William S. Rosecrans and the Civil War

Here’s a video from C-SPAN of author David Moore talking about Union General William S. Rosecrans.


I have to say I was not impressed.  In my opinion, he crossed the line into advocacy.  He really seems to be trying to put Rosie in the best light possible in all situations.  In the process, he seems to me to make Ulysses S. Grant his enemy.  He seems to always try to minimize Grant’s achievements.  In one instance, he quotes someone speaking favorably of Rosie and says that this was a period when “honesty was paramount,” yet when the same person is critical of Rosie he casts aspersions on the veracity of the critique.

Certainly Rosie wasn’t a perfect general, yet I didn’t hear any criticisms at all from Mr. Moore.  He paraphrases what he claims are critics of Rosecrans, then defends Rosecrans from those criticisms.  Mr. Moore claims that Rosecrans invented mounted infantry.  I’m sure John Buford, and old dragoon, would have been surprised to hear that.  Additionally, he doesn’t seem to understand what strategy is.  He describes a tactic of feinting and calls it “strategy.”  He considers comments about Rosecrans from the Richmond newspapers to be completely reliable when they praise Rosie.  Toward the end of his talk he seems to be campaigning for a statue for Rosecrans in Washington, DC.  To judge by this talk, this book is not an objective look at Rosecrans.  In the Q&A he accuses academics of not liking Rosecrans because he was a religious person.  This shows quite an ignorance of historians and how they operate today.

Still, this is the first biography of Rosie in several decades.  I think I’ll wait for it to appear in the remainders bin.



  1. jfepperson · · Reply

    David spoke to our CWRT last month, and I generally agree with your assessment. He seems to consider Chickamauga a Union victory.

  2. He appeared on Crossroads a few years ago. I let others engage him.

    1. Probably wise.

  3. jfepperson · · Reply

    He of course is a big fan of Frank Varney.

    1. I got that from the video. I haven’t read Varney’s book yet, but I do intend to do so.

  4. In a private discussion, he complained that folks who write about the war don’t use the Rosecrans Papers—I found several books on my shelves that cited them; he claimed most authors don’t talk about Elihu Washburne—I tried not to laugh; he said the only people who thought Chickamauga was a defeat were the folks who wanted to remove Rosecrans—I tried to explain that being driven from the field in some disorder is usually a sign of defeat.

    1. He does tend to make some silly claims. I highlighted a few of them in the post. He also claimed in his talk that Elihu Washburne was the most important man in Congress. He certainly reminds me of the Thomas fanboys.

  5. Are you, or anyone here, familiar with William Marvel’s book, “BURNSIDE”? At an Army barbershop they posted the story of the defeat at Fredericksburg and it was titled, “Why the Army Hates Sideburns”. Now I see that Marvel wants me to take another look Gen Burside’s Civil War legacy. Your thoughts and opinions, please.

    1. I haven’t read the book, but Marvel received some good comments on it. He’s an excellent researcher and tends to question the established orthodoxy.

      1. jfepperson · · Reply

        I’ve read it, and the author does make some good points, but I don’t think he wins the case.

  6. Is it possible that Burnside had been a good commander up until Fredericksburg? Can we respect a man’s accomplishments and still hold him responsible for his failures?

    1. jfepperson · · Reply

      Burnside’s problem was an inability to deal with changed circumstances. At Fredericksburg it was the failure of the pontoons to arrive when they were supposed to. At the Crater, it was the decision that he couldn’t use the USCT division as the leading unit in the assault. He just couldn’t deal with the new realities in a sensible way. As a subordinate he tended to be a bit slow.

      1. jfepperson · · Reply

        I should add that Marvel spends a lot of time trying to build a case that a McClellan sycophant, engineering officer James Duane (he held various ranks as the war progressed), was responsible for Burnside’s failures. Marvel does point out that Duane had a role in scouting for fords at Antietam, in sending the pontoons to Fredericksburg, and of course in (not) helping with the construction of the Petersburg Mine. But none of these excuses AEB’s errors of judgment in those actions.

  7. if we acknowledge that AEB was wrong when he ordered the futile changes at Fredericksburg, can we still remember, and give him credit for his previous victories over Confederate forces?

    In your opinion, what is the difference between a book written by an historian, who is not a teacher, and one written by Phd in history who teaches history at a University?

    1. You can’t generalize like that. It depends on the individual historians and how they handle the evidence and construct their arguments. You have to take each on their own merits.

  8. Al, thanks for the advice, I’ll keep it in mind when I read more Civil War books. Actually, my question could probably apply to a number of officers who had military success up until the time of their defeats.

  9. I see in Marvel’s book that Rosecrans crossed paths with Burnside. What is your opinion of Henry Halleck?

    1. I agree with Lincoln—he was a first-class clerk! He refused to actually issue orders once he got the top job.

  10. McClellan said, , “Of all the men whom I have encountered in high position Halleck was the most hopelessly stupid. It was more difficult to get an idea through his head than can be conceived by anyone who ever made the attempt. I do not think he ever had a correct military idea from beginning to end.”
    I don’t know how to start a new discussion on this site. If I did I’d ask about the generals and their conflicting strategies. When the war started there were men mistakenly being shot because they wore colors that made them look like the enemy. There were also those who mistook enemy troops for allies leading to some deadly consequences. What, if anything, could the competing sides have done to better prepare for the War?

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