The site where Julius
P. Garesché fell.
Did the sacrifice of one knight win the
day for the Union at the Battle of Stones River?
Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans apparently believed it did.
The knight in question was Col. Julius P. Garesché,
Rosecrans' chief of staff, whose life had been haunted by
premonitions of death.
"The general later superstitiously expressed that Garesché
had served as a Christlike sacrifice to win the day's
battle," wrote Larry Daniel in his book "Days of Glory."
And indeed, Garesché was more of a priest than a warrior
despite his grisly end on the battlefield.
Extremely nearsighted, he was born in Cuba of American
parents. Garesché was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy
when he was 16. While he was at West Point, he befriended
Rosecrans, becoming a religious mentor to the younger
classmate and was later responsible for his conversion to
For his work with the church, Pope Pius IX named Garesché a
Knight of St. Sylvester for his service, which included
organizing the first conference of the Vincent de Paul
Society in Washington, D.C. A fervent writer, he penned
countless letters to his wife, Marquitta, and other friends
and family members in addition to contributing to the
Freeman's Journal and other publications on topical issues
of the day.
A Mexican War veteran, he was assistant adjutant general in
Washington prior to the Civil War. That position helped him
win a brigadier general commission in the regular army for
his friend, Rosecrans.
When Rosecrans was named commander in October 1862 of what
was to become the Army of the Cumberland, Garesché was named
his chief of staff. Garesché accepted the field post despite
his own premonitions and his brother's forewarnings.
Garesché was a second lieutenant serving with the 4th U.S.
Artillery in Texas when he had the first dream forecasting
his violent death. That portent followed an incident on
family land near the junction of the Missouri and
Mississippi River in which the cabin he was sleeping washed
away into the Missouri River.
In his article, "The Strange Death of Julius Garesché," the
late Dr. Homer Pittard said Garesché's brother, who was
training to be a priest, interpreted the incident as an omen
"This pronouncement made an indelible impression on Julius
and thereafter every act involving physical danger and
personal reverses became a piece of the mosaic fulfilling
his destined violent end," Pittard wrote.
And Garesché continued to have brushes with death, including
a near miss with a locomotive in St. Louis.
Then came the final straw.
Garesché like his friend, William Rosecrans, was a fervent
abolitionist. However, many of his relatives sided with the
Southern cause. With an outburst of profanity, Garesché
damned his secessionist relatives to hell, which caused him
to again seek counsel from his brother, Frederick.
His brother, now a Catholic priest, revealed to Garesché he
had received a revelation from heaven that Julius would die
during his first battle. Furthermore, it was revealed to
Father Frederick that his death would come within the next
That pronouncement of doom was made Sept. 14, 1861, Dr.
Pittard reported, but it did not stop Garesché from agreeing
to join his friend, Rosecrans, in Tennessee.
His duties with the Army of the Cumberland were chiefly
administrative, handling legal questions and penning orders
for the army. Following Rosecrans' instruction, Garesché
issued the General Orders for the opening of Stones River:
General Orders: Headquarters Department of the Cumberland
In front of Murfreesborough, Dec. 31, 1862
"Soldiers, the eyes of the whole nation are upon you; the
very faith of the nation may be said to hang on the issue of
this day's battle. Be true, then, to yourselves, true to
your own manly character and soldierly reputation, true to
the love of your dear ones at home, whose prayers ascend to
God this day for your success.
"Be cool! I need not ask you to be brave. Keep ranks. Do not
throw away your fire. Fire slowly, deliberately; above all,
fire low, and be always sure of your aim. Close steadily in
upon the enemy, and, when you get within charging distance,
rush on him with the bayonet. Do this, and the victory will
certainly be yours. Recollect that there are hardly any
troops in the world that will stand a bayonet charge, and
that those who make it, therefore, are sure to win.
By command of Maj. Gen. W.S. Rosecrans:
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.'
In the early morning hours before the start of fighting,
Rosecrans, Garesché and other officers celebrated High Mass
with the Rev. Father Cooney of the 55th Indiana Infantry
But the Confederate Army of Tennessee struck first and the
Union army began to fold in the morning hours of Dec. 31,
1962. Faced with a disastrous defeat, Rosecrans and his
staff saddled up and headed to the field of battle to rally
Rosecrans and his staff galloped from point to point,
repositioning troops, giving orders instead of staying at
his headquarters at a log cabin just off the Nashville Pike.
Garesché was at his side "during the storm, advising,
cheering and executing orders," wrote John Fitch, provost
general of the Army of the Cumberland.
"Calm yet courageous of heart, during that day he was
observed, at an opportune moment, to retire to a private
place, scan a page of his pocket Bible, and to move his lips
in prayer. He seemed then, fearless of death; may we not say
he was ready and willing to die for his country," Fitch
While Rosecrans' presence on the front lines helped the
Union army hold its final position, his subordinates said he
contributed to the chaos of the morning. Today, we would
call it micromanaging.
Late in the morning, it became obvious that the Army of
Cumberland must hold the line at the Nashville Pike at the
area called the Round Forest by area residents.
Riding with his staff to the crucial spot, Rosecrans was
spotted by a Confederate battery on the other side of Stones
River. They fired, narrowly missing the commanding general.
Garesché was struck in the head by the cannon ball,
decapitating him except for a portion of his bearded chin.
His blood and brains showered his friend, Rosecrans. His
headless body rode his horse some 20 paces before falling
off. A small sign at Stones River Battlefield still marks
"Where Garesché fell" near the railroad tracks.
It was Garesché's first battle and it was slightly more than
15 months since his brother issued his fatal but accurate
"Garesche's appalling death stunned us all," Gen. Phil
Sheridan wrote in his memoirs, "and a momentary expression
of horror spread over Rosecrans' face, but at such a time
the importance of self-control was vital, and he pursued his
course with an appearance of indifference."
Other officers seeing the bloody Rosecrans believed he was
seriously wounded. "Alas, it is the blood of poor Garesché,"
Those who knew him said Rosecrans was deeply impacted by the
death of his friend. After the battle, he was seen to cut
the brass buttons off his uniform and place them in an
envelope labeled: Buttons from the uniform I was wearing the
day Garesché was killed.
Col. W.B. Hazen, another close friend of Garesché, was
fighting to hold the Round Forest when the chief of staff
"About ten minutes after Colonel Goddard informed me of his
death, I chanced to pass the spot where he lay. He was
alone, no soldier — dead or living thing — near him. I saw
but a headless trunk; an eddy of crimson foam had issued
from where his head should be.
"I at once recognized his figure, it lay so naturally, his
right hand across his breast. As I approached, dismounted,
and bent over him, the contraction of a muscle extended the
hand slowly and slightly towards me," Hazen wrote.
Upon his dead finger, was his West Point class ring. Hazen
removed it and retrieved his pocket-sized Bible.
"I then parted with all that remained of one who in life was
my dearest friend, and possessed of the highest virtues that
grace an honest man," he said.
Hazen then sent men to remove Garesché's body from the
battlefield. It was given a rare night burial in a small
cemetery near the battlefield until it could be recovered
and shipped to Cincinnati and then on to Washington, D.C.
where his brother officiated at the funeral.
To H.W. Halleck, general in chief
"We have to deplore the loss of Lieutenant-Colonel Garesché,
whose capacity and gentlemanly deportment had already
endeared him to all the officers of this command, and whose
gallantry on the field of battled excited their admiration."