||Thomaston is about 2 miles east
VA and near the
border in the Virginia tidewater region.
Leave I-95 at Emporia, VA, take US-58 east 23 miles, turn south on VA-35, then left on Grays Shop Rd. into Newsoms. From there, head east toward Franklin on General Thomas Hwy. (Hwy. 671) for 2 miles. Turn left onto Cypress Bridge Rd. (Hwy. 674), then turn left immediately onto Thomaston Rd. Thomaston is a white private home at 2837 Chickamauga Dr. and is indicated by an historical marker.
To make an appointment to visit Thomaston contact John Skeeters at <email@example.com>.
|Front view of Thomaston.
The original part where Thomas was born, is behind.
||Front view showing 300
old oak tree on left. An acorn was
symbol Thomas chose for his favored XIV Corps.
|| Back view of house. When Thomas was
born the house only had 3 rooms (the part surrounded by the blue line).
other parts were added later.
The monument in the Thomas family graveyard next to Thomaston
The 4th side is blank and therefore not shown here. The other 3 sides show the names of the Thomas parents (John and Elizabeth, né Rochelle), and 7 of the 9 children. George is buried in Troy, NY, and Benjamin is buried in Vicksburg where he lived before and after the war. According to Wilbur Thomas (General George H. Thomas, pg. 48), "John William was the eldest child; Judith Elvira, the second; Benjamin, the third; and George Henry, the subject of this work, the fourth. Unfortunately, the remaining children cannot be placed in their order of birth." His source were the Mattie R. Tyler Papers in the Southampton County Courthouse. However, since the children on the one side of the monument are arranged in order of birth, it is reasonable to assume that the stonemason had received instructions. The complete order would thus be as follows:
1. John William
2. Judith Elvira (died 1903)
3. Benjamin (1814-1876), buried in Vicksburg, Miss.
4. George Henry (born 31 July 1816, died in San Francisco 28 March 1870 , buried in Troy, NY)
6. Francis G. (Fanny, died 1902)
7. Lucy Briggs (né Thomas)
Exact dates of birth and death of the other 7 children would be appreciated. - Bob Redman
In a geneology search for Benjamin Thomas I find the following entry:
Sarah B. Brooks firstname.lastname@example.org 15 May 2000
Looking for information on the following Thomas' who lived in Madison Parish, LA, about 1902:
THOMAS, Nathaniel W., THOMAS, Rosa C., THOMAS, Lillie.
These were the children of Benjamin THOMAS (1814-1876) and his wife, Virginia of Vicksburg, MS and are buried with their parents there. Benjamin THOMAS was a brother of the Union General, George Henry THOMAS (1816-1870). If anyone can help me locate descendants of the above THOMAS children, I would greatly appreciate the assistance!
7 Dec. 2009
Did you ever find out anything?
Madison County Louisiana Archives Military Records.....WWII - EnlistmentServ.# 38389255 - THOMAS NATHANIEL W - enlisted in SHREVEPORT LOUISIANA on 23/2/43 -White, citizen Single, without dependents - Private - born 1924 in Miss.
Looking for information on Annie Thomas Fitzhugh of Vicksburg, MS. She was the daughter of Benjamin R. Thomas (1814-1876) and wife, Virginia. Annie married a Fitzhugh and was living in Vicksburg, MS about 1903.
Any help is greatly appreciated.
in front of Thomaston
58 between Courtland and Franklin
house in Courtland, home of Thomas'
||Interior view of the
house with well-kept period furnishings
|View of the
County courthouse today
as it looked when Thomas read law there, from a painting in the
house. Nat Turner was tried here.
||The Southampton County
Society maintains a display in the courthouse. In
case are books and publications about the county. The portrait is of
Darden, Jr. (governor of Virginia 1942-46), who
a champion of Thomas.
|| Display case in
with Indian artifacts
According to Earasmus Darwin
Thomas' superior at Ft. Lauderdale in 1832: "There
a moral in the life and services of Thomas. He was strictly
conscientious, he loved Virginia, and his affections for the South were
strong. He was warm also to the Union."1
According to Thomas Buell: "When
the Tennessee campaign ended, Thomas had performed the unsurpassed
of theater command and control of the Civil War. So modern in concept,
sweeping in scope, it would become a model for strategic maneuver in
Today, 142 years after Virginia seceded from the Union on 17 July
1861 and then Col. George H. Thomas of Southampton County did not
state, but rather his oath, he is still a controversial figure among
who remember him. He is largely overlooked in popular presentations of
Civil War, and utterly ignored in our nation’s middle- and high-school
textbooks. He might get a paragraph in a college textbook. This is the
in spite of his having been the most successful general on either side.
never lost an engagement where he really commanded. In short, he was
rock of a lot of places besides Chickamauga, where on 20 Sept. 1863 he
25,000 Union soldiers to hold off 60,000 Confederates long enough to
the Union army to make an ordered retreat, or advance according to some
commentators, to the real objective of the battle – Chattanooga. At
Murfreesboro (31 Dec. 1862) his presence at the center was absolutely
decisive in staving off Bragg’s attack,3 and nobody but
Thomas could have parried Hood’s attack
at Peachtree Creek (20 Aug. 1864). This was the real battle of Atlanta,
by Sherman in his own interest4 to Hood’s “first sortie.” In
Thomas was more like a hammer, and a heavy one at that, at Mill
the first major Union victory of the war (19 Jan. 1862), at Tullahoma
June 1863) where, under Thomas, the Spencer repeating rifle was first
on a large scale, at the decisive battle of Chattanooga (23-25 Nov.
where he managed the battle behind Grant's back and saved Grant's
and at Nashville (15-16 Dec. 1864) where he was both hammer and anvil.6
To learn more about these battles go to my Battles
and Reports page.
He achieved these successes by dint of decades of hard work and study.
other officers out on the frontier gambled, drank, tried to grow
potatoes, and messed with the cash box, Thomas conducted botanical,
topographical studies and composed a first dictionary of the language
the Yuma Indians. While sitting on court martial boards he became an
in military law. From the smallest skirmish with Indians to the battle
Buena Vista he drew his conclusions about the principles of engagement.
During the Civil War he embraced the latest technologies while applying
timeless military principles – train your men well and take care of
do your best to make your opponent attack you, by all means know more
your opponent, and pierce the center only after at least one of the
has been turned. He also gave a good example to his men by never taking
a single day of leave during the entire war, and by sharing their
He introduced battlefield procedures which today are part of standard
doctrine. While still training cavalry troops in Carlisle, PA, before
first battle of Bull Run, he wrote a memorandum to Winfield Scott
his strategy for winning the war – Cut the Confederacy in two by
through East Tennessee on Chattanooga.7 It took him 2
years along a different route, but when nobody else could or would do
he did it himself. As it turned out, this was the strategy which broke
stalemate in Virginia. Perhaps most significantly, wherever he
even at the battle of Nashville, the rate of casualties was relatively
- on both sides. His object was not to annihilate an enemy, but
to disorganize an opponent. To learn more about his accomplishments, go
my Salient Facts page.
His record earned him little credit from some Union generals like Grant who feared Thomas as a rival for top command, and toward the end of the war Grant, not one of whose battles bears close inspection,8 began a campaign to diminish Thomas’ reputation which he pursued as long as he lived. After he died, Grant’s biographers continued in this vein and shaped the historiography of the Civil War with the results described above. It is true that Thomas' uncommon ability was recognized and appreciated by many people in high places in and outside of Washington during the war, but nevertheless his promotions came slowly. One reason for this was his lack of a state political machine to watch over his fortunes. He'd left that behind when he opted for the Union. But let us be charitable toward the politicians. Commissions to high rank were scarce, and the horde aspiring thereto was huge. In their mostly undocumented back-room discussions they may well have said, "Let the Virginian wait. He will do his duty and get the job done anyway."
If you follow the currents of the internecine political battles fought on both sides, Grant’s behavior was predictable and even understandable. Every war tosses up desperate adventurers. The concomitant rejection of Thomas by most Southerners, and by some Southern students of the Civil War even today, is equally understandable, but the reasons for it are perhaps more complex. The obvious assertion that Thomas betrayed his “country”, i.e. the State of Virginia, falls short when we consider that other prominent Virginians like Gen. Winfield Scott and Admiral David Farragut also opted for the Union, without becoming the objects of the denigration or even vilification to which Thomas was subjected. While Scott's stout unionism was a comfort to Northerners, and Farragut's war contributions were stellar, someone else in their position would have done much the same thing. What really rankled the Southerners in Thomas' case was the fact that he was irreplaceable.9
Today much of the heated discussion of the past has been replaced
with a calmer assessment of Thomas, but at the very center of this
assessment, Thomas’ home area – Southampton County – there is still a
strong ambivalence toward its most prominent native son. This
ambivalence can be explained by
several factors, perhaps the first of which was the ambivalence of
County itself to the whole question of secession. In fact, according to
a local resident, in the vote (among property owners of course) to
secession, Southampton County split in half. The half of the county in
Thomas grew up was decidedly against secession, so Thomas wasn’t really
against the sentiments of many of his neighbors.
There were no typical plantations in this part of Virginia because its widespread swamps precluded large-scale agriculture. For example, the Thomas family holding at around 500 acres and 15 slaves was one of the larger units in the county. Therefore, the interest of many Southampton County residents diverged from that of most members of Virginia's ruling political class.
There is also reason to believe that he acted less against the sentiments of his family than is commonly asserted:
1) After the war Thomas demonstrably maintained amicable relations with his brother Benjamin, and there is no proof that there had ever been a rupture. When some lost-cause members of the new Tennessee legislature proposed to sell a portrait of Thomas hanging in the state capitol building, Benjamin tried to buy it.10 In 1869, before leaving from Nashville for his final duty station in California, Thomas sent a former slave (whom he had acquired for his wife when stationed in Texas before the war, left at Thomaston during the war, and brought to Nashville at the end of the war), along with her family, to Benjamin’s care in Vicksburg where he lived at the time.11
2) The stories about Judith and Fanny, the last surviving sisters, according to which they kept George’s portrait turned to the wall, considered him to have died when he abandoned Virginia, and so forth, are probably exaggerated. Dr. W.D. Barham, Judith’s physician, reported that the sisters were mortified by such rumors, and that they felt more sorrowful than angered at their brother’s decision. According to the physician, the sisters also sent acorns from the enormous oak tree (see photo above) in front of their house in order to be planted around Thomas’ equestrian statue at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC.12
The county as a whole, or even the South, might have rejected the idea of secession if a person named Nat Turner hadn’t burned the question of slavery into the people’s minds when he began his insurrection on 21 Aug. 1831, during which he and the band of other disaffected slaves he had gathered up killed 55 whites – men, women, and children. Claiming to have received divine inspiration, he began his campaign, the largest one of its kind in U.S. history, within just a few miles of the Thomas family farm. Some slaves joined Turner, others fought against him. Thomas’ mother led her family to safety in Courtland and was helped to do so by some of her own slaves, according to local tradition. Thomas was 15 years old at the time, and as he later reflected on his experience fleeing along Cypress Bridge Road through Mill Swamp, he came to a different conclusion than did many of his countrymen. This terrifying episode was implanted so forcefully into the collective memories of the people of that area, that even today it is a standard topic of discussion and memorialized in road signs (Blackhead Signpost Road, Greenhead Road, etc.).13
Fear is a poison which can exercise its force on a body politic for decades and even centuries after the original cause of that fear has been overcome or even forgotten. Since most people tend to overestimate their own “freedom of choice” and to discount the long-term effects of such determining influences, they find themselves in quandary when asked by a disinterested observer about what really motivates them to take certain stances in political and social disputes.
With time, however, some people slowly begin to question the accepted certainties of the past. For example, recently a Southhampton County resident, touching on the insurrection without any prompting from me, said, “Nat Turner was a fanatic. But considering that he was a slave, it’s hard to hold it against him.” Nobody was more aware of the enormity of what he had done than Turner himself. The trackless Great Dismal Swamp beckoned a mere 30 miles away, but after the carnage he hid near home for 70 days, and then gave himself up to trial and gallows. Under the frustration of a lifetime of not being taken seriously he had snapped and set in motion a process which snuffed out the lives of 55 people who were also trapped in that unfortunately contrived social system, along with the lives of the insurrectionists and of other blacks simply found off their farms at the wrong time. Cursed be the lot of the slave, and well as that of the master.
For whatever reason, since the end of the Civl War, a debate about Thomas has been carried out among the residents of Southampton County. He has had his local champions, such as Colgate Darden, Jr., governor of Virginia 1942-46 (see portrait above). Plaques have been erected and dedicated with public ceremony, a road has been named after him (General Thomas Highway). Money has been collected in order to refurbish Thomas’ gravesite in Troy, NY. Efforts were even made to have his body brought back to Virginia for reburial. Occasionally a tourbus finds its way to Thomaston. On the other hand, Thomas’ ceremonial sword, given to him by Southampton County notables in recognition of his performances in Florida and in the Mexican War, remains in a Richmond museum. Another of his swords (some ordinary duty sword or the Mill Springs sword?) remains locked up in a vault in Franklin, no portrait of Thomas hangs in a public place,14 no center devoted to his study has been established, no school has been named after him, and no statue of him stares out over the Nottaway River from the park beside the courthouse.
In his Memoirs Sherman predicted that large numbers of Southerners would someday be making pilgrimages to Virginia to honor Thomas’ memory. That has not taken place, at least not to the extent he perhaps envisioned, but it can be argued that something more subtle has taken place. In a speech given 14 years after the war Gen. Irvin McDowell said:
"Is it not, indeed, an immortal glory for Virginia to have produced the noblest soldier of the Revolution and the noblest that fought for the North in the Civil War, as well as the noblest that fought for the South? I hope some day to see her erect a worthy monument to one of the greatest of her sons. But, as she grows every year richer, more prosperous, more fortunate, more loyal in the Union for which he helped to save her, she herself, whether she wills it or not, will more and more become his proudest monument."15
Toward the end of the war Grant asked Thomas about the best route for one of his armies to take through Virginia. Although the most direct way would have been through Southampton County, Thomas recommended another. After the war Thomas arranged that the army should deliver supplies to the county, and took no credit for the act. The man who protected Southhampton Country from afar, said this about the conduct of Union soldiers when in enemy territory:
"We must remember that this is a civil war, fought to preserve the Union that is based on brotherly love and patriotic belief in the one nation. It is bad enough for us to demand that love of a restored Union at the point of the bayonet, but we can justify ourselves by claiming what we do is from a sense of duty. The thing becomes horribly grotesque, however, when from ugly feeling we visit on helpless old men, women, and children the horrors of a barbarous war. We must be as considerate and kind as possible, or we will find that in destroying the rebels we have destroyed the Union."16From this exposition it should already be clear that Thomas deserves more consideration than he gets from most Virginians and many Southhampton County residents. But there are still other considerations.
17. Piatt, pg. 502.
16. "General George H. Thomas, the Indomitable Warrior,"
309. Many observers shared this opinion. From many, I cite this
by gen. Edward Alexander, Longstreet's chief of artillery: "Had our
succeeded, divergent interests must soon have further separated the
into groups, and this continent would have been given over to divided
each weak and unable to command foreign credit" ("Military Memoirs of a
18. Wilbur Thomas, pg. 604; Richard O'Connor, "Thomas, Rock
Chickamauga," 1948, pg. 195, and others.
A Sketch of the Life of General George H. Thomas<>Other writings from and about Southampton County:
by Daniel T. Balfour
Southampton Historical Society Bulletin, No. 5, March 1983
I am standing here on the lawn today, of a home built in
the early 1800s. In the year 1860, during the day on
December 15th to be exact, coming up the driveway behind you,
would have been a coach or carriage with Major Thomas, his
wife, Fannie Kellogg, and one or two black female slaves. He
would have had a scar or bandage on his chin since he was
recently shot by a Comanche Indian in Texas, and he would
be loaded with baggage that he was intending to leave at home
before reporting to Washington. As a matter of fact he would
be in much pain as two days before while stepping off a train
in Lynchburg, he missed a step, fell into a ditch and badly
wrenched his back. Here beside me to greet him would have
been two sisters and one brother. South Carolina had seceded
from the Union and there was talk in the air of the other
Southern states likewise forming their own country independent
of the United States. George Thomas remained here for about
thirty days and on January 15, left with his wife to go to
Washington to meet with General Winfield Scott, another
Virginian, who at that time was elderly and rather feeble.1
What do we know about this Major George H. Thomas,
who Douglas Freeman said was a good friend of Robert E.
Lee, and was in fact returning from Texas where he and Lee
shared the same tent on the frontier for three weeks and no
doubt had discussed the pending threat of Civil War?2
As is the case with many famous people, their early lives
go unnoticed and unrecorded to a great extent until people
begin to take notice of them and then their lives after becoming
famous are recalled in detail. That is certainly the case with
George H. Thomas, but also Thomas by his nature was a
reticent and private person. After the war, he and later his wife
destroyed many of his private papers and correspondence to
prevent his political and military competitors from attempting
to misuse them. In fact, Thomas once remarked that "All
that I did for my government are matters of history, but my
private life is my own and I will not have it hawked about
in print for the amusement of the curious."3
General Thomas was born on July I3, 1816, here in this
house behind me in a little room about 9 feet by 11 feet on
the first floor. His family was rather well-to-do, and owned
approximately 400+ acres with this farm as well as at least
9 slaves. The home originally was much smaller, but had
been enlarged by the time of Thomas's birth in 1815. Slaves
had built the foundation for the house as well as placed the
massive beams in the home.4
At the age of thirteen, Thomas' father died from a farm
accident and his mother was forced to raise the family alone.
She eventually sold some acreage to keep ahead in her
We do not know much about young George Thomas's
youth except that he developed an interest in botany and was
like many famous people always active from, I suppose,
nervous energy. In fact, he would often go to Courtland
(Jerusalem) to watch the saddler and the other artisans of
Many years later towards the turn of the century, a free
black man in the North said that one of his friends by the
name of Artis had been a Thomas slave and told him that
George was close to many of the black as well as white youth
in his community. Supposedly, he taught the black children
the rudiments of reading and writing. I find it interesting
that the Northern writers think it is unusual that Thomas was
friendly with black as well as white children as he was growing
up. We Southerners know that was and is quite usual and
that any segregation usually took place after children entered
high school and became adults. Northerners as we know,
never have understood this.
Evidence shows that there was a slave by the name of
Artis on the Thomas farm, and so perhaps this third hand
story from Artis to his black friend to General Oliver Howard
in 1890 is based on fact.6
Besides the death of his father at a rather young age,
the other traumatic occurrence in George's youth was the Nat
Turner Insurrection in August, 1831. As the insurgents were
nearing Thomaston, where we are now, Mrs. Thomas having
been forewarned took George who was fifteen and his two
sisters, placed them in a wagon and headed for Courtland.
The insurrectionists were coming too close for comfort as
she was racing for safety, and she was forced to abandon the
wagon. She, George and the two sisters were left to run
through the woods to Courtland for safety.
Two things are interesting to note about the Thomas family
and the "insurrection". One is that the Thomas slaves re-
mained loyal to the Thomas family and would not join the
insurrection. Second, when this story was told by the Thomas
sisters some fifty to sixty years later, they never mentioned
that George was with them, but we have to assume that George
must have been with his sisters and mother at that time.
Perhaps one or two brothers likewise were then living here.7
It is said that for many years after the war, his sisters would
not speak his name.
Some have suggested that George did more than leave
with his mother and sisters. In fact, he may have helped to
fight the insurrectionists or may have warned other citizens.
Some Northern writers have suggested that his bravery in
the Nat Turner Insurrection is what lead to President Jackson
appointing him to West point. There is no evidence for any
of this, in fact, no evidence at all, other than the knowledge,
that he, his mother, and sisters fled their home prior to the
arrival of Turner's band.8
I should note that one writer, Clifford Dowdey, in
Richmond, did remark that the band had passed the home while
George's father stood in the door with a gun and dared them
to enter the house. I found no evidence for this and Dowdy
does not relate his source.9
George at this time was fifteen in 1831 and the next year
he finished his schooling at the Southampton Academy. Prior
to the Academy, he was schooled in the little frame building
here10 behind his house.
George's mother was a Rochelle prior to her marriage.
Of French Huguenot stock, the Rochelle family is a well
known family name in this county. George went to work for
his Uncle Rochelle who was County Clerk which was one of
the most prominent posts of authority in the county. We
know at this point, George could have remained at the post
of Deputy County Clerk, studied law and probably have been
an outstanding lawyer in this part of the state.
From helping with the farm work and caring for his
mother and sisters, Thomas was developing as a young man
into a person of much patience, understanding and accom-
modation to hard work. He also continued his hobbies, in-
cluding botany which he was to continue for the rest of his
After serving with his Uncle Rochelle, in Courtland for a
little over a year, the Congressman for his district Mr. John
Mason approached Mrs. Thomas about the possibility of nomi-
nating George for West Point. His mother and George both
thought this was a fine idea since of course it was an expense paid
education and certainly was an opportunity for George. When
George left this area for West Point, he never really spent
more than eighteen months all total in the county, for the next
thirty-five years. I think we could say from age sixteen George
Thomas never really considered Southampton County his
permanent home. Upon arriving at West Point, lo and behold,
iris roommate was Bill Sherman, later known to us as the General
Sherman who rampaged his way through Georgia and South
Carolina. He and Sherman became lifetime friends.11
While at West Point, Thomas excelled in his studies and
generally stayed out of trouble. His demerit list for that
period does show that he as most young people of his age,
often got in trouble for visiting after hours, and such minor
He did spend at least one, maybe two summers, during his
time at West Point back here at Thomaston in Southampton
County. No doubt, he was very proud and pleased to show off
his fine uniform and military learning to the people of this
Upon graduation from West Point, Thomas as a new
second lieutenant saw service in Florida against the Seminole
Indians who by the way never signed a peace treaty with the
United States. He also saw service in Charleston during the
1840s and other military posts around the country.
Upon the outbreak of the Mexican War, he was assigned
to the army of General Zachary Taylor of Virginia and was
sent to New Orleans. There he, along with Braxton Bragg
and others, was part of an artillery unit that saw much active
service. At the battle of Buena Vista, he saved the day with
his artillery battery during one part of the battle. His
bravery and steadfastness were noticed by Jefferson Davis,
who was later to be Secretary of War, as well as by General
Taylor. For his exploits he was promoted several times so that
by the end of the Mexican War he was a captain.12
Many citizens in Southampton County were very proud of
their native son and in fact, a committee, consisting of among
others, many family names we now know such as Ridley,
Urquhart, Pope and Parker, resolved to present a sword to
General Thomas for his services in Florida and the Mexican
War. The sword has a sterling silver scabbard and is engraved
on the blade with names of various battles.13 It is a very
handsome sword. Some of you have seen a picture of it
in the county history as well as another picture I have here
in a biography if any of you would like to look at it. I tried
to convince the Virginia Historical Society that since we the
citizens of Southampton County had presented this sword to
General Thomas, the least they could do was to have it
available to us for one Sunday afternoon. That Society did
General Thomas was rather embarrassed but appreciative
upon receiving this sword. By that time he already felt distant
from the County since he had been away for so long.
Thomas was appointed to the faculty to teach artillery and
cavalry tactics at West Point, where he was to serve and
become good friends with Robert E. Lee, who at the time was
Superintendent of West Point. He also as we know, began
to court and fell in love with a lady by the name of Frances
Kellogg, from Troy, New York. She was among the FFNY
(if you have such famous things in New York), having been
educated at a preeminent private school in Troy, New York,,
whose headmaster by the way, was known to be a very strong
unionist. No doubt, Thomas's wife at this time began to
develop her Northern viewpoint of the developing political
They were married on November 7, 1852 and we are
told this is one of the few times he wore the beautiful sword
presented to him by the citizens of Southampton County.
There is no record as to how many, if any, of his family
members from Southampton County attended the wedding.14
After marriage and serving on the faculty at West Point,
he was transferred to an army post in California where
he did much to develop facilities for the army in that area. He
also had time to interpret into English the Yuma Indian
language as well as continue his interest in botany.
In 1855, he was chosen along with Albert Sidney Johnston,
Robert E. Lee and others to become the officers of a new
cavalry regiment established by the Secretary of War, Jefferson
Davis. Jefferson Davis, a Mexican War hero in his own right,
upon becoming Secretary of War, decided that the American
forces needed to be strengthened as they had been allowed to
dissipate following the Mexican War. (It appears that
Americans always have the post war problem of anti-militarism
and subsequent weakening of their military forces). Thomas
was promoted to Major over numerous other captains with
seniority over him. This shows Jefferson Davis' fondness for
Thomas in remembrance for his fine service in the Mexican
War. It also shows Thomas' ability in comparison with leading
military people of his clay, such as Albert Sidney Johnston
and Robert E. Lee.
The Second Cavalry was formed and given the duty of
patrolling the border between Texas and Mexico, as well as
protecting the settlements from the Comanche Indians. It
was at this time that Lee and Thomas became even closer
friends, and in fact, once spent three weeks in the wilderness
together sharing the same tent. Thomas during this time often
served on courts martial and courts of inquiry and in this way
learned of the misuse of investigations by various military
officers to promote themselves and to destroy their competitors.
Sectionalism arguments were very strong in the country during
the 1850s. Lee and Thomas must have discussed the problems
facing Virginia as war clouds developed.15
In late 1860, Thomas was given a six months leave and
was planning to return to New York to be with Mrs. Thomas.
Mrs. Thomas had been in Texas with him and she, George
and Lee often dined together. Thomas, following in the
tradition of Virginians, had two cooks with him in Texas and
when one cook, a white lady, left to marry a soldier, he was
forced to purchase a slave to cook for them. This black slave
was the one who returned to Virginia with him in December
1860. I think it is interesting to note that Mrs. Thomas
apparently being a Unionist and disliking slavery nonetheless,
didn't mind one doing her cooking.16
Thomas boarded a train heading North, and as I mentioned
earlier, upon arriving in Lynchburg, fell from the last step
of the train as he was debarking and wrenched his back. In
fact it was so bad, he was afraid he would never be able to
ride again and may have to resign from the army. Nothing
is said by his sisters or him as to what happened in the month
he was here recuperating with his bad back. Secession talk
was rampant, and South Carolina was seceding. We know
that his sisters were very much pro-Southern and anti-North.
This must have been a hard visit for Thomas and his wife,
as well as for his sisters. We know that among the things he
left with his sisters was his sword which some say they later
would not return to him.
Upon leaving Thomaston, Thomas visited briefly with
General Scott, who at that time was about to retire, but had
remained as Chief of Staff of the Army since the Mexican
War. He likewise was a Virginian who we know also stayed
with the Union when Virginia seceded. He never considered
otherwise, but being so old, it did not really make a whole lot
of difference. From Washington Thomas and his wife returned
to Troy, New York to finish his leave and while there war
broke out. We know while he was there that he was shown an
advertisement in a New York paper for the position of Com-
mandant of Cadets at VMI and in fact General Thomas wrote
a letter seeking that position. We do not know if he was
seeking that appointment because he thought his back injury
would prevent him from further military service or whether
he sought it as a way to be in Virginia when the war developed.
Anyway, he did not receive the appointment, which may have
been Virginia's biggest mistake. Perhaps being in Virginia
when war broke out would have convinced him to stay.
Subsequently he received a letter from Governor Letcher
when Virginia seceded offering the post of Chief of Ordnance
of Virginia Forces. We must remember that Virginia when
it first seceded was not a part of the Confederate States and
merely had its own men available for military service. There-
fore, Lee became Commander of Virginia forces and Thomas
was offered the post of Chief of Ordnance in the Virginia
forces. We have the letter in which General Thomas refused
the appointment from Governor Letcher indicating that he
would choose to remain in Virginia oddly enough as long
Virginia was in the Union. The letter in part reads:...
"it ls not my wish to leave the service of the United States
as long as it is honorable for me to remain in it, and therefore
as long as my native State (Virginia) remains in the Union
it is my purpose to remain in the army, unless required to
perform duties alike repulsive to honor and humanity." It
appears if we are to take the letter literally, Thomas' mind
was not made up in the early months of 1861.
Thomas never later made any remarks as to the agony he
must have gone through when deciding whether to go with
North or South. We do know later that upon the actual
breaking out of war, rather than resigning and returning to
South, he returned to the Second Cavalry regiment which [r...]
was stationed in New York. He was visited by Sherman who
asked him what his plans were. His reply to Sherman was
"I plan to go South" and the stunned Sherman thought that
meant he was resigning from the army. Thomas seeing his
surprise, said "No, I plan to go South to fight with the Union
Army." This message was passed to Lincoln who never fully
trusted Thomas in the early years of the war. Lincoln placed
him in command of a unit along the Maryland-Virginia Border.
We do not know what letters or correspondence he had with
his sisters at this time, as any letters apparently were destroyed
by his sisters and they did not say nor did Thomas as to what
transpired.17 I would like to come back to this point, perhaps
at the end of this talk.
Thomas was stationed in Virginia for a short period in
early months of the war, and in fact his early antagonist was
a man much like himself, Stonewall Jackson. From Virginia
he was transferred to the Western Theater, where he made
his mark. Some have said, that he purposely asked for transfer
to the West so as to avoid having to fight in his native state.
I find no evidence of this in the numerous biographies and
books I have checked, but that decision could have been made by
Lincoln or General McClellan thinking that would be best
Rather than spend time dwelling on Thomas' military
career which would take us several hours as there have
been about ten full length biographies written about Thomas,
let me briefly tell you that he quickly rose in the ranks from
Colonel to Major General. At the Battle of Chickamauga
which was won by the Confederacy he was the only reason the
Yankees were not completely defeated. The magnificent stand
by Thomas earned him the title "The Rock of Chickamauga."
Thereafter, as Sherman took one army and headed South
to Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina, Thomas com-
manded another army, the Army of the Cumberland, which
was fighting in Tennessee and Kentucky. Thomas's greatest
battle was in late 1864, when he completely defeated and
routed a Confederate Army under General Hood at the Battle
of Nashville. This is one of the more important points in
Thomas' military career, because as he and Grant were both
climbing the ladder in prominence there developed a great
envy on the part of Grant towards Thomas. There is no
evidence that Thomas felt badly towards Grant, but for some
reason Grant did not like the competition.
In fact, their military styles were different. Grant believed
in fighting by attrition, which meant if you had the superior
army in number of men, then continue pounding until you
force the enemy to retreat. This was his tactic at Vicksburg
and also was his tactic in Virginia, except that Lee would accept
the pounding and would fight back rather than retreat. This
cost Grant shocking losses during the summer of 1864 to the
point where he almost was replaced.
Nonetheless in the winter of 1864 before Nashville,
Thomas refused to attack until his men were ready and the
weather was good, which infuriated Grant. Grant wrote three
different orders to relieve Thomas. One he was having
delivered by a General Logan; the other was sent and then
withdrawn and the third was given to the telegraph operator
to send. The telegraph operator, being a supporter of Thomas,
waited to send it hoping he would receive a telegram saying
the attack had begun, which in fact happened.18 Thomas won
a glorious victory at Nashville, and in fact, though he was
usually very reserved, was found excitedly saying "Dang it
to hell, I knew we could beat them, I knew we could heat
them." Officers close by were very surprised at the jubilation
of General Thomas.19
The war ended in April of 1865 and Thomas assumed
the military occupation duties in the Tennessee area and was
subsequently, assigned again to California. He only lived
five years after the war and never returned to Virginia. He
did keep up a correspondence with one of his brothers, Ben,
who was living in Mississippi, but was refused forgiveness
by his sisters. He heard after the war, in 1866, that his
sisters were in rather bad shape and needed supplies and
provisions so he asked that two wagons of food and supplies
be sent by the military forces in Virginia to his sisters. This
was done, but his sisters politely and firmly refused any aid
and would not acknowledge to the Union soldiers that their
brother even existed.20
The slave that had been left with his sisters at the beginning
of the war came back after the war to the Thomas residence
in Nashville and Thomas being unable to care for her since
she was now free, sent her to his brother Ben in Mississippi.
Thomas was offered the rank of Lieutenant General in
the regular army but refused the promotion as undeserved
and only as a move to lessen Grant's stature. He was also
mentioned as a presidential candidate, but was almost as
firm as Sherman on that subject.21
Thomas was very forgiving of the Southern people and
in fact he and Confederate General Hood developed a great
admiration for each other even though they had been an-
tagonists the last two years of the war.
The Thomases had no children and he became rather
overweight after the war and died in San Francisco of apoplexy
in the year 1870.
I would like to spend a minute to discuss why Thomas
chose to stay with the North rather than the South. Secondly,
I want to mention Thomas's character.
These considerations must have affected Thomas's decision:
1. General Thomas's wife was from the North, while
most Southern officers were married to Southern ladies. (Con-
federate General Pemberton was a Northerner married to a
2. Thomas had been away from Virginia most of his life.
3. Almost half of the U.S. officers from Virginia stayed
with the Union, e.g., Scott, Farragut and Cooke.
Perhaps a general is best judged by what his men think of
him. Thomas's nicknames included "Pap" Thomas, "Uncle
George," and "Slow Trot" all of which suggest a fondness
and admiration. His biographers and contemporaries all say
that Thomas was a man of impeccable character similar to
Lee and Washington.
I believe if General Thomas had lived for many years
after the war, he would have reconciled with his family in
Southampton County as he did with his brother in Mississippi.
A friend of the Thomas sisters suggests that in their later
years his sisters were very forgiving in their attitude. "In
fact, they never cherished the feeling of hatred ascribed to
them. It was more a feeling of mortification, disappointment
and sorrow than of anger."22
I think wre can take pride in the fact that many Civil War
historians think General Thomas was the best all around
1. Francis McKinney, Education in Violence, The Life of George H. Thomas
and the History of the Army of Cumberland (Wayne State University,
1961), p. 85; Wilbur Thomas, General George H. Thomas, The Indomin-
able Warrior (New York, 1964), p. 113, 116.
2. Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee, Volume III, p. 369 (New York, 1935).
3. Op. cit., McKinney, p. 7.
4. Ibid, McKinney, p. 3-4.
5. Ibid, p. 5.
6. Op. cit., Thomas, p. 54.
7. William S. Drewry, The Slave Insurrection in Virginia (Washington, 1900)
Reprinted by Johnson Publishing Co., Murfreesboro, N,C., p. 26; op. cit.,
Thomas, p.49. (Thomas had 2 brothers and 6 sisters in all).
8. Richard O'Connor, Thomas: Rock of Chickamauga (Garden City, NJ,
1948) pp. 57-60.
9. Cliflord Dowdey, The Land They Fought For (Garden City, NJ, 1955),
p. 20. (Thomas' father had already died by the Insurrection).
10. Op. cit., Thomas, p. 52.
11. Op. (it., Thomas, p. 54; McKinney, pp. 5-56.
12. Ibid, Thomas, pp. 79-96.
l3. Ibid, pp. 88-100.
14. Ibid, p. 105.
15. Ibid, pp. 105-115.
16. Op. cit., McKinney, p. 72.
17. McKinney, pp. 73-82.
18. Ibid, pp.400-40I, Thomas, p. 563.
19. Ibid, p. 415.
20. Ibid, p. 90.
21. Ibid, pp. 466-467.
22. W. B. Barham, "Recollections of the Thomas Family of Southampton
County," Virginia Historical Magazine, p. 334 (Richmond, 1932, Vol. XL.
Berryville, VA is located off I-81 just east of Winchester in northern Virginia. Thanks are owed to the Civil War Society of Berryville for making this gesture to bring Thomas home.