The battle of Nashville had ended in a great victory for George Thomas. Congratulations flowed in, but Thomas did not rest on his laurels. Pressing ahead through bitter weather, Thomas drove his infantry and cavalry against Hood’s defeated forces, in a running battle that lasted until Florence, Alabama – about 60 miles over 16 days. This action ground down Hood’s army, leaving it with barely 15,000 effectives against 38,000 in mid-November, and effectively knocking it out of the war.
The victory at Nashville also earned Thomas a nickname, now largely forgotten: “The Sledge of Nashville,” also rendered “The Hammer of Nashville.” This comes from his hard-hitting attacks and mass tactics that hammered and broke the Confederate positions, followed by a relentless pounding of the Confederate rear guard, physically driving the Confederate army out of its namesake state forever.
Thomas’s performance gives pause, for it is one of the truly crushing victories ever won by an American army commander before the 20th Century and mechanized warfare. His operations in Middle Tennessee belie the popular perception of a stolid, slow, cautious general – “The Rock of Chickamauga” or “Old Slow Trot.” In reality, George H. Thomas would stand in the first rank of Union field commanders of the Civil War based alone on the Battle of Nashville and the pursuit.
There is one more nickname that must be mentioned: “Old Pap,” which was Thomas’s first moniker in the war – bestowed out of respect and affection by troops in Kentucky he commanded and led to victory at Mill Springs in January 1862.
Taken in totality of his active battlefield career from Mill Springs to Nashville, Thomas shows himself to be a solid, capable officer at all levels of command, not wasteful of his men’s lives or well-being, who was tenacious in execution of his missions (attack or defense) and exhibited a high degree of professional acumen and integrity. He is truly a great American soldier.
Lastly, one cannot reflect on Thomas without noting the morally courageous choice he made in 1861 – turning his back on his family and his state and staying loyal to the United States. His sisters never spoke to him again, and reportedly some of his descendants refuse to acknowledge him as part of their family tree. His name is still a touchy subject in Southampton County, Virginia.
The Sledge of Nashville died in 1870 and is buried in his wife’s hometown of Troy, New York, overlooking the Hudson River. Yet his legacy lives on, 150 years later.