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
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|
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
He was 44 years old when the Civil War began.
|View from West Point|
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|
Fort McHenry, Md. June 15th 1844
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
Your Obedient Servant
Geo H. Thomas
1st Lt. 3rd Artillery
|Battle of Resaca de la Palma|
|Battle of 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
|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.
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.
|Fort Yuma, California|
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.
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|
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|
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.
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.
"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
|Battle of Mill Springs|
Again frustrated with Buell's ineffective pursuit of Bragg, the Union replaced him with General 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|
|Sketch made at Chickamauga by Alfred Waud|
|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
"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"
|Battle of Missionary Ridge|
|Ulysses S. Grant|
|Charge near Orchard Knob|
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."
|Battle of Franklin|
|Photograph taken during Battle of Nashville|
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."
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.
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 HorneSoon 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.
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.
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.
|Presidio Officer Quarters|
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.
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
|Statue of Thomas in Thomas Circle|
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."
|Fort Thomas, Kentucky|
|Bust of Thomas in Grant's Tomb|
|Ceremonial Sword presented to Thomas |
by the people of Southampton County
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.