General Thomas - History

General Thomas - History

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General Thomas

George Henry Thomas, born in Southampton County, VA., 31 July 1816, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840 and was breveted a First Lieutenant for gallantry in the Seminole War. Later he taught at West Point, and served with distinction under Taylor in the Mexican War. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas then a Colonel, chose to stay with the Union and took command of a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley. He became Brigadier General of Volunteers 3 August 1861, and was given command of a division in the Army of the Ohio. When the army was reorganized as the Army of the Cumberland, Thomas was given command of the XIV Corps, and at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 earned his famous nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga." Taking overall command of the Army of the Cumberland, he then fought successfully at Chattanooga Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. Sent to oppose Hood's invasion of Tennessee in late 1864, he achieved perhaps his greatest success at the Battle of Nashville 15 to 16 December and was promoted to Major General 15 December 1864. General Thomas assumed command of the Military Division of the Pacific in June 1869, and died in San Francisco 28 March 1870.

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P.r., 4 24-pdr. how.)

General Thomas was one of four light wooden gunboats built at Chattanooga, Tenn., for the War Department in 1864. After cruising on the Ohio River without being formally commissioned in June and July 1864, she commissioned 8 August 1864 at Bridgeport, Ala., Acting Master Gilbert Morton in command.

Assigned to the 11th district of the Mississippi Squadron, commanded by Lt. Moreau Forrest, General Thomas served as a patrol vessel on the Tennessee River, above Muscle Shoals. During this period Confederate General Hood was mounting his campaign into Tennessee to divert Sherman's march on Atlanta and General Thomas patrolled the river unceasingly to prevent the Southern troops from crossing. At Decatur, Ala., 28 October 1864, the gunboat engaged strong batteries from Hood's army. After passing the batteries downstream and sustaining several hits, General Thomas rounded to and, with Army gunboat Stone River, poured such a withering crossfire into the emplacements that the Confederates were forced to withdraw. After Hood's repulse at Nashville in December, General Thomas was used on the upper Tennessee River to block his escape route. She aided General Steedman in his successful attack on Decatur 27 December by giving his army concentrated gunfire support, and attempted to pass over Ellk River Shoals to prevent a Southern crossing of the river. The Tennessee was too low, however, and Forrest and his gunboats could not cross.

General Thomas returned to Bridgeport 30 December 1864, but was soon active again. On 26 February 1865 she joined the other gunboats of the 11th district and, taking advantage of unusually high water, crossed Elk River Shoals. The ships destroyed the camp of Southern General Roddey, captured a quantity of supplies and destroyed communications at Lamb's Ferry before returning to Bridgeport 4 March. General Thomas continued to patrol between Bridgeport and Decatur, Ala., until she was turned over to the War Department at Bridgeport 3 June 1865.

Thomas McInerney

Thomas G. McInerney (born March 15, 1937) Ώ] is a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant General and well-known war hawk. He is a command pilot with more than 4,100 flying hours, including 407 combat missions (243 in O-1s as a forward air controller and 164 in F-4C's, D's and E's) during the Vietnam War. In addition to his Vietnam Service, the McInerney served overseas in NATO Pacific Air Forces and as commander of 11th Air Force in Alaska. Currently, he is a Fox News contributor, and is a member of the Iran Policy Committee.

Colibri Goes Into Receivership

In January, 2009, The Colibri Group unexpectedly shut its doors, laying off its 280 employees and preparing to sell all remaining jewelry, gold and silver to pay creditors. I don't know yet what this means for Seth Thomas.

The following message appeared on the Colibri website:

The Colibri Group is currently in receivership and is not accepting any orders at this time. We are also unable to repair or replace any items returned to us for the time being. We will do our best to ensure that items that have been sent to us will be returned to the respective customer or owner. We will update this message as new information becomes available. We are sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience."

Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher

The bronze statue of Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher depicts a dashing man astride a prancing horse, waving his sword over his head and urging the Irish Brigade into battle. One of the Civil War’s most colorful generals, Meagher (pronounced Mar) successfully led the legendary Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac through some of the fiercest battles of the Civil War, including the Seven Days’ campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Meagher then used his military experience as a springboard to high political office, a career cut short by his mysterious death.

Born into a wealthy family in Waterford, Ireland, on August 8, 1823, Thomas F. Meagher showed his true character at an early age. Undeniably talented, Meagher was often described as ‘truculent, noisy, brash, verbose, and belligerent.’

Barely out of his teens, the well-educated Meagher became a leading spokesman on behalf of the Irish independence movement. A skilled orator, he also demonstrated a lifelong propensity for making enemies and creating

public furor. The world first heard of young Thomas Meagher in 1846, after he spoke before a hostile audience in Dublin, where he urged the violent overthrow of British rule on the Emerald Isle. He cited the examples of the American Revolution and armed revolts in Belgium and Austria, repeating the mocking refrain, ‘Abhor the sword? Stigmatize the sword?’

Interrupted in midspeech by moderates in the crowd who disagreed with his position, Meagher and his supporters in the Young Ireland movement stormed out of the hall. The Dublin speech that made him famous was widely published, and ‘Meagher of the Sword’ continued to tour Ireland, speaking to rowdy and sometimes violent audiences. It was not long before the young revolutionary attracted the notice of British authorities.

On March 21, 1848, Meagher was arrested and charged with seditious libel. The charge was eventually dismissed, but British authorities were becoming increasingly concerned about Meagher’s revolutionary activities. He was again arrested during the late summer of 1848, and this time he was found guilty of sedition and treasonous activity. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but his sentence was later commuted to banishment for life, and Meagher was shipped to the penal colony of Tasmania, where he lived uneventfully for several years.

Meagher was not content to live out his life in exile, however, and with the help of two sailors he secretly rowed to a tiny island between Australia and Tasmania, where, by prearrangement, he was picked up by boat 10 days later. He arrived in New York City at the end of May 1852 and found himself an instant celebrity. The large Irish community in New York welcomed his arrival with wild enthusiasm. Thousands of people cheered him in the streets, and parties were thrown in his honor.

Described as ‘a fine, military-looking young gentleman, stoutly built, handsome, and always a favorite with the ladies,’ Meagher soon married a girl from a wealthy New York family. He became a U.S. citizen and was admitted to the New York bar in 1855. Like so many of his other professions, his law career was undistinguished, although Meagher did serve as an associate lawyer during the celebrated murder defense of Daniel E. Sickles, a man destined to become a major general in the Union Army of the Potomac.

The Sickles trial was one of the most sensational in American history. In 1859, Sickles, a well-known New York congressman, shot and killed Washington, D.C., socialite Philip Barton Key, the son of composer Francis Scott Key, on the streets of the capital. Key, according to rampant rumors, had been having an affair with Sickles’ beautiful young wife, Theresa. When Sickles inevitably heard the rumors, he forced his wife to confess and sign an admission of her guilt. Then, catching sight of Key on the street in front of the Sickles’ home, the outraged husband pulled a pistol, shouted, ‘Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house–you must die!’ and fired two bullets into the unarmed seducer. A stellar group of defense attorneys, headed by future Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, managed to convince a jury that Sickles was innocent by reason of ‘temporary insanity,’ the first time such a plea had been used successfully.

Meagher’s law career could not support him, however, and he founded a newspaper, the Irish News, in 1856. He also continued his speaking tours. Of his varied careers (orator, editor, lawyer, soldier, politician), he was most successful at lecturing. He traveled throughout the United States and Central America, and he was particularly impressed by the Southern states.

Meagher, a confirmed Democrat, declared his sympathies for the South during the spring of 1861, but he soon realized his was an unpopular position in New York. The Civil War was only a few weeks old when Meagher pledged, ‘My heart, my arm, my life–to the national cause.’ And once he had decided to back the Union cause, Meagher moved swiftly. Although he had no military experience, he advertised in the newspapers for 100 Irishmen to form a company of Irish Zouaves under his leadership. By June 1861, the now Captain Meagher and his Zouaves were attached to the 69th New York Militia, an all-Irish unit commanded by Colonel Michael Corcoran.

At the First Battle of Bull Run, the 69th arrived at the Stone Bridge on the Warrenton Turnpike before dawn on July 21, 1861. The 69th, which divisional commander Colonel William T. Sherman considered his most reliable regiment, came into the battle on the Sudley Springs Road, crossed the Warrenton Turnpike, and struck the Confederate line near the Henry house.

Meagher swung his sword over his head. ‘Come on, boys, here’s your chance at last,’ he urged. Three times the 69th attacked uphill toward the Confederates, and three times they were repulsed in very heavy fighting. The color-bearers, carrying the green flag of the 69th into combat for the first time, became targets for Rebel sharpshooters. Despite a valiant effort by the Irishmen, the enemy artillery forced them back. One relieved Confederate officer noted that ‘the Irish fought like heroes.’

During the battle, Meagher was knocked head over heels and fell senseless on the field. He was saved from certain capture by a former neighbor from New York who recognized him. ‘A private of the United States Cavalry, galloping by, grasped me by the back of the neck, jerked me across his saddle, and carried me a few hundred yards beyond the range of the batteries,’ Meagher later recalled.

The 69th retreated in good order, but left almost 200 of their number on the field, dead, wounded or missing. Most of the Federal troops, however, were fleeing the field in disorder, and the 69th joined the rout. Jubilant Confederate cavalry swept into the disorganized Federals, and Colonel Corcoran and many of his men were captured.

The dazed Meagher was put aboard an artillery caisson as it rumbled back to Washington. At Cub Run Bridge, Confederate cavalry overtook the column of fleeing Federals and opened fire. One of the horses pulling the caisson was shot and the wagon overturned, dumping the already shaken Meagher into the water. The overturned wagon blocked the road, causing additional panic among the fleeing troops, many of whom did not stop running until they reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C., 35 miles away.

After the disaster at First Bull Run, the 69th New York State Militia saw no further service. In August 1861, the 90-day soldiers of the 69th were mustered out of the service. Many of the veterans immediately signed up for service with a new unit, the 69th New York State Volunteers. With Colonel Corcoran now a prisoner, Captain Meagher, one of the most prominent Irishmen in New York, was promoted to major of the 69th.

It was not long before the persuasive and ambitious Meagher talked the government into allowing him to form an Irish Brigade. Meagher spoke before 30,000 potential recruits at one event in New York City, and he also traveled to Boston to address the Irish community there. Many of the new recruits were not motivated simply by patriotism. Encouraged by Meagher, they considered service in the Union Army a good way to obtain military training for an eventual armed invasion of Ireland.

Meagher, who was promoted to acting brigadier general, spent much of the fall of 1861 raising the regiments of the Irish Brigade. Besides the 69th, the brigade originally consisted of two other regiments of New York State Volunteers, the 63rd and the 88th. Mrs. Meagher was adopted as honorary colonel of the 88th, which was formed around the core of Meagher’s Zouave company. At various times the 28th Massachusetts, 29th Massachusetts (non-Irish), 116th Pennsylvania and several artillery batteries also served with the Irish Brigade.

The ‘Sons of Erin’ carried distinctive green flags, embroidered in gold with a harp, shamrock and sunburst. Officers wore green plumes in their hats, while the colorful Meagher was partial to green jackets, embroidered with far more gold lace than regulations called for, set off by a yellow silk scarf. According to one Pennsylvania soldier, he was ‘a picture of unusual grace and majesty.’

Of the 2,500 men who initially enrolled in the brigade, at least 500 were veterans of Bull Run, and many more had fought with foreign armies. Late in November 1861, the 63rd Regiment left New York amid a riot on the docks. Thousands of civilians bid their boys farewell. The crush of the mob was so great that Meagher’s horse was nearly pushed into the path of a train as he was trying to get his soldiers aboard.

Upon arrival in Virginia, the brigade was assigned to the 1st Division of Brig. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner’s II Corps. Meagher’s men spent most of the spring in training at Alexandria. Meagher soon earned a reputation as a good host, plying his guests with liquor and sparkling conversation. The Irish Brigade’s parties quickly became as legendary as their fighting spirit. On May 31, 1862, the brigade sponsored a horse race, the Chickahominy Steeplechase. In the middle of the race, Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnston attacked Federal forces at Fair Oaks (Seven Pines). General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, immediately sent Sumner’s II Corps to reinforce the Union line. For the men of the Irish Brigade, that afternoon and night seemed an endless march. They crossed the Chickahominy River and, exhausted, fell asleep for a few hours amid the grisly wreckage of the previous day’s battle.

On June 1, the 69th and 88th New York Volunteers went into action with a half-English, half-Gaelic battle cry that compared favorably with the dreaded Rebel yell. They stopped the advance of two brigades of Confederates, then acted as a rear guard while other Federals escaped to the north side of the Chickahominy. Although the Irish Brigade was not in the worst of the fighting, it still lost 39 killed, wounded, captured or missing at Fair Oaks.

It was in the Seven Days’ campaign, during that terrible last week of June 1862, that Meagher and his Irishmen first established their reputation. On June 27, after General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had broken through the Federal lines at Gaines’ Mill, Meagher’s men turned back stragglers fleeing the battle, effectively stopping the rout. They then fought a stubborn rear-guard action that bought McClellan a precious day to pull together his retreating Army of the Potomac. Confederate Brig. Gen. George Pickett credited Meagher’s men with fighting heroically and holding back the pursuing Rebels under fellow general Thomas R. Cobb.

Two days later, the Irish Brigade and the rest of Sumner’s II Corps threatened the Confederate line in the morning, then were forced to withdraw to Savage’s Station. On that day, June 29, Meagher was temporarily placed under arrest, but the charges could not have been too serious. By the next day, he was conspicuous riding up and down the front line at White Oak Swamp, directly in front of the forces of Maj. Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. As Jackson shelled the Federal line, Meagher declared, ‘I would rather be killed riding this horse than lying down.’

As June of 1862 turned into July, Lee attempted to destroy the battered Union army at Malvern Hill. Meagher was in the forefront of the savage hand-to-hand battle, exhorting his men to throw off their gear and charge with bayonets. By the time darkness brought an end to the Seven Days’ campaign, the famous green flags of the Irish Brigade were riddled by fire. In the space of just one week, the brigade had lost 700 men dead, wounded or missing.

The brigade needed new recruits to bring it back up to strength, and McClellan gave Meagher permission to return to New York on a recruiting drive. Doing what he did best, Meagher spoke in front of 4,000 people in New York City on July 25, but the days of easy recruiting were gone. When Meagher rejoined his unit, he brought with him only 250 new recruits, a mere quarter of those needed to fill out the ranks.

By September 1862, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia were headed toward their historic clash at Antietam. On the bloodiest day in American history, Meagher, his aides and the regimental chaplains led the way as the Irish Brigade crossed Antietam Creek, then moved uphill. They calmly tore down a fence in the face of tremendous artillery fire. The Rebels retreated to a sunken road, where they poured fire into the Irish Brigade and the rest of II Corps. Meagher yelled, ‘Boys! Raise the colors and follow me!’

Five times, the men of the Irish Brigade charged the Confederate line at the so-called Bloody Lane, and five times they were repulsed. The color-bearers were easy targets, and eight men carrying the green flags were shot down at Antietam. In the face of withering fire, Meagher’s men halted on a little knoll 100 yards from the sunken road, with the Confederates directly in their line of fire. Running out of ammunition, the soldiers frantically searched the pockets of the dead and wounded for cartridges. One of Meagher’s aides was killed, and another had two horses shot from under him. In the thick of the battle, Meagher’s horse was also killed, and he was hurled to the ground unconscious. (At least one Federal officer claimed that Meagher was drunk and simply fell from his horse.) Although the general was not seriously hurt, early newspaper accounts of the battle reported that Meagher had been killed. Whatever the extent of his injuries, he had sufficiently recovered in time to arrange a truce with a Confederate officer the following day to retrieve the wounded.

The regiments were torn to pieces on the little knoll, and they finally went to the rear, the 500 men still on their feet marching proudly in formation. Divisional commander Maj. Gen. Israel Richardson saluted one regiment as it passed. ‘Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!’ he cried.

After Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln again removed the highly popular McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac. Legend has it that as McClellan passed in review of his troops, the impetuous Meagher ordered the famous green flags thrown down in front of the general in protest of McClellan’s dismissal. McClellan halted and somberly ordered the flags picked up before he would pass.

The 1,300 survivors of the Irish Brigade underwent their next trial by fire that December at Fredericksburg. En route, Meagher ordered his men to cross the Rappahannock and capture an isolated Confederate battery. The men of the Irish Brigade stormed across a ford in the river, routed the defenders and captured two guns within minutes. An admiring Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock remarked, ‘General Meagher, I have never seen anything so splendid.’

With Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside now in command, the Army of the Potomac endured weeks of cold and rain while the Confederates fortified their positions at Fredericksburg. Although an assault on the Confederate defenses seemed suicidal, Burnside persisted.

Three pontoon bridges were thrown across the river, and on December 12, 1862, the Irish Brigade and the rest of II Corps crossed the Rappahannock. Each man of the brigade wore an evergreen sprig in his cap as the brigade moved through the ruined town, clearing it of snipers.

From the Confederate position on Marye’s Heights, Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill muttered, ‘There are those damned green flags again.’ The green flags, in fact, were tattered beyond repair, all except for a new one carried by the 28th Massachusetts. (This flag was later found on the battlefield by a Confederate soldier of Irish ancestry. Shortly after the battle, the Confederate impulsively swam across the river to return the flag to Meagher.)

New green flags for the Irish Brigade had in fact been brought to Fredericksburg by several distinguished citizens from New York City. Wagonloads of food and drink had also been ordered for presentation with the flags, but the ensuing battle intervened.

On the morning of December 13, Meagher ordered the 69th New York to lead the brigade down Hanover Street toward the canal. The men anxiously watched as Maj. Gen. Samuel French’s division was cut down, and then it was their turn to face the fire. Under intense fire, they began pushing toward the very center of the Confederate defenses on Marye’s Heights. The Irish Brigade’s actions at Fredericksburg won its men the admiration of all who were present. Pushing uphill toward the center of the entrenched Confederate line, the brigade never wavered despite the murderous fire. The Confederates watching from the heights were particularly impressed. Lieutenant General James Longstreet thought the charge of the Irishmen ‘was the handsomest thing in the whole war.’ Robert E. Lee admiringly declared, ‘Never were men so brave.’ Pickett, who would make his own legendary charge within the year, thought ‘the brilliant assault….was beyond description….we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our line.’

Thomas F. Galwey, a Union soldier in French’s division, had a bird’s-eye view of the Irish Brigade’s charge: ‘They pass just to our left, poor fellows, poor, glorious fellows, shaking goodbye to us with their hats!’ Galwey saw the brigade ‘reach a point within a stone’s throw of the stone wall. No farther. They try to go beyond, but are slaughtered. Nothing could advance further and live. They lie down doggedly, determined to hold the ground they have already taken. There, away out in the fields to the front and left of us, we see them for an hour or so, lying in line close to that terrible stone wall.’ It was no use. The Confederate line was too strong, and little by little the Irishmen began crawling back down the hill.

The Irish Brigade had been shattered. By evening, only 250 men of the 1,300 who had charged up the hill were present and accounted for. Almost 500 men had been killed or wounded one company was down to three men.

Despite the carnage, that night the new green flags were presented to the Irish Brigade. The survivors commandeered a shell-damaged building in Fredericksburg. Liquor flowed freely, large tables of food were set out, and Meagher topped the list of speakers. The party was so loud that Burnside’s headquarters heard the commotion on the far side of the river and ordered the festivities stopped before the Confederates resumed shelling.

Meagher’s reputation as a good host was further enhanced during March 1863, when he invited the new army commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, as well as his staff and most of the II Corps officers, to a gala St. Patrick’s Day banquet. Featured entertainment included a steeplechase, watched by 20,000 Federal soldiers, as well as footraces, wheelbarrow races, horse races, and a greased pig chase. One officer remembered that Meagher served ‘the strongest punch I ever tasted.’ Meagher himself overindulged and challenged his brigade surgeon to a duel, but their differences were apparently patched up by the next day.

Spring brought campaigning weather, and once again the Army of the Potomac, including the 520 surviving members of the Irish Brigade, crossed the Rappahannock and moved on Chancellorsville. On May 3, 1863, as Lee’s troops rolled up the Federal line, the Irish Brigade supported the 5th Maine Battery in trying to stem the Confederate advance. Thirty Rebel cannons pounded the six guns of the 5th Maine, destroying most of the caissons and killing the horses. Stubbornly retreating, the Irishmen saved the guns, dragging them backward by hand as their numbers were thinned even more.

A few days after the debacle at Chancellorsville, the impetuous Meagher made the worst mistake of his military career. Protesting the wasting away of what he called ‘this poor vestige of and relic of the Irish Brigade,’ Meagher resigned his command on May 6, 1863. He intended to return to New York and devote all of his time to raising a fresh brigade, even though his previous recruiting trips had been unsuccessful. He turned over command to Colonel Patrick Kelly and left the brigade on May 19.

Meagher returned to New York City, but his dream of raising a new unit was shattered by the July draft riots in the city, riots in which the Irish community played a conspicuous, disreputable part. With little else to do, Meagher lobbied for a new military command or the governorship of one of the new Western territories.

Eighteen long months passed before the Army found a place for Meagher. Finally, in the fall of 1864, he was sent south to the Department of the Cumberland, where he was handed the thankless task of making a fighting unit out of some 5,000 stragglers, convalescents and garrison troops. The general’s heart was not in his new command, however, and he did little to whip his men into shape. Meagher’s Provisional Division, described as ‘a mob of men in uniform,’ was shipped to New Bern, N.C., in January 1865. One witness described the men of the division as ‘ill treated and suffering, badly managed, shamefully deserted by drunken officers.’

It was at this point in his career that Meagher’s excessive drinking became so noticeable that the military could ignore it no longer. On February 5, 1865, Major Robert N. Scott delivered orders to Meagher and found the general so drunk that he could not understand them. Three weeks later Meagher was relieved of further duty, amid rumors of court-martial proceedings. As the Confederacy was driven to its knees, Meagher returned to New York. He resigned his commission on May 15, 1865.

In appreciation of his service in command of the Irish Brigade, the state of New York awarded Meagher a gold medal. His gaudy uniform abandoned in favor of civilian clothes, the disgraced Meagher walked in the Fourth of July parade in New York City along with the other members of the Irish Brigade.

With his military career ended in near disgrace, the silver-tongued Meagher began looking for civilian work, preferably a long way from New York. During his sojourn in New York City in 1863 and 1864, Meagher had managed to offend much of the local Irish community. He had implied that many Irish were involved in the deadly New York draft riots, and had accused the ‘obstinate herds’ of Irish Democrats of ‘gross stupidity’ and ‘the stoniest blindness.’ His military accomplishments were not enough to erase those harsh remarks.

Shortly after leaving the military, Meagher embarked on the last great adventure of his life. In response to a veritable flood of letters from the Irishman, President Andrew Johnson appointed Meagher to be the new secretary of Montana Territory.

Meagher, as usual, managed to involve himself in controversy almost from the beginning. He arrived in the raw gold-mining camps of Montana in September 1865 and immediately found himself the acting governor of Montana. For almost two years, the flamboyant Meagher cut a wide swath through Montana politics, alternately infuriating Democrats and Republicans alike.

True to form, Governor Meagher did his best to incite a war with the Sioux tribe. Seeking arms for the militia he had raised, Meagher traveled to Fort Benton to meet a Missouri River steamboat that was bringing cases of rifles. A friend, finding the general ill after several days’ travel, offered him a berth on board a docked steamboat.

Late that night, a watchman aboard the steamboat saw an indistinct white figure plummet from the upper decks of the boat. When he heard a splash in the water, he roused the crew. Searchers with lanterns checked both banks of the Missouri around Fort Benton, but no trace of the missing governor was ever found.

The incident that ended the life of the colorful, combative Irishman has been shrouded in mystery ever since. Some people theorized that Meagher had been drinking and had accidentally fallen off the boat. Others thought he had committed suicide, or that he had been murdered by his political enemies in Montana Territory. No matter, Thomas Francis Meagher had made his last exit from the world stage.

Despite a life of some accomplishment militarily and otherwise, Meagher never achieved the grand success he sought. One solid reminder of his achievements remains, however. On the front lawn of the Montana Capitol in Helena a bronzed statue of the fiery general sits on horseback, saber raised, ever ready to charge into battle.

This article was written by Gary Glynn and originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of America’s Civil War magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!

George Thomas

Major General George H. Thomas

As commander of the XIV Army Corps at Chickamauga and commander of the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, Major General George H. Thomas played a prominent role in the Chattanooga Campaign. Born into a large slave owning family in Southampton County, Virginia, Thomas displayed talent that earned him a cadetship at West Point, where he graduated in the Class of 1840, ranking twelfth in a class of forty two cadets. His pre-Civil War experience included garrison duty at Forts Moultrie and McHenry, combat experience during the Mexican-American War, where he served as a lieutenant in Captain Braxton Bragg's Battery E, 3 rd US Artillery, becoming close friends with his future foe. With peace, Thomas saw service in Florida before being appointed to teach cavalry and artillery tactics at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 185,1 largely due to a recommendation from Bragg. Thomas had a number of his future subordinates and foes as students there and became close to the Academy's superintendent, Robert E. Lee. While at West Point, he also met Frances Lucretia Kellogg, from Troy, New York, whom he married in 1852.

Thomas returned to the field in 1854, being transferred to California where he was appointed a major in the newly created 2 nd United States Cavalry, once again due to a recommendation from his old friend, Braxton Bragg. Thomas renewed his friendship with fellow Virginian and second-in-command of his new regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Lee. Thomas saw action against the Comanche, and during this conflict, he received his only wound, being struck by an arrow in his chin and chest in a skirmish along the Brazos River in August of 1860. Upon his recovery, Thomas asked for a leave of absence. It was during this time that he faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life, whether to stay true to the United States Army or join many other Southern officers in resigning and offering their services to their home states as they left the Union. Thomas's decision ultimately resulted in members of his family disowning him.

Thomas stayed true to the Union and was appointed brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers, organizing and training Kentucky and Tennessee volunteers at Camp Dick Robinson, Kentucky. He won the first major victory for the Union in the Western Theater at Mill Springs, Kentucky, on January 19, 1862. Promoted major general of volunteers in April, Thomas participated in subsequent battles and campaigns in 1862 that included Corinth, Mississippi, Perryville, Kentucky, and Stones River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee.

As the Chattanooga campaign unfolded in the summer of 1863, Thomas' corps marched over the Cumberland Mountains and crossed the Tennessee River at Bridgeport and Stevenson, Alabama, in late August, early September. At Chickamauga, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, gave Thomas the responsibility for defending the left of the Union line and the LaFayette Road, the crucial road leading north to Chattanooga. As one-third of the Union Army, including Rosecrans, retreated north toward Chattanooga on the second day of the battle, Thomas took command of the remaining Union troops on the field, organized them, and successfully defended Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge. His defense permitted the safe withdrawal of the Army of the Cumberland to Chattanooga and earned him the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga."

When Rosecrans was relieved of command in October, Thomas was appointed the new commander of the Army of the Cumberland. It was Thomas's army that broke the two month siege of Chattanooga by scaling the heights of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, and routing the Confederate left and center. In 1864, he participated in the Atlanta campaign and oversaw the defense of Nashville, where he defeated the army of his former pupil, John Bell Hood, in December of 1864. This victory earned him the thanks of Congress.

With the end of the Civil War, Thomas continued in military service, commanding the Department of the Cumberland through 1869 and leading the fight against the campaign of terror and intimidation of the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. In 1869, Thomas was transferred to San Francisco to command the Division of the Pacific. He died there from a stroke on March 28, 1870, and was buried in his wife's hometown of Troy, New York with full military honors.

Cleaves, Freeman. Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948.

Daniel, Larry J. Days of Glory: The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2004.

Einolf, Christopher J. George Thomas: Virginian for the Union. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

Fitch, John. Annals of the Army of the Cumberland: 1861-1863. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2003.

McKinney, Francis F. Education in Violence: The Life of George H. Thomas and The History of the Army of the Cumberland. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961.

Career [ edit | edit source ]

Ryan became an aviation cadet in September 1949, and after completing pilot training at Reese Air Force Base, Texas, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in October 1950. He then served in various flying assignments with the Strategic Air Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico and Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia, until July 1953 when he entered observer training school at Ellington and James Connally Air Force bases, Texas.

Ryan during his tenure as a lieutenant general.

From May 1954 to June 1962, he was assigned to Forbes Air Force Base, Kansas, as a B-47 pilot, select crew aircraft commander, instructor pilot and squadron operations officer. In 1958 he become a standardization evaluator in the 90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

Ryan transferred to SAC headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, in June 1962 as a staff officer in the Plans and Organizational Section of the Weapons Management Branch, Weapons Maintenance Division. In February 1965 he entered the Armed Forces Staff College and following graduation in July 1965 he joined the SR-71 equipped 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, where he served as chief of the Quality Control Division and later as chief of the Maintenance Control Division.

In July 1968 he graduated from the Air War College and then attended RF-4C combat crew training at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. In March 1969 he was assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, as a maintenance control officer and later as chief of maintenance. During this tour of duty he flew 114 combat missions in RF-4C's.

Upon his return to the United States, Ryan served on the staff of the inspector general, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., from April 1970 to June 1971. He then transferred to Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan, as vice commander and then commander of the 379th Bombardment Wing. During 1972 and 1973, he completed a temporary tour of duty as commander, 303rd Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and participated in the Linebacker II campaign against North Vietnam in December 1972.

He assumed duties as commander of the 47th Air Division with headquarters at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, in July 1973. Ryan was again assigned to SAC headquarters in January 1974 as assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics and in January 1975 become the deputy chief of staff for logistics.

He returned to Air Force headquarters in April 1976 as director for logistics plans and programs, and in July 1977 become the deputy chief of staff for systems and logistics. From October 1977 to July 1981, Ryan served as vice commander in chief of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base. He then became commander of Air Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. He assumed command of Military Airlift Command in June 1983.

Ryan was promoted to general August 1, 1981, with date of rank July 31, 1981.

Thomas Mifflin

Thomas Mifflin was a distinguished merchant and politician from Pennsylvania who also served as a delegate and President of the Continental Congress, major general in the Continental Army, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and first governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Despite these varied accomplishments, Mifflin is also known for his involvement in scandals as the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army that tarnished his reputation and led to a falling out with George Washington.

Mifflin was born in Philadelphia in 1744, the son of wealthy Quaker merchants. He attended the College of Philadelphia (the future University of Pennsylvania) and four years after graduating opened a trading shop in the city with his brother. By 1769, Mifflin became involved in the colonial resistance against British policies. In 1772, he was elected to serve in the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, where he advocated for revolt against Great Britain. In 1774 and again in 1775, he was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress and ultimately supported the move toward independence.

Mifflin joined the Continental Army in April 1775, following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. On July 4, 1775, General George Washington announced in his General Orders that "Thomas Mifflin Esqr. is appointed by the Gen[eral] one of his Aid-de-Camps." 1 Mifflin held the rank of Major and was mainly involved in writing messages, reports, and orders for Washington. After serving as an aide-de-camp for just over a month, Mifflin received Washington's appointment to become the Quartermaster General for the Continental Army.

Many soldiers and civilians praised the selection, including Richard Henry Lee, who wrote to Washington: "I think you could not possible have appointed a better Man to his present Office than Mr. Mifflin." 2 Mifflin commanded the Quartermaster Department, overseeing the distribution of clothing and equipment to the soldiers of the Continental Army and was promoted to the rank of Colonel on December 22, 1775, to Brigadier General on May 16, 1776, and to Major General on February 19, 1777.

During his time as Quartermaster General, however, Mifflin came under intense scrutiny for his poor handling of the Department, particularly its financial affairs. On March 7, 1776, Washington's secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed, wrote to his commander: "I ought to mention to you a Continuance of one of your principal Officers in a private Trade with which I remember you was much dissatisfied last Fall- you can be at no Loss to know who I mean [Mifflin]." 3 This accusation was just one of many made by soldiers and civilians alike against Mifflin.

By the spring of 1777, Mifflin also began to disagree with Washington's war strategy. Mifflin temporarily resigned as Quartermaster General during the summer, but remained in the Army. He then became aligned with members of the so-called Conway Cabal, a plot to replace Washington with Horatio Gates as Commander-in-Chief. Understandably, tensions between Washington and Mifflin emerged. Mifflin briefly returned to the post of Quartermaster later that year. However, on June 11, 1778, a letter from the President of the Continental Congress directed "an enquiry to be made into the conduct of the late Quarter Master general."4 Washington allowed Mifflin to leave the Army and attend to his defense. Mifflin continued to be inundated by allegations of his misconduct until finally resigning his commission in February 1779.

Mifflin returned to Pennsylvania following his military service. He served once again as a delegate to the Continental Congress and was elected its President in 1783. While in this position, he personally accepted Washington's resignation as Commander-in-Chief. Mifflin served as a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and then as President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. In 1790, he was elected the first Governor of the Commonwealth. Washington and Mifflin remained in contact throughout this period, but primarily to conduct official business while Mifflin served as Governor. Mifflin served in that office for nine years before he died in Lancaster on January 20, 1800.

Jared D. Johnson
George Washington University

1. "General Orders, 4 July 1775," The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol. 1, ed. W.W. Abbot (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 54.

2. "Richard Henry Lee to George Washington, 26 September 1775," The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series , 2:52.

3. "Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed to George Washington, 7 March 1776," The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 3:428, 430.

4. "Henry Laurens to George Washington, 11 June 1778," The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 15:38.

The Papers of George Washington. Ed. W.W Abbot. 55 vols. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1983.

Headley, J.T. Washington and His Generals. 2 vols. New York, NY: Baker and Scribner, 1847.

Purcell, L. Edward. Who Was Who in the American Revolution. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1993.

General Resent

What got you interested in General Thomas?

I've been reading about the Civil War since I was a boy, and identifying with my ancestors who fought on the Confederate side. My great-grandfathers were soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia, and I'm sure that if I had been one of them, then and there, I would have volunteered for the Confederate army just as they did. If you grow up, as I did, on Lee Street in Danville, the last capital of the Confederacy, it's hard to imagine that there were Virginians who actually fought for the Yankees. And if you follow Lee's army every step of the way to Appomattox, it's easy to ignore the fact that there was another war going on out there west of the Blue Ridge. In the past I have been heard to say, only slightly in jest, that to me, if it happened beyond the mountains, it might as well have been a battle between Belgium and Bulgaria.

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So the massive fact of George Thomas, a Virginian who fought for the North and became one of the Union's great generals, grew upon me gradually, until I became fascinated with him. He was from Southampton County, where my paternal ancestors were from. What drove him to make the decisions he did? What kind of man was he? What kind of soldier? In his place, would I have done the same thing? The fact that he is such a towering figure, and so few Americans know anything about him, made me want to tell his story.

What's the most interesting thing about Thomas?

Thomas had such a cross to bear. Coming north from Virginia he faced the distrust of Northern politicians, including Lincoln. He was clearly burdened by the fact that he was fighting against the South, and that people in the South—including his own relatives—were very angry at him. Thomas, of all the major figures of the war, had more internal stuff to deal with, which makes him more complex and more interesting. He was a Virginian who fought for the North and became one of the great generals. Tens of thousands of Southerners fought for the North, but Thomas was the one who was most resented because he was the most successful in fighting.

You say in the article that to this day Thomas is reviled by many Southerners—why do they still feel so strongly?

A lot of people are still fighting the Civil War. Some people hate Thomas for the same reason that some people still fly the Confederate flag. I hope that won't go on forever, and it's dwindled, but it's still there. When you write Civil War books, as I do, you find that a lot of people are not only interested in and sympathizing with the Confederate army in a historical sense, but some of them are still waving the flag.

Do Civil War historians argue about that when they get together?

There's a lot of disagreement, as among all historians about any subjects, but a lot of the arguments about the Civil War—among serious historians—really get down to details rather than the big picture, because that's pretty well understood now.

Why was Thomas opposed to slavery even though he had had slaves and lived through the Nat Turner rebellion?

He was opposed to slavery because it became his duty to be. Based on things that he said and did in the process of being a Union general and in his post-war career, he clearly thought that slavery was a bad thing. If this had been a book instead of an article, I would have included a lot more of that. It's striking that he was separated from his family because of what he did, and they were still down there in the plantation society, which he had left when he went into the army.

In the article you say that different historians give different reasons for why Thomas has fallen into obscurity. What's your explanation?

I think mainly the attention given to Grant and Sherman, who fought in the East, where the war eventually ended. Appomattox and the march through Georgia and all that are so dramatic that they overshadowed Thomas, who was fighting beyond the mountains in the western theater.

Thomas Circle in Washington. D.C. is close to Smithsonian's offices. Have you been there and seen the statue?

Yes, and it's a good statue it's pretty well done. He may have been more portly than the statue shows him, though.

About Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

Catching Up With “Old Slow Trot”

Out of the august night, James Gurley came galloping past the massive oak before Elizabeth Thomas' white plantation house. Get out! he shouted. Take your family and run! Now! The renegade slave leader Nat Turner was coming with a band of vengeful slaves, rampaging from farm to farm, killing white men, women and children.

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George Henry Thomas, 15, piled into a carriage with his mother and sisters and racketed along dirt roads into the darkness. Before they had gone far, afraid the assassins would overtake them, they abandoned the carriage and took to the woods. In and out of gloomy Mill Swamp, across Cypress Bridge and the bottomlands of the Nottoway River, they escaped to the county seat of Jerusalem, some 12 zigzag miles from home.

Nat Turner's 1831 insurrection, in Southampton County, Virginia, was the bloodiest slave uprising in American history. Before it ended, 55 whites were killed. It stirred deep fears across the South, sweeping aside any talk of gradual emancipation, and hardened both sides in the long-running debate that ended in civil war. What it did to young George Thomas, who as a Union general became one of the most successful, most controversial, yet least recognized figures of that war, remains a question unsettled.

While Turner and his band, armed with guns, clubs, axes and swords, carried out their gruesome task, Thomas' mother led her family to safety, helped to do so by some of her own slaves, according to local tradition. George's father had died two years earlier. The boy's uncle, James Rochelle, who had mentored him since his father's death, was clerk of the court where Turner confessed and was hanged that November. Young George was immersed in the initial panic, the mobilization of militia and the fury of citizens demanding prompt justice. He heard talk that all the trouble would never have happened if Turner had not been taught to read and write.

Teaching slaves was illegal in Virginia and across the South, but George was among the many who had broken the law, teaching his own family's 15 slaves to read.

After attending the local academy, he became his uncle's deputy clerk and took up the study of law at the county courthouse. But he was restless, and gladly accepted an appointment from his congressman to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He would long remember the parting advice he got from his brother John: "Having done what you conscientiously believe to be right, you may regret, but should never be annoyed by, a want of approbation on the part of others." It was advice that would prove prophetic.

Nearly six feet tall, solid in body and stubborn in temperament, George was almost 20 years old when he arrived at West Point. His roommate was a red-haired, impulsive Ohioan named William Tecumseh "Cump" Sherman. They became friendly rivals, and after four years Sherman had finished 6th, Thomas 12th, among the 42 members of the class of 1840. Along the way, Thomas put a halt to the hazing of some fellow cadets by threatening to throw a bullying upperclassman out a barracks window after years helping supervise a sprawling plantation, he had learned to exert calm authority. Among the cadets, his gravitas earned him his first of many nicknames: Old Tom.

Five months after graduation, Thomas sailed for Florida and the long, ugly little war begun by Andrew Jackson to force the Seminole Indians onto reservations. Thomas' captain wrote an appraisal that would well describe his entire career: "I never knew him to be late or in a hurry. All his movements were deliberate, his self-possession was supreme, and he received and gave orders with equal serenity."

Real war lay ahead in Mexico, where as an artillery lieutenant under Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1846, Thomas won honorary promotion to captain for his conduct in the pitched battle of Monterrey. Then Thomas was breveted to major for the way he handled his guns at Buena Vista, when Taylor defeated Mexican general Santa Anna in the last major battle in northern Mexico.

Southampton County was proud of its son, and presented him a magnificent sword, its gold pommel clasping an amethyst, its silver scabbard engraved with the names of his battles. On its grip was the image of an elephant—among soldiers, to have been in combat was to have "seen the elephant." And Thomas was still devoted to home: disappointed that his brother had not picked a bride for him, George said, "I would prefer one from the old state to any other, and as I am now so much of a stranger there I am afraid I should not know where to look. . " In his letters, he worried about his unmarried sisters, left lonely on the farm, saying "domestic differences are to me the most horrible of which I can conceive." He could not yet imagine the scope of the domestic differences that lay ahead.

In 1851 he headed to the prize assignment of artillery instructor at West Point. At every stop since his first arrival there, he had met and measured cadets and fellow officers who would figure in his future—Sherman, J.E.B. Stuart, John Schofield, William Rosecrans, Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, among dozens destined to become famous in Civil War history. None was more impressive than the superintendent of the academy, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, and no one there impressed Lee more positively than upright, conscientious George Thomas.

Under Lee, Thomas had the additional duty of cavalry instructor. In that role, Thomas won yet another nickname, Old Slow Trot, for restraining cadets from galloping their mounts. Since his brother had not found him a bride, Thomas found his own—tall, strong-minded Frances Kellogg, an upstate New Yorker, cousin of a cadet from Troy. He wore his ceremonial sword for the only time in his life when they were married in the academy chapel in November 1852.

Within six months, Thomas had to leave his bride for duty in the far Southwest it would be three years before he saw her again. In a desert clash with a Comanche brave, he narrowly escaped death when an arrow glanced off his chin before lodging in his chest. Thomas pulled it out and, after a surgeon dressed the wound, went about his business. Then, in 1860, with the country in crisis after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Thomas headed home on leave.

While there, he worried about his future as the Southern states began to secede. Governor John Letcher offered to make him Virginia's chief of ordnance. In turning that position down, Thomas wrote: "It is 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."

A month later, in April 1861, on the day Confederate guns opened against Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, Thomas sent telegrams to his wife and sisters, stating that he would remain loyal to the Union. We do not know exactly what he said then or what was going on inside him at other critical moments, because all his personal papers were destroyed. But his wife said that "whichever way he turned the matter over in his mind, his oath of allegiance to his Government always came uppermost." When Lincoln called for troops to put down the insurrection, Virginia joined the Confederacy, along with most of her professional soldiers. But Thomas stayed true to his oath, and to this day has been reviled by many Southerners for that decision.

Even his own sisters turned his picture to the wall and denied that they had any such brother. They returned his letters unopened and ignored his request to send him the ceremonial sword he had left with them for safekeeping. He also lost contact with his brothers. Some called him a turncoat.

The truth is that Thomas, like many other soldiers, was torn by the wrenching decision he was forced to make. So was his friend Lee, who opposed secession and agonized over resigning from the U.S. Army that he had served so faithfully. But Lee ultimately headed South, saying he could not bring himself to fight against his home, family and friends. It is also true that Lee had a much larger stake in Virginia, in its plantations and history, than Thomas did in his more modest place in Southampton. And besides his loyalty to the old flag, Thomas was committed to a Northern wife who was as strongly Unionist as his sisters were secessionist.

His memories of Nat Turner's insurrection might have hardened him into a determined defender of slavery, as it did for so many of the Southern officers who went with the Confederacy. Instead—perhaps remembering the eager blacks he had taught to read and write—he fought to overturn the "peculiar institution." Though he left no bold statements of how he felt, when his duty came to include ending slavery, he carried it out just as forcefully as when it stood for simply preserving the Union.

Those who protest Thomas' decision have made less of the fact that old Winfield Scott, general in chief of the Army in the early months of the war, was also a Virginian. He had been a national figure since the War of 1812, but by late 1861 he had retired and no longer mattered. Tens of thousands of Southerners fought for the Union, but Thomas has been the focus of resentment for one reason: he was a better general than the others.

As early as his cadet days, Thomas' contemporaries had seen a resemblance to George Washington in his classic profile, his integrity and his restrained power. In 48 months of war, as his brown hair and well-trimmed beard began to gray, he would attain a certain grandeur that only strengthened that comparison. He seldom showed his explosive temper, but when he did, it was remembered. He disdained theatrics and politics to general and future president James A. Garfield, his whole life seemed "frank and guileless." Thus in character, if not in gambling instinct, he also closely resembled Lee, who was a role model for so many younger officers who served under him.

Thomas would earn the undying loyalty of soldiers like Henry Van Ness Boynton, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor fighting under him in 1863. Boynton wrote that Thomas "looked upon the lives of his soldiers as a sacred trust, not to be carelessly imperiled. Whenever he moved to battle, it was certain that everything had been done that prudence, deliberation, thought and cool judgment could do under surrounding circumstances to ensure success commensurate with the cost of the lives of men. And so it came to pass that when the war ended it could be truthfully written of Thomas alone that he never lost a movement or a battle."

But for Thomas, every battlefield success seemed to stir controversy or the jealousy of ambitious rivals. Unlike other noted generals, he had no home-state politicians to lobby on his behalf in Washington. Ulysses S. Grant, for example, was championed by Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne, and Sherman by his brother, Ohio senator John Sherman. For Thomas, every step upward depended solely on his performance in the field.

In one of the war's first skirmishes, he led a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley that bested Confederates under Stonewall Jackson. When the dashing Rebel J.E.B. Stuart heard that Thomas was commanding Union cavalry, he wrote to his wife that "I would like to hang him as a traitor to his native state." Even after that, there was lingering doubt among some Unionists, including Lincoln. Unlike Grant, Sherman, George McClellan and some other ranking Union officers who had broken their military service with years as civilians, Thomas had been a soldier since the day he entered West Point. Yet when his name came up for promotion, the president, restrained by Northern radicals and surrounded in the Federal bureaucracy by Southerners, said, "let the Virginian wait." But Sherman among others vouched for Thomas, and soon the Virginian was elevated to brigadier general and ordered to organize troops away from Virginia, beyond the Appalachians.

There, in January 1862, he sent a bulletin of encouragement to a Union hungry for good news. After an 18-day march on muddy roads, his division confronted Rebels at Mill Springs, Kentucky. Amid cold rain and gun smoke, he led his outnumbered troops in repulsing Confederates under Maj. Gen. George Crittenden and then drove them across the Cumberland River. Though not a massive victory, it was the first notable Northern success of the war, turning back a Confederate move from eastern Tennessee into Kentucky. Thomas was promoted to major general, an advancement that would soon create friction with his old roommate "Cump" Sherman and Grant, who had become so close that an affront to either was resented by both.

After winning praise for capturing Forts Henry and Donelson in western Tennessee, Grant had fallen out of favor for mismanaging and very nearly losing the bloody Battle of Shiloh. He was criticized for taking 13,000 casualties and was suspected of drinking on the job. Sherman, whose excitability and wild overestimates of Rebel strength had caused some to question his sanity, had fought bravely after an initial mistake at Shiloh. When Union forces moved south toward Corinth, Mississippi, that spring, Union general Henry Halleck shunted Grant into a figurehead role and gave Thomas temporary command of the wing that included Grant's Army of the Tennessee. Grant, angered, was talked out of quitting by Sherman. Grant would not forget the incident.

Grant and Sherman would redeem themselves by grasping control of the Mississippi River in the costly, circuitous campaign that resulted in the capture of Vicksburg in mid-1863. While they were operating on the Mississippi, Thomas led a corps in Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland, earning respect in fights like that at Stones River, where he declared, "This army does not retreat," and backed up his words with actions on the field. There and at Tullahoma, Rosecrans' force pressed the Confederates back into eastern Tennessee.

As Thomas rose, he proved to his men that his addiction to detail and his insistence on preparation saved lives and won battles. His generalship behind the front, before the battle, was generations ahead of his peers. He organized a professional headquarters that made other generals' staff work seem haphazard. His mess and hospital services, his maps and his scouting network were all models of efficiency he was never surprised as Grant had been at Shiloh. He anticipated modern warfare with his emphasis on logistics, rapidly repairing his railroad supply lines and teaching his soldiers that a battle could turn on the broken linchpin of a cannon. He demanded by-the-book discipline, but taught it by example. He made no ringing pronouncements to the press. His troops came to understand his fatherly concern for their welfare, and when they met the enemy they had faith in his orders.

In late summer, Rosecrans moved against the Rebel stronghold of Chattanooga, a crucial gateway between the eastern and western theaters of war. Confederate general Bragg pulled out of the town onto the dominating nearby mountains, waiting for Maj. Gen. James Longstreet to bring reinforcements from Virginia. When they came, Bragg threw everything into an assault on Union lines along Chickamauga Creek, just inside Georgia. Thomas' corps was dug in on the Union left. On the second day of furious fighting, a misunderstood order opened a wide gap on his right. Longstreet's Rebels crashed through with the always aggressive John Bell Hood's division leading, they bent the Union line into a horseshoe.

Rosecrans, certain the battle was lost, retreated into Chattanooga with five other generals and thousands of blue-uniformed soldiers. But Thomas inspired his men to stand fast, and only their determined resistance saved his army from destruction. They held all that afternoon against repeated Confederate assaults, withdrawing into Chattanooga after nightfall. It was the greatest of all battles in the West, and since that day, Thomas has been known to history as the Rock of Chickamauga.

For their actions, Rosecrans was fired and Thomas took command of the Army of the Cumberland. But the Union situation remained dire. Bragg, still holding those formidable mountains, laid siege to Chattanooga. Grant, commanding Union armies between the Mississippi and the mountains, ordered Thomas to hold the city "at all costs," and rushed troops east to help.

"I will hold the town till we starve," Thomas replied, and they almost did starve. Cut off from supplies, his army was living on half rations. Thousands of horses and mules died. Weeks passed before Grant assembled strength sufficient to lift the siege. The key terrain was towering Missionary Ridge. Grant ordered Sherman to drive onto the ridge from the left and Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker from the right, with Thomas aimed at the center. Sherman tried and failed to carry his end, but Hooker's troops took Lookout Mountain on the far flank. Thomas waited for Grant's order to advance. When it came, Thomas took his time studying the crest with his binoculars, then sent his troops ahead with orders to occupy only the first line of the Confederate works. They did so in fine style—and then, seeing that they were exposed to fire from above, kept going. Thomas was surprised and Grant angry, demanding "Who ordered those men up the hill?" No one had. The troops plunged ahead, pressing on against heavy fire, struggling up the steep slope and jubilantly planting their flag on the heights for all to see.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, an eyewitness, called the assault "one of the greatest miracles in military history. as awful as a visible interposition of God." Thomas, moved by the sight, ordered that a cemetery be created for his soldiers on a beautiful slope of the battlefield. When a chaplain asked if the dead should be separated by state, Thomas did not hesitate. "No, no," he said. "Mix them up. Mix them up. I'm tired of states' rights." Once he had made up his mind to stay with the old flag, he never expressed misgivings if he had them, they had long been erased by seeing so many men die to preserve the Union.

By late 1883, U.S. Colored Troops were filling some of the gaps opened in Federal forces by battle and disease. Although Sherman had resisted using black soldiers, Thomas gladly accepted them. In the drastic move from serfdom to freedom, he wrote, it was probably better for ex-slaves to be soldiers, and thus gradually learn to support themselves, than "to be thrown upon the cold charities of the world without sympathy or assistance."

As the Federals gathered strength to thrust into Georgia, this was not the only disagreement between the tightly strung Ohioan and the calm Virginian. In early March, Lincoln called Grant east to become general in chief of all Northern armies. No one was surprised that Grant's friend Sherman, rather than Thomas, replaced him as commander in the West, even though as a major general Thomas was senior to Sherman. Ex-colonel Donn Piatt, a 19th-century booster and biographer of Thomas, called it "the nakedest favoritism that ever disgraced a service."

At the start of his 1864 drive toward Atlanta, Sherman rejected Thomas' plan to take his command through Snake Creek Gap to cut off and smash Joseph Johnston's Confederate army. More than a month into Georgia, an impatient Sherman complained to Grant that Thomas' Army of the Cumberland was slowing his advance—"a fresh furrow in a plowed field will stop the whole column." He was still in this mood a few days later when he ignored Thomas' advice against attacking the strongly entrenched Rebels head-on at Kennesaw Mountain. The Federals lost more than 2,000 troops in trying to take what Thomas had warned was an impregnable position.

Thomas commanded about two-thirds of Sherman's infantry his army was the center force, the sledgehammer in the four-month campaign, and led the way into Atlanta. But neither Sherman, Grant, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton nor Lincoln cited Thomas in their congratulations. As in the 1864 Virginia campaign, where all the official praise and headlines went to Grant, in Georgia it was all Sherman. In his special order announcing the victory, Sherman credited Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum's corps with entering the city first—although Slocum was under Thomas' command and had headed the corps for only six days.

When Atlanta's mayor protested Sherman's harsh military rule, the general replied, "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it. those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm." Then he set out on his storied march to infamy and greatness, pillaging the countryside as he cut a great swath through the Confederacy.

Thomas took a different view. Stern though he was in combat, he posted a guard at the house of a citizen suspected of disloyalty because, he said, "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. The thing becomes horribly grotesque. when 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."

Opposite in personality, tactics and philosophy, Thomas and Sherman were thereafter gratefully separated in geography as well. While Grant grappled with Lee in Virginia and Sherman gutted the eastern Confederacy, Thomas was sent back to Tennessee to reorganize the stripped-down Army of the Cumberland and deal with Hood. The Confederate general had got away from Atlanta with some 40,000 troops and evaded Sherman's effort to catch him. Now he was marching north through Tennessee. Thomas' Federals under John Schofield slowed and badly damaged the Rebels in the fierce battle of Franklin, but by December Hood was dug in on the high ground facing Nashville. Thomas fortified the city while he gathered strength for a decisive blow, but to carry it out he needed more men, horses and supplies.

Grant, 500 miles away, grew impatient. He sent telegrams urging Thomas to move, then ordered him to "attack at once." Thomas said after the war that he was tempted—"grossly improper as it would have been"—to ask why Grant himself, who was entrenched around Petersburg, was not fighting. Defeat at Nashville "would have been a greater calamity than any which had befallen the Federal forces," he said. "It would have cleared the way for the triumphant march of Hood's army through Kentucky, and a successful invasion of Indiana and Illinois, in which there were no Federal troops. It was therefore of the last importance that the battle upon which so much depended should not be fought until I was ready for it." Thomas continued planning, training, stocking—equipping his horsemen with the new breech-loading Spencer carbines.

Then, just when he was ready, a sleet storm froze both armies in place for days. Grant, furious that Thomas had failed to engage the enemy, decided to relieve him from command, first with one general, then another. Finally he started to go west to fire him in person. But before he left Washington, the ice melted in middle Tennessee.

On December 15, Thomas, unaware that Grant intended to fire him, roared out of his works against Hood. In two days his troops crushed the Rebel army. His infantry, including two brigades of U.S. Colored Troops, smashed into Hood's troops while the Union cavalry, dismounted with its fast-firing Spencers, curled around and behind the Rebel left. Almost a century later, historian Bruce Catton summed up the battle in two words: "Everything worked."

Thomas "comes down in history. as the great defensive fighter, the man who could never be driven away but who was not much on the offensive. That may be a correct appraisal," wrote Catton, an admirer and biographer of Grant. "Yet it may also be worth making note that just twice in all the war was a major Confederate army driven away from a prepared position in complete rout—at Chattanooga and at Nashville. Each time the blow that finally routed it was launched by Thomas."

Nashville was the only engagement in which one army virtually annihilated another. Thomas B. Buell, a student of Civil War generalship, wrote that in Tennessee, Thomas performed the war's "unsurpassed masterpiece of theater command and control. So modern in concept, so sweeping in scope, it would become a model for strategic maneuver in 20th-century warfare." After it, there was no more large-scale fighting west of the Blue Ridge.

When the bloodshed was over at last, after Lincoln was assassinated and the nation was recovering from the shock, 150,000 soldiers of all the Union armies converged on Washington for the most memorable victory parade in the nation's history. All of them, that is, except the Army of the Cumberland. When Sherman proudly passed in review before Grant, President Andrew Johnson and multitudes of cheering onlookers, Thomas had already said goodbye to his few remaining troops. Back in Nashville, in a message that his innate reserve did not let him utter in person, he described his thoughts as he watched their last parade:

"The coldest heart must have warmed" at seeing the men who had endured "this great, modern tragedy," he wrote—men "who had stemmed with unyielding breasts the rebel tide threatening to engulph the landmarks of freedom, and who, bearing on their bronzed and furrowed brows the ennobling marks of the years of hardship, suffering and privation, undergone in defense of freedom and the integrity of the Union, could still preserve the light step and wear the cheerful expressions of youth."

Thomas' own youth was long behind him. In four years of hard service, he had taken not a single day of leave. During Reconstruction, he commanded troops in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. He was considerate toward ragged defeated soldiers, but he was as strict as the angriest Northern Radical in opposing the Ku Klux Klan and defiant politicians. "Everywhere in the states lately in rebellion, treason is respectable and loyalty odious," he said. "This, the people of the United States, who ended the rebellion and saved the country, will not permit."

When President Johnson wanted to make him a full general, Thomas declined, understanding the move as Johnson's attempt to sidetrack Grant's progress toward the White House. He said he had done nothing since the war to deserve promotion, and if the honor was for wartime service, it had come too late. When he heard talk of nominating him for president, he staunched that too. So Grant was duly elected, in 1868, and soon afterward transferred Thomas to San Francisco. There, in 1870 at the age of 53, the Rock of Chickamauga suffered a stroke and died.

The train bearing his body crossed the country to his wife's hometown of Troy, New York, with troops firing salutes along the way. President Grant and General in Chief Sherman, putting aside for the moment their criticism of Thomas, led the throng of mourners at the funeral. But no one was there from the Thomas family of Southampton County. Shortly after Lee's surrender, Union general John Gibbon had heard that the Thomas sisters were suffering, and sent them a wagonload of supplies as a token of his friendship for their brother. Judith Thomas would not accept, insisting she had no brother George, that he had died on the day Virginia seceded.

In 1879, veterans of the Army of the Cumberland dedicated an equestrian statue of Southampton's most distinguished son in Washington's Thomas Circle. He peers down 14th Street toward Virginia today, as dense traffic runs around him perhaps one passerby in a thousand knows who he is and what he did for the nation.

After Thomas died, Grant was able to say that he was "one of the great names of our history, one of the greatest heroes of our war." Sherman relented so far as to write that "during the whole war his services were transcendent." Yet even then, the two generals seldom mentioned his name without repeating their assertions of his caution. When the two surviving Thomas sisters were nearing 90, they allowed the general's prize sword to go to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, where it remains. As a further gesture of reconciliation, they sent acorns from the great oak outside the home place to be planted around his statue in Washington.

The acorns never sprouted.

Ernest B. "Pat" Furgurson is the author of Freedom Rising and other Civil War books. He lives in Washington, D.C.

About Ernest B. Furgurson

Ernest B. Furgurson is the author of Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War and Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War, plus other books about war and politics.

Snubbed! George Thomas: Unknown General of the Civil War

The capital had never seen such a splendid celebration. In May 1865, after the killing was over and the slain president had been mourned, the victorious Union troops marched in a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House. For two days, thousands along the curb cheered the soldiers who had fought from Bull Run to Vicksburg to Gettysburg to Appomattox, wave after wave of men in blue, heads high with hard-earned pride.

All the heroes of the day were there—Ulysses Grant, George Meade, William Sherman. Just about everyone, that is, except Major General George H. Thomas of the Army of the Cumberland, the only Civil War commander who never lost a battle, the man who saved a Union army at Chickamauga and demolished a Confederate force at Nashville.

“Time and history will do me justice,” Thomas said before he died in 1870. Yet even today many historians pass him by when they rank the Union’s greatest generals. Thomas’s stubborn pride, an unfortunate nickname, and questions about his loyalty all sullied his reputation, but perhaps nothing did more damage than a bitter rivalry with the officers accorded the most glory for the Union’s triumph.

Thomas’s troubles start with the fact that he was a Southerner who fought for the North. He grew up on a plantation in the Tidewater area of southern Virginia. In 1831, when he was 15, he and his family fled to escape the marauding slaves of Nat Turner’s rebellion. At 20, Thomas went to West Point, where he roomed and competed with a spirited redhead from Ohio named William T. Sherman. Stocky and serious, the young Virginian won the respect of classmates for defending underclassmen against older bullies. Thomas finished 12th among 42 graduates in the class of 1840, Sherman sixth.

Although commissioned as an artillery officer, Thomas did infantry duty in the long war to drive the Seminoles out of Florida. His captain’s description of his performance could just as well cover his 30-year army career: “I never knew him to be late or in a hurry. All his movements were deliberate, his self-possession was supreme, and he received and gave orders with equal serenity.”

When war with Mexico opened in 1846, Thomas headed west and fought in the battles that served as the proving ground for the generation of soldiers that would lead in the Civil War. Heading up an artillery outfit under the plain, steady Zachary Taylor, he was cited for his “coolness and firmness” under fire and won brevet promotions for his actions in the battles of Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. He was clearly a rising star. After another stint in Florida, he received in 1851 the choice billet of artillery instructor at West Point, where he taught Philip H. Sheridan, James B. McPherson, James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, Fitzhugh Lee, and others who would go on to fame in the Civil War.

Three years at the academy planted seeds for the slights Thomas would suffer later in his career. The superintendent of the academy—a fellow Virginian named Robert E. Lee—was impressed by the conscientious and upright Thomas and assigned him the additional duties of cavalry instructor. When Thomas ordered cadets to restrain their shaky old mounts and proceed at a “slow trot”—a standard gait for cavalry—they jokingly called him “Old Slow Trot.” Though good humored, the nickname stuck and hounded him the rest of his days.

After West Point, Thomas was dispatched to Fort Yuma in the New Mexico Territory, then promoted to major in the 2nd Cavalry, an elite regiment formed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Duty on the desert frontier was lonely and dangerous he narrowly escaped death when a Comanche arrow glanced off his chin and pierced his chest. The assignment also cemented his friendship with his West Point mentor Robert E. Lee, now the 2nd Cavalry’s second in command.

Within months, Thomas, Lee, and hundreds of other Southern officers had to make a fateful decision. Abraham Lincoln’s election sparked secession by states of the Deep South, but Virginia stuck with the Union until after Fort Sumter. When the Old Dominion withdrew, Lee agonized but soon cast his future with his home, family, and state.

Thomas made his decision quickly. His Virginia ties and holdings were much less extensive than Lee’s, and his wife, Frances, a New Yorker he had married in 1852, was a strong-minded and loyal Yankee. After his death, Frances explained that “whichever way he turned the matter over in his mind, his oath of allegiance to the Government always came uppermost.”

The choice caused Thomas great pain. When his sisters received the news, they turned his picture to the wall and insisted they no longer had a brother named George. Some of the many professional soldiers from Virginia who joined the Confederacy excoriated him as a traitor. “I would like to hang, hang him as a traitor to his native state,” wrote Jeb Stuart, Thomas’s former cadet.

Leaders in the North, meanwhile, were suspicious of this Southerner turned Unionist. Lincoln doubted his loyalty until Thomas’s cavalry bested Stonewall Jackson in a brief clash before the battle of Bull Run. After that, the president promoted Thomas to brigadier general and sent him across the mountains, where he might fight outside Virginia.

On January 19, 1862, Thomas sent news from Mill Springs, Kentucky, of the first clear Union success of the war. After a long, cold, and muddy march, his outnumbered troops had turned back a Confederate advance across the Cumberland River. It was not a major victory, but it boosted sagging spirits in Washington and later helped Thomas earn promotion to major general.

The glow of this triumph still lingered when U.S. Grant was surprised at the April battle of Shiloh, stumbling badly before pulling out a victory. When the Union army then pushed south toward Corinth, Mississippi, Major General Henry Halleck, who headed the Department of the Mississippi, ordered Thomas to lead a wing that included men from Grant’s and Sher – man’s command. Halleck made Grant his second in command, but bypassed him to give orders directly to Thomas. Angry, Grant threatened to quit until Sherman talked him out of it.

Grant soon regained his command and with Sherman launched the Mississippi campaign that would target Vicksburg. Thomas remained in Kentucky and Tennessee, serving under Major General Don Carlos Buell at Perryville, then Major General William Rosecrans at Stones River and Tullahoma. In the heavy fighting over the next year, Thomas showed his troops how attention to detail and preparation before battle could make the difference between victory and defeat. His headquarters hummed with professional efficiency. Anticipating modern warfare, he emphasized logistics and supply lines. And his mapping and scouting were so thorough that he was never taken by surprise, as Grant had been at Shiloh.

Nearly six feet tall, Thomas held himself erect and always projected a dignified calm, inspiring comparisons to George Washington. Although a firm disciplinarian, he showed a fatherly concern for his men. They called him “Pap Thomas” and followed him faithfully even in the worst of conditions.

In late summer 1863, Thomas’s corps was part of a Federal force dug in on the western side of Chickamauga Creek, protecting the rail center of Chattanooga, Tennessee, against furious Rebel assault. When the attackers bent the Federal lines into a horseshoe around midday on September 20, Rosecrans and other commanders led a disorganized retreat into the city, believing the battle lost. Thomas, however, rallied scattered troops and held firm all afternoon, withdrawing into Chattanooga only after nightfall.

This delay saved the army from disaster. Thomas’s bravery won him the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” When Rosecrans was later relieved from the Army of the Cumberland, Thomas assumed command, setting him up for more friction with Grant.

As cold weather descended that year, Thomas and his army were stuck defending Chattanooga and battling a Rebel siege that left them desperately short of food and fodder. Grant, who had pleased Lincoln by taking Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi River, now commanded all Union armies in the West. He promised to rush help to Thomas and ordered him to hold Chattanooga “at all hazards.” Some of Thomas’s troops were so hungry that they were eating dry corn from mule feed, but he replied: “I will hold the town till we starve.”

Weeks passed before Grant assembled his forces for the march east, and then he struggled across Tennessee in a cold rain. His welcome in Chattanooga appears to have been as chilly as the weather. Grant’s staff engineer, James H. Wilson, wrote of Thomas sitting mute on one side of the fireplace in headquarters while Grant, dripping and hungry, sat on the other. No one spoke, Wilson said, until he reminded Thomas that his commander was cold and wet, at which the general stirred himself and ordered that Grant be made comfortable.

Even if Wilson’s version is only half true, it underscores the tension between the two. Grant, who graduated from West Point three years after Thomas, had fought with distinction in Mexico. Later, though, he was disciplined for drinking and dropped out of the army for seven years. He won a regimental command two months after the war began, and then only by tapping his political connections. By contrast, Thomas had an unbroken record of service. As a Virginian, he had no home-state member of Congress to lobby for his career advancement indeed, in late 1862, he had turned down what he deemed an unwarranted promotion.

According to Wilson, Thomas’s “coolness and neglect” helped explain the bad blood between the two. Wilson said that Grant described the Virginian as “slow, not only in action, but in his mental operations.” Wilson believed Thomas “regarded himself as a better soldier than Grant” (perhaps because he graduated higher in his West Point class and had served with more distinction) and “resented Grant’s assignment to duty over him,” even if only unconsciously.

Sherman had a broken record of service akin to Grant’s. He had served in an army administrative role in California during the Mexican-American War, then left for various civilian ventures. In 1861, his brother John, a powerful senator from Ohio, helped him secure a regimental command. He fought well in early battles, but was temporarily relieved when he showed signs of a nervous breakdown.

Sherman bonded with Grant at Shiloh and in the Vicksburg campaign. He was quoted as saying: “He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk and now, sir, we stand by each other always.”

At Chattanooga, Sherman and his Army of the Tennessee rejoined Grant for a bid to drive the Confederates off the heights that dominate the city. Missionary Ridge was the key terrain on November 25, 1863, Grant sent Sherman to drive up from the left and Joseph Hooker to approach on the right. Thomas was held back to strike the Rebel center. Sherman’s effort fell short, however. Once ordered to move, Thomas took his time, studying the heights carefully before sending his troops ahead. Though expected to halt after taking the first line of Confederate works, they pushed through heavy fire and struggled up the slope. “Who ordered those men up the hill?” Grant demanded angrily, but Thomas was surprised as well. His troops plunged ahead until they reached the top and jubilantly planted the Stars and Stripes.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, attached to Grant, called the assault “one of the greatest miracles in military history.” But the feat did little to improve the relationship between Thomas and Grant. That winter, when Grant was tapped to command all Union armies, he chose Sherman to lead the great 1864 offensive from Chattanooga to Atlanta, even though Thomas outranked him.

Striking out for Georgia in early May, Sherman was soon complaining to Grant about the man they both saw as a plodder. “A fresh furrow in a plowed field will stop [his] entire column,” he wrote. At Kennesaw Mountain outside Atlanta, Sherman ignored Thomas when he warned against charging strong Confederate defenses. The result was a costly setback, with Thomas’s men suffering heavy casualties.

During the four-month campaign, Thomas commanded about two-thirds of Sherman’s infantry. His army smashed into General John B. Hood’s Confederate forces defending Atlanta, then led the way into the city. Yet neither Sherman nor Grant mentioned Thomas in their victory communiqués. Credit for entering Atlanta first went to Major General Henry Slocum, Thomas’s subordinate.

After Atlanta, Sherman briefly tried to run down Hood, who headed for Tennessee. But eager to march on to the sea, he stripped Thomas of much of his Army of the Cumberland and sent the reduced command north to deal with Hood. By December, Hood had taken the high ground around Nashville, a Union stronghold for much of the war. Thomas dug in behind the city’s fortifications and went about gathering badly needed horses and supplies.

Grant, who was hundreds of miles away directing operations in the fighting around Richmond, repeatedly urged Thomas to take the offensive. Thomas replied that he would move as soon as he rebuilt his cavalry. Grant’s pleas turned to angry demands. Finally, he decided to relieve Thomas and made plans to head west and execute the order in person. Just then, a spell of icy weather in Nashville broke, and Thomas—unaware of Grant’s plans to fire him but now confident his men were ready to fight—attacked at last. On December 15 and 16, 1864, he demolished Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in what historian Thomas Buell has called the war’s “unsurpassed masterpiece of theater command and control.” It was the only battle in which one army virtually destroyed another, and it ended major combat west of the Appalachians.

The battle also demonstrated very clearly that Thomas was not slow so much as thorough. And thoroughness, he proved, won battles. Despite Grant’s impatience, he had delayed the attack in part to buy time to arm his cavalry with new breechloading Spencer carbines—weapons that helped his horsemen curl around and behind the Rebel left in a maneuver critical to the victory.

Following Nashville, while Thomas mopped up Hood’s scattered remnants, Grant and Sherman completed the war in the East and were celebrated as heroes. After the war, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan sometimes praised Thomas, but they almost reflexively added that he was, of course, always slow.

Thomas never publicly defended his record. Nor did he write his memoirs, as his rivals did. When President Andrew Johnson offered a promotion to full general, Thomas turned it down, saying it came too late. While Grant and Sherman moved on to great glory in political and military affairs, he continued his army career in relative obscurity. He first oversaw Reconstruction in parts of the South, then was transferred to San Francisco. There in 1870, he died of a stroke, still a soldier at age 53.

Bruce Catton, one historian who gave Thomas his full due, was an admirer of Grant. Nonetheless, he argued that the lesser-known general delivered some of the war’s most devastating blows. “There was nothing slow about Thomas,” Catton wrote. “He liked to make sure that everything was ready before he moved, but when he did move, somebody had to get out of the way.”

“Thomas never had a bad day,” Catton added. “One gets the haunting feeling: Perhaps this man actually was the best of them all.”

Ernest B. Furgurson, a regular contributor to MHQ, is the author of several Civil War histories, including Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War.

Originally published in the Autumn 2013 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.

Watch the video: Civil War Biography: General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson (October 2022).

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