Rosecrans stands guard over Sunbury

By Gary Budzak

January 31, 2014

Despite being dead since 1998, William Starke Rosecrans still attracts people to Delaware County.

More specifically, it’s his statue.

Rosecrans was the last upper echelon Civil War general to have his own statue. On Sept. 28, 2013, an Alan Cottrill-sculpted statue of Rosecrans riding a horse was erected at the Square in Sunbury.

“We are promoting it because it’s a nice landmark,” Debbie Shatzer, executive director of the Delaware County Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The Gazette. “People who drive through there stop and look at it, for sure. It’s majestic on that rock.”

The statue was constructed and installed thanks to a fundraising campaign conducted by The Rosecrans Headquarters, a committee of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society. The final price tag topped $180,000.

Rosecrans was born in Kingston Township, just north of Sunbury, in 1819. After working as a teen in Utica and Mansfield, Rosecrans attended the United States Miliary Academy. He graduated from West Point in 1842 and was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers, serving until 1854.

Although best known as a soldier, Rosecrans was also and inventor and a businessman.

Prior to the Civil War, Rosecrans obtained several patents for his inventions, including a kerosene lamp and easier way to make soap. He also designed a lock and dam system on the Coal River in Western Virginia, and eventually became president of a Coal Oil Company. Raised a Methodist, Rosecrans converted to Chatholicism.

Rosecrans married Anna Elizabeth Hegeman in 1843. They had eight children during their 40-year marriage. She died in 1883.

Known as “Old Rosy” to his men because of his large red Roman nose, Rosecrans was quickly promoted during the war, ultimately commanding Union Armies of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Missouri until resigning in 1867.

Rosecrans and his troops are credited for winning battles at Iuka, Corinth, Tullahoma and Stones River. At the latter battle, Rosecrans rallied his troops by saying, “Stand by your flag and country, my men!”

“He would, over the course of the war, prove himself to be an excellent general as long as his enemy gave him plenty of time to prepare and did nothing unexpected,” writes Steven B. Woodworth of Rosecrans in “Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865.”

Praised by President Abraham Lincoln for his heroics at Stones River, Rosecrans’ fortunes changed at Chickamauga, where on the second day of battle, he retreated to Chattanooga and did not budge until General Ulysses Grant replaced him with “The Rock of Chickamauga,” George Thomas.

“The reinforced Confederates turned on him,” states “Civil War Commanders,” by Chester Hearn, Rick Sapp, and Steven Smith. “Rosecrans, who stuttered in difficult situations, issued faulty orders that left a gap on his right. Confederates poured through and routed half his army, which escaped total disaster only because George Thomas was able to stand firm on the left.”

Rosecrans’ quarrelsome nature and failures to follow up on his victories had also created friction with Grant and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

For an alternate viewpoint, see Frank Varney’s “General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War.” Varney suggests that Grant’s popular memoirs are flawed and treat Rosecrans unfairly.

After the war, Rosecrans was briefly U.S. Minister to Mexico, wrote a booklet called “Popular Government,” raised $789,000 for soldiers’ relief, bought a ranch in Los Angeles, became a congressman in California and finally Registrar of the Treasury.

As a congressman, he opposed a pension for Grant and his wife.

He also became known as “The Great Decliner,” for refusing to run for governor of Ohio on two ocassions, as well as other opportunities. A Democrat, he was also considered for Republican Lincoln’s vice president in 1864.

He also helped design St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Columbus for his brother, Sylvester Horton Rosecrans, who was the first Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.

Rosecrans died in 1898 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Streets are named after him in Los Angeles, San Diego and Delaware County (near his birthplace). Also named after him is Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego and General Rosecrans Elementary in Sunbury.