General George H. Thomas 1816-70
Commander 19 Oct.
1863 — ... Solid as a
rock at Mill
Springs, Murfreesboro, Hoover's Gap, Stevens' Gap, McLemore's Cove,
Chattanooga, 100 Days Campaign, Peachtree Creek, and Nashville.
At Mill Springs,
Chattanooga, and Nashville he was also a swift hammer.
he 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, and left the road to his soldiers.
He 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 ChickamaugaCreek 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 atChattanooga
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
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.
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 (where Thomas also commanded). 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
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 made sure that the Confederates taken prisoner at the battle
of Chattanooga were fed.
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,but
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"