George H. Thomas

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Major General George H. Thomas

George Henry Thomas (1816-1870) - Born 31 Jul 1816, Southampton County, Virginia. Died 28 Mar 1870, San Francisco, California.

Early Years

Graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point ranked 12th of 42 in the Class of 1840. Commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery by President Van Buren. His roommate during his plebe year at West Point was William Tecumseh Sherman

Assigned to duty on the day of graduation as 2nd Lt. in the 3rd U.S. Artillery, he served in the regular army for twenty years, during which time he served in the Second Seminole War from 1840 to 1842; in command of various forts and barracks from 1842 to 1845; in the military occupation of Texas in 1845-46; in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848 participating in early all its leading battles in the 3rd Seminole war in 1849-50; as instructor in artillery and cavalry at West Point from 1851 to 1854 where he taught cavalry tactics to Phil Sheridan and J.E.B. Stuart. On the other hand, he taught artillery tactics to John B. Hood. He was on frontier duty at various posts in the interior of California and Texas, leading several expeditions against the Indians from 1855 to the autumn of 1860. During these twenty years he was repeatedly brevetted for gallant and meritorious services, rising through all the grades to a captain of artillery, and in 1855 was made a major of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, which regiment he commanded for three years. He was wounded in a skirmish with the Indians at the headwaters of the Brazos river in Aug 1860, and the following November went east on a leave of absence. During the winter of 1860-61 he watched with anxiety the buildup to the U.S. Civil War.

U.S. Civil War

Thomas cut short his leave of absence and reported for duty at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, 14 Apr 1861 - the day when the flag went down at Fort Sumter and less than 48 hours after the first shot was fired.

On 27 May 1861 he led a brigade from Chambersburg across Maryland to Williamsport, rode across the Potomac in full uniform at the head of his brigade on 16 Jun 1861, to invade Virginia and fight his old commanders; a few days afterward he led the right wing of Gen. Patterson's army in the battle of Falling Waters and defeated the Confederates under Stonewall Jackson. At Gen. Robert Anderson's request Sherman and Thomas were made brigadier-generals of volunteers and assigned to his command, The Department of the Cumberland.

The first month's work that Thomas performed in the department was at Camp Dick Robinson, Kentucky. where he mustered into service eleven regiments and three batteries of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee troops, which he organized into the first brigade, and which formed the nucleus of the division, then of the corps and finally of the great army which he afterward so long commanded. He was soon placed in command of the 1st division of the army and on 31 Dec 1861 was ordered to move against Zollicoffer, who commanded a large force occupying the road leading from Cumberland gap to Lexington, Kentucky. Gen. Thomas fought and won the battle of Mill Springs, which was by far the most important military success that had yet been achieved west of Virginia, and with the exception of the defeat of Marshall near Prestonburg a few days before, it was the first victory in the department. In this battle Gen. Thomas laid the foundation of his fame in the Army of the Center.

From 30 Nov 1861, to 30 Sep 1862, he commanded a division of Gen. Buell's army without intermission, except that during the months of May and June he commanded the right wing of the Army of the Tennessee and around Corinth. On 30 Sep 1862, he was appointed second in command of the Army of the Ohio, having previously refused the chief command, and served in that capacity in the battle of Perryville and until Oct. 30, 1862, when the old name of Department the Cumberland was restored and Gen. Rosecrans assumed command. That officer reorganized the army into three distinct commands-right, left and center-and assigned Thomas to the center, which consisted of five divisions. He held this command in the battle of Stone's river and until 9 Jan 1863, when the 14th army corps was created by order of the war department, and Thomas commanded it during the summer campaign in middle Tennessee and the Chickamauga campaign. On 27 Sep 1864, after the capture of Atlanta, he was ordered by Gen. Sherman to return with a portion of his army into Tennessee and defend that state against Hood's invasion. Thus Thomas was confronted by that veteran army which had so ably resisted Sherman on his march to Atlanta, and had to meet it with an effective force of about 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry, having to remount the latter, provide transportation, and almost to organize and supply a new army. Although severely checked by Schofield at Franklin, Tenn., Hood gathered head and threatened Nashville. Then the government and country waited impatiently for Thomas to attack, but be would not move until he was ready. He thought he "ought to be trusted to decide when the battle should be fought," and to know better than any one hundreds of miles away.

Grant called him "slow," Sherman commented on his "provoking, obstinate delay," and Stanton, still actuated by the partisan bitterness that had caused him to secure the removal of two successful commanders, wrote to Grant: "This looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the enemy raid the country." Urgent despatches and orders rained in upon him, but he said they might remove him if they liked and complained to one of his generals, "They are treating me like a boy." An order removing him was actually made on Dec. 9, but happily revoked. On Dec. 13 Gen. Logan was started for Nashville with orders to take the command on his arrival if Thomas had not moved, and two days later Grant himself set out thither. On the road both received the great news of the battle of Dec. 15. Thomas had at length attacked,driving the enemy eight miles, and Hood, "for the first and only time, beheld a Confederate army abandon the field in confusion." On the next day Thomas completely redeemed his promise to "ruin Hood," whose army was broken to pieces and chased out of Tennessee. When he received his commission as major-general in the regular army his friend and medical director, seeing that he was deeply moved, said: "It is better late than never, Thomas." "It is too late to be appreciated," he replied; "I earned this at Chickamauga," and afterward, "I never received a promotion they dared to withhold."

Post War

After the war he was placed in command successively of the most important and difficult military departments, often under circumstances of great responsibility and delicacy. Gen. Thomas' death was the result of apoplexy and occurred in San Francisco, California, 28 Mar 1870.

Fort Thomas (1) in Kentucky and Fort Thomas (2) in Arizona were named for General Thomas.


Father: John C. Thomas (1780-1829) Born 4 Nov 1780. Died 20 Apr 1829.

Mother: Elizabeth Rochelle (1784-1844)

Marriage:

  • Frances Lucretia Kellogg (1821-1889) Born 25 Jan 1821, Troy, New York. Died 1889. Married 7 Nov 1852, Troy, New York.

Children:

Assignments:

Personal Description:

  • Height: 6'
  • Build: Large proportions and symmetrical
  • Hair Color: Light brown, slightly tinged with red
  • Eye Color: Blue

Links:

Sources:

  • The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65 -- Records of the Regiments in the Union Army -- Cyclopedia of Battles -- Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers. 8 vols. Madison: Federal Publishing, 1908.
  • Cullum's Register - Graduate No. 1028 - George H. Thomas
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