanooga with a view to crossing our troops to attack Bragg so soon as our complete communication should be opened by the occupation of Lookout Valley and the use of the Tennessee River and the roads on both sides of it for bringing forward the subsistence necessary for the re-inforcements to be brought up for the work.

19 Selected the position for the pontoon bridge to connect our troops which were to occupy Lookout Valley with our main force. On my return found orders relieving me of the command of the Army of the Cumberland, and directing me to repair to Cincinnati and report to the Adj. Genl. of the Army.

The same night turned over my command to Maj. Genl. Geo. H. Thomas, and to prevent the development of a feeling of dissatisfaction and depression among the soldiers, which we all knew would result, and in the presence of the enemy would not be for the interest of the service, I left the next morning before the orders announcing it were published.


and during the months of Nov. Dec. and Jany.

 Remained in Cincinnati, submitting in silence to the unmerited, cruel wrong which had been done me and to the slander and misrepresentations which pursued me through a portion of the public press—saw garbled extracts taken from my official records used to give color to obscure criticism on my late campaign; applied for the publication of my official report and those of my corps commanders that the public might have the means of judging correctly, was refused that act of justice, not to say courtesy; and finally when Genl. Halleck’s annual report appeared, had the mortification to see that the Genl. in chief, who should have been the first to maintain the rights of his subordinate and the usages of the service, had quoted a rival authority on a matter in my report of the Battle of Chickamauga the clandestine letter of a subordinate Division Commander whose grave mistake had been the chief cause of the disaster on our right in that unequal contest. When all had failed to destroy my reputation as an officer, after having been refused an allowance of fuel and quarter in Cincinnati where I was ordered, I labored for the success of the Great Western Sanitary Fair, one of the key-notes of that magnificent series of popular demonstrations of sympathy and self-sacrifice in behalf [of] our county’s defenders and cause.
1864 Jany. 28 I was ordered to relieve Genl. Schofield in command of the Department of Missouri.
March 10 There I formed and submitted to the War Dept. the plan of making needful arrangements to secure the depots and maintain local peace in Missouri and of combining all the remaining troops there and elsewhere west of the Mississippi under one head for a campaign which should sweep the enemy from the country.
20 Sent Maj. Bond, my senior aide, with letter to Lieut. Genl. Grant, Genl. Halleck chief of staff and the War Dept. in the exercise of an unquestioned right and duty as Dept. Commander, who, in spite of this, was arrested on pretense of an old and wholly inapplicable order, while the matters on which he was sent went unattended to. I was informed in reply to my suggestions about the campaign west of the Mississippi that the expedition of Genl. Banks and Steele about to be undertaken were all that it was proposed to do west of the Mississippi.
April and May.




Discovered the plot of the O.A.K.s to revolutionize the West; to aid which, Missouri, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania were to be invaded by the rebels and when demonstrative proof had been accumulated after much difficulty finally got these presented to the president by Messrs. Seward, Crump, and Garfield, one week before Early crossed the Potomac and in the midst of the invasion of Kentucky.
July Foreseeing the impending invasion of Missouri consequent on the defeat of Genl. Banks and Steele’s expeditions, and the utter feebleness of our forces there to meet it, I urged the necessity and finally through the influence of Senator Lane and others received permission to raise such troops as I might deem necessary for  our defense and under it organized eleven regiments of twelve months Vol. Infantry, five of which were about completed when Price invaded the state.
Sept. 6 When this invasion became a moral certainty urged that Genl. A. J. Smith who was passing Cairo with 4,500 infantry should be ordered to wait there until we could see what Price would do; and received final orders that he with his infantry force should pursue Price then (150) one hundred and fifty miles distant with 15,000 or 20,000 mounted men and that I should support him.
8 Too much of a soldier to take literally orders so little suited to the circumstances and so at variance with the usages of the service, Genl. Smith reported to me for orders.
24 Price invaded the state, and by carefully disposing our infantry and finally concentrating all our mounted force we had the satisfaction of preserving all our main depots, confining his ravages to a narrow belt of country, and with 6,500 mounted men beating him in three engagements, driving him demoralized and disorganized from the state, with the loss of some 3,600 killed and wounded, as many prisoners, ten pieces of artillery and  most of his large baggage train and plunder.
Oct. 27 As soon as this was accomplished, on receipt of Genl. Sherman’s dispatch that he was about to set out on that march which ended in the capture of Savannah, I ordered Genl. A. J. Smith with all his command to join Genl. Thomas and soon after received orders from Genl. Halleck, chief of staff to send them to that destination.

I then consulted with Genl. Smith as to the most expeditious method of accomplishing this, ordered it to be done with all possible dispatch, and reported the plan proposed with reasons to Genl. Halleck for the information of Genl. Grant. I am sure Genl. Smith moved without delay and reached Genl. Thomas as soon as practicable.

Nov. 1 These facts are put on record here because it has been reliably reported to me that Genl. Grant has said in conversation that I took thirty days to transfer those troops when it could have been done in three days; and because having written him on the subject some three months ago I am yet without reply, and have no other mode of putting these facts of history on public record, as a contradiction of any assertion of delay in sending those troops to Genl. Thomas which would have been as motiveless as it would have been inconsistent with my judgment and contrary to my feelings.

The election order which I published to ensure a free election to all lawful and to exclude unlawful voters would perhaps deserve no mention among the records of my public services were it not for the fact that happily it contributed to the triumph of loyalty at a time when that triumph was of no small importance to that state and to our country.

Dec. 9 Received a peremptory telegraphic order to turn over the command of the Department of Missouri to Genl. Dodge, repair to Cincinnati, and report to [the] Adj. Genl. of Army by letter.

Thus, a second time, rewarded for fidelity and untiring devotion to the cause of the nation and to the interest of my command, unstained by a single act of insubordination, intrigue, or malevolence, in all my military career, and, I thank God!, without ever having suffered a defeat or made a failure in a single great undertaking, I retired to my home, where, for the country’s sake, I have submitted to my wrongs without a public complaint.

[1865] June 15 But after waiting until the present moment without a single official or private reason ever having been communicated to me for this treatment, and perfectly conscious that no just reason can be assigned for it, I claim the right to close this narrative of my military service during the rebellion with this expression of my sense of the unmerited injustice I have suffered from the hands of those, who as the country’s servants were bound to use their power and position to reward, and not to oppress, her faithful servant.

Very Respectfully

Your obt. servt.,

W. S. Rosecrans

Majr. Genl.

Brig. Genl. L. Thomas

Adjt. Genl.

Washington, D.C.


The entire personal report is available here for download.