The Funeral of William S. Rosecrans

The funeral of Major General William S. Rosecrans marked the passage of one of the last of the great Union commanders of the Civil War: George Thomas had died in 1870, George Meade in 1872, U.S. Grant and George McClellan in 1885, Phil Sheridan in 1888, and Tecumseh Sherman in 1891. “It was a soldier’s funeral in the truest and tenderest sense of the word,” it was reported. “The rapidly diminishing ranks of the men, taking leave of the last of their old commanders, gave more than an ordinary touch of pathos to the everyday story of death. It was in no small measure a personal loss to each one of the hundreds of the old boys in blue who gazed for the last time at the once familiar features and gathered around the bier at the final service.”

This rare image shows the procession and hearse in front of the Cathedral in Los Angeles, California on March 17, 1898 as it begins to roll towards Rosecrans' resting place at Rosedale Cemetery. The General's remains would be moved to Arlington National Cemetery several years later. Over 800 Civil War veterans, both Blue and Gray, participated in the procession. (Author's Collection)

          The funeral was a lavish production worthy of a state funeral given to presidents and great statesmen. General Rosecrans was held in such esteem by his fellow Californians that upon his death on March 11, 1898, the city council of Los Angeles extended an offer to the Rosecrans family to utilize City Hall for a public “laying in state.”  Condolences for the dead general poured in from across the country, perhaps the foremost telegram being received from President William G. McKinley, a comrade from Rosecrans’ brief tenure as colonel of the 23rd Ohio Infantry, who wrote “you have my deepest sympathy in the loss of your father, my old comrade, whose patriotic services the country will always gratefully remember and whose character will ever by affectionately cherished by his comrades.”

CDVs of General Rosecrans are fairly common items but I've learned that there exists a wide variety of images, over 40 wartime cards per last count. Rosecrans certainly was not camera-shy and given his wide popularity in Ohio and with the Army of the Cumberland, it is clear that much demand existed for Rosecrans images. This particular image is one of my favorites- I'd call it "allergy season" Rosecrans as the squinty eyes make it appear that the good General was suffering from seasonal allergies. The backmark for this card is for J.W. Campbell, Army Photographer for the 20th Army Corps which dates the image to 1863. 

Two objects especially dear to General Rosecrans were present throughout the funeral proceedings: his headquarters flag and sword. The headquarters flag was the one “he used at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry and which is all in tatters from the storm of shot and shell it was made the object of by the enemy. The magnificent sword was presented to the general by the people of Cincinnati bearing on its blade the quotation from his speech to the legislature of West Virginia.” Senator Charles F. Manderson of Nebraska, who was in Los Angeles at the time and had served under Rosecrans during the war, extended his stay in the city to be present at the funeral. “General Manderson says that by some chance he has attended the funerals of all his other commanders including Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, and Rosecrans is the last to go,” the Los Angeles Herald stated.

Then Major Charles F. Manderson led the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Stones River and served under Rosecrans command when he was commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Manderson later served as senator from the state of Nebraska. 

At the City Hall, Rosecrans laid in state for a day and was visited by an estimated 15,000 mourners. “The casket was placed in the center of the room facing east on a heavily draped bier. A subdued light shone through the Stars and Stripes that shaded the windows. The touch of black and white in the decorations brought out in the relief the flags that lined the walls, the stacked arms, the stately palms, and the pure white azaleas, and the finer foliage of the ferns,” it was reported. Over 1,500 had lined up waiting for the chance to pay their respects before the doors opened. “The endless procession filed up the stairs two abreast, slowly around the casket, and out again into the corridor. There were old men to whom the Civil War had been a stern reality, and young ones to whom it was but a fascinating tale of battles and heroes. There were colored men and women who lifted little children up to see the face of the defender of the cause fraught with such mighty meaning to them. There were aged women, plainly dressed, whose pained faces told of someone left on a Southern battlefield. A tall, square-shouldered veteran and a comrade with him leaned over the casket to see the face and burst into tears. Their hands touched tenderly the shot-riddled, tattered silk flag that lay on top. ‘He was our commander,’ they said as they slowly passed out.”

General Rosecrans laying in state in the council chamber at Los Angeles City Hall on March 16, 1898. An estimated 15,000 mourners processed by Rosecrans' open coffin to pay their respects, including veterans who served under Rosecrans' command and broke down in tears upon seeing their beloved General. Regardless of Rosecrans' reputation with the War Department, he was generally held in  high esteem by veterans of the Army of the Cumberland. (Los Angeles Herald)

A requiem mass was offered at the Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day, 1898. Bishop George Thomas Montgomery presided over the mass, assisted by two priests, and four deacons. “A vast audience filled the aisles and seats and hundreds were unable to enter. Bishop Montgomery gave a brief eulogy, taking his reading from St. John Chapter 21 verse 27 “Lord, if thou had been here our brother had not died.” Montgomery offered that “General Rosecrans needs no eulogy. His acts as a citizen, as a soldier, and as an official speak for themselves. He served his country in its perilous need with fidelity, courage, and zeal. He served it religiously and to the satisfaction of the government and the people. He is part of our nation and a part of our nation,” he stated. “he was a soldier, but he was a Catholic- an intelligent, practical, consistent, and devoted Catholic.”

Bishop George Thomas Montgomery presided over the Requiem Mass. The Kentuckian was born in 1847 and is not likely to have been named for Rosecrans' friend George H. Thomas but I thought it interesting that a George Thomas was responsible for Rosecrans' final ceremonies. Given the close friendship between Rosecrans and "The Rock of Chickamauga," it is altogether fitting. 

Outside of the cathedral, the pallbearers placed Rosecrans’ remains into an elegant hearse, and gave charge of the ceremonies over to the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. The head of the cortege featured members of the 7th Infantry, California National Guard, followed by one hundred of the Sons of Union Veterans, then a contingent of the Confederate veterans, followed by Union veterans of the three G.A.R. Posts of Los Angeles, the Loyal Legion, and the Union Veterans League, totaling 800 veterans in line. “The hearse was flanked on either side by the active and honorary pallbearers on foot,” it was reported. “A riderless charger with martial trappings in mourning was led behind the hearse by an orderly in full dress.” Rosecrans’ family followed behind in carriages and the procession reached several blocks long.
A contemporary depiction of the funeral procession down Main Street led by cavalry from Troop D of the California National Guard and the 7th Infantry. Decked out in their finest dress uniforms and followed by hundreds of Civil War veterans wearing their own badges and regalia, the procession must have been quite a sight. (Los Angeles Herald)

“The line of march was south on Main Street to Washington Street thence to Rosedale Cemetery,” the Herald stated. “All along Main Street on either side were thousands of spectators and from Fourth St. to Sixth St. were thousands of children; many of the schools were closed during the forenoon to permit the children to pay a last token of respect to the gallant dead. “At the cemetery, the receiving vault and space around it was roped off to keep the crowd in check. As the cortege moved slowly in to the slow strains of the funeral march, it was an impressive sight. The blue sky above, the waving pepper trees, the measured steps of the militia, the furled flags of the veterans and showy uniforms of the cavalry.”

The reality of a nation reunited was made evident as eight pallbearers, four of them Union veterans and four of them Confederate veterans, bore Rosecrans’ casket to the grave. The men “formed on either side of the casket and clasped hands as brothers. Tears started from ‘eyes unused to weep’ and the whole assembly was deeply and visibly affected,” the Herald reported. “The assembly joined in singing General Rosecrans’ favorite hymn “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me.” It came from the heart of every veteran present and swelled out on the air in strong, impressive chorus.”

“While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.”

1895 cabinet card of Rosecrans
The chapeau shown here was atop of his casket

This notion of reunion was an important one to the General and was the subject of the last letter he wrote in his life. Dated February 22, 1898, Rosecrans reached out to his erstwhile enemies in paying tribute to their courage and steadfastness. “To our brothers of the South, my heart goes out in greeting and sympathy, knowing well their dash and gallantry in the face of the leaden hail, their indomitable courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles,” he wrote. “May an all-wise Providence keep you all for many years to mingle thus happily together and to transmit to those who follow us the lessons of fraternity and charity and loyalty to the flag of our great republic.” The names of the eight pallbearers were as follows: Confederate veterans Captain Spencer R. Thorpe, H.L. Flash, J.W. Hutton, and Judge Ben Goodrich. Union veterans: Captain J.F. Cressey, William S. Daubenspeck, C.F. Derby, and T.F. Laycock. 

Comrade A.C. Shaffer evoked the most traumatic of Rosecrans’ wartime experiences in his eulogy for his deceased commander. “A scene rises before me. It is at Stones River. McCook is broken. The exultant foe, sweeping on in taunting challenge, emerges from the cedars. I hear the swiftly coming footsteps of the war horse, and with him I see the hero of many battles. His figure is heroic, his stature grand, his bearing superb, his presence an inspiration. He rides along the front line of battle. Men are falling thick as withered leaves before the wintry blast. Now I see one of his aides go down, and now another and another is laid low in death. A cannon ball sweeping on in its deadly mission misses him by a hair’s breadth, carrying with it the head of Colonel [Julius] Garesche, his chief of staff. But his courage is undaunted, his spirit unconquered,” he said. “Let us draw new and holy inspiration from his illustrious example. His wars are done, he is within the city where beats no muffled drum, no flags half-masted hang, no tears are shed, no farewells ever spoken, no marching columns to the grave. We leave him to his rest.” The assemblage then sang “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and “there were few dry eyes in the assembled ranks.”

“Alas for those comrades of days gone by,
Whose forms are missed tonight.
Alas for the young and true who lie,
Where the battle flag braved the fight.”

General Rosecrans leads his senior Generals in a ride as depicted by William Travis. 


  1. Very well done. My ancestor fought in the 59th Ohio under Old Rosey at Stones River.

  2. Very well done. My ancestor fought in the 59th Ohio under Old Rosey at Stones River.


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