We enjoyed a fine turn-out of the LRT members and invited guests for our June topic: Union General William Rosecrans…known as “Ole Rosey” to his soldiers. Bob Hennessee (our Preservation Officer) led the discussion and guided us to consider that Rosecrans may have been unfairly maligned by his fellow generals after the war and especially by the historians of the mid-twentieth century, who minimized his accomplishments while emphasizing the events of the Battle of Chickamauga that caused his defeat and relief from command.
General Rosecrans was a West Pointer who resigned from the Army to pursue opportunities in industry and technology. He secured a number of patents and had success in the Pennsylvania oil industry, but suffered serious facial burns in a coal-oil lamp experiment. Rejoining the Army in 1861, Rosecrans had early success as a commander in West Virginia against General Robert E. Lee and became a hero in the Northern press as a result of his victory in the Second Battle of Corinth, Mississippi. Command of the Army of the Cumberland followed, and Rosecrans seized most of Tennessee for the Union through the Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns of 1863. He was even considered as President Lincoln’s running mate for the 1864 “Union Party” (Rosecrans was a ‘War Democrat’).
Bob revealed that Rosecrans’ successes can be attributed to his ability as a careful planner, an innovative logistician, and to his inspiring presence on the battlefield. However, these early victories also revealed Rosecrans’ faults as a commander: His outspoken criticism of political and military superiors, his unwillingness to move against the enemy before all logistical arrangements were perfected, his preference for very complicated campaign plans, and his slowness to attack on the battlefield. Bob also illustrated Rosecrans’ poor man-management skills (favoritism, publicly humiliating errant subordinates, even religious bigotry) and his habit of jumping his own chain of command to give orders to very junior commanders, often further confusing his subordinates during battle. A good deal of discussion, focused by our medical experts, Doug Everett and Curtis Adams, on the consequences of Rosecrans’ insomnia and manic-depressive personality traits for his battlefield performance. By the time of his defeat along Chickamauga Creek, Rosecrans was physically and emotionally used up and had used up the good will of his political and military leaders.
At the end of the evening, the opinion of Rosecrans remained mixed, but Bob had convinced all of the justice done by those recent historical publications that accurately point out his many contributions to the ultimately successful conclusion of the War for Reunion.
–David Lady, RT Secretary