General William Starke Rosecrans, or “Old Rosy” as he was known to his men, gave more to the South Bay than just his namesake Rosecrans Avenue.
He was many things during his long and varied life: a Civil War general, an anti-slavery Democrat, a California congressman, registrar of the U.S. Treasury, and, by some accounts, very nearly the first Catholic President of the U.S.
Rosecrans, shown above in a Civil War-era portrait by legendary photographer Matthew Brady (photo courtesy Library of Congress), was born in Kingston Township, Ohio, (near Sunbury) on Sept. 6, 1819. The original family name was “Rosenkranz,” which means crown or wreath of roses.
He attended West Point, and upon his graduation joined the Army Corps of Engineers. He resigned his commission in 1854 after reaching the rank of first lieutenant in order to spend more time with his family. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and engaged in various business ventures that included civil engineering, coal mining, river navigation and oil refining.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Rosecrans re-enlisted in the Army and became a brigadier general after volunteering for General McClellan in Ohio. He led troops to an early victory at Rich Mountain, and participated in campaigns at Corinth, Chattanooga and Murfreesboro.
After a reorganization, he was made commander of the Department of the Cumberland, a post he held from Oct. 1862 to Oct. 1863. He was considered one of the Union’s brightest leaders until his forces were defeated at Chickamauga in Sept. 1863.
Artist’s rendition of the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, with General Rosecrans depicted at left and Confederate General Braxton Bragg at right, both on horseback. Credit: Library of Congress.
After that battle, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Gen. Ulysses Grant relieved him of command, an action which embittered Rosecrans against the two men.
Here’s where the White House almost came into play. In 1864, the story goes, Rosecrans decided to accept President Abraham Lincoln’s offer of the Vice Presidency, but somehow his cable to Washington, D.C. never got through. Speculation ran that War Secretary Stanton intercepted and destroyed it.
If not for that possibly apocryphal bit of intrigue, Stanton could have ended up as U.S. President instead of Andrew Johnson after Lincoln’s assassination. He would have been the first Catholic in the office, something which didn’t come to pass until John F. Kennedy’s election nearly a century later.
After a stint as U.S. Amabassador to Mexico from 1868-69, Rosecrans settled in San Francisco, where he became one of the 11 founders of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
He eventually migrated south to Los Angeles. In 1869, he purchased 13,000 acres of the Rancho Sausal Redondo land grant for $2.50 an acre.
His property, which would become known as Rosecrans before eventually becoming part of Gardena and South Los Angeles, was bordered by, roughly, Crenshaw Boulevard on the west, Central Avenue on the east, Florence Avenue on the north, with a southern border just north of Artesia Boulevard.
He built a family home near the present-day intersection of Vermont and Rosecrans avenues, where he became a gentleman farmer.
After many entreaties from his supporters over the years to run for public office, the affable and by all accounts well-liked former general decided to run for Congress in 1881. He won the election and served in the House of Representatives until 1885.
In 1885, he was appointed Registrar of the U.S. Treasury, the person whose signature at that time appeared on U.S. currency along with that of the Secretary of the Treasury.
In 1887, he returned to his Southern California home and began developing his land as the town of Rosecrans, even building a railway from the town to nearby Redondo Beach to encourage development. He subdivided into 3,000 house-size lots, which he began selling for $50 each. Sales were profitable, and he used the money to continue his only sporadically successful ongoing mining ventures.
Rosecrans resigned as Registrar of the Treasury in June 1893. Around this time, Rosecrans, then in his mid-70s, moved into the luxurious Hotel Redondo and became a well-known figure in Redondo Beach.
When his health began to fail, he was moved back to his house in Rosecrans, where he died on the morning of March 11, 1898.
After thousands passed by his coffin lying in state in Los Angeles City Hall, he was buried in Los Angeles with much ceremony. In 1902, his body was moved to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to Rosecrans Avenue, the general has been commemmorated by the Ft. Rosecrans military post at Point Loma in San Diego, Rosecrans Hall at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, Gardena’s General William Starke Rosecrans Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3261, Rosecrans Park in Gardena and Rosecrans Elementary School in Compton.
Rosecrans Avenue in Manhattan Beach
Rosecrans Avenue is one of the South Bay’s major thoroughfares, running from its western terminus in Manhattan Beach all the way to Euclid Street in Fullerton at its eastern end.
In 1940, a historical boulder marker commemorating Rosecrans was placed in Sunbury, Ohio. On August 23, 2010, General Rosecrans Elementary School was dedicated in Sunbury, and its citizens currently are engaged in a drive to commission a statue of the general to be erected in the town square.