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William S. Rosecrans was a Union general during the American Civil War.

He had a long string of victories but lost his command following defeat in the Battle of Chickamauga.

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Background as an Engineer

William S. Rosecrans was an engineer turned prominent Civil War general. Rosecrans was born in Kingston Township, Ohio in September 1819. His parents had limited means, and he received a limited education. However, he attended West Point in 1838 and graduated 5th in his class in 1842. His academic diligence paid off as he was assigned to the Corps of Engineers at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

He eventually returned to West Point as an engineering instructor. When the Mexican-American War broke out, many of his former classmates left for the front-lines, but Rosecrans remained a teacher. Bored with this routine, he left the army in 1854 and sought work in the civilian sector. He did geological surveys for mining interests in Virginia, served as president of a navigation company, and as President of Preston Coal Oil Company in Ohio, and he created a number of inventions in his industry. One such experiment went wrong, and he was so badly burned that he was confined to bed rest for 18 months.

Williams S. Rosecrans
Second Battle of Corinth
Battle of Stones River
Print of Battle of Stones River

Rosecrans at Tullahoma

Rosecrans followed his victory with six months of inactivity. Frustrated by his lack of action, President Lincoln urged Rosecrans to re-engage, and Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, Henry Halleck, threatened to fire him if he did not.

In response, he launched the Tullahoma Campaign of June-July 1863 that drove Bragg clear out of central Tennessee. This campaign is considered a high point in Rosecrans’ career. More a series of maneuvers than fighting, Rosecrans confused the Confederates with deception by scattering his forces in several directions. Incredibly, Rosecrans lost less than 600 men, and Bragg fell back to Chattanooga. His success made little waves though, as it overlapped with Grants victory at Vicksburg and George Meade’s victory at Gettysburg. In September, he pushed Bragg out of Chattanooga.

Braxton Bragg
Battle of Chickamauga
Print of Battle of Chickamauga

Rosecrans in California

Rosecrans stayed active in retirement. He moved to California where he promoted the expansion of railroads and mining operations. Beginning in 1868, he served two years as the U.

S. Ambassador to Mexico. He then served in the House of Representatives, before accepting an appointment by President Grover Cleveland as the Register of the U.

S. Treasury. He turned down offers to run as governor in both Ohio and California. Rosecrans died in March 1898.

Lesson Summary

William Rosecrans career can be summed up through several prisms. A trained engineer, he had much success in several campaigns such as his victories of Iuka and Second Corinth in Mississippi. He was hampered from a public feud with Grant that continued even through retirement.

He fought with great skill at Stones River and in the Tullahoma Campaign though his success in the latter was lost in the shadows of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Despite winning most of his battles, his loss at Chickamauga cost him his command. In retirement, he continued to serve his nation as evident in his role as the U.

S. Ambassador to Mexico and as a representative from California.

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