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 Civil War Commanders and Units    
Vermont, VT, USA
top 50
E-4 Specialist

Posts: 93

George H Thomas Among Federal Generals
Posted on: 9/6/2017 8:48:29 PM
To me George Thomas is an elite union general who seems to go under the radar of Sherman, Grant and Sheridan. I think this is unfair to such a great general who I place only behind Grant among union commanders. Here is a quick summary.

[Thomas was]“One of the most competent generals and army commanders on either side, and truly the most unrecognized”
-John Cannan The Atlanta campaign

Mill Springs

Thomas helped win one of the unions first battles at the battle of Mill Springs Kentucky. Though a slightly smaller force Thomas helped inflict heavier loses on the confederates. It was a small scale engagement but was widely celebrated in the north. This battle forced the confederates out of eastern Kentucky.


Thomas was second in command [turned down promotion from Washington] of the union forces under Buell at the battle of Perryville Kentucky the largest battle in the state. While ending in a tactical draw the battle bloodied Bragg enough that he retreated in the night and his invasion of Kentucky came to an end. Later Thomas was also involved in the union capture of Corinth Mississippi.

Stones River

“Stones River, Thomas counseled his commander, Major General Rosecrans, to remain on the field and strengthened the generals resolve to bring a victory out of a nearly disastrous battle”
-John Cannan The Atlanta Campaign

The battle of Stones river was an engagement between Union commander Rosecrans and confederate general Bragg near Murfreesboron Tennessee. Bragg attacked and pushed back the union right flank sending two veteran division fleeing. Bragg than turned his attention to the union forces under Thomas and “Thomas was a tower of strength... the key to stopping the confederate assault.” Rosecrans considered a withdraw despite stopping Bragg's further advance, but Thomas convinced him to stand and fight. Union reinforcements would come up forcing Bragg to retreat. Giving the union a much needed morale boost around the end of 62-early 63.

Tullahoma Campaign

The Tullahoma campaign was a action involving Union commander Rosecrants and confederate general Bragg.
It was a successful maneuvering campaign by the union that pushed Bragg out of middle Tennessee. It was mostly a bloodless campaign where the union outmaneuvered the confederates. Thomas led the breakthrough and helped push Bragg off of two rivers and crossing the Tennessee river and maneuvering as to negate defensive terrain that could be used by Bragg without a major engagement. The campaign was a great success however Rosecrants was warned by Thomas to stop pushing forward and regroup. Had this advice been followed it is likely the union loss at Chickamauga would have been avoided.

The “Rock of Chickamauga”

68,000 men under the command of Bragg reinforced by Longstreet from Virginia attacked 62,000 union forces under General Rosecrans. The battle resulted in a two day fight and the bloodiest battle outside Virginia of the war. Braggs plan called for an attack along the entire union lines with his major attack and forces sent to the union flank Thomas was defending to cut off any union retreat. On the first day Thomas held his line against the brunt of the attack while inflicting heavy losses on the confederates.

“Turned back every assault and punished the attackers severely”
-Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns University of Nebraska press 1998

On day 2 the main attack again was sent to Thomas but he held while the union center and opposite flank routed. Future president James Garfield reported to Army of the Cumberland commander William Rosecrans that Thomas was “standing like a rock,” and the name stuck; the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Not only did Thomas stand when the rest of the army fled, he held against the main confederate attack and allowed the rest of the union army to retreat safety by holding the roads and bridges. He was than ordered to fall back.


The union army was under siege at Chattanooga with only one beaten down road to supply an entire army. Weather made this road often impassable and the union army was starting to starve. Grant took command and agreed to William Smith and Thomas's breakout plan to open up a new supply rout. This river movement was successful and opened a new supply rout against Longstreet command. Know supplied Grant looked to attack Bragg. He had to know where Bragg strength was and if he was falling back. Thomas was sent and captured the entrenched Orchard Knob in a minor but important engagement.

That led to the battle of Chattanooga/Missionary Ridge where grant attacked Braggs men on the high ground. Grant had set up a plan that was to make Sherman out to be the hero and win the day. Sherman controlled a large force and was sent around the confederate flank for what was to be the decisive action and win the battle. Hooker and Thomas were to be the distraction and holding forces. Sherman's men were repulsed time and again so Grant was forced to send Thomas to charge up the center of the fortified, entrenched, steep mountain terrain of the confederate defense on missionary ridge, thought impossible to take frontally. However Thomas organized and ordered a 23,000 man advance and routed the confederate center. “He stole the glory on missionary ridge.” an attack sent to help pull men from the flank Sherman was attacking ended up being one of the great assaults of the war and Thomas won the day for the union Missionary ridge.

Atlanta Campaign

Thomas commanded the largest force under Sherman during the Atlanta campaign and help execute multiple flanking maneuvers to push the confederates back during the coming months. On May 7 he captured tunnel hill before the confederates could destroy the tunnel. At the battle of Dalton when Shermans plan failed he adopted Thomas maneuver with success. Thomas talked Sherman out of more frontal assaults that failed at Kennesaw mountain saving union lives. Later when Hood replaced Johnston he unleashed a surprise attack against Thomas's command at the battle of Peachtree Creek. Thomas repulsed the attack suffering 1,700 causalities to confederate loses of 3,000. Thomas did the logistics and engineering for Sherman's entire army and devolved novel Cumberland pontoons at the battle as well. Thomas than with Sherman captured Atlanta and ensured Lincoln reelection and a union victory for the war.

The Sledge of Nashville

“Nashville ranks as probably the most complete battlefield victory of the war.” 
-Stanley F. Horn

“Of all the attacks made by Union forces in the course of the war none other was as free from faults as this one.”
-Military historian Matthew Forney Steele

After the fall of Atlanta Sherman went on a large raiding party against private property while Thomas was left with a section of the army to accomplish what Sherman with his whole army could not do, destroy Hood. On December 15 at the battle of Nashville Thomas achieved the near impossible during the civil war, he destroyed an enemy army. Earning him his the nickname “the sledge of Nashville.”

“Thomas struck with a superbly planned maneuver. Feinting with his left , the Union commander launched a devastating onslaught of dismounted cavalry and infantry on his right that quickly enveloped the pitiful redoubts constituting the Confederate forward line. Hood’s outclassed army retreated quickly to a more compact second defense line, anchored at Peach Orchard Hill on the right and Shy’s Hill on the left. The fighting resumed on the afternoon of the 16th as Union batteries pounded the new line and repeated dismounted cavalry-infantry assaults finally broke the Rebel position, especially at Shy’s Hill. Hood’s army disintegrated, streaming southward in abject rout.” To this observer, the battle “was distinctive, illustrating generalship which comprehended the minutest of details, as well as the grandest combinations.”

“Thomas and his masterfully planned, meticulously implemented decisive battle of Nashville”
-Dr. B. Franklin Cooling

Why is Thomas Often Unknown?

During the war he was often overlooked for high command. Early in the war he was offered command of the army of the Ohio but turned it down thinking he had not earned it. Later, after he earned it, Grant placed his friend Sherman over Thomas. Grant was also looking for a aggressive commander and if Thomas had a weakness it was he was to cautious. He also did not get along to well with Grant. In their memoirs Sherman and Grant tended to downplay Thomas's abilities and heighten their own. Meanwhile Thomas did not write his own accounts or defend himself to “advance his legacy.” But perhaps the main reason is Thomas fought in the west. He never came east and he did not capture Atlanta to save Lincolns election.
“The CSA congress can have no such power over states officers. The state governments are an essential part of the political system, upon the separate and independent sovereignty of the states the foundation of the confederacy”
-1864 Virginia supremeCourt

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