Saturday, July 6, 2013

George H. Thomas, born July 31, 1816


George Henry Thomas was born at Thomaston, near Newsom's Depot, in Southampton County, Virginia.  His father, John Thomas, of Welsh descent, and his mother, Elizabeth Rochelle Thomas, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, had nine children. George was the youngest of the three boys; he had six sisters. 


The room to the right of the chimney is George's birthplace;
when he was born the house had only three rooms
The family led an upper-class plantation lifestyle.  By 1829, they owned 685 acres and 24 slaves.  A traditional story is that George taught as many as 15 of his family's slaves to read, violating a Virginia law that prohibited this, and despite the wishes of his parents.

John Thomas died in a farm accident when George was 13 years old, leaving the family in financial difficulties. His mother had to sell land to pay debts.
Grave of John Thomas
George became an assistant to his mother's brother, James Rochelle, the Southampton County clerk of court; his family hoped he would become a lawyer. 



In 1831, George, his sisters, and his widowed mother were forced to flee from their home and hide in the nearby woods during Nat Turner's slave rebellion.  George, 15, piled into a carriage with his mother and sisters; before they had gone far, afraid the assassins would overtake them, they abandoned the carriage and  fled on foot through 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, helped to do so by some of their own slaves, according to local tradition.



In his purported confession, Nat  Turner mentions stopping at the Thomas farm, armed with guns, clubs, axes and swords:
"On my way back, I called at Mrs. Thomas's, Mrs. Spencer's, and several other places, the white families having fled, we found no more victims to gratify our thirst for blood, we stopped at Maj. Ridley's quarter for the night, and being joined by four of his men, with the recruits made since my defeat, we mustered now about forty strong."

Turner's insurrection in Southampton County 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. James Rochelle, was clerk of the court where Turner confessed and was hanged that November.


Southampton County Courthouse,
where Nat Turner was tried
In 1835, after his uncle's death, George was sworn into office as the deputy county clerk by James Rochelle's successor.

In March 1836, Congressman John Y. Mason, an old friend of James Rochelle, visited Southampton County and offered George an appointment to West Point. Before entering the Academy, George visited Washington, D.C., to thank Congressman Mason for his appointment. Mason said to him, "No cadet appointed from our district has ever graduated from the Military Academy, and if you do not, I never want to see you again".
"Billy" Sherman
Entering the academy at age 20, George was known to his fellow cadets as "Old Tom".  He became friends with his roommates,  William T. Sherman and Steward Van Vliet.  He made steady academic progress, was appointed a cadet officer in his second year, and graduated 12th in a class of 42 in 1840. 

He was 44 years old when the Civil War began.

View from West Point
Thomas was appointed a second lieutenant with the 3rd U.S. Artillery. His first assignment with his artillery regiment began in late 1840 at the primitive outpost of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the Seminole Wars.  In Florida,  he also studied botany, geology and mineralogy in the region. 


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."


Attack of theSeminoles
From 1842 until 1845, he served in posts at New Orleans, Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.


Fort McHenry, Md.  June 15th 1844
Sir:       
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of my commission as a First Lieutenant in the 3 Reg't of Artillery.
I am Sir   
                        Very Respectfully  
                                    Your Obedient Servant 
                                    Geo H. Thomas 
                                        1st Lt. 3rd Artillery
He wrote his brother that his meager pay prevented him from getting a wife, and he despaired that he might have to remain a bachelor.  His regiment was ordered to Texas in June 1845, as war with Mexico loomed.  


Battle of Resaca de la Palma
Thomas led a gun crew with distinction at the battles of Fort Brown, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista.  

Battle of Buena Vista
At Buena Vista, General Zachary Taylor reported that "the services of the light artillery, always conspicuous, were more than unusually distinguished" during the battle.  General John Wool wrote about Thomas and another officer that "without our artillery we would not have maintained our position a single hour." 

John Wool
Thomas's battery commander wrote that Thomas's "coolness and firmness contributed not a little to the success of the day. Lieutenant Thomas more than sustained the reputation he has long enjoyed in his regiment as an accurate and scientific artillerist."  During the war, Thomas served closely with another artillery officer, Captain Braxton Bragg.

Buena Vista
When he returned home, the people of Southampton presented him with a ceremonial sword engraved with the words "Florida, Ft. Brown, Monterrey and Buena Vista".  
"The pattern of the sabre is that used by the United States Dragoons. The blade is of the truest and prettiest steel, finished in a manner that would defy superiority of workmanship. The scabbard is of solid silver, standard value, beautifully enriched with engraved scroll work encircling military trophies, with the words: Florida, Ft. Brown, Monterey, Buena Vista, and an engraved vignette of the battle of Monterey. The hilt is of basket form, very elaborately chased. The grip is solid silver, also enriched with engraved scrolls. The pommel is of gold, grasping an amethyst, and the rings and bands in bas-relief, and upon the grip is engraved an elephant."
Among soldiers, to have been in combat was to have "seen the elephant."


Thomas as
West Point cavalry and artillery instructor
In 1851, he returned to West Point as a cavalry and artillery instructor, where he established a close professional and personal relationship with another Virginia officer, Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee, the Academy superintendent. Thomas' appointment there was based in part on a recommendation from Braxton Bragg. 



Robert E. Lee 











On November 17, 1852, Thomas married Frances Lucretia Kellogg, 31 years, the cousin of a cadet from Troy, New York.   According to the church register, official witnesses were her brother, John F. Kellogg, and her uncle Daniel Southwick.  Frances' mother, Mrs. Abigail Paine Kellogg, had been a widow for many years. Her father, Warren Kellogg had been a prosperous hardware and grocery merchant. The couple remained at West Point until 1854. She would prove to be a true soldier's wife as she would later travel to the Texas frontier to be with her husband.


Philip Sheridan
Concerned about the poor condition of the Academy's elderly horses, Thomas moderated the tendency of cadets to overwork them during cavalry drills and became known as "Slow Trot Thomas". Among Thomas's cavalry students were Philip Sheridan, J.E.B. Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee. He taught artillery tactics to John B. Hood.

Fitzhugh Lee












In 1853, in his final year at the Academy, Cadet John Schofield suffered a potentially career-ending incident.  While working as a teaching assistant in the mathematics section, he was accused of allowing cadet candidates in his classroom to make offensive jokes and drawings on the blackboard.  He was dismissed from West Point, but appealed the decision to Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War, who referred the matter back to a Board of Inquiry at the Academy. His expulsion was overturned by a majority of the board, but of the two officers who voted to sustain it, one was a future commander of his during the Civil War, George Thomas.  Although Schofield's memoirs do not mention Thomas's role in the board, his persistent criticism of Thomas's generalship after the war may have been provoked by this incident.

Thomas was promoted to captain on December 24, 1853.  Thomas had to leave his bride in New York for duty in the far Southwest; it would be three years before he saw her again.  In the spring of 1854, his artillery regiment was transferred to California and he led two companies to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama, and then on a grueling overland march to Fort Yuma.  Thomas' march with two companies of light artillery from Warner's Ranch across the desert was made in mid-summer. In an attempt to relieve the men, the march was made at night.  During the terrific heat of the day a halt was made and shade sought under the wagons. 

Fort Yuma, California
During the infantry occupancy of the fort, a force pump, powered by a mule treadmill, raised water some seventy feet to a reservoir on the parade ground. The water settled over night and was distributed by carts in the mornings. A post garden in the bottom lands was operated and irrigated from the river.

At Fort Yuma, Thomas paid attention to the language and traditions of the neighboring Indians. He learned to speak the language of the Yumas, and made effort to translate it to a written form. 

Yuma had the reputation of being the hottest post in the Army. and a temperature of 116 degrees F. in the shade was not unusual. The following story was told: A very bad soldier died at Fort Yuma. His habits and life were such that no one doubted his ultimate destination, so it was a matter of surprise when he was seen entering his squad-room the very first night after his funeral.  When asked what he wanted, he said he had come back to get his blankets as it was too cold in Hell after Yuma, although it was only a half mile from the post.

During one of his voyages from Charleston to New York, in command of troops, he saved the ship and all on board by arbitrarily displacing the captain and giving command to the first officer.  There was a violent storm off Cape Hatteras, and the captain was too drunk to manage the ship in such an emergency, and yet insisted on giving orders.  The first officer reported the facts to Thomas, stating at the same time that it would be mutiny for him to disobey the captain, a responsibility he was unwilling to assume. He insisted, however, that some one must take control or they would inevitably be lost. Thomas then sent for the captain and told him to remain in his state room, and that he himself would be responsible for the management of the ship. Under the direction of the first officer, the vessel outrode the storm.  He was never afraid of responsibility in itself when free to act, and he never declined any duty or command through distrust of himself. 


Thomas on horseback
On May 12, 1855, Thomas was appointed a major of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry by Jefferson Davis, who as then Secretary of War.  Once again, Braxton Bragg had provided a recommendation for Thomas's advancement.   The 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment was authorized by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1855.  Often referred to as "Jeff Davis's Own,'' the unit was an elite organization.  The officers assigned to the 2nd Cavalry were hand picked by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis; the majority of them, like Davis, were Southerners by birth and West Point graduates by education. 


Jefferson Davis








The noncommissioned officers were specially selected from the other mounted regiments, and the privates were recruited mainly from Mid-Western and Southern States. Horses for the Regiment were purchased by a special team of 2nd Cavalry officers who were authorized to buy the best-blooded stock available in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. For purposes of appearance and to engender esprit de corps each company was assigned horses of one color. In concert with the high standards set in selecting the men and mounts the Regiment was furnished the newest and best arms, accouterments and equipment.


Albert Sidney Johnston
Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston of Texas was selected to command the Regiment and Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia was designated as the second-in-command. William J. Hardee, a Georgian, was assigned as the senior major and Thomas was appointed the junior major of the Regiment. Earl Van Dorn of Mississippi was the senior captain and commanded Company A. Numbered among the other captains were E. Kirby Smith of Florida and George Stoneman, Jr. of New York. Both Nathan "Shanks" Evans of South Carolina and John Bell Hood of Kentucky were selected as lieutenants in the 2nd Cavalry. 
There was a suspicion as the Civil War drew closer that Davis had been assembling and training a combat unit of elite U.S. Army officers who harbored Southern sympathies, and that Thomas's appointment to this regiment implied that his colleagues assumed he would support his native state of Virginia in a future conflict.  (Sixteen Civil War generals came from the rolls of the Regiment.  Eleven fought with the Confederacy and five for the Union. The original 2nd cavalry provided Jefferson Davis with one-half or four of his full generals - A. J. Johnston, Lee, E.K. Smith and Hood.)

Thomas rejoined his regiment at Fort Mason, Texas, in May 1856 and remained there about a year.  About September 5, 1856, he joined Colonel Robert E. Lee who was en route to Ringgold Barracks, Texas, as a member of the court-martial that tried Major Giles Porter, Fourth United States Artillery.  Colonel Lee wrote his wife that he hoped to pick Thomas up at Fort Mason, which indicated that they were friends of the family. They arrived at Ringgold Barracks October 3, 1856. Lee had traveled 730 miles in 27 days and Thomas about 600 miles in 22 days.

George Washington Park Custis, the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee, died October 7, 1857. Lee was executor of the estate and left for Arlington, Virginia, on October 21.  Thomas assumed acting command of the cavalry regiment, an assignment he would retain for 2½ years. 

Major Thomas reported in May, 1859, that two hundred and fifty armed men, under the leadership of an ex-Indian agent, had marched toward the Brazos agency for the purpose of attacking the Village, but before arriving there they killed an Indian and then retreated to Martin's Ranch. The Reservation Indians followed them and a combat ensued in which six white men and three Indians were killed and wounded. The army officers opposed the mob and did not believe the Indians guilty of stealing stock from the citizens as alleged.

On August 26, 1860, during a clash with a Comanche warrior, Thomas was wounded by an arrow passing through the flesh near his chin area and sticking into his chest at Clear Fork on the Brazos River in Texas. Thomas pulled the arrow out and, after a surgeon dressed the wound, continued to lead the expedition. This was the only combat wound that Thomas suffered throughout his long military career.

In November 1860, Thomas requested a one-year leave of absence from the army. His career had been distinguished and productive, and he was one of the rare officers with field experience in all three combat arms—infantry, cavalry, and artillery. 

His departure from Texas brought a problem: the disposition of a slave woman, whom he had purchased in Texas when it was not practicable to hire a servant. To use his own words, he "could not sell a human being." He had been accustomed to the service of slaves all his life, and felt no scruples in purchasing one, when in need of a servant.  He was not then an abolitionist.  But when the question of the sale of a slave became a practical one, the nature of the transaction was repulsive to him.   He decided to take the woman with him to his home in  Virginia, and did not see her again, after going north, until after the war.

On his way home to Virginia, he fell from a train platform in Lynchburg, severely injuring his back. As he was 44 years old, this accident led him to contemplate leaving military service.  The injury caused him pain for the rest of his life. 

Winfield Scott
Continuing to New York to visit with his wife's family, Thomas stopped in Washington, D.C., and conferred with general-in-chief Winfield Scott. He advised Scott that General David Twiggs, the commander of the Department of Texas, harbored secessionists sympathies and could not be trusted in his post. Thomas was in Virginia when Twiggs surrendered the federal troops and forts in Texas on February 16, 1861. 


David Twiggs
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, 19 of the 36 officers in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry resigned, including three of Thomas's superiors—Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee and William Hardee.  Many Southern-born officers were torn between loyalty to their states and loyalty to their country. 

William Hardee
Thomas struggled with the decision but opted to remain with the United States. His Northern-born wife probably helped influence his decision. In response, his family turned his picture against the wall, destroyed his letters, and never spoke to him again. His former student and fellow Virginian, Confederate Col.  J.E.B. Stuart, wrote to his wife, "Old George H. Thomas is in command of the cavalry of the enemy. I would like to hang, hang him as a traitor to his native state."


J.E.B. Stuart
"I took an oath to sustain the Constitution of the United States, and the Government, and to obey all officers of the Government placed over me. I have faithfully endeavored to keep that oath."

~ George H. Thomas
Robert Anderson
Thomas stayed in the Union Army with some degree of suspicion surrounding him.  However, he was promoted in rapid succession.  In the First Bull Run Campaign in 1861, he commanded a brigade.  All of his subsequent assignments were in the Western Theater. Reporting to General Robert Anderson in Kentucky, Thomas was assigned to training recruits and to command an independent force in the eastern half of the state. 


Felix Zollicoffer 
On January 18, 1862, he defeated Confederate Generals George Crittenden and Felix Zollicoffer at Mill Springs, gaining the first important Union victory in the war, breaking Confederate strength in eastern Kentucky, and lifting Union morale.  


Battle of Mill Springs
During Confederate General Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky in the fall of 1862, the Union high command became nervous about General Carlos Buell's cautious tendencies, and offered command of the Army of the Ohio to Thomas, who refused. 

Carlos Buell
Thomas served as Buell's second-in-command at the Battle of Perryville; although tactically inconclusive, the battle halted Bragg's invasion of Kentucky as he voluntarily withdrew to Tennessee. 


Braxton Bragg















Again frustrated with Buell's ineffective pursuit of Bragg, the Union replaced him with General William Rosecrans.
William Rosecrans







Fighting under Rosecrans, commanding the "Center" wing of the newly renamed Army of the Cumberland, Thomas gave an impressive performance at the Battle of Stones River, holding the center of the retreating Union line and once again preventing a victory by Bragg.


Battle of Stones River
He was in charge of the most important part of the maneuvering from Decherd to Chattanooga during the Tullahoma Campaign (June 22 – July 3, 1863) and the crossing of the Tennessee River.


Sketch made at Chickamauga by Alfred Waud
At the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19, 1863, he once again held a desperate position against General Braxton Bragg's onslaught while the Union line on his right collapsed. Thomas rallied broken and scattered units together on Horseshoe Ridge to prevent a significant Union defeat from becoming a hopeless rout.  Chickamauga was a dramatic Union loss. Thomas was the lone bright spot in the Army of the Cumberland leadership, forming a weak line along Snodgrass Hill as the rest of the Union Army south of that position retreated. Withstanding repeated attacks, some without ammunition, Thomas and his men held the line until ordered to withdraw at 7:00 p.m.  


James Garfield 
Future president James Garfield told General   Rosecrans that Thomas was "standing like a rock."  After the battle he became widely known by the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga", representing his determination to hold a vital position against strong odds.


Battle of Chickamauga
"It is doubtful whether his heroism and skill exhibited last Sunday afternoon, has ever been surpassed in the world."
~Abraham Lincoln, about George H. Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga
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."
Thomas proved to his men that his attention 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 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.


"Maj. General Thomas
And Officers of Staff"
Thomas succeeded Rosecrans in command of the Army of the Cumberland shortly before the Battle for Chattanooga (November 23 – November 25, 1863), a stunning Union victory that was highlighted by Thomas's troops storming the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge. 

Battle of Missionary Ridge
As the Army of the Cumberland advanced further than ordered, General Grant, on Orchard Knob asked Thomas, "Who ordered the advance?" Thomas replied, "I don't know. I did not." Thomas suggested that it was probably their own initiative. 

Ulysses S. Grant
General Grant remarked that "it was all right if it turned out all right," and added, "if not, some one would suffer." But it turned out "all right," and Grant in his official report compliments the troops for "following closely the retreating enemy without further orders." 

Charge near Orchard Knob
General Thomas, in his official report, after narrating the events of the 23d, 24th, and 25th of November, quietly says: "It will be seen by the above report that the original plan of operations was somewhat modified to meet and take the best advantage of emergencies which necessitated material modifications of that plan. It is believed, however, that the original plan had it been carried out could not possibly have led to more successful results."

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."

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."
Donn Piatt
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."

John Hood
During General Sherman's advance through Georgia in the spring of 1864, the Army of the Cumberland numbered over 60,000 men, and Thomas's staff did the logistics and engineering for Sherman's entire army group. At the Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864), Thomas's defense severely damaged General Hood's army in its first attempt to break the siege of Atlanta. 


Battle of Franklin
At the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, a large part of Thomas's force dealt Hood a strong defeat and held him in check long enough to cover the concentration of Union forces in Nashville. Thomas attacked on December 15, 1864, in the Battle of Nashville and effectively destroyed Hood's command in two days of fighting. Thomas also received another nickname from his victory: "The Sledge of Nashville".


Photograph taken during Battle of Nashville
Thomas commanded African American troops during the Battle of Nashville, and their bravery during the battle permanently changed his views on race. He had been a racial conservative during most of the war, but he changed after Nashville and became a staunch supporter of the rights of freedmen.

John Schofield took part in Thomas's crowning victory at the Battle of Nashville; however, during the buildup towards the battle Schofield intrigued against Thomas, feeding Grant false information, in order to try to succeed his senior in command.  Captain Marshall Davis, went to the telegraph office and picked up a message from Schofield to Grant: "Many officers here are of the opinion that General Thomas is certainly too slow in his movements." Steedman hastened with the message to Thomas, who examined it carefully and inquired, "Steedman, can it be possible that Schofield would sent such a telegram?" Steedman remarked that Thomas should be familiar with the handwriting of his own general. Thomas put on his glasses and held up the message before the light. "Yes, it is General Schofield’s handwriting…Why does he send such telegrams?" Several years later Steedman recalled that he "smiled at the noble old soldier’s simplicity and said: ‘General Thomas, who is next in command to you, and would succeed you in case of removal?’ ‘Oh, I see,’ he said as he mournfully shook his head."
John Schofield
Thomas did not take a single day of leave during the entire war. 

Shortly after Lee's surrender, Union general John Gibbon had heard that the Thomas sisters were suffering, and sent them a wagon load 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.  While he later reconciled with his brothers, his sisters remained estranged from him.

Edmund Ruffin
At the war's end, Edmund Ruffin bitterly reflected on the part Winfield Scott and George Thomas played in bringing down the Confederacy: "It is a singular coincidence, & an additionally galling infliction, that this war began & ended in Virginia with the operating Yankee armies under the command of two traitor Virginians." Ruffin's only consolation lay in his belief that both generals had earned infamy throughout the South, while being "secretly despised in the North." 

Former Virginia governor John Letcher argued that Scott and Thomas's treachery had been compounded by cowardly and dishonorable indecision. Both men, he contended, offered clear indications of a willingness to support Virginia in the period before secession, only to recant at the hour of decision. 

After the war, the slave woman he had purchased in Texas claimed for herself. her husband and her children the protection of her old master.  Although it was both inconvenient and expensive for General Thomas to take them, he had them moved from Virginia to Nashville, Tennessee. He tried to train them for a more independent life, but they were unwilling to leave him for an uncertain living.  They remained with him until he was ordered to the Pacific coast in 1869. He asked his brother living in Mississippi to give them employment, and with their consent, he sent them to him. This brother, Benjamin Thomas, was the only member of his family he met after he left his home in 1860. 
"He was positive in his opinions but free from intolerance. To him wrong and revenge were equally abhorrent, right and mercy equally attractive. When the war was over he was ready to restore friendly relations with those who were willing to resume allegiance to the Government they had fought to destroy, but he kept aloof from all Southerners who persisted in opposing reconstruction."
~ Thomas Van Horne 
Soon after the war, to the surprise of a great many people, he and General Hood exchanged cordial greetings, and breakfasted together at the Louisville Hotel. He met other prominent Confederate generals with equal cordiality, extending to some of them the hospitality of his home.


After the end of the Civil War, Thomas commanded the Department of the Cumberland in Kentucky and Tennessee, and at times also West Virginia and parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, through 1869. During the Reconstruction period, Thomas acted to protect free black people from white abuses. He set up military commissions to enforce labor contracts since the local courts had either ceased to operate or were biased against blacks. Thomas also used troops to protect places threatened by violence from the Ku Klux Klan.

In his annual report for the year ending September 30, 1868, Thomas said:

The state of society as regards the non -observance of law, and the want of protection for life and property has not at all improved, and in some sections is decidedly worse. I had hoped that with the good crops and increased substance obtained, the people would appreciate the blessings of peace and plenty, and abstain from that petty lawlessness, so often engendered or stimulated by poverty; but on the contrary, it would appear that with increased means the spirit of lawlessness is more actively exhibited.
. . . Well authenticated information leads me to believe that the Ku Klux Klan was primarily but a species of organization without settled plans; but the peculiar condition of Tennessee, the inability, unwillingness and apathy of the local authorities, combined to demonstrate that if organized thoroughly, upon a semi-military basis, the society could maintain itself, extend its power, and perform whatever it sought to do, without let or hindrance, its great purpose being to establish a nucleus around which the adherents of the late rebellion, active or passive, might safely rally, thus establishing a grand political society, the future operations of which would be governed by circumstances fast developing in the then peculiar era of exciting public events.
The controlling cause of the unsettled condition of affairs in the department is that the greatest efforts made by the defeated insurgents since the close of the war have been to promulgate the idea that the cause of liberty, justice, humanity, equality, and all the calendar of the virtues of freedom suffered violence and wrong when the effort for Southern independence failed. This is, of course, intended as a species of political cant, whereby the crime of treason might be covered, with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand-in-hand with the defenders of the Government, thus wiping out with their own hands their own stains; a species of self-forgiveness amazing in its effrontery when it is considered that life and property, justly forfeited by the laws of the country, of war, and of nations, through the magnanimity of the Government and people, were not exacted from them.
Thomas was greatly interested in the Society of the Army of the Cumberland from its organization in February, 1868, until his death. He was its first president, but was present only at the meetings in Cincinnati and Chicago.

President Andrew Johnson offered Thomas the rank of lieutenant general, with the intent to eventually replace Grant, a Republican, with Thomas as general in chief—but Thomas asked the Senate to withdraw his name for that nomination because he did not want to be party to politics. 

In 1869 he was assigned to command the Military Division of the Pacific with headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco.

Presidio Officer Quarters
Back east, questions were being raised by John Schofield about the events that occurred at Franklin and Nashville. Schofield generated a bitter debate over his actions and President Grant's order to advance at Nashville. After days of arguments in the press, Schofield sent the articles and replies to Thomas for his comments. 

On March 28, 1870, Thomas died of a stroke.  He was 53 years old.

The last moments and the death of General Thomas are described by Colonel Hough as follows:
"General Thomas came to the headquarters at his usual time, about 9.30 A.M., March 28th, 1870, spoke to me saying, 'Good morning, Colonel,' as he passed the open door of my room, and entered his private office. About 9.45 A. M I went into his room for transaction of the current business of the day. After finishing that, which was performed as usual, we entered into private conversation, and talked for some time. He was very communicative, and apparently in his usual health. About 10.30 A. M., I parted from him, and soon after left the headquarters to attend to some private business. I returned about 1.45 P. M., and found him lying on a lounge in his room attended by several physicians; was told that he had fallen in a fainting fit, about fifteen minutes before that he had come out of his room saying: 'I want air,' and immediately fell. When I saw him he was rallying from the attack, and was told by the physicians, that it was apparently a fainting fit, probably caused by indigestion. In the course of half an hour he said he had no pain, except about the right temple. This pain, one of the physicians told me, was a bad sign, but still he grew better, and insisted upon getting up, which he did for a few moments, and again lay down. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Thomas arrived and sat by his side. He spoke to her, and a few words passed between them. While waiting for the action of the remedies administered, all had left the room but Mrs. Thomas and myself. I observed he was speaking, and putting my ear down heard him say, he felt easier and had no pain; he looked up to Mrs. Thomas, who leaned down to him, and he spoke to her. Shortly after this I saw him struggle, with a convulsive movement about his chest, and try to rise, which he could not do. I called the physicians from the outer room, and one of them told me at once that it was apoplexy. Every attention was given to him, but he was unconscious, and gradually sunk until twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock, when he died. He did not struggle, only giving a convulsive spasm at the last moment."
His body was immediately embalmed, and taken on the next day to the Lick House, where the general had resided. The coffin, in charge of Colonel Willard, was taken borne to Troy, New York, for burial.  He was the first high-ranking Union general to die after the Civil War, and his coffin was greeted by crowds throughout its transfer back East.

His widow, Frances Kellogg Thomas, had been married to him for 18 years. They had no children. 

None of his blood relatives attended his funeral as they had never forgiven him for his loyalty to the Union and not Virginia. 


On April 8, 1870, over 10,000 mourners, including many senior government officials, attended a large public funeral in Troy, New York.  The funeral services were held in Saint Paul’s church. A metallic burial casket was on a dais in front of the chancel. A plain silver plate bore the inscription, "Gen. George Henry Thomas, U.S. Army. Born July 31, 1816. Died March 28, 1870." 
The pall bearers were Generals Meade, Schofield, Hooker, Rosecrans, Hazen, Granger, Newton and McKay. The escort was composed of two companies of Engineers, two of Artillery and four of Infantry, of the United States Army, under the command of General Wallen. The Ninth and Tenth brigades of the National Guard of the State of New York, and a number of other organizations, military and civil, took part in the parade, which was a mile in length.
Funeral of George Thomas
Coffin being interred temporarily in family vault of his wife
Generals, Grant and  Sherman attended Thomas's funeral, and were reported by third parties to have been visibly moved by his passing. 


Thomas Grave
He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy.  His gravestone was sculpted by Robert Launitz and comprises a white marble sarcophagus  topped by a bald eagle.

Plaque in front of grave


In 1879, veterans of the Army of the Cumberland dedicated an equestrian statue of Southampton's most distinguished son in Washington's Thomas Circle. 




His widow moved with her sister to a home in Washington, D.C. with a view of the statue. She died on December 26, 1889 in D.C.



Thomas Circle
Thomas's legendary bay horse, Billy, bore his friend Sherman's name.

Statue of Thomas in Thomas Circle

Thomas died less than five years after the war ended, before the flood of memoirs came from generals' desks. Against their disparagements he could not defend himself from the grave. Grant, Sherman and Sheridan in their autobiographies all covered one another with compliments and to a great extent ignored General Thomas.

After Sherman's Memoirs were published, General H. V. Boynton came out with a book entitled Sherman's Historical Raid; The Memoirs in the Light of the Record, in which he declared that Sherman was "intensely egotistical, unreliable and cruelly unjust to nearly all his distinguished associates. Our erratic general thrusts his pen recklessly through reputations as dear to the country as his own." Boynton cited the Official Records to show that Sherman belittled Thomas, Buell, Rosecrans, Hooker, Blair, Logan and Stanton and claimed "he repeatedly loads failures for which he was responsible now upon Thomas, now upon Schofield, now upon McPherson."

When Grant got around to writing his Memoirs, he was in a gentler frame of mind concerning Thomas.  Grant wrote:
As my official letters on file in the War Department as well as remarks in this book reflect on General Thomas by dwelling somewhat upon his tardiness it is due to myself as well as to him, that I give my estimate of him as a soldier. I had been at West Point with Thomas one year and had known him later in the old army. He was a man of commanding appearance, slow and deliberate in speech and action; sensible, honest and brave. He possessed valuable soldierly qualities in an eminent degree. He gained the confidence of all who served under him, and almost their love. This implies a very valuable quality. It is a quality which calls out the most efficient services of the troops serving under the commander possessing it.
Thomas' dispositions were deliberately made and always good. He was not as good, however, in pursuit as in action. I do not believe that he could ever have conducted Sherman's army from Chattanooga to Atlanta against the defences and the commander guarding that line in 1864. On the other hand, if it had been given him to hold the line which Johnston tried to hold, neither that general nor Sherman, nor any other officer could have done it better."
Among his other contemporaries, Generals O. O. Howard and Joe Hooker expressed themselves with unqualified praise of Thomas as a commander, both having served under him at Chattanooga and Atlanta. The sensitive Howard wrote: "His words and acts of confidence drew toward him my whole heart, particularly when I went into battle under him."

Hooker was a bitter man after the Civil War and he had nothing but contempt for Grant, Sherman, McClellan, Burnside and most of his fellow generals. In the last letter he wrote before his death in 1879, discussing the statue of Thomas to be unveiled in Washington with the Rev. William Earnshaw, General Hooker said: "I assure you it is the only equestrian statue in Washington that will be likely to receive the admiration of all who gaze upon it; and in my judgment the representative of the most gifted soldier this country ever produced, and the best man in all respects it has ever been my fortune to know."

Thomas has generally been held in high esteem by Civil War historians; Bruce Catton and Carl Sandburg wrote glowingly of him, and many consider Thomas one of the top Union generals of the war. But Thomas never entered the popular consciousness like some of the other men. The general destroyed his private papers, saying he did not want "his life hawked in print for the eyes of the curious." Beginning in the 1870s, many Civil War generals published memoirs, justifying their decisions or refighting old battles, but Thomas, who died in 1870, did not publish his own memoirs. In addition, most of his campaigns were in the Western theater of the war, which received less attention both in the press of the day and in contemporary historical accounts.

Grant and Thomas also had a cool relationship, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but are well-attested by contemporaries. When a rain-soaked Grant arrived at Thomas's headquarters before the Chattanooga Campaign, Thomas, caught up in other activity, did not acknowledge the general for several minutes until an aide intervened. Thomas's perceived slowness at Nashville—although necessitated by the weather—drove Grant into a fit of impatience, and Grant nearly replaced Thomas. In his Personal Memoirs, Grant tended to minimize Thomas's contributions, particularly during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, saying his movements were "always so deliberate and so slow, though effective in defence." Grant, however, also took painstaking care to praise Thomas's abilities. He openly and fully acknowledged in the event of Nashville that Thomas's success obviated all criticism. 

Sherman, who had been close to Thomas throughout the war, also repeated the accusation after the war that Thomas was "slow".  Sherman concluded that Grant and Thomas were "heroes" deserving "monuments like those of Nelson and Wellington in London."

Fort Thomas, Kentucky
A fort south of Newport, Kentucky was named in his honor, and the city of Fort Thomas now stands there and carries his name as well. 

Bust of Thomas in Grant's Tomb
A bust of Thomas is located in Grant's Tomb in New York City.


Ceremonial Sword presented to Thomas 
by the people of Southampton County
Thomas is known to have worn the sword from Southampton only once, at his wedding on November 7, 1852, to Frances Kellogg.  Afterward, perhaps because the Thomases moved from post to post, he left the sword in the safekeeping of his sisters. 

However, when in 1861 he refused an offer to become Confederate Chief of Ordnance and remained loyal to the Union, his sisters returned his letters unopened, and his appeals for the sword ignored.  When the last sisters died in 1900—Judith E. Thomas and Fanny C. Thomas—the sword was bequeathed to the Virginia Historical Society. 




As a gesture of reconciliation, they sent acorns from the great oak outside the Thomas family home place to be planted around his statue in Washington.

The acorns never sprouted.




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