He was the most successful
on either side in the Civil War.
General George H. Thomas 1816-70
Commander 19 Oct.
Solid as a
rock at Mill
Springs, Murfreesboro, Hoover's Gap, Stevens' Gap, McLemore's Cove,
Chattanooga, 100 Days Campaign, Peachtree Creek, and Nashville.
won every one of his engagements in the Civil War.
in the South, fought for the North. A man of the "angle," he was too
to get rid of, and a thorn in the side of generals turned politician.
did his homework, left the road to his soldiers.
the 1882 biography Major General
H. Thomas by Thomas Van Horne
Click here to
read the photographic essay "Bring Thomas Home."
For more information contact Bob
Last updated 6 July 2010
Thomas was born on 31 July 1816
in Southampton County, VA and died on 28 March 1870 in San Francisco. A
graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY in 1840, George
Thomas served in the Mexican War (1846-48) and as an artillery and
instructor at West Point. Despite his southern birth he remained loyal
to the Union when the Civil War broke out. In command of an independent
force in eastern Kentucky, Thomas defeated the Confederates under
on 19 Jan. 1862 at Mill Springs
the first important Union victory in the war, thus undermining the
western defense of the CSA general Albert Sydney Johnston. Thomas then
served under General Don Carlos Buell and
arrived too late at Shiloh
in order to participate in the second day of the battle. After the
Halleck put Thomas in command of Grant's Army of the Tennessee while
was apparently sidelined as second in command under Halleck with no
After the campaign, Thomas voluntarily returned to Grant his 4
divisions, perhaps in order to devote himself to his own division, or
simply to get rid of Grant's poorly disciplined troops and officers.
Later, when politically motivated complaints against Buell's lack of
against Bragg become more and more strident, Thomas was offered but
the chief command. At the battle of Perryville
Thomas was second in overall command but was assigned to Crittenden's
corps which was not engaged in the brief evening battle. Bragg was
forced to withdraw into East
Tennessee, but Buell was faulted for lack of pursuit, and he was
by William S. Rosecrans. Under
Rosecrans Thomas was instrumental
in holding the center with his artillery at Murfreesboro
(Stones River), Tenn. on 31 Dec. 1862 and 2 Jan. 1863. Thomas was in
of the most important part of the maneuvering during the Tullahoma
Campaign on 22-29 June 1863 and of
the approach to Chattanooga. On 19-20 Sept. 1863, after two days of
battle along Chickamauga
Creek in Georgia 12 miles south of
Chattanooga, General Thomas
organized Union defenses after the collapse of the Union right wing and
withstood all afternoon long violent attacks on the left wing by the
Confederate army until the arrival of reserve units under Granger
an orderly withdrawal of Union troops back to Chattanooga. For this
Thomas was called the "Rock of Chickamauga" and later promoted to
general of the regular army (maintaining his rank of major general of
volunteers). Thomas succeeded Rosecrans in command of the Army of the
on 19 Oct. 1863. Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland played the
role in the great victory at Chattanooga
on 23-25 Nov. 1863, thanks in large part also to Hooker's capture of Lookout Mountain (24
Nov. 1863) and breaking Bragg's left flank at Missionary Ridge (25
Nov. 1863). This battle opened the door to the deep South and
possible the subsequent capture of Atlanta
2 Sept. 1864 which helped assure Lincoln's reelection. Before Sherman's
march to the sea in the autumn of 1864, Thomas was ordered back to
to deal with the threat to Union communications by the Confederate
of General John B. Hood. Thomas had achieved his objective by
checking the enemy army at Franklin, Tenn. on 30 Nov. 1864, and finally
at Nashville, Tenn. on 15-16 Dec. 1864. At
that historic battle, Thomas inflicted on Hood the worst defeat
in the open field on either side during the war. It was also the only
Union victory of the war in which colored troops played a meaningful
then directed the forces which captured
pursued and captured Jefferson Davis on 10 May 1865. Thomas was made a
general of the regular army and received the Thanks of Congress. Toward
the end of the war and afterward Thomas was the military governor in
of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Thomas
supported the reconstruction policies of Lincoln and Johnson and is
as being the most effective of all of the military governors. In 1869
accepted the onerous command of the Division of the Pacific with
at San Francisco although his health had already begun to deteriorate.
matters greatly for future biographers by destryoing all of his
papers, saying: "All that I did for my government are matters of
but my private life is my own and I will not have it hawked about for
amusement of the curious." He died of what was probably a stroke at the
age of 54 in his office in
Salient facts about George H. Thomas:
- Born 31 July 1816 on family farm near Newsom's
Depot, Southampton County, VA.
- For his Army of the Cumberland career see Chronology AotC
. He won every engagement or segment thereof where he commanded.
- West Point 1840.
- 2 brevets in the Mexican War. "Artillery man holding the angle"
Vista. He was later to hold many angles.
- Artillery and
instructor at West Point. He was called "slow
because he tried to keep the cadets from killing the broken-down
The sobriquet later proved useful to his detractors.
- At first Manassas he was under the command of Robert Patterson
to keep Joseph Johnston at Harper's Ferry. Thomas warned Patterson that
Johnston was leaving, but Patterson ordered no engagement in order to
Johnston. It is true that Johnston had the interior line due to Scott's
order placing Patterson too far from Washington.
- As a boy he gave the slaves on his family farm bible and reading
- While stationed in Florida he conducted botanical studies.
- While stationed at Ft. Yuma he conducted zoological studies which
praised by experts.
- While stationed at Ft Yuma he compiled a 70-word dictionary of a
Indian language, a work praised by ethnologists.
- He was wounded by an arrow through the flesh of his chin and into
during a skirmish with Comanches in 1860 in Texas. He pulled it out and
went back to work. He also learned something from their tactics.
- Won the first major Union victory of the war at Mill Springs (19 Jan. 1862).
- Carried Rosecrans's concept of the technical army even further.
- The techniques of economy of force he used in his defense of
Hill at Chickamauga are today one of the basic tenets of the United
Marines' assault doctrine.
- He helped introduce the use of map coordinates into battle
- He introduced the concept of remote fire control at the battle of
using his model signal corps.
- He was a pioneer (along with Rosecrans) in the use of combined
On 24 June 63 Wilder's mounted infantry secured Hoover's
Gap for Thomas's infantry. Wilder
had equipped his brigade with repeating Spencer
and had the firepower of a division. Never in the history of warfare
so much firepower covered 12 miles so quickly. At Nashville
Wilson's super-division of 9000 dismounting cavalrymen armed with
Spencer carbines (thus with the firepower of an infantry corps)
rode around to the rear of Hood's left. It was the only time during the
Civil War in which an entire army was effectively destroyed on an open
field of battle, unless you also count Mill Springs. The distinction
from other famous cavalry units of the
war is that Wilder and Wilson were not in any way independent from
- He had folding, portable pontoons (called Cumberland pontoons)
- Together with his chief topographical engineer, Col. William
expanded Buell's blockhouse concept into the "Cumberland blockhouse" -
a miniature fort at key railroad points consisting of double walls
by 6 feet of earth and housing several cannons. Linked by telegraph to
HQ, it could withstand siege until reeinforcements arrived.
- He had the most highly developed telegraphy service of any army
side. At Nashville his service
possible the coordination of dozens of widely scattered units during
concentration prior to the final battle.
- Together with brevet Maj. Gen. Daniel McCallum he perfected what
the world's first successful movable railway base and repair center
closely followed the advance of Union troops.
- He had a wide-ranging secret service with a spy network
South which even reached into Johnston's HQ. The service collected
data, data on the opponent, broke codes, carried out sabotage, and
Confederate units. It supplied many commanders in other theaters
Grant) with information. Maybe his service sent the Frenchman Noquet to
the Army of Tennessee in order to disrupt it (he absconded with funds
then escaped behind Union lines). It was this secret service which
to track down and capture Davis on 10 May 1865 in Georgia.
- He had the Civil War's most efficient hospital service where the
chloroform was standard practice. Railroad cars were built to serve as
field hospitals. His mobile field hospital system saved countless
lives, Union and Confederate, at Chickamauga.
- He established a service for providing his troops with magazines
- He established in Mill Springs, Ky. the first National military
at a battlefield, cared for his men in this respect also. He then
one in Chattanooga on 24 Dec. 63. Said, when asked if the remains
be interred according to state origin: "Mix them up. I'm tired of
rights." Also established the National military cemetary at
- He hired the first female doctor in the army (Mary
Walker) who later received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
- He established the Civil War's most efficient mess service for
which later included full time cooks.
- In one way or another he always recognized the outstanding work
- He constantly prepared his men for battle through "real life"
small units rather than with parade ground drill.
- He said: "We are all cowards in the presence of immediate death.
overcome that fear in war through familiarity."
- Dealt with the problem of "absenteeism" by setting a good example
than with executions. He didn't take a day of leave during the entire
- On the move he and his staff, whenever possible, rode at the side
road and left the road to the troops.
- He also devoted himself to the training of colored troops and was
commander under whom colored troops played a key role in a decisive
vistory. The battle of Nashville was won,
part, because of the efforts of colored troops who held the Confederate
right while Wilson and his dismounting cavalry went around the
- B.G. Emory Upton, division commander under Thomas and Wilson at
learned the principles which he would codify in his book "The Military
Policy of the United States", basis for the future development of the
- At the end of the war, as military commander of most of the
after the war, as military governor of 5 Southern states with his
in Nashville, he tried to make contending parties see reason and to
local citizens from doing violence to his colored troops. It was a
job, but he won the respect of most of the people in Tennessee at
He was granted honorary citizenship there, having lost it in Virginia.
- Around 1868 Thomas's health began to fail. Grant assigned the
to Sheridan and Meade, leaving Thomas to take the Pacific command or
it. He took it, and in the last year of his life Thomas logged 11,000
of official travel. He died of a stroke on 28 March 1870 in his office
in San Francisco.
- Thomas, along with 14 other generals, was accorded Thanks of the
in his case for the battles of Franklin and Nashville, not for
- Thomas is not mentioned with one word in
the college level textbook on
American history "The Enduring Vision" (Heath, 1996), nor in the middle
school textbook on American history "The American Journey"
Other information about Thomas:
1) Politics in the
Army at the battle for Chattanooga by
2) George H.
Thomas - Practitioner of Emancipation by Bob Redman
3) Essay Bring
Thomas Home by Bob Redman - a plea to everybody, but
especially to Virginians to retore Thomas to his rightful place in
4. The "Life of Major
George H. Thomas" by Van Horne,
1882. See below.
To see photos of Thomas click here.
Life of Major General George H. Thomas
by Thomas Van Horne - 1882
(Part 1 pages 1-159, Part 2 pages 160-310, Part 3 pages 311-465)
GENERAL THOMAS once said to the author: " Time and history will do me
justice." He however desired that a narrative history of the Army of
the Cumberland should precede all biographical representations of
himself. It is probable that he overestimated the direct and suggestive
force of such a narrative to effect his own vindication, and it is
certain that he did not anticipate the disparaging tenor of histories
published since his death. Justice has not been done him, in the
opinion of multitudes who believe him to have been a very great man and
general; and there is, therefore, need of a book which has been written
to give the well-defined reasons for this belief. Private and family
letters have been excluded from this volume, in deference to General
Thomas' expressed opinion, that no strictly personal communications
should be published except with the consent of those writing them. For
the details of operations which have been analyzed and discussed, the
reader is referred to my History of the Army of the Cumberland, and
Captain Ruger's accompanying Atlas, from which have been taken reduced
battle maps for this volume.
It is both pleasant and obligatory to acknowledge my indebtedness to
Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred L. Hough, of the Sixteenth Infantry, for the
privilege of quoting from his invaluable manuscript "Notes"; to Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel Robert N. Scott, Major of the Third Artillery, for
copies of numerous important official papers from the War Record
office, under his charge; to Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Kniffin, late of
the Staff of the Twenty-First corps, for tables giving the strength of
the opposing armies in the central theatre of war, compiled for his
forthcoming history " The War in the West"; to Major William H.
Lambert, of Philadelphia, late of the Thirty-third New Jersey Vol., for
assistance in proof-reading, and in the revision and verification of
THOMAS B. VAN HORNE.
August 23d, 1882.
CHAPTER 1. Pages 1-11
Birth and Lineage, Cadetship and Graduation at West Point, Assignment
to the Artillery, Service in that Arm in the Florida War and in the War
CHAPTER II. Pages 12-39
Appointed Major in the Second Cavalry Service in Texas, Maintains
Allegiance to the General Government, Takes Command of his Regiment in
New York City, Is promoted in the Second Cavalry as Lieutenant-Colonel
and Colonel, Participates in General Patterson's Campaign in Virginia,
in Command of a Brigade, Appointed Brigadier-General of Volunteers.
CHAPTER III. Pages 40-62
Thomas assigned to Command in Camp Dick Robinson, Ky., Makes
Preparations for an Advance into East Tennessee, Refuses to serve under
General O. M. Mitchell, Rebukes Ex Governor Andrew Johnson, Does not
believe that the Enemy will advance from Bowling Green, Gains a Victory
at Mill Springs, Practicability and Advantages of his projected
Movement into East Tennessee.
CHAPTER IV. Pages 63-83
Thomas assigned to the Command of the '' Right Wing" before Corinth,
Asks to be relieved, and re-assigned to the Army of the Ohio,
Difficulties in the Way of Advancing rapidly from Corinth towards
Chattanooga, Thomas commands at McMinnville, Believes that General
Bragg will invade Kentucky, Recommends that he be resisted, first from
McMinnville, and then from Murfreesboro, The Army of the Ohio moves
back to Louisville, Thomas appointed to command in Room of General
Buell, declines, and Buell is restored, Named as second in Command, The
Army advances against the Enemy, Battle of Perryville, General Buell
CHAPTER V. Pages 84-101
General Rosecrans assigned to the Command of the Army, Protest of
General Thomas, Accepts Command of the ''Centre", Charged with
repairing Railroad, Advance of the Army, Battle of Stone River, He
opposes Retreat, Tullahoma Campaign.
CHAPTER VI. Pages 102-123
The Army crosses the Tennessee River, General Bragg evacuates
Chattanooga, Pursuit is opposed by Thomas, but nevertheless ordered,
The three Corps widely separated, Thomas' Troops meet the Enemy at Dug
Gap, Bragg's Army concentrated, but fails to strike either of the
isolated Corps, Army of the Cumberland concentrated on the 18th, First
day of Battle at Chickamauga.
CHAPTER VII. Pages 124-150
The Battle opens on the Left, Enemy repulsed, Changes in Positions of
Troops on the Right, That Wing routed, Thomas forms a new Line and
repulses the Enemy, the Withdrawal to Chattanooga.
CHAPTER VIII. Pages 149-166
General Thomas assigned to the Command of the Department of the
Cumberland, He reluctantly accepts, Operations to relieve the Army from
Starvation, Proposed Attack upon the Enemy's Position.
CHAPTER IX. Pages 167-206
Plan of Battle at Chattanooga, Advance of the Central Forces, November
23d, Hooker's Action on Lockout Mountain, on the 24th, Sherman's Action
on the 25th, Final Assault.
CHAPTER X. Pages 201-219
Pursuit of Bragg's Army, Preparations for the Spring Campaign,
Operations against Dalton, Concentration of the Army of the Cumberland.
CHAPTER XI. Pages 220-248
Advance to Buzzard's Roost, Turning of Dalton, Action at Resaca,
Movement on Dallas, Assault of June 27th at Kenesaw Mountain, Flank
Movement, Advance on Atlanta, Battles of July 20th and 22d, Siege,
Turning movement, Action at Jonesboro.
CHAPTER XII. Pages 249-270
Discussion of New Plans, Northward Advance of Hood's Army, Division of
the Armies, March to the Sea, Thomas charged with Defense of Tennessee.
CHAPTER XIII. Pages 271-298
Hood advances towards Nashville, Instructions of General Thomas to
General Schofield, Operations at Columbia and Spring Hill, Battle of
Franklin, Concentration at Nashville.
CHAPTER XIV. Pages 299-327
Concentration at Nashville Delay for Preparation, General Thomas urged
to fight, but postpones Battle first for Preparation and then for
suitable weather, Council of War, Plans and Hopes of General Hood,
Thomas' Plan of Battle, Action of December 15th.
CHAPTER XV. Pages 328-346
Action of December 16th, Defeat and Rout of Hood's Army, Relative
strength of the two Armies, The Issue of the Vindication of Thomas.
CHAPTER XVI. Pages 347-373
Pursuit of the Routed Army, Obstacles to Rapid Movement, Hood's
Diminished Army Crosses the Tennessee River, Thomas Suggests the
Establishment of Civil Authority in Tennessee, Promotion of Thomas.
CHAPTER XVII. Pages 374-397
Operations during the Winter and Spring of 1865, Discussion of General
Grant's Letters Censuring Thomas, Cavalry Expeditions, Wilson in
Alabama and Georgia, Stoneman in East Tennessee, Virginia and North
Carolina, Capture of Mr. Davis.
CHAPTER XVIII. Pages 398-430
Military Administration of Thomas during the period of Reconstruction
of Southern States, Honored by the State of Tennessee, Private Gifts
Refused and Public Honors Declined, He Refuses to be a Presidential
Candidate, The Society of the Army of the Cumberland.
CHAPTER XIX. Pages 431-454
His Life Saddened by Official and other Annoyances, His Death and
Burial, An Unfinished Paper.
CHAPTER XX. Pages 455-465
APPENDIX. Page 467 [Because of the limitations of OCR (Optical
Character Recognition) software, it is not now possible to provide the
index. However, you can use the "Find in Text" function of your browser
or the general search function of this site.]
LIST OF MAPS.
*THE FIELD OF WAR IN THE WEST
LOGAN'S CROSS ROADS
* The maps are placed at the end of the volume.
THE LIFE OF
GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
BIRTH AND LINEAGE - CADETSHIP AND GRADUATION AT WEST POINT - ASSIGNMENT
TO THE ARTILLERY - SERVICE IN THAT ARM IN THE FLORIDA WAR AND IN THE
WAR WITH MEXICO.
GEORGE HENRY THOMAS was born in Southampton, VA County, Virginia, July
His father's family, as the name indicates, originated in Wales, but by
long residence and intermarriage in England, became essentially English
before it was a second time transplanted. His mother was a descendant
of a prominent Huguenot family by the name of Rochelle, which fled to
America from the persecution of Louis XIV. Thus, on one side, the
lineage of George H. Thomas connected him with the English cavaliers,
and, on the other, with the best type of the French people, while by
long residence in Virginia both branches became thoroughly American.
His family, though combining long lines of reputable ancestry and
holding a high social position, was not especially distinguished. There
is room, however, for speculation as to the subtle force of
Page 2 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
heredity in moulding his character, and while it is not known that it
conformed closely to a distinct type found in the paternal or maternal
line, it cannot be doubted that its remarkable excellencies were
largely due to inherited qualities and tendencies.
The first twenty years of his life were spent in a quiet home subject
to the moulding influences of a refined family and elevating external
associations. In his twentieth year he completed with honor the
prescribed course of study of the Southampton Academy located near his
home. Soon after his graduation, he entered the office of James
Rochelle, his uncle, who, at the time, was county clerk. While acting
as deputy clerk, he commenced the study of law. But another career soon
offered itself. At this time the Honorable John Y. Mason represented in
Congress the district which embraced Southampton County, and having an
appointment to a cadetship at the Military Academy at West Point to
offer to some young man in his district, he called upon Mr. Rochelle,
and offered it to his nephew. Mr. Rochelle said in reply: "Let us call
the boy and ascertain what he thinks of the proposition." The "boy"
accepted promptly, and the legal profession lost a worthy candidate for
its duties and honors, while the profession of arms gained one of its
Soon after his appointment young Thomas repaired to West Point, and
having passed the required examination, was admitted as a cadet. He
then returned to his home for a short time. When he was about to take
leave of his family and friends, his uncle said to him: "Stop at
Washington and repeat your thanks to Mr. Mason for your appointment."
When he had done this, Mr. Mason said to him: "No cadet appointed from
our district has ever graduated from the Military Academy; and if you
do not, I never want to see you again." But Thomas did not need this
spur; his character gave assurance that the traditional failure would
not be repeated by him.
Page 3 - HIS YOUTH THE PROPHECY OF HIS MANHOOD
It is to be regretted that more is not known of the early life of so
remarkable a man; but, doubtless, his youth was the prophecy of his
manhood. It is known that he was a good son and brother, and the fact
that he was selected for appointment at the Military Academy may be
accepted as proof that his talents and character as revealed in his
youth inspired the confidence of the distinguished Congressman by whom
he was chosen to redeem the reputation of the district.
But one of the great lessons of his life, fraught with blessing to the
world, has been lost, since it is not known under what inspirations and
circumstances and at what time the ideals, of which his character and
career were the realization, took definite shape in his own mind and
consciousness. Next in value to a life of such wonderful excellence is
a knowledge of its development to know how much has been due to natural
tendencies and capacities, how much to self-restraint and
self-originating impulse and purpose, how much to external suggestions
and influences, and how far he was himself conscious of the origin and
development of his character. But all this is now in the realm of
inference. Naturally reticent, especially in regard to whatever
pertained to his inner life, he left no record of his early life,
although it was his intention, as expressed only a few days before his
death, to unfold the history of his youth. So positive, however, was
the symmetry and harmony of all the elements of his character, and so
uniform its development with corresponding concord of character and
career, that it cannot be doubted that in his youth he had a clear
conception of a noble life and a strong conviction of its obligation.
The following story told by himself strikingly evinces the early
existence of traits which his military career fully illustrated. Having
leisure for a short time in his youth, he devoted himself to practical
mechanics. He first visited daily the shop of a saddler, observed
closely his use of tools, the shaping of each part of a saddle and
Page 4 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE E. THOMAS
combination. With knowledge and skill acquired by observation alone, he
succeeded in his first effort in making a good saddle. In the same way
he learned to make boots and furniture. It was his belief that he thus
strengthened faculties which subsequently found employment in forming
combinations of infinitely more importance than the adjustment of the
parts of a saddle, boot or desk.
He entered the Military Academy on June l, 1836, and graduated in
regular course in the corresponding month of 1840, standing twelfth in
a class of forty-two members, General W. T. Sherman being sixth. His
attainments were broad and solid, and his character commanded the
respect and esteem of professors and cadets, and gave assurance that in
him an able and faithful officer was to be added to the United States
Army. He was an earnest and industrious student, mastering the
curriculum, and yet laying broader foundations than such mastery
indicates. His methods and purposes at West Point harmonized with the
subsequent tenor and movement of his life.
On the first of July, 1840, George H. Thomas was appointed second
lieutenant in the Third Artillery. He served at Fort Columbus, New
York, until the following November, when he was ordered with his
company to Florida, where he remained on field duty until the
termination of the Indian war. He participated in Major Wade's capture
of seventy Seminole Indians, November 6th, 1841, and was breveted first
lieutenant from that date "for gallantry and good conduct in the war
against the Florida Indians."
Lieutenant Thomas was transferred with his company to New Orleans in
February, 1842, and in the following June to Fort Moultrie, South
Carolina. In December, 1843, he was assigned to company "C" stationed
at Fort McHenry, Maryland. He was promoted first lieutenant April 30th,
1844, and in October joined company "E" at Fort Moultrie. He was
ordered upon recruiting service in February, 1845, and rejoined his
company in March.
Page 5 - THE MEXICAN WAR
On the 26th of June, with his company, he left Fort Moultrie under
orders to report to General Zachary Taylor. Company "E" arrived at New
Orleans July 19th, and on the 24th, under the command of Taylor, sailed
for Texas, and in August, with the Third and Fourth Infantry, took
position at Corpus Christi, being the first United States troops to
occupy the soil of Texas. With the Army of Occupation, Company "E"
advanced to the Rio Grande in March, 1846, and was subsequently ordered
with the Seventh Infantry and Company "I" Second Artillery, under Major
Brown, to garrison the fort opposite Metamoras. These troops were
subjected to bombardment from the 3rd to the 9th of May. Their loss,
however, was slight, but included the gallant Major Brown, who was
succeeded in command by Captain Hawkins of the Seventh Infantry. On the
9th, the siege was raised in consequence of the defeat of the Mexican
army by General Taylor at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, on the 8th
and 9th. When the defeated Mexicans were hastily crossing the river
before Taylor's pursuing forces, the artillery fire from the fort
increased their fright and confusion.
During June and July Lieutenant Thomas was detached with a section of
his battery, and was with the vanguard in its advance to Reynosa and
Camargo. Having rejoined his company, he took part in the battles about
Monterey, September 21st - 23rd, and such was his bearing that he was
brevetted captain "for gallant and meritorious conduct." In his report,
General J. P. Henderson, commanding Texan volunteers, wrote: "I beg
leave also, under the authority of General Lamar, to compliment
Lieutenant Thomas of the artillery and his brave men for the bold
advance and efficient management of the force under his charge. When
ordered to retire he reloaded his piece, fired a farewell shot at the
foe and returned under a shower of bullets."
General Twiggs, commanding First division, said, " Captains R. Ridgely
and B. Bragg, and their subalterns, W. H.
Page 6 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Shover, G. H. Thomas, J. F. Reynolds, C. L. Kilburn, and S. G. French
deserve the highest praise for their skill and good conduct under the
heaviest fire of the enemy, which, when an opportunity offered, was
concentrated on them."
The senior first lieutenant, Braxton Bragg, having been promoted to a
captaincy, Lieutenant Thomas commanded Company "E" from November 21st,
1846, to February 19th, 1847, when Captain T. W. Sherman assumed
command. He accompanied General Quitman's brigade in its march to
Victoria in December, 1846.
In the battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22nd - 23rd, 1847, Lieutenant Thomas
was conspicuous for efficiency and bravery, and was subsequently
brevetted Major "for gallant and meritorious conduct" in this battle.
The following passages from official reports prove that this reward was
fully earned. General Taylor said, referring to the subalterns of the
artillery, and including Thomas by name: "They were nearly all detached
at different times, and in every situation exhibited conspicuous skill
Captain T. W. Sherman wrote: "I was directed to take my battery back to
the plateau, where I joined Lieutenant Thomas, who had been constantly
engaged during the forenoon in the preservation of that important
position, and whom I found closely engaged with the enemy, and that,
too, in a very advanced position. * * * Lieutenant Thomas more than
sustained the reputation he has long enjoyed in his regiment as an
accurate and scientific artillerist."
General Wool attributed the victory to the artillery: "I also desire to
express my high admiration and to offer my warmest thanks to Captains
Washington, Sherman and Bragg, and Lieutenants O'Brien and Thomas, and
their batteries, to whose services at this point and on every part of
the field, I think it but justice to say we are mainly indebted for the
great victory so successfully achieved by our arms over the great force
opposed to us - more than twenty
Page 7 - HIS NEIGHBORS PROUD OF HIM
thousand men, and seventeen pieces of artillery. Without our artillery
we would not have maintained our position a single hour."
The victory at Buena Vista ended the war in Northern Mexico, but
Company "E" Third Artillery, was left with other troops south of the
Rio Grande until August 20th, when the last of our forces recrossed
into Texas. The Mexican war gave such fame to many young officers,
captains and lieutenants, as foreshadowed their distinction as generals
commanding great armies. Among these, perhaps, no one was more
distinguished than Lieutenant George H. Thomas. His services in that
war harmonized logically and appropriately with the services which have
since gained him a place among the great soldiers of the world. His
conduct in Mexico foreshadowed his generalship in the war of the
Rebellion. His gallantry at Monterey and Buena Vista, which secured his
brevets as captain and major, was the promise of the generalship which
at Chickamauga and Nashville commended his promotions as brigadier and
major-general in the United States Army.
As was natural, the citizens of his native county felt honored by his
brilliant conduct in the Mexican war, and doubtless the Congressman who
had appointed him a cadet at West Point and who had been gratified that
the youth of his selection had been the first from the district to
graduate from the institution, was in full sympathy with those who gave
expression to their appreciation of the gallantry of Lieutenant Thomas
by the presentation of a splendid sword. As the proceedings connected
with the presentation of this sword manifest the standing of Thomas in
his native county fourteen years before the civil war, in which he
separated himself from the men who were then proud of him, they are
given in full as published at the time:
"At a meeting of the citizens of Southampton County, Virginia, at their
court house at Jerusalem, on Monday, the 18th of July, 1847 - the
meeting was organized by
Page 8 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
calling Captain James Maget to the chair, and appointing L. R. Edwards
Secretary - Colonel William C. Parker rose, and in his naturally
eloquent and happy style, preceded to deliver a spirit-stirring eulogy
upon the character and gallant conduct of our two countrymen, Captain
William Kello, of the Eighth Infantry, and Brevet Captain George H.
Thomas, of the Third Artillery, the first named gentleman being then at
home, in the county, on leave on account of ill health, and the latter
with General Taylor in Mexico. He then proposed the following
resolutions, which were carried by acclamation:
Resolved, That whilst we glory in the unfailing fame which our heroic
army in Mexico has acquired for herself and country, our attention has
been especially drawn to the military skill, bravery and noble
deportment of our fellow countyman, George H. Thomas, exhibited in the
campaign of Florida, at Fort Brown, Monterey and Buena Vista, in which
he has given ample proof of the best requisites of a soldier's
patience, fortitude, firmness and daring intrepidity.
Resolved, That as a testimonial of our high appreciation of his
character as a citizen and a soldier, we will present to him a sword,
with suitable emblems and devices and that ______ be appointed a
committee to collect by subscription a sum sufficient for the purpose
and cause to be fabricated a sword to be presented to the said George
H. Thomas, through the hands of his noble and heroic commander,
Major-General Z. Taylor.
The chair then filled the blank with the names of the following
gentlemen (to wit): Colonel W. C. Parker, Robert Ridley, Benjamin C.
Pope, John Barham, Doctor Massenbury, Charles F. Urquhart, Jacob
Barrett, Colonel Carr Barnes, William G. Thands, Robert G. Griffin and
Doctor George W. Peete.
On motion of George W. Peete, ordered that a copy of these proceedings
be published, and that a copy each be presented to the mother and
brothers of Captain Thomas, and a copy be sent with the sword."
The sword, when made, was a beautiful one, and was formally presented.
The following is a description of it, taken from the Philadelphia
Bulletin, while the sword was
Page 9 - AFTER THE MEXICAN WAR
on exhibition in that city by the makers, Horstman & Sons.
"The pattern of the sabre is that used by the United States Dragoons.
The blade is of the truest and prettiest steel, finished in a manner
that would defy superiority of workmanship. The scabbard is of solid
silver, standard value, beautifully enriched with engraved scroll work
encircling military trophies, with the words: Florida, Ft. Brown,
Monterey, Buena Vista, and an engraved vignette of the battle of
Monterey. The hilt is of basket form, very elaborately chased. The grip
is solid silver, also enriched with engraved scrolls. The pommel is of
gold, grasping an amethyst, and the rings and bands in bas-relief, and
upon the grip is engraved an elechant."
At the time of the presentation of this sword, and until the loyalty of
George H. Thomas to the General Government was demonstrated in the war
of the Rebellion, he was undoubtedly regarded as a true man and a
brilliant officer by his family, his admiring county friends, and by
Virginians generally. But in striking contrast with the respect and
confidence exhibited by them in 1847, there was an intensity of
bitterness and animosity manifested after the war began, which even his
death did not arrest. Northern men, in some instances, fought for the
South, and yet none of them have experienced such treatment from
Northern friends and the Northern people as did Thomas from his family
and his former friends.
Lieutenant Thomas' first assignment after the Mexican war was to the
charge of the commissary depot at Brazos Santiago, where he remained
until February 1st, 1849, when he was relieved. In December, 1848, his
company was ordered to Fort Adams, Rhode Island, where he rejoined it,
August l, 1849 at the expiration of a six months' leave of absence,
which was his first respite from active duty since leaving West Point.
He was transferred to Company "B" of the same regiment on the 6th of
August, and remained at. Fort Adams until September 12th, 1849.
Page 10 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
Upon the recurrence of hostilities between the citizens and Indians in
the southern part of Florida, he was ordered with his company to that
State. Here he was intrusted by the commanding officer to organize and
direct an expedition against the remaining Seminole Indians. This was
not alone because he had knowledge of the country, but in chief part
because his character as an officer was such as to invite a superior to
lean upon him. His relations to this expedition and to the commanding
officer gave the type of almost all his subsequent service, even when
an army commander. He was then, as generally afterwards, the trusted,
and, consequently, the responsible subordinate. In this subjection to
an immediate superior he became famous, as a general, a fact that
provokes the conjecture, that had he been given early independence as a
general, there would have been great gain to the country.
He remained in Florida until December, 1850, when he was ordered to
Texas. At New Orleans, en route, he received an order assigning him to
duty at Fort Independence, in Boston Harbor. He served at this post
from January to March, 1851, when he was appointed instructor of
artillery and cavalry at West Point. He was distinguished in this
service by a display of the same qualities which had given him fame in
the field. His loyalty to duty was always supreme, and at the Military
Academy he met all the requirements of his office. It is still a source
of pride to many officers who served with distinction in the civil war,
that they were his pupils at West Point.
On the 7th of November, 1852, Lieutenant Thomas was married to Miss
Frances L. Kellogg, of Troy, New York. In this relation, as in all
others, there was the same commingling of the highest and purest
sentiment, and a rigid regard to duty. His home life realized the
highest ideal from first to last.
December 24th, 1853, he was promoted to a captaincy in the Third
Artillery, and when relieved from duty at West
Page 11 - HIS COOLNESS AMID DANGER
Point, was assigned to the command of a battalion of artillery, which
he conducted to California by way of Panama. He arrived at Benicia
Barracks, near San Francisco, June 1st, 1854, and was immediately
assigned to duty at Fort Yuma, in Lower California, to relieve Major
Heintzelman. He retained command at Fort Yuma until July 21st, 1855,
although he had been previously transferred to another arm of the
service with higher rank.
During one of his voyages from Charleston to New York, in command of
troops, he saved the ship and all on board by arbitrarily displacing
the captain and giving command :o the first officer. A violent storm
was met off Cape Hatteras, and the captain was too drunk to manage the
ship in such an emergency, and yet insisted on giving such orders as
made him the ally of the winds and waves in wrecking the ship. The
first officer reported the facts to Thomas, stating at the same time
that it would be mutiny for him to disobey the captain, a
responsibility he was unwilling to assume. He insisted, however, that
some one must take control or they would inevitably be lost. Thomas
then made observations and convinced himself that the captain was
utterly unfit to command. He then sent for him and told him to remain
in his state room, and that he himself would be responsible for the
management of the ship. Under the direction of the first officer the
vessel outrode the storm. In this simple action, as in all his
subsequent conduct, his willingness to assume responsibility in
emergencies was clearly exhibited. He was never afraid of
responsibility in itself when free to act, and he never declined any
duty or command through distrust of himself.
APPOINTED MAJOR IN THE SECOND CAVALRY - SERVICE IN TEXAS - MAINTAINS
ALLEGIANCE TO THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT - TAKES COMMAND OF HIS REGIMENT IN
NEW YORK. CITY - IS PROMOTED IN THE SECOND CAVALRY - AS
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL AND COLONEL - PARTICIPATES IN GENERAL PATTERSON'S
CAMPAIGN IN VIRGINIA, IN COMMAND OF A BRIGADE - APPOINTED
BRIGADIER-GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
By an act of Congress of March 3rd, 1855, four regiments -- two of
cavalry and two of infantry -- were added to the Regular Army. Captain
Thomas, although the lowest of his rank in the Artillery, was appointed
major of the Second Cavalry, one of the new regiments, on the 12th of
May of that year. He joined his regiment at Jefferson Barracks,
Missouri, in September following. The organization of these four
regiments, especially the Second Cavalry, has great interest from the
fact that Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War at the time, and his
selection of officers warrants the belief that he then anticipated the
contest in which he was so prominent -- as least as a probable event --
and that in his appointments he had especial regard to the interests of
the Southern States. Southern officers were particularly prominent in
the Second Cavalry. In May, 1855, the four field officers and many
others were natives of slave holding States. Albert Sidney Johnston was
colonel; Robert E. Lee, lieutenant colonel; W. J. Hardee was senior
major; and George H. Thomas, junior. At the opening of the war
twenty-five officers of this regiment were graduates of West Point, and
of these seventeen were natives of the South. They were not only
Southern men, but the best representatives of that section in the army.
As evidence of the military
Page 13 - APPOINTED MAJOR IN THE SECOND CAVALRY
talent thrown into the Second Cavalry by Mr. Davis, it may be mentioned
that it furnished seventeen generals for the war, of whom twelve were
in the Confederate service. Four of these generals commanded large
armies, and four others had independent commands with large forces.
Two considerations, in all probability, induced Mr. Davis to appoint
Captain Thomas a major in the Second Cavalry: his birth in Virginia and
his efficiency and gallantry in the Mexican war. General Thomas always
believed that Mr. Davis had regard to a probable war between the
Northern and Southern States in organizing that regiment. The writer
once asked him if he entertained this opinion. He promptly answered
that he did. And in reply to the question: "Did not Mr. Davis depend
upon you, as upon Generals Johnston, Lee, Hardee and other Southern
officers to fight for the South in the event of war? he said:
"Certainly he did." Major Thomas and Lieutenants Royall, Chambliss and
Harrison were the only officers of this regiment, born in a seceding
State, who remained loyal; and only three others, of Southern birth,
Captain R. W. Johnson and Lieutenant Kenner Garrard, from Kentucky, and
Lieutenant Joseph H. McArthur, from Missouri, maintained their
allegiance to the General Government.
When Major Thomas had been on duty a short time with his regiment he
was ordered upon recruiting service. And during its continuance the
Second Cavalry was ordered to Texas. He joined it there May 1st, 1856,
and remained with it in that State until November, 1860. During three
years of this period he was in command of the regiment, in turn, at
Fort Mason, San Antonio, Fort Belknap and Camp Cooper. In 1859 he
commanded the escort which accompanied the Texas Reserve Indians to the
Indian Territory. Soon after he explored, under orders, the country on
the head waters of the Canadian and Red Rivers. He was engaged several
months in the exploration of an unknown region, and gathered much
valuable geological and geographical
Page 14 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
knowledge. He was especially fitted for this service because of close
observation, thorough scientific attainments and unbounded enthusiasm.
A second similar expedition was required of him in the summer of 1860,
in another field, embracing the sources of the Concho and Colorado
Rivers. As before, he gained valuable facts relative to the geological
and geographical features of the region. This expedition had another
issue of some importance, since in conducting it Major Thomas fell in
with a predatory band of Indians, and re-captured the animals which the
Indians had taken from the white settlements. In skirmish with the
Indians, August 26th, he was severely wounded by an arrow, which passed
through his chin and penetrated his breast, so far as to fasten itself
firmly. He drew it out himself at the cost of severe pain. This was the
only wound he ever received, though he had been previously exposed in
battle, and more frequently afterwards, from his utter disregard of
His report of the skirmish with the Indians is subjoined, to furnish a
striking contrast with his subsequent reports of great battles. In
1860, in command of cavalry, he fought a lone Indian. In the years that
followed he led into action vast armies!
EXTRACT FROM REPORT OF AUGUST 31, 1860.
I have the honor to submit for the information of the department
commander, the following report of the operations of the expedition
under my command, to the head waters of the Concho and Colorado rivers,
during the months of July and August. * * * On the morning of the 25th
inst. about fourteen miles east of the mountain pass, one of the Indian
guides (Dloss) discovered a fresh horse trail crossing the road. As
soon as the packs could be arranged and our wagons despatched with the
remains of our baggage to the post, with the teams (two sick -- the
hospital steward and a private of the band, too sick to ride) I
followed the trail with all the remainder of the detachment and three
guides, in a west northwest direction for about forty miles, that day,
traveling as long as we could see the trail after nightfall. On the
26th, about 7 A. M., the Delaware guide (Dloss)
Page 15 - WOUNDED IN AN INDIAN FIGHT
discovered the Indians, eleven in number, at camp. He and their spy
discovered each other about the same time, and giving me the signal
agreed upon, the party moved at once in a gallop for a mile and a half
before coming in sight of their camp, which was located on the opposite
side of a deep ravine, (running north, and I presume, into the Clear
Fork), impassable except at a few points. Here we lost considerable
time searching for a crossing, and only succeeded, finally, in getting
over by dismounting and leading our animals. In the meantime the
Indians being already mounted and having their animals collected
together, had increased their distance from us by at least half a mile.
As soon as the crossing was effected and the men remounted, we pursued
them at full speed for about three miles and a half further, pushing
them so closely that they abandoned their loose animals, and continued
their flight, effecting their escape solely from the fact that our
animals had been completely exhausted by the fatiguing pace at which
the pursuit had been kept up. As we were gradually overhauling them,
one fellow, more persevering than the rest, and who still kept his
position in the rear of the loose animals, suddenly dismounted and
prepared to fight, and our men, in their eagerness to despatch him,
hurried upon him so quickly that several of his arrows took effect,
wounding myself in the chin and chest, also Private William Murphy, of
Company "D" in the left shoulder, and Privates John Tile and Casper
Siddle, of the band, each in the leg, before he fell, by twenty or more
shots. * * * By this time the main body of the Indians, who were
mounted on their best animals, were at least two miles from us,
retiring at a rapid pace, and it being impossible to overtake them, on
account of the exhausted condition of our animals, the pursuit was
* * * * * * * *
This report relates to an insignificant affair, but is nevertheless
characteristic and carefully exact, as were his subsequent reports of
the operations of brigade, division, corps and army.
Major Thomas had now served nearly twenty years in the army with only
one leave of absence, a fact which proves his rare devotion to duty. On
his return to his post, however, he departed from his previous,
self-imposed, rule of official conduct, and applied for a year's leave
of absence. His application having been granted, he left Camp Cooper
November 1st, just before the Presidential election which precipitated
the secession of eleven of the
Page 16 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Southern States, with civil war as the necessary sequence. It was too
soon for General Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, to take
definite action in reference to the anticipated withdrawal of the
Southern States from the Union, in the event of the election of the
candidate of the Republican party; but it was not too soon for this
Southern general to indicate his course should secession occur. And
Thomas bore with him from Texas the impression that military affairs in
that department were not in safe hands.
His departure from Texas brought to him a perplexing problem the
disposition of a slave woman, whom he had purchased in Texas when it
was not practicable to hire a servant. This problem was not of
difficult solution for an ordinary slave owner; but with Major Thomas
it was otherwise, since, to use his own words, he "could not sell a
human being." He had been accustomed to the service of slaves all his
life, and felt no scruples in purchasing one, when in need of a
servant. But when the question of the sale of a slave became a
practical one, the nature of the transaction from this point of view
was so repulsive to him that it could only be answered in the negative,
and although it was against his pecuniary interest to take this woman
with him to Virginia, he resolved to do it. He was a Southern man, at
this time, so far as to introduce, by purchase, a slave woman into his
family where she would always be treated kindly; but he revolted at the
possibilities of misery and cruel treatment which inhered in the system
of American slavery. He was not then an abolitionist in the northern
significance of that offensive term, and doubtless he would have
claimed, that, as a political matter, the institution of slavery was
recognized by the National Constitution, and that any direct
interference with it by Congressional legislation, or partisan efforts
to free the slaves, trenched upon the rights of the Southern States.
But he could not sell a human being, one that he had made
Page 17 - KINDNESS TO HIS SLAVE
his slave by purchase, a transaction which made chattels of men and
women. A strong feeling obtained among the more cultured and more
humane classes in the South against the sale of family or inherited
slaves, and with many, as with Major Thomas, there was a strong
repugnance to the sale of purchased slaves, apart from any opposition
to the institution itself. In the purchase the horrid possibilities
were put out of view; but in sale they would force themselves into
sight. Deciding not to sell his slave, Major Thomas took her with him
to his home in Virginia, and did not see her again, after going north,
until as a free woman she became his voluntary servant. After the war
this woman claimed for herself and her husband and children the
protection of her old master, and although it was both inconvenient and
expensive for General Thomas to take them, he had them moved from
Virginia to Nashville, Tennessee. They afterwards caused trouble and
anxiety. He tried to train them for a more independent life, and made
an effort to induce them to start for themselves. But they were
unwilling to leave him for an uncertain living, and they therefore
remained with him until he was ordered to the Pacific coast in 1869. It
being then impracticable for him to give them further personal care, he
induced his brother living in Mississippi to give them employment, and
with their consent, he sent them to him. This brother, Benjamin Thomas,
was the only member of his family he met after he left his home in
1860. It is probable that his course in the war did not alienate the
affection of this brother; if it did, there was a complete renewal of
the old-time regard after the conflict was over.
This leave of absence, on the eve of the presidential election, had no
significance of a political or tentative character. The National
emergency was then only dimly prospective, and Thomas merely sought
rest and the companionship of friends after a long period of unbroken
service; but nevertheless in going north he placed himself in a
Page 18 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
look calmly at the question of loyalty in all its relations to personal
obligation and patriotism, when free from all entanglements of official
connections and local influences. And of how much worth to the Nation
in the fast-coming crisis, was this quiet major traveling northward
from Texas! Had the morning despatches announced his movement
northward, only the smallest fraction of the people would have known or
cared who he was, or why he was traveling towards Washington. He was
only a major in the regular army, who had been secluded from public
view by service for twenty years, mainly at outposts. But this seeming
was not the reality. A great soldier under the guise of a major of
cavalry was moving towards a career of a brilliancy unsurpassed in
American annals. And what had his service revealed in prophecy of such
a career? There had been no war since he was a lieutenant to make him a
great general by the lessons of its campaigns and battles, and yet in
1860 he was a consummate general. And in this there is no mystery.
Twenty years of service and study, supplementing a technical military
education, had given him full competency for the highest positions
offered by a gigantic war. He had made the leisure of army life in time
of peace subservient to the highest possibilities of the profession of
arms. It was his habit to study the natural sciences in the order
suggested by the especial facilities afforded at the different army
posts. In Florida he studied botany; geology and mineralogy in regions
fruitful in specimens. At Fort Yuma he gave attention to the language
and traditions of the neighboring Indians. He learned to speak the
language of the Yumas, and made effort to reduce it to a written form.
By such pursuits, in connection with unflagging professional study, he
made full preparation for his subsequent career as a general. And if
other leading commanders made mistakes when he did not, the fact may be
attributed to their inferior natural ability and inferior professional
attainments. It was not to be expected that
Page 19 - APPEARANCE AND CHARACTER
generals, although graduates from West Point, who had given the
strength of manhood to civil pursuits, would equal one who had devoted
himself continuously and earnestly for twenty-four years to the
complete mastery of the science of war.
If the outward indications of great strength had been observed and
considered, any one of ordinary discernment would have readily believed
that Major Thomas was able to lead a great army to victory. He was
about six feet in height, with proportions large and symmetrical. His
thick hair and heavy beard were light brown, slightly tinged with red
and sprinkled with gray. His head was large, forehead broad, eyes blue,
features not entirely regular, but harmonious and strong. His presence
was commanding, and his manners winning. His expression was usually
exceedingly mild; but yet there was in the easily compressed lips and
change of cast in the soft blue eye, the plainest indication of an iron
will. His person and mien impressed strangers, and few men would look
upon him for the first time without discerning his power and the
certainty of its beneficent exertion. He was the embodiment of
strength, and yet his power transcended all outward seeming. Beyond his
sober bearing and quiet dignity, the usual exponents of conscious
strength, there was in the frequent introspective look an indication of
the reserve power which was to be the source of safety to great armies.
He was destined to draw vast masses of men to him in reverence and love
by the force and purity of his personal character, by the charm of mien
and smile and spirit, and to hold them to duty and desperate daring by
the subtle inspiration which emanated from the power which great
emergencies called forth, but never exhausted.
On his way from Richmond to Washington, he was injured by a railroad
accident which occurred near Norfolk. He jumped from the train, and
though lighting on his feet, his spine was so very seriously injured,
that he was not
Page 20 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
able to travel for six weeks. And from this injury he never entirely
recovered. This continued spinal lameness was one cause, at least, of
his slow riding and deliberate personal movements, so noticeable during
the war. Mrs. Thomas, who had preceded him from the South, joined him
at Norfolk, having been called to him by a telegraphic despatch. They
had expected to meet in New York.
When able to travel, he went to Washington, and calling upon General
Scott, expressed his conviction that General Twiggs meditated
treachery. He also expressed this conviction to General Jos. E.
Johnston, quartermaster general. At this time there had been no actual
secession, except, perhaps, in the case of South Carolina. His arrival
at Washington was about the time of the formal withdrawal of that
State. But this action was then clearly indicated in other States, and
his own action, in giving warning in respect to military affairs in
Texas, was positive proof of his loyalty in the face of Southern
movements. The supreme test, the secession of his own State, had not
come; but the probability of the withdrawal of the southern belt of
States was very strong, and the probable consequences were plainly in
view. It is true that there was then a strong hope that civil war would
be averted, and he doubtless met multitudes at Washington, from the
North and from the South, who entertained this expectation. Such a war
was so abhorrent to the people of the North, that the thought of it as
actual was not willingly entertained, and with this feeling the more
noble and conservative people of the South fully sympathized. How far
Thomas was in sympathy with those who believed that war would be
averted, up to the time of its actual outbreak, is not known; but it is
known that he was positively loyal when he visited Washington in
Whether or not in consequence of the warning given by Thomas, General
Twiggs was soon after relieved from the command of the Department of
Texas, but not before his
Page 21 - ON THE EVE OF THE REBELLION
plan of operations in favor of the South had been fully manifested. He
had given leaves of absence to all officers who desired to visit their
respective states, to give them an opportunity to gain a high position
in the Confederate army, or in State forces. Colonel Lee, who had
commanded the Department of Texas since the preceding February, took
leave in December. Captain Van Dorn of the Second Cavalry, having
secured prospectively a brigadier general's commission, had returned to
command his regiment in the expected disarmament of all the troops in
the Southwest. This officer served the South by offering increased rank
to commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the United States
Army, on the condition of service in the Southern army. And after
General Twiggs had been ordered to turn over his command to Colonel
Waite, and had, instead, surrendered his forces to the authorities of
Texas, Van Dorn had gone on board the Star of the West, a vessel sent
to Indianola to transport the disarmed troops to the North, and having
represented himself as an officer of the United States Army, and
wearing its uniform, had ordered the ship back to New Orleans without
the troops. The troops had been detained that they might be seduced
from their allegiance. The Second Cavalry, with no field officer with
it, was involved in the common fate of all the regular troops in Texas.
Its colonel, Albert Sidney Johnston, was in command of the Department
of the Pacific, Lt. Col. Lee and Major Thomas were on leave, and Major
Hardee was commandant of cadets at West Point, and had been for four
From Washington, Major Thomas went to New York, and soon after wrote
the letter to Colonel F. H. Smith, superintendent of the Military
Institute of Virginia, which was published in July, 1870, as evidence
that at the date of the letter, he meditated withdrawing from the
United States Army, from political or sectional considerations. During
his life this charge was repeatedly made, and after
Page 22 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
his death it was emphasized. It was asserted that there was a letter
from him in existence, through which he offered his sword to the
Governor of Virginia. The reference was doubtless to this letter to
Colonel Smith, as no other has ever been produced that can be construed
to imply such a purpose or act. Virginians were disappointed that he
did not at the call of his State resign his commission in the United
States Army, as did General Jos. E. Johnston, Col. Robert E. Lee, and
other officers from that State, and it was natural, though unjust, that
they should be bitter in consequence. But there is no justification for
the malicious, unfounded charge that General Thomas ever intended to
join the rebellion.
The letter to Colonel Smith is here inserted:
NEW YORK HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY, January l8th, 1861.
COLONEL FRANCIS H. SMITH, Sup't Virginia Military Institute, Lexington,
Dear Sir: In looking over the files of the National Intelligencer, this
morning, I met with your advertisement for a commandant of cadets and
instructor of tactics at the Institute. If not already filled, I will
be under obligations if you will inform me what salary and allowances
pertain to the situation, as from present appearances I fear it will
soon be necessary for me to be looking up some means of support.
Very respectfully, your obedient savant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major U. S. Army.
The text of this letter, in absence of a knowledge of the circumstances
under which it was written, and interpreted in the light of subsequent
events, might lead to the conclusion, that he then anticipated that the
disorganization of the United States Army, or such contingencies as the
struggle then imminent might involve, made it necessary for him "to be
looking up some means of support." And yet this letter, containing no
direct or indirect allusion to the secession movement or the condition
of the country,
Page 23 - THE STATE OR THE NATION
and interpreted by circumstances then existing, had no reference to
anything but the means of support from an honorable and useful
position. The injury received near Norfolk then threatened permanent
disability; and thinking of leaving the army for this reason, he made
inquiry of the superintendent of the Military Institute of his native
State in reference to a position advertised as vacant. Had the
expression, "from present appearances," had reference to the state of
the country, the significance of his letter could only have been that
he did not intend to participate in the war, then imminent; but in such
an event, he desired for himself a quiet life as a military instructor.
But it had no such significance. Virginia had not seceded, and her
attitude at the date of this letter, and subsequently for months, was
that of peace-maker. The leading statesmen of Virginia were then active
in their efforts to avert war. Colonel Robert E. Lee was then
intimately associated with General Scott, General Jos. E. Johnston was
then quartermaster general of the United States Army, and both of these
prominent officers were, ostensibly at least, loyal to the Government
of the United States, the former accepting the colonelcy of the First
Cavalry as late as the 30th of March.
Major Thomas remained in New York, on his leave of absence, with
gradual improvement of health, until April, 1861.
As the events of January, February and March had brought more plainly
to view the inveterate antagonisms that arrayed the North against the
South, or rather the Southern section against the Nation, Southern
officers in the United States Army became fully conscious of the
momentous question that demanded immediate decision the question of
their adherence to the General Government against their respective
States, or their service under the banner of the "Confederate States of
America." Acts of war had been committed in the South, or acts of
Page 24 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
State sovereignty, as claimed in that section, by the seizure of
arsenals and forts, and the secession of seven States, but until the
12th of-April there had been no actual hostilities. During this period
the more northern slaveholding States and their representatives in the
army were waiting in fearful suspense the issue of peace or war. The
supreme moment came in the bombardment of Fort Sumter by command of
Jefferson Davis, President of the so-called "Confederate States of
America." The thoughtful Southern men in the army could not array
themselves against the General Government without a tragic struggle. It
would be a superficial view of the case to assert that it was an easy
matter for these men, either to sustain the General Government against
their respective States and a united South, or to array themselves, at
the call of their respective States, against the flag which had been to
them the symbol of the Nation's power and glory, and of their own
fealty. But before orders were issued recalling Major Thomas from his
leave of absence to take command of his regiment in New York, and
transfer it to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, for reorganization and
equipment for active service, the question of his duty was settled
beyond revocation. He doubtless approached the question of duty to the
whole country against the demands of family, friends, State and
section, with a seriousness that contrasted strongly with the rash
hurry with which many Southerners broke their connection with the army.
There were few officers who were more strongly bound to the South by
traditions and associations than George H. Thomas, and when the voice
of family, friends, State and section, supported by a moderate Southern
sentiment in favor of slavery, was heard and considered, the call of
country, its unity and glory, past and prospective, his indebtedness to
it for education and office, and, perhaps, above all, his sworn
allegiance to it, with twenty years' service under its flag, had such
weight that his "duty was clear from the beginning." His own views
cannot be more
Page 25 - LOYAL FROM THE BEGINNING
clearly presented than by a quotation from a letter published by
Colonel A. L. Hough, after the General's death, which had especial
reference to the assumption of General Fitzhugh Lee, that Thomas had
sought position in the Southern army: "As a confidential staff officer,
one of his aides de camp, I had the privilege of having many
conversations with General Thomas upon matters relating to the war. The
most important of these conversations I made notes of at the time, with
his knowledge and consent. Among them is one on the subject of Fitzhugh
Lee's letter, which I copy from my note book. A slander upon the
general was often repeated in the Southern papers during and
immediately subsequent to the rebellion. It was given upon the
authority of prominent rebel officers, and not denied by them. It was
to the effect that he was disappointed in not getting a high command in
the rebel army he had sought for, hence his refusal to join the
rebellion. In a conversation with him on the subject, the general said:
"This was an entire fabrication, not having an atom of foundation; not
a line ever passed between him and the rebel authorities; they had no
genuine letter of his, nor was a word spoken by him to any one that
could even lead to such an inference. He defied any one to produce any
testimony, written or oral, to sustain such an allegation; he never
entertained such an idea, for his duty was clear from the beginning.
These slanders were caused by men who knew they had done wrong, but
were endeavoring to justify themselves by claiming their action to be a
virtue which all men would have followed, and by blackening the
character of those who had done right. It was evident they were
determined that no Southern-born man, who had remained true to his
country, should bear a reputable character, if continued and repeated
abuse could effect a stain upon it."
Another conversation, showing his opinion of the authors of these
slanders, and his own views at the breaking out of the rebellion, it is
well to give, also; it is as follows:
Page 26 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
"In a discussion of the causes given for their action by some officers
who deserted the Government at the beginning of the rebellion, I
ventured the assertion that, perhaps, some of them at distant posts had
acted ignorantly; that I had been informed that some of them had been
imposed upon by friends and relatives, and led to believe that there
was to be a peaceable dissolution of the Union; that there would be no
actual government for the whole country, and by resigning their
commissions they were only taking the necessary steps towards returning
to the allegiance of their respective States, he replied that this was
but a poor excuse; he could not believe officers of the army were so
ignorant of their own form of government as to suppose such proceedings
could occur, and as they had sworn allegiance to the government they
were bound to adhere to it, and would have done so if they had been so
inclined. He said there was no excuse whatever in a United States
officer claiming the right of secession, and the only excuse for their
deserting the government was what none of them admitted, having engaged
in a revolution against a tyranny, because the tyranny did not exist,
and they well knew it. I then asked him: 'Supposing such a state of
affairs existed, that arrangements were being made for a peaceable
dissolution of the Union by the Government, the North from the South,
and that it was in progress, what would you have done?' He promptly
replied: 'That is not a supposable case; the government cannot dissolve
itself; it is the creature of the people, and until they had agreed by
their votes to dissolve it, and it was accomplished in accordance
therewith, the government to which they had sworn allegiance remained,
and as long as it did exist, I should have adhered to it.'"
There is in this extract a clear recognition of the obligation of his
oath to support the government, and at this very point, the better
class of Southern officers who joined the rebellion, and who perhaps
took this step, with reluctance,
Page 27 - THE PROOF OF LOYALTY
made direct issue with Thomas. They claimed that their oath of office
was obligatory only while they held office, and that all obligation
ceased with resignation, especially when their resignations were
accepted. This assumption rests upon the supposed fact that supreme
allegiance is due to a single State, rather than to the Union of the
States, or Nation represented by the General Government. The subtle
logic, by which the doctrine of State Rights was carried to the
complete negation of the national unity, or autonomy, had no force with
General Thomas, although he greatly regretted the necessity of choosing
between the General Government and his own State, in alliance with
other Southern States. And although he had not entertained Northern
views of the institution of slavery, he did not hesitate to maintain
his allegiance to the National Government. And in contrast with those
who claimed that the acceptance of their resignations not only freed
them from the service required by their oath of allegiance, but also
permitted them to extend their freedom to the extreme sequence of
arraying themselves in war against the National Government. Thomas
believed that there was a moral and legal obligation which forbade
resignation, with a view to take up arms against the Government. And
from this point of view he condemned the National authorities for
accepting the resignation of officers, when aware that it was their
intention to join the rebellion as soon as they were in this way freed
from the obligation of their oath of allegiance. In his view,
resignation did not give them freedom to take up arms against the
General Government, and resting upon this ground, he did not wait till
his own State had seceded to make up his own decision, but made it in
entire independence of her probable action in the National crisis.
On the 10th of April, two days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter,
Major Thomas was ordered to take command of the Second Cavalry on the
arrival of the first detachment at New York, to send two companies to
Page 28 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
for duty at Army headquarters, and conduct the remaining companies to
Carlisle Barracks. Before leaving New York he arranged for Mrs. Thomas
to join him at Carlisle in three or four days; but when at Harrisburg
he heard of the opening of the war at Fort Sumter, and knew that its
long continuance was inevitable, he telegraphed to her to remain in New
York, and subsequently informed her by letter what his course would be.
He also wrote to his sisters in Virginia, in the same vein, and
thereafter he ceased to be a brother in their regard.
On the 17th of April the convention of Virginia passed an ordinance of
secession, to be submitted to a vote of the people of the State, on the
fourth Thursday of May. At first, no doubt, it was the intention of the
convention to give six weeks to the people for reflection and careful
action, but the proclamation of Governor Letcher, announcing the
passage of the ordinance of secession, plainly indicated his belief
that it would be ratified by the people, and in this proclamation he
specifically gave the authority of his office to military preparations,
in expectation that Virginia would be involved in war, and that her
territory would be its leading theatre. On April 25th, the convention
passed another ordinance, adopting and ratifying the constitution of
the "Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America," but
providing that its legal operations should cease if the people of
Virginia should by vote reject the ordinance of secession. But by the
authority of this second ordinance there was a convention of Virginia
and the Confederate States, which subjected all the military operations
of the State forces to the control of the President of the Confederacy.
This action of the Virginia convention precipitated the problem of duty
upon all Virginians in the United States Army. At their head stood
Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, commander-in-chief, who together
with all other natives of the State, was officially invited to discard
his allegiance to the General Government, and take high
Page 29 - LEE FOR THE STATE
rank, if not corresponding rank, in the Confederate army. Rumors that
he had resigned were jubilantly circulated through the South; but he
said: "I have not changed; have no thought of changing; always a Union
man." General Joseph E. Johnston, quartermaster general, offered his
resignation, which was accepted, on the 22nd. Colonel Robert E. Lee
remained at his residence at Arlington in gloomy hesitancy until called
upon by General Scott, on the 19th , to define his position. The next
day he tendered his resignation, sending with it a personal letter to
General Scott, in which these statements were made: "It would have been
presented at once but for the struggle it has cost me to separate
myself from the service to which I have devoted all the best years of
my life and all the ability I possessed. * * * Save in defense of my
State I never desire to draw my sword." If the latter declaration did
not indicate a compromise with conscience it certainly did evince his
blindness in not discerning the logical consequence of drawing his
sword in defense of Virginia, when that State was in virtual alliance
with other Southern States against the Government of the United States.
To defend Virginia under such circumstances was simply to involve
himself in all the phases of a general civil war; which from its
objects and conditions could only be conducted with reference to the
general issue, without special reference to the defense of Virginia or
any other State, on its own account. This desired attitude and service
lasted only three days. On the 22nd the convention of Virginia
unanimously confirmed Governor Letcher's nomination of Colonel Robert
E. Lee to command the military and naval forces of the State, with the
rank of major-general; and the day following, two days before his
resignation from the United States Army was accepted, and four before
the notification of its acceptance was written, and five days after
Virginia militia had twice assaulted United States troops, this man who
had offered his resignation after a severe struggle, placed himself
Page 30 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
world as an enemy of the United States, by accepting the position of
commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of his native
State. And from this position he soon drifted into the formal service
of the Confederate States. This was made inevitable by the action of
the Virginia convention, which subjected the State forces to the orders
of Jefferson Davis, and on the l0th of May, "to prevent confusion," he
was placed in command of the "Confederate forces," by the order of the
Secretary of War of the "Southern Confederacy." This effort to avoid
confusion foreshadowed the speedy overriding of State Rights by a
government established to protect them, showing that impracticable
theories do not long survive the test of war.
Everything that was done or proclaimed in Virginia from the 12th of
April till the State was in perfected alliance with the Confederacy was
based upon the assumption that the ordinance of secession would be
ratified by the people. So also the resignations of Generals Johnston
and Lee anticipated the endorsing vote of the people. The ordinance, in
its text, was made contingent, but these officers and others ignored
the possibility that its ratification would fail.
In striking contrast with many officers of the army from Virginia,
Major Thomas was at this time actively supporting the General
Government, in utter disregard of the action of his native State. On
the 21st of April, in obedience to orders, he proceeded with four
companies of his regiment to aid in suppressing a mob of Maryland
secessionists, that threatened to tear up the track of the Pennsylvania
Northern Central railroad. The mob dispersed upon the arrival of the
troops, when Major Thomas returned to Carlisle. Upon the acceptance of
the resignation of Colonel Robert E. Lee, Major Thomas was promoted to
the position previously made vacant by his promotion. At this point
these prominent and popular Virginians, who had been intimately
associated in the brotherhood of arms, who had many traits of character
in common, representing the chivalry of the
Page 31 - THOMAS FOR THE NATION
South, and the highest culture of the United States Army, parted
company forever from radical difference of convictions in regard to the
relative claim of State and country. With Lee it was a regard for
family, native State and Southern associations, and not a desire to
perpetuate slavery, nor a conviction that secession was an absolute
necessity. Before the war he had been in favor of the gradual
emancipation of the slaves, and at the time of his resignation he was
opposed to secession in the abstract. With Thomas, Southern influences
no doubt had force, being more decidedly Southern in his sentiments
than Lee. If reports from Virginia may be believed, an effort was made
to give Thomas the command of the State forces, from distrust of Lee,
but the latter yielded to pressure against positive convictions, and
drifted into the leadership of the forces in arms against the General
Government. The latter in taking Lee's place in the Second Cavalry
ignored the claims of Virginia and the South and entered upon a career
of remarkable patriotism and brilliant generalship under the flag of
May 3rd, Thomas was appointed colonel of the Second Cavalry, in room of
Albert Sidney Johnston, who had resigned from regard to the action of
Texas, the State of his adoption, whose claims upon him had been
emphasized by its peculiar relations to the General Government, and by
the intimate connection he had himself sustained to its independence
and early government. Before resigning his commission as Colonel in the
United States Army he had transferred his command to a regularly
appointed successor, in hope that he would be able to avoid
participation in the war.
The promotion of Thomas was rapid, but entirely regular, though
indicating the extensive defection of the ranking cavalry officers.
Four field officers from the First and Second cavalry regiments
resigned and joined the rebellion. Had Thomas been promoted out of the
line of established precedents, it might have been said that especial
Page 32 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
effort had been made to hold him in the army. But his promotions were
His early promotion to a colonelcy placed him above most of the
volunteer colonels, and opened the way for his immediate command of a
brigade. August 3rd, the designation of his regiment was changed by Act
of Congress to Fifth Cavalry.
Colonel Thomas remained at Carlisle Barracks until the 1st of June. On
that day he received orders from Washington to report with four
companies of his regiment and the First City Troop of Philadelphia, to
Major General Robert Patterson, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Two days
after he was assigned to the command of the First brigade of the Army
of Pennsylvania. Soon after he led his brigade across Maryland to
Williamsport, and crossed the Potomac on the 2nd of July, and
participated the same day in an engagement at Falling Waters, Virginia.
In the movement the next day from Falling Waters to Martinsburg,
Colonel Thomas was in front of the army, and skirmished with the enemy
as he advanced. He led again towards Winchester, and drove in the
outlying forces of the enemy at Bunker Hill on the 15th.
The action at Falling Waters was insignificant compared with subsequent
battles East and West; but it was nevertheless the most imposing that
occurred before the battle of Bull Run. In it two Virginians
participated; Thomas J. Jackson, commanding the Confederate troops, and
George H. Thomas, commanding a brigade in the Army of Pennsylvania. And
the fact that this was their first battle in the war of the Rebellion
gave it importance. These two Virginians were alike in the strength of
their convictions. They were not enemies in war, from the mere fact of
holding positions in opposing armies. No soldier in the Southern army
was more earnest in supporting the cause of the South than Jackson,*
* "Stonewall" Jackson.
Page 33 - ACROSS THE POTOMAC.
and no soldier in the Northern army was more positive in sustaining the
General Government and the National unity than Thomas. Both were loyal
to convictions of duty, and neither hesitated to make extreme exertion
in patriotic service. But this early campaign in Virginia tested the
strength of Thomas far more than that of Jackson. The latter was in
sympathy with the rebellion under the sway of Southern traditions and
sentiments; the former rose superior to all such influences, and
heartily supported the National cause. Jackson was defending his native
State; Thomas was invading it to suppress an insurrection, in which
Virginia had assumed leadership. When therefore Colonel Thomas, with
drawn sword, crossed the Potomac into that State, he subjected himself
to the supreme test of loyalty; and yet so assured was he of the
rightfulness of his act that he hesitated as little as when, in 1864,
he rode forth from Nashville to victory. Had he been wavering in July,
1861, he would have halted on the north bank of the Potomac, and asked
for some other initiative to warfare for the Union. But having
deliberately settled the question of duty in the crisis before he drew
his sword, Virginians in rebellion against the authority of the
National Government were the enemies of his country, and the "sacred
soil" of his native State was simply the enemy's territory.
General Patterson's campaign produced no results which gave fame to any
officer participating in it. General Jos. E. Johnston commanding the
opposing army, joined General Beauregard in time to turn the tide of
battle at Bull Run. For a time the blame for failure to hold Johnston
in his front fell heavily upon General Patterson. It was even thought
that after failure to hold the enemy in Winchester, he should have
reenforced General McDowell before or during that engagement. The truth
in the case, or rather the discussion of the possibilities to General
Patterson, is not pertinent to this biography; but the opinion of
General Thomas in the premises certainly is. It was characteristic
Page 34 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
for him to sustain his superior when he knew that public opinion was
against him, because, as he believed, the facts were not known to the
country. General Patterson asked the advice of his officers as to the
best method of vindication. In answer Thomas addressed to him, through
another, the following letter:
CAMP NEAR HYATTSTOWN, MD., August 25th, 1861.
Your note has just been handed me. I had a conversation with Newton
yesterday on the subject of General Patterson's campaign. He was on the
eve of writing to the general and asked me what he should state was my
opinion as to the general's course. I told him that he could say, that
if I was situated as he was, I would make a statement of all the facts
to the general-in-chief or the Secretary of War, fortifying it with
copies of the orders, etc., and demand justice at their hands, and if
they were not disposed to give it, I would then demand a court of
Yours truly, GEO. H. THOMAS.
P.S. I think, however, that time will set the general all right, as I
see the papers are much more favorable to him than at first.
Subsequently he wrote the following letter in General Patterson's
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Before Atlanta, Georgia,
August 8th, 1864
MAJOR-GENERAL ROBERT PATTERSON, Philadelphia, Pa.
MY DEAR GENERAL :
Your favor of the l6th of July, was only received a few days since,
owing, doubtless, to the irregularities of the mails to the
front. In the council of war, at Martinsburg, I in substance
advised an advance towards Winchester, at least as far as Bunker Hill,
and if your information, after the army reached Bunker Hill, led you to
believe that Johnston still occupied Winchester in force, then to shift
our troops over to Charlestown, as that move would place our
communications with our depot of supplies in safety, and still threaten
and hold Johnston at Winchester, which I understood was all that you
were expected or required to do. I should have advised a direct advance
on Winchester but for the character of the troops composing your army.
They were all, with the exception of a couple of squadrons of the
Second U. S. cavalry and two batteries
Page 35 - BRIGADIER GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
of regular artillery, three months' men, and their term of service
would expire in a few days. Judging of them as of other volunteer
troops, had I been their commander, I should not have
been willing to risk them in a heavy battle coming off within a few
days of the expiration of their service.
I have always believed, and have frequently so expressed myself, that
your management of the three months' campaign was able and judicious,
and was to the best interests of the service, considering the means at
your disposal and the nature of the troops under your command.
With much respect and esteem,
I remain. General, very sincerely and truly yours,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. V.
These letters show his loyalty to his commander and his willingness to
bear the responsibility of advising the movement for which General
Patterson was severely censured. A man less regardful of the truth and
justice might have been silent or evasive under such circumstances. His
action in this instance was consistent with his official and personal
conduct throughout his career. He gave cordial support to his commander
under all circumstances, even when executing plans which he did not
approve. Subsequent pages will illustrate the fact in numerous
On the 17th of August, 1861, Col. George H. Thomas was appointed a
brigadier general of volunteers. Brigadier General Robert Anderson had
accepted command in Kentucky, his native State, on condition that he
should be permitted to select four brigadier generals to serve under
him. He had chosen W. T. Sherman, D. C. Buell and 0. M. Mitchel, who
had been previously appointed brigadier generals, Sherman and Buell on
the 17th of May, and Mitchel on the 9th of August; on the 15th of
August he was thinking of naming S. B. Buckner as the fourth
subordinate brigadier general. At this time he invited his nephew,
Lieutenant Thomas M. Anderson of the Fifth Cavalry, to visit him at
Washington, to whom he mentioned his purpose of recommending this
Kentuckian for appointment. Lieutenant
Page 36 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Anderson, now lieutenant colonel of the Ninth Infantry, had lived in
Kentucky before the war, in the practice of law; and having full
knowledge of Buckner's efforts, as commander-in chief of the "State
Guard," to cause the secession of that State, he readily convinced his
uncle that negotiations with him were useless. He then recommended his
colonel, George H. Thomas, for the vacant place, mentioning his conduct
in General Patterson's campaign and his pronounced loyalty. Vacancies
in the Fifth Cavalry, caused by the defection of Southern officers, had
been filled by men from the North, who were in full sympathy with the
intense loyalty of the Northern people. Some of the old officers were
natives of the South, and these, with others of Northern birth, were
not slow to condemn abolitionists and militia organizations, or to
express sympathy with the rebellion. One of this class so far forgot
soldierly and patriotic duty as to express gladness at the defeat of
General B. F. Butler's forces at Big Bethel, Virginia, and when told by
a new officer that he was fighting on the wrong side, promptly
challenged the offending comrade to a duel. To compose this quarrel,
Colonel Thomas required the immediate withdrawal of the challenge,
telling the officer who offered it that he had given utterance to
"improper and unsoldierly sentiments." General Anderson had served with
Thomas in the artillery, and regarding him as "one of the very best
officers in the army," at once wrote his name in his list, and went to
the President to request his promotion and assignment to service in
It is probable that the first recommendation of Thomas for appointment
as brigadier-general of volunteers was made by the Hon. Samuel J.
Randall, late Speaker of the House of Representatives, who served as a
private soldier under him in Virginia. His letter to the Assistant
Secretary of War evinced a clear discernment of the character of Thomas
and a full appreciation of his ability as a commander. As Mr. Randall
anticipated the judgment of more
Page 37 - APPOINTMENT URGED BY MR. RANDALL,
than two hundred thousand men, who served under General Thomas, his
letter is subjoined:
SANDY HOOK, MD AUG. 3, 1861.
I hear you are the Assistant Secretary of War. Rest assured that no man
delights more in your high position than I do. I notice that the
Government is now considering the appointment of proper persons to be
brigadier generals. In the name of God, let them be men fully competent
to discharge the duties of the positions to which they may be assigned.
Inefficiency is the evil of the hour. This opinion is based upon our
observation of nearly three months. Most of the time, in fact nearly
all of the time, we have been under the command of Colonel George H.
Thomas, now commanding one of the brigades here. He is thoroughly
competent to be a brigadier general, has the confidence of every man in
his command for the reason that they recognize and appreciate capacity
which to them in every hour of the day is so essential to their safety.
Now, let me as a friend of this Administration, in so far as the war is
concerned and the preservation of the Union is involved, urge upon Gen.
Cameron to select Colonel Thomas as one of the number of proposed
brigadiers. This appointment would give renewed vigor and courage to
this section of the army. I am, as perhaps you know, a private in the
First City Cavalry of Philadelphia, and I never saw Colonel Thomas
until I saw him on parade, and our intercourse has only been such as
exists between a colonel and one of his soldiers: hence you see my
recommendation comes from pure motives, and entirely free from social
or political considerations. I speak for and write in behalf of the
brave men who, in this hour of our country's peril, are coming forward
and endangering their own lives, and perhaps leaving those most dear to
them without a support. I write warmly, because I think I know the
necessity of the case. You will do the country a service by giving my
letter a serious consideration. I hope to be in Washington some time
about the 1st of September, when I shall try to see you. Will you
please present my regards to General Cameron, and if he has time to
read this letter, hand it to him.
SAMUEL J. RANDALL.
The most important fact mentioned in this letter is that General
Thomas, in a short campaign, elicited the confidence of his. soldiers
through their appreciation of his capacity. There was to his troops,
from first to last, such a
Page 38 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
revelation of prudence and power that extreme confidence was
inevitable. His orders were therefore always obeyed by officers and
soldiers without question, because they never doubted the
practicability of any requirement. This power to call forth universal
confidence in his generalship was one of the causes of his uniform
success, and will have frequent illustrations in subsequent pages. Mr.
Randall thus early indicated the filial feeling of his soldiers towards
him a feeling which found expression from the Army of the Cumberland,
through the favorite appellation, "Pap Thomas".
Colonel Thomas having been appointed a brigadier general of volunteers
at the time mentioned, Lieutenant Anderson bore from Washington to him
a copy of the letter of appointment and a personal letter from General
It has been asserted by Virginians, since the death of General Thomas,
that this promotion defeated his appointment as chief of ordnance, with
the rank of colonel, in the State forces of Virginia. If Governor
Letcher and his old friends, in that State had at this time any
expectation of his accepting such a position they were indulging in a
delusion, which was forbidden by reasonable presumption as well as by
facts. He had in April disregarded the invitation of the convention and
Governor of Virginia, to all Virginians in the United States Army, to
come to the defense of the State. He had accepted promotion in the
Second Cavalry, in room of Robert E. Lee, and Albert Sidney Johnston,
having previously taken command to refit the regiment for active
service, after it had been despoiled of arms and equipments by the
authorities of Texas. He had subsequently invaded his native
State, an act demonstrative of his loyalty to the General Government,
and destructive of all prospect of position or fair fame in Virginia.
And yet it has been seriously affirmed that the long suffering Governor
of Virginia, was holding a position for him until the 17th of August,
despite his unpardonable sin. At that date, it is
Page 39 - BRIGADIER-GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
reasonable to suppose, Governor Letcher was thinking of a halter,
rather than a commission, for Thomas, and it is utterly false, as
asserted, that the latter, whose life was unstained by a single act of
deception and unmarred by an equivocal attitude, was moved to
irrevocable loyalty by his appointment as brigadier-general of
As there was a wide chasm between Thomas and disloyal Virginians, it is
not strange that his motives and actions were misunderstood in his
native State. But, in retrospect, it is strange that the National
authorities distrusted him in 1861, or later in the war. It is evident,
however, that Mr. Lincoln reluctantly made him a brigadier-general.
General Sherman thus mentions this reluctance in his "Memoirs": "It
hardly seems probable that Mr. Lincoln should have come to Willard's
Hotel to meet us, but my impression is that he did, and that General
Anderson had some difficulty in prevailing on him to appoint George H.
Thomas, a native of Virginia, to be brigadier-general, because so many
Southern officers had already played false; but I was still more
emphatic in my endorsement of him by reason of my talk with him at the
time he crossed the Potomac with Patterson's army, when Mr. Lincoln
promised to appoint him and to assign him to duty with General
The assignment was made by the following order:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, August 26th, 1861.
The following assignment is made of the general officers of the
Volunteer Service, whose appointment was announced in General Orders
No. 62, from the War Department:
To the Department of the Cumberland, Brigadier-General Robert Anderson,
Brigadier-General W. T. Sherman.
Brigadier-General George H. Thomas.
By command of Lieutenant-General SCOTT.
E. D. TOWNSEND,Assistant Adjutant-General.
* Memoirs, Vol. I, pp. 192, 193.
Page 40 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
THOMAS ASSIGNED TO COMMAND IN CAMP DICK ROBINSON, KY.- MAKES
PREPARATIONS FOR AN ADVANCE INTO EAST TENNESSEE - REFUSES TO
SERVE UNDER GENERAL 0. M. MITCHEL - REBUKES EX-GOVERNOR ANDREW JOHNSON
- DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT THE ENEMY WILL ADVANCE FROM BOWLING GREEN -
GAINS A VICTORY AT MILL SPRINGS - PRACTICABILITY AND ADVANTAGES OF HIS
PROJECTED MOVEMENT INTO EAST TENNESSEE.
ON the 26th of August, 1861, Brigadier-General Thomas was relieved from
duty under Major-General N. P. Banks, who had succeeded General
Patterson, and ordered to report to General Robert Anderson, at
Louisville, Kentucky. In compliance he reported on the 6th of
September, and on the 12th was assigned to the command of the troops at
Camp Dick Robinson, in room of Lieutenant William Nelson, U. S. Navy.
When this newly appointed brigadier entered upon his career as a
general, the people of the country were hardly cognizant of the
fact. It was not generally known at the time that he and General
Sherman had been sent to Louisville at the special solicitation of
General Anderson, who had accepted what he considered a very delicate
and difficult service in his native State. In the light of the
subsequent service of Sherman and Thomas, the action of Anderson in
connecting them with the intricate problems of the central line of
invasion, through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, was one of the most
important features of his short administration as a Department
While en route from Louisville to his post General Thomas was exposed
to personal danger from the secessionists of that region, who had been
exasperated by the
Page 41 - PREPARATIONS FOR ADVANCE
failure of their friends to withdraw Kentucky from the Union, and by
the developed purpose of the National Government to establish military
posts and camps in the State and conduct military operations within its
limits, without regard to the sentiments of the people. Fortunately he
eluded his enemies on the way, and assumed command at Camp Dick
Robinson on the l5th of September. He found about six thousand
partially organized troops, that had been collected together by Nelson,
against the protest of both loyal and disloyal Kentuckians.
From the time of his first anticipation of service in Kentucky, Thomas
had studied plans of operations, and had soon decided that the first
step in their execution should be the invasion of East Tennessee
through Cumberland Gap. He was so impressed with the importance of this
line of invasion, from military considerations alone, before he left
Washington, that he urged General Scott to authorize an offensive
movement on that line. He was the more eager to conduct an expedition
into East Tennessee when he saw in his camp loyal soldiers from that
region, who had fled from the tyranny there reigning, and knew that a
large part of the citizens of that section were as loyal as his
Tennessee soldiers. He announced two objects for his projected movement
to seize and hold the only railroad that connected the northern parts
of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and all of Tennessee, with the
capital of the Confederacy, and relieve from oppression the patriots of
East Tennessee. These objects turned his face towards Cumberland Gap at
the beginning of his service in Kentucky. But from the first he met
insurmountable difficulties. His position connected him with local
political and military affairs. Equipments for his troops were long
withheld, and when reenforcements were sent to him in response to his
oft-repeated urgent calls, new regiments were sent, without complete
equipments or transportation. Another embarrassment was the impatience
of the East Tennesseeans in his camp,
Page 42 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
who were annoyingly clamorous for an advance to their homes.
Notwithstanding all his efforts he could not organize such an
expedition as promised success. He had men, but was destitute of almost
everything else that pertains to the organization of efficient
regiments and brigades. He announced a brigade organization as soon as
he had mustered and nominally organized a few regiments. This brigade
was the first organized in Kentucky, and it was historically meet that
the general who organized the brigade which became the nucleus of a
grand army should, at the end of the war muster out from that army
nearly two hundred thousand men.
While active in preparing for the projected advance into East
Tennessee, he received a letter from Brigadier-General O. M. Mitchel,
commanding the Department of the Ohio, stating that he had received an
order from the Secretary of War, directing him to repair to Camp Dick
Robinson and prepare the troops for a forward movement, first to
Cumberland Gap, and ultimately into East Tennessee. At this General
Thomas was surprised and indignant. Had he been averse, this early in
the war, to the responsibility of commanding troops in a bold invasion
of the enemy's territory, he would have cheerfully turned over his
command to General Mitchel, and as cheerfully served under him. But he
perceived that he was to be superseded by a general who, although he
was his senior by a few days, had no relation to the projected
movement. He had first suggested the invasion of East Tennessee, and
had done all that had been possible to prepare for it, and he regarded
the order of the Secretary of War, relieving him from command, as
evidence that it was believed at Washington that he had been needlessly
tardy in executing his own plan, or as proof that for some unrevealed
reason it was desirable to put another general in his place, before it
had been possible for him to prepare for so important an
enterprise. He claimed that he had a right under the circumstances
Page 43 - REFUSES TO SERVE UNDER MITCHEL.
to a fair trial, before removal, no matter what might be the feelings
of the President and Secretary of War towards him. The reason of this
action of the Secretary of War is not known to the writer, and he is
not aware that it has ever been revealed. It certainly, however,
evinced either distrust of Thomas as a general, or a want of confidence
in his loyalty to the National Government. He therefore, as a protest
against the indignity or suspicion, requested to be relieved from duty
with the troops that had been under his command, objecting, under the
circumstances, to a subordinate's position in connection with
them. He was eager, even at this stage of the war, to hold an
independent command. This fact so strongly evincing his self-confidence
was not known to the country, and his subsequent quiet submission to
service under a general of absolute inferiority of rank, made the
impression that from excessive modesty or lack of confidence in himself
he preferred a subordinate position. It will be shown in another
connection that he subsequently made emphatic protest against service
under a general of inferior rank, when he considered him self entitled
to the command of a large army, and failing then, he thereafter
submitted to an indignity repugnant to every self-reliant soldier and
abhorrent to martial traditions.
In asking to be relieved from service under General Mitchel, Thomas
placed his case on a higher plane than that of mere rank. With him it
was a question of justice, in the determination of rightful command.
The subjoined letters reveal his views and those of General Sherman in
the premises :
HEADQ'RS CAMP DICK ROBINSON, Garrard County, Ky., Oct. l1, 1861.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL O. M. MITCHEL, Com'd'gDep't of the Ohio, Cincinnati,
GENERAL: Your communication of the l0th instant was received to-day at
the hands of Governor Johnson. I have been doing all in my power to
prepare the troops for a move on Cumberland Ford, and to seize the
Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and shall continue
Page 44 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
to do all I can to assist you until your arrival here; but justice to
myself requires that I ask to be relieved from duty with these troops,
since the Secretary of War thought it necessary to supersede me in
command without, as I conceive, any just cause for so doing.
I am. General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant, GEO. H. THOMAS, Brig.-Gen'l U. S. V. Com'd'g.
HEADQ'RS CAMP DICK ROBINSON, Garrard County, Ky. Oct. l1, 1861.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN, Com'd'g Dep't of the Cumberland,
GENERAL: I received an official communication to-day from Brigadier
General O. M. Mitchel, informing me that he had been ordered by the
Secretary of War to repair to this camp and prepare the troops for a
forward movement, first to Cumberland Ford, and eventually to seize
upon the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. As I have been doing all in
my power to effect this very thing, to have the execution of it taken
from me when nearly prepared to take the field, is extremely
mortifying. I have therefore respectfully to ask to be relieved
from duty with the troops on the arrival of General Mitchel.
I am, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant, GEO. H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General U. S. V.
October 13, 1861.
GENERAL GEO. H. THOMAS, Com'd'g Camp Dick Robinson.
You are authorized to go on and prepare your command for active
service. General Mitchel is subject to my orders, and I will, if
possible, give you the opportunity to complete what you have begun. Of
course I would do all I can to carry out your wishes, but feel that the
affairs of Kentucky call for the united action of all engaged.
W. T. SHERMAN, Brig.-Gen. Com'd'g Dep't of the Cumberland.
The execution of the order of the Secretary of War might have ruined
the reputation of Thomas as a General, and deprived the country of one
of its ablest commanders. It would have produced distrust of his
ability or loyalty, and might have deprived him of an opportunity to
reveal his capacity as a General. The implied distrust of the
Page 45 - ADVANCE OF THE ENEMY.
at Washington must have been exceedingly painful to as true and
sensitive a man as Thomas. Having taken a loyal position in the
National crisis with deliberation and "from a firm conviction of duty",
he had a right to expect just, if not generous, treatment from the
President and Secretary of War. A man less pure and strong might have I
swerved from his loyalty under such provocation.
If the order for his removal from command was based upon the fact that
he had not advanced far towards East Tennessee, the patience of the
National authorities was to be still further tried. The barriers to an
advance were multiplied quite as rapidly as preparations for it were
made. The enemy discerned the probability of such a movement, and for
the double purpose of defeating it and supporting the cause of the
Confederacy in Kentucky, put columns of troops in motion towards
Central Kentucky from Cumberland Ford, Barboursville and Tompkinsville.
As these movements were developed, General Thomas became more urgent
for reenforcements and munitions. The very fact that the enemy had
counter plans intensified in his view the importance of the movement
which he had projected. To the enemy, the value of the railroad from
Tennessee to Virginia was greatly enhanced by the necessity of
transporting supplies from Tennessee to Richmond. He therefore made a
show of aggression on Thomas's line of advance to prevent offense on
his part. This appearance of offense on the part of the enemy,
discouraged the loyal Tennessee troops, and caused the loyal
Kentuckians to be as clamorous for defensive measures as the other
class had been for an advance into East Tennessee. In the midst of
these embarrassments, General Thomas' plans assumed greater breadth. As
soon as practicable, he threw some of his best troops forward to Rock
Castle Hills, and sent others in support as fast as possible.
The enemy's first advances were evidently tentative, as columns from
different directions would present themselves
Page 46 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
and then withdraw. But it was soon apparent that the force before
Colonel Garrard's Third Kentucky infantry, at Rock Castle Hills, under
General Zollicoffer, had a more serious purpose than mere menace, and
General Thomas sent Brigadier-General Schoepf, with Coburn's,
Woolford's and Steedman's regiments and Standart's battery to Garrard's
support. These troops reached Rock Castle Hills in time to participate
in the repulse of the enemy, October 20th.
The retreat of the enemy again opened the way for an advance, and
General Thomas threw forward Schoepf's command to London and asked for
reenforcements, munitions and transportation. He also suggested that a
cooperative force should move up the Big Sandy River, while he himself
should advance by Barboursville to East Tennessee, seize the railroad
and then turn upon Zollicoffer and capture him. But eager as he was to
move forward he was not willing to take so great a risk without an
adequate force. He waited here, though spurred by his own desire, as he
often afterwards delayed, when urged by his superiors, until he could
perceive the conditions of success. He thus made a reputation for
slowness, but avoided the failures that ill-conditioned movements
generally entailed. While waiting for adequate resources, the loyal
Tennesaeeans became very impatient and almost openly mutinous. Andrew
Johnson, ex-Governor of Tennessee, addressed a letter of complaint to
Thomas, the purport of which is revealed by the following
HEADQUARTERS CRAB ORCHARD, November 7th, 1861
GOVERNOR ANDREW JOHNSON, London, Ky.
Your favor of the 6th instant is at hand. I have done all in my power
to get troops and transportation and means to advance into East
Tennessee. I believe General Sherman has done the same. Up to this time
we have been unsuccessful. Have you heard by what authority the troops
from London were to fall back? Because I have
Page 47 - LETTER TO ANDREW JOHNSON.
not and shall not move any of them back, unless ordered, because if am
not interfered with I can have them subsisted there as well as here. I
am inclined to think the rumor has grown out of the feverish
excitement, which seems to exist in the minds of some of the regiments,
that no further advance is contemplated. I can only say that I am doing
the best I can. Our commanding general is doing the same, and using all
his influence to equip a force for the rescue of East Tennessee. If the
Tennesseeans are not content and must go, then the risk of disaster
will remain with them. Some of our troops are not yet clothed, and it
seems impossible to get clothing.
For information respecting the organization of regiments I send you
General Orders No. 90, War Department. If the gentlemen you name can
raise regiments agreeably to the conditions and instructions contained
in said order, the Government will accept them, and I hope will have
arms to place in their hands in the course of two or three months.
In conclusion I will add that I am here ready to obey orders, and
earnestly hope that the troops at London will see the necessity of
doing the same.
Your Obedient Servant, GEORGE H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General,U. S. V.
HEADQUARTERS CRAB ORCHARD, November 7th, 1861.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL SCHOEPF, Com'd'g Camp Calvert, London, Ky.
I find it necessary to reply to Governor Johnson's letter in the
foregoing, which I send to you for your information. It is time that
discontented persons should be silent, both in and out of the service.
I sympathize most deeply with the East Tennesseeans on account of their
natural anxiety to relieve their friends and families from the terrible
apprehension which they are now suffering. But to make the attempt to
rescue them when not half prepared is culpable, especially when our
enemies are perhaps as anxious that we should make the move as the
Tennesseeans themselves, for it is well known by our commanding general
that Buckner has an overwhelming force within striking distance,
whenever he can get us at a disadvantage. I hope you will therefore see
the necessity of dealing decidedly with
Page 48 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
such people, and you have my authority and orders for doing so. We must
learn to abide our time or we will never be successful.
Your Obedient Servant, GEORGE H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General U. S. V.
These letters met the questions at issue fairly and with the decision
of a man of nerve and power. He was himself intensely eager for the
advance demanded by Governor Johnson and the East Tennessee troops, but
he was not prepared for a successful expedition, and was himself a
subordinate. If prepared he could not have moved without orders, and
without adequate preparations he was unwilling to advance, even if
liberty had been given to him. He sympathized with the impatient
patriots, but military considerations were paramount. When it is
considered that he wrote so decidedly to a man who had great political
influence, there is no room to doubt his boldness in the face of
threatening possibilities. Mr. Johnson may not have had a causative
relation to this order from the Secretary of War, but he certainly had
knowledge of it, since he bore General Mitchel's letter to General
Thomas. When on his way to join the Tennessee soldiers, in Kentucky,
General Thomas was bold to say to this clamorous Governor, representing
a congenial constituency, that he was unwilling to move without due
preparation. And as he was unwilling to move on such a condition at the
beginning of the war, so he continued reluctant to initiate operations,
in absence of favorable circumstances to the end of the conflict. Few,
if any, subordinate commanders were more averse to action when
unprepared, or more quick and forceful when preparations were
Governor Johnson's intimation that the troops in advance were to be
withdrawn proved to be correct. General Sherman became convinced that
the enemy had an overwhelming force at Bowling Green, and could advance
at pleasure. And on November 5th he wrote to General Thomas to hold
Zollicoffer in check and await events. Thomas doubtless
Page 49 - ORDERED TO WITHDRAW HIS TROOPS
alluded to this conviction in his letter to Governor Johnson, and by
the assertion that he was ready to obey orders made provision for a
consistent withdrawal of his troops from London, though such a step was
against his own judgment. General Sherman had not in any other way
intimated to him that a retrograde movement was meditated, and he hoped
that it would not be required. But on the l1th he was ordered by
General Sherman to withdraw his troops across the Kentucky River, as it
was probable that Zollicoffer had twenty thousand men. The next
day Sherman announced that he was convinced that General Albert
Sidney Johnston, who was then in command of the Confederate forces in
Kentucky and Tennessee, intended to advance with an army of about
forty-five thousand men between General Thomas at Crab Orchard and
General A. McD. McCook at Nolensville, on the Louisville and Nashville
railroad, with Louisville and Cincinnati as his objectives; and
he directed Thomas to hold himself in readiness to withdraw to a point
back of Danville, with the greater part of his troops, leaving the
remainder at Rock Castle Hills. General Thomas in reply expressed his
want of faith in General Johnston's aggressive purpose, since his own
information indicated that the enemy in his front was withdrawing, and
no such movement had been discerned by his scouts.
The withdrawal of Thomas' forces caused great suffering and loss of men
and material. Sickness was prevalent and the march was a hurried one.
As it was not generally known at the time who was responsible for the
movement, censure was heaped upon him. Correspondents and critics
depicted the sufferings of the men, and the loss of material, and
discerning no compensative results, attempted to balance accounts with
abuse of Thomas. Under this abuse and misrepresentation he was silent,
waiting as at other times for "time and history to do him justice."
This was the situation when General D. C. Buell assumed.
Page 50 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
command of the department on the 15th of November. Five days later the
new commander ordered General Thomas to move his command to Columbia,
and subsequently directly to Lebanon. At this time General Johnston had
fifteen thousand men at Bowling Green, and conjecture had magnified his
force threefold. General Buell lost no time in concentrating his
troops at first for defense, and subsequently for aggression. He did
not approve of an advance into East Tennessee, but proposed for himself
a movement upon Nashville, whenever his strength should warrant such a
step. Preparations for this movement upon Nashville virtually defeated
the East Tennessee expedition, although efforts were subsequently made
to set it on foot.
The withdrawal of the greater part of Thomas' command changed for the
worse the situation in Eastern Kentucky, besides neutralizing the
important expedition into East Tennessee. General Zollicoffer was swift
to accept the invitation for renewed aggression, given by the
withdrawal of the troops from London, and Crab Orchard, and advanced
against Somerset. In less than a week after he left Danville, General
Thomas was informed by Lieutenant Carter, U. S. N., commanding a
brigade of East Tennessee troops that had been permitted by General
Buell to remain at London, that the enemy was advancing in heavy force
against Somerset, then held by a single regiment. Carter also stated
that he could not leave his post to render assistance. Thereupon
General Thomas ordered Schoepf's brigade from Lebanon, and Wolford's
cavalry from Columbia, to Somerset. He subsequently ordered regiments
from the rear to the same place, but his orders were countermanded by
General Buell, who also forbade him to send other reenforcements
without his authority. As he entertained a different view of the
situation at Somerset, and was intent upon advancing in another
direction, he declared that Schoepf's force was sufficient. Soon after
the enemy crossed the Cumberland River, and
Page 51 - HE ADVANCES TOWARDS SOMERSET,
then General Thomas asked permission to go to Lebanon with
reenforcements, but General Buell refused with the remark that he would
not be "diverted more than was necessary from more important matters by
the annoying affairs at Somerset." Thomas was thus not only thwarted in
the invasion of East Tennessee, but was also restrained from
reenforcing his subordinate at Somerset.
He was now in command of the First division of the Army of the
Ohio--the new designation of General Buell's forces. This division*
comprised sixteen regiments of infantry, a regiment and a squadron of
cavalry, and three batteries of artillery, and was consequently a
little army in itself; but its component parts were widely scattered,
and its commander for some time was forbidden to unite them.
When, however, General Buell learned that the enemy was fortifying on
the north bank of the Cumberland River, near Somerset, he directed
Thomas, December 29th, to move to the vicinity of Zollicoffer's
position, communicate with General Schoepf, and organize a combined
attack by Schoepf in front, and Thomas himself on the enemy's left
flank. These instructions prescribed a plan of battle, in outline at
least; but this plan, made from distant view and on conjectural
grounds, did not provide for the actual conditions.
General Thomas began his march December 31st and after eighteen days of
necessarily slow movement, in almost constant rain and over almost
impassable roads, reached Logan's Cross Roads, ten miles distant from
the enemy's position. His orders required a conjunction with Schoepf
before he should attack the enemy. He therefore halted his command,
disposed his foremost regiments on two adjacent roads, one leading
directly to the enemy's position, and the other running thither from
Somerset. He placed
* For details of organization see Hist. Army of the Cumberland, Vol. I,
Page 52 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
detachments of cavalry and infantry far to the front to guard against a
surprise. The problem of uniting two columns in the face of a
concentrated enemy then demanded solution. Having selected the proper
place, from the direction of the roads, for the conjunction of his
forces, either for an advance against the enemy or for defense in the
event of an attack by him, he communicated with General Schoepf and
directed him to send three regiments to his position before the enemy.
These dispositions made it possible for him to win a victory the next
day in a battle opened by the foe. These dispositions were judicious in
their relation to his own contemplated attack, and equally so for the
defensive action that was forced upon him. The great general is he who
can make provision for all possibilities, and this Thomas did
throughout the war, whenever he was free to act upon his own judgment.
The commanders of the Confederate army, Generals George B. Crittenden
and Zollicoffer, were aware of the approach of General Thomas, and left
their entrenchments at Beech Grove, in hope of crushing him before he
could obtain support from Somerset, or be able to concentrate his
forces brought from Lebanon. The enemy moved from his fortifications so
early in the morning of January 19th, that he marched the intervening
ten miles, and attacked Thomas' cavalry pickets at 5.30 A. M. But there
was no surprise. The pickets retired slowly, and then the two foremost
regiments held the enemy in check until General Thomas was in person on
his line of battle, where he aligned other regiments as they arrived.
When he had eight regiments and two batteries on hand, he pressed the
enemy in a brilliant charge, and drove him in rout to his
intrenchments. As the pursuit began, Colonel Steedman and Colonel
Harlan from the rear, with their regiments, the Fourteenth Ohio and
Tenth Kentucky, and Schoepf, with his brigade, reached the field.
Preparations were made to attack the enemy in his entrenchments on the
20th; but during the night he crossed the river and escaped.
Page 53 - MILL SPRINGS.
In this first successful western battle, fought upon a plan originated
under the emergency of an attack by superior forces, every movement
from first to last was a harmonious part of an action which was fought
under circumstances that would have brought defeat had they not been
clearly perceived and provided for by General Thomas. Seeing that his
four advanced regiments were not safe without support which could be
obtained from Somerset, before his rear forces could arrive, he gave
such orders to Schoepf as brought three regiments under Carter to the
left of the line of battle, formed by the two foremost regiments, the
Tenth Indiana and Fourth Kentucky, at the moment the enemy was moving
to outflank and turn the left of the line. Two other regiments were at
hand -- the Second Minnesota and Ninth Ohio -- to take the place of the
Fourth Kentucky and Tenth Indiana, at the moment of the exhaustion of
their ammunition; and the decisive charge, fully supported, was made at
the first moment that success was possible. And by this charge the
battle was won. There was no slowness on the part of Thomas in his
first battle, since with unsurpassed quickness he provided for every
contingency, and by one blow which was made possible by previous
dispositions, gained a brilliant victory. And he did this while
inspiring his soldiers by his own presence on the line of battle and by
his unflinching exposure to a common danger. His conduct of this battle
was a combination of deliberate strategy and tactical dispositions,
with the quick inspiration that comes to great generals in trying
emergencies. If measured by the number of troops engaged -- on one side
only eight regiments* -- it was not a great battle; but if estimated by
its harmonies and its unity of force, it was indeed a great action. And
on the part of the commander, there was no balancing of forces for
* Fourth Kentucky, Tenth Indiana, Second Minnesota, Ninth Ohio, First
and Second East Tennessee, Twelfth Kentucky, and Kinney's Battery.
Page 54 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
reserve, for all were for attack, and support came when support was
needed. Raw troops were inspired to resist and charge with the
steadiness of veterans. The final charge, indeed, evinced the spirit of
soldiers made bold by frequency of victory, rather than the usual
timidity of untried recruits. The enemy was outflanked by an
unsupported line of battle, and routed by inferior forces. Beyond its
conduct and forceful operations, the battle should be measured by its
moral effect and its agency in deranging the enemy's defensive plans.
Hitherto the National forces had not gained an important victory in the
West, although large armies had been concentrated. Owing to an
exaggerated estimate of the enemy's strength in Kentucky, there had
been no aggression of importance by the National troops. And this
battle, which was only incidental, as far as the great plans and
purposes of General Johnston and General Buell were concerned, was the
only positive victory won in Kentucky during the war, although large
armies subsequently marched and maneuvered in that State. The people of
the West, whose patriotism had filled Kentucky with citizen soldiers,
and whose hopes had been paralyzed by deferred success, were restored
to faith in the triumph of the National cause by the victory at Logan's
Cross Roads -- an action designated by the enemy as the "Battle of
Fishing Creek," and by ourselves as "Mill Springs."
By this action the right of the enemy's defensive line was completely
broken, and about ten thousand men eliminated from the operations which
immediately followed. In the life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, by
his son, Prof. Wm. Preston Johnston, it is shown that General
Zollicoffer crossed the river without orders, and in like manner the
battle of Mill Springs was fought. General Johnston had been concealing
his weakness for months by every artifice possible; and had the forces
on his right been successful, it would not have enabled him to assume
the offensive in any other direction. But the temporary disintegration
Page 55 - COMPLIMENTARY ORDERS.
one-fourth of his entire force imperiled his defensive line, whose
centre was at Bowling Green and left at Columbus, Kentucky.
General Buell issued the following order in relation to the action at
Logan's Cross Roads:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO, Louisville, Kentucky, January 23,
General Orders No. 40.
The General commanding has the gratification of announcing the
achievement of an important victory on the 19th inst., at Mill Springs,
by the troops under General Thomas, over the rebel forces, some twelve
thousand strong, under Gen. Geo. B. Crittenden and Gen. Zollicoffer.
The defeat of the enemy was thorough and complete, and his loss in
killed and wounded was great. Night alone, under cover of which his
troops crossed the river from his intrenched camp and dispersed,
prevented the capture of his entire force. Fourteen or more pieces of
artillery, some fifteen hundred horses and mules, his entire camp
equipage, with wagons, arms, ammunition, and other stores to a large
amount, fell into our hands.
The General commanding has been charged by the general-in-chief to
convey his thanks to General Thomas and his troops for their brilliant
victory. No task could be more grateful to him, seconded as it is by
his own cordial approbation of their conduct.
By command of Brig. Gen. Buell,
(Signed.) JAMES B. FRY, A.A.G. Chief of Staff.
The President of the United States also issued a complimentary order:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, Jan. 26, 1862.
The President, commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, has received
information of a brilliant victory achieved by the United States forces
over a large body of armed traitors and rebels at Mill Springs in the
State of Kentucky.
He returns thanks to the gallant officers and soldiers who won that
victory, and when official reports shall be received, the military
skill and personal valor displayed in the battle will be acknowledged
and rewarded in a fitting manner.
Page 56 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
The courage that encountered and vanquished the greatly superior
numbers of the rebel force, pursued and attacked them in their
intrenchments, and paused not until the enemy was completely routed,
merits and receives commendation.
The purpose of this war is to attack and destroy a rebellious enemy and
to deliver the country from the danger menaced by traitors.
Alacrity, daring courageous spirit and patriotic zeal, on all occasions
and under all circumstances, will be expected of the Army of the United
In the prompt and spirited movements and daring battle of Mill Springs,
the Nation will realize its hopes, and the people of the United States
will rejoice to honor every soldier and officer who proves his courage
by charging with the bayonet and storming intrenchments, or in the
blaze of the enemy's fire.
By order of the President.
EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War
On the 28th of January, the Legislature of Ohio passed a vote of thanks
to General Thomas and his troops.
It is justly a matter of surprise that when the official reports of the
battle of Mill Springs were received at Washington, there was no
farther recognition of the services of General Thomas. The
complimentary order did not mention him as commander, and
notwithstanding the President's explicit promise of fitting recognition
and reward to those who displayed skill and personal valor, it was
never fulfilled in respect to the one of all others who displayed these
soldierly traits. General Thomas earned promotion in this battle; but
he waited long for it. Other generals received high rank before they
fought battles. Some were promoted for comparatively trivial
achievements. But for unexplained reasons, Thomas' case was made an
exception to a general rule which obtained at least during the earlier
stages of the war. Report and conjecture attributed the treatment of
Thomas to the fact that he was a native of Virginia. The words
attributed to the President: "He is a Virginian, let him wait," was the
accepted explanation at the time. Had he then been appointed a
major-general, he would have
Page 57 - HIS GENERALSHIP INWROUGHT.
taken rank above both Grant and Buell, and would have been entitled to
an independent command early in the war. He deserved such a position,
because he was then a general of the highest type, and perhaps as
conscious of his power, when in person he aligned his troops at Mill
Springs as when at Nashville he fought the most brilliant battle of the
war. And the fact that he was a native of the South only enhanced his
claim for recognition as a loyal general. His generalship was not
evolved by costly mistakes. It was not battle-wrought in any sense. But
it was inwrought in the man himself by the combination of all the
qualities of a great captain, supplemented by twenty years of
self-imposed professional study. And he who carefully analyzes his
services, in his subordination to others and in his independence as an
army commander, will regret that the President of the United States did
not do as he promised in his complimentary order.
After the battle of Mill Springs, General Thomas was again hopeful that
he would be permitted to lead a column into East Tennessee. General
McClellan, commander-in-chief, supported by the President, instructed
General Buell to give attention to such a movement. But the commander
of the Army of the Ohio, being intent upon establishing cooperative
relations with Major General Halleck, commanding in Missouri, made no
effective efforts to send an army into East Tennessee. He did nothing
but collect meagre supplies, and repair roads for a short distance
eastward from Lebanon. And very soon the movement of General Grant
against the enemy's forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers turned
the Army of the Ohio towards Nashville.
It is evident that General Thomas was the only general of high position
in Kentucky from September, 1861, to February, 1862, who clearly
apprehended the situation, and who was bold enough to insist on an
advance against the enemy when other generals were trembling on the
Page 58 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
As he was during that period intent on conducting an army of twenty
thousand men into East Tennessee, it is pertinent to ask if his plan
was practicable and supported by strong military considerations.
In the first place, it may be assumed that there were enough troops in
Kentucky when General Sherman was relieved by General Buell, to
maintain the defensive against the enemy at Bowling Green, and give
Thomas twenty thousand men for his advance into East Tennessee. The
return, giving to the adjutant general at Washington the number of
troops in the Department of the Cumberland on the 10th day of November,
five days before General Sherman gave place to General Buell, placed
the aggregate at forty-nine thousand six hundred and seventeen men,
present and absent. This aggregate included the Kentucky regiments in
process of organization, but excluded a large force of home guards. At
this time General Johnston had twelve thousand five hundred men at
Bowling Green, and eight or ten regiments under General Zollicoffer on
his right. Thereafter General Buell's army increased far more rapidly
than General Johnston's. These facts prove the practicability of the
movement into East Tennessee prior to the battle of Mill Springs. After
that battle the way was open. General Johnston then despaired of being
able to hold his defensive line should General Buell move against him.
In fact, he had known from the first that unless reenforced, he would
be compelled to fall back. On the 27th he wrote* to the Secretary of
War at Richmond: "I suppose a change of the plan of operations has been
made, and that the force intended for East Tennessee will now be
combined with the force on this line, making an aggregate strength of
probably more than 50,000 men to be arrayed against my forces here.
If the forces of the enemy are maneuvered, as I think they may be, I
may be compelled to retire from this place
* Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, page 382.
Page 59 - A.S. JOHNSTON'S FEARS
to cover Nashville with the aid of the volunteer force now being
organized which in that way could be brought into cooperation." Again,
on the 8th of December, he wrote: * "With the addition of Nelson's and
Rosecrans' columns, their force on this immediate line I believe ought
not to be estimated over 65,000 men. Our returns at this place show a
force of between 18,000 and 19,000, of which about 5,000 are sick
(about 3,600 at Nashville) and our effective force is under 13,000
men." And on December 25th he wrote: **
The position of General Zollicoffer on the Cumberland holds in check
the meditated invasion and hoped-for revolt in East Tennessee, but I
can neither order Zollicoffer to join me here, nor withdraw any more
force from Columbus, without imperiling our communications with
Richmond, or endangering Tennessee and the Mississippi Valley. This I
have resolved not to do, but have chosen, on the contrary, to post my
inadequate force in such manner as to hold the enemy in check, guard
the frontier, and hold the Barren until winter terminates the campaign,
or if any fault in his movements is committed, or his line exposed
where his force is developed, to attack him as opportunity offers.
After his right was broken, he wrote, January 22nd: ***
A successful movement of the enemy on my right would carry with it all
the consequences which could be expected by the enemy here, if they
could break through my defenses. If I had the force to prevent a flank
movement, they could be compelled to attack this position, which, we
doubt not, can make a successful defense.
If force cannot be spared from other army corps, the country must now
be roused to make the greatest effort it will be called upon to make
during the war. No matter what the sacrifice may be, it must be
made and without loss of time. Our people do not comprehend the
magnitude of the danger that threatens. Let it be impressed upon them.
* Life of Gen. A. S. Johnston, page 387.
** Ibid, page 388.
*** Ibid., page 426.
Page 60 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
These statements by the commanding general make it clear, that after
Mill Springs, he had no forces to throw before a column marching into
If there were sufficient National forces in Kentucky before and after
the battle of Mill Springs for the detachment of twenty thousand men
for the movement on Knoxville, were there other military considerations
to have warranted it? It was the most direct route to the heart of the
Southern Confederacy, and in the light of subsequent events, it is
highly probable, if not certain, that it would have been the best line
for the initial invasion of the South from Kentucky. The possession of
the Tennessee and Virginia railroad, at Knoxville, or at any other
point east of Cleveland, would not only have interrupted the
communications of the forces in Tennessee and Kentucky with Richmond,
but would have broken all the railroad connections of the Confederacy
east and west, except by the railroad through Augusta, Georgia. Had,
therefore, General Thomas' scheme been carried out, and had it been
supplemented by a railroad from Kentucky to Knoxville, as President
Lincoln recommended to Congress, there would have been established the
shortest possible railroad line to Chattanooga and Atlanta, and
Knoxville could have been made a permanent base for operations towards
Chattanooga and Atlanta, or eastward into Virginia, or southeastward
into North Carolina. This railroad would have penetrated a mountain
region in East Tennessee filled with loyal citizens, and would have
been for this and other reasons more easily guarded than any other line
of supply for a Union army operating in the central States of the
The importance of General Thomas' plan may be inferred also from the
fear of the enemy that it would be attempted. A prominent Southern
editor thus described
Page 61 - WISDOM OF HIS PLAN.
the situation, after the defeat at Mill Springs:
The armies of the east and west are now connected by two lines of
railroad; one, the East Tennessee and Western Virginia, passing through
the mountain region of this State (Tennessee), and the other, the
Weldon and Wilmington, running along the Atlantic coast. Both of these
roads are, in a measure, somewhat exposed to the assault of the enemy,
the former being about seventy, and the latter about forty miles from
the advance of the Federal forces, on either extreme, in Southern
Kentucky and Pamlico Sound. Military affairs are in a situation at
present to especially indicate, if not invite, a trial of this scheme.
* * * In the mean time strenuous efforts may be made to penetrate East
Tennessee by way of Cumberland Gap to reach the great trunk railway at
Knoxville or Greenville. * * * Despite the almost insurmountable
difficulties of accomplishing such an expedition when every mountain
pass should be made a Thermopylae, the late success of the army near
Somerset may possibly attract his attention to its supposed
practicability, while he still exults with exuberant ecstacy over his
triumph. Indeed, we are already informed that General Buell has
despatched large reenforcements to Thomas and Schoepf since the battle
of the 19th, although their combined commands were known to be three
times as large as that of Crittenden which had rallied at last accounts
at Livingston, fifteen miles from the Kentucky state line. * * * We
have to contend with the disagreeable fact that there is in East
Tennessee, the field of this operation, a large disaffected, if not
treasonable element, ready at all times to give aid and comfort to the
armed legions of the enemy on their coming.
Thus there was in this plan of General Thomas, as in all subsequent
ones, the coincidence of extreme disadvantages to the enemy in
resisting its execution. If it is a wise maxim in war to do what the
enemy fears may be done, the invasion of East Tennessee was desirable
as well as practicable in November and December, 1861, and especially
so in January and February, 1862.
Page 62 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Again, the importance of a firm hold of East Tennessee by the National
forces, early in the war, may be inferred from their subsequent efforts
to gain and hold that region, and by the plans of the enemy to regain
it and utilize it for offensive operations. When General Bragg in 1862
formed his plan to wrest Kentucky from the Union and establish his
lines on the Ohio River, one of his four columns moved from Knoxville,
turned Cumberland Gap, gained a victory at Richmond, Kentucky, and
menaced Cincinnati from the hills south of Covington. When General
Bragg declined to meet General Buell in battle after the engagement
near Perryville, he retreated with his army to Knoxville. Nearly a year
later this general withdrew Buckner's forces from Knoxville to
concentrate an army to crush General Rosecrans, and thus gave the place
to General Burnside; but when that plan had failed, he invited defeat
at Chattanooga by detaching Longstreet's corps to wrest Knoxville from
Burnside. During the winter following, when General Jos. E. Johnston
was meditating a movement to the north from Dalton, Georgia,
Confederate forces were maneuvering and fighting in East Tennessee to
open the way for his army. And at last, when the Confederacy was in a
desperate strait, General Beauregard recommended that a vast army
should be concentrated, to be hurled from Knoxville upon Kentucky and
the Northern States. A place so important to the enemy during the war
was certainly important to the National armies at its beginning.
The importance of the Knoxville line of aggression to the National
forces may also be inferred from the results of offensive operations on
another line, which at first were so imposing. Forts Henry and
Donelson, Nashville and Corinth, Middle and Nouthern Tennessee and
Sorthern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, were gained; but all the
more important points, except Nashville, fell back to the enemy, to be
re-gained at the cost of the battles of Iuka, Corinth, Perryville, and
THOMAS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE "RIGHT WING" BEFORE CORINTH
- ASKS TO BE RELIEVED, AND RE-ASSIGNED TO THE ARMY OF THE OHIO -
DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF ADVANCING RAPIDLY FROM CORINTH TOWARDS
CHATTANOOGA - THOMAS COMMANDS AT MCMINNVILLE - BELIEVES THAT GENERAL
BRAGG WILL INVADE KENTUCKY - RECOMMENDS THAT HE BE RESISTED, FIRST FROM
MCMINNVILLE, AND THEN FROM MURFREESBORO - THE ARMY OF THE OHIO MOVES
BACK TO LOUISVILLE - THOMAS APPOINTED TO COMMAND IN ROOM OF GENERAL
BUELL, DECLINES, AND BUELL IS RESTORED - NAMED AS SECOND IN COMMAND -
THE ARMY ADVANCES AGAINST THE ENEMY - BATTLE OF PERRYVILLE - GENERAL
BUELL AGAIN RELIEVED.
In the movement of the Army of the Ohio from Nashville to Savannah,
Tennessee, General Thomas with his division was in the rear, and
consequently did not participate in the battle of Shiloh.
After that battle, General H. W. Halleck united the three armies of his
department and the detached forces on the field before Pittsburgh
Landing, and partially re-organized them before advancing against the
enemy at Corinth, Mississippi. In the main he preserved the identity of
his armies; but his changes tended to complexity rather than unity in
the relations of his immense forces as a whole. Under the semblance of
a general army organization, he divided his forces into five parts,
designated, "Right Wing," "Centre," " Left Wing," " Reserves," and
"Cavalry," each comprising two or more divisions. General Grant was
relieved from the command of the Army of the Tennessee, and announced
as second in command. The "Right Wing," comprising four divisions of
the Army of the Tennessee and the First division of the Army of the
Ohio, was given to General
Page 64 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Thomas; the "Centre," including four divisions of the latter army, to
General Buell; the "Left Wing," or Army of the Mississippi, with
additional divisions, to General Pope; the "Reserves" to General
McClernand, and the "Cavalry" to General Gordon Granger. General Thomas
had been appointed a major general of volunteers April 25th at the
solicitation of General Halleck, who had urged his promotion, that he
might assign him to the command of his "Right Wing." His division
commanders were Major General W. T. Sherman, Brigadier Generals
Hurlbut, T.W. Sherman, Davies, and McKean.
The advance of General Halleck's immense army towards Corinth was very
slow, and the plan of movement gave no opportunity to Thomas or any
other commander to display ability in handling a large force. The
commanding general studiously avoided a general engagement by advancing
cautiously by parallels. There was heavy skirmishing from day to day,
and occasional reconnoissances in force with resultant combats of
trifling importance. Each forward step was marked by an additional line
of entrenchments. Prior to the battle of Shiloh, there were no defenses
before the isolated camps of the Army of the Tennessee; but now in
striking contrast, the united armies passed each night behind
entrenchments all the way to Corinth.
The enemy, being too weak to accept battle or siege at Corinth,
retreated without serious loss in men, munitions or supplies.
At Corinth General Thomas requested General Halleck to relieve him from
the command of the "Right Wing," or Army of the Tennessee, and transfer
him with his old division to the Army of the Ohio in order that General
Grant might be restored to his former position. He did this because he
had learned that General Grant had been deeply hurt by his removal from
the leadership of that army. In this case, as in many others during the
civil war, he decided against his own interests, from regard for
Page 65 - CORINTH.
justice. He was the junior in rank of General Grant, General Buell and
General Pope, and in consequence of rank and former relations to the
Army of the Tennessee, he considered General Grant's claim to its
command superior to his own.
In consequence of this singular request General Thomas descended from
the command of an army of five divisions and resumed his former
position under General Buell in command of one. This was a long step
downward for a general who was anxious to hold a large independent
command, but on the score of rank it was legitimate, and as corps
organizations had not then been instituted in our armies, there was no
place for a general between an army and a division. It is true,
however, that military history seldom records such an act of
self-renunciation and generosity, and if General Thomas had not made
himself prominent in history by great achievements, he still would have
deserved a high place for virtues which rarely dominate the ambition
and jealousies of men devoted to war and the attainment of personal
On June 5th, General Thomas, by General Halleck's order, was placed in
command of Corinth and vicinity. He was relieved from the command of
the "Right Wing," on the l0th, and on the 22nd was re-transferred to
the Army of the Ohio.
Soon after Corinth was gained, the three armies which had been combined
for a short campaign were separated, and were severally given distinct
fields and aims. In the projected operations, General Buell was ordered
to move his army eastward from Corinth, to gain, if possible,
Chattanooga, East Tennessee, and Northern Georgia. This movement, in a
circuitous way, was a return to what General Thomas had made effort to
accomplish the year before. There was, however, in the second plan, an
inversion of the objections which he had suggested and a multiplication
Page 66 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The advance from Kentucky to Knoxville, or some other point in East
Tennessee, from Central Kentucky, would have been direct from a
reliable base; that from Corinth to Chattanooga gave great exposure to
communications with Eastport, and necessitated the detachment of strong
forces to defend even those with Nashville. On the line through
Kentucky to East Tennessee, the forces in advance would have covered
the communications in a measure, and all reserves might have been
posted on the line of supply, but on the line in Alabama and Tennessee,
heavy detachments from the field forces were necessary, even after the
railroads had been put in running order.
At the inception of the movement towards Chattanooga General Buell, in
compliance with orders from General Halleck, gave attention to the
repair of the railroad eastward from Eastport, but this project was
soon abandoned as impracticable. Thereafter all available means were
directed to the restoration of the two railroads leading from Nashville
to the Tennessee River and connecting at Stevenson, Alabama. But the
repair of these roads retarded General Buell's eastward advance, and
greatly diminished the strength of the forces moving towards
Chattanooga. This slow movement and reduced strength were fatal to
success. Had a quick advance to Chattanooga been practicable
immediately after the withdrawal of the enemy from Corinth, that
important strategic point might have been gained. But two months gave
opportunity to the enemy to concentrate a large army there, another in
front of General Grant in Mississippi, and two columns in East
Tennessee. After repeated defeats in the West, he had thus gathered
troops at four points with the purpose of uniting all of them in
Kentucky to drive all the National forces across the Ohio River.
General Bragg had succeeded General Beauregard in general command in
the West and the new commander hoped that he could recover all the
territory which had been lost in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and
Kentucky, and establish a defensive line, if not an offensive one, on
the Ohio river.
Page 67 - FROM CORINTH TO CHATTANOOGA
Early in June General Wood's and General Nelson's divisions were sent
eastward from Mississippi to repair the Memphis and Charleston
railroad. General O. M. Mitchel's division was already on that road,
having moved south from Nashville early in the Spring. On the 11th of
June General McCook's division moved eastward from Corinth and General
Crittenden's from Boonesville. These two divisions passed the others on
the road and took position at Battle Creek far towards Chattanooga,
early in July. As fast as the repair of roads, the accumulation of
supplies and other circumstances permitted, other forces moved
eastward. General Thomas was left in the rear with his division to
guard against the contingency of attacks by the enemy from the west and
south-west, until a concentration towards Chattanooga was practicable
and imperative. He was then ordered from Tuscumbia to Decherd and soon
afterwards to McMinnville. He arrived at the former place August 5th
and at the latter on the 19th. He was sent to McMinnville by General
Buell to command all the troops that were to operate from that place,
either to continue the offensive or to resist the enemy in the event of
aggression on his part. By this time there were rumors and indications
that General Bragg would advance from Chattanooga, although his
objective and line of march had not been developed. If Nashville was
his objective he could advance by Battle Creek and Stevenson, or across
the mountains to McMinnville or Sparta. If his purpose was to invade
Kentucky, he would cross into the Sequatchie Valley, while his presence
there would indicate equally such a movement or an advance to Nashville
by the more northern route. The fact that he could cover his designs in
his first operations, gave General Bragg a decided advantage. On the
supposition that he would advance to Nashville, General Buell was to
provide against the movement by Stevenson or by
Page 68 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
McMinnville, and as the routes were somewhat widely separated, there
was danger of his falling upon unsupported divisions or of having an
open way to his objective.
On the day that General Thomas reached McMinnville, General Buell
discussed the situation in a lengthy despatch : "The enemy crossed
three hundred cavalry and three thousand infantry at Chattanooga,
yesterday. This may be for the purpose of foraging in Sequatchie
Valley, but we must be prepared for more than that. Hold your command
in readiness to march at the shortest notice.* * * You should by means
of spies and scouts keep yourself thoroughly informed of what is going
on between you and Chattanooga. * * * I shall concentrate your division
and McCook's at Tracy City or near there, and send Crittenden up the
Sequatchie Valley to about the Anderson road. We must be prepared
either to fight in detachments or concentrate rapidly, according to
circumstances." On the 22nd, General Thomas telegraphed to General
Buell: "I have believed for a day or two that the demonstration in this
direction is intended to cover the advance of the enemy toward
Kentucky. * * * The citizens here think that they will advance into
Kentucky." General Buell replied the same day: "From General McCook's
information this morning, it seems almost certain that Bragg is
marching on McMinnville, his advance was on the top of Waldron's Ridge
last night. McCown is said to be crossing at Kingston, and Withers at
Harrison. Of course they will expect to unite. What sort of ground can
we take by concentrating at McMinnville? How would it do to fight at
Altamont? Is the ground such as to give us the advantage of our
General Thomas replied the same day: "By all means concentrate here.
The enemy cannot reach Nashville by any other route across the
mountains unless by Sparta. At Altamont, I am positively informed, that
the enemy would have an equal advantage with ourselves. Here we
Page 69 - URGES CONCENTRATION AT McMINNVILLE.
will have a most decided advantage, and by being here, should he march
by Sparta, we can meet him either there or at Allen's Ford, across the
Caney Fork. He is obliged to pass this place or Sparta to reach
Nashville. . . . I cannot think that Bragg is coming here, either by
the Hill or Thurman road." In immediate answer General Buell said: "I
can hardly think the enemy will attempt to march across to McMinnville
- at least, not immediately. It appears to me that he will rather
endeavor to get into North Alabama, and perhaps strike across to
Decherd. If we advance to Altamont, we may thwart him in both and
preserve our communication with Decherd and Nashville. What think
you?" General Thomas said in reply also on the 22nd: "We can get
neither forage nor water at Altamont. It will be as difficult for us to
march across the mountains to Sequatchie Valley as for the enemy to
come either to Altamont or this place. I would not advise concentrating
here except for battle or for an advance into East Tennessee. I think
our connexion with Nashville will be better preserved by holding
Decherd with a division to enable us to concentrate either there, if
threatened, or at this place. I have also learned that Tupelo,
Mississippi, has been abandoned, and most of the enemy at that place
have been sent to Chattanooga. I therefore do not apprehend any attempt
to seize North Alabama."
The next day General Buell said:
"There is no possibility of our concentrating at McMinnville. We must
concentrate in advance and assume the offensive or fall back, at least,
to Murfreesboro. I deem the former the surest, and we will act
accordingly. I wish you, therefore, to move by a forced march to
Altamont, there to form a junction with McCook and Crittenden and
Schoepf.* ...There must be no delay or failure. The enemy's advance was
at the top of Waldron's Ridge, ten miles from Chattanooga, night before
last, and talked of being at McMinnville to morrow: that is hardly
possible; but they must be met at the earliest possible moment."
* General Schoepf was commanding General Thomas' division.
Page 70 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
A day later he telegraphed:
"In advancing to Altamont, take the Hickory Creek road, instead of the
Thurman road. This will put you on a shorter line of retreat on
Murfreesboro' by way of Manchester, and brings us nearer together. . .
. In the event of any reverse which makes it necessary for the whole
force to fall back, do so by Manchester and Beech Grove, making a stand
to check the enemy whenever it can be done to advantage."
On the aqth [?], General Thomas' scouts returned with intelligence that
the enemy would advance on McMinnville by two or three routes, and that
forces were at Pikeville and in the Sequatchie Valley. He then reported
to General Buell that he would move that afternoon in compliance with
orders. It is evident, however, from the foregoing quotations, that he
was exceedingly reluctant to move to Altamont, and the issue of that
movement proved that his reluctance was well founded.
August 25th at 5 P.M. Thomas telegraphed to General Buell from Altamont:
"The enemy no nearer than Dunlap. It is reported that there is one
brigade there and one at Pikeville. . . . Water scarce; only one spring
here, and not forage enough in the neighborhood to last for one day.
The road up the mountain is almost impassable; General Wood has been
from six o'clock until now, and has not succeeded in getting his
artillery up the road. I deem it next to impossible to march a large
army across the mountains by Altamont on account of the scarcity of
water and forage and the extreme difficulty of passing over the road. I
will therefore return to McMinnville, and await further orders. As I
mentioned in one of my despatches, I regard McMinnville as the most
important point for occupation of any. The occupation of McMinnville,
Sparta and Murfreesboro will, in my opinion, secure the Nashville and
Page 71 - ALTAMONT AND McMINNVILLE.
And thus without orders he abandoned a place to which he would not have
advanced unless under positive orders issued after his own emphatic
protest. In advance of trial, he depicted the exact condition of
Altamont as a place for concentration.
The next day General Buell telegraphed: "Keep your position at
McMinnville, but make nothing like a permanent establishment. Be always
ready to move at a moment's notice. That Bragg is on this side of the
river with a large force is beyond all question. It is hardly probable
that it is merely for the purpose of demonstration, and we must be
prepared to concentrate promptly. Of course the passage of so large a
force across the mountains is difficult, but not as much so as you
would suppose from the road you took. The Thurman road is very good,
and the mountain quite easy of ascent. The descent on this side is easy
enough by four roads, all diverging from Altamont; the first going by
Beersheba to McMinnville, the second by Hickory Creek to McMinnville or
towards Manchester, the third also to Manchester and to Decherd by
Pelham, and the fourth by Cowan. The Beersheba road is excellent for a
mountain road. The question is, how to meet an advance which may take
either of these roads through Altamont. The best position we could take
would be McMinnville, Altamont, and on the Thurman road, just this side
of Sequatchie Valley. We should not only be able to concentrate
against an advance on that road or the Sparta road, but also to
threaten his flank if he should attempt to go into North Alabama by
Battle Creek- a not improbable thing on many accounts. The difficulty
of supplying ourselves on the mountains is, I think, the only objection
to the disposition I mention."
On the 28th General Thomas said: "Troops at this place can watch the
direct Chattanooga road, the Dunlap, and the Harrison and Pikeville
roads, and by the system of expresses to be established by Smith, I
think I can give
Page 72 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
you intelligence of the enemy before he can cross Sequatchie Valley."
The divergent views of these generals had their foundation in a radical
disagreement as to General Bragg's plans and purposes. General Buell's
suggestions had reference to an advance of the enemy to Nashville
either across the mountains or by Battle Creek and Stevenson; and
General Thomas, rejecting as improbable an advance to Nashville by way
of North Alabama, and believing that the invasion of Kentucky was to be
the outcome of Bragg's operations, would have made provision against
his advance from the Sequatchie Valley in the direction of Kentucky,
and the proposed concentration at McMinnville would have provided also
for the contingency of an advance to Nashville from that valley.
General Buell looked to the right, and General Thomas to the left, and
movements of Bragg's army proved the better discernment of the latter.
General Bragg subsequently demonstrated towards McMinnville, but did
this simply to cover his advance into Kentucky. He was most anxious to
escape from the mountains without meeting his foe in battle, and for
this reason adopted every possible maneuver and artifice to make the
impression that he would advance upon McMinnville. And General Buell,
acting upon the positive belief that Nashville was his objective,
opened the way for him to pass from the Sequatchie Valley and move upon
the shortest line to Kentucky.
On the 30th of August General Buell issued an elaborate order, defining
the movements of each division, to effect a concentration of his army
at Murfreesboro. By this order he placed General Thomas in the rear
with Ammen's* and Wood's divisions, and directed him to keep a day's
march between his forces and the enemy and not to risk a battle. On the
1st of September he asked General Thomas: "Do any circumstances present
themselves which should make a change in our movements advisable?"
* General Nelson's division.
Page 73 - MURFREESBORO
Thomas answered: "I think, as the movement has commenced, that it had
better be executed." On the day following he told General Buell that he
had again heard that the enemy intended to march on McMinnville. He
then advised the concentration at Murfreesboro, from which place the
main force should be thrown against Bragg's army. He had said on the
30th of August: "If he (the enemy is moving on Murfreesboro by Sparta,
I think the sooner we concentrate to meet him and drive him back, the
better; and Murfreesboro seems to be the point from which we should
operate." But in no way did he intimate that the purpose of
concentrating to resist General Bragg's advance should be abandoned. He
only, at the last, expressed a preference for Murfreesboro as a base
for offense. Doubtless one strong reason for this preference was the
expectation that reenforcements would be met at Murfreesboro. Two
divisions were marching from Mississippi, and Rousseau's division
formerly Mitchel's had moved to Nashville, on the line of the Nashville
and Decatur railroad.
During the first three days of September all the divisions and trains
of the army were put in motion towards Murfreesboro, General Thomas
with two divisions being in the rear, reaching Murfreesboro on the 5th.
Here General Thomas met an order from General Buell to proceed to
Nashville by rail; and the meaning of this order was the abandonment of
the suggested plan of operations from Murfreesboro. In this General
Buell had not consulted Thomas, but had decided on reaching that place,
although he there met General Jeff. C. Davis' division, General R. B.
Mitchell commanding (sent by General Grant), that he would withdraw his
army to Nashville. It is evident from his persistence in recommending a
concentration, to resist General Bragg, first from McMinnville and
afterwards from Murfreesboro, that had General Thomas been in command
Page 74 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
of the army, he would have fought the enemy south or east of
Murfreesboro. General Buell withdrew five divisions from McMinnville
and contiguous points. He met one other at Murfreesboro. He could have
drawn reenforcements from Nashville besides. General Bragg advanced
from Chattanooga with five divisions of infantry, and General Buell
could have met him in battle by advancing from Murfreesboro with seven
divisions, at least.
September 7th, General Thomas was assigned to the command of three
divisions and the post of Nashville. These divisions were his own,
Negley's, and Paine's division, General John M. Palmer commanding,
which arrived at Nashville on the 12th, from General Grant's army.
General Buell had, in the meantime, ascertained that General Bragg had
not followed him to Nashville, but having crossed the Cumberland River
at Carthage, was moving into Kentucky. He therefore moved north from
Nashville with six divisions - McCook's, Crittenden's, Ammen's, Wood's,
Rousseau's and Mitchell's.
On the 13th General Thomas was ordered by General Buell to march on the
l5th, into Kentucky, with his own division and Palmer's, but in view of
the fact that General Bragg might have detached a large force to
operate against Nashville, was permitted to leave Palmer's division at
that place if he deemed it necessary. He started from Nashville on the
15th with his own division, and on the 20th joined the main army at
Prewitt's Knob. All these changes indicated the need of his services
where careful management was required or where fighting was expected.
He was nearest the enemy in the march of the army to Murfreesboro, and
when it became known that General Bragg had moved into Kentucky, went
by order to the front. His transfer from the rearguard to the vanguard
usually indicated a like transfer of emergencies, and in all his
movements and operations, he was at least as rapid as circumstances
demanded or orders required.
Page 75 - ASKS FOR BUELL'S RETENTION.
At Prewitt's Knob he was charged with the alignment of the foremost
divisions in anticipation of battle, but General Bragg declined to
fight, and diverging to the east from the direct road to Louisville,
marched northward. In the march to Louisville from Prewitt's Knob,
General Thomas was again in the rear of the army for its safety.
During General Buell's movement from Corinth towards Chattanooga, the
President, through General Halleck, commander-in-chief, expressed
dissatisfaction with his progress and after the army reached
Louisville, this dissatisfaction eventuated in an order relieving
General Buell from command of the army and appointing General Thomas as
his successor. The command was actually turned over, but General Thomas
requested that it should be restored to General Buell. In a despatch to
Washington he said: "General Buell's preparations have been completed
to move against the enemy, and I respectfully ask that he may be
retained in command. My position is very embarrassing, not being as
well informed as I should be as the commander of this army and on the
assumption of such responsibility." Upon the receipt of this despatch
the order relieving General Buell was revoked.
Perhaps no act of his life has been so misapprehended, as this request
for the retention of General Buell in command of the army, when he had
been appointed his successor. The people of the country and even his
own friends have attributed this act to his extreme modesty and
distrust of his own ability as a general. His despatch does not sustain
these suppositions, especially as explained by himself. He did not
positively decline the command. He requested that Buell should be
retained. But had this request been denied, he would have accepted the
position, although the assumption of such responsibility on the eve of
battle was by no means inviting or in harmony with his views of justice
to Buell or himself. He considered it unjust to General Buell to remove
him at the culmination of
Page 76 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
his operations. His request was based primarily on the fact that Buell
had completed his preparations to move against the enemy, and secondly
on his own embarrassments in taking the responsibility of commanding an
army on the eve of battle. In another connection it has been shown that
his perception of the demands of justice, prompted him to protest
against his own removal from command in September 1861. It is equally
clear that for the same reason he protested against the removal of
Buell. Knowing that his action had been attributed to modesty he once
said: "I am not as modest as I have been represented to be. I did not
request the retention of General Buell in command through modesty, but
because his removal and my assignment were alike, unjust to him and to
me. It was unjust to him to relieve him on the eve of battle, and
unjust to myself, to impose upon me the command of the army at such a
time." When responsible for the issue of a battle he desired to give
shape to the antecedent operations. He was modest and he was eager for
an independent command, but he was not so modest as to underate himself
nor so eager for the command of an army, as to desire it, when
involving injustice to another general. Had choice been offered to him
between himself, as next in rank to General Buell, and an alien
general, he would have accepted the command of the army without
hesitation, on the ground, that he had claims superior to any general
of his rank outside of the Army of the Cumberland, and that
embarrassments to a stranger would be greater than to himself.
It should also be stated that while General Thomas desired an
independent command it was not pleasant to him to supersede another
general. His idea of enlarged command was to have his forces multiplied
in his own hands, and thus be promoted without the displacement and
mortification of another commander. This certainly was a noble
aspiration, one that harmonized with the transcendent excellence
attributed to him by his friends.
Page 77 - SECOND IN COMMAND.
Upon resuming command of the army, General Buell named General Thomas
as second in command. He had previously organized three provisional
corps, each comprising three divisions, and designated as "First,"
"Second" and "Third," and had assigned Major-General A. McD.McCook, to
the command of the "First," Major-General T. L. Crittenden to the
"Second," and Brigadier-General C. C. Gilbert to the "Third." The
command of the Third corps belonged to General Thomas, by right, since
his own division was in it, and General Gilbert was then only a
brigadier-general by appointment of the President and was never
confirmed as such. General Thomas' position was an ambiguous one.
Nominally second in command, in reality, he was simply given the
supervision of General Crittenden's corps, and the small force of
cavalry associated with it. This arrangement placed two major-generals
with one corps, and a brigadier-general of unperfected appointment in
command of another. If the position of second in command had carried
with it authority to act as commander of the army in absence of the
commanding general, or in emergencies beyond his observation, the case
would have been radically different. But Thomas had no more authority
or independence than an ordinary corps commander, and consequently his
position was a false one, being by designation higher than such a
commander, while in authority, only his equal. General Crittenden was
subject to his orders in consequence of defined relations, but no such
relations subjected General McCook or General Gilbert to his orders,
whom by rank alone he could have commanded in certain contingencies.
But he had no knowledge of the plans of the commanding general that was
not revealed by general orders, and consequently his authority was
confined to the corps on the right, and the cavalry on that flank,
except as it might be extended by special instructions or by such
events as usually devolve the chief command upon the general of highest
rank on the field.
Page 78 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The army moved from Louisville on the first day of October. The three
corps marched upon as many roads and converged first upon Bardstown, in
expectation that the enemy would there be met. From that place they
moved as before, to concentrate at Perryville. On the evening of the
7th the three corps were well advanced towards that town, though not
abreast. Gilbert's corps in the centre took position about three and a
half miles distant, McCook's corps on the left was some distance
behind, and so also was Crittenden's corps. At the place designated in
orders for the encampment of Crittenden's troops, there was no water.
The men had marched all day in thick dust, without water, and in the
evening were almost famished. There was no time to consult the
commanding general, and acting under a necessity which his orders had
entailed, General Thomas used the discretion which his orders did not
give, and moved the command to the right to the nearest water that
could be found in sufficient quantity for the troops.
In the evening of that day General Buell announced in orders that a
battle would be fought the next day. He prescribed the movements which
would bring his army into line of battle, and gave special directions
to the corps commanders to provide water, to last with sparing use,
during the expected action. He also directed them to report to him in
person, as soon as their respective commands had attained position. The
corps on the right and left attained position on each side of
Gilbert's, early on the 8th. By noon the whole army was in position,
and in line of battle, except General Wood's division of Crittenden's
corps, which at that hour was two or three miles in the rear, but
marching towards its designated position in the line. General Thomas
had found the enemy in his front early in the morning, and for that
reason he did not report in person when his command had attained
position, but sent Captain Mack of his staff to report to General Buell
the presence of the
Page 79 - PERRYVILLE.
enemy, and ask for instructions. There is but one interpretation of
this refusal to report in person, as required by positive orders, and
this is, that he considered it so plainly unadvisable, from military
considerations, that he was justified in remaining with his
command. General McCook, who had been informed by the officer in
command of the cavalry on the left that the enemy was not in his front,
reported to General Buell, in compliance with orders, but on his return
to his command found it engaged with the enemy. General Buell had
decided not to fight that day, but had not formally revoked his order
of the previous evening. General Bragg, however, had declined to wait,
and supposing that he could strike and crush the foremost troops of the
National army before they could be supported from the rear, massed
three divisions, all he had in hand, and hurled them first against
General McCook's left division and the flank of the army, and
afterwards upon his other division on the right. General McCook had
only two divisions on the field, General Sill's division having been
sent to the left to operate against General Kirby Smith. General
Jackson's division on the left comprised two brigades of new troops,
and upon these untried soldiers the enemy made his initial attack.
General McCook sent a staff officer to the nearest commander of
Gilbert's corps - General Sheridan - and requested protection to his
right flank, or the right of Rousseau's division, and then gave his
attention to his own left, which was the left of the army as well.
After severe fighting against great odds, General Jackson's division
repulsed the enemy. The loss, however, was very great, including
General Jackson and his brigade commander - General Terrel - and a
large number of officers and men.* Having established his left flank
the corps commander turned to the right to meet a far more threatening
state of affairs. His
* Colonel Webster, commanding General Jackson's second brigade, was
killed in supporting the left of Rousseau's division later in the day.
Page 80 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
request for support, for the right of Rousseau's division had not been
regarded. The troops on the left of Gilbert's corps had moved away,
leaving Rousseau's right in air. General Bragg had sent Buckner's
division up Doctor's Creek to this uncovered flank, where it had been
deployed at right angles to McCook's line of battle, and thus with its
back to the rest of our army, it was moving against his exposed right
flank - exposed to extreme peril, and yet there were six divisions of
infantry behind Buckner's division as it faced towards McCook's line.
This was a situation perhaps without parallel in the history of war.
Three divisions had attacked the left of an army of eight divisions in
line of battle, and yet one of these attacking divisions had wedged
itself between six of these eight divisions on one side and two on the
other, and turning its back upon the six; moved upon the flank of the
other two. And while the conflict on the left of the National army was
waxing hotter and hotter, not an order was given for two hours that
directed support to the two isolated divisions. The fact that three
divisions attacked an army of eight, and escaped severe punishment or
capture, proves that grave errors were committed by responsible
commanders in General Buell's army, and that a great opportunity was
lost. If, when Buckner's division was moving upon the flank of
Rousseau's division at right angles to the general line of battle, the
corps of Gilbert and Crittenden had wheeled to the left, they would
have enveloped Bragg's army, and captured or utterly crushed it. But
General Gilbert's divisions had moved forward and made possible the
situation on the left, and General Thomas was, by assignment, too far
to the right to apprehend the emergency on the left, while General
Buell was too far in the rear to learn through the noise of battle that
his army was engaged; and no member of his staff and no headquarters'
courier bore to the rear tidings of the battle, but Captain Fisher, of
General McCook's staff, who had been sent with a second
Page 81 - PERRYVILLE
request for support from Gilbert's corps, and having failed to secure
it, went of his own accord to General Buell and made known the attack
of the enemy and the state of affairs on the left of the army. General
Thomas knew that there was fighting on the extreme left of the army,
but he did not know whether it had resulted from offense or defense on
the part of the enemy. There was a corps comparatively unengaged on his
own left, and he had heard nothing from General Buell since his orders
of the previous evening announcing a battle for that day, and at no
time had his instructions been such as to authorize him to leave his
own command to direct the movements of the other two corps. General
Crittenden had been urgent that his corps should advance against the
enemy, but General Thomas had refused permission for the assigned
reason that he did not
know the plans of the commanding general. General Buell had thrown his
army before the enemy to take the offensive himself, but while he was
three or four miles in the rear, behind intervening hills, without
having authorized General Thomas to take command of the army in the
event of an attack by the enemy, all without having given instructions
to his corps commanders for the conduct of defensive operations. Had
General Crittenden moved forward directly, he would not have aided
General McCook, since General Gilbert had so advanced and left McCook's
right in air. What Was demanded by the situation was a wheel to the
left by Gilbert's and Crittenden's corps, the former maintaining close
connection with McCook's right. Had this been done when the enemy first
attacked the left of the army, eight connected divisions would have
enveloped them, or had the two corps wheeled to the left when Buckner's
division was between Gilbert and McCook, the opportunity for the
capture or annihilation of Bragg's forces would have been still better.
Had this been done, six divisions would have moved to the rear of the
three divisions that had been hurled against McCook.
Page 82 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Had General Thomas been second in command in supervision of the whole
army, instead of a corps, he would have been responsible for results in
the absence of the commander-in-chief. And had he been thus in command,
the issue would doubtless have been radically different.
About 4 P. M. Captain Mack returned from General Buell with verbal
instructions to General Thomas to hold one division in readiness to
reenforce the centre if necessary and to reconnoitre his own front to
ascertain if the enemy had reenforced his left or was withdrawing, and
to report the facts. Afterwards, he received no orders to advance.
After sundown he received the following communication :
October 8, 6.30 p. M.
GENERAL:- The First corps, McCook's, on our left, has been heavily
engaged. The left and centre of this corps gained ground, but the right
yielded a little. Press your lines forward as much as possible tonight
and get into position to make a vigorous attack in the morning. If you
have got your troops into position which you deem advantageous, it will
not be advisable to make a change for the purpose of complying with the
General's instructions for you, sent by Captain Mack. It may be as well
to have the division ordered to the centre and let it wait where it is
for further orders. The General desires to see you in person as soon
tonight as your duties will permit you to come.
J. B. FRY, Colonel and Chief of Staff.
There had not been a strong force in front of General Thomas at any
time, but only such a line as General Bragg deemed sufficient to cover
his attack with massed forces on the left of the National line.
The verbal instructions sent through Captain Mack in the afternoon, and
this written communication from Colonel Fry at 6.30 P.M., do not even
intimate that General Thomas was expected to exercise any control of
the troops on the left of his command. His instructions pertained
solely to operations that evening on the right, as preparatory to a
battle the next day. He was directed twice to hold a
Page 83 - BUELL REMOVED FROM COMMAND
division in readiness to move to the centre in the event of necessity,
but of the necessity he was not to judge. He was not instructed to
ascertain the state of affairs on his left but simply to hold his
division in waiting for further orders. Late in the evening, by General
Buell's order, troops were directed from the centre to assist General
McCook in his unequal contest - Gooding's brigade from Mitchell's
division, and Steedman's from Schoepfs were sent to his support, the
former brigade as the first to participate in the terrific contest on
Rousseau's right was hotly engaged and suffered heavy loss.
There was no action on the 9th and no pursuit until the 12th. As soon
as the pursuit, which was fruitless in consequence of its late
beginning, was terminated, General Buell left the army with General
Thomas and retired to Louisville. On the 26th of October he directed
General Thomas to put the army in motion towards Bowling Green and
Up to this time the military authorities, although frequently differing
from General Buell in respect to his actual and proposed movements, had
not restrained him in his operations by peremptory orders. But after
the battle of Perryville, dissatisfaction with its issue and the
pursuit of the enemy, and a new disagreement in regard to the future
operations of the army led to a second and final removal of General
Buell from command.
GENERAL ROSECRANS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE ARMY - PROTEST OF
GENERAL THOMAS. - ACCEPTS COMMAND OF THE '' CENTRE." - RESTORING
RAILROAD COMMUNICATIONS. - ADVANCE OF THE ARMY.- BATTLE OF STONE RIVER.
- HE OPPOSES RETREAT. - TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN.
Major-General William S. Rosecrans was assigned to the command of the
army, in room of General Buell, by General Orders No. 168, War
Department, October 24, 1862. By the same order the Department of the
Cumberland was restored, embracing that part of the State of Tennessee,
lying east of the Tennessee River, with conditional limits to the
south. The forces of the department were designated as the "Fourteenth
Army Corps;" but ere long the army bore the name of the department.
General Rosecrans assumed command October 30th. His army was then
concentrating at Bowling Green, Kentucky, in compliance with the orders
of General Buell.
In this assignment of General Rosecrans, General Thomas was
overslaughed on the score of rank, and for this and other reasons he
considered it unjust. If he was considered worthy of this position on
the 23rd of September on the ground of rank and service, he could see
no reason why he should be denied the command of the army on the 24th
of October. He, therefore, indignantly protested against the assignment
of General Rosecrans and against service under him. He thus wrote to
General Halleck, commander-in-chief:
Soon after coming to Kentucky I urged on the Government to send me
twenty thousand men properly equipped to take the field, that I might
at least make the attempt to take Knoxville and secure
Page 85 - HE PROTESTS AGAINST INJUSTICE
East Tennessee. My suggestions were not listened to but were even
passed by in silence. But without boasting I believe I have exhibited
at least sufficient energy to show that if I had been intrusted with
that expedition at that time (fall of 1861) I might have conducted it
successfully. Before Corinth I was intrusted with the command of the
Right Wing, or Army of the Tennessee. I feel confident that I did my
duty patriotically, and with a reasonable amount of credit to myself.
As soon as the emergency was over I was relieved, and returned to the
command of my old division. I went to my duties without a murmur as I
am neither ambitious nor have any political aspirations. On the 30th of
September I received an order through your aid, Colonel McKibben,
placing me in command of the Department of the Ohio, and directing
General Buell to turn over the command of his troops to me. This order
came just as General Buell had by extraordinary efforts prepared his
army to pursue and drive the rebels from Kentucky. Feeling that a great
injustice would be done him if not permitted to carry out his plans,
and that I would be placed in a situation to be disgraced, I requested
that he might be retained in command. The order relieving him was
suspended, but to-day I find him relieved by General Rosecrans, my
junior, although I do not feel conscious that any just cause exists for
overslaughing me by placing me under my junior, and I, therefore, am
deeply mortified and grieved at the course taken in this matter.
In this letter he was self-assertive, but not in violation of true
dignity, while he was remarkably careful to avoid offensive
personalities. He was intensely indignant and the letter reveals this,
but the measured words, though representing strongly his own
mortification, and his conviction of the injustice to himself, had no
venom for others. He did not mention in this letter the fact that he
had asked to be relieved of the command of the Army of the Tennessee,
since it was not necessary in addressing General Halleck to whom that
request was made. He had considered it necessary under the
circumstances that he should make this request, and recognizing this
necessity, he went to his duties "without a murmur." To an ambitious
general, one who desired high command, not so much for its own sake, or
for an opportunity for patriotic service, as for subsequent political
preferment, such a step backward in rank
Page 86 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
would be disappointing, rather than humiliating. But he, having no
political aspirations, was willing to accept such positions as the
precedents of the service gave him, and did not murmur when these
precedents sent him to a far lower command. The fact that he protested
against the assignment of his junior over him, indicates his repugnance
to humiliation when imposed by arbitrary power. It was not humiliating
to him to serve under General Buell in command of a division, after he
had been his peer in commanding an army; but his subjection to an alien
general, his junior, he regarded as an outrage. And in revealing his
indignation, he did not hesitate to recount his own services and to
assert his ability to command an army.
In reply General Halleck wrote:
"HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, Nov. 15,1862.
Your letter of October 30th is just at hand. I cannot better state my
appreciation of you than by referring you to the fact, that at
Pittsburgh Landing I urged upon the Secretary of War to secure your
appointment as major-general, in order that I might place you in
command of the Right Wing of the army over your superiors. It was
through my urgent solicitation that you were commissioned.
When it was determined to remove General Buell another person was
spoken of as his successor; and it was through my solicitation that you
were appointed. You having virtually declined the command at that time,
it was necessary to appoint another, and General Rosecrans was selected.
You are mistaken about General Rosecrans being your junior. But that is
of little importance, for the law gives the President power to assign
without regard to dates, and he has seen fit to exercise it in this
case and many others.
Rest assured, General, that I fully appreciate your military capacity,
and will do everything in my power to give you an independent command,
when opportunity offers. It was not possible to give command after you
had declined it.
H. W. HALLECK, General-in-Chief.
Page 87 - HIS REPLY TO HALLECK.
And thus General Thomas' request for the retention of General Buell in
command, because he thought his removal at that time unjust to him, was
made a bar to his own reassigment when the crisis had passed and
circumstances were radically different. It is apparent from General
Halleck's letter that some person or persons higher in authority than
General Halleck had not dismissed their distrust of Thomas, either on
the score of loyalty, earnestness in the war, or capacity as a general.
His assignment to the command of the Army of the Ohio had been made at
the urgent solicitation of General Halleck, when another general had
been spoken of for the position, and it was not possible after he had
virtually declined it, to re-appoint him. Why it was not possible is
not expressly stated, but it is evident that the opposition to his
appointment to the command of the army had been intensified by his
request for the retention of General Buell.
In reply General Thomas wrote:
GALLATIN, TENN., November 21st 1862.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK, Comd'g U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th
instant, and to thank you sincerely for the kindness of its tone. I
should not have addressed you in the first place, if I had known that
General Rosecrans' commission was dated prior to mine. The letter was
written not because I desired the command, but for being superseded by
a junior in rank, when I felt that there was no good cause for so
I have no objections to serving under General Rosecrans, now that I
know his commission dates prior to mine, but I must confess that I
should be deeply mortified should the President place a junior over me
without just cause, although the law authorizes him to do so should he
I am General, very truly yours,
GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-Gen'l U. S. V.
Page 88 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
There is an important statement in this letter illustrating his
independence. He would not have written this for the reason that he
desired the command of an army. He would not have asked for such a
position, or sought it through political influences, or in any other
way. He did desire independence as a general, but he would not
humiliate himself by seeking a higher sphere. In his first letter to
General Halleck he asked for service in another part of the country, to
avoid subjection to a junior in an army to which he was attached by
such ties as appeal to the heart of a true soldier. But General Halleck
had not been altogether candid in asserting that Rosecrans ranked
Thomas, and when the latter ascertained the true history of the case,
he was exceedingly indignant. General Rosecrans' commission as a
major-general of volunteers was dated August l6th, 1862. When it was
determined to assign him to the command of the army, this date was
arbitrarily changed to March 21st, 1862. His appointment as a
major-general and his original
commission, made him the junior of Generals McCook and Crittenden, as
well as of General Thomas. When Rosecrans first met Thomas, after his
assignment, the latter made inquiry in respect to the date of the
former's commission, stating that he was opposed to the violation of the
rule which gave assignments according to rank. Having been informed
that Rosecrans' commission bore date of March 21st, 1862, he then said,
that his objection to further service in the Army of the Cumberland had
been removed. But when subsequently he ascertained that this date was
not the original one, and that it had been changed in seeming deference
to army traditions, he said to General Halleck: "I have made my last
protest while the war lasts. You may hereafter put a stick over me if
you choose to do so. I will take care, however, to so manage my
command, whatever it may be, as not to be involved in the mistakes of
He kept his promise to the end of the war, and then he
Page 89 - ACCEPTS COMMAND OF THE CENTER
asserted himself even more boldly than he did on the 30th of October,
1862. Soon after assuming command of the army, General Rosecrans
offered to continue General Thomas in his position as second in
command, but he preferred a distinct, defined office, and consequently
was assigned to the command of the "Centre," composed of four
divisions, with Generals Rosseau, Negley, Dumont and Fry as commanders.
The "Right" and "Left" of the army contained three divisions each and
were commanded respectively by Major General McCook and Major-General
General Rosecrans was as unwilling as General Buell had been to move
his army into East Tennessee, and at once gave orders for the
concentration of his forces at Nashville, except those under General
Thomas. The objects of the new campaign were to defeat General Bragg's
army and restore the supremacy of the National government in Tennessee,
and as much further south as possible. The second object was indicated
by the order which re-created the Department of the Cumberland with
limits contingent upon the success of the army in gaining territory. To
give success to offensive operations it was first necessary to restore
railroad communications between Louisville and Nashville, and then to
accumulate supplies at Nashville as a secondary base. This essential
work was committed to General Thomas and his troops, and no general was
better adapted to the service, since no one was more observant of
details in all matters that related to military operations.
General Thomas immediately established his headquarters at Gallatin,
Tennessee, and by the 28th of December preparations were completed for
the advance of the army against the enemy at Murfreesboro. Abundant
supplies had been provided and the forces intended for the field had
been concentrated at Nashville. The troops to guard the communications
with Louisville were mainly drawn from General Thomas' command, and
consequently the "Centre" was
Page 90 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
weaker than the "Wings." He had only Rousseau's and Negley's divisions
and two detached brigades from divisions in the rear.
The grand units of the army having marched from Nashville on different
roads were abreast before the enemy near Murfreesboro' on the 30th of
December. The "Left" and "Centre" attained position on the 29th, and
General Rosecrans, having concluded that General Bragg had retreated,
ordered General Crittenden on the evening of that day to Cross Stone
River and occupy Murfreesboro'. In attempting to carry out this order
General Crittenden ascertained that the enemy had not retreated, and
that the required movement would imperil his corps. He therefore halted
his troops some having already crossed the river until he could confer
with the commanding-general. Afterwards, with General Rosecrans'
approval, the troops were recalled from their perilous advance. During
the afternoon of the 30th General McCook's troops were somewhat heavily
engaged near the ground which had been designated for their position in
General Bragg had expected an attack on the 30th and had held his army
in line of battle to meet it. At night he determined to take the
offensive himself, and made preparations to open the engagement the
next morning, intending to attack first with the left of his army. As a
defensive measure he had taken General McCown's division from reserve,
and posted it on the left of his first line of battle. He had done this
to meet the expected attack on that flank. But by this measure he had
placed a division entirely beyond General McCook's right which rested
on the Franklin road. This fact had been ascertained by General McCook
and communicated to General Rosecrans on the afternoon of the 30th. In
the evening of that day General Bragg, in preparation for offense,
transferred Cleburne's division from the second line on his right to a
corresponding position on his left, and placed General Hardee in command
Page 91 - ROSECRANS' LINE OF BATTLE
of the two divisions which were to assail General Rosecrans' right
early on the 31st . General Bragg had then placed two divisions, or
nearly two-fifths of his infantry, beyond General Rosecrans' right
flank, and in their support was Wharton's brigade of cavalry. On the
right bank of Stone River, Breckinridge's division of Hardee's corps
was formed in continuation of the main line, and here were Jackson's
unassigned brigades of infantry, and Wheeler's and Pegram's brigades of
cavalry in support. In all there were seven brigades on the right bank
of Stone River. This force was held as a possible reserve, and for
resistance in the event of an advance in that direction by the left of
the National army.
The trend of General Bragg's line of battle was due north from its left
to the Franklin road, and thence nearly northeast to Stone River. The
general direction of General Rosecrans' line was north and south. The
distance between the two armies was least at the Franklin road, in
consequence of the bend in the enemy's line at that point. General
Bragg's line of battle was defective in formation. This fact was
demonstrated the next day by the commingling of brigades from the
divisions in parallel alignment. The unity of the divisions was
impossible under the circumstances. And the failure of General Bragg to
carry his first success to complete victory may be attributed, in part,
at least, to this cause.
General Rosecrans' line of battle was radically different and greatly
superior. It was formed by divisions in first and second lines and
reserves. The brigades of each could act together under the direct
control of their common commander. In other battles the same contrast
can be traced.
General Rosecrans, besides, made his centre exceedingly strong by
holding a large division entirely in reserve, but this was in provision
for offense. At night, on the 30th, the divisions in order, from left
to right, were Wood's, Palmers, Negley's, Sheridan's, Davis', and
Page 92 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Rousseau's division was in the rear of Negley's, and Van Cleve's was
posted to the left and rear of Wood. Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions
were to cross the river and advance to Murfreesboro', in rear of
Bragg's army.* The Pioneer brigade was in position to cover these
divisions in crossing the river. The centre was made strong to break
through the middle of the enemy's line of battle.
General McCook's right flank rested upon the Franklin road. General
Davis' division faced a little east of south; Kirk's brigade of
Johnson's division on the right of Davis' looked more to the east, and
Willich's directly to the south. In facing south Willich's brigade was
nearly at right angles to the enemy's line of battle. Baldwin's brigade
of Johnson's division was some distance to the rear of Kirk; and
General Stanley's cavalry was still farther in the rear of the right
flank of the army. General Bragg's plan of battle was similar, in so
far as he also intended to take the initiative with the left of his
army. But his plan proposed a very different general movement. His four
divisions of infantry west of the river were to wheel to the right upon
General Folk's right as a pivot.
Each of the commanding generals was ignorant of the purposes of the
other, and each in the execution of his own plan expected to throw the
other upon the defensive. It was, therefore, inevitable that continued
aggression by either army depended upon the success of its initial
Preparations and circumstances gave the advantage to General Bragg. His
troops were in proximity to their point of attack, with no intervening
obstacle. While General Rosecrans' forces had a river to cross, a
distance of several miles to march, and a strong force of infantry and
cavalry to rout before Murfreesboro' could be gained.
* The withdrawal of these divisions the next morning made Palmer's left
the left flank of the army. This flank rested between the turnpike and
railroad, a short distance north of their intersection.
Page 93 STONE RIVER
General Bragg availed himself of his advantage and took the initiative
early in the morning of the 31st, with great energy and tremendous
effect. He wheeled his two over lapping divisions upon the right flank
of the National army and soon dislodged Willich's and Kirk's brigades,
Kirk having been attacked in front and flank. When these brigades fell
back and drifted to the right a new flank was formed by General Davis'
right brigade, Colonel Post commanding, and Baldwin's brigade of
Johnson's division from reserve; but these brigades were soon
overwhelmed, General Davis, in the meantime, repulsed repeated attacks
in front with his remaining brigades—Carlin's and Woodruff's. These
lost and then regained their position, but were finally compelled to
fall back. Johnson's and Davis' divisions made repeated efforts to
stand against the enemy, but with only temporary success, and they
finally fell back to the Nashville road in rear of the centre of the
army. Under the enemy's pressure Sheridan's division swung back until
it was at right angles to its first position, maintaining the
connection of its left with Negley's right. Immediately thereafter
General Thomas threw Rousseau's division on Sheridan's right, to
support him, should he maintain his position, and to resist the enemy
should he fall back. After these dispositions had been made the enemy
repeatedly assailed the three divisions. For some time his attacks were
repulsed, but Sheridan's division having exhausted its ammunition went
to the rear. Then came the supreme crisis of the battle. General
Cruft's brigade of Palmer's division, on the left of Negley, had
previously retired a short distance in consequence of the exposure of
its left flank. After Sheridan's division left the line both of
Negley's flanks were in air, and Rousseau was in the same condition,
both divisions being completely isolated, and soon after were each
nearly surrounded by the overlapping lines of the enemy. General Thomas
at once ordered Miller's and Stanley's brigades of Negley's division to
fall back, to save them
Page 94 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
from annihilation or capture. The withdrawal of these troops exposed
the right of Palmer's division, and Cruft's brigade again fell back.
The enemy, having been successful in dislodging the right of the army,
pressed with exultation upon Rousseau's, Negley's and Palmer's
divisions, which were compelled to-fight in all directions. Grose's
brigade of Palmer's division faced to the rear to meet the foe;
Negley's brigades fought as they fell back, and Rousseau's three
brigades, Shepherd's, Scribner's and Beatty's * were resisting attacks
in all directions.
This crisis carried with it the fate of the army. General Thomas at
once perceived that the only measure that would save the centre and the
army was the establishment of a new line, which should connect itself
with Crittenden's force on the left, and with McCook's and other forces
on the right. Seldom has a new line of battle been formed under similar
circumstances. A permanent line was dependent upon a temporary one, and
to both in conjunction General Thomas gave prompt attention. He sent
his batteries to the high ground selected for the permanent line, and
then formed part of his infantry on low ground in their front to resist
the advance of the enemy. Colonel Shepherd's regular brigade lost five
hundred men, killed and wounded, and Beatty's and Scribner's lost
heavily in covering the movements of other troops, and in fighting
their own way to the new position. General Rosecrans had sent the
Pioneer brigade to the centre, and its musketry and artillery fire also
covered the moving troops.' After hard fighting Rousseau's,
Negley's and Palmer's divisions were firmly connected, and other
dispositions made which placed the whole army in a continuous line.
Early in the morning Van Cleve's division had moved from reserve and
formed by brigades in column to cross Stone River, and lead in the
movement on Murfreesboro.
*Col. John Beatty.
Page 95 - STONE RIVER
Five brigades of Wood's division had also been withdrawn from position
to take part in the movement. But when Van Cleve's foremost brigade had
gained the farther bank, and his second, the nearer one, both had been
arrested by the commanding General, who had ordered them and Harker's
brigade of Wood's division to the support of the Right Wing. Colonel S.
Beatty's brigade of Van Cleve's division, followed by Colonel Fyffe's
brigade, opportunely reached the right of Rousseau's division
immediately after the establishment of the new line. These fresh troops
connected the new centre with McCook's forces on the right. This line
of battle bent at the centre at right angles to the original line, and
was well refused on its right. The enemy attacked this line repeatedly
throughout its length, but was as often repulsed.
Notwithstanding General Bragg's superior strength for his turning
movement, Hardee's two overlapping divisions and a great part of
Wither's and Cheatham's divisions were nearly exhausted before the new
line of battle of the National army had been established. As early as
10 A. M., the time of the crisis in the centre, General Hardee had
called for reenforcements. Three-fifths of General Bragg's army had
been moved against General McCook's corps, and afterwards most of these
forces fell upon Thomas's two divisions. And in fighting McCook, and
Thomas, and Palmer's division of Crittenden's corps, all of General
Bragg's army on the west bank of the river had recoiled with heavy
losses and broken ranks. Bragg's only hope. thereafter, was in using
all his reserves against the left of Rosecrans' army. In an effort to
turn this flank, he sent four brigades from the east of the river to
General Polk. The left of the National army was held by Palmer's
division, and Hascall's and Wagner's brigades of Wood's division.
Schaeffer's brigade of Sheridan's division was in rear, on the
railroad, as a supporting force. No fighting at any time was more
severe than on the left, when General Bragg was making his final effort
Page 96 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
win the day. In this struggle Hazen's brigade moved to the left to a
stronger position, and Hascall's brigade filled the vacant space, on
the right of the railroad. On the left of Hazen's new position, and
unconnected, Wagner's brigade resisted the enemy; and its nearness to
the river made it necessary for Bragg to hold one brigade of
Breckinridge's division on the east bank. The conflict was fierce and
protracted, and in failing to carry the left of the National army,
Bragg gave up the offensive altogether.
In the evening Starkweather's brigade of Rousseau's division, and
Walker's of Fry's, came upon the field; but as Negley's two brigades
were then in reserve in the centre, these fresh troops were first
posted to support General McCook, and subsequently relieved the forces
of General Crittenden's corps that they might return to the left of the
General Thomas had only five brigades in the conflict on the 31st, and
with this small force he arrested the success of the enemy. Battles are
won in a general way by the aggregate force of all operations to which
every officer who gives or obeys an order, and every soldier who fires
a cannon or a musket, makes a contribution. However, in an engagement
of marked emergencies the action of a brigade, division, or corps often
stands out distinctly as saving an army. The crisis at the centre was
so distinct, that its mastery brought General Thomas and his five
brigades into boldest relief, as having saved the army. The prompt
dispositions of the commander, and the steadiness and bravery of the
subordinate officers and men under circumstances which have often
brought confusion to generals and panics to soldiers, give the greater
prominence to their action. General Thomas gained greater distinction
in other battles, but never did he meet a crisis with more promptness
In the evening of the first, there was an informal meeting of several
officers, at General McCook's headquarters -- a small cabin in the rear
of the line of battle. General Rosecrans soon made known that he was
thinking of retreat, and
Page 97 - STONE RIVER
the discussion of this project lasted till midnight. General Crittenden
was vehement in his opposition to the withdrawal of the army. General
Thomas was quiet and soon fell asleep on an improvised seat. Near
midnight General Rosecrans asked Surgeon Eben Swift, medical director
of the Department of the Cumberland, "if he had transportation
sufficient to remove the wounded men." The doctor replied that there
were five or six thousand wounded, but many of them could walk, and
there were enough wagons and ambulances for those severely injured. The
commanding-general then awoke General Thomas and said: "Will you
protect the rear on retreat to Overall's Creek ?" Thomas promptly
answered: "This army can't retreat," and then fell asleep again. He had
doubtless decided the matter for himself when it was first proposed,
hence his readiness to give his opinion, and resume his restful
slumber. He who had snatched his five brigades from the midst of
Bragg's army when receiving fire in front, flank and rear, and had
established a stable line under a cross fire of artillery and musketry,
was not in favor of giving the field to the enemy.
The opposition of his corps commanders to the retreat of the army did
not, however, induce General Rosecrans to abandon the project. About
midnight he requested General McCook to ride with him to the rear to
select a new position. The two generals rode to the bank of Overall's
Creek, a few miles towards Nashville, and viewed the ground beyond that
stream. General McCook objected to the position, for the reason that it
was so low as to be commanded by artillery from the southern bank. When
returning, General Rosecrans observed fires on the west of the road,
and exclaimed: "The enemy is in our rear." He had directed General D.
S. Stanley, commanding the cavalry, to forbid fires that night; but
some insubordinate troopers had lighted torches, and the moving lights
induced him to believe that the enemy had passed to his rear.
Page 98 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General McCook went at once to his command to prepare it for action,
and General Rosecrans rode back to the place whence he started. As he
rode up, he said: "We must fight or die." He then directed Generals
Thomas and Crittenden to put their corps in readiness for battle.
He evidently alluded to this personal reconnoissance, and the
circumstances that prevented retreat in the following extracts from his
official report: " Orders were given for the issue of all the spare
ammunition, and we found that we had enough for another battle, the
only question being, where that battle was to be fought. * * * *
"After careful examination and free consultation with corps commanders,
followed by a personal examination of the ground in the rear as far as
Overall's Creek, it was determined to await the enemy's attack in that
position, to send for the provision train and order up fresh supplies
of ammunition, upon the arrival of which, should the enemy not attack,
offensive operations were to be resumed."
General Rosecrans' report contains no allusion to his belief that the
enemy was in his rear, and it is not thereby manifest how far it
influenced his decision to hold his position.
During the 1st and 2nd days of January the two armies remained in close
proximity, with no fighting beyond what resulted from tentative offense
by the enemy, until late in the afternoon of the 2nd, when there was a
fierce conflict on the east bank of Stone River. General Crittenden had
previously sent across the river Van Cleve's division and Grose's
brigade of Palmer's division. Regarding these troops and their
artillery as a menace to Polk's line on the opposite bank, General
Bragg resolved if practicable to dislodge them and ordered General
Breckinridge to advance for this purpose. Van Cleve's division was
driven from position and pursued to the river. But this action and its
result drew together a heavy force of infantry and artillery on the
west bank. About fifty guns were placed on high
Page 99 - STONE RIVER
ground by Major John Mendenhall, General Crittenden's chief of
artillery, with his approval, and that of the commanding general, but
their fire did not arrest the enemy who came to the river to the left
of these guns, some of the men even crossing the stream. At this
juncture Colonel John F. Miller leading seven regiments of Negley's
division, without orders from his immediate commander, and against the
orders of another general of division, crossed the river in the face of
the enemy, and in a brilliant charge drove Breckinridge's forces in
rout far towards Murfreesboro'.
Afterwards General Jeff. C. Davis' division advanced to the position
coveted by General Bragg, and at once fortified a battery upon it.
General Bragg's object had been a defensive one, simply to gain a
position on that side of the river, which commanded his line on the
other bank. His troops, however, went far beyond it in pursuing Van
Cleve's division, and then were driven back over it again by Miller's
unbidden charge. The failure of this operation induced Bragg to abandon
the general conflict, not considering his position on the other side of
the river tenable when exposed to an enfilading fire of artillery. He
feared also that the rising water would divide his army. He maintained
position, however, until the night of the 3rd, when to cover his
retreat his forces in front of General Thomas were active and annoying,
and he obtained permission to make a night attack. This resulted in the
penetration of the enemy's line by troops from Beatty's and Spear's
brigades, the latter having joined the army with trains. Early the next
morning it was discovered that General Bragg had retreated, leaving his
wounded at Murfreesboro', but saving his material.
During the first six months of the year 1863 the Army of the Cumberland
remained at Murfreesboro' and was comparatively inactive. The troops
were employed in the construction of elaborate fortifications and in
divers minor operations with defensive or tentative objects.
Page 100 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Early in January the provisional corps, "Right Wing," "Centre" and
"Left Wing," were changed to permanent corps d'armee. The " Right Wing
" became the Twentieth corps, the "Centre" the Fourteenth corps, and
the "Left Wing" the Twenty-first corps, commanded, as before,
respectively by Generals McCook, Thomas and Crittenden. The Fourteenth
corps, as finally constituted, comprised four divisions, designated as
first, second, third, and fourth, commanded respectively by
Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau, Major General J. S. Negley,
Brigadier-General J. M. Brannan, and Major-General J. J. Reynolds.
In this period of inaction at Murfreesboro' it was common for officers
of all grades to obtain leaves of absence to visit their homes, and
trips to Nashville were frequent. But the course of General Thomas
illustrated his idea of the duty of an officer holding an important
command. The months were passing slowly by and weary at last of
monotony and inaction, he asked permission to go to Nashville for a
day. There was at the time no prospect of operations, offensive or
defensive, for his command, and consequently there was no need of his
presence at Murfreesboro'. He nevertheless, upon reflection, declined
to go, because his reason for asking for a day's leave had been a
personal one. Besides it was possible, he thought, though not at all
probable, that an action of some kind might take place in his absence.
This extreme view of duty was frequently illustrated in his public and
private life. He was not "off duty" a single day during the war.
Late in June the Army of the Cumberland advanced against its old enemy,
the Confederate Army of the Tennessee, then holding the line of Duck
River. In this movement the Fourteenth corps was in the centre, its
appropriate place, and drove the enemy from Hoover's Gap and from
several positions in front of that gap. General McCook on the right had
a severe combat at Liberty Gap, but finally pressed the enemy from the
hills. Gen. Crittenden on the left did not
Page 101 - TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN
meet much opposition. When Bragg's army had been driven from its
defensive line on Duck River, Gen. Rosecrans moved his army towards
Manchester, and regarding this movement as indicating either an attack
upon his position at Tullahoma, or the interruption of his
communications, Bragg fell back from that place. He did not consider
himself strong enough to meet Rosecrans in battle, and he consequently
retreated first to the Cumberland Mountains, and soon after, across the
Tennessee River to Chattanooga. The Tullahoma campaign was begun on the
23rd of June and terminated on the 4th of July. The enemy fought at the
gaps of the mountains, but the defense on the whole was feeble. The
result was the possession by the Army of the Cumberland of the region
from Murfreesboro' to Bridgeport, Alabama.
At the close of the campaign the army advanced to the northern base of
the Cumberland Mountains, and there halted to make preparations for a
campaign south of the Tennessee River.
THE ARMY CROSSES THE TENNESSEE RIVER - GENERAL BRAGG EVACUATES
CHATTANOOGA - PURSUIT IS OPPOSED BY THOMAS, BUT NEVERTHELESS
ORDERED - THE THREE CORPS WIDELY SEPARATED - THOMAS' TROOPS
MEET THE ENEMY AT DUG GAP - BRAGG'S ARMY CONCENTRATED BUT
FAILS TO STRIKE EITHER OF THE ISOLATED CORPS - ARMY OF THE
CUMBERLAND CONCENTRATED ON THE l8TH - FIRST DAY OF BATTLE
LATE in August, in compliance with peremptory orders from Washington,
the army again moved forward, crossed the Cumberland Mountains, the
Tennessee River, and the mountains immediately south of that river, and
on the 8th of September, was encamped in Lookout Valley, near the
western base of Lookout Mountain. Here General Rosecrans had his army
in hand, except four brigades that had advanced directly towards
Chattanooga from the north. The position of the army in Lookout Valley
threatened General Bragg's communications south from Chattanooga. The
Twenty-first corps was near the northern base of Lookout Mountain, on
the direct road to Chattanooga, the Fourteenth corps was before
Stevens' Gap, with its advance on the summit of the mountain, and the
Twentieth corps was at Winston's with its foremost troops also upon the
summit. The mountain then separated the two armies. General Bragg had
been withdrawing his army for two days on the road leading to
Lafayette, Georgia, and late on the 8th his rear guard retired from
Chattanooga. Very early the next morning General Rosecrans was informed
of the evacuation of the town.
Page 103 - BRAGG EVACUATES CHATTANOOGA
General Bragg abandoned Chattanooga in expectation of soon regaining
it. His supplies were not sufficient for a siege, and his army was not
large enough to hold Chattanooga and cover his communications. He
consequently moved south a few miles to save his communications and
meet expected reenforcements, where his army might face the mountain
passes and strike unsupported corps, as they should debouch from
different mountain gaps into the eastern valley. At this time the
Confederate authorities were making efforts to give Bragg such an army
as, in their judgment, would enable him to vanquish the Army of the
Cumberland, to carry the war again to the north, and in the farthest
reach of hope to end the war with the independence of the Southern
States. But to give strategic force to a retreat that was imperative.
General Bragg used various stratagems to conceal his purposes. He sent
men into the National army to induce the belief that his army was
retreating far to the south, and moved his forces as far as practicable
to manifest such a purpose.
The strategy which had compelled the evacuation of Chattanooga was
consummate. The forces sent by General Rosecrans first to Pikeville and
afterwards directly towards Chattanooga, had effectually covered the
movement of the army towards General Bragg's communications with
Georgia, and had, at the same time, so threatened his communications
with Knoxville, and the forces holding East Tennessee, that Buckner's
little army had been withdrawn, and the easy possession of that region
by General Burnside had been thereby assured. The only effect of this
strategy which had not been favorable to the ultimate success of
Rosecrans, had been the reenforcement of Bragg's army before Rosecrans
by Buckner's command.
To gain Chattanooga the strategy was perfect, but for immediate
offensive operations south from that important point it was radically
defective. When Rosecrans' army was in Lookout Valley, and his detached
forces - four brigades - on the north bank of the Tennessee, with open
ways into Chattanooga from
Page 104 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
the north and the south, he had gained the objective of his campaign,
and the concentration of his army in that town could have been effected
without resistance by the enemy. But the pursuit of the enemy, not the
occupation of Chattanooga in force, became his object as soon as he was
informed that the town had been abandoned.
On the morning of the 9th, General Rosecrans sent the following message
to General Thomas:
HEADQ'RS DEP'T OF THE CUMBERLAND, Trenton, September 9th, 3.30 A. M.
MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps :
A despatch is just received from General Wagner, dated 8.30 P. M.
yesterday, stating that Chattanooga is evacuated by the rebels and he
will occupy it in the morning. The general commanding desires you to
call on him at once to consult in regard to arrangements for the
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
P. S. - The order sending the Ninety-Second Indiana to reconnoitre the
mountain is revoked. The General commanding directs you to order your
whole command in readiness to move at once.
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
Thus before General Thomas was invited to consult with General
Rosecrans it had been decided to pursue the enemy, and he was invited
to consult only in reference to the pursuit. But when the two generals
met, Thomas opposed the pursuit altogether and presented military
considerations of palpable weight against the measure.
At the time of the abandonment of Chattanooga by the enemy, two corps
of the Army of the Cumberland were within a day's march of that place ;
one of these being very near, since Wood's division of the Twenty-first
corps occupied Chattanooga at noon of the 9th. The Twentieth corps was
Page 105 - URGES CONCENTRATION OF THE ARMY
forty miles distant, and could have marched to Chattanooga by noon on
the 10th. By that time the main army could have been concentrated in
the town with strong detachments on the road to Bridgeport. The
mountain would have covered the movement of the Fourteenth and
Twentieth corps down Lookout Valley, and Crittenden's corps could have
held the town and covered the approaches from the south and east, aided
by the brigades from the north bank of the Tennessee. The concentration
could have been effected, if it had been the purpose of General Bragg
to oppose; but that it was not his intention is expressly stated in his
official report, and was evinced at the time by his retreat far towards
Lafayette, Georgia. Bragg was not ready for battle in proximity to
Chattanooga, and his army was not in a position to prevent the
concentration of the Army of the Cumberland in the town, had that been
General Rosecrans' object. But the situation gave room for an easy,
unrestricted occupation by the whole army. All the roads on the west
side of Lookout Mountain were held by the National army, and all
converged upon the one which passes over the 'nose' of Lookout, where
that mountain abuts the Tennessee River, three miles from Chattanooga,
and there was no enemy near to prevent, or even contest, the use of
that road. There was not, therefore, a single obstacle to the
concentration, and this fact taken in connection with the actual
movement of a division into the place from the south, the crossing of
troops into it from the north bank of the river, and the march of two
divisions in front of it from Lookout Mountain to Rossville on the
10th, proves beyond question that General Rosecrans had gained his
objective before he ordered the pursuit of the enemy. He must have
thought so himself, or he would not have established his headquarters
at Chattanooga behind his army.
In view of the manifest practicability of the concentration of the army
at Chattanooga, Thomas urged Rosecrans to abandon his scheme of pursuit
and establish his army at that
Page 106 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
point and perfect communications with Bridgeport and Nashville. After
this had been done, the offensive could have been taken from
Chattanooga as a base. General Thomas did not know how far Bragg
intended to retreat, but independently of the enemy's plans he was
urgent that what had been gained should be made secure. He was opposed
to a movement that might bring on a battle when the army having nearly
exhausted its supplies, transported from Bridgeport, could not follow
up a victory, in the event of winning one; and where, if defeat should
be the issue, the problem of supplies would be difficult of solution.
But believing that Bragg was retreating on Rome, Rosecrans rejected
Thomas' advice, and in doing so entered upon a series of mistakes which
culminated, when, by his orders, movements were made on the second day
of the battle of Chickamauga, which gave the enemy the opportunity to
break and rout the right of his army.
The views of the commanding generals in regard to the situation before
the battle of Chickamauga, and in reference to the supposed
possibilities to each, are clearly given in their official reports.
These extracts from General Bragg's report reveal his views, purposes
"Immediately after crossing the mountains to the Tennessee, the enemy
threw a corps by way of Sequatchie Valley to strike the rear of General
Buckner's command, while Burnside occupied him in front. * * * As soon
as this change was made, the corps threatening his rear was withdrawn;
and the enemy commenced a movement in force against our left and rear.
On the last of August it became known that he had crossed his main
force over the Tennessee River at and near Caperton's Ferry, the most
accessible point from Stevenson. By a direct route he was now as near
our main depot of supplies as we were, and our whole line of
communication was exposed, whilst his was partially secured by
mountains and the river. * * * The nature of the country and
Page 107 - R0SECRANS (ORDERS PURSUIT)
the want of supplies in it, with the presence of Burnside's force on
our right, rendered a movement on the enemy's rear with our inferior
force impracticable. It was therefore, determined to meet him in front
whenever he should emerge from the mountain gorges. To do this and hold
Chattanooga was impossible, without such a division of our small force
as to endanger both parts. Accordingly our troops were put in position
on the 7th and 8th of September, and took position from Lee and
Gordon's mill to Lafayette, on the road leading south from Chattanooga
and fronting the slope of Lookout Mountain."
General Rosecrans thus referred to the situation and the pursuit in his
"The weight of evidence gathered from all sources was, that Bragg was
moving on Rome and that his movement commenced on the sixth of
September. General Crittenden was therefore directed to hold
Chattanooga with one brigade, calling all the forces on the north side
of the Tennessee across, and to follow the enemy's retreat vigorously,
anticipating that the main body had retired by Ringgold and Dalton."
After his consultation with General Thomas, General Rosecrans issued
the following order:
TRENTON, GA., September 9, 1863, 10 A. M.
Commanding Fourteenth Army Corps :
The General commanding has ordered a general pursuit of the enemy by
the whole army. General Crittenden has started to occupy Chattanooga
and pursue the line of Bragg's retreat. Our forces across the river
from Chattanooga have been ordered to cross and join General Crittenden
in the pursuit. General McCook has been ordered to move at once on
Alpine and Summerville. The General commanding directs you to move your
command as rapidly as possible to Lafayette and make every exertion to
strike the enemy in flank, and If possible cut off his escape. Colonel
Wilder's brigade * has been ordered to join you at Lafayette.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
Page 108 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Nothing but the certainty that the enemy was retreating with scattered
forces to some remote point, could have warranted such a separation of
the three corps of the Army of the Cumberland, as resulted from
obedience to this order. The movements in compliance gave General Bragg
the advantage for maneuver and battle. He had his army in hand behind
the mountains, with short lines to each of the three corps of the
National army in their complete isolation.
General Rosecrans had been bold to cross the Tennessee River without
assured support on right, or left. But when he had gained his objective
it was more than bold to send one corps to the rear of General Bragg's
concentrated army, another towards its centre, and a third to its left,
and each of the three in perilous isolation. And it was one of the most
wonderful series of operations of the war, which brought these corps
from isolation into union in front of the enemy, in time for battle.
Bragg had a large army when he left Chattanooga. The five divisions
that fought the battle of Stone River were with him, two divisions had
joined him from Mississippi, and Buckner's two divisions from East
Tennessee joined immediately south of Chattanooga. He had then an army
of nine divisions of infantry immediately after leaving that town.
General Thomas was nearest this large army, and his designated line of
advance was directly towards its centre. He was therefore the first in
peril. Besides no general would forget that the overthrow of the
central corps of an army would doubly expose the other two. It was
well, therefore, that the conduct of the perilous advance of this corps
was committed to as prudent a general as Thomas.
* Reynolds' division Fourteenth corps.
Page 109 - CROSSES LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
On the 9th Negley's division moved over Lookout Mountain and debouched
into McLemore's Cove, and threw forward skirmishers to Bailey's
cross-roads. In the evening Baird's division crossed the mountain to
the eastern base. Reports reached Thomas that the enemy's cavalry was
drawn up in line in front of Negley, and that a heavy force consisting
of infantry, cavalry and artillery, was concentrated at Dug Gap, beyond
Bragg was apprised of this advance, and promptly prepared to meet it.
The following extract from his report gives his general plan of
operations as well as his purpose in respect to Thomas' movement:
"During the ninth it was ascertained that a column, estimated at from
four to eight thousand, had crossed Lookout Mountain into the cove, by
way of Stevens' and Cooper's Gap. Thrown off his guard by our rapid
movement - apparently in retreat, when, in reality, we had concentrated
opposite his centre and deceived by the information from deserters and
others sent into his lines, the enemy pressed on his columns to
intercept us, and thus exposed himself in detail." That night Bragg
formed a combination of three divisions and a cavalry force to move
against Negley the next day.
Early on the 10th it was ascertained that Dug Gap had been obstructed
and occupied by the enemy's pickets. If this was a device to invite the
advance of Thomas it failed of its object, since he was the more
cautious in consequence of an equivocal precaution on the part of the
enemy. General Bragg made effort during the day to move his forces
against Negley, but twice, his subordinates failed to carry out his
orders. He did not however abandon the project and at night gave orders
for a far heavier combination for the 11th. Negley's division was
exposed in three directions, through Dug Gap, farther to the left,
through Catlett's Gap, both in Pigeon Mountain, and on the low ground
Page 110 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
to the north. That evening Baird's division moved towards Negley's
position, and Reynolds and Brannan were ordered to move forward early
in the morning. The caution evinced by General Thomas called forth the
following despatch from General Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, September 10,
1863 - 9:45 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
The General commanding directs me to say General Negley's despatch,
forwarded to you at 10 A. M. is received. He is disappointed to learn
from it that his forces move to-morrow morning instead of having moved
this morning, as they should have done, this delay imperiling both
extremes of the army.
Your movement upon Lafayette should be made with the utmost promptness.
You ought not to incumber yourself with your main supply train. A
brigade or two will be sufficient to protect it.
Your advance ought to have threatened Lafayette yesterday evening.
I have the honor to be, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
J. P. DROUILLARD. A. D. C. Captain
Later he added:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Chattanooga, September 10, 1863 -- 10 P. M.
Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
In addition to the accompanying despatch the General commanding further
directs that you open direct communication with General McCook and take
care to hurt the enemy as much as possible.
It is important to know whether he retreats on Rome or Cedar Bluffs.
If the enemy has passed Lafayette, toward Rome, he will threaten McCook
; if he has not passed this point, he will endanger Crittenden.
Much depends on the promptitude of your movements.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. P. DROUILLARD.
Page 111 - BRAGG ORDERS ATTACK
These instructions exhibited an utter misapprehension of the situation.
Rosecrans still believed that Bragg was retreating and his plans had
reference to pursuit. And Thomas' slow advance under the circumstances
did not imperil either McCook or Crittenden, since the longer Bragg was
induced to operate against Thomas, the longer would the other two corps
be safe. Bragg had choice of corps, as each in isolation was exposed to
attack, and it was not in the power of Thomas, McCook or Crittenden to
give aid to each other except as each could hold the enemy to the
offensive against himself. To be slow therefore under the semblance of
offense was the best policy. But at the time that Rosecrans was framing
his instructions to Thomas to hasten his movements on Lafayette, Bragg
had just moved his headquarters to that place from Lee and Gordon's
mill, and was planning to move seven or eight divisions of infantry and
a force of cavalry against the foremost divisions of the Fourteenth
corps in McLemore's Cove, as the following order and extract from his
official report plainly show:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY TENNESSEE, Lafayette, Ga., 12 p. M., September io,
MAJOR-GENERAL HINDMAN, Commanding, etc.
GENERAL: - Headquarters are here and the following is the information :
Crittenden's corps is advancing on us from Chattanooga. A large force
from the south has advanced to within seven miles of this point. Polk
is left at Anderson's to cover your rear. General Bragg orders you to
attack and force your way through the enemy to this point at the
earliest hour you can see him in the morning, Cleburne will attack in
front the moment your guns are heard.
I am, General, etc.,
GEORGE W. BRENT, Assistant Adjutant-General.
"Orders were also given for Walker's reserve corps to move promptly to
join Cleburne's division at Dug Gap to unite in the attack. At the same
time Cleburne was directed to remove all obstructions in the road in
his front, which was
Page 112 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
promptly done, and by daylight he was ready to move. The obstructions
in Catlett's Gap were also ordered to be removed to clear the road in
Hindman's rear. Breckinridge's division, Hill's corps, was kept in
position south of Lafayette to check any movement the enemy might make
from that direction.
At daylight I proceeded to join Cleburne at Dug Gap and found him
waiting the opening of Hindman's guns, to move on the enemy's flanks
General Hindman had been joined by Buckner's corps the day before, so
that Buckner's, Folk's and Walker's corps and one division of Hill's
corps, and a cavalry force, under General Bragg in person, were
included in the combination against the two advanced division of the
Fourteenth corps. And yet these divisions and the other two behind
them, escaped overthrow because they had not advanced in compliance
with the orders of General Rosecrans.
At 8 A. M., on the 11th, Baird's division was formed on the right of
Negley's. By this time it was known that the enemy had removed the
obstructions from Catlett's and Dug Gap. Later in the day the enemy
advanced through them in heavy force, while another column approached
from the north. By skilful maneuvers and gallant fighting Negley's and
Baird's divisions, step by step, withdrew from the midst of the three
converging columns, and falling back towards Lookout Mountain, were
soon within supporting distance of the other divisions of the corps.
The strength of the enemy's columns developed the fact that there was a
large army before the Fourteenth corps. And yet General Rosecrans was
so far from apprehending the actual situation that he sent the
following despatch to General Thomas :
CHATTANOOGA, Sept. 12, 1863, 11.15 A. M.
MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Army Corps.
GENERAL:- Your despatch of 10.30 last night and of 4 o'clock this
morning, have been received. After maturely weighing the notes the
General commanding is induced to think that General Negley
Page 113 - THE ENEMY AT LEE AND GORDON'S MILL
withdrew more through prudence than compulsion. He trusts that our loss
is not serious, and that there will be no difficulty in holding the
gap. He despatched you last night to communicate with General McCook
and call him up if you thought necessary. He trusts this has been done,
if not, no time should be lost. * * * * It is very important, at this
time, for you to communicate promptly, that the General commanding may
know how to manage General Crittenden's corps, which will attack the
enemy as soon as it can be gotten in position.
When a battle does begin it is desirable that every command should do
its best, and push hard, using the bayonet wherever possible.
I am, Sir, very respectfully your obedient servant.
C. GODDARD, Assistant Adjutant General.
General Thomas mentioned subsequently that he thought that the army
should have been withdrawn to Chattanooga as soon as he had developed
the fact of Bragg's concentration in his front, and he claimed that a
safe retreat could have been effected by forced marches. At this time
the situation gave no promise that the expectations entertained by the
commanding general, when he ordered the pursuit of the enemy by his
entire army, would be realized. In obedience to orders of the 9th,
Crittenden had occupied Chattanooga with Wood's division, had called
over the troops from the north bank of the Tennessee, and had put
Palmer's and Van Cleve's divisions in motion on the road to Ringgold.
These divisions had passed on the 11th beyond Ringgold, and beyond the
right flank of Bragg's army, Wilder's brigade having advanced to Tunnel
Hill. The enemy had been developed on the 10th on the road to Lee and
Gordon's mill, and two brigades of Wood's division - Barker's and
Buell's - had been moved from the Ringgold road to the one leading to
Lafayette, in consequence of information sent by Wood to General
Rosecrans, to the effect that General Bragg, with the bulk of his army,
was at Lee and Gordon's mill. This fact was also indicated by the
resistance offered to Harker's
Page 114 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
advance north of the mill. General McCook had crossed Lookout Mountain
to Alpine, and General R. B. Mitchell's cavalry - Crook's and McCook's
divisions - had reconnoitred far toward Rome and Summerville without
finding the enemy. This fact, and the capture of prisoners of
Longstreet's corps from Virginia, indicated the presence of Bragg's
army north of Alpine. McCook had thereupon thrown his trains back upon
the mountain, and having sent a cavalry force towards Lafayette to
develop the facts, was, on the 12th, holding his troops in readiness to
recross the mountain upon receipt of orders to do so, or in the event
of the return of the cavalry with positive knowledge of the
concentration of Bragg's army at Lafayette. On the 12th Crittenden's
corps took position on the line of the Chickamauga, with Van Cleve's
division thrown across that stream on the direct road to Lafayette, in
the immediate front of the enemy. And on the day that General Rosecrans
proposed that "Crittenden's corps should attack the enemy as soon as it
could be gotten into position," General Bragg turned from Thomas to
direct Folk's corps and other forces against Crittenden, first to crush
his corps, and then to turn again against the Fourteenth. Fortunately
for the National army this plan also miscarried, through the default of
subordinate commanders. Bragg's order for the movement against
Crittenden is subjoined:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE. Lafayette, Ga., 6 p. M., September
GENERAL :- I enclose you a dispatch from General Pegram. This presents
you a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you
will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed
and the others are yours. We can then turn on the force in the cove.
Wheeler's cavalry will move on Wilder so as to cover your right. I
shall be delighted to hear of your success.
Very truly yours,
Page 115 - ENEMY CONCENTRATED FOR BATTLE
Afterwards, Buckner's corps was moved in support. General Bragg thus
refers to the movement and its failure: "Early on the thirteenth I
proceeded to the front, ahead Buckner's command, to find that no
advance had been made on the enemy, and that his forces had formed a
Junction and recrossed the Chickamauga. Again disappointed, immediate
measures were taken to place our trains and limited supplies in safe
positions, when all our forces were concentrated along the Chickamauga,
threatening the enemy in front."
Lafayette was five miles distant from Dug Gap, ten miles from Lee and
Gordon's mill, eighteen from Alpine, and fifteen from Ringgold. Bragg's
army was mainly between Lafayette and Dug Gap on his left, and Lee and
Gordon's mill in his front, and hence he held interior lines of extreme
shortness for operations against an army divided into three parts.
It is, therefore, demonstrable that had General Thomas moved rapidly on
the direct road to Lafayette, through Dug Gap, as ordered, the defeat
of his corps, or its capture would have been inevitable, and the fate
of that corps would have been the fate of the army. It is accordingly
not surprising, that when General Rosecrans had full knowledge of the
facts, he frankly stated in his official report that "It was,
therefore, a matter of life and death to effect the concentration of
When it was evident that General Bragg's army was concentrated north of
Lafayette, McCook's corps was forty miles distant from Crittenden's by
the nearest road, and the distance from Lee and Gordon's mill, and from
McLemore's Cove to Bragg's army, was less than between the positions of
Thomas and Crittenden, while McCook's corps was much farther from
Thomas' position than from the enemy before Lafayette. But,
notwithstanding the wide separation of the corps, the intervening
mountains, and the concentrated forces of the enemy in' proximity to
Crittenden, the Army of the
Page 116 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGES H. THOMAS
Cumberland was united in time for battle. In abandoning the offensive
from the 13th to the 18th, Bragg lost his best opportunity to overwhelm
a single corps. During this time Crittenden's corps stood before his
army on the opposite bank of the Chickamauga. Had he moved his army
forward, he would have forced this single unsupported corps back upon
Chattanooga, or westward upon Lookout Mountain, and while doing this he
could have covered his communications through Ringgold to Dalton.
At midnight on the 13th McCook received orders to move two of his
divisions to Thomas' support, and guard his trains with the third. On
the following day the corps moved up the mountain, and on the 17th it
was concentrated in McLemore's Cove. In the meantime the Fourteenth
corps had moved gradually towards Lee and Gordon's mill, to be in
readiness to connect in one direction with Crittenden and in the other
with McCook. The enemy's forces were lying along the line of march on
the right, but not in such strength, at any time, as to arrest the
movement of Rosecrans' forces to the left. In the evening of the 18th
General Thomas' head of column reached Crawfish Springs, and there he
received orders to move to the Chattanooga and Lafayette road, at
Kelley's farm, and to connect his right with Crittenden's left, at Lee
and Gordon's mill. This night march was rendered necessary by the
movement of General Bragg's forces to his right, down the right bank of
the Chickamauga, on the l8th. He had intended to cross that stream and
attack General Crittenden on that day, but he had been disappointed by
the unexpected slowness of his forces in moving to position across the
stream, in part resulting from Wilder's resistance. Bragg had been
reenforced until he had ten divisions of infantry, comprised in five
corps of two divisions each. The divisions comprised from three to five
brigades each. He had four divisions of cavalry, two on his right
covering the movement of his forces by that flank, and two on his left,
Page 117 - ROSECRANS' ARMY CONCENTRATED
to hold the gaps in Pigeon Mountain, and if possible, to direct
attention from the real movement on the other flank. General Bragg had
failed in three distinct efforts to strike the Fourteenth and
Twenty-first corps in their isolation, and it was his purpose in moving
his army down the Chickamauga and across it, to envelop Crittenden's
corps, as the left of the National army. Had Bragg made the attack on
the 18th he could have done this, but losing a day he lost the
opportunity altogether, although his plan of operations for the 18th
was based upon the belief that it was still practicable to move his
forces upon General Rosecrans' left flank, at Lee and Gordon's mill,
and interposing between the National army and Chattanooga, to drive it
back in rout upon the mountain passes.
When the three corps of the Army of the Cumberland were united on the
evening of the 18th it was then practicable to withdraw to Chattanooga,
had General Rosecrans been averse to fighting a battle on the left bank
of the Chickamauga. That stream divided the two armies, and General
Bragg had no thought of crossing where there were opposing forces. A
part of his army had already moved down the stream, and was across far
below Lee and Gordon's mill, and his plan of battle was such as to give
Rosecrans on the night of the l8th the best possible opportunity to
withdraw his army without harm. Rosecrans had command of three roads to
Chattanooga, the Lafayette road, the Dry Valley road, and the one
leading along the eastern base of Lockout Mountain. The two most
easterly roads passed through gaps in Missionary Ridge, and the third
passed most of the way between Lookout Mountain and high hills. These
main roads and intersecting roads would have afforded facilities for
rapid movement and easy defense. By a forced march, on three roads
practicable for the movement of troops in column, the army could have
reached Chattanooga by the morning of the 19th, since the most distant
brigade was not more than fifteen
Page 118 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
miles from that place. It was not unusual during the war for armies to
retreat from the presence of other armies under circumstances less
favorable for quick movement than in this case. Had, therefore, General
Rosecrans elected to withdraw, he might have lost some of his wagons,
but it is highly probable that he could have saved them all. It is
certain that withdrawal was practicable, and he accepted battle on the
field of Chickamauga from choice, and not from compulsion.
General Thomas reached Kelley's farm with Baird's division about
daylight, and having been informed by Colonel Wilder that the enemy had
crossed the Chickamauga in force the evening before at Reid's and
Alexander's bridges, faced his troops towards these bridges across the
roads leading to them. Wilder's brigade of Reynolds' division had taken
position on the west of the Lafayette road, about half way from
Kelley's farm to General Crittenden's position. General Thomas intended
to place the other two brigades of that division on the right of Baird
to connect his right with Wilder's left. When Brannan's division
arrived at Kelley's farm, Thomas posted it on the left of Baird. Soon
after it was reported that there was a brigade of Bragg's army in
proximity, which had been cut off the night before by the burning of
Reid's bridge by Colonel Daniel McCook of the Reserve corps. In hope of
capturing this isolated brigade General Brannan was directed to move
forward on the road to the burnt bridge, to capture the brigade or
drive it back across the Chickamauga. This movement developed the enemy
and opened the battle, at a point far north of the one where General
Bragg expected to take the initiative against General Rosecrans' left
flank. Brannan soon encountered Forrest's cavalry, which was covering
the right of Walker's corps, as that corps, Hood's and Buckner's, and
Cheatham's division of Folk's were moving with a left wheel upon
Crittenden. The cavalry having, after a sharp conflict, given way
Page 119 - CHICKAMAUGA
Bragg moved Walker's corps to Forrest's support. This corps, after a
temporary success against Baird's division was driven back, when other
forces of the enemy were turned to the right. In the meantime the first
divisions engaged on the left of the National army were reenforced, and
from Brannan's initiative both armies extended their lines towards Lee
and Gordon's mill. Early in the day Crittenden had sent a brigade to
his left to develop the enemy, if coming against his position. Soon
after, the battle having opened far to his left, while no enemy was
threatening his position, he sent Palmer's division to General Thomas.
This division went into position to the right of Baird. In the meantime
General Rosecrans had placed General McCook in command of all the
troops on the right of Crittenden, and directed him to send his own
divisions to the left as they should come upon the field. Negley's
division at the time was in position on the Chickamauga and was
included with the cavalry in McCook's command. The first division sent
from the right to Thomas was Johnson's division of McCook's corps, and
this division went into line on the left of Palmer. Soon after, General
Reynolds' division extended the line to the right. Thus five divisions
were thrown before the enemy as his line was extended to his left. The
lines of neither army were able to maintain continuity, and each at
times was broken. The battle-field for the most part was thickly
planted with forest trees, which were a barrier to regularity in the
movement of troops and the maintenance of connected lines, in the
alternations of aggression and defense. Gradually, however, with the
oft repeated repulse of the enemy, General Thomas' line of five
divisions became continuous and stable. Having failed to drive Thomas
from position. General Bragg advanced fresh troops - Buckner's corps -
towards the unoccupied space on the right of Reynolds. To meet this
effort to divide his army, General Rosecrans directed Jeff. C. Davis'
division of McCook's corps, and
Page 120 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Van Cleve's division of Crittenden's corps, to the right of Thomas'
line. These divisions were soon heavily engaged, and Sheridan's
division from McCook's corps, and Wood's of Crittenden's were also sent
to their support. Later in the day Negley's division of Thomas' corps
was also sent to this part of the field. Early in the afternoon General
Thomas sent Brannan's division from his extreme left to drive back the
enemy who had penetrated the line of battle on Reynolds' right. The
enemy's success at this point was the most threatening of the day, but
Brannan's timely support restored the connection of Reynolds with the
troops on his right.
In this action General Bragg's plan entirely miscarried. Expecting to
move seven divisions of infantry and two of cavalry upon the left flank
of Rosecrans' army at Lee and Gordon's mill, and then unite his entire
army on that flank, the battle was forced upon him so far to the north
that one of Crittenden's divisions had been posted opposite Bragg's
centre and the other two had moved at least a mile to confront the left
of his line of battle. And instead of using the remainder of his
infantry against the front of Crittenden's corps near Lee and Gordon's
mill he was compelled to send it down the Chickamauga to cross in the
rear of his other forces. To the defeat of this plan General Thomas
contributed largely. He was sent to the left by General Rosecrans but,
except in compliance with this order, he was virtually in independent
command of more than half of the infantry divisions of the army. Thomas
disposed five divisions for battle, and the troops under his command
formed about five-sevenths of the connected line of battle, and in
transferring Brannan's division from his left to the right of Reynolds
he drove back the enemy after the line of battle had been pierced. No
general, in chief or subordinate command, was ever more quick or
judicious in his dispositions, or more forceful in fighting an enemy.
Page 121 - NIGHT OF THE NINETEENTH
Late in the evening Thomas retired the left of his line a short
distance to better ground, and directed the division commanders to
construct barricades of logs in front of their troops. It was so
evident that the battle had been indecisive in general issue, that both
armies were conscious that the renewal of the conflict was inevitable.
During the night the corps commanders were called together for
consultation at the headquarters of the commanding general. At this
conference General Thomas was urgent that the right and right centre of
the army should be withdrawn to Missionary Ridge and the transverse
hills to the right and rear of the centre. The ridge and these hills
commanded the Dry Valley road and much of the ground between that road
and the one leading to Lafayette by Lee and Gordon's mill. Had this
suggestion been adopted the defensive strength of the right would at
least have been doubled. The strength of the transverse hills was
proved on the following day, when Thomas with a part of the army saved
the whole of it. But had the entire right of the army been where he
would have placed it on the second day of the battle, neither that part
nor any other would have been defeated.
The general trend of Missionary Ridge is north and south, but this
ridge is cut into separate hills and series of hills by deep
depressions or gaps. A long depression stretches from McFarland's
house, first to the south and then to the south-east, and cuts the
ridge to its base. Through this depression runs the Dry Valley road. At
McFarland's another gap running to the east is equally deep. These two
gaps isolate a series of hills, which trend south from McFarland's to
Villetoe's house on the Dry Valley road, and, making nearly a right
angle at the latter house, stretch to the east. On the south of the
hills there is first low ground and then other hills, lower than the
main ridge, extending nearly to Widow Glen's house. On the right side
of this road, to one moving south, is Missionary
Page 122 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Ridge; and on the left are the hills which connect themselves almost to
Widow Glen's. The right of the army, if it had been withdrawn as
General Thomas advised, would have rested on the main ridge and upon
the detached hills.
The ridge trending north from the Dry Valley road at Villetoe's, was
the position taken by Steedman's, Brannan's and Wood's divisions in the
afternoon of the 20th, whose strength was then fully tested. It should
be mentioned in this connection that had the right of the army, cavalry
included, been retired to these defensive positions, most of the field
hospitals would have been entirely uncovered. These hospitals had been
established on the 19th, near Crawfish Springs, far in the rear and far
to the right of the line of battle on that day. They would have fallen
into the hands of the enemy had the right of the army been withdrawn
the night of the 19th, but had this been done, they would have been
speedily regained as one of the fruits of victory.
In seeming deference to General Thomas' suggestion, General Rosecrans
ordered Generals McCook and Crittenden, to withdraw their troops. The
former was to establish a new line for the right, and the latter was to
place his troops to the left of the new line in reserve. At 11.45 P.
M., the following order was given to McCook:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Widow Glen's, September 19, 11.45 P. M.
MAJOR GENERAL McCooK, Commanding the Twentieth Army Corps.
The General commanding directs you, as soon as practicable after the
receipt of this order, to post your command so as to form the right of
the new battle-front, and hold the same. Leave your outposts and grand
guard where they now are till they are driven in by the enemy, when
they will fall back upon the main body of your command, contesting the
ground inch by inch.
J. A. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff.
Page 123 - THE ORDERS FOR THE TWENTIETH
Crittenden was ordered to place his two divisions in reserve to support
McCook or Thomas :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Widow Glen's House, Sept. 19, 1863 - 11.20 P. M.
The General commanding directs me to inform you that General McCook has
been ordered to hold this gap to-morrow, covering the Dry Valley road,
his right resting near this place, his left connecting with General
Thomas' right. The General places your corps in reserve to-morrow, and
directs you to post it on the eastern slope of Missionary Ridge to
support McCook or Thomas. Leave the grand guard from your command out,
with instructions to hold their ground until driven in, and then to
retire slowly, contesting the ground stubbornly.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.
THE BATTLE OPENS ON THE LEFT - ENEMY REPULSED - CHANGES IN POSITIONS
OF TROOPS ON THE RIGHT - THAT WING ROUTED - THOMAS FORMS A NEW
LINE AND REPULSES THE ENEMY - THE WITHDRAWAL TO CHATTANOOGA.
All the movements required by General Rosecrans' orders were made
during the night. General McCook posted Sheridan's division on the
slope of Missionary Ridge to the right and rear of Widow Glen's with
Davis' division to the left of Sheridan, while General Crittenden
placed Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions still further to the left on
the eastern slope of the ridge. Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry of
Reynolds' division, by direction of the commanding general, reported to
McCook for orders, and this brigade was placed on the right of
Sheridan. McCook, in compliance with orders, made his dispositions to
command the Dry Valley road, and to hold the gap near Widow Glen's
house. Defenses were constructed during the night and early morning
which, with the natural strength of the position, gave great firmness
to the right flank of the army. But, although four divisions had then
been withdrawn nearly a mile, there had been no corresponding recession
of Negley's and Brannan's divisions and the right flank of the former
was in air and far from supporting forces.
Very early in the morning of the 20th - 6 A. M. - General Thomas
requested that Negley's division should be sent to him to take the
position on the left of Baird which Brannan's division had occupied at
the opening of the battle. Brannan's division was then in line on the
right of Reynolds, where it was needed, and Thomas desired to
strengthen his left flank with Negley's division, anticipating that the
battle of the 20th would open at that point.
Page 125 - HE ASKS FOR NEGLEY
At 6 A. M., General Thomas sent the following message to General
H'DQ'RS FOURTEENTH A. C. DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND, Near McDaniels’
House, Sept. 20, 1863 - 6 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL ROSECRANS, Commanding Department Cumberland:
Since my return this morning, I have found it necessary to concentrate
my line more. My left does not now extend to the road that branches off
at McDaniels' to Reid's bridge. I earnestly request that Negley's
division be placed on my left immediately. The enemy's skirmishers have
been discovered about three quarters of a mile in front of our left and
picket line, proceeding towards the Rossville road. A division on my
left would be exactly in their front.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Maj .-Gen'l U. S. V. Com'd'g.
Upon receipt of the foregoing note General Rosecrans issued the
following conditional order :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, September 20, 1863 - 6.35 A.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCooK, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
General Negley's division has been ordered to General Thomas' left. The
General commanding directs you to fill the space left vacant by his
removal, if practicable. The enemy appears to be moving toward our left.
J. A. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff.
This order was not positive in its requirement, and in view of all the
facts the reason is not apparent, for directing General McCook to fill
the space to be vacated by Negley's division
Page 126 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
His two divisions were required by a previous order to extend the line
of battle from General Thomas' right to Missionary Ridge, in rear of
Widow Glen's, - General Rosecrans' headquarters. General Davis had only
two brigades on the field, and had lost about forty per cent. of his
men on the 19th. McCook's troops could not form a strong line from
Negley's right to the point designated for the right flank, much less
from Brannan's right to that point. This order then required that
General McCook should move his forces to the left, or use the
discretion so plainly given. If this order had been given to General
Crittenden, who had Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions in reserve on the
eastern slope of Missionary Ridge in readiness to support Thomas or
McCook, Negley might have been relieved early in the day and been in
position on the left of Baird when the battle opened.
The following extract from the report of General Thomas, in relation to
the removal of Negley's division to the left, is subjoined:
"After my return from department headquarters, and about 2 A. M., on
the 20th, I received a report from General Baird that the left of his
division did not rest on the Reid's Bridge road as I had intended, and
that he could not reach it without weakening his line too much. I
immediately addressed a note to the commanding general, requesting that
General Negley be sent to take position on General Baird's left and
rear, and thus secure our left from assault. During the night the
troops threw up temporary breastworks of logs, and prepared for the
encounter which all anticipated would come off the next day. Although
informed by note from General Rosecrans headquarters that Negley's
division would be sent immediately to take post on my left, it had not
arrived at 7 A. M. on the 20th, and I sent Captain Willard of my staff
to General Negley to urge him forward as rapidly as possible, and to
point out his position to him."
Lieutenant-General Polk, commanding the right wing of the Confederate
army, was ordered by General Bragg to assault General Rosecrans'
extreme left at dawn on the 20th and his divisions were directed to
attack in turn to
Page 127 - AWAITING ATTACK
the left. Lieutenant-General Longstreet, commanding the left wing, was
to attack in the same order as soon as Folk's left division was in
motion, "and the whole line was then to be pushed vigorously and
persistently against the enemy throughout its extent." But the
commander of the right wing was not prompt in compliance and, during
his absence from his command, Bragg ordered a reconnoissance, which
developed the fact that the road to Chattanooga to the left of
Rosecrans' army was open, and this knowledge intensified the eagerness
of the enemy to attack and turn Thomas' left flank. The reconnoissance
reported by Bragg, and the advance of the enemy on his left mentioned
by Thomas, were doubtless identical.
General Thomas had done all in his power to strengthen the point
selected by Bragg for his initial attack. Thomas' plan was to place the
artillery of Negley's division on the eastern base of Missionary Ridge
to the left and rear of Baird's division, so as to sweep the space
accessible for a flank movement, and to place Negley's three brigades
on the left and in close connection with Baird. With an entire division
supported by three batteries of artillery, he believed that the left
flank of the army could be held against the attacks of the enemy. But
Negley was not permitted by the commanding general to leave position
until relieved by other troops. The division at one time was actually
withdrawn, and was forming for the march to the left, but was remanded
to the line by General Rosecrans. At 8 A. M. Beatty's brigade in
reserve was permitted to go to Thomas, but the other two brigades of
Negley's division were not relieved until much later in the morning
when Wood's division occupied the position vacated by Negley. Beatty
reached Thomas before the opening of the battle, but his brigade, in a
thin line, was unable to check Breckinridge's division, which marched
round Baird's flank at the time he was receiving an attack in front.
Page 128 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Thomas' plan had miscarried through the retention of Negley's
two brigades and all his artillery on the right. Thomas knew that the
left of the army was both vulnerable and vital, and yet he was baffled
in all his efforts to give it strength.
When Beatty's brigade was broken and driven back, Breckinridge advanced
southward on the Lafayette road far towards the rear of the centre of
our army. Fortunately there were two brigades and some reserve
regiments which Thomas could move against this daring division.
Stanley's brigade of Negley's division, and Van Derveer's, of
Brannan's, advanced directly against the enemy, and a few regiments of
Palmer's division, which General Thomas had previously sent to the
support of Baird, faced to the rear and struck him in flank. After a
sharp conflict Breckinridge's forces fled with broken ranks and heavy
loss around Baird's left flank to the sheltering woods beyond. Not only
was this turning movement signally defeated, but every attack on
Thomas' line, as it was taken up by Bragg's divisions in succession to
the enemy's left, was repulsed from first to last. This line was
secure, not from the strength of its own left at Baird's position, but
from the exhaustion of Bragg's right wing. But on the right of the
general line of battle the enemy had been successful to a degree that
put the whole army in jeopardy
The line formed by General McCook, in compliance with the order of the
commanding general, requiring him to post his troops to hold the gap at
Widow Glen's and cover the Dry Valley road, although seen by General
Rosecrans during the early hours of the morning, did not finally meet
his approval; and having decided upon another change he directed that
the troops on the right should be moved to the front and left.
In compliance, Sheridan's division was moved forward from Missionary
Ridge, one brigade advancing abreast, but not in connection with the
right of Wood's division, which had at 9.45 A. M. taken Negley's
position, and the
Page 129 - THE ORDERS TO McCOOK
other two brigades taking posts to the right and rear of the first.
Davis' division was directed at first to the left and forward by
General McCook but, afterwards, by a direct order to General Davis from
General Rosecrans, it was advanced to an unoccupied space between
Wood's right and the left of Sheridan's advanced brigade. These
movements in some measure restored the line of the previous evening,
Davis having found in his designated position a rail barricade which
had sheltered troops on the 19th. The right of this line, however, did
not rest as far forward as on that day, and on the right of Davis was
not closely connected at any time. There was a space of about three
hundred yards between Davis' right and the left of Sheridan's advanced
brigade, and the interval between that brigade and the other two of the
division, posted to the rear and right, was about one fourth of a mile,
while Wilder's brigade was still further to the rear and right. It was
necessary to post these four brigades so as to hold the ground on that
flank as far back towards the Dry Valley road as possible, and the
distance was too great for them to form a connected line. This flank of
the army as then formed was exceedingly weak, but a series of changes
was soon after ordered by General Rosecrans, which made it easy for the
enemy to rout the infantry on the right of the army, and completely
isolate the cavalry. The orders for these new movements are subjoined :
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the field, September 20th -
10.10 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCOOK, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
General Thomas is being heavily pressed on the left. The General
commanding directs you to make immediate dispositions to withdraw the
right, so as to spare as much force as possible to reenforce Thomas.
The left must be held at all hazards, even if the right is drawn wholly
back to the present left. Select a good position back this way, and be
ready to start reenforcements to Thomas at a moment's warning.
JAMES A. GARFIELD, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.
Page 130 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the field, September 20 -
10.30 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCook, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
The General commanding directs you to send two brigades of General
Sheridan's division at once, and with all possible dispatch, to support
General Thomas, and send the third brigade as soon as the lines can be
drawn in sufficiently. March them as rapidly as you can without
exhausting the men. Report in person in these headquarters as soon as
your orders are given in regard to Sheridan's movement. Have you any
news from Col. Post ?
JAMES A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
The second of these orders was received six minutes after the first,
and Lytie's and Walworth's brigades were at once withdrawn from line
and put in rapid movement to the left. McCook ordered Wilder's brigade
to close to the left, and sent a staff officer to General Mitchell with
an order for the cavalry to close to the left also. There was then an
interval of a mile between the right of Wilder's brigade and the left
of the cavalry; but Mitchell reported that he had been ordered by
General Rosecrans to remain at Crawfish Springs.
At 10.35 A. M. General Rosecrans sent the subjoined note to Thomas:
HEADQUARTERS D. C., September 20, 1863 - 10.35 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
The General commanding directs me to say, if possible refuse your right
sending in your reserves to the northward, as he would prefer having
Crittenden and McCook on your right.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
FRANK S. BOND, Major and A. D. C.
This despatch was returned thus endorsed by Thomas:
The enemy are pushing me so hard that I cannot make any changes. The
troops are posted behind temporary breast-works.
Page 131 - THE ORDER TO WOOD
It thus appears that when General Rosecrans asked Thomas if he could
not extend his line northward with his reserves, that McCook and
Crittenden should remain on his right, two of Sheridan's brigades had
been sent to Thomas, leaving with McCook only three brigades of his
corps. And in ten minutes after Rosecrans had made this inquiry of
Thomas, and before the answer of the latter could possibly have been
received, the following was issued which took from Crittenden all of
his command on the right except the two brigades of Van Cleve's
September 20, 10.45 A. M.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL WOOD, Commanding Division.
The General commanding directs you to close up on Reynolds as fast as
possible, and support him.
FRANK S. BOND, Major and Aid-de-Camp.
The fact that this order was not sent through General Crittenden, the
corps commander, emphasized the requirement to make the movement as
fast as possible. At the time, Wood's left was aligned with Brannan's
right, while the left of the latter was in echelon with Reynolds'
right. General Wood did not know where Reynolds' division was posted,
but he knew that the troops on the left of Brannan were heavily
engaged; and, supposing that this was the reason of the order from
General Rosecrans, was prompt in withdrawing his division, by brigades,
in order from left to right, to pass in rear of Brannan's division to
the left. The order for McCook to send two of Sheridan's brigades to
General Thomas followed closely General Rosecrans' order to Davis, to
take position on the right of Wood; and then again, in a few minutes,
General Wood received his orders. The result was, that after General
Sheridan began his movement to the left, and while Wood's
Page 132 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
last brigade was leaving position, the overlapping lines of the enemy,
at about 11.15 A.M., advanced upon Davis' two brigades in furious
assault, striking also Buell's brigade of Wood's division in flank and
rear. By the quick retirement of this brigade, Davis' two brigades, of
fourteen hundred men in aggregate, were completely isolated. The line
on their left was open to Brannan's right, and on their right was the
space, previously held by Sheridan's advanced brigades, upon which
Laibold's brigade, while marching in column by divisions to close to
the left, was struck by the enemy in front and flank, and immediately
In this situation the only safety for Davis' division was in quick
withdrawal, and McCook, who had gone to the right from Wood's position
to order his remaining troops to close rapidly to the left on Brannan,
said to Davis, as he rode up and saw lines five-fold stronger than his
own short, isolated line: "We must either stay here and be killed or
captured, or we must retreat." And then, seeing the hopelessness and
futility of resistance, ordered Davis to fall back. When Davis'
division, and the supporting but distant brigade of Wilder, moved to
the rear under a terrific fire from the enemy, the whole line from
Brannan's right was gone. Sheridan's two brigades, in swift motion to
the left on the Dry Valley road, were halted to resist the enemy as he
swept over the vacant ground, but successful resistance was then
impossible, and, in the vain effort, General Lytle fell, and with him
many officers and men. Under the pressure of the enemy's vastly
superior forces, Sheridan's division and Wilder's brigade moved to the
right towards Crawfish Springs, while Davis' division was deflected to
the left over Missionary Ridge. Generals McCook, Sheridan and Davis,
and numerous officers of the staff and line, did all that was possible
to rally the troops, but, under a severe fire, this was impracticable.
Page 133 - ROSECRANS RETIRES TO CHATTANOOGA
The left wing of Bragg's army, strengthened during the night by fresh
troops from Virginia, moved first upon a feeble division without
support on either flank, and resistance thereafter was hopeless.
Two brigades of Van Cleve's division, also in motion to the left, in
compliance with orders from General Rosecrans, were also broken and
driven upon Missionary Ridge from the rear of Brannan's position.
Brannan's right was exposed by the withdrawal of Wood's division, and
his right brigade, attacked in front and flank, bent back for safety.
Soon after, General Brannan retired both brigades - Croxton's and
Connell's - and posted them some distance to the rear on a high,
rounded knoll on the line of hills which trends eastward from the Dry
Valley road. The cavalry and Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry moved
across Missionary Ridge into Chattanooga Valley. A part of the infantry
forces also drifted into that valley. McCook ordered his two divisions
to Rossville, and by a detour they moved into the Dry Valley road north
of Thomas' final line. General Rosecrans rode immediately to
Chattanooga, to look after his pontoon bridges and affairs in the rear
of his army. Crittenden, his entire corps having been ordered from him,
followed, first to Rossville and then to Chattanooga to report to the
commanding general. General McCook, with General Morton, chief engineer
of the army, and other staff officers, crossed Missionary Ridge to the
west, to reach Rossville by a circuit. Noticing the ascending lines of
dust, and taking observations with a prismatic compass, General Morton
decided that the whole army was retreating. The guide, against the
protest of General McCook, bore to the northwest, until Spear's brigade
was met. Learning, upon inquiry, that General Rosecrans was at
Chattanooga, and that he was himself nearer that place than Rossville,
and believing that by swift riding he could confer with Rosecrans, and
arrive at Rossville as soon as his troops, dashed into Chattanooga.
Upon arrival he was directed to remain with the commanding general.
Page 134 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
The only apparent reason for the orders of General Rosecrans, which
weakened the right of his army until successful resistance was
impossible, was his belief that General Bragg was moving his army by
the right flank, and that, consequently, there was no danger of an
attack in force from his left. On the supposition that such an attack
was probable, the orders which opened the line at intervals were
injudicious in the extreme. That part of his line of battle had been
twice radically changed in a few hours, and the fact that General
Rosecrans gave direct orders to division commanders relieved his corps
commanders of the responsibility of maintaining a strong connected line
of battle even if they had had enough troops for such a line. His order
to General McCook of 6.35 A. M. plainly manifested his conjecture that
the enemy was moving by the right flank, and his subsequent orders to
that general to select a new position for the right and make
dispositions to withdraw his troops, and afterwards for the actual
withdrawal of a part of them, are not easily explained except on this
hypothesis. But there had been no reconnoissance to determine the
presence or absence of the enemy in front of his right, and General
Thomas had not been consulted, in time, as to the actual state of
affairs on the left. Doubtless, the repeated requests of Thomas for
reenforcements had, in General Rosecrans' view, increased the
probability that Bragg's army was moving to the north to interpose
between the battle-field and Chattanooga. But, in fact, Thomas was only
anxious to give stability to the left of his line, which he knew could
not be effected without the troops which had been promised early in the
morning. He had himself weakened that flank the day before to drive
back the troops that had pierced the line of battle on the right of
Reynolds, and the long delay of promised reenforcements made frequent
applications necessary. And notwithstanding orders were given by
General Rosecrans for the movement of Negley's, Sheridan's and Van
Cleve's divisions to Thomas, only
Page 135 - DELAY OF REENFORCEMENTS
two brigades - Beatty's and Stanley's - joined him from these
divisions, until the crisis on his left had passed. With these two
brigades, arriving separately, and the reserves of the divisions under
his own command, he had driven the enemy in rout from his rear, and
thus defeated the movement, which, according to General Bragg's plan of
battle, was the most important of all. The withdrawal of Sheridan's and
Wood's divisions from line did not help Thomas in defeating Bragg's
leading project, though it brought disaster to the right of the army.
If the order to General Wood to close up on Reynolds and support him
did not have reference to the transfer of other troops to the left
besides Sheridan's and Van Cleve's divisions, the reason for it is
certainly hidden. lf Brannan's division was out of line, as was
partially indicated by the relation of its left to Reynolds' right, it
would have been far easier to put that division into line than to move
Wood a division interval "to close up on Reynolds," who was not needing
support. It was not necessary to move Wood at all, unless Brannan was
needed on some other part of the field, and it had been decided to send
him to the left, where so many other troops were going. Brannan had two
brigades in line, and, consequently, occupied the usual division
interval. In his official report General Rosecrans thus mentioned
General Thomas' requests for support, and the reason for the order to
"The battle in the meanwhile roared with increasing fury and approached
from the left to the centre. Two aids arrived successively within a few
minutes, from General Thomas, asking for reenforcements. The first was
directed to say that General Negley had already gone, and should be
nearly at hand at that time, and that Brannan's reserve brigade was
available. The other was directed to say that General Van Cleve would
at once be sent to his assistance, which was accordingly done.
A message from General Thomas soon followed, that he was heavily
pressed, Captain Kellogg, A. D. C., the bearer, informing me at the
same time that General Brannan was out of line,
Page 136 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and that General Reynolds' right was exposed.* Orders were despatched
to General Wood to close up on Reynolds, and word was sent to General
Thomas that he should be supported, even if it took away the whole
corps of Crittenden and McCook. * * * *
General Wood overlooking the direction to "close up" on General
Reynolds, supposed he was to support him by withdrawing from the line
and passing to the rear of Brannan, who, it appears, was not out of
line, but was in echelon, and slightly in rear of Reynolds' right."
But, in a letter addressed to the New York Tribune of October 4th,
1881, General Rosecrans stated that General Wood was to have closed on
Reynolds, only when Brannan had withdrawn his two brigades to go to
General Thomas. The terms of General Rosecrans' order, however, did not
intimate that the required movement was conditional.
General Thomas was related to the movements on the right of the army
only through his requests for reenforcements and these repeated
applications for promised troops lost their true significance through
no fault of his own. In view of all the facts it is manifest that had
Negley's division, as a whole, been sent to General Thomas early in the
morning, no calls for reenforcements would have gone from the left to
the commanding general. Thomas did not need more than one division to
render his left invulnerable, and he did not expect that the right
would be opened to the enemy by sending troops that had not been
promised. His requests were repeated because there was first delay, and
then troops were sent by brigades, too slowly, to give firmness to the
only weak point in his line. Had he called for reenforcements after
receiving a division, in its unity, or even after he had been joined by
three brigades, in turn, he would have sustained a nearer relation to
the orders of the commanding general.
* Colonel Kellogg has stated, that riding in rear of the line of
battle, he observed that Brannan's left was in rear of Reynolds' right,
and, upon being questioned, mentioned the fact to General Rosecrans.
Page 137 - HE AGAIN ASKS FOR NEGLEY
At l l A. M., Thomas sent the following note to Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS FOURTEENTH ARMY CORPS, DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND.
Battle-field, Sept. 20th, 1863, 11 A. M.
Commanding Department Cumberland.
The enemy penetrated a short time since, to the road leading to
McDaniel's house, and I fear they are trying to cut off our
communication with Rossville through the hills behind the centre of our
army. I think therefore it is of the utmost importance that Negley's
division be ordered to that point, the left of my line.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Maj. Gen'1 U. S. V. Com'd'g.
It is therefore manifest that as late as 11 A. M., the time of the
disaster on the right, Thomas repeated his request for Negley's
division, one brigade of which had previously joined him; and yet at
this hour Sheridan's two brigades and Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions
were in motion to the left.
After noon General Thomas hearing firing on his right, which was not
explained by known facts, rode in that direction. He then had no
knowledge of the state of affairs on the right of the army or even on
the right of his own line. He first met General Wood with Barnes'
brigade, who reported that he had been ordered to support Reynolds.
General Thomas replied that Reynolds did not need support, and directed
him to move to the left to make that flank secure. Barnes' brigade was
thereupon sent to Baird's position, and General Wood turned back to
meet his other brigades and take them to the same point. In the mean
time, however, there were unexpected developments on the right of
Reynolds. Captain Kellogg, who had been sent to conduct Sheridan's
division to the left, reported that he had
Page 138 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
been fired upon by a line of skirmishers, advancing in front of a heavy
force, in the rear of Reynolds' position. General Wood had previously
thrown Marker's and Buell's brigades to the front on a hill to the left
of Brannan's position. An advancing column was now in view in their
front, and at first it was hoped that this was Sheridan's division,
expected from the direction in which this column was advancing. But it
was soon probable that foes not friends were approaching, and measures
were taken to ascertain their identity. A flag was raised, and the fire
thus elicited, made known that the enemy was in rear of Brannan's
former position and indicated that changes had occurred on the right
which were plainly suggestive of disaster, but not of its real
As another indication of what had occurred, General Thomas learned that
Brannan was far from the position which he held in the morning. His
position was on the line of hills upon which Thomas had advised
Rosecrans to establish his line of battle. Necessity had done, in part,
what generalship had previously demanded. A small force on these hills
was now to fight a desperate battle, not to win a victory, but to save
the army. The situation on the right of Reynolds was now exceedingly
critical. There was a wide space between Reynolds and Wood, another
more narrow between the latter and Brannan. And on the right of Brannan
to the Dry Valley road there were no supporting forces. General Negley
with his third brigade and all his artillery had stopped for a short
time in this strong position but had disappeared, and with him had gone
Beatty's brigade from the left of the line, while its commander was
doing service in the combination which drove the enemy from the rear of
that line . Although Brannan's and Wood's troops were not connected,
the strength of the two positions compensated in a great degree for the
lack of continuity of line. Nothing saved the right of this new line
but the slowness of the enemy in availing
Page 139 - ARRIVAL OF GRANGER
himself of the open way on the right of Brannan, to turn his position
and take his line in reverse. In Brannan's and Wood's commands there
were nominally six brigades, but the aggregate including broken forces
was about five thousand men. The successful resistance of these men to
several fierce assaults by the left wing of Bragg's army made it
possible for help to come from an unexpected source when the enemy in
heavy force had wheeled upon the hills on the right of Brannan, and was
moving to his rear. The long line of the enemy easily overlapped
Thomas' short line. He had not been able to connect the parts of that
line short as it was. From all the troops that had been assigned to his
command or drifted to him during the battle, he could not spare a
skirmish line to meet the enemy on the hill made vacant by the
retirement of Negley. Opportunely General Gordon Granger, commanding
the Reserve corps, reported to him in advance of two of his brigades.
This corps commander had been manoeuvering for several days south and
south east from the Rossville Gap, near the Lafayette road, and having
observed that the noise of battle on the right was nearer than in the
morning, had directed General James B. Steedman with General
Whittaker's and Colonel John G. Mitchell's brigades of his division to
advance towards the manifest conflict. General Thomas ordered these
troops to charge the enemy and drive him over the hills. The charge
accomplished this grand result, and then the troops extended the line
of battle from Brannan's right to the Dry Valley road. In the mean time
General Thomas had put Hazen's brigade of Palmer's division between
Wood and Reynolds. The line of battle was then nearly continuous
throughout its length.
Against this line the left wing of Bragg's army was moved in assault
until it was completely shattered.*
* At 3 P.M., General Longstreet asked for reenforcements and General
Bragg replied, that the troops of his right wing had been so badly
beaten back that they would be of no service. Bragg's losses in
aggregate were forty per cent. Longstreet lost thirty-six per cent of
his command on the second day, mainly in the afternoon.
Page 140 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Both wings of that great army were broken in turn, by Thomas' troops on
the left and right of his line of battle. Late in the afternoon many of
his troops having exhausted their ammunition, repulsed the enemy's
attacks with the bayonet. The ammunition train of the Fourteenth corps,
and some of the division trains had been sent to the rear by some
unauthorized person. Late in the day ammunition was taken from Steedman
and given to troops on his left.
It is not practicable to compute with accuracy the number of troops on
the last line of battle. There were twenty brigades of infantry,
including those that were mere fragments, and all but two had been
engaged on the first day and nearly all had been heavily engaged during
the forenoon of the second day. The aggregate could not have exceeded
twenty-five thousand men, and it may not have included more than twenty
thousand, or an average of one thousand men to a brigade. With this
meagre force General Thomas repulsed thirty-five brigades of infantry
and five or six of cavalry, some of the latter fighting as infantry.
The mere statement of this disparity is enough to prove the brilliant
achievements of Thomas and the remnant of the Army of the Cumberland.
At 3.35 P. M. General Garfield and Colonel Thruston, chief-of-staff to
General McCook, joined General Thomas. The former bore instructions
from General Rosecrans, giving Thomas discretion as to the immediate
withdrawal of the army. The reply was brief but emphatic:
"It will ruin the army to withdraw it now. This position must be held
till night." Colonel Thruston gave information of the presence of
Sheridan's and Davis' divisions in the long gap leading from Villetoe's
house to McFarland's. General Thomas promptly requested Thruston to ask
the commanders of these troops to move upon that road to his right.
Colonel Thruston immediately rode over the hills to the gap, and found
not only Generals Sheridan and Davis, but General Negley, also. These
Page 141 - DAVIS MOVES FORWARD
holding a conference at McFarland's. When the message was delivered
Davis turned to his command and put it in motion to the front, while
the other two generals moved with their troops to Rossville. From that
place Sheridan passed through the gap to the left of the army on the
After the left wing of Bragg's army had been gathered in line of
battle, before General Thomas' right, or new line, it was practicable
for troops to move across the hills east of the Dry Valley road to
Brannan's position, and the way was open from McFarland's house through
a transverse gap to Thomas' field position in the afternoon. Through
this gap a road passed east to the Lafayette road in rear of the army.
The distance from the Dry Valley road to the left of the line of
battle, or Baird's position, was about two miles. All the troops,
therefore, that reached the Dry Valley early in the afternoon, could
have moved across the hills or through the transverse gap to any point
in the line, or they could have moved south on that road to the
immediate right of Steedman's flank, after he had driven the enemy from
the ridge on the right of Brannan. Colonel Thruston passed from the
extreme right to General Thomas, and so did Surgeons F. H. Gross, and
J. Perkins, medical directors respectively of the Fourteenth and
Twentieth corps. Dr. Gross was on his way to Crawfish Springs, to look
after the wounded of his corps, when the disaster occurred. He was
unable to reach his destination, but he and Dr. Perkins remained for
several hours amongst the retreating troops, caring for the wounded and
securing, as far as possible, transportation for them to Chattanooga,
and they finally crossed the Dry Valley road to the rear of Thomas'
line. Two regiments of Van Cleve's division, the Forty-fourth Indiana
and Seventeenth Kentucky, also reached the new line.
Page 142 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
There were from seven to ten thousand men in fighting condition in the
vicinity of McFarland's house by 2 P. M., or a little later, and if one
half of these had been moved against Bragg's left flank before four
o'clock, his army might have been totally defeated. When Longstreet was
fighting cavalry as infantry on that flank, there was fear of an attack
up on his left. The adjacent hills offered splendid positions for
artillery and for an enfilading fire of artillery and musketry. But
unfortunately there was no general of rank in that valley to take the
responsibility of moving the idle troops against the enemy at the most
vulnerable point in his line. Had General Rosecrans stopped at
McFarland's house, gathered his broken forces together, and led them
against the enemy on Thomas' line, or to the right of it, he would have
gained the chief glory of a decisive victory. But in going to
Chattanooga in ignorance of the steadfastness of the left and the left
centre of his army he lost an opportunity for great distinction. The
subjoined extract from his official report gives the circumstances
under which he went to Chattanooga, and the reasons for his action.
"At the moment of the repulse of Davis' division, I was standing in the
rear of his right, waiting the completion of the closing of McCook's
corps to the left. Seeing confusion among Van Glebe's troops, and the
distance Davis's men were falling back, and the tide of battle surging
toward us, the urgency for Sheridan's troops to intervene, became
imminent, and I hastened in person to the extreme right to direct
Sheridan's movements on the flank of the advancing rebels. It was too
late, the crowd of returning troops rolled back, and the enemy
advanced. Giving the troops directions to rally behind the ridge west
of the Dry Valley road, I passed down it accompanied by General
Garfield, Major McMichael and Major Bond,of my staff, and a few of the
escort, under a shower of grape, canister and musketry for two or three
hundred yards, and attempted to rejoin General Thomas and the troops
sent to his support by passing to the rear of the broken position of
our lines, but found the routed troops far toward the left and hearing
the enemy's advancing musketry and cheers, I became doubtful whether
the left had held its ground and started for Rossville. On consultation
and further reflection, however, I determined to send General Garfield
there while I went to Chattanooga to give orders for the security of
the pontoon bridges at Battle Creek and Bridgeport and to make
preliminary dispositions either to forward ammunition and supplies
should we hold our ground or to withdraw the troops into good position."
Page 143 - THE ROCK OF CHICKAMAUGA
All these objects could have been attained by orders issued on the
field, except the selection of a good position for his army in the
rear, but a new position was only a consequence of utter defeat, and as
to this General Rosecrans' was in doubt when he left the battle-field.
Seldom in war has such a burden of responsibility fallen upon a
subordinate, as upon General Thomas at Chickamauga. The battle was left
to him before noon on the 20th. He received no instructions from the
commanding general. He was ignorant of the disaster on the right until
the on-coming left wing of Bragg's army revealed it. Uninformed as to
the general situation, he could not anticipate emergencies, but he was
strong and versatile to master them as they were developed. It was not
a light matter to command the Army of the Cumberland, as a whole,
against a vast army that had been gathered from the East and West to
crush it; an army superior in numbers, and inspired by the hope that in
winning a decisive victory the general contest would be decided also.
But, to take command of half of the Army of the Cumberland, with no
supporting cavalry, with exposed flanks, and unconnected lines - to be
supreme on the field by the demands of the situation rather than by the
orders of a superior, and under such circumstances to contend
successfully against Bragg's whole army, infantry and cavalry, was an
achievement that transcends the higher successes of generals.
General Thomas did all that was possible with his forces on both days
of battle. He suggested for the whole army a position whose strength he
demonstrated with a part. He discerned the importance of turning all
the troops gathered on the Dry Valley road, against the enemy's left
flank. His generalship in this battle cannot be measured alone by his
success in repulsing all the forces that moved against his
Page 144 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
lines on both days. What he suggested, as well as what he achieved,
must be taken to give full breadth to his military skill. Had his
advice been taken, the battle of Chickamauga would never have been
fought, but Chattanooga would have been fortified from choice, as it
afterwards was from necessity. He saved his corps and with it the army,
by his cautious advance towards Lafayette. And in the battle which he
would have avoided he used every resource with the greatest skill to
defeat the enemy. A general less calm and self-reliant in undefined
emergencies, less stubborn in defense, less quick in disposing troops
in the crises of battle or less masterful of resources and advantages,
would never have saved the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga.
No commanding general fought such a battle during the war, and no other
subordinate commander wrought such a deliverance for an imperiled army
and an imperiled cause. There was but one Chickamauga and but one
Thomas. It should not therefore be a matter of surprise that when
General D. H. Hill, after the war, mentioned three distinct causes for
the failure of the Southern arms, one of these was the stubborn
resistance of Thomas in this battle. Neither is it strange that he was
ever afterwards known as the ROCK OF CHICKAMAUGA. After arriving at
Chattanooga, General Rosecrans sent the following despatch to his chief
CHATTANOOGA, Sept. 20,1863.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL GARFIELD :
See General McCook and other general officers. Ascertain extent of
disaster as nearly as you can, and report. Tell General Granger to
contest the enemy's advance stubbornly, making them advance with
Should General Thomas be retiring in order, tell him to resist the
enemy's advance, retiring on Rossville to-night.
By command of Major-General ROSECRANS.
WM. MCMICHAEL, Maj. and A. D. C.
Page 145 - GARFIELD TO ROSECRANS
General Garfield sent the subjoined note after joining Thomas:
HEADQUARTERS GENERAL THOMAS,
Battle-field five miles south of Rossville, Sept. 20, 1863, 3.45 P. M.
GENERAL ROSECRANS -
I arrived here ten minutes ago via Rossville. General Thomas has
Brannan's, Baird's, Reynolds', Woods', Palmer's and Johnson's divisions
here, still intact after terrible fighting. Granger is here, closed up
with Thomas, and both are fighting terribly on the right. Sheridan is
in, with the bulk of his division in ragged shape, though plucky for
fight. General Thomas holds his old ground of this morning. Negley was
coming down on Rossville from the road passing where we saw the trains
on our route. - I sent word to him to cover the retreat of trains
through Rossville. I also met the Fourth Independent battery at that
place, and posted it in reserve in case of need. As I turned in from
the Rossville road to General Thomas, I was opened on by a battery; one
orderly killed, Captain Graves' horse killed, my own wounded. The
hardest fighting I have seen to-day is now going on. I hope General
Thomas will be able to hold on here till night, and will not have to
fall back farther than Rossville, perhaps not any. All fighting men
should be stopped there, and the Dry Valley road held by them. I think
we may retrieve the disaster of this morning. I never saw better
fighting than our men are now doing. The rebel ammunition must be
nearly exhausted. Ours fast failing. If we can hold out an hour more it
will be all right. Granger thinks we can defeat them badly tomorrow, if
all our forces come in. I think you had better come to Rossville
to-night, and bring ammunition.
Very truly yours,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier-General.
To this General Rosecrans replied :
CHATTANOOGA, 9.10 P. M. Sept. 20, 1863.
BRIG.-GEN. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff:
Your despatch of 3.45 received. What you propose is correct. I have
seen Furay, who left at 5 P.M. I trust General Thomas has been able to
hold his position.
Ammunition will be sent up.
W. S. ROSECRANS, Major-General.
Page l46 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In the evening Thomas received orders from General Rosecrans to
withdraw the army, as shown by General Thomas' official report, and by
General Garfield's letter from Rossville.
"I soon after received a despatch from General Rosecrans, directing me
to assume command of all the forces, and, with Crittenden and McCook,
take a strong position, and assume a threatening attitude at Rossville,
sending the unorganized forces to Chattanooga for reorganization,
stating that he would examine the ground at Chattanooga and then join
me; also, that he had sent out rations and ammunition to meet me at
Rossville. I determined to hold the position until nightfall, if
possible, in the mean time sending Captains Barker and Kellogg to
distribute the ammunition, Major Lawrence, my chief of artillery,
having been previously sent to notify the different commanders that
ammunition would be supplied them shortly. As soon as they reported the
distribution of the ammunition, I directed Captain Willard to inform
the division commanders to prepare to withdraw their commands as soon
as they received orders."
At 5.30 P. M., General Reynolds was directed to withdraw from position
and form a line near the Ridge road,* to cover the retirement of the
other divisions. In moving as directed, General Reynolds encountered a
brigade of the enemy's troops that had moved round his right flank to
his rear. This brigade was routed by Turchin's brigade, and was finally
driven round Baird's flank by Willich's brigade of Johnson's division.
When Reynolds' division had formed near the road, the divisions, as
rapidly as practicable, left the line and moved towards Rossville.
Baird, Johnson and Palmer were attacked as they withdrew, and this fact
gave the Confederate generals opportunity to report that their last
attack dislodged our forces.
* The one leading through the gap to the Dry Valley road at McFarland's.
Page 147 - WITHDRAWS TO ROSSVILLE
General Thomas and his troops had doubtless prepared the way for a
victory on the 21st, if the Army of the Cumberland had been gathered
together in front of the enemy during the night of the 20th. General
Bragg's army was not in condition to renew the conflict. He had lost at
least two-fifths of his men, the remaining three-fifths had been
shattered, and he had no reserves. After such repulses and losses, he
could not have taken the offensive vigorously on the 21st. But in a
battle on the 21st General Rosecrans could have had nearly, or quite,
twice as many troops as fought under Thomas on the afternoon of the
20th. Sheridan's division, Spear's brigade of fresh troops, Col. Dan.
McCook's brigade, which had been only slightly engaged, and Minty's
brigade of cavalry could have been thrown on the left of Thomas' line;
while the troops of Davis, Negley and Van Cleve, Wilder's brigade of
mounted infantry, and five brigades of cavalry, could have moved
against Bragg's left flank. It is true that the condition of the enemy
was not then known, but the fact that Thomas had held his position
against Bragg's entire army would, doubtless, have suggested to a
commanding general who was on the field and cognizant of the condition
and positions of all his divisions and brigades, that it was possible
to defeat the enemy by taking the offensive on the 21st. But General
Rosecrans was too far away to apprehend the situation and make
provision for another battle on the field of Chickamauga.
As soon as his troops were in motion towards Rossville, General Thomas
rode thither, and, upon arrival, commenced the formation of the army to
resist the advance of the enemy. He placed Crittenden's corps on
Missionary Ridge to the left of the Ringgold Gap, near Rossville, his
own corps covering that gap and extending to the right upon the Dry
Valley road; McCook's across the valley towards Chattanooga Creek, and
the cavalry still further to the right. The enemy approached very
cautiously the next day, but beyond an artillery duel there was no
Page 148 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
At 8.40 P. M. General Garfield sent the following communication by
HEADQUARTERS DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND.
Rossville, Georgia, 8.40 P. M., Sept. 20, 1863.
MAJOR GENERAL ROSECRANS :
I have this moment returned from the front. I wrote you a long despatch
as I arrived on the field and while the battle was in progress, but it
was so difficult to get communication to the rear that I fear you have
not yet received it. Thomas has kept Baird's, Brannan's Reynold's
Woods' and Palmer's divisions in good order and has maintained almost
the exact position he occupied this morning, except that his right has
swung back nearly at right angles with the Gordon's Mills and Rossville
road. Negley has stopped about six thousand men at this place. Sheridan
gathered fifteen hundred of his division and reached a point three
miles south of here at sunset; Davis is here with his brigade. General
Thomas has fought a most terrific battle and has damaged the enemy
badly. General Granger's troops moved up just in time and fought
magnificently. From the time I reached the battle-field, 3.45 P. M.,
till sunset the fight was by far the fiercest I have ever seen; our men
not only held their ground, but at many points drove the enemy
splendidly. Longstreet's Virginians have got their bellies full. Nearly
every division on the field exhausted its ammunition - got supplies and
exhausted it again. Turchin's brigade charged the rebel lines and took
five hundred prisoners, became enveloped, swept around behind their
lines and cut its way out in another place but abandoned his prisoners.
Another brigade was attacked just at the close of the fight, and its
ammunition being exhausted, it went in with the bayonet and drove the
rebels, taking over two hundred prisoners and have got them yet. On the
whole General Thomas and General Granger have done the enemy fully as
much injury today as they have suffered from him, and they have
successfully repelled the repeated combined attacks, most fiercely
made, of the whole rebel army, frequently pressing the front and both
our flanks at the same time. The disaster on the right cannot of course
be estimated now; it must be very considerable in men and material,
especially the latter. The rebels have, however, done their best
to-day, and I believe we can whip them to-morrow. I believe we can now
crown the whole battle with victory. Granger regards them as thoroughly
whipped tonight, and thinks they would not renew the fight were we to
remain on the field. Clouds of dust to the eastward and northward seem
to indicate some movements to our left. Sheridan thinks they may be
projecting to come in directly on Chattanooga. I don't think so. Your
order to retire on this place was received a little after sunset and
communicated to Generals Thomas and Granger. The troops
Page 149 - THE ARMY WITHDRAWN TO CHATTANOOGA
are now moving back and will be here in good shape and strong position
before morning. I hope you will not budge an inch from this place but
come up early in the morning, and if the rebels try it on accommodate
them. General Mitchell left Crawfish Springs at 5 P. M. Our trains are
reported safe with him. We have not heard from General McCook. General
Crittenden is reported with you. General Lytle killed; also Col. King
and many officers. If I am not needed at headquarters to-night, I will
stay here ; I am half dead with fatigue. Answer if I can do anything
J. A. GARFIELD, Brig. Gen. Chief of Staff.
To this despatch the following reply was sent:
CHATTANOOGA, 9.30 p. M. Sept. 20, 1863.
BRIG. GEN. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff.
You may stay all night if the enemy are drifting towards our left.
Rossville position all right. Provision and ammunition have been
ordered up. I like your suggestions.
W. S. ROSECRANS. Maj. Genl.
General Thomas considered the position untenable, since all the gaps
south of Rossville had been given to the enemy, who could concentrate
through them against General McCook, and, by pressing him back, cut off
the other corps from Chattanooga. Thomas therefore advised Gen.
Rosecrans to withdraw the army to the town. And, in anticipation of an
order for this movement, he made preparations during the day for its
execution at night. He received orders at 6 p. M. to withdraw, and, in
consequence of the anticipatory preparations, the whole army, without
the loss of a man, moved to position before Chattanooga by 7 o'clock
the next morning. The fortifications, commenced on the 21st, were
carried to completion as soon as practicable, when the army was safe
from all danger except starvation. General Longstreet was opposed to
the attempt to besiege Chattanooga, and proposed to General Bragg that
his army should cross the Tennessee River east of the town, and by
operating northward, force Rosecrans to fall back to Nashville:
Page 150 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and after this had been effected, if insufficient transportation should
prevent a direct advance to the north, to follow the railroad to
Knoxville, destroy Burnside and then from that point threaten General
Rosecrans' communications north of Nashville. But General Bragg
rejected this plan, because in his view it was forbidden by military
considerations, as well as, by insufficient transportation. Believing
that he could force General Rosecrans to abandon Chattanooga, by
preventing the passage of his supply trains from Bridgeport, Bragg
disposed his infantry and cavalry so as to bring starvation to the army
which he failed to crush at Chickamauga.
NOTE:- In his account of the battle of Chickamauga, published in the
Washington National Tribune of March 25th, 1882, General Rosecrans has
made this statement:
"General Thomas, in the exercise of the discretion he had from me,
withdrew the troops from position to Rossville, where they were formed
in line of battle, where we remained through the next day.
But while this assertion directly contradicts the statements of
Generals Thomas and Garfield, it is not congruous with the following
extract from General Rosecrans' sworn testimony, given at Louisville,
February 4th, 1864:
"The next time I saw him "(General McCook) "he arrived at Chattanooga
and reported to me at Wagner's Headquarters - I should think about 4.30
or 5 P.M. I directed him to wait a short time until I should hear from
General Garfield's report from the extreme front, informing him that he
still held the field, that Granger had gone up from Rossville, that
portions of his and Crittenden's corps were reported near Rossville,
and that the arrival of a further report from General Garfield would
enable me to give him more definite instructions - both to him and
General Crittenden. On the arrival of the report from General Garfield,
I read it to him, or stated its substance, and directed him to go out
to Rossville and assume command of his corps, that he would occupy a
position near there, which General Thomas had been directed to select.
This was given to General McCook about 9.30 o'clock P. M."
GENERAL THOMAS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE
CUMBERLAND - HE RELUCTANTLY ACCEPTS - OPERATIONS TO RELIEVE
THE ARMY FROM STARVATION - PROPOSED ATTACK. UPON THE ENEMY'S
Soon after the army was established in Chattanooga a rumor obtained in
the camps that General Thomas was to succeed General Rosecrans. To free
himself from the imputation of intriguing against his commander, and to
express a deliberate conclusion, Thomas declared that he would not
accept the command of the army. He did this, after the closing
statements of the following despatch had been communicated to him.
WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, D. C., Sept. 30, 1863.
C. A. DANA, Nashville.
If Hooker's command gets safely through, all that the Army of the
Cumberland can need will be a competent commander. The merits of
General Thomas and the debt of gratitude the Nation owes to his valor
and skill, are fully appreciated here: and I wish you to tell him so.
It is not my fault that he was not in chief command months ago.
EDWIN M. STANTON.
Mr. Dana, who at the time was Assistant-Secretary of War, inferred that
Mr. Stanton alluded to President Lincoln, and in making known to Thomas
the second sentence of the above despatch, attributed it to the
President as well as to the Secretary of War. With the manifestation of
strong feeling General Thomas requested Mr. Dana to say to both,
Page 152 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
that the knowledge of their appreciation of his services was
exceedingly grateful to him. But in reply to the statement of Mr.
Stanton in respect to chief command, he asked Mr. Dana to state, that,
"he certainly should be glad to hold an independent command - to
command an army; - but he wished it distinctly understood that he could
not consent under any circumstances that he could imagine, to take the
command held by General Rosecrans." He made known this decision with
great earnestness. When he first met Mr. Dana after his appointment to
succeed Rosecrans, General Thomas said, "Well, you have got ahead of
me, this time, and I have no option but to obey orders; but, I assure
you, I never obeyed an order more reluctantly than this one." This
assignment was made October 16th, 1863, by General Orders No. 337, War
Department, which also appointed General Grant to command the Military
Division of the Mississippi, embracing the Departments and Armies of
the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Ohio.
General Thomas' reluctance to supersede General Rosecrans did not
result from lack of confidence in himself, nor from distrust of the
morale of his army, but mainly from his fear of external complications.
He knew that General Rosecrans had been complicated politically, and
not having been fully acquainted with the cause he feared that he would
be similarly involved. He entertained the opinion from the beginning to
the close of the war, that military considerations should alone rule in
shaping military operations; and he desired no preferment for himself
which could be gained by political influence, or would entail political
entanglements. Besides, his assignment to supersede General Rosecrans
was objectionable for the same reason that had induced him to request
the restoration of General Buell to command, after he had himself been
named as his successor in orders from Washington. He had fully
sympathized with General Rosecrans in his efforts to hold Chattanooga,
and doubtless thought that he should have had a fair opportunity to
Page 153 - HIS LOYALTY TO ROSECRANS
the problem entailed by the battle of Chickamauga. The fact that
General Rosecrans had not taken his advice, to concentrate his army at
Chattanooga and establish secure communications with Nashville when he
had opportunity to do so, did not affect his loyalty to his commander.
He always decided questions of official duty unbiased by considerations
of personal advantage. He had protested against the assignment of
General Rosecrans over himself to command the Army of the Cumberland
from regard to an important principle in the administration of military
affairs, but was now unwilling to supersede him in spite of the fact
that Rosecrans' commission had been arbitrarily antedated. Thus
anxious, as he frankly expressed himself to be, to command an army, he
was still unwilling to accept such command unless it came to him
without the menace of political complications, and without the
humiliation of another general. He was, doubtless, over sensitive as to
his own liability to imputed intrigue for advancement, and over
reluctant to accept a command in room of another general. But these
errors, if errors they should be called, evinced on the one hand his
abhorrence of unfair means of securing promotion, and on the other,
General Rosecrans was aware of Thomas' unwillingness to assume command
of the army, and consequently yielded his position with the kindest
In General Thomas' report to the Committee on the Conduct of the War,
he thus referred to the strength and condition of the army at the time
he assumed command.
The Department and Army of the Cumberland at that time comprised the
following commands: the Fourth and Fourteenth army corps at
Chattanooga, three divisions of cavalry, the local garrisons of Middle
Tennessee, and the Eleventh and Twelfth army corps under command of
Major-General Joseph Hooker, just arrived from the East, whence they
had been despatched to reenforce the army at Chattanooga, and which
were, at the time of my assuming command, guarding the railroad from
Bridgeport to Nashville. The forces at Chattanooga were in a very
precarious condition from the difficulty
Page 154 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
of obtaining supplies, the only means of procuring which was by wagons
and over sixty miles of almost impassable mountain roads, the enemy
holding the river and the railroad between Chattanooga and Bridgeport;
and his cavalry had destroyed one large train laden with supplies,
numbering over three hundred wagons, on its way from Bridgeport to
Chattanooga. The question of holding Chattanooga was then simply that
of supplies. The animals were perishing by hundreds daily, and the men
were suffering from the scantiness of food; but they bore up cheerfully
under their difficulties, appreciating the impossibility of giving up
Chattanooga, and inspired their officers with renewed confidence in
their self-sacrificing devotion.
* The first duty, therefore, of the new commander was the deliverance
of his army from the starvation which threatened its hold upon
Chattanooga, if not its own existence; and fresh from his parting with
General Rosecrans, General Thomas addressed himself to the imperative
His first order, issued before he had formally assumed command of the
army, had reference to the movement of Hooker's forces to Chattanooga,
which had been projected by General Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, October 19, 1863 - 11 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER, Stevenson.
Major-Gen. G. H. Thomas directs me to state, that in obedience to the
order of the President of the United States he has assumed command of
the Department of the Cumberland. He desires that you will use all
possible despatch in concentrating your command, and preparing to move
in accordance with the instructions of General Rosecrans, leaving
proper railroad guards.
J. J. REYNOLDS, Major-General and Chief of Staff.
This order was exceedingly courteous to General Rosecrans; in giving a
copy of it to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, General Thomas
thus explained his action :
* Report to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, p. 117.
Page 155 - PLANS FOR RELIEF
"The instructions referred to in the above order, were to concentrate
as much of his (Hooker's) command at Bridgeport as he could safely
spare from guarding the railroad between that point and Nashville, and
to hold himself in readiness to move at any moment towards Chattanooga
for the purpose of opening communication with that place by river and
But no definite plan had yet been devised to gain possession of the
left bank of the Tennessee River, so as to support Hooker's advance
with forces from Chattanooga. Such was the condition of the army, that
immediate steps must be taken to open the Tennessee and the short roads
to Bridgeport, or the withdrawal of that army from Chattanooga would be
unavoidable. That no plan for attaining this object had been definitely
formed, is evident from the following statements by General Thomas :
"Before he was relieved in command of the Department of the Cumberland,
General Rosecrans and his chief engineer, Brigadier-General W. F.
Smith, had consulted together as to means of relieving the army at
Chattanooga from the perilous condition it was in, owing to the great
difficulty of obtaining supplies, and had partially planned the
movement which was left to me to be completed when I assumed command,
namely, to open a short route of .supplies from Bridgeport."+
General Thomas was too just to permit, by his own silence, the credit
of" a successful movement which he had not originated to be given to
himself. He therefore repeated General Rosecrans' instructions to
General Hooker, and disclaimed any other relation to the definite plan
proposed by General Smith, than approval and generous support in its
execution. General Hooker could not move with safety from Bridgeport
until measures had been taken to drive the enemy from the left bank of
the Tennessee River. Had his command moved into Lookout Valley before
support was practicable from Chattanooga,
* Report to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, p. 118.
Page 156 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Bragg could have sent an overwhelming force against him, and
the army at Chattanooga would only have witnessed the failure of the
effort to avert starvation. The definite plan was so evidently
originated by General Smith, that General Thomas gave him credit for
its conception and execution.*
The despatches sent by General Rosecrans at the close of the battle of
Chickamauga had so plainly revealed his fear that he could not hold
Chattanooga, that it was imagined in Washington that he would
needlessly abandon the place. And doubtless General Grant's first
despatch to Thomas indicated some anxiety lest he should withdraw the
army before Grant could himself reach Chattanooga. On the 19th of
October he telegraphed : " Hold Chattanooga at all hazards."
The terse reply of Thomas " We will hold the town till we starve " was
equally the expression of his own purpose and that of his army. This
bold answer had this significance also the confidence of General Thomas
in his army, He knew that its morale had been exceedingly good from the
day it retired from the battle-field of Chickamauga. In leaving that
field there had been no panic - no hurried retreat, even by those
troops who, through no fault of their own, were forced to fight on
conditions which forbade success. But the troops on the right who lost
their position, and those who withstood the whole Confederate army
until they were withdrawn by orders, were in no respect, except from
the loss of material, unfitted for the immediate renewal of the
conflict. And no army had ever endured the reduction of its ration to
one-half, one-third, and one-fourth, with less complaint and less
demoralization. The necessity of this reduction was apparent to every
soldier, and every soldier was as unwilling as the commanding general
to abandon Chattanooga.
* In his report to the Joint Corn. on the Conduct of the War he said:
''To Brigadier-General W. F. Smith, chief engineer, should be accorded
great praise for the ingenuity which conceived, and the ability which
executed the movement at Brown's Ferry."
Page 157 - ASSUMES COMMAND
On the 20th of October, General Thomas, in the following order, assumed
the command to which he had been assigned :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, Tenn., Oct. 20,
In obedience to the orders of the President of the United States, the
undersigned hereby assumes command of the Department and Army of the
In assuming the control of this army, so long and ably commanded by
Major-General Rosecrans, the undersigned confidently relies upon the
hearty cooperation of every officer and soldier of the Army of the
Cumberland, to enable him to perform the arduous duties devolved upon
The officers on duty at the various departments of the staff, at these
headquarters, will continue in their respective places. All orders
heretofore published for the government of this army will remain in
full force until further orders.
GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. Vols.
General Grant arrived at Chattanooga on the evening of October 23rd.
With his coming, General Thomas, though an army commander, became
subordinate to an immediate superior in rank, and as completely subject
to direction in handling his army as he had previously been in the
management of his corps He therefore made known to General Grant, at
once, the scheme which had been devised for the relief of the army. The
plan had been perfected in all its details, and needed only the
approval of General Grant. On the 24th, Generals Grant, Thomas, and W.
F. Smith, with other general and subordinate officers, examined the
river below Chattanooga, William's Island, and the hills on both banks
of the river, in reference to the proposed plan of operations. General
Grant approved this plan and ordered its immediate execution.
Page 158 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Thereupon, Thomas telegraphed definite instructions to Hooker in
reference to his movement, and promised him cooperation from
Chattanooga. General Hooker replied. that he would commence his
movement at daylight on the 27th. Orders were then issued for the
cooperative movements. Two brigades - Hazen's and Turchin's - and three
batteries of artillery under Major John Mendenhall, were given to
General W. F. Smith for his operations. His plan provided that fifteen
hundred men, with a sufficient force of pontoniers, should embark on
pontoons, and, at night, glide past Lookout Mountain, held almost to
the edge of the water by the enemy's pickets, and debark on the left
bank of the river, just above Brown's Ferry.
For this service a part of General Hazen's brigade, under his own
command, was taken. The remainder of this brigade, Gen. Turchin's
brigade and the artillery were ordered to march across the peninsula
formed by the course of the river, and take position on the wooded
hill-side near the ferry, to cover the troops on the pontoons should
they fail to land on the left bank, or to join them on that bank in the
event of their success. This expedition was eminently successful. The
pontoon boats hugging the right bank of the Tennessee glided by the
frowning mountain, gleaming here and there with the enemy's camp-fires,
and the troops, with slight opposition, gained the left bank at the
designated place. A pontoon bridge was soon thrown by a detachment of
trained men from the First Michigan Mechanics and Engineers, under
Captain P. V. Fox, and fortifications for the two brigades were
constructed on the enemy's side of the river. Having accomplished all
that the plan of operations required of them, these troops were in
position to welcome Hooker's column to Lookout Valley in the evening.
And then the Tennessee River from Bridgeport to Chattanooga was held by
the cooperating forces.
Page 159 - BROWN'S FERRY
In view of the fact that General Bragg's hope of regaining Chattanooga
depended upon his continued grasp of the river and the short roads to
Bridgeport, it is inexplicable that he did not resist the advance of
Hooker. He did attempt late at night to cut off Geary's division of the
Twelfth corps at Wauhatchie; but failing in this he abandoned all
effort to intercept the newly established communications of the
The problem of supplies was thus brilliantly solved. The boldness of
the plan, the nice adjustment of all its details and the importance of
the results place these operations among the prominent achievements of
General Grant was as explicit as Thomas in denying any connection with
the plan beyond approval. On the 26th of October, he sent the following
despatch to Washington:
HEADQ'RS MILITARY DIVISION OF MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga, October 26,1863.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK, Washington,
* * * General Thomas had also set on foot before my arrival a plan for
getting possession of the river from a point below Lockout Mountain to
Bridgeport. If successful, and I think it will be, the question of
supplies will be fully settled. * * * *
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
Two days later he again telegraphed in relation to this plan:
CHATTANOOGA, OCTOBER 28,1863.
General Thomas' plan for securing the river and south side road hence
to Bridgeport has proved eminently successful. The question of supplies
may now be regarded as settled. If the rebels give us one week more
time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have
passed away, and preparations may soon commence for offensive
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
General Thomas fully sympathized with General Grant in his purpose to
take the offensive, although it will appear that these generals twice
differed as to the time for aggression.
(Part 1 pages 1-159, Part 2 pages 160-310, Part 3