150 Years Ago: Orders for “Old Rosy” and the birth of the Army of the Cumberland

On this day – October 23 – in 1862, General William Rosecrans received instructions to travel to Cincinnati. Not his command, but just him. When he arrived in Cincinnati, more detailed orders followed:

You will receive herewith the order of the President placing you in command of the Department of the Cumberland and of the army of operations now under Major-General Buell.

You will immediately repair to General Buell’s headquarters and relieve him from the command.

The great objects to be kept in view in your operations in the field are: First, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee, cutting the line of railroad at Chattanooga, Cleveland, or Athens, so as to destroy the connection of the valley of Virginia with Georgia and the other Southern States. It is hoped that by prompt and rapid movements a considerable part of this may be accomplished before the roads become impassable from the winter rains…. (OR, Series I, Vol. 16, Part II, Serial 23, page 640).

It would be several days before Rosecrans would formally take the reigns from General Don Carlos Buell (to whom the news was broken somewhat improperly). The orders marked not only a change of command but a change of names of the command itself. The “army of operations” under General Buell was the Army of the Ohio. Under the orders passed to Rosecrans, that army became part of the Department of the Cumberland. There it was numbered the Fourteenth Corps (or to pique at Harry Smeltzer – the XIV Corps). But the world would soon know it as the Army of the Cumberland.

Perhaps just an administrative change… just a new name. But that name became one of the Union’s proud legions. That army left blood on the fields of Tennessee and Georgia, redeemed itself on Missionary Ridge, marched to Atlanta, and fended off the last great Confederate offensive of the war.

The operational aspect of Rosecrans’ orders are equally important. That one run-on sentence set an objective for the next fourteen months of campaigning… and directly lead to three of the wars largest battles – Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. It was not the “prompt and rapid” movement called for, to be sure.

Looking beyond Rosecrans’ operational orders, Halleck offered Rosecrans (and thus also for us readers 150 years later) a view of strategic assessment of the western theater, albeit from far distant Washington. While we are sooo… sooo… familiar with Lincoln’s orders to George McClellan (… you know … that skepticism of the tired horses…), we tend to overlook the orders to the other theater commanders. The Confederacy had just concluded an offensive across “a thousand mile front” with little to show for it, the Federals were about to do likewise. Theirs would spread from the banks of the Rappahannock to the Boston Mountains.

The rest of the orders to Rosecrans are worth examining in detail… Allow me to take a western focus for a few days.

5 thoughts on “150 Years Ago: Orders for “Old Rosy” and the birth of the Army of the Cumberland

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