A soldier in the Union
Army in the Civil War. Here's how he died:
"OF THE 1,717 battlefield deaths among the 13,176 Union casualties
at bloody Stones River, the most dramatic was that of Lt. Col.
Julius Peter Garesche, Chief-of-Staff, Army of the Cumberland.
Garesche met violent death on the morning of Dec. 31, 1862, at a
time when the Union right had crumbled and was being driven back in
disorder against the Nashville Pike.
The general commanding, impulsive Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, had
taken the personal responsibility of forming a new line. Detached
companies, regiments, and pieces of artillery, streaming through the
cedars to the south of the pike, were halted and placed in patchwork
alignment facing the enemy. Shouting encouragement to spur the
flagging spirits of his men, Rosecrans rode along the lines and
across the open fields. In full view of the Confederates, who had by
then moved into position, he became a prime target. Following close
at his heels were his chief-of-staff and two orderlies.
Near the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, which bisects the
field, a shell tore through a tall cedar. Rosecrans and his tiny
entourage galloped into its path. There was a slight puff and 100
yards beyond them the projectile bounced along the ground and then
exploded. Garesche's head was squashed like a pumpkin and carried
away. Only a fragment of the jaw carrying a patch from his full
beard remained. As his horse jogged along, the headless trunk sat
erect for some 20 paces and then slid to the ground.
Decapitations were almost routine in cavalry and closeup artillery
combat. On the afternoon of the previous day, a corporal, standing
in front of the general's marquee, had been beheaded by a stray
solid shot. Of course Garesche's demise was significant because of
his prominence among the members of the general staff. He was
Rosecrans' pen and voice. His proxy dispatches to be found in the
Official Records are classics of conciseness and precision. But the
most impelling and macabre circumstance surrounding his violent end
was that Garesche was possessed by an absorbing presentiment that he
would die in his first battle. The men around him were aware of this
and his actions were closely observed as the Battle of Stones River
At West Point, despite his facility for collecting demerits and a
debilitating encounter with goitre, Garesehe had graduated in 1841,
standing 30th in a class of 52. An aloofness accentuated by extreme
nearsightedness had restricted his circle of friends while at the
Academy. However, he had formed a fast friendship with William
Rosecrans, who was his academic junior by one year. Later Garesche
was instrumental in leading his future commander into Catholicism
and, as assistant adjutant general in Washington, slashed red tape
to procure Rosecrans his commission as brigadier general in the
Garesche's post-Academy assignment was a second lieutenancy with the
4th Artillery stationed at Fort Brown, Tex. It was at this point
that he became absorbed with his first great presentiment that he
was destined to suffer a violent death. This was some 21 years
before Stones River.
During the interval between graduation and his first assignment he
had visited his father in St. Louis. His family, having come into
possession of 2,000 acres of land lying at the junction of the
Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, was experiencing difficulty with
woodcutters and squatters. In order to secure rights until the
courts could decide the issue, an armed guard had been employed to
patrol the area. Julius volunteered his services and spent several
days with two other men tramping through the underbrush and
swamp-infested lowlands. One afternoon after a long search for a
camping ground the three men found an abandoned cabin. Although it
perched precariously on the banks of the Missouri it was
satisfactory for the late hour, and blankets were spread on the
floor. During the night the water rose and the earth supporting the
cabin crumbled away. Julius and his companions were awakened by the
creaking timbers and catapulted through the doorway to safety just
as the cabin settled and slowly disappeared in the waters below.
Appraising the incident later, brother Frederick, who was training
for the priesthood, interpreted it as an omen of disaster. 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. Years
later, in Louisville, his nearsightedness carried him one night from
the street onto a railroad track. Again he escaped death by
stumbling aside as a train rushed by. There was no doubt now; his
brother's words assumed oracular proportions.
His tours of duty at Fort Brown and two years later at Fort McHenry,
Md., were unhappy. His time was consumed by voluminous remorseful
correspondence with his wife, Marquitta, personality clashes with
superior officer Maj. Giles Porter, and brooding over a multitude of
signs and omens. He also found time to write lengthy pedantic
letters to the Freeman's Journal and Brownlow's Quarterly Review
under the nom de plume of "Catholicus." These heated discourses ran
the gamut from divorce to divorce laws to attacks on the President's
power over the army.
Eight years before the outbreak of hostilities he was assigned to
the Adjutant General's Office in Washington as senior assistant with
the rank of captain. Continuing his Catholic lay work he organized a
chapter of the Society of St. Vincent of Paul, an organization
dedicated to the relief of suffering among the poor. In this work he
appeared to find the solace that had not been his since his life had
become entangled in mysticism. In May of 1861 he was commissioned
brevet major and in August, a full major in the Adjutant General's
corps. A few days after his elevation there occurred another
incident in the long, exasperating series of ill omens.
Many of Julius' relatives were in the Southern Army, a sensitive
fact that kept him busy at the candle table. In a discussion of this
sad state with one of his acquaintances he grew emotional, referring
to his Confederate relatives as turncoats and damning them to a
living hell. Profanity was out of character for Julius, and being
considerably disturbed he turned again for counsel to his brother,
Father Frederick. Frederick listened, and then, with what must have
been the great light of prophecy shining from messianic eyes, he
made his great and final pronouncement. Yes, this incident of sin on
the streets of Washington had great significance in the destiny of
Julius. In fact this was the culminating act and he, Frederick, had
received a heavenly commission to reveal the ultimate death of
Julius during his first battle. In fact the revelation set a
timetable 18 months hence. The date of the brotherly session was
Sept. 14, 1861.
At first, because of the turn of events, Julius refused to accept
his death warrant. He was sure that a commutation of sentence
occurred later that year after the Confederates lost their post-Bull
Run chance to take Washington. Also, he was a general staff officer
and because of this would not be called into field service. Yet as
time went on he must have pondered the will of the Lord and his
obstinacy in not permitting it to be fulfilled.
In April of 1862, he began to seek an appointment to field service.
Extensive correspondence with General Buell did not produce
immediate results although he was proffered a brigadier generalcy in
McDowell's army in Virginia. This he refused, preferring to win the
commission in the field and perhaps, too, because he had already
committed himself about presidential appointments in his "Catholicus"
letters years before.
Opportunity came when William Rosecrans, his West Point friend,
superseded Buell in Kentucky. On November 5, 1862, Garesche was
relieved of duty in the Adjutant General's Office, and was appointed
Chief-of-Staff, Army of the Cumberland. His subsequent brief career
saw his star rise quickly, for his fluency with the pen and his
dedication to duty made him Rosecrans' closest confidant.
Garesche's last morning on earth began in a small tent near
headquarters. High mass, with Rev. Father Cooney of the 55th Indiana
Regiment officiating, was celebrated. One hundred yards away to the
north a thin mist hung close to the river, and Van Cleve's division
could be seen moving up closer to the ford. The Battle of Stones
River was less than a half hour away. During the early hours of the
morning, battle sounds to the south and the retrograde movement of
McCook's right wing revealed that Rosecrans' strategy had gone awry.
In the bedlam behind the pike, one observer saw Garesche dismount
and enter a small grove of trees. It was also observed that after
opening his prayer book and reading for a few moments, he remounted
and joined Rosecrans. Five minutes later he was dead. It had been 15
months and 17 days since his brother's prophecy.
Brig. Gen. William Hazen, who directed the shallow, temporary
interment of Garesche on a tiny knoll nearby, describes the scene in
a letter found in the Annals of the Army of the Cumberland:
I saw but a headless trunk: an eddy of crimson foam had issued where
the 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
his hand slowly and slightly towards me. Taking hold of it, I found
it warm and lifelike. Upon one of the fingers was the class ring,
that (to me) beautiful talisman of our common school.
The following day the body was removed and carried to Nashville for
embalming. The Surgeon General's reports carried this grisly note:
"On discovering a protuberance extending some five inches from the
spine I thought it well to remove it for the sake of conformity."
Interment was later made in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Washington, D.C."