Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Thacher to The Cualnge Tam B6 >> Thomas_2


command, war, army, forces, military, qv, union, civil, hood and academy

THOMAS, George Henry, American sol dier: b. Southampton County, Va., 31 July 1816; d. San Francisco, Cal., 28 March 1870. On his father's side he was of Welsh and English ancestry. His mother was of Huguenot descent. He received this early edu cation at Southampton Academy, near his home, and soon after his graduation was appointed to a cadetship at the West Point Military Academy, by the Hon. John Y. Mason, member of Congress from the Southampton district. He was graduated at West Point in 1840, standing 12th in a class of 42 members. NA'. T. Sherman being sixth. He was a thoughtful and industrious student at the academy, a char acteristic that followed him throughout his later military career. In 1840 he was appointed lieutenant in the Third artillery. He served in the war against the Seminoles in Florida. and later in the Mexican War, and was brevetted captain and major for meritorious services at Monterey and Buena Vista. He was instructor at the Military Academy in 1851-54. In 1852 he was united in marriage with Miss Frances Kellogg of Troy, N. Y. He was conunissioned major of the Second cavalry in 1855, and for some years saw duty on the western frontier, and engaged in campaigning against hostile Indians.

Upon the breaking out of the Civil War he espoused the cause of the Union, and was ap pointed brigadier-general of United States Vol unteers. It has been stated that early in 1861, during the period of suspense and uncertainty that preceded the war, he was vacillating in his loyalty to the government, and that he applied for services in the Southern army; but this is not true, as is clearly shown by the facts presented by his biographers, Van Horne. Piatt and Coppee. In June 1861, he was assigned to the command of General Patterson. with the United States forces in the Valley of Virginia, but was soon transferred to the west. and was placed in command of the first division of the Union army in Kentucky. On 19-20 Jan. 1862, he won the first important victory gained by the government forces in the west, signally defeating the Confederates under General Zollicoffer, at the battle of Mill Springs (q.v.). in Kentucky, and was promoted to the rank of major-general of volunteers and thanked by President Lincoln in a complimentary order. At the battle of Stone River (q.v.), near Mur freesboro, his command held the centre of the Union line, where he gave additional evidences of his abilities as a commander, and of his stay ing qualities as a fighter. At the battle of Chick amauga (q.v.), in September 186.1. Thomas commanded the 14th corps composed of three divisions of Rosecrans' army, and at the crisis of the engagement on 20 September he held the left of the general line. and successfully re sisted the repeated attacks of the Confed erates. About noon the right wing of the army. weakened by the withdrawal of troops to pro tect Thomas' left flank, gave way before the assaults of Hood and Longstreet. The right of the army was routed. but Thomas reformed his troops on Snodgrass Hill, and with the aid of reinforcements brought forward by General Gordon Granger, and other detachments, checked the onslaught of the victorious Con fedrates, repelled their repeated attacks. and held the position until nightfall, when he safely withdrew his forces to Rossville. His defense of Snodgrass Hill was one of the most dra matic events and one of the most deadly struggles of the Civil War. He fairly won thc

title of the "(Rock of Chickamauga?' by which he is so well known.

In the engagement of November 1863, in front of Chattanooga (q.v.), General Thomas' forces stormed the heights of Missionary Ridge and drove General Bragg's arrny from its strong position on the crest, gaining a com plete victory over the Confederates. In the campaign against Atlanta (q.v.) in 1864 Thomas was second in command to General W. T. Sherman, and ably co-operated with that great soldier in accomplishing the brilliant series of successes achieved by the Union army. When General Sherman left Atlanta and marched with his army through Georgia to the sea, General Thomas took command of the Federal forces remaining in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, and prepared to rneet the Confederate forces under General Hood, then threatening an ad vance into Tennessee. General Thomas then began the concentration of his forces at Nash ville (q.v.). His troops under Schofield and Stanley stayed Hood's advance at Franklin. Tenn. and inflicted terrible losses upon the Confe'derates, but Hood soon appeared before Nashville and threatened to attack the city. General Thomas was now reinforced by Gen A. J. Smith's command from Missouri. and a large force of cavalry under Gen. J. H. Wilson. Time was needed for equipping the cavalry and reorganizing the troops. Severe winter weather had set in, and the hills about Nashville were covered with ice and sleet — thus delaying military operations. Meantime the authorities at Washington became impatient at the delay, and ordered Thomas to attack Hood. General Thomas explained and remonstrated, and took due time for preparation. Orders were issued finally relieving Thomas from the command, but before they could be executed he attacked Hood's army and gained one of the most com plete and brilliant victories of the war, routing and almost dispersing Hood's forces. General Thomas, by these results, fully vindicated his judgment against all criticism, and received the thanks of the President and Congress for his splendid victory. He was also commissioned a major-general in the regular army.

At the close of the war he was in command of the Department of the Cumberland at Nash ville, and was most useful in reorganizing and sustaining the civil laws and government in Tennessee and the adjacent States. His high personal character, executive ability and good judgment were instrumental in establishing peace and good order throughout that section. General Thomas must be credited with a very high order of military ability, and a most hon orable place in the history of the Civil War. He made no serious military mistakes, and can be charged with no defeats.

After the closing of the war he was as signed to the command or : Military Division of the Pacific, with headqi •ters at San Fran cisco, where he died. Hi- wife survived him but a few years. They had no children. Con sult Coppee, Henry, 'Life of General Thomas' (New York 1893) ; Bradford, Gamaliel, 'Union Portraits' (Boston 1916) ; Van Horne, T. B., `Life of Major-General G. H. Thomas' (New York 1882).

rial. This was reprinted in 1874 by the Anti quarian Society. Consult Lincoln,