the following editorial was retyped from the original paper by Tom Wolke
U.S. ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL
NEW YORK, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1863
THE REMOVAL OF GENERAL ROSECRANS
We have thus far refrained from any comment on the removal of General Rosecrans from the command of the Army of the Cumberland, save to repel with indignation the malignant assaults that have been made on his personal courage and character. The shafts of malice strangely overshot themselves and fell on the other side when they took these charges for their aim; for one might as well impugn the courage of Julius Caesar as that of Rosecrans, and so for the latter charge, everyone who know aught of General Rosecrans is aware that he pushes the doctrine and practice of personal purity, temperance and virtue to lengths that emulate the antique days, and find few examples in these degenerate times. His conduct as a military commander is a different affair; and having given our best study, with such lights and aids as are at our command, to this matter, we shall state the case in the form it has assumed in our own thought.
It is hardly necessary to say that the imputations above referred to had nothing to do with the displacement of General Rosecrans. They were never for a moment entertained by the military authorities in Washington. If personal impressions entered into the question- and we shall presently see that they did to an extent greatly to be regretted- they were impressions founded wholly on the views entertained by the war-authorities as to his military conduct.
It is no longer a secret that General Rosecrans' military conduct from the time of the battle of Murfreesboro (Stone's River), in the first month of the present year, up to the end of his career at Chickamauga, had given rise to angry bickerings and recriminations between himself and Mr. Stanton and General Halleck. It is the old story, so oft repeated in military history, of the differences opinion as to the operations of war, between those whose angle of vision is in the cabinet, and the general whose angle of vision is the field. The first great cause of difference was the failure of General Rosecrans to advance from Murfreesboro during the Spring months of the present year. From the beginning of January to the end of June- six months- he lay at Murfreesboro in apparent inaction, and as month after month went by, the representations from Washington, (we mean of course from General Halleck and Mr. Stanton), became more and more pressing. It was urged that by lying idle he was imperiling the fortunes of both wings of our great military line, then engaged with the enemy- the right at Vicksburg, the left in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; whereas, by moving on Bragg it was urged he would make an important diversion in favor of both. Out of General Rosecrans' failure to comply with this request grew an irritating correspondence with the authorities at Washington. On this head a writer who obviously draws his information from official sources says: "Without quoting fully the language of any one set of dispatches, scores passed, of the tone and temper of which this is a faithful reproduction: Secretary Stanton would telegraph, "I am very much dissatisfied with your long delay, and think, unless you move at once the country cannot justify your course." General Halleck would write, "I feel very kindly to you, General, and have the highest respect for the abilities you have so signally displayed; but be assured that neither your reputation nor mine can withstand the effects of this delay, at a crisis when the exigencies of the service so imperatively demand movement." The President would write, "I am very much grieved by your unaccountable delay. I am bound to believe that you, on the ground, are the best judge of what you can do; but you see how vitally important movement is, and you give me no reasons that seem to me satisfactory for your delay." To all this General Rosecrans would answer, "I know what the country, and I know, too, what the army needs; I must have my communications and supplies secure. It has never been my habit to move into a place till I could stay there. If I am not competent to command the army, you can remove me; but while I remain in command I must use my own discretion and move when I get ready." Such passages as this did not occur once or twice only, but frequently."
Such were the causes of that official hostility to General Rosecrans which took the occasion furnished by the battle of Chickamauga to consummate a long-settled determination, by removing him from the command of the Army of the Cumberland. Before passing on to this part of the subject, however, let us briefly examine the reasons of General Rosecrans' delay.
To those who know aught of the condition of the Army of the Cumberland at the time General Rosecrans took it in hand, just previous to the battle of Murfreesboro, it is unnecessary to say that the field-inaction during the spring months was an absolute necessity. He had to take a demoralized mob, to make out of it an army. He had to form a securely fortified secondary base. He had to create a cavalry force- absolutely indispensable to meet the enemy's great superiority in this arm. All these things were accomplished during the six months' seeming inaction at Murfreesboro.
The time at length came when an advance could be thought of. So long as the fortune of two wings of our great line was unsettled, it was judged wise to see that the centre- the Army of the Cumberland- was held fast and secure; but Lee had been chased out of Maryland, and the siege of Vicksburg was nearing a successful issue. General Rosecrans judged a forward movement could now be made. In this opinion he was in advance of his corps commanders, and the fact we are about to mention- and of which we were personally cognizant- should go some length in the public estimation to show that General Rosecrans was justified in his delay. About the middle of June, the commanding General addressed a circular letter to each of the corps and several of the leading division commanders, asking whether he "was in favor of an 'early or immediate advance'?" The reply from each and all was an emphatic negative!
Nevertheless, General Rosecrans determined immediately to move, and the boldness and brilliancy of the campaign on which he then entered have their parallel nowhere in the history of war, save in General Grant's campaign against Vicksburg. The Torres Vedras of Shelbyville and Tullahoma- positions rendered by are the most formidable on the continent- were successfully turned by a flanking movement on the enemy's right. Many thousands of prisoners were taken, the whole of Tennessee recovered, and the enemy driven across the mountains to their stronghold at Chattanooga. It was a brilliant but bloodless victory.
At Tullahoma, General Rosecrans found it necessary to plant himself down for a brief season. His communications had to be seen to. The rebels had burned the bridges and destroyed the railroad on their retreat, and June freshets of a severity unparalleled in the experience of the oldest inhabitants of this region, which would have rendered the best roads impassable, had put the poor mountain roads beyond the possibility of immediate use. For this delay he was once more blamed and reprimanded by those who sat in their bureaus at Washington. Rosecrans, feeling keenly the injustice of these complaints, from men wholly ignorant of the topography of the country in which he was operating, resented them with corresponding bitterness- perhaps even with a bitterness beyond the bounds of military propriety, and than which his resignation would have been more dignified.
Imperative orders now came from the War Department that he must advance; and although feeling that his army (then about fifty thousand strong) was insufficient for a decisive campaign, he obeyed. The Tennessee river- a stream half a mile wide- was passed; the Cumberland range was crossed- a task equivalent to the crossing of the Alps. In moving against Chattanooga two methods were open to him: he might move by the north bank of the Tennessee and cross the river opposite Chattanooga, or pass the river thirty miles below, force his way through the passes of Lookout Mountain, and take Chattanooga in reverse. He chose the latter.
And here is the point at which it is proper to correct an erroneous public impression as to the true aim of the battle of Chickamauga. It is currently supposed that General Rosecrans took possession of Chattanooga, and then imprudently passed beyond and got beaten at Chickamauga. Precisely the reverse is the case. The rebels, finding their position at Chattanooga turned, moved out to plant themselves on the main road (the Rossville road) between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. The contest of two days at Chickamauga was for the road by which he might get into Chattanooga. By an all night march, he succeeded in reaching the road first, soon followed by the rebels, each coming to it at an angle, the heads of the columns giving battle, and the line gradually closing together in the manner in which, to use the illustration of General Garfield, "we should close up a pair of 'shears'." General Rosecrans held the road and then the situation, but Chickamauga was the price he had to pay for it.
We have no intention of again entering upon an analysis of the battle, and will merely touch upon such portions of General Rosecrans' conduct during this action, as were made the occasion for his removal. When the rebels pierced the right wing (a fatal step which was occasioned by an ambiguously-worded order of a staff officer, which occasioned the withdrawal of General Woods' division from its position in the line of battle) General Rosecrans and Staff were forced back in the rout and separated by the rebels from the right and centre of the army. In order to reach the right and centre, General Rosecrans had to climb Mission Ridge and make a detour of seven or eight miles. When he had got as far as Rossville, the point at he might either turn Southward and make it to the right and centre, or turn Northward and make it to Chattanooga, word was received that Negley's division had been broken and routed. Now Negley held the extreme left. Unfortunately, at the same time, there was a general lull along the whole battle front so that, to General Rosecrans' apprehension every circumstance conspired to raise the conviction that the whole army had been routed and that the best thing he could do was return to Chattanooga, prepare for the reorganization of its shattered fragments and for a defensive battle. He did so, and on reaching Chattanooga telegraphed to Washington his belief that the army had been beaten and routed.
The question of how we are to judge this conduct is so strictly bound up with the peculiarities of General Rosecrans' mind that it may almost be said to turn on a question of metaphysics. General Rosecrans is a man whose mental processes are incapable of staying at those half-way houses of impression and belief in which men ordinarily rest when they have not the means of judging with certainty.
He is by constitution an absolutist in thought. He knows only convictions, and when he has made up his mind to a conclusion, he cannot be moved from it. Hence he is either tremendously right or tremendously wrong. Unhappily, it was the latter at Chickamauga. General Garfield, his Chief of Staff, who had accompanied General Rosecrans to that point, which in his career, as well as in the face of the country was the "crossing of roads," requested that he might be allowed to go on and try to reach the right and centre under Thomas. He did so, and by night was able to send a dispatch to his chief, telling him that not only was the army not routed, but that it had made most gallant fighting and held its own. If General Rosecrans had been correct in his theory and right in his convictions as to the fortune of the day, he did the best thing that could possibly be done in returning to Chattanooga. He was not right in theory, and his action in accordance with that theory was the fatal step of his life.
But was this a meet reason for removing General Rosecrans? For our own part we think not. He had achieved successes enough to wipe out many such errors of judgment. But those who sit in the war-offices at Washington thought differently. We have seen the bickerings and recriminations that passed between General Rosecrans, the Secretary of War and the General-in-Chief. We think we do not overstate the matter when we say that something like hostility had been engendered in their minds towards him. We would fain not credit the reports which we receive on good authority, that the Secretary of War has actually charged General Rosecrans with cowardice! We hope he is incapable of such an access (sic) of folly. Nevertheless, as we before said, we consider the removal of General Rosecrans a deplorable mistake, and the motives for the removal of an order unworthy the dignity of those who direct the military operations of a great nation engaged in war. Rosecrans was no doubt rash and in some regards wrong. Secretary Stanton has also been rash and in other regards wrong. We could have wished that the President, at the beginning, had come between the angry points of the two and saved to the nation a man who is generally regarded as perhaps, on the whole, the ablest military head the war has produced, and whose services to his country have been of incomparable value and splendor.
Issue of Army Navy Journal owed by Tom Wolke
Rosecrans, Part 1,
Genealogy and Youth
Return to Rosecrans, Part 2, West Point, Marriage
Corps of Engineers
Return to Rosecrans, Part 3, Civilian Inventor, Engineer
Return to Rosecrans, Part 4, Civil War
Return to Rosecrans, Part 5 Civilian Life