Thursday, October 11, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Friday, Oct. 11, 1861

Brig. Gen. William Starke Rosecrans officially takes command of the new Federal Department of Western Virginia. He had been ranking officer there since July 22, when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was called east to take over the main Union army, demoralized after its defeat at Bull Run. Rosecrans is yet another colorful character in a war that’s full of them. Born in 1819 in Delaware County, Ohio, he graduated from West Point in 1842, fifth in a class of 56 students. He left the army in 1854 and ran a mining business in western Virginia. The explosion of an oil lamp in 1859 badly burned Rosecrans, leaving his face with a “perpetual smirk,” according to one observer. At McClellan’s behest, he returned to the army in 1861 and in July was the architect of a Confederate defeat at Rich Mountain. Although McClellan took all the credit for the victory, Rosecrans’ career was on the ascent until his mistakes resulted in an ignominious loss at Chickamauga in northwestern Georgia. Friendly to his troops (and affectionately called "Old Rosy" by them), Rosecrans was an excitable man whose speech became a kind of chatter during battle. In camp, he was apt to keep his staff up much of the night while he, a convert to Catholicism, discussed theology.

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