At The Edge Of Glory

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One of this general’s troubles was that battle overstimulated him. He was the bravest of the brave, but in action he grew excitable, issuing too many orders too rapidly, acting sometimes on inadequate knowledge. It was so here. Toward noon on the second day, Rosecrans overhastily moved a division from a comparatively quiet sector to a place that was under heavy pressure. The movement left a temporary gap in the Federal line, and before the gap could be closed the hard-hitting General James Longstreet struck into it with an army corps. The whole right wing of Rosecrans’ army was routed, and the General himself was caught up in the rout and separated from the main battlefield. Apparently the spark went out of him. For once in his life he admitted defeat. He rode back to Chattanooga, letting the rest of the battle fight itself. In the end he had to stand siege in Chattanooga, on the defensive, his bright prospects gone.

Mr. Lamers suggests that the defeat looked a great deal worse than it really was; that if Rosecrans had lost a battle he had nevertheless won the campaign, whose great objective had been to occupy and hold Chattanooga, and this led ultimately to the bisection of the Confederacy; and that because both Grant and Secretary of War Stanton disliked him, Rosecrans was relieved of his command when he ought to have been retained. His argument is persuasive, even if not wholly convincing: at the very least it makes it clear that there is a good deal to be said on the side of this general whose career was wrecked.

In any case, Rosecrans was shelved, then and thereafter, and his qualities all in all were good enough to entitle him to this reappraisal. He was one of those men who, as the title of the book suggests, touched the edge of glory without going any farther.