The Man Who Helped Convert General Rosecrans

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, I have often written about General William Rosecrans, Union general and zealous Catholic convert.  One of the men who helped in the conversion process was Julius Garesché, who would serve under Rosecrans in the Civil War.

Rosecrans was fighting a huge battle at Stones River, go here to read about it, in Tennessee that would last from December 31, 1862-January 3, 1863. He succeeded in defeating Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee and drove him from central Tennessee. It was an important victory, a needed shot in the arm for the Union after the disaster of Fredericksburg. Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans:

“You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

During that battle he was a man on fire, constantly charging to points of danger, heedless of risks to himself, rallying his men, inspiring them and beating off Confederate charge after Confederate charge. Rosecrans was in the maelstrom of particularly vicious fighting when his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Julius  Garesché , a fellow Catholic who had been made a Knight of Saint Sylvester by Pope Pius IX, warned him about risking himself to enemy fire. “Never mind me, my boy, but make the sign of the cross and go in!” A moment later, a cannon shell careened into the general’s entourage, beheading Garesche and spraying his brains all over Rosecrans’ overcoat. Rosecrans’ mourned his friend, as he mourned all his brave men who died in that fight, but that didn’t stop him an instant from leading his army to victory.

I was going to do a blog post on Garesché, but I decided that I could not improve on the one done by Pat McNamara at his blog.  Go here to read it.

According to an article written by the late Dr. Homer Pittard, his death at Stones River had been prophesied by his priest brother:

Many of Julius’ relatives were in the Southern Army, a sensitive fact that kept him busy at the candle table. In a discussion of this sad state with one of his acquaintances he grew emotional, referring to his Confederate relatives as turncoats and damning them to a living hell. Profanity was out of character for Julius, and being considerably disturbed he turned again for counsel to his brother, Father Frederick. Frederick listened, and then, with what must have been the great light of prophecy shining from messianic eyes, he made his great and final pronouncement. Yes, this incident of sin on the streets of Washington had great significance in the destiny of Julius. In fact this was the culminating act and he, Frederick, had received a heavenly commission to reveal the ultimate death of Julius during his first battle. In fact the revelation set a timetable 18 months hence. The date of the brotherly session was Sept. 14, 1861.

At first, because of the turn of events, Julius refused to accept his death warrant. He was sure that a commutation of sentence occurred later that year after the Confederates lost their post-Bull Run chance to take Washington. Also, he was a general staff officer and because of this would not be called into field service. Yet as time went on he must have pondered the will of the Lord and his obstinacy in not permitting it to be fulfilled.

In April of 1862, he began to seek an appointment to field service. Extensive correspondence with General Buell did not produce immediate results although he was proffered a brigadier generalcy in McDowell’s army in Virginal This he refused, preferring to win the commission in the field and perhaps, too, because he had already committed himself about presidential appointments in his “Catholicus” letters years before.

Opportunity came when William Rosecrans, his West Point friend, superseded Buell in Kentucky. On November 5, 1862, Garesche was relieved of duty in the Adjutant General’s Office, and was appointed Chief-of-Staff, Army of the Cumberland. His subsequent brief career saw his star rise quickly, for his fluency with the pen and his dedication to duty made him Rosecrans’ closest confidant.

Garesche’s last morning on earth began in a small tent near headquarters. High mass, with Rev. Father Cooney of the 55th Indiana Regiment officiating, was celebrated. One hundred yards away to the north a thin mist hung close to the river, and Van Cleve’s division could be seen moving up closer to the ford. The Battle of Stones River was less than a half hour away. During the early hours of the morning, battle sounds to the south and the retrograde movement of McCook’s right wing revealed that Rosecrans’ strategy had gone awry. In the bedlam behind the pike, one observer saw Garesche dismount and enter a small grove of trees. It was also observed that after opening his prayer book and reading for a few moments, he remounted and joined Rosecrans. Five minutes later he was dead. It had been 15 months and 17 days since his brother’s prophecy.

Go here to read the rest.  Some people over the years have claimed that the ghost of Colonel Garesche haunts the battlefield of Stones River.  That of course cannot be true for surely the spirit of this gallant soldier abides elsewhere.

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