top of page

Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser


Major-General Thomas Lafayette Rosser was born upon a farm in Campbell County, Va., October 15, 1836, the son of John and Martha M. (Johnson) Rosser. The family removed from Virginia to Texas in 1849, and from that State Rosser was appointed to the United States military academy in 1856. The course of study being then five years, he was in the graduating class when it was ordered into the field by President Lincoln. He immediately resigned, and proceeding to Montgomery was commissioned first lieutenant in the regular army of the Confederate States. Being assigned as instructor to the Washington artillery of New Orleans, he commanded the Second company of that organization at the battles of Blackburn's Ford and Manassas in July, 1861, and with Stuart at Munson's hill and the battle of Lewinsville. His success in shooting down McClellan's observation balloon won him promotion to captain, and in this rank he commanded his battery in the defense of Yorktown and on the retreat up the peninsula. At the battle of Mechanicsville he was severely wounded, and was soon promoted to lieutenant-colonel of artillery, and a few days later to colonel of the Fifth Virginia regiment of cavalry. Thus began his career as a cavalryman, in which he won great distinction as a dashing, intrepid and skillful officer. He commanded the advance of Stuart's expedition to Catlett's Station, in the campaign against Pope, and captured the latter's orderly and horses; in the fight at Groveton, Va., August 28, 1862, commanded the only cavalry with Jackson; and confronted and held in check the forces of Fitz John Porter on August 29th. At South Mountain he commanded the only cavalry at Crampton's gap, and with Pelham's artillery took a prominent part in the gallant fight. He participated in the battle of Sharpsburg, and subsequently for a time led Fitzhugh Lee's brigade during the fighting against Pleasanton. At the opening of the battle at Kelly's ford, he was upon court-martial duty, with Stuart and Pelham, but rode immediately to the front with those officers, and finding his regiment in the rear, charged with it upon the enemy who was crowding back the Confederate front, and drove him back some distance. The Federals, reaching a wood, dismounted and opened a heavy fire, in which Rosser fell severely wounded, and Pelham was killed while leading his regiment in another charge. Rosser was disabled until the Pennsylvania campaign, when he rode with Stuart around Hooker and Meade, and participated in the three days' fight at Gettysburg. After this battle he was promoted to brigadier-general, and assigned to the old brigade of Turner Ashby, "the Laurel brigade." With this gallant command he was conspicuous in the campaigns of 1864. On May 5th, the opening day in the Wilderness, "a large force of cavalry and artillery on our right flank was driven back by Rosser's brigade," and on June 2d he "fell upon the rear of the enemy's cavalry" near Hanover Court House, and "charged down the road toward Ashland, bearing everything before him," quoting the telegraphic reports of Gen. R. E. Lee. At Trevilian's station he drove Custer back against Fitz Lee and captured many prisoners, but was painfully wounded while leading a charge at the head of his brigade. He also took part in the famous "cattle raid," while Grant was about Petersburg. He won all the distinction possible in the desperate struggle against Sheridan's overwhelming forces in the Shenandoah valley, and in command of Fitzhugh Lee's division saved Early's army at the battle of Cedar Creek, holding the line and checking the enemy's pursuit until 9:30 p. m., then taking position in the works at Fisher's Hill, and safely conducting Early's retreat to New Market next day. He was promoted major-general in November, 1864. He conducted the successful expedition against New Creek, W. Va., taking many prisoners and great quantities of Stores, and in January, 1865, with 300 men, crossed the mountains in deep snow and bitter cold, and surprised and captured two infantry regiments in their works at Beverly, W. Va. Returning to the vicinity of Petersburg in the spring of 1865, he commanded a division of cavalry during the remainder of the struggle, fighting with honor at Five Forks, and at High Bridge, April 6th, defeating and capturing the entire command of General Read, who fell in combat with General Dearing. On April 7th, Rosser captured General Gregg, and rescued a wagon train near Farmville, and in the last hour of battle at Appomattox, a little after daylight April 9, 1865, charged the Federal cavalry and escaped from the fatal field with his command. Under directions from the secretary of war, he began a reorganization of the scattered troops of the army of Northern Virginia, but was made a prisoner about the time of Johnston's surrender. After the return of peace he was for a time superintendent of the National express company under General Johnston, was assistant engineer in the construction of the Pittsburg & Connellsville railroad, and in the spring of 1870 became connected with the construction of the Northern Pacific railroad. Beginning in an humble capacity he became chief engineer of the eastern division in 1871, and built the main part of the road. Later he was chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific, and located and built the road west of Winnipeg. Since 1886 he has resided near Charlottesville, Va.


Source: Confederate Military History - 1899 - Volume 3.

bottom of page