For most Civil War aficionados, Fort Rosecrans shows up on their radar screen just outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee. There, in the months after its bruising victory over the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Stones River, the Union Army of the Cumberland licked its wounds, resupplied, and readied itself for the spring campaign season that would culminate in the Tullahoma campaign in June of 1863.
The 225-acre fort was named after the army’s commander, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans—“Old Rosy,” as his men called him.
But Old Rosy had another fort named after him, too—one situated on the high bluffs overlooking San Diego, California.
Located on the Point Loma peninsula—which is tipped today by Cabrillo National Park—the area that became Fort Rosecrans was first set aside as a military base by President Millard Fillmore for protection of the California coast. The army eventually settled in and named the fort after Rosecrans, an Ohio native who’d settled in southern California after the Civil War. He helped establish the Southern Pacific Railroad, and in 1881, he was elected to Congress, representing the 1st California District. Beginning in 1882, Rosecrans chaired the House’s Military Affairs Committee, and served in Congress until 1885. Under President Grover Cleveland, he served as Register of the Treasury until 1893. He was frequently courted to run for higher office—including the governorships of Ohio and California, and as a presidential candidate—but he kept turning offers down, earning himself the nickname “The Great Decliner.”
The army used Fort Rosecrans as a base of operations well unto the twentieth century, until 1959, when the Navy took over operations in the area. Today, it’s operated as Naval base Point Loma and serves as the home of the Third Fleet. Some 22,000 military and civilian personnel work there. In 1932, the site became a registered California Historical Landmark.
In 1882, the War Department established a cemetery on the site and interred the remains of casualties of the battle of San Pasqual from the Mexican War in May of 1846. The site wasn’t officially designated a National Cemetery, however, until October 5, 1934.
Rows of graves run down the eastward slope of the bluff, with San Diego bay stretched out below and the city center some ten miles away. Rosecrans himself, however, rests far, far to the east, in Arlington National Cemetery. Purportedly, he visited San Diego only once, in 1871, in his capacity as a railroadman.
For Further Reading:
“Fort Rosecrans, California” by George Ruhlen from The Journal of San Diego History, Oct. 1959