Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War Encyclopedia
Civil War in Georgia
On the Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War by state
Today in the Civil War
This year in the Civil War
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Union Military
Born into Southern society, but driven by his belief that the Union must be strong, General George Thomas was the second-highest ranking southern-born officer in the United States Army at the start of the first major battle, Bull Run. Only Winfield Scott, also from Virginia, outranked him.
Following his graduation from West Point (where he roomed for a year with William Tecumseh Sherman), Thomas received his commission as Second Lieutenant and fought in the Second Seminole War, where General Winfield Scott commanded in-field troops. Scott approved his brevet to First Lieutenant in 1841. During the Mexican-American War he served under General Zachary Taylor, where he was brevetted to major for gallantry during the Battle of Buena Vista. In his report on the battle, General John Wool specifically mentions Thomas and states "Without our artillery, we would not have maintained our position a single hour."
In the 1850's Thomas served in Texas, fighting American Indians and taking a Comanche arrow during a charge in 1860. Following the election, Thomas took a long leave of absence from his current duties. The Virginian was dismayed when he found that in his absence his regiment had been surrendered to the Rebels. Thomas was ordered to New York to assume command of the regiment and move it to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When his home state of Virginia seceded Thomas chose to stay with the Union.
His first engagement came on July 2, 1861 when he met Rebel Colonel Thomas Jackson not yet known as "Stonewall" at Hoke's Run in Virginia (present-day West Virginia). Jackson, as ordered, "fell back fighting" so the battle is viewed as an early Union victory. Unfortunately, Thomas's commander, General Robert Patterson did not follow orders and let Joe Johnston escape Winchester undetected before Bull Run. After Patterson was relieved of duty, Thomas found himself to be a brigadier general under the command of Robert Anderson. Quickly, Anderson was replaced by Don Carlos Buell and Thomas was order to advance on Sidney Albert Johnson's right flank. At Logan's Crossroads (Mill Springs), near Somerset, KY, Thomas withstood a Confederate attack, pursuing the enemy back to their Rebel entrenchments.
In September, 1862, General Thomas rejected an offer to command the Army of the Ohio. Following the battle of Perryville, William Rosecrans was offered the position and he accepted, renaming the Army of the Ohio to Army of the Cumberland. On December 31, 1862, Thomas held the Union center after Braxton Bragg had turned the right flank of the Union Army at the battle of Stone's River. Two days later Thomas attacked Bragg's line, forcing him back to a position near Manchester, Tennessee.
During the Tullahoma Campaign Thomas advanced virtually unimpeded to the west side of Lookout Mountain. Pushing through Stevens Gap, Thomas began to run into stiff Rebel resistance as he entered Georgia's Valley and Ridge section. His division moved towards Chattanooga at the head of the Army of the Cumberland. On September 19th he ordered Colonel John Croxton forward to sweep out a regiment of Confederate cavalry. Croxton ran headlong into rear elements of Bragg's Army of Tennessee, wiring back to Thomas "Which of the 4 or 5 brigades in front of me do you want me to attack."
Chickamauga was a dramatic Union loss that remains the worst defeat of the United States Army ever. 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.
With 5 days of rations remaining, General Ulysses S. Grant relieved William Rosecrans of command, giving the position to Thomas. His orders were simple: "Hold the city at all costs." Thomas's brief reply reflects the attitude of the general: "We will hold it until we starve." To both generals the first order of business was to resupply the men. Thomas, and later Grant, approved "Baldy" Smith's aggressive plan to open up a direct route to resupply the beleaguered city. In late October the "Cracker Line" was open.
Next came Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge, where the Army of the Cumberland advanced without orders and took the heights overlooking the city.
The Army of the Cumberland was then assigned to the Department of The Mississippi under William Sherman. Thomas, commanding the largest of three armies, drew the workhorse duty, frequently at the center of battle as McPherson's Army of the Tennessee and Schofield's Army of the Ohio drew outflanking duty. Thomas played a significant role in almost every battle of the Atlanta Campaign.
Following the battle of Jonesboro, Sherman ordered Thomas back to Nashville at the head of a completely reformed army. Thomas repeatedly defeated John Bell Hood in the last major Confederate offensive of the Civil War, including the decisive battle of Nashville. Towards the end of the war Thomas organized the cavalry strikes that secured both Georgia and Alabama for the Union and captured Jefferson Davis.
After the war Thomas was placed in charge of the military division of the West, a command he held until his death in 1870.
George Henry Thomas
Links appearing on this page:
George Thomas was last changed on - January 27, 2010
Battles | Places | Events by year | Events by date | Feature Stories |
Bookstore | Links | Who We Are |