ACP 37


Major-general george henry thomas (see main description for short history)

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Major-general george henry thomas (“the rock of chickamauga”) thomas was born at 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 a middle child and the youngest of the three boys. The family led an upper-class plantation lifestyle. By 1829, they owned 685 acres and 24 slaves. John would die in a farm accident when george was 13, leaving the family in financial difficulties. George thomas, his sisters, and his widowed mother were forced to flee from their home and hide in the nearby woods during nat turner’s 1831 slave rebellion. A traditional story is that thomas taught his family’s slaves to read, violating a virginia law that prohibited this, although not all historians agree that this was true. Thomas was appointed to the united states military academy at west point, new york, in 1836 by entering at age 20, thomas was known to his fellow cadets as “old tom” and he became a friend of one of his roommates, william t. Sherman. 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 appointed a second lieutenant in company d, 3rd u.S. Artillery. Thomas would become a career soldier in the united states army. Thomas’s first assignment with his artillery regiment began in late 1840 at the primitive outpost of fort lauderdale, florida, in the seminole wars, where his troops performed infantry duty. He led them in successful patrols and was appointed a brevet first lieutenant on november 6, 1841. From 1842 until 1845, he served in posts at new orleans, fort moultrie in charleston harbor, and fort mchenry in baltimore. With the mexican-american war looming, his regiment was ordered to texas in june 1845. In mexico, thomas led a gun crew with distinction at the battles of fort brown, resaca de la palma, monterrey, and buena vista, receiving three brevet promotions. At buena vista, gen. Zachary taylor reported that “the services of the light artillery, always conspicuous, were more than unusually distinguished” during the battle. Brigadier general john e. Wool wrote about thomas that “without our artillery we would not have maintained our position a single hour.” 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 an artillery officer who would be a principal antagonist in the civil warcaptain braxton bragg. Thomas was reassigned to florida in 184950. 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, robert e. Lee, the academy superintendent. His appointment there was based in part on a recommendation from braxton bragg. 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”. Two of thomas’s students who received his recommendation for assignment to the cavalry, j.E.B. Stuart and fitzhugh lee, became prominent confederate cavalry generals. Thomas would choose to remain with the union for the civil war, despite his heritage as a virginian. This choice would cause his family to disown him his sister would claim that they had no brother. Most notably the family would turn his portrait to face the wall, a severe rebuke for their kin. This rebuke for his betrayal of virginia would leave his former comrade, confederate general braxton bragg an opportunity to slight thomas in denying him the courtesy of passing family correspondence through the lines in 1863.With the outbreak of hostilities, thomas won one of the first union victories in the war, at mill springs in kentucky, and served in important subordinate commands at perryville and stones river. His stout defense of snodgrass hill in the second day of fighting at the battle of chickamauga he saved the union army from being completely routed, earning him his most famous nickname, the “rock of chickamauga.” he followed soon after with a dramatic breakthrough on missionary ridge in the battle of chattanooga. In the franklin-nashville campaign of 1864, thomas was able to withstand the confederate charge at nashville and, destroying the remnant of the army of tennessee under the leadership of confederate john bell hood, at the battle of nashville.Thomas having a successful record in the civil war as a reliable subordinate commander, he failed to achieve the historical acclaim of some of his contemporaries, such as grant and sherman. He developed a reputation as a slow, deliberate general who shunned self-promotion and who turned down advancements in position when he did not think they were justified. After the war, he did not write memoirs to advance his legacy. He also had an uncomfortable personal relationship with grant, which served him poorly as grant advanced in rank and eventually to the presidency.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 freedmen 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. President andrew johnson offered thomas the rank of lieutenant generalwith the intent to eventually replace grant, a republican and future president, with thomas as general in chiefbut the ever-loyal thomas asked the senate to withdraw his name for that nomination because he did not want to be party to politics. In 1869, he requested assignment to command the division of the pacific with headquarters at the presidio of san francisco. He died there of a stroke while writing an answer to an article criticizing his military career by his wartime rival john schofield. None of his blood relatives attended his funeral. He was buried in oakwood cemetery, in troy, new york. 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. A memorial honoring general thomas can be found in the eponymous thomas circle in downtown washington, d.C.