Paying My Respects to Pap Thomas

Thomas GravesiteAs a Virginian who stayed loyal to the Union, perhaps it makes sense that George Thomas was laid to rest somewhere in the north. In that grand scheme of things, Troy, NY, seems as likely a place as anywhere. Troy was the hometown of his wife, Frances Lucretia Kellogg. The “Rock of Chickamauga” preceded his wife in death by nearly twenty years (he on March 28, 1870; she on December 26, 1889), so she had him interred in Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery where she, herself, planned to be laid to rest.

I’ve been through Troy dozens of times on my way back and forth to New England, but for most of that time, I never knew “Pap” Thomas was buried there. The town proudly proclaims its connection to “Uncle Sam” Wilson—the real-life prototype of Uncle Sam—but the Rock of Chickamauga has gone untouted. 

For fans of Thomas, that probably comes as no surprise. Today, he’s kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield of Union generals: he gets no respect. In life, he never got along with Ulysses S. Grant, which proved to be more and more problematic for his career as Grant advanced farther and farther. Grant didn’t outright harpoon Thomas’s career the way he did, say, William Rosecrans’s, but he didn’t give Pap a whole lot of love—or credit—either.

Even in death, even today, Thomas withers under the shadow of Grant. After all, just 40 minutes to the north, atop Mt. McGregor, the pageant of Grant’s final days played out. He passed away on July 23, 1885—fifteen years after Frances laid her husband to rest in Troy—and to this day, Grant Cottage remains a source of pilgrimage for thousands of people each year. I’ve been fortunate to make it up there annually for the past five years or so.

Thomas Bust @ Grants TombThomas does, appropriately enough, make a cameo of his own in Grant’s NYC tomb. The sarcophagi of Ulysses S. and Julia Dent Grant are surrounded by the busts of Grant’s top lieutenants from war, including Thomas. (If you think Thomas gets no love, try being George Gordon Meade, who was left out of the “top lieutenants” assemblage entirely.)

While Grant’s funeral was one of the largest events ever in New York, Thomas’s was a much different affair. Not a single one of Thomas’s blood relatives attended, bitter over his loyalty to the Union over Virginia. His wife’s family generously gave him a place to rest among them, instead, in a land far away from his own—and yet not. After all, Thomas believed we were all one country. New York, he had declared through his service, was his home turf as much as anywhere.

In fact, the Hudson Valley probably had a stronger claim on Thomas than most places. He’d attended West Point, downriver from Troy, from 1836-40—a formative period in the life of a man who became a professional soldier. He served until his death, in 1870, while stationed in San Francisco, California.

Thomas Gravesite MarkerLast week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Capital District Civil War Roundtable in Watervliet, NY—a suburb of Albany. Troy was literally right across the Hudson River, so I made a point to finally seek out old Pap. At Oakwood Cemetery, a series of small metal markers erected by the Col. G. L. Willard Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans pointed the way. The camp adopted Thomas’ grave and the graves of the entire Kellogg family, among whom Thomas and his wife were buried, and the pride of their work showed.

The Rock of Chickamauga stands tall atop a knoll at one of the highest points in the cemetery. The grave—a marble sarcophagus topped with an eagle—stands with dignity inside a small fenced-in area. An in-ground plaque provides details about Thomas’s military career. There’s no flash—just clean-white marble scrubbed bright by the conscientious attention of respectful admirers.

I have to think Pap would be pleased.

Thomas Gravesite Plaque

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50 Responses to Paying My Respects to Pap Thomas

  1. John Pryor says:

    The consummate professional of the Civil War. A master of logistics and combined arms. Unfairly maligned by the Mighty Flighty Tecumseh and one of the few men who could actually intimidate Grant. The War would have spun in a totally different direction had Nat Turner’s Band done him in.

  2. The Capital District Civil War Round Table has joined with the Willard Sons to honor Thomas. We had a well-attended joint event on July 21, 2016. Major General Thomas was honored on the 200th anniversary of his birth with a graveside ceremony, a special postal commemorative cancellation and a challenge medallion. Michael Barrett, “Mr. Troy”, a CDCWRT member, gave graveside remarks. The Sons, who had worked to restore the wrought iron fence around the funeral plot and the marble sarcophagus, did a beautiful commemoration ceremony. It was a gorgeous day and the service was well attended.

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to say Thomas is forgotten in the place of his burial. Capital District Civil War buffs are proud to say that, whatever the deficiencies of honor in his life, Thomas is fondly remembered where he sleeps.

    Out in Cleveland on the same day (July 21,2016), their Round Table also had a commemoration ceremony to honor Thomas in his birth place.

    Thanks for the shout out for the Capital District Civil War Round Table. It’s Watervliet. Everybody misspells it. The name is Dutch and means “water meadow” or wetland.

    [If I had more technological skills, I would post the cancellation (which shows Thomas’ mounted statute) and the medallion. They are both beautiful.]

  3. rarerootbeer says:

    General Thomas died in San Francisco. Several generals died “out here”: Upton, Canby, Thomas and Rosecrans. McDowell died here too, and is buried here. There is another buried in San Jose, because he was out here living with his daughter. Generally, their bodies get “shipped” back to the East. We’ve “had” some pretty interesting soldiers in California. Thomas was a great general. General Stoneman was one of our governors, but he was visiting a daughter “back East”, and is buried near his daughter. Maybe a book can be written about the influence of daughters on generals of the Civil War?

    • Thomas R Place says:

      LET US NOT FORGET BRIG. GEN. BENNET RILEY . YOUR LAST MIL.GOV. BEFORE STATE HOOD . WHO NOW RESTS IN FORREST LAWN CEMETERY BUFFALO NY . ALONG SIDE HIS SON EDWARD …. A C.S.A . MAJOR UNDER BRAGG AND JOHNSON.

  4. My bad. The event I described took place on July 30, 2016. The press release is dated July 21.

  5. Bob Huddleston says:

    George Thomas was a fascinating man and a very good general.

    He was involved in the Nat Turner revolt in Southampton Virginia as a boy, but outgrew slavery and Virginia, remaining loyal to the Old Flag in 1861. Among his friends was Uncle Billy Sherman, who was probably as responsible as anyone for Thomas receiving his first star.

    At the end of 1860, Thomas was roughly the seventy-fifth officer in terms of seniority in the Army. Four years later Thomas ranked number six in the United States Army, behind only Grant, Halleck, Sherman, Meade, and Sheridan. Not bad company!

    I also have a personal interest in Thomas since my great-grand father, Captain and brevet Major John Scott, Company H, Twenty-fifth Illinois Veteran Volunteers, was one of the Pap’s soldiers in the Army of the Cumberland.

    That said, I must take issue with the idea that Thomas was in any way one of the Great Captains of history, let alone the Civil War.

    First, Thomas commanded in only two battles: Mill Springs, a small (4,500 Federals to about 5900 Rebels) action where the total casualties were about 246 Union to 533 Confederate. Hardly much of a battle, since Thomas was forced to fall back after it was over. Thomas commanded some ten regiments and Crittenden eight; roughly two divisions fighting it out. Thomas casualties were low – but then so were Crittenden’s.

    From Mill Springs, January 19, 1862, until Nashville, almost exactly three years later, Thomas was never in command of a single battle; he was always in the position of having someone immediately over him, as the commander – and his superior officer was the man responsible for the victory or the defeat.

    At Nashville, Thomas commanded about 50 to 60,000 men – against an already nearly destroyed Army of the Tennessee with less than half that number. Thomas’ casualties were in the neighborhood of 3,000. According to Wiley Sword, Hood’s losses were about 2,300 killed and wounded and about 5,000 men captured at Nashville.

    Contrast that with the real victory that made Nashville possible: Franklin.

    Schofield had a force of around 23,000 against Hood’s 29,000. Schofield lost about 2,300 men – but inflicted around 6,200 casualties on the Rebels, including what must have seemed to the Confederates, an entire brigade of generals!

    Given the relative strengths of the opposing sides, Schofield, with a slightly inferior force, took out 3 Confederates for every one he lost. Thomas, two weeks later, facing a dispirited Army of Tennessee, minus the best of its generals, and with the Yankees outnumbering the Rebels two to one, was only able to remove two of the enemy for every one he lost.

    The Army of Tennessee was broken at Franklin, not Nashville.

    The claim “even though Grant hated and belittled Thomas” is often made. I am always amazed when I hear that since all it would have taken was for Grant to say the word and Thomas would not have received the coveted stars in the Regular Army. Some hatred!

    Grant outranked Thomas throughout the war and from Donelson on always was at a higher level of command. Grant was a theater commander when Thomas was still a corps commander: how could Grant, the victor of Donelson, Shiloh, the Vicksburg Campaign, and Chattanooga, have ever been “jealous” or “hate” Thomas?

    I will finish with the comparison that truly counts:

    From the day he took command of the Twenty-first Illinois in June 1861, until the end of the War, Grant was always the immediate commanding officer, with no one nearby outranking him, as he rose from regimental command, to brigade, corps, army, army group, theater and continental command. The only exception was the roughly three months when Henry Halleck tried to prove he was as good a field general as he was a desk one!

    When Thomas was still a subordinate to Sherman, Grant was in command – and responsible for – of all of the United States Army forces from Maine to California. Grant forced three armies to surrender to him. That is a record unparalleled in the Civil War or practically any other war.

    • John Foskett says:

      Bob: You make some valid points. Without question Thomas had his attributes and made his own significant contributions to Union victory. But the rush to “correct” history has, as it often does, overcompensated in the other direction. Thomas was pretty much a cipher during the Kentucky/Perryville campaign and has gotten a lot of mileage out of competent actions at Chickamauga and the perception that Grant was unfairly prodding him at Nashville (as Brooks Simpson has shown, the communications “blame” probably points in both directions). Thomas has become, IMHO, the most over-rated under-rated general officer of the Civil War.

      • stormylntz says:

        I still think that is “Loyalty is thicker than blood” committment to the country and his Chickamauga performance her him a ‘better than average ” score.

      • HW says:

        John Foskett, I think you are exactly right regarding Thomas being a ‘cipher’ and being ‘overrated and underrated.’

        Because he was a cipher and left so little correspondence, people have used him as a blank slate to fill in the story as they wish to see it. This happened even back in the 19th century, with writers such as Boynton.

    • Todd Berkoff says:

      Mr. Huddlestone, you must have a bone to pick or something. You are way off the mark regarding Thomas’s war record. As others have said already, you fail to properly recognize Thomas’s successes: holding the center of the line at Stones River, holding the field at Chickamauga when the rest of the army fled; singlehandedly capturing Missionary Ridge when Sherman and Grant floundered (and somehow Grant and Sherman gain all the credit and laurels there), defending the Peach Tree Creek line at Atlanta, and finally destroying Hood’s army at Nashville — managing a rare double envelopment of Hood and one of the most complete victories of the war.

      And yes, Thomas was much maligned during the war and after the war – most notably by Thomas’s subordinate, John Schofield. As you probably know, Thomas was instrumental in censuring Cadet Schofield at West Point and all scholarship points to Schofield never forgiving Thomas for this act. Schofield was the biggest conniver in the army and spent most of the Nashville Campaign complaining to his ally Grant about how slow and incompetent Thomas was during the campaign. These messages prompted Grant to start his travel to Nashville to address the issue in person in Nashville, and possibly to seek the removal of Thomas. Thomas attacked in mid-December before Grant made it to Nashville. Schofield then spent the next five years excoriating Thomas in his public and private writings. Poor Thomas suffered a stroke in 1870, reportedly while he was responding to an article criticizing his generalship written by none other than John Schofield. Schofield was truly hatable individual, self promoting, narcissistic, conniving, and downright cruel.

      • Bob Huddleston says:

        Your list is accurate – but misses the point: Thomas only commanded in one major battle. The other battles you list he was a subordinate, like Hancock and Longstreet. The result was Thomas ended the war above Hancock and Schofield.

        On October 27, 1863, Thomas was appointed brigadier general in the Regular Army. His name was submitted to the Senate on December 31, 1863 and confirmed on February 29, 1864. On December 12, 1864, he was nominated by the president to be a major general in the regulars, confirmed on January 13, and commissioned on January 16, to rank from December 15, 1864. The importance of these two promotions was that Thomas, along with a handful of others, now was guaranteed a job in the army as a general officer after the “hostilities only” war-time volunteers had been mustered out.

        Of the two million men who wore blue in the Grand Army of the Republic, George Thomas ended the Civil War as number six, ranked only by Grant, Halleck, Sherman, Meade and Sheridan. Considering that he was a Southerner, and commanded in only one major battle, it was not a bad record.

        And considering that Grant or Sherman could easily have derailed him, if either or both had been “jealous” of his record — well, it is obvious they were not jealous, but recognized his undoubted ability, perhaps better than Thomas did himself — after all, Thomas had turned down earlier opportunities to command.

      • John Foskett says:

        You make fair points about Thomas’s accomplishments in the specified battles as a subordinate but i think that the case for him as an army commander – which rests on Nashville – can be overstated. He took two weeks to attack an opponent that had been grievously affected by the slaughter at Franklin (especially at the field officer level) and which he outnumbered almost 2:1. There were reasons for some delay – integrating manpower additions and weather – but there’s an aroma of McClellan about the level of preparation before he finally moved.

  6. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Superb tribute. His location is excellent, overlooking the river and beyond. It is a powerful and peaceful site.

  7. David Corbett says:

    Thanks for the article; enjoyable reading.

  8. 14corps says:

    Thanks for a great article on General Thomas.

    I have to reply to a statement that Thomas wasn’t a great General in the Civil War because he only commanded in two battles. Let’s see why he did not get higher command. Let’s see how army politics affected promotions after the battle of Chattanooga. General Grant knew he would be shortly called upon to go East and he was worried about having Thomas in command in the West. In the West, Thomas was senior after Grant and a proven officer.

    Grant was worried if he quickly flopped in his first battles in the East, Lincoln might start looking around for a proven general. So he came up with a plan to feature General Sherman, yet another Ohio officer. This would keep him in favor with the Ohio delegation, and would allow him to promote Sherman over the senior Thomas by the honored army rule that an officer who won a battle could be promoted over a senior. His battle plan was good. Sherman would flank and turn the Confederate line at Tunnel Hill allowing Thomas to only mop up the aftermath at Missionary Ridge. Sherman would then earn his promotion to Western commander and Thomas is pushed down.

    But what happened? Sherman freezes up and flubs Tunnel Hill. Grant has to turn to Thomas to get him out of the mess. He wants Thomas to make a demonstration at Missionary Ridge to help Sherman. But Thomas can tell by the lack of fire that Sherman has given up for the day. Thomas ignores Grant’s suggestions to attack until he knows that General Hooker has made good progress on the other flank. At about 3:00 PM Grant finally gives a direct order and Thomas happily complies sending his four divisions up Missionary Ridge to everlasting glory, thanks in good measure to General Hooker’s good work. The Confederates would not worry about any frontal attack on such a steep front, but with Hooker coming close to their rear, it was another story altogether, and they skedaddled. Thomas knew this. But Grant was in a fog.

    So what does General Grant do now? Promote General Thomas? No, he waits until Senator Sherman gets Congress to give General Sherman a Thanks of Congress for his ‘great generalship’ at Chattanooga, then based on that, requests promotion for Sherman over the senior Thomas. The best Union Generals did not bubble up to the top as they had in all previous wars. I was army politics at its worst.

  9. John Pryor says:

    14Corp hits the nail right on the head. And he still understates the case for Thomas. Thomas might as well have been in command at Chickamauga and Stones River, with the mercurial Rosecrans’ penchant for racing hither and yon. Or, as was the case on September 20th, away. Peachtree Creek was essentially Thomas making up for Sherman’s misplacement of Scofield and McPherson’s Armies. And to praise Scofield for Franklin and condemn Thomas for “higher casualties” at Nashville, as an earlier commentator does, egregiously misses three points. The first is that the massed Confederate attack across a 2 mile open field at Franklin actually broke Scofield’s line due to his positioning of Wagner. The second is the fact that at Franklin the Confederates were doing the assaulting. And the third is that at Nashville, the Confederates not only had the high ground, but were in many places defending against green troops. To me, Thomas will always be “The Man”. Not bad for a non-Yankee Yankee!

    • 14corps says:

      I agree and to those who like to claim that General Schofield was the real hero of the Nashville campaign, it should be stated that Schofield went with the supply trains across the Harpeth River in safety while General Stanley and Cox fought the battle of Franklin with timely help from Col. Opdycke in plugging a breakthrough.

      • HW says:

        The credit for Franklin goes to Schofield. He was the one commanding, maneuvering his forces back towards Nashville, buying time for Thomas. Schofield kept tabs on the battle from the heights across the river. He would not have had to worry about getting the supply trains across if Thomas had bridges ready for him. Thomas certainly could have come down and personally commanded at Franklin, but he did not.

  10. Bob Huddleston says:

    Stanton offered Thomas command of the then-Army of the Cumberland before Perryville and Old Pap turned him down. Had Rosecrans not been decisively defeated at Chickamauga, Thomas would never have had the chance to command at another battle. He would rank with Hancock and Longstreet as an excellent corps commander, not a great general.

    • John Foskett says:

      Exactly. His refusal to take over from Buell is part of Thomas’s invisibility during the Kentucky Campaign. As for Chickamauga, he didn’t (and wasn’t required to) exercise any brilliant overall command. He staged a competent defense as the senior commander on the field at the time. All credit for that but it doesn’t make him Napoleon. To be clear, I think that Thomas played an important role in Union success in the western theater but i also think that it gets overstated in the trendiness of positing Thomas as “under-rated” which has taken over during the past 25 years or so. It’s like so many “what if” hypotheticals. It’s entertaining to speculate on what Thomas might have accomplished in lieu of Grant or Sherman but that’s what it is – entertainment. Thomas had his failings, as well. A lot of his proponents see this as a zero sum game. It isn’t.

  11. Bob Huddleston says:

    There is an excellent discussion of Thomas and oaths of allegiance by Army LTCOL Robert Bateman at https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a24208/what-an-oath-means/

  12. Bob Huddleston says:

    No, George Thomas was not discriminated against during the War. Indeed, he did quite well. His promotion record during the Civil War is a part of this discussion.

    Promotion in the regular army was by regimental seniority through the rank of captain, then by branch of service (i.e., infantry, artillery, etc.) through the rank of colonel. General officers were promoted by the direct action of the president. All Regular Army promotions were subject to the approval of the Senate, but this was, for non-general officers, pro forma. At the end of 1860, Thomas was roughly the seventy-fifth officer in terms of seniority in the United States Army.

    Col. Robert E. Lee, First Cavalry, resigned on April 25, 1861, causing a chain reaction of promotions: a lieutenant colonel to colonel, and a major to lieutenant colonel, and a captain to major. Lt. Col. John Sedgwick moved up to Lee’s position and the senior major in cavalry (cavalry, mounted rifles and dragoons were all separate for field officer promotions until their consolidation in August), George Thomas, Second Cavalry, was promoted lieutenant colonel. When Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, Second Cavalry, resigned as of 3 May, the same thing happened and Thomas succeeded Johnston as colonel of the Second Cavalry.

    The War now being well under way, Thomas was promoted to brigadier general, United States Volunteers, on August 17, 1861, to rank from the same day. His nomination was submitted to the Senate on December 6 and confirmed on February 3, 1862. Like Grant and Sherman and a host of others, this was made to provide more general officers. Had Thomas been at First Manassas he would have been promoted in July and been confirmed by Congress meeting in the First Session of the Thirty-sixth Congress. It was pure bad luck that Thomas was serving with Patterson – or, indeed, good luck for Thomas that he was not forgotten as a result: and the good luck came from the attention shown to him by the two Shermans, the future general and the senator.

    On June 8, William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to his brother Sen. John Sherman about Cump’s journey east. In the letter he mentioned to John, who was then with Patterson, that

    “There are two A no. 1 men there—Geo. H. Thomas Col. 2nd Cavy.—and Capt. Sykes 3 Inf.—mention my name to both, and say to them that I wish them all the success they aspire to, and if in the varying chances of war I should ever be so placed I would name such as them for high places—But Thomas is a Virginian from near Norfolk, and Say what we may he must feel unpleasant at leading an invading army—But if he says he will do he will do it well—He was never brilliant but always Cool, reliable, & steady—maybe a little slow. Sykes has in him some dashing qualities—Shepherd was a Classmate of mine—we never liked him much, but I am told he a good soldier. It is now 21 years since we graduated, and they are in their prime.”

    It is so trite to echo Uncle Billy’s slams on politicians, but most politicians I have encountered over the years, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, care very much for their country and for the job they are doing. And they make conscientious efforts to select the very best people they can find for a job.

    John Sherman was one of this type and I would imagine he did look up Thomas, Sykes and Shepherd and when the time came for promotions to general Thomas and Sykes had a friend in Sen. Sherman.

    On March 6, 1862, the President submitted to the Senate the names of Thomas and four others for promotion to major general of volunteers (Thomas) and brigadier general of volunteers (the others), citing their service at Mill Springs. Following the normal procedures, the nominations were considered in committee, reported favorably and Thomas was confirmed on April 25. He was appointed the next day to rank from April 25.

    But these promotions came after Donelson and meant that Thomas remained junior to Grant (date of rank, February 16) and Rosecrans, Buell, John Pope, Samuel Curtis, Franz Sigel, John McClernand, Charles F. Smith, and Lew Wallace (all February 21), and Ormsby Mitchel (April 11)

    To carry the story to the end of the war, on October 27, 1863, Thomas was appointed brigadier general in the Regulars. His name was submitted to the Senate on December 31, 1863 and confirmed on February 29, 1864. On December 12, 1864, he was nominated by the president to be a major general in the regulars, confirmed on January 13, and commissioned on January 16, to rank from December 15, 1864. The importance of these two promotions was that Thomas, along with a handful of others, now was guaranteed a job in the army as a general officer after the “hostilities only” war-time volunteers had been mustered out.

    Of the two million men who wore blue in the Grand Army of the Republic, George Thomas ended the Civil War as number six, ranked only by Grant, Halleck, Sherman, Meade and Sheridan. Considering that he was a Southerner, and commanded in only one major battle, it was not a bad record.

    And considering that Grant or Sherman could easily have derailed him, if either or both had been “jealous” of his record — well, it is obvious they were not jealous, but recognized his undoubted ability, perhaps better than Thomas did himself — after all, Thomas had turned down earlier opportunities to command.

    • HW says:

      Great info Bob. The claim of bad blood between Grant and Thomas has always been overdone. Regarding dates of rank, I think Rosecrans was senior to Thomas only because he asked Lincoln to backdate it.

  13. Bob Huddleston says:

    “The interments [at Chattanooga National Cemetery] are made without regard to States, as we think justly, though members of same regiments are kept together as far as practicable, on a good suggestion of a distinguished Major-General, as we learn, that there had been [319] quite enough of State Rights; that these soldiers had died fighting for the Union, against rebellious States, and now we had better mix them up and nationalize them a little.” He thought our poor fellows would like that best, if they could have a voice in the matter, and we heartily concur in the opinion….

    “It stands out a truly Union and national work as far as completed, simple but grand in its conception and execution; and General Thomas well deserves high praise and the united thanks of the army and the country for what has there been done so promptly and appropriately for our slain and dead soldiery.”

    James F. Russling, “National Cemeteries,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Volume 33, Issue 195, (August 1866), pp. 318-319.

  14. 14corps says:

    Much is made by General Thomas critics of his request to have General Buell stay in command on the eve of the Battle of Perryville. Here is what really happened taken from telegrams in the Official Records.

    On Sept 24, 1862, a Col. J.C. McKibbin, Halleck’s Aide-de-camp is sent with orders from Stanton to fire General Buell unless he was preparing for a battle. But Halleck must have soon received word that a battle was close so he then sent two telegrams on Sept 27th. One to Buell telling him that he is in command in the St Louis area and he hopes that Buell’s army is strong enough to attack shortly. And the other to Col McKibbin telling him to hold the order relieving Buell until further notice. He again sends another telegram to McKibbin on the 29th telling him to hold the order.

    McKibbin apparently does not get the two telegrams from Halleck in time and on the 29th presents the order to Buell and Thomas. Buell turns over command to Thomas. Thomas immediately sends a telegram to Halleck, “Colonel McKibbin handed me your dispatch, placing me in command of the Department of the Tennessee. General Buell’s preparations have been completed to move against the enemy, and I therefore respectfully ask that he may be retained in command.”

    Soon Halleck sends this wire to Thomas explaining the mistake:

    WAR DEPARTMENT,

    Washington, September 29, 1862.
    Maj. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Louisville, Ky.:

    The order relieving General Buell was not made by me nor on
    my advice and I have no power to change it. It was made before
    General Bach arrived at Louisville, and Colonel McKibbin was twice
    telegraphed not to deliver the dispatches till further orders, but
    he received the telegrams too late. This statement is necessary to
    explain the telegrams sent by me to General Buell. Please show it to
    him. You may consider the order as suspended till I can lay your
    dispatch before the Government and get instructions.
    H.W. HALLECK,
    General-in-Chief

    That last sentence from Halleck was a bit disingenuous since he was already trying to rescind the order, but now makes it sound like it was at Thomas’ request.

    Then a new order to Buell and Thomas:

    WAR DEPARTMENT,
    Washington, September 29, 1862.
    Maj. Gen. D. C. BUELL and
    Maj. Gen. GEORGE H. THOMAS, Louisville, Ky~:
    General orders changing the command of the Department of the
    Tennessee and the troops at Louisville and my instructions based on
    those orders are, by authority of the President, suspended, and
    General Buell will act on my telegram of a later date.
    H.W. HALLECK,
    General-in-Chief.

    So hopefully it is clear that no matter what, Thomas was only going to be ‘in command’ for that day. His telegram just made things go easier with no hard feelings between Halleck, Buell and Thomas. And no prejudice should have gone to Thomas about further command offers as the order was too only be given to Buell if no battle was eminent. Had there been no battle planned, Thomas could have honorable accepted as that would be the normal army way to change command.

    Thomas thought it unjust to take command away from Buell as he was commencing a battle. But if Halleck insisted, Thomas would have taken command with his honor intact. By this is meant that Thomas had heard that the Indiana officers and others were happily spreading rumors about Buell soon being relieved and the command going to Thomas. This was due to scheming by Indiana Governor Morton. Thomas was embarrassed by this and did not want it to appear like he was maneuvering for the promotion. Understand that, as a Virginian, he had little backing in congress, and could not afford to rile the Ohio congressmen that backed General Buell. Thomas always did his best to stay out of political scheming. He believed that the honorable way to promotion came with distinction on the field of battle. Others thought it best to scheme in cigar-smoke filled rooms with their Senator brother.

    • John Foskett says:

      You omit any reference to Thomas’s October 30, 1862 letter to Halleck protesting Rosecrans’ assignment in lieu of Thomas to command of what was then the Army of the Ohio. So Pap wasn’t quite as opposed to bureaucratic “scheming” as you suggest. That puts his September 29 letter in a somewhat different light. Suppose George Meade had taken that position in analogous circumstances on June 28, 1863. He was in at least as constrained a position as Thomas was on September 29, 1862 and in fact had to fight a meeting engagement only 3 days later. Perryville occurred more than a week after Thomas declined command. The right move was to accept command regardless of what “embarrassment” might result. Instead he rendered himself pretty much a supernumerary for that fight.

      • Bob Huddleston says:

        Meade is the perfect example: he not only was about to be in battle, but about to face Lee!

      • 14corps says:

        On the General Rosecrans matter, I have to differ with you there. Standing up for one’s seniority on the army list is definitely not considered army politics, but a regular army officer’s right. And when told that Rosecrans was his senior by date of rank, Thomas accepted the decision and readily served under him and they became good friends. Together they works brilliantly together during the Stones River and Tullahoma campaigns. I won’t talk of the Chickamauga battle where against Thomas’ advice, Rosecrans got himself overextended and fell into Bragg’s trap.

        On the General Meade question, you have a very good point although there is a difference. At the time of Meade’s appointment, no one (including General Lee!) thought there would be a battle so soon. And anyway the situation was quite different. It was not a set battle with plans already developed. But I take your point.

        As for Thomas being a supernumerary at Perryville, it turned out both Thomas and Buell were basically out of the battle due to some ‘acoustic shadow’ that didn’t allow them to hear the sounds of the battle starting.

        John and Bob, et al, I am enjoying the discussion.
        -Dave

      • John Foskett says:

        Dave: I agree. This dialogue is great. I’ll give you the seniority point regarding Thomas’s October 30 letter (even if he was wrong on the merits). As for his refusal to take over from Buell, I think that he was in a far better position than Meade. IIRC, the army (at least most of it) was around Louisville. When Meade took over, the A of the P was scattered about northern Maryland and was in pursuit of an enemy which was roaming about southern Pennsylvania, all while Meade needed to keep himself between that enemy and Washington. He knew far less about Hooker’s plans than Thomas did about Buell’s. Meade resolved that in a meeting with Hooker. Pap could easily have done the same. The letter also is colored by Thomas’s subsequent performance. Crittenden’s corps (to which Thomas was attached) reacted slowly to Buell’s orders for October 8. Thomas never appeared in person before Buell on that date despite being ordered to do so. And when Thomas heard the sounds of battle his reaction was oddly lackadaisical. Neither of his two competent modern biographers (Wills and Einolf), Noe, Hafendorfer, or Daniel have justified his actions at Perryville.

  15. raian says:

    Good article. Always appreciate photos of places I’ll probably never get to see. And brilliant comments in response. Thanks, all.

  16. 14corps says:

    In reply to HW about Gen. Schofield doing great at Franklin:
    Thomas’ order to Schofield was very clear that he was to shadow Hood, delay him if possible, but not bring on a major battle. What part of this did he do well? He was almost trapped at Spring Hill and would have if the Confederate command had not been totally asleep.

    As for ‘not having bridges’, did you not know that Gen. Sherman ordered that Thomas’ fully outfitted pontoon trains and superbly trained pontooniers go with him on that picnic through Georgia? Thomas had to was left with raw recruits to train. Besides, the county bridge was easily repaired and Schofield failed to mention in his report that the railroad bridge was usable as it was floored.

  17. 14corps says:

    In reply to John’s comment on Perryville:

    Hi John,

    Yes, I agree Perryville was not General Thomas’ finest hour. As far as the order to supersede Buell, he said something like ‘he was not familiar with the plan/maps’. This was of course not true and in fact General Buell had offered to fully brief him on the plan. His objection was personal and perhaps did not want to disclose it to Halleck. He thought it was unfair to Buell which as you stated was not that great a reason. I just had another thought: perhaps he did not agree with the plan and did not want to get stuck with it! I wish his war journal was not burned by his request after his death. We could have found out the answer to these interesting questions.

    As for the Hooker/Meade situation, I agree that Meade made the right decision in a very tough spot. But remember that General Hooker had already offered to resign so the situation was quite different from Perryville.

    • Bob Huddleston says:

      This is exactly why Thomas fails as one of the “Great Captain.” Had Thomas not rejected command before Perryville, he would have been the choice before Stones River. And had Rosey not lost it at Chickamauga, Thomas would be one of the forgotten corps commanders remembered by Civil War nuts like as a Might Have Been.

      • 14corps says:

        Bob,
        You said that if Rosecrans had not lost at Chickamauga that he would have stayed Commander of the Army of the Cumberland and Thomas would have been a forgotten Corps Commander.

        I can easily think of more likely alternative for Rosecrans at Chickamauga:

        Rosecrans follows Thomas’ advice, and concentrates his army rather than going headlong after Bragg, while scouts are sent out and spot the Confederate positions.

        Rosecrans picks a great defensive position (Horseshoe Ridge?) and waits for Bragg to expend his army against this position. A huge Union victory at Chickamauga, and the Rebel Army of Tennessee is broken.

        The Ohio congressional delegation acclaims Rosecrans the greatest Union General of the war and he goes East as Commander in chief. He names Thomas to head up the Western armies with Grant as his key subordinate. Thomas and Grant sweep through Georgia and Alabama and the war ends quickly without much loss in the East as no dumb things are done such as at Cold Harbor.

        Rosecrans, Thomas and Grant end the war ranked the 1, 2, and 3. Sherman winds up 43rd.
        -Dave

      • John Pryor says:

        Funny as Hell! Actually, Sherman would have made a great commissary clerkK

      • HW says:

        Actually, there is little evidence that Thomas advised Rosecrans to concentrate rather than pursue. Dispatches in the OR indicate that Thomas was also under the impression that Bragg was retreating.

      • John Foskett says:

        Dave: That’s an interesting hypothetical but I think it simply ignores Grant’s taking of Vicksburg – which was the impetus for bringing him in to succeed Rosey. In the hypothetical Thomas would have been the competent corps commander but Grant would be the guy who had won repeatedly in army command (even with all of the nitpicking one could bring up about those wins) and in the process had forced two Rebel armies to surrender. Whether it was Rosecrans or Grant who came east, I think the other would have taken over in the west and GHT would have continued in his subordinate role.

    • John Foskett says:

      Dave: You’re correct that Hooker “resigned” but it was in reality what we lawyers would call today a “constructive discharge”, with our friend Halleck again in the thick of things. We’ve probably said enough about Perryville. In summary think that it was an instance where Thomas put personal considerations (whatever they were) above duty If he didn’t like the plan he could easily have changed it. And if he were the commander many think that he was, Bragg would have been in big trouble at Perryville or wherever the collision took place.

      • 14corps says:

        John,
        If General Halleck would have left him in charge, I agree. Good discussion.
        -Dave

  18. 14corps says:

    Not really. As I said before, Thomas would have been in command at Perryville for a couple of hours, before Halleck changed the order and gave command back to Buell no matter what Thomas did.

    And a little later when it came to the decision between the Ohio delegation’s candidate Rosecrans and Thomas, Lincoln came to a political decision, because naming yet ANOTHER Ohio officer to head a major army would “change the Governor of Ohio from a critic of the Administration’s military policy into a sponsor”. And of course there was no downside to the decision because General Thomas had no sponsors in congress to placate. Win-win for Lincoln.

    Don’t you remember the Lincoln quote: “Let the Virginian wait”? It didn’t mean Lincoln thought Thomas unready or not loyal. It just meant Lincoln had too many political problems at the moment. So, just another slap in the face to Thomas for standing by the Union.

    • John Foskett says:

      I think that Buell was a “dead man walking” in Lincoln’s eyes by that point, The administration was confronted with McClellan resorting to his usual inaction after failing to deliver a lethal blow to Lee by following up Antietam and Mac’s western theater doppelganger appeared headed on a similar course in Kentucky. Too many what ifs to speculate on what would have happened if Thomas accepted the appointment but Buell would not have resurfaced in any event. And if a Virginian then dealt a massive blow to Bragg Lincoln would have had a lot less to worry about from Ohio and Congress.

    • John Pryor says:

      I did a presentation to my Civil War Roundtable, less than half tongue in cheek, about Lincoln’s less than stellar performance as a War Chief. Yes, we know he kept admitting that he was learning as he was going, but did he really have to be such a painfully slow learner? Thank God he finally hired Grant, vaporized Halleck, and backed away.

  19. 14corps says:

    I’d like to correct a widely held impression that General Sherman had a lot to do with General Thomas’ promotion to Brig. General of Volunteers. Perhaps Senator Sherman did put in a good word for Thomas but we only have Gen. Sherman’s private letter on this and no official correspondence.

    After Thomas’ death, General Sherman would tell a story about a meeting with President Lincoln when Lincoln was thinking about the Thomas promotion, and vouching for Thomas’ loyalty which convinced him to promote Thomas. That never happened. He only met the President twice in the entire war and not in the time frame of the Thomas promotion.

    In reality, Thomas got the promotion when President Lincoln appointed General Robert Anderson to command in Kentucky. Anderson accepted but with the proviso that he could name his principal subordinates who would rank as Brigadier Generals. One of those was George H. Thomas. Another was William T. Sherman who I think was was already a General by that time.

  20. 14corps says:

    John F., You said:
    “Whether it was Rosecrans or Grant who came east, I think the other would have taken over in the west and GHT would have continued in his subordinate role.”

    I don’t think so. If Rosy had won big at Chickamauga, it would have been considered a more important victory than Vicksburg as control of the Chattanooga rail network and a shattered Army of Tennessee in September 1963 instead of December 1864 (Nashville) meant the end of the Confederacy was in sight.

    Also Rosecrans and Grant hated each other. Grant had screwed Rosecrans at every opportunity ever the since Iuka-Corinth campaign.

    Old Rosy would have definitely picked Thomas over Grant for the Western Command.

    • John Foskett says:

      Dave: I don’t think that it would have been his choice. Lincoln clearly had come to respect Grant as a winner (“you were right and I was wrong”). Vicksburg sealed the River for the Union – a highly significant achievement (especially in the eyes of the former flat boater from the midwest who grew up with the Mississippi as the center of transportation and trade). Keep in mind also that Grant’s choice for the command in Georgia had his own important political (family) connections in Washington. Thomas didn’t.

      • 14corps says:

        “Keep in mind also that Grant’s choice for the command in Georgia had his own important political (family) connections in Washington. Thomas didn’t.”

        John, yes that is one of my main points. Army politics at its worst. Ask the men who died at Kennesaw Mountain If they rather have had Thomas in command in the West.

      • HW says:

        Even if Rosecrans had won Chickamauga, I doubt that he ever could have been promoted to general-in-chief. He had taken far too long to go on the offensive that year, and had complained far too much to Washington.

        Lincoln and everyone in his cabinet except Chase would have considered Rosecrans as MCCLELLAN 2: THE SEQUEL.

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