The name “General Thomas Rosser” may not be well known to anyone who is not a Civil War aficionado; I don’t recall having heard his name before doing my research on other Confederate generals in addition to Fitzhugh Lee and Joseph Wheeler (see our previous two posts) who later served in the United States Army.
Rosser was George Armstrong Custer’s roommate at West Point but just like my fictional Philip Roberdeau in Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion, Rosser resigned from the U.S. Military Academy following succession. In Rosser’s case, his resignation came barely two weeks before he was scheduled to graduate and be commissioned.
During the Civil War, like Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee (our other two Confederate-turned-U.S. general officers) Rosser served as a cavalry officer, and in fact was associated with Fitzhugh Lee during several battles of the war. He also served with J.E.B. Stuart during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later, he escaped with his command following Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and fought on for almost one more month, attempting to link up with Joe Johnston’s forces further south.
Unlike Wheeler and Lee, Thomas Rosser was not an illustrious politician during the postbellum period, but rather worked in the railroad industry. Ironically, one of his signature efforts was as an assistant engineer for the construction of the Pittsburgh & Connellsville Railroad in Pennsylvania. Then, during the Spanish-American War, he was appointed by President McKinley as a Brigadier General in charge of training cavalry forces…meaning that like Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee, Thomas Rosser was unique among the men who served as general officers in the Confederacy in that they later donned the uniform of their once-enemy.