The Forgotten Union General
In my last post I wrote about Lanning’s Civil War 100. I was pleased that in his number 11 spot was a Union General that was consistantly successful. He had a twenty year prewar career that included service service in Mexico and against the Seminoles in Florida. In Mexico as a lieutenant with Lt. John F. Reynolds both serving under Battery Commander Braxton Bragg in E Battery 3rd US Artillery they supported the 155th Infantry Regiment (Mississippi Rifles) under Col. Jefferson Davis at Palo Alto. He was promoted to major based on a recomendation of his old commander Braxton Bragg in 1855. He served as a cavalry instructor at West Point based on another letter from Bragg and became friends with the Superintendant, Col. Robert E. Lee.
When Secretary of War Jefferson Davis organized the 2nd US Cavalry in Texas with Col. Albert Sydney Johnston as commander, he was posted there as a staff officer and spent a considerable amount of time serving on courts-martial boards with the deputy commander, his old friend from West Point, Col. Robert E. Lee. The 2nd Cav. was stacked with officers of great potential by Davis including Earl VanDorn, William J. Hardee, George Stoneman, E. Kirby Smith, Fitzhugh Lee, Nathan G. Evans, Kenner Garrard.
He suffered a serious jaw wound from an Comanche arrow and spent one year on recuperative leave. In 1861 he took command of the 2nd Cav and moved them to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania where they were redisignated the 5th Cavalry.
In the Civil War he led a brigade at First Bull Run. He commanded the first major land victory for the Union at Mill Springs, Kentucky. His commands performed well at Shiloh, Murfreesboro and Atlanta. His heroic performance at Chickamauga earned him the sobriquet “Rock O Chickamauga” as he doggedly covered the withdrawl of the defeated Union Army. His army drove Bragg off Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. He commanded the Army at Nashville that decisively defeated John B. Hood.
Yet he was not completely trusted by Gen Grant and others because of his Virginia origins and his thoroughness in preparation for battle. His family never talked to him again after he chose to stay loyal to the Union and when the end of war parades were held in Washington he was not invited to stand on the reviewing stand. The only Army commander so treated.
So is the story of George Henry “old Pap” Thomas, certainly one of the best generals of the Civil War.