The Life of Major General George H. Thomas
by Thomas Van Horne - 1882
(Part 1 pages 1-159, Part 2 pages 160-310, Part 3 pages 311-465)
Click on the title page to enlarge.
GENERAL THOMAS once said to the author: " Time and history will do me justice." He however desired that a narrative history of the Army of the Cumberland should precede all biographical representations of himself. It is probable that he overestimated the direct and suggestive force of such a narrative to effect his own vindication, and it is certain that he did not anticipate the disparaging tenor of histories published since his death. Justice has not been done him, in the opinion of multitudes who believe him to have been a very great man and general; and there is, therefore, need of a book which has been written to give the well-defined reasons for this belief. Private and family letters have been excluded from this volume, in deference to General Thomas' expressed opinion, that no strictly personal communications should be published except with the consent of those writing them. For the details of operations which have been analyzed and discussed, the reader is referred to my History of the Army of the Cumberland, and Captain Ruger's accompanying Atlas, from which have been taken reduced battle maps for this volume.
It is both pleasant and obligatory to acknowledge my indebtedness to Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred L. Hough, of the Sixteenth Infantry, for the privilege of quoting from his invaluable manuscript "Notes"; to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Robert N. Scott, Major of the Third Artillery, for copies of numerous important official papers from the War Record office, under his charge; to Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Kniffin, late of the Staff of the Twenty-First corps, for tables giving the strength of the opposing armies in the central theatre of war, compiled for his forthcoming history " The War in the West"; to Major William H. Lambert, of Philadelphia, late of the Thirty-third New Jersey Vol., for assistance in proof-reading, and in the revision and verification of the text.
THOMAS B. VAN HORNE.
August 23d, 1882.
CHAPTER 1. Pages 1-11
Birth and Lineage, Cadetship and Graduation at West Point, Assignment to the Artillery, Service in that Arm in the Florida War and in the War with Mexico.
CHAPTER II. Pages 12-39
Appointed Major in the Second Cavalry Service in Texas, Maintains Allegiance to the General Government, Takes Command of his Regiment in New York City, Is promoted in the Second Cavalry as Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel, Participates in General Patterson's Campaign in Virginia, in Command of a Brigade, Appointed Brigadier-General of Volunteers.
CHAPTER III. Pages 40-62
Thomas assigned to Command in Camp Dick Robinson, Ky., Makes Preparations for an Advance into East Tennessee, Refuses to serve under General O. M. Mitchell, Rebukes Ex Governor Andrew Johnson, Does not believe that the Enemy will advance from Bowling Green, Gains a Victory at Mill Springs, Practicability and Advantages of his projected Movement into East Tennessee.
CHAPTER IV. Pages 63-83
Thomas assigned to the Command of the '' Right Wing" before Corinth, Asks to be relieved, and re-assigned to the Army of the Ohio, Difficulties in the Way of Advancing rapidly from Corinth towards Chattanooga, Thomas commands at McMinnville, Believes that General Bragg will invade Kentucky, Recommends that he be resisted, first from McMinnville, and then from Murfreesboro, The Army of the Ohio moves back to Louisville, Thomas appointed to command in Room of General Buell, declines, and Buell is restored, Named as second in Command, The Army advances against the Enemy, Battle of Perryville, General Buell again relieved.
CHAPTER V. Pages 84-101
General Rosecrans assigned to the Command of the Army, Protest of General Thomas, Accepts Command of the ''Centre", Charged with repairing Railroad, Advance of the Army, Battle of Stone River, He opposes Retreat, Tullahoma Campaign.
CHAPTER VI. Pages 102-123
The Army crosses the Tennessee River, General Bragg evacuates Chattanooga, Pursuit is opposed by Thomas, but nevertheless ordered, The three Corps widely separated, Thomas' Troops meet the Enemy at Dug Gap, Bragg's Army concentrated, but fails to strike either of the isolated Corps, Army of the Cumberland concentrated on the 18th, First day of Battle at Chickamauga.
CHAPTER VII. Pages 124-150
The Battle opens on the Left, Enemy repulsed, Changes in Positions of Troops on the Right, That Wing routed, Thomas forms a new Line and repulses the Enemy, the Withdrawal to Chattanooga.
CHAPTER VIII. Pages 149-166
General Thomas assigned to the Command of the Department of the Cumberland, He reluctantly accepts, Operations to relieve the Army from Starvation, Proposed Attack upon the Enemy's Position.
CHAPTER IX. Pages 167-206
Plan of Battle at Chattanooga, Advance of the Central Forces, November 23d, Hooker's Action on Lockout Mountain, on the 24th, Sherman's Action on the 25th, Final Assault.
CHAPTER X. Pages 201-219
Pursuit of Bragg's Army, Preparations for the Spring Campaign, Operations against Dalton, Concentration of the Army of the Cumberland.
CHAPTER XI. Pages 220-248
Advance to Buzzard's Roost, Turning of Dalton, Action at Resaca, Movement on Dallas, Assault of June 27th at Kenesaw Mountain, Flank Movement, Advance on Atlanta, Battles of July 20th and 22d, Siege, Turning movement, Action at Jonesboro.
CHAPTER XII. Pages 249-270
Discussion of New Plans, Northward Advance of Hood's Army, Division of the Armies, March to the Sea, Thomas charged with Defense of Tennessee.
CHAPTER XIII. Pages 271-298
Hood advances towards Nashville, Instructions of General Thomas to General Schofield, Operations at Columbia and Spring Hill, Battle of Franklin, Concentration at Nashville.
CHAPTER XIV. Pages 299-327
Concentration at Nashville Delay for Preparation, General Thomas urged to fight, but postpones Battle first for Preparation and then for suitable weather, Council of War, Plans and Hopes of General Hood, Thomas' Plan of Battle, Action of December 15th.
CHAPTER XV. Pages 328-346
Action of December 16th, Defeat and Rout of Hood's Army, Relative strength of the two Armies, The Issue of the Vindication of Thomas.
CHAPTER XVI. Pages 347-373
Pursuit of the Routed Army, Obstacles to Rapid Movement, Hood's Diminished Army Crosses the Tennessee River, Thomas Suggests the Establishment of Civil Authority in Tennessee, Promotion of Thomas.
CHAPTER XVII. Pages 374-397
Operations during the Winter and Spring of 1865, Discussion of General Grant's Letters Censuring Thomas, Cavalry Expeditions, Wilson in Alabama and Georgia, Stoneman in East Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, Capture of Mr. Davis.
CHAPTER XVIII. Pages 398-430
Military Administration of Thomas during the period of Reconstruction of Southern States, Honored by the State of Tennessee, Private Gifts Refused and Public Honors Declined, He Refuses to be a Presidential Candidate, The Society of the Army of the Cumberland.
CHAPTER XIX. Pages 431-454
His Life Saddened by Official and other Annoyances, His Death and Burial, An Unfinished Paper.
CHAPTER XX. Pages 455-465
APPENDIX. Page 467 [Because of the limitations of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, it is not now possible to provide the index. However, you can use the "Find in Text" function of your browser or the general search function of this site.]
LIST OF MAPS.
*THE FIELD OF WAR IN THE WEST
LOGAN'S CROSS ROADS
* The maps are placed at the end of the volume.
THE LIFE OF
GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
BIRTH AND LINEAGE - CADETSHIP AND GRADUATION AT WEST POINT - ASSIGNMENT TO THE ARTILLERY - SERVICE IN THAT ARM IN THE FLORIDA WAR AND IN THE WAR WITH MEXICO.
GEORGE HENRY THOMAS was born in Southampton, VA County, Virginia, July 31st, 1816.
His father's family, as the name indicates, originated in Wales, but
by long residence and intermarriage in England, became essentially
before it was a second time transplanted. His mother was a descendant
a prominent Huguenot family by the name of Rochelle, which fled to
from the persecution of Louis XIV. Thus, on one side, the lineage of
H. Thomas connected him with the English cavaliers, and, on the other,
with the best type of the French people, while by long residence in
both branches became thoroughly American. His family, though combining
long lines of reputable ancestry and holding a high social position,
not especially distinguished. There is room, however, for speculation
to the subtle force of
Page 2 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
heredity in moulding his character, and while it is not known that it conformed closely to a distinct type found in the paternal or maternal line, it cannot be doubted that its remarkable excellencies were largely due to inherited qualities and tendencies.
The first twenty years of his life were spent in a quiet home subject to the moulding influences of a refined family and elevating external associations. In his twentieth year he completed with honor the prescribed course of study of the Southampton Academy located near his home. Soon after his graduation, he entered the office of James Rochelle, his uncle, who, at the time, was county clerk. While acting as deputy clerk, he commenced the study of law. But another career soon offered itself. At this time the Honorable John Y. Mason represented in Congress the district which embraced Southampton County, and having an appointment to a cadetship at the Military Academy at West Point to offer to some young man in his district, he called upon Mr. Rochelle, and offered it to his nephew. Mr. Rochelle said in reply: "Let us call the boy and ascertain what he thinks of the proposition." The "boy" accepted promptly, and the legal profession lost a worthy candidate for its duties and honors, while the profession of arms gained one of its highest ornaments.
Soon after his appointment young Thomas repaired to West Point, and
having passed the required examination, was admitted as a cadet. He
returned to his home for a short time. When he was about to take leave
of his family and friends, his uncle said to him: "Stop at Washington
repeat your thanks to Mr. Mason for your appointment." When he had done
this, Mr. Mason said to him: "No cadet appointed from our district has
ever graduated from the Military Academy; and if you do not, I never
to see you again." But Thomas did not need this spur; his character
assurance that the traditional failure would not be repeated by him.
Page 3 - HIS YOUTH THE PROPHECY OF HIS MANHOOD
It is to be regretted that more is not known of the early life of so remarkable a man; but, doubtless, his youth was the prophecy of his manhood. It is known that he was a good son and brother, and the fact that he was selected for appointment at the Military Academy may be accepted as proof that his talents and character as revealed in his youth inspired the confidence of the distinguished Congressman by whom he was chosen to redeem the reputation of the district.
But one of the great lessons of his life, fraught with blessing to the world, has been lost, since it is not known under what inspirations and circumstances and at what time the ideals, of which his character and career were the realization, took definite shape in his own mind and consciousness. Next in value to a life of such wonderful excellence is a knowledge of its development to know how much has been due to natural tendencies and capacities, how much to self-restraint and self-originating impulse and purpose, how much to external suggestions and influences, and how far he was himself conscious of the origin and development of his character. But all this is now in the realm of inference. Naturally reticent, especially in regard to whatever pertained to his inner life, he left no record of his early life, although it was his intention, as expressed only a few days before his death, to unfold the history of his youth. So positive, however, was the symmetry and harmony of all the elements of his character, and so uniform its development with corresponding concord of character and career, that it cannot be doubted that in his youth he had a clear conception of a noble life and a strong conviction of its obligation.
The following story told by himself strikingly evinces the early
of traits which his military career fully illustrated. Having leisure
a short time in his youth, he devoted himself to practical mechanics.
first visited daily the shop of a saddler, observed closely his use of
tools, the shaping of each part of a saddle and their final
Page 4 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE E. THOMAS
combination. With knowledge and skill acquired by observation alone, he succeeded in his first effort in making a good saddle. In the same way he learned to make boots and furniture. It was his belief that he thus strengthened faculties which subsequently found employment in forming combinations of infinitely more importance than the adjustment of the parts of a saddle, boot or desk.
He entered the Military Academy on June l, 1836, and graduated in regular course in the corresponding month of 1840, standing twelfth in a class of forty-two members, General W. T. Sherman being sixth. His attainments were broad and solid, and his character commanded the respect and esteem of professors and cadets, and gave assurance that in him an able and faithful officer was to be added to the United States Army. He was an earnest and industrious student, mastering the curriculum, and yet laying broader foundations than such mastery indicates. His methods and purposes at West Point harmonized with the subsequent tenor and movement of his life.
On the first of July, 1840, George H. Thomas was appointed second lieutenant in the Third Artillery. He served at Fort Columbus, New York, until the following November, when he was ordered with his company to Florida, where he remained on field duty until the termination of the Indian war. He participated in Major Wade's capture of seventy Seminole Indians, November 6th, 1841, and was breveted first lieutenant from that date "for gallantry and good conduct in the war against the Florida Indians."
Lieutenant Thomas was transferred with his company to New Orleans in
February, 1842, and in the following June to Fort Moultrie, South
In December, 1843, he was assigned to company "C" stationed at Fort
Maryland. He was promoted first lieutenant April 30th, 1844, and in
joined company "E" at Fort Moultrie. He was ordered upon recruiting
in February, 1845, and rejoined his company in March.
Page 5 - THE MEXICAN WAR
On the 26th of June, with his company, he left Fort Moultrie under orders to report to General Zachary Taylor. Company "E" arrived at New Orleans July 19th, and on the 24th, under the command of Taylor, sailed for Texas, and in August, with the Third and Fourth Infantry, took position at Corpus Christi, being the first United States troops to occupy the soil of Texas. With the Army of Occupation, Company "E" advanced to the Rio Grande in March, 1846, and was subsequently ordered with the Seventh Infantry and Company "I" Second Artillery, under Major Brown, to garrison the fort opposite Metamoras. These troops were subjected to bombardment from the 3rd to the 9th of May. Their loss, however, was slight, but included the gallant Major Brown, who was succeeded in command by Captain Hawkins of the Seventh Infantry. On the 9th, the siege was raised in consequence of the defeat of the Mexican army by General Taylor at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, on the 8th and 9th. When the defeated Mexicans were hastily crossing the river before Taylor's pursuing forces, the artillery fire from the fort increased their fright and confusion.
During June and July Lieutenant Thomas was detached with a section of his battery, and was with the vanguard in its advance to Reynosa and Camargo. Having rejoined his company, he took part in the battles about Monterey, September 21st - 23rd, and such was his bearing that he was brevetted captain "for gallant and meritorious conduct." In his report, General J. P. Henderson, commanding Texan volunteers, wrote: "I beg leave also, under the authority of General Lamar, to compliment Lieutenant Thomas of the artillery and his brave men for the bold advance and efficient management of the force under his charge. When ordered to retire he reloaded his piece, fired a farewell shot at the foe and returned under a shower of bullets."
General Twiggs, commanding First division, said, " Captains R.
and B. Bragg, and their subalterns, W. H.
Page 6 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Shover, G. H. Thomas, J. F. Reynolds, C. L. Kilburn, and S. G. French deserve the highest praise for their skill and good conduct under the heaviest fire of the enemy, which, when an opportunity offered, was concentrated on them."
The senior first lieutenant, Braxton Bragg, having been promoted to a captaincy, Lieutenant Thomas commanded Company "E" from November 21st, 1846, to February 19th, 1847, when Captain T. W. Sherman assumed command. He accompanied General Quitman's brigade in its march to Victoria in December, 1846.
In the battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22nd - 23rd, 1847, Lieutenant Thomas was conspicuous for efficiency and bravery, and was subsequently brevetted Major "for gallant and meritorious conduct" in this battle. The following passages from official reports prove that this reward was fully earned. General Taylor said, referring to the subalterns of the artillery, and including Thomas by name: "They were nearly all detached at different times, and in every situation exhibited conspicuous skill and gallantry."
Captain T. W. Sherman wrote: "I was directed to take my battery back to the plateau, where I joined Lieutenant Thomas, who had been constantly engaged during the forenoon in the preservation of that important position, and whom I found closely engaged with the enemy, and that, too, in a very advanced position. * * * Lieutenant Thomas more than sustained the reputation he has long enjoyed in his regiment as an accurate and scientific artillerist."
General Wool attributed the victory to the artillery: "I also desire
to express my high admiration and to offer my warmest thanks to
Washington, Sherman and Bragg, and Lieutenants O'Brien and Thomas, and
their batteries, to whose services at this point and on every part of
field, I think it but justice to say we are mainly indebted for the
victory so successfully achieved by our arms over the great force
to us - more than twenty
Page 7 - HIS NEIGHBORS PROUD OF HIM
thousand men, and seventeen pieces of artillery. Without our artillery we would not have maintained our position a single hour."
The victory at Buena Vista ended the war in Northern Mexico, but Company "E" Third Artillery, was left with other troops south of the Rio Grande until August 20th, when the last of our forces recrossed into Texas. The Mexican war gave such fame to many young officers, captains and lieutenants, as foreshadowed their distinction as generals commanding great armies. Among these, perhaps, no one was more distinguished than Lieutenant George H. Thomas. His services in that war harmonized logically and appropriately with the services which have since gained him a place among the great soldiers of the world. His conduct in Mexico foreshadowed his generalship in the war of the Rebellion. His gallantry at Monterey and Buena Vista, which secured his brevets as captain and major, was the promise of the generalship which at Chickamauga and Nashville commended his promotions as brigadier and major-general in the United States Army.
As was natural, the citizens of his native county felt honored by his brilliant conduct in the Mexican war, and doubtless the Congressman who had appointed him a cadet at West Point and who had been gratified that the youth of his selection had been the first from the district to graduate from the institution, was in full sympathy with those who gave expression to their appreciation of the gallantry of Lieutenant Thomas by the presentation of a splendid sword. As the proceedings connected with the presentation of this sword manifest the standing of Thomas in his native county fourteen years before the civil war, in which he separated himself from the men who were then proud of him, they are given in full as published at the time:
"At a meeting of the citizens of Southampton County, Virginia, at
court house at Jerusalem, on Monday, the 18th of July, 1847 - the
was organized by
Page 8 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
calling Captain James Maget to the chair, and appointing L. R. Edwards Secretary - Colonel William C. Parker rose, and in his naturally eloquent and happy style, preceded to deliver a spirit-stirring eulogy upon the character and gallant conduct of our two countrymen, Captain William Kello, of the Eighth Infantry, and Brevet Captain George H. Thomas, of the Third Artillery, the first named gentleman being then at home, in the county, on leave on account of ill health, and the latter with General Taylor in Mexico. He then proposed the following resolutions, which were carried by acclamation:
Resolved, That whilst we glory in the unfailing fame which our heroic army in Mexico has acquired for herself and country, our attention has been especially drawn to the military skill, bravery and noble deportment of our fellow countyman, George H. Thomas, exhibited in the campaign of Florida, at Fort Brown, Monterey and Buena Vista, in which he has given ample proof of the best requisites of a soldier's patience, fortitude, firmness and daring intrepidity.
Resolved, That as a testimonial of our high appreciation of his character as a citizen and a soldier, we will present to him a sword, with suitable emblems and devices and that ______ be appointed a committee to collect by subscription a sum sufficient for the purpose and cause to be fabricated a sword to be presented to the said George H. Thomas, through the hands of his noble and heroic commander, Major-General Z. Taylor.
The chair then filled the blank with the names of the following gentlemen (to wit): Colonel W. C. Parker, Robert Ridley, Benjamin C. Pope, John Barham, Doctor Massenbury, Charles F. Urquhart, Jacob Barrett, Colonel Carr Barnes, William G. Thands, Robert G. Griffin and Doctor George W. Peete.
On motion of George W. Peete, ordered that a copy of these proceedings be published, and that a copy each be presented to the mother and brothers of Captain Thomas, and a copy be sent with the sword."
The sword, when made, was a beautiful one, and was formally
The following is a description of it, taken from the Philadelphia
while the sword was
Page 9 - AFTER THE MEXICAN WAR
on exhibition in that city by the makers, Horstman & Sons.
"The pattern of the sabre is that used by the United States Dragoons. The blade is of the truest and prettiest steel, finished in a manner that would defy superiority of workmanship. The scabbard is of solid silver, standard value, beautifully enriched with engraved scroll work encircling military trophies, with the words: Florida, Ft. Brown, Monterey, Buena Vista, and an engraved vignette of the battle of Monterey. The hilt is of basket form, very elaborately chased. The grip is solid silver, also enriched with engraved scrolls. The pommel is of gold, grasping an amethyst, and the rings and bands in bas-relief, and upon the grip is engraved an elechant."
At the time of the presentation of this sword, and until the loyalty of George H. Thomas to the General Government was demonstrated in the war of the Rebellion, he was undoubtedly regarded as a true man and a brilliant officer by his family, his admiring county friends, and by Virginians generally. But in striking contrast with the respect and confidence exhibited by them in 1847, there was an intensity of bitterness and animosity manifested after the war began, which even his death did not arrest. Northern men, in some instances, fought for the South, and yet none of them have experienced such treatment from Northern friends and the Northern people as did Thomas from his family and his former friends.
Lieutenant Thomas' first assignment after the Mexican war was to the
charge of the commissary depot at Brazos Santiago, where he remained
February 1st, 1849, when he was relieved. In December, 1848, his
was ordered to Fort Adams, Rhode Island, where he rejoined it, August
1849 at the expiration of a six months' leave of absence, which was his
first respite from active duty since leaving West Point. He was
to Company "B" of the same regiment on the 6th of August, and remained
at. Fort Adams until September 12th, 1849.
Page 10 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
Upon the recurrence of hostilities between the citizens and Indians in the southern part of Florida, he was ordered with his company to that State. Here he was intrusted by the commanding officer to organize and direct an expedition against the remaining Seminole Indians. This was not alone because he had knowledge of the country, but in chief part because his character as an officer was such as to invite a superior to lean upon him. His relations to this expedition and to the commanding officer gave the type of almost all his subsequent service, even when an army commander. He was then, as generally afterwards, the trusted, and, consequently, the responsible subordinate. In this subjection to an immediate superior he became famous, as a general, a fact that provokes the conjecture, that had he been given early independence as a general, there would have been great gain to the country.
He remained in Florida until December, 1850, when he was ordered to Texas. At New Orleans, en route, he received an order assigning him to duty at Fort Independence, in Boston Harbor. He served at this post from January to March, 1851, when he was appointed instructor of artillery and cavalry at West Point. He was distinguished in this service by a display of the same qualities which had given him fame in the field. His loyalty to duty was always supreme, and at the Military Academy he met all the requirements of his office. It is still a source of pride to many officers who served with distinction in the civil war, that they were his pupils at West Point.
On the 7th of November, 1852, Lieutenant Thomas was married to Miss Frances L. Kellogg, of Troy, New York. In this relation, as in all others, there was the same commingling of the highest and purest sentiment, and a rigid regard to duty. His home life realized the highest ideal from first to last.
December 24th, 1853, he was promoted to a captaincy in the Third
and when relieved from duty at West
Page 11 - HIS COOLNESS AMID DANGER
Point, was assigned to the command of a battalion of artillery, which he conducted to California by way of Panama. He arrived at Benicia Barracks, near San Francisco, June 1st, 1854, and was immediately assigned to duty at Fort Yuma, in Lower California, to relieve Major Heintzelman. He retained command at Fort Yuma until July 21st, 1855, although he had been previously transferred to another arm of the service with higher rank.
During one of his voyages from Charleston to New York, in command of
troops, he saved the ship and all on board by arbitrarily displacing
captain and giving command :o the first officer. A violent storm was
off Cape Hatteras, and the captain was too drunk to manage the ship in
such an emergency, and yet insisted on giving such orders as made him
ally of the winds and waves in wrecking the ship. The first officer
the facts to Thomas, stating at the same time that it would be mutiny
him to disobey the captain, a responsibility he was unwilling to
He insisted, however, that some one must take control or they would
be lost. Thomas then made observations and convinced himself that the
was utterly unfit to command. He then sent for him and told him to
in his state room, and that he himself would be responsible for the
of the ship. Under the direction of the first officer the vessel
the storm. In this simple action, as in all his subsequent conduct, his
willingness to assume responsibility in emergencies was clearly
He was never afraid of responsibility in itself when free to act, and
never declined any duty or command through distrust of himself.
APPOINTED MAJOR IN THE SECOND CAVALRY - SERVICE IN TEXAS - MAINTAINS ALLEGIANCE TO THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT - TAKES COMMAND OF HIS REGIMENT IN NEW YORK. CITY - IS PROMOTED IN THE SECOND CAVALRY - AS LIEUTENANT-COLONEL AND COLONEL - PARTICIPATES IN GENERAL PATTERSON'S CAMPAIGN IN VIRGINIA, IN COMMAND OF A BRIGADE - APPOINTED BRIGADIER-GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
By an act of Congress of March 3rd, 1855, four regiments -- two of
and two of infantry -- were added to the Regular Army. Captain Thomas,
although the lowest of his rank in the Artillery, was appointed major
the Second Cavalry, one of the new regiments, on the 12th of May of
year. He joined his regiment at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in
following. The organization of these four regiments, especially the
Cavalry, has great interest from the fact that Jefferson Davis was
of War at the time, and his selection of officers warrants the belief
he then anticipated the contest in which he was so prominent -- as
as a probable event -- and that in his appointments he had especial
to the interests of the Southern States. Southern officers were
prominent in the Second Cavalry. In May, 1855, the four field officers
and many others were natives of slave holding States. Albert Sidney
was colonel; Robert E. Lee, lieutenant colonel; W. J. Hardee was senior
major; and George H. Thomas, junior. At the opening of the war
officers of this regiment were graduates of West Point, and of these
were natives of the South. They were not only Southern men, but the
representatives of that section in the army. As evidence of the
Page 13 - APPOINTED MAJOR IN THE SECOND CAVALRY
talent thrown into the Second Cavalry by Mr. Davis, it may be mentioned that it furnished seventeen generals for the war, of whom twelve were in the Confederate service. Four of these generals commanded large armies, and four others had independent commands with large forces.
Two considerations, in all probability, induced Mr. Davis to appoint Captain Thomas a major in the Second Cavalry: his birth in Virginia and his efficiency and gallantry in the Mexican war. General Thomas always believed that Mr. Davis had regard to a probable war between the Northern and Southern States in organizing that regiment. The writer once asked him if he entertained this opinion. He promptly answered that he did. And in reply to the question: "Did not Mr. Davis depend upon you, as upon Generals Johnston, Lee, Hardee and other Southern officers to fight for the South in the event of war? he said: "Certainly he did." Major Thomas and Lieutenants Royall, Chambliss and Harrison were the only officers of this regiment, born in a seceding State, who remained loyal; and only three others, of Southern birth, Captain R. W. Johnson and Lieutenant Kenner Garrard, from Kentucky, and Lieutenant Joseph H. McArthur, from Missouri, maintained their allegiance to the General Government.
When Major Thomas had been on duty a short time with his regiment he
was ordered upon recruiting service. And during its continuance the
Cavalry was ordered to Texas. He joined it there May 1st, 1856, and
with it in that State until November, 1860. During three years of this
period he was in command of the regiment, in turn, at Fort Mason, San
Fort Belknap and Camp Cooper. In 1859 he commanded the escort which
the Texas Reserve Indians to the Indian Territory. Soon after he
under orders, the country on the head waters of the Canadian and Red
He was engaged several months in the exploration of an unknown region,
and gathered much valuable geological and geographical
Page 14 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
knowledge. He was especially fitted for this service because of close observation, thorough scientific attainments and unbounded enthusiasm.
A second similar expedition was required of him in the summer of 1860, in another field, embracing the sources of the Concho and Colorado Rivers. As before, he gained valuable facts relative to the geological and geographical features of the region. This expedition had another issue of some importance, since in conducting it Major Thomas fell in with a predatory band of Indians, and re-captured the animals which the Indians had taken from the white settlements. In skirmish with the Indians, August 26th, he was severely wounded by an arrow, which passed through his chin and penetrated his breast, so far as to fasten itself firmly. He drew it out himself at the cost of severe pain. This was the only wound he ever received, though he had been previously exposed in battle, and more frequently afterwards, from his utter disregard of personal danger.
His report of the skirmish with the Indians is subjoined, to furnish a striking contrast with his subsequent reports of great battles. In 1860, in command of cavalry, he fought a lone Indian. In the years that followed he led into action vast armies!
EXTRACT FROM REPORT OF AUGUST 31, 1860.
I have the honor to submit for the information of
department commander, the following report of the operations of the
under my command, to the head waters of the Concho and Colorado rivers,
during the months of July and August. * * * On the morning of the 25th
inst. about fourteen miles east of the mountain pass, one of the Indian
guides (Dloss) discovered a fresh horse trail crossing the road. As
as the packs could be arranged and our wagons despatched with the
of our baggage to the post, with the teams (two sick -- the hospital
and a private of the band, too sick to ride) I followed the trail with
all the remainder of the detachment and three guides, in a west
direction for about forty miles, that day, traveling as long as we
see the trail after nightfall. On the 26th, about 7 A. M., the Delaware
Page 15 - WOUNDED IN AN INDIAN FIGHT
discovered the Indians, eleven in number, at camp. He and their spy discovered each other about the same time, and giving me the signal agreed upon, the party moved at once in a gallop for a mile and a half before coming in sight of their camp, which was located on the opposite side of a deep ravine, (running north, and I presume, into the Clear Fork), impassable except at a few points. Here we lost considerable time searching for a crossing, and only succeeded, finally, in getting over by dismounting and leading our animals. In the meantime the Indians being already mounted and having their animals collected together, had increased their distance from us by at least half a mile. As soon as the crossing was effected and the men remounted, we pursued them at full speed for about three miles and a half further, pushing them so closely that they abandoned their loose animals, and continued their flight, effecting their escape solely from the fact that our animals had been completely exhausted by the fatiguing pace at which the pursuit had been kept up. As we were gradually overhauling them, one fellow, more persevering than the rest, and who still kept his position in the rear of the loose animals, suddenly dismounted and prepared to fight, and our men, in their eagerness to despatch him, hurried upon him so quickly that several of his arrows took effect, wounding myself in the chin and chest, also Private William Murphy, of Company "D" in the left shoulder, and Privates John Tile and Casper Siddle, of the band, each in the leg, before he fell, by twenty or more shots. * * * By this time the main body of the Indians, who were mounted on their best animals, were at least two miles from us, retiring at a rapid pace, and it being impossible to overtake them, on account of the exhausted condition of our animals, the pursuit was discontinued.
* * * * * * * *
This report relates to an insignificant affair, but is nevertheless characteristic and carefully exact, as were his subsequent reports of the operations of brigade, division, corps and army.
Major Thomas had now served nearly twenty years in the army with
one leave of absence, a fact which proves his rare devotion to duty. On
his return to his post, however, he departed from his previous,
rule of official conduct, and applied for a year's leave of absence.
application having been granted, he left Camp Cooper November 1st, just
before the Presidential election which precipitated the secession of
Page 16 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Southern States, with civil war as the necessary sequence. It was too soon for General Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, to take definite action in reference to the anticipated withdrawal of the Southern States from the Union, in the event of the election of the candidate of the Republican party; but it was not too soon for this Southern general to indicate his course should secession occur. And Thomas bore with him from Texas the impression that military affairs in that department were not in safe hands.
His departure from Texas brought to him a perplexing problem the
of a slave woman, whom he had purchased in Texas when it was not
to hire a servant. This problem was not of difficult solution for an
slave owner; but with Major Thomas it was otherwise, since, to use his
own words, he "could not sell a human being." He had been accustomed to
the service of slaves all his life, and felt no scruples in purchasing
one, when in need of a servant. But when the question of the sale of a
slave became a practical one, the nature of the transaction from this
of view was so repulsive to him that it could only be answered in the
and although it was against his pecuniary interest to take this woman
him to Virginia, he resolved to do it. He was a Southern man, at this
so far as to introduce, by purchase, a slave woman into his family
she would always be treated kindly; but he revolted at the
of misery and cruel treatment which inhered in the system of American
He was not then an abolitionist in the northern significance of that
term, and doubtless he would have claimed, that, as a political matter,
the institution of slavery was recognized by the National Constitution,
and that any direct interference with it by Congressional legislation,
or partisan efforts to free the slaves, trenched upon the rights of the
Southern States. But he could not sell a human being, one that he had
Page 17 - KINDNESS TO HIS SLAVE
his slave by purchase, a transaction which made chattels of men and women. A strong feeling obtained among the more cultured and more humane classes in the South against the sale of family or inherited slaves, and with many, as with Major Thomas, there was a strong repugnance to the sale of purchased slaves, apart from any opposition to the institution itself. In the purchase the horrid possibilities were put out of view; but in sale they would force themselves into sight. Deciding not to sell his slave, Major Thomas took her with him to his home in Virginia, and did not see her again, after going north, until as a free woman she became his voluntary servant. After the war this woman claimed for herself and her husband and children the protection of her old master, and although it was both inconvenient and expensive for General Thomas to take them, he had them moved from Virginia to Nashville, Tennessee. They afterwards caused trouble and anxiety. He tried to train them for a more independent life, and made an effort to induce them to start for themselves. But they were unwilling to leave him for an uncertain living, and they therefore remained with him until he was ordered to the Pacific coast in 1869. It being then impracticable for him to give them further personal care, he induced his brother living in Mississippi to give them employment, and with their consent, he sent them to him. This brother, Benjamin Thomas, was the only member of his family he met after he left his home in 1860. It is probable that his course in the war did not alienate the affection of this brother; if it did, there was a complete renewal of the old-time regard after the conflict was over.
This leave of absence, on the eve of the presidential election, had
no significance of a political or tentative character. The National
was then only dimly prospective, and Thomas merely sought rest and the
companionship of friends after a long period of unbroken service; but
in going north he placed himself in a position to
Page 18 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
look calmly at the question of loyalty in all its relations to personal obligation and patriotism, when free from all entanglements of official connections and local influences. And of how much worth to the Nation in the fast-coming crisis, was this quiet major traveling northward from Texas! Had the morning despatches announced his movement northward, only the smallest fraction of the people would have known or cared who he was, or why he was traveling towards Washington. He was only a major in the regular army, who had been secluded from public view by service for twenty years, mainly at outposts. But this seeming was not the reality. A great soldier under the guise of a major of cavalry was moving towards a career of a brilliancy unsurpassed in American annals. And what had his service revealed in prophecy of such a career? There had been no war since he was a lieutenant to make him a great general by the lessons of its campaigns and battles, and yet in 1860 he was a consummate general. And in this there is no mystery. Twenty years of service and study, supplementing a technical military education, had given him full competency for the highest positions offered by a gigantic war. He had made the leisure of army life in time of peace subservient to the highest possibilities of the profession of arms. It was his habit to study the natural sciences in the order suggested by the especial facilities afforded at the different army posts. In Florida he studied botany; geology and mineralogy in regions fruitful in specimens. At Fort Yuma he gave attention to the language and traditions of the neighboring Indians. He learned to speak the language of the Yumas, and made effort to reduce it to a written form. By such pursuits, in connection with unflagging professional study, he made full preparation for his subsequent career as a general. And if other leading commanders made mistakes when he did not, the fact may be attributed to their inferior natural ability and inferior professional attainments. It was not to be expected that
Page 19 - APPEARANCE AND CHARACTER
generals, although graduates from West Point, who had given the strength of manhood to civil pursuits, would equal one who had devoted himself continuously and earnestly for twenty-four years to the complete mastery of the science of war.
If the outward indications of great strength had been observed and considered, any one of ordinary discernment would have readily believed that Major Thomas was able to lead a great army to victory. He was about six feet in height, with proportions large and symmetrical. His thick hair and heavy beard were light brown, slightly tinged with red and sprinkled with gray. His head was large, forehead broad, eyes blue, features not entirely regular, but harmonious and strong. His presence was commanding, and his manners winning. His expression was usually exceedingly mild; but yet there was in the easily compressed lips and change of cast in the soft blue eye, the plainest indication of an iron will. His person and mien impressed strangers, and few men would look upon him for the first time without discerning his power and the certainty of its beneficent exertion. He was the embodiment of strength, and yet his power transcended all outward seeming. Beyond his sober bearing and quiet dignity, the usual exponents of conscious strength, there was in the frequent introspective look an indication of the reserve power which was to be the source of safety to great armies. He was destined to draw vast masses of men to him in reverence and love by the force and purity of his personal character, by the charm of mien and smile and spirit, and to hold them to duty and desperate daring by the subtle inspiration which emanated from the power which great emergencies called forth, but never exhausted.
On his way from Richmond to Washington, he was injured by a railroad
accident which occurred near Norfolk. He jumped from the train, and
lighting on his feet, his spine was so very seriously injured, that he
Page 20 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
able to travel for six weeks. And from this injury he never entirely recovered. This continued spinal lameness was one cause, at least, of his slow riding and deliberate personal movements, so noticeable during the war. Mrs. Thomas, who had preceded him from the South, joined him at Norfolk, having been called to him by a telegraphic despatch. They had expected to meet in New York.
When able to travel, he went to Washington, and calling upon General Scott, expressed his conviction that General Twiggs meditated treachery. He also expressed this conviction to General Jos. E. Johnston, quartermaster general. At this time there had been no actual secession, except, perhaps, in the case of South Carolina. His arrival at Washington was about the time of the formal withdrawal of that State. But this action was then clearly indicated in other States, and his own action, in giving warning in respect to military affairs in Texas, was positive proof of his loyalty in the face of Southern movements. The supreme test, the secession of his own State, had not come; but the probability of the withdrawal of the southern belt of States was very strong, and the probable consequences were plainly in view. It is true that there was then a strong hope that civil war would be averted, and he doubtless met multitudes at Washington, from the North and from the South, who entertained this expectation. Such a war was so abhorrent to the people of the North, that the thought of it as actual was not willingly entertained, and with this feeling the more noble and conservative people of the South fully sympathized. How far Thomas was in sympathy with those who believed that war would be averted, up to the time of its actual outbreak, is not known; but it is known that he was positively loyal when he visited Washington in December, 1860.
Whether or not in consequence of the warning given by Thomas,
Twiggs was soon after relieved from the command of the Department of
but not before his
Page 21 - ON THE EVE OF THE REBELLION
plan of operations in favor of the South had been fully manifested. He had given leaves of absence to all officers who desired to visit their respective states, to give them an opportunity to gain a high position in the Confederate army, or in State forces. Colonel Lee, who had commanded the Department of Texas since the preceding February, took leave in December. Captain Van Dorn of the Second Cavalry, having secured prospectively a brigadier general's commission, had returned to command his regiment in the expected disarmament of all the troops in the Southwest. This officer served the South by offering increased rank to commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the United States Army, on the condition of service in the Southern army. And after General Twiggs had been ordered to turn over his command to Colonel Waite, and had, instead, surrendered his forces to the authorities of Texas, Van Dorn had gone on board the Star of the West, a vessel sent to Indianola to transport the disarmed troops to the North, and having represented himself as an officer of the United States Army, and wearing its uniform, had ordered the ship back to New Orleans without the troops. The troops had been detained that they might be seduced from their allegiance. The Second Cavalry, with no field officer with it, was involved in the common fate of all the regular troops in Texas. Its colonel, Albert Sidney Johnston, was in command of the Department of the Pacific, Lt. Col. Lee and Major Thomas were on leave, and Major Hardee was commandant of cadets at West Point, and had been for four years.
From Washington, Major Thomas went to New York, and soon after wrote
the letter to Colonel F. H. Smith, superintendent of the Military
of Virginia, which was published in July, 1870, as evidence that at the
date of the letter, he meditated withdrawing from the United States
from political or sectional considerations. During his life this charge
was repeatedly made, and after
Page 22 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
his death it was emphasized. It was asserted that there was a letter from him in existence, through which he offered his sword to the Governor of Virginia. The reference was doubtless to this letter to Colonel Smith, as no other has ever been produced that can be construed to imply such a purpose or act. Virginians were disappointed that he did not at the call of his State resign his commission in the United States Army, as did General Jos. E. Johnston, Col. Robert E. Lee, and other officers from that State, and it was natural, though unjust, that they should be bitter in consequence. But there is no justification for the malicious, unfounded charge that General Thomas ever intended to join the rebellion.
The letter to Colonel Smith is here inserted:
NEW YORK HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY, January l8th, 1861.
COLONEL FRANCIS H. SMITH, Sup't Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va.
Dear Sir: In looking over the files of the National Intelligencer, this morning, I met with your advertisement for a commandant of cadets and instructor of tactics at the Institute. If not already filled, I will be under obligations if you will inform me what salary and allowances pertain to the situation, as from present appearances I fear it will soon be necessary for me to be looking up some means of support.
Very respectfully, your obedient savant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major U. S. Army.
The text of this letter, in absence of a knowledge of the
under which it was written, and interpreted in the light of subsequent
events, might lead to the conclusion, that he then anticipated that the
disorganization of the United States Army, or such contingencies as the
struggle then imminent might involve, made it necessary for him "to be
looking up some means of support." And yet this letter, containing no
or indirect allusion to the secession movement or the condition of the
Page 23 - THE STATE OR THE NATION
and interpreted by circumstances then existing, had no reference to anything but the means of support from an honorable and useful position. The injury received near Norfolk then threatened permanent disability; and thinking of leaving the army for this reason, he made inquiry of the superintendent of the Military Institute of his native State in reference to a position advertised as vacant. Had the expression, "from present appearances," had reference to the state of the country, the significance of his letter could only have been that he did not intend to participate in the war, then imminent; but in such an event, he desired for himself a quiet life as a military instructor. But it had no such significance. Virginia had not seceded, and her attitude at the date of this letter, and subsequently for months, was that of peace-maker. The leading statesmen of Virginia were then active in their efforts to avert war. Colonel Robert E. Lee was then intimately associated with General Scott, General Jos. E. Johnston was then quartermaster general of the United States Army, and both of these prominent officers were, ostensibly at least, loyal to the Government of the United States, the former accepting the colonelcy of the First Cavalry as late as the 30th of March.
Major Thomas remained in New York, on his leave of absence, with gradual improvement of health, until April, 1861.
As the events of January, February and March had brought more
to view the inveterate antagonisms that arrayed the North against the
or rather the Southern section against the Nation, Southern officers in
the United States Army became fully conscious of the momentous question
that demanded immediate decision the question of their adherence to the
General Government against their respective States, or their service
the banner of the "Confederate States of America." Acts of war had been
committed in the South, or acts of independent
Page 24 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
State sovereignty, as claimed in that section, by the seizure of
and forts, and the secession of seven States, but until the 12th
there had been no actual hostilities. During this period the more
slaveholding States and their representatives in the army were waiting
in fearful suspense the issue of peace or war. The supreme moment came
in the bombardment of Fort Sumter by command of Jefferson Davis,
of the so-called "Confederate States of America." The thoughtful
men in the army could not array themselves against the General
without a tragic struggle. It would be a superficial view of the case
assert that it was an easy matter for these men, either to sustain the
General Government against their respective States and a united South,
or to array themselves, at the call of their respective States, against
the flag which had been to them the symbol of the Nation's power and
and of their own fealty. But before orders were issued recalling Major
Thomas from his leave of absence to take command of his regiment in New
York, and transfer it to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, for
and equipment for active service, the question of his duty was settled
beyond revocation. He doubtless approached the question of duty to the
whole country against the demands of family, friends, State and
with a seriousness that contrasted strongly with the rash hurry with
many Southerners broke their connection with the army. There were few
who were more strongly bound to the South by traditions and
than George H. Thomas, and when the voice of family, friends, State and
section, supported by a moderate Southern sentiment in favor of
was heard and considered, the call of country, its unity and glory,
and prospective, his indebtedness to it for education and office, and,
perhaps, above all, his sworn allegiance to it, with twenty years'
under its flag, had such weight that his "duty was clear from the
His own views cannot be more
Page 25 - LOYAL FROM THE BEGINNING
clearly presented than by a quotation from a letter published by Colonel A. L. Hough, after the General's death, which had especial reference to the assumption of General Fitzhugh Lee, that Thomas had sought position in the Southern army: "As a confidential staff officer, one of his aides de camp, I had the privilege of having many conversations with General Thomas upon matters relating to the war. The most important of these conversations I made notes of at the time, with his knowledge and consent. Among them is one on the subject of Fitzhugh Lee's letter, which I copy from my note book. A slander upon the general was often repeated in the Southern papers during and immediately subsequent to the rebellion. It was given upon the authority of prominent rebel officers, and not denied by them. It was to the effect that he was disappointed in not getting a high command in the rebel army he had sought for, hence his refusal to join the rebellion. In a conversation with him on the subject, the general said:
"This was an entire fabrication, not having an atom of foundation; not a line ever passed between him and the rebel authorities; they had no genuine letter of his, nor was a word spoken by him to any one that could even lead to such an inference. He defied any one to produce any testimony, written or oral, to sustain such an allegation; he never entertained such an idea, for his duty was clear from the beginning. These slanders were caused by men who knew they had done wrong, but were endeavoring to justify themselves by claiming their action to be a virtue which all men would have followed, and by blackening the character of those who had done right. It was evident they were determined that no Southern-born man, who had remained true to his country, should bear a reputable character, if continued and repeated abuse could effect a stain upon it."
Another conversation, showing his opinion of the authors of these slanders, and his own views at the breaking out of the rebellion, it is well to give, also; it is as follows:
Page 26 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
"In a discussion of the causes given for their action by some officers who deserted the Government at the beginning of the rebellion, I ventured the assertion that, perhaps, some of them at distant posts had acted ignorantly; that I had been informed that some of them had been imposed upon by friends and relatives, and led to believe that there was to be a peaceable dissolution of the Union; that there would be no actual government for the whole country, and by resigning their commissions they were only taking the necessary steps towards returning to the allegiance of their respective States, he replied that this was but a poor excuse; he could not believe officers of the army were so ignorant of their own form of government as to suppose such proceedings could occur, and as they had sworn allegiance to the government they were bound to adhere to it, and would have done so if they had been so inclined. He said there was no excuse whatever in a United States officer claiming the right of secession, and the only excuse for their deserting the government was what none of them admitted, having engaged in a revolution against a tyranny, because the tyranny did not exist, and they well knew it. I then asked him: 'Supposing such a state of affairs existed, that arrangements were being made for a peaceable dissolution of the Union by the Government, the North from the South, and that it was in progress, what would you have done?' He promptly replied: 'That is not a supposable case; the government cannot dissolve itself; it is the creature of the people, and until they had agreed by their votes to dissolve it, and it was accomplished in accordance therewith, the government to which they had sworn allegiance remained, and as long as it did exist, I should have adhered to it.'"
There is in this extract a clear recognition of the obligation of
oath to support the government, and at this very point, the better
of Southern officers who joined the rebellion, and who perhaps took
step, with reluctance,
Page 27 - THE PROOF OF LOYALTY
made direct issue with Thomas. They claimed that their oath of office was obligatory only while they held office, and that all obligation ceased with resignation, especially when their resignations were accepted. This assumption rests upon the supposed fact that supreme allegiance is due to a single State, rather than to the Union of the States, or Nation represented by the General Government. The subtle logic, by which the doctrine of State Rights was carried to the complete negation of the national unity, or autonomy, had no force with General Thomas, although he greatly regretted the necessity of choosing between the General Government and his own State, in alliance with other Southern States. And although he had not entertained Northern views of the institution of slavery, he did not hesitate to maintain his allegiance to the National Government. And in contrast with those who claimed that the acceptance of their resignations not only freed them from the service required by their oath of allegiance, but also permitted them to extend their freedom to the extreme sequence of arraying themselves in war against the National Government. Thomas believed that there was a moral and legal obligation which forbade resignation, with a view to take up arms against the Government. And from this point of view he condemned the National authorities for accepting the resignation of officers, when aware that it was their intention to join the rebellion as soon as they were in this way freed from the obligation of their oath of allegiance. In his view, resignation did not give them freedom to take up arms against the General Government, and resting upon this ground, he did not wait till his own State had seceded to make up his own decision, but made it in entire independence of her probable action in the National crisis.
On the 10th of April, two days before the bombardment of Fort
Major Thomas was ordered to take command of the Second Cavalry on the
of the first detachment at New York, to send two companies to
Page 28 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
for duty at Army headquarters, and conduct the remaining companies to Carlisle Barracks. Before leaving New York he arranged for Mrs. Thomas to join him at Carlisle in three or four days; but when at Harrisburg he heard of the opening of the war at Fort Sumter, and knew that its long continuance was inevitable, he telegraphed to her to remain in New York, and subsequently informed her by letter what his course would be. He also wrote to his sisters in Virginia, in the same vein, and thereafter he ceased to be a brother in their regard.
On the 17th of April the convention of Virginia passed an ordinance
of secession, to be submitted to a vote of the people of the State, on
the fourth Thursday of May. At first, no doubt, it was the intention of
the convention to give six weeks to the people for reflection and
action, but the proclamation of Governor Letcher, announcing the
of the ordinance of secession, plainly indicated his belief that it
be ratified by the people, and in this proclamation he specifically
the authority of his office to military preparations, in expectation
Virginia would be involved in war, and that her territory would be its
leading theatre. On April 25th, the convention passed another
adopting and ratifying the constitution of the "Provisional Government
of the Confederate States of America," but providing that its legal
should cease if the people of Virginia should by vote reject the
of secession. But by the authority of this second ordinance there was a
convention of Virginia and the Confederate States, which subjected all
the military operations of the State forces to the control of the
of the Confederacy. This action of the Virginia convention precipitated
the problem of duty upon all Virginians in the United States Army. At
head stood Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, commander-in-chief, who
with all other natives of the State, was officially invited to discard
his allegiance to the General Government, and take high
Page 29 - LEE FOR THE STATE
rank, if not corresponding rank, in the Confederate army. Rumors
he had resigned were jubilantly circulated through the South; but he
"I have not changed; have no thought of changing; always a Union man."
General Joseph E. Johnston, quartermaster general, offered his
which was accepted, on the 22nd. Colonel Robert E. Lee remained at his
residence at Arlington in gloomy hesitancy until called upon by General
Scott, on the 19th , to define his position. The next day he tendered
resignation, sending with it a personal letter to General Scott, in
these statements were made: "It would have been presented at once but
the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from the service to
I have devoted all the best years of my life and all the ability I
* * * Save in defense of my State I never desire to draw my sword." If
the latter declaration did not indicate a compromise with conscience it
certainly did evince his blindness in not discerning the logical
of drawing his sword in defense of Virginia, when that State was in
alliance with other Southern States against the Government of the
States. To defend Virginia under such circumstances was simply to
himself in all the phases of a general civil war; which from its
and conditions could only be conducted with reference to the general
without special reference to the defense of Virginia or any other
on its own account. This desired attitude and service lasted only three
days. On the 22nd the convention of Virginia unanimously confirmed
Letcher's nomination of Colonel Robert E. Lee to command the military
naval forces of the State, with the rank of major-general; and the day
following, two days before his resignation from the United States Army
was accepted, and four before the notification of its acceptance was
and five days after Virginia militia had twice assaulted United States
troops, this man who had offered his resignation after a severe
placed himself before the
Page 30 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
world as an enemy of the United States, by accepting the position of commander-in-chief of the military and naval forces of his native State. And from this position he soon drifted into the formal service of the Confederate States. This was made inevitable by the action of the Virginia convention, which subjected the State forces to the orders of Jefferson Davis, and on the l0th of May, "to prevent confusion," he was placed in command of the "Confederate forces," by the order of the Secretary of War of the "Southern Confederacy." This effort to avoid confusion foreshadowed the speedy overriding of State Rights by a government established to protect them, showing that impracticable theories do not long survive the test of war.
Everything that was done or proclaimed in Virginia from the 12th of April till the State was in perfected alliance with the Confederacy was based upon the assumption that the ordinance of secession would be ratified by the people. So also the resignations of Generals Johnston and Lee anticipated the endorsing vote of the people. The ordinance, in its text, was made contingent, but these officers and others ignored the possibility that its ratification would fail.
In striking contrast with many officers of the army from Virginia,
Thomas was at this time actively supporting the General Government, in
utter disregard of the action of his native State. On the 21st of
in obedience to orders, he proceeded with four companies of his
to aid in suppressing a mob of Maryland secessionists, that threatened
to tear up the track of the Pennsylvania Northern Central railroad. The
mob dispersed upon the arrival of the troops, when Major Thomas
to Carlisle. Upon the acceptance of the resignation of Colonel Robert
Lee, Major Thomas was promoted to the position previously made vacant
his promotion. At this point these prominent and popular Virginians,
had been intimately associated in the brotherhood of arms, who had many
traits of character in common, representing the chivalry of the
Page 31 - THOMAS FOR THE NATION
South, and the highest culture of the United States Army, parted company forever from radical difference of convictions in regard to the relative claim of State and country. With Lee it was a regard for family, native State and Southern associations, and not a desire to perpetuate slavery, nor a conviction that secession was an absolute necessity. Before the war he had been in favor of the gradual emancipation of the slaves, and at the time of his resignation he was opposed to secession in the abstract. With Thomas, Southern influences no doubt had force, being more decidedly Southern in his sentiments than Lee. If reports from Virginia may be believed, an effort was made to give Thomas the command of the State forces, from distrust of Lee, but the latter yielded to pressure against positive convictions, and drifted into the leadership of the forces in arms against the General Government. The latter in taking Lee's place in the Second Cavalry ignored the claims of Virginia and the South and entered upon a career of remarkable patriotism and brilliant generalship under the flag of his country.
May 3rd, Thomas was appointed colonel of the Second Cavalry, in room of Albert Sidney Johnston, who had resigned from regard to the action of Texas, the State of his adoption, whose claims upon him had been emphasized by its peculiar relations to the General Government, and by the intimate connection he had himself sustained to its independence and early government. Before resigning his commission as Colonel in the United States Army he had transferred his command to a regularly appointed successor, in hope that he would be able to avoid participation in the war.
The promotion of Thomas was rapid, but entirely regular, though
the extensive defection of the ranking cavalry officers. Four field
from the First and Second cavalry regiments resigned and joined the
Had Thomas been promoted out of the line of established precedents, it
might have been said that especial
Page 32 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
effort had been made to hold him in the army. But his promotions were not complimentary.
His early promotion to a colonelcy placed him above most of the volunteer colonels, and opened the way for his immediate command of a brigade. August 3rd, the designation of his regiment was changed by Act of Congress to Fifth Cavalry.
Colonel Thomas remained at Carlisle Barracks until the 1st of June. On that day he received orders from Washington to report with four companies of his regiment and the First City Troop of Philadelphia, to Major General Robert Patterson, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Two days after he was assigned to the command of the First brigade of the Army of Pennsylvania. Soon after he led his brigade across Maryland to Williamsport, and crossed the Potomac on the 2nd of July, and participated the same day in an engagement at Falling Waters, Virginia. In the movement the next day from Falling Waters to Martinsburg, Colonel Thomas was in front of the army, and skirmished with the enemy as he advanced. He led again towards Winchester, and drove in the outlying forces of the enemy at Bunker Hill on the 15th.
The action at Falling Waters was insignificant compared with subsequent battles East and West; but it was nevertheless the most imposing that occurred before the battle of Bull Run. In it two Virginians participated; Thomas J. Jackson, commanding the Confederate troops, and George H. Thomas, commanding a brigade in the Army of Pennsylvania. And the fact that this was their first battle in the war of the Rebellion gave it importance. These two Virginians were alike in the strength of their convictions. They were not enemies in war, from the mere fact of holding positions in opposing armies. No soldier in the Southern army was more earnest in supporting the cause of the South than Jackson,*
* "Stonewall" Jackson.
Page 33 - ACROSS THE POTOMAC.
and no soldier in the Northern army was more positive in sustaining the General Government and the National unity than Thomas. Both were loyal to convictions of duty, and neither hesitated to make extreme exertion in patriotic service. But this early campaign in Virginia tested the strength of Thomas far more than that of Jackson. The latter was in sympathy with the rebellion under the sway of Southern traditions and sentiments; the former rose superior to all such influences, and heartily supported the National cause. Jackson was defending his native State; Thomas was invading it to suppress an insurrection, in which Virginia had assumed leadership. When therefore Colonel Thomas, with drawn sword, crossed the Potomac into that State, he subjected himself to the supreme test of loyalty; and yet so assured was he of the rightfulness of his act that he hesitated as little as when, in 1864, he rode forth from Nashville to victory. Had he been wavering in July, 1861, he would have halted on the north bank of the Potomac, and asked for some other initiative to warfare for the Union. But having deliberately settled the question of duty in the crisis before he drew his sword, Virginians in rebellion against the authority of the National Government were the enemies of his country, and the "sacred soil" of his native State was simply the enemy's territory.
General Patterson's campaign produced no results which gave fame to
any officer participating in it. General Jos. E. Johnston commanding
opposing army, joined General Beauregard in time to turn the tide of
at Bull Run. For a time the blame for failure to hold Johnston in his
fell heavily upon General Patterson. It was even thought that after
to hold the enemy in Winchester, he should have reenforced General
before or during that engagement. The truth in the case, or rather the
discussion of the possibilities to General Patterson, is not pertinent
to this biography; but the opinion of General Thomas in the premises
is. It was characteristic
Page 34 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
for him to sustain his superior when he knew that public opinion was against him, because, as he believed, the facts were not known to the country. General Patterson asked the advice of his officers as to the best method of vindication. In answer Thomas addressed to him, through another, the following letter:
CAMP NEAR HYATTSTOWN, MD., August 25th, 1861.
Your note has just been handed me. I had a conversation with Newton yesterday on the subject of General Patterson's campaign. He was on the eve of writing to the general and asked me what he should state was my opinion as to the general's course. I told him that he could say, that if I was situated as he was, I would make a statement of all the facts to the general-in-chief or the Secretary of War, fortifying it with copies of the orders, etc., and demand justice at their hands, and if they were not disposed to give it, I would then demand a court of inquiry.
Yours truly, GEO. H. THOMAS.
P.S. I think, however, that time will set the general all right, as I see the papers are much more favorable to him than at first.
Subsequently he wrote the following letter in General Patterson's vindication:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Before
Georgia, August 8th, 1864
MAJOR-GENERAL ROBERT PATTERSON, Philadelphia, Pa.
MY DEAR GENERAL :
Your favor of the l6th of July, was only received a few days since, owing, doubtless, to the irregularities of the mails to the front. In the council of war, at Martinsburg, I in substance advised an advance towards Winchester, at least as far as Bunker Hill, and if your information, after the army reached Bunker Hill, led you to believe that Johnston still occupied Winchester in force, then to shift our troops over to Charlestown, as that move would place our communications with our depot of supplies in safety, and still threaten and hold Johnston at Winchester, which I understood was all that you were expected or required to do. I should have advised a direct advance on Winchester but for the character of the troops composing your army. They were all, with the exception of a couple of squadrons of the Second U. S. cavalry and two batteries
Page 35 - BRIGADIER GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
of regular artillery, three months' men, and their
of service would expire in a few days. Judging of them as of other
troops, had I been their commander, I should not have
been willing to risk them in a heavy battle coming off within a few days of the expiration of their service.
I have always believed, and have frequently so expressed myself, that your management of the three months' campaign was able and judicious, and was to the best interests of the service, considering the means at your disposal and the nature of the troops under your command.
With much respect and esteem,
I remain. General, very sincerely and truly yours,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. V.
These letters show his loyalty to his commander and his willingness to bear the responsibility of advising the movement for which General Patterson was severely censured. A man less regardful of the truth and justice might have been silent or evasive under such circumstances. His action in this instance was consistent with his official and personal conduct throughout his career. He gave cordial support to his commander under all circumstances, even when executing plans which he did not approve. Subsequent pages will illustrate the fact in numerous instances.
On the 17th of August, 1861, Col. George H. Thomas was appointed a
general of volunteers. Brigadier General Robert Anderson had accepted
in Kentucky, his native State, on condition that he should be permitted
to select four brigadier generals to serve under him. He had chosen W.
T. Sherman, D. C. Buell and 0. M. Mitchel, who had been previously
brigadier generals, Sherman and Buell on the 17th of May, and Mitchel
the 9th of August; on the 15th of August he was thinking of naming S.
Buckner as the fourth subordinate brigadier general. At this time he
his nephew, Lieutenant Thomas M. Anderson of the Fifth Cavalry, to
him at Washington, to whom he mentioned his purpose of recommending
Kentuckian for appointment. Lieutenant
Page 36 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Anderson, now lieutenant colonel of the Ninth Infantry, had lived in Kentucky before the war, in the practice of law; and having full knowledge of Buckner's efforts, as commander-in chief of the "State Guard," to cause the secession of that State, he readily convinced his uncle that negotiations with him were useless. He then recommended his colonel, George H. Thomas, for the vacant place, mentioning his conduct in General Patterson's campaign and his pronounced loyalty. Vacancies in the Fifth Cavalry, caused by the defection of Southern officers, had been filled by men from the North, who were in full sympathy with the intense loyalty of the Northern people. Some of the old officers were natives of the South, and these, with others of Northern birth, were not slow to condemn abolitionists and militia organizations, or to express sympathy with the rebellion. One of this class so far forgot soldierly and patriotic duty as to express gladness at the defeat of General B. F. Butler's forces at Big Bethel, Virginia, and when told by a new officer that he was fighting on the wrong side, promptly challenged the offending comrade to a duel. To compose this quarrel, Colonel Thomas required the immediate withdrawal of the challenge, telling the officer who offered it that he had given utterance to "improper and unsoldierly sentiments." General Anderson had served with Thomas in the artillery, and regarding him as "one of the very best officers in the army," at once wrote his name in his list, and went to the President to request his promotion and assignment to service in Kentucky.
It is probable that the first recommendation of Thomas for
as brigadier-general of volunteers was made by the Hon. Samuel J.
late Speaker of the House of Representatives, who served as a private
under him in Virginia. His letter to the Assistant Secretary of War
a clear discernment of the character of Thomas and a full appreciation
of his ability as a commander. As Mr. Randall anticipated the judgment
Page 37 - APPOINTMENT URGED BY MR. RANDALL,
than two hundred thousand men, who served under General Thomas, his letter is subjoined:
SANDY HOOK, MD AUG. 3, 1861.
I hear you are the Assistant Secretary of War. Rest assured that no man delights more in your high position than I do. I notice that the Government is now considering the appointment of proper persons to be brigadier generals. In the name of God, let them be men fully competent to discharge the duties of the positions to which they may be assigned. Inefficiency is the evil of the hour. This opinion is based upon our observation of nearly three months. Most of the time, in fact nearly all of the time, we have been under the command of Colonel George H. Thomas, now commanding one of the brigades here. He is thoroughly competent to be a brigadier general, has the confidence of every man in his command for the reason that they recognize and appreciate capacity which to them in every hour of the day is so essential to their safety. Now, let me as a friend of this Administration, in so far as the war is concerned and the preservation of the Union is involved, urge upon Gen. Cameron to select Colonel Thomas as one of the number of proposed brigadiers. This appointment would give renewed vigor and courage to this section of the army. I am, as perhaps you know, a private in the First City Cavalry of Philadelphia, and I never saw Colonel Thomas until I saw him on parade, and our intercourse has only been such as exists between a colonel and one of his soldiers: hence you see my recommendation comes from pure motives, and entirely free from social or political considerations. I speak for and write in behalf of the brave men who, in this hour of our country's peril, are coming forward and endangering their own lives, and perhaps leaving those most dear to them without a support. I write warmly, because I think I know the necessity of the case. You will do the country a service by giving my letter a serious consideration. I hope to be in Washington some time about the 1st of September, when I shall try to see you. Will you please present my regards to General Cameron, and if he has time to read this letter, hand it to him.
SAMUEL J. RANDALL.
The most important fact mentioned in this letter is that General
in a short campaign, elicited the confidence of his. soldiers through
appreciation of his capacity. There was to his troops, from first to
Page 38 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
revelation of prudence and power that extreme confidence was inevitable. His orders were therefore always obeyed by officers and soldiers without question, because they never doubted the practicability of any requirement. This power to call forth universal confidence in his generalship was one of the causes of his uniform success, and will have frequent illustrations in subsequent pages. Mr. Randall thus early indicated the filial feeling of his soldiers towards him a feeling which found expression from the Army of the Cumberland, through the favorite appellation, "Pap Thomas".
Colonel Thomas having been appointed a brigadier general of volunteers at the time mentioned, Lieutenant Anderson bore from Washington to him a copy of the letter of appointment and a personal letter from General Anderson.
It has been asserted by Virginians, since the death of General
that this promotion defeated his appointment as chief of ordnance, with
the rank of colonel, in the State forces of Virginia. If Governor
Letcher and his old friends, in that State had at this time any
of his accepting such a position they were indulging in a delusion,
was forbidden by reasonable presumption as well as by facts. He had in
April disregarded the invitation of the convention and Governor of
to all Virginians in the United States Army, to come to the defense of
the State. He had accepted promotion in the Second Cavalry, in room of
Robert E. Lee, and Albert Sidney Johnston, having previously taken
to refit the regiment for active service, after it had been despoiled
arms and equipments by the authorities of Texas. He had
invaded his native State, an act demonstrative of his loyalty to the
Government, and destructive of all prospect of position or fair fame in
Virginia. And yet it has been seriously affirmed that the long
Governor of Virginia, was holding a position for him until the 17th of
August, despite his unpardonable sin. At that date, it is
Page 39 - BRIGADIER-GENERAL OF VOLUNTEERS.
reasonable to suppose, Governor Letcher was thinking of a halter, rather than a commission, for Thomas, and it is utterly false, as asserted, that the latter, whose life was unstained by a single act of deception and unmarred by an equivocal attitude, was moved to irrevocable loyalty by his appointment as brigadier-general of volunteers.
As there was a wide chasm between Thomas and disloyal Virginians, it is not strange that his motives and actions were misunderstood in his native State. But, in retrospect, it is strange that the National authorities distrusted him in 1861, or later in the war. It is evident, however, that Mr. Lincoln reluctantly made him a brigadier-general. General Sherman thus mentions this reluctance in his "Memoirs": "It hardly seems probable that Mr. Lincoln should have come to Willard's Hotel to meet us, but my impression is that he did, and that General Anderson had some difficulty in prevailing on him to appoint George H. Thomas, a native of Virginia, to be brigadier-general, because so many Southern officers had already played false; but I was still more emphatic in my endorsement of him by reason of my talk with him at the time he crossed the Potomac with Patterson's army, when Mr. Lincoln promised to appoint him and to assign him to duty with General Anderson.*
The assignment was made by the following order:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, August 26th,
The following assignment is made of the general officers of the Volunteer Service, whose appointment was announced in General Orders No. 62, from the War Department:
To the Department of the Cumberland, Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, commanding:
Brigadier-General W. T. Sherman.
Brigadier-General George H. Thomas.
By command of Lieutenant-General SCOTT.
E. D. TOWNSEND,Assistant Adjutant-General.
* Memoirs, Vol. I, pp. 192, 193.
Page 40 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
THOMAS ASSIGNED TO COMMAND IN CAMP DICK ROBINSON, KY.- MAKES PREPARATIONS FOR AN ADVANCE INTO EAST TENNESSEE - REFUSES TO SERVE UNDER GENERAL 0. M. MITCHEL - REBUKES EX-GOVERNOR ANDREW JOHNSON - DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT THE ENEMY WILL ADVANCE FROM BOWLING GREEN - GAINS A VICTORY AT MILL SPRINGS - PRACTICABILITY AND ADVANTAGES OF HIS PROJECTED MOVEMENT INTO EAST TENNESSEE.
ON the 26th of August, 1861, Brigadier-General Thomas was relieved from duty under Major-General N. P. Banks, who had succeeded General Patterson, and ordered to report to General Robert Anderson, at Louisville, Kentucky. In compliance he reported on the 6th of September, and on the 12th was assigned to the command of the troops at Camp Dick Robinson, in room of Lieutenant William Nelson, U. S. Navy.
When this newly appointed brigadier entered upon his career as a general, the people of the country were hardly cognizant of the fact. It was not generally known at the time that he and General Sherman had been sent to Louisville at the special solicitation of General Anderson, who had accepted what he considered a very delicate and difficult service in his native State. In the light of the subsequent service of Sherman and Thomas, the action of Anderson in connecting them with the intricate problems of the central line of invasion, through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, was one of the most important features of his short administration as a Department Commander.
While en route from Louisville to his post General Thomas was
to personal danger from the secessionists of that region, who had been
exasperated by the
Page 41 - PREPARATIONS FOR ADVANCE
failure of their friends to withdraw Kentucky from the Union, and by the developed purpose of the National Government to establish military posts and camps in the State and conduct military operations within its limits, without regard to the sentiments of the people. Fortunately he eluded his enemies on the way, and assumed command at Camp Dick Robinson on the l5th of September. He found about six thousand partially organized troops, that had been collected together by Nelson, against the protest of both loyal and disloyal Kentuckians.
From the time of his first anticipation of service in Kentucky,
had studied plans of operations, and had soon decided that the first
in their execution should be the invasion of East Tennessee through
Gap. He was so impressed with the importance of this line of invasion,
from military considerations alone, before he left Washington, that he
urged General Scott to authorize an offensive movement on that line. He
was the more eager to conduct an expedition into East Tennessee when he
saw in his camp loyal soldiers from that region, who had fled from the
tyranny there reigning, and knew that a large part of the citizens of
section were as loyal as his Tennessee soldiers. He announced two
for his projected movement to seize and hold the only railroad that
the northern parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and all of
with the capital of the Confederacy, and relieve from oppression the
of East Tennessee. These objects turned his face towards Cumberland Gap
at the beginning of his service in Kentucky. But from the first he met
insurmountable difficulties. His position connected him with local
and military affairs. Equipments for his troops were long withheld, and
when reenforcements were sent to him in response to his oft-repeated
calls, new regiments were sent, without complete equipments or
Another embarrassment was the impatience of the East Tennesseeans in
Page 42 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
who were annoyingly clamorous for an advance to their homes. Notwithstanding all his efforts he could not organize such an expedition as promised success. He had men, but was destitute of almost everything else that pertains to the organization of efficient regiments and brigades. He announced a brigade organization as soon as he had mustered and nominally organized a few regiments. This brigade was the first organized in Kentucky, and it was historically meet that the general who organized the brigade which became the nucleus of a grand army should, at the end of the war muster out from that army nearly two hundred thousand men.
While active in preparing for the projected advance into East
he received a letter from Brigadier-General O. M. Mitchel, commanding
Department of the Ohio, stating that he had received an order from the
Secretary of War, directing him to repair to Camp Dick Robinson and
the troops for a forward movement, first to Cumberland Gap, and
into East Tennessee. At this General Thomas was surprised and
Had he been averse, this early in the war, to the responsibility of
troops in a bold invasion of the enemy's territory, he would have
turned over his command to General Mitchel, and as cheerfully served
him. But he perceived that he was to be superseded by a general who,
he was his senior by a few days, had no relation to the projected
He had first suggested the invasion of East Tennessee, and had done all
that had been possible to prepare for it, and he regarded the order of
the Secretary of War, relieving him from command, as evidence that it
believed at Washington that he had been needlessly tardy in executing
own plan, or as proof that for some unrevealed reason it was desirable
to put another general in his place, before it had been possible for
to prepare for so important an enterprise. He claimed that he had
a right under the circumstances
Page 43 - REFUSES TO SERVE UNDER MITCHEL.
to a fair trial, before removal, no matter what might be the feelings of the President and Secretary of War towards him. The reason of this action of the Secretary of War is not known to the writer, and he is not aware that it has ever been revealed. It certainly, however, evinced either distrust of Thomas as a general, or a want of confidence in his loyalty to the National Government. He therefore, as a protest against the indignity or suspicion, requested to be relieved from duty with the troops that had been under his command, objecting, under the circumstances, to a subordinate's position in connection with them. He was eager, even at this stage of the war, to hold an independent command. This fact so strongly evincing his self-confidence was not known to the country, and his subsequent quiet submission to service under a general of absolute inferiority of rank, made the impression that from excessive modesty or lack of confidence in himself he preferred a subordinate position. It will be shown in another connection that he subsequently made emphatic protest against service under a general of inferior rank, when he considered him self entitled to the command of a large army, and failing then, he thereafter submitted to an indignity repugnant to every self-reliant soldier and abhorrent to martial traditions.
In asking to be relieved from service under General Mitchel, Thomas placed his case on a higher plane than that of mere rank. With him it was a question of justice, in the determination of rightful command. The subjoined letters reveal his views and those of General Sherman in the premises :
HEADQ'RS CAMP DICK ROBINSON, Garrard County, Ky.,
BRIGADIER-GENERAL O. M. MITCHEL, Com'd'gDep't of the Ohio, Cincinnati, O.
GENERAL: Your communication of the l0th instant was received to-day at the hands of Governor Johnson. I have been doing all in my power to prepare the troops for a move on Cumberland Ford, and to seize the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and shall continue
Page 44 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
to do all I can to assist you until your arrival
but justice to myself requires that I ask to be relieved from duty with
these troops, since the Secretary of War thought it necessary to
me in command without, as I conceive, any just cause for so doing.
I am. General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant, GEO. H. THOMAS, Brig.-Gen'l U. S. V. Com'd'g.
HEADQ'RS CAMP DICK ROBINSON, Garrard County, Ky.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN, Com'd'g Dep't of the Cumberland, Louisville, Ky.:
GENERAL: I received an official communication to-day from Brigadier General O. M. Mitchel, informing me that he had been ordered by the Secretary of War to repair to this camp and prepare the troops for a forward movement, first to Cumberland Ford, and eventually to seize upon the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. As I have been doing all in my power to effect this very thing, to have the execution of it taken from me when nearly prepared to take the field, is extremely mortifying. I have therefore respectfully to ask to be relieved from duty with the troops on the arrival of General Mitchel.
I am, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant, GEO. H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General U. S. V. Com'd'g.
October 13, 1861.
GENERAL GEO. H. THOMAS, Com'd'g Camp Dick Robinson.
You are authorized to go on and prepare your command for active service. General Mitchel is subject to my orders, and I will, if possible, give you the opportunity to complete what you have begun. Of course I would do all I can to carry out your wishes, but feel that the affairs of Kentucky call for the united action of all engaged.
W. T. SHERMAN, Brig.-Gen. Com'd'g Dep't of the Cumberland.
The execution of the order of the Secretary of War might have ruined
the reputation of Thomas as a General, and deprived the country of one
of its ablest commanders. It would have produced distrust of his
or loyalty, and might have deprived him of an opportunity to reveal his
capacity as a General. The implied distrust of the authorities
Page 45 - ADVANCE OF THE ENEMY.
at Washington must have been exceedingly painful to as true and sensitive a man as Thomas. Having taken a loyal position in the National crisis with deliberation and "from a firm conviction of duty", he had a right to expect just, if not generous, treatment from the President and Secretary of War. A man less pure and strong might have I swerved from his loyalty under such provocation.
If the order for his removal from command was based upon the fact that he had not advanced far towards East Tennessee, the patience of the National authorities was to be still further tried. The barriers to an advance were multiplied quite as rapidly as preparations for it were made. The enemy discerned the probability of such a movement, and for the double purpose of defeating it and supporting the cause of the Confederacy in Kentucky, put columns of troops in motion towards Central Kentucky from Cumberland Ford, Barboursville and Tompkinsville. As these movements were developed, General Thomas became more urgent for reenforcements and munitions. The very fact that the enemy had counter plans intensified in his view the importance of the movement which he had projected. To the enemy, the value of the railroad from Tennessee to Virginia was greatly enhanced by the necessity of transporting supplies from Tennessee to Richmond. He therefore made a show of aggression on Thomas's line of advance to prevent offense on his part. This appearance of offense on the part of the enemy, discouraged the loyal Tennessee troops, and caused the loyal Kentuckians to be as clamorous for defensive measures as the other class had been for an advance into East Tennessee. In the midst of these embarrassments, General Thomas' plans assumed greater breadth. As soon as practicable, he threw some of his best troops forward to Rock Castle Hills, and sent others in support as fast as possible.
The enemy's first advances were evidently tentative, as columns from
different directions would present themselves
Page 46 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
and then withdraw. But it was soon apparent that the force before Colonel Garrard's Third Kentucky infantry, at Rock Castle Hills, under General Zollicoffer, had a more serious purpose than mere menace, and General Thomas sent Brigadier-General Schoepf, with Coburn's, Woolford's and Steedman's regiments and Standart's battery to Garrard's support. These troops reached Rock Castle Hills in time to participate in the repulse of the enemy, October 20th.
The retreat of the enemy again opened the way for an advance, and General Thomas threw forward Schoepf's command to London and asked for reenforcements, munitions and transportation. He also suggested that a cooperative force should move up the Big Sandy River, while he himself should advance by Barboursville to East Tennessee, seize the railroad and then turn upon Zollicoffer and capture him. But eager as he was to move forward he was not willing to take so great a risk without an adequate force. He waited here, though spurred by his own desire, as he often afterwards delayed, when urged by his superiors, until he could perceive the conditions of success. He thus made a reputation for slowness, but avoided the failures that ill-conditioned movements generally entailed. While waiting for adequate resources, the loyal Tennesaeeans became very impatient and almost openly mutinous. Andrew Johnson, ex-Governor of Tennessee, addressed a letter of complaint to Thomas, the purport of which is revealed by the following communications :
HEADQUARTERS CRAB ORCHARD, November 7th, 1861
GOVERNOR ANDREW JOHNSON, London, Ky.
Your favor of the 6th instant is at hand. I have done all in my power to get troops and transportation and means to advance into East Tennessee. I believe General Sherman has done the same. Up to this time we have been unsuccessful. Have you heard by what authority the troops from London were to fall back? Because I have
Page 47 - LETTER TO ANDREW JOHNSON.
not and shall not move any of them back, unless
because if am not interfered with I can have them subsisted there as
as here. I am inclined to think the rumor has grown out of the feverish
excitement, which seems to exist in the minds of some of the regiments,
that no further advance is contemplated. I can only say that I am doing
the best I can. Our commanding general is doing the same, and using all
his influence to equip a force for the rescue of East Tennessee. If the
Tennesseeans are not content and must go, then the risk of disaster
remain with them. Some of our troops are not yet clothed, and it seems
impossible to get clothing.
For information respecting the organization of regiments I send you General Orders No. 90, War Department. If the gentlemen you name can raise regiments agreeably to the conditions and instructions contained in said order, the Government will accept them, and I hope will have arms to place in their hands in the course of two or three months.
In conclusion I will add that I am here ready to obey orders, and earnestly hope that the troops at London will see the necessity of doing the same.
Your Obedient Servant, GEORGE H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General,U. S. V.
HEADQUARTERS CRAB ORCHARD, November 7th, 1861.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL SCHOEPF, Com'd'g Camp Calvert, London, Ky.
I find it necessary to reply to Governor Johnson's letter in the foregoing, which I send to you for your information. It is time that discontented persons should be silent, both in and out of the service. I sympathize most deeply with the East Tennesseeans on account of their natural anxiety to relieve their friends and families from the terrible apprehension which they are now suffering. But to make the attempt to rescue them when not half prepared is culpable, especially when our enemies are perhaps as anxious that we should make the move as the Tennesseeans themselves, for it is well known by our commanding general that Buckner has an overwhelming force within striking distance, whenever he can get us at a disadvantage. I hope you will therefore see the necessity of dealing decidedly with
Page 48 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
such people, and you have my authority and orders
doing so. We must learn to abide our time or we will never be
Your Obedient Servant, GEORGE H. THOMAS, Brigadier-General U. S. V.
These letters met the questions at issue fairly and with the decision of a man of nerve and power. He was himself intensely eager for the advance demanded by Governor Johnson and the East Tennessee troops, but he was not prepared for a successful expedition, and was himself a subordinate. If prepared he could not have moved without orders, and without adequate preparations he was unwilling to advance, even if liberty had been given to him. He sympathized with the impatient patriots, but military considerations were paramount. When it is considered that he wrote so decidedly to a man who had great political influence, there is no room to doubt his boldness in the face of threatening possibilities. Mr. Johnson may not have had a causative relation to this order from the Secretary of War, but he certainly had knowledge of it, since he bore General Mitchel's letter to General Thomas. When on his way to join the Tennessee soldiers, in Kentucky, General Thomas was bold to say to this clamorous Governor, representing a congenial constituency, that he was unwilling to move without due preparation. And as he was unwilling to move on such a condition at the beginning of the war, so he continued reluctant to initiate operations, in absence of favorable circumstances to the end of the conflict. Few, if any, subordinate commanders were more averse to action when unprepared, or more quick and forceful when preparations were sufficient.
Governor Johnson's intimation that the troops in advance were to be
withdrawn proved to be correct. General Sherman became convinced that
enemy had an overwhelming force at Bowling Green, and could advance at
pleasure. And on November 5th he wrote to General Thomas to hold
in check and await events. Thomas doubtless
Page 49 - ORDERED TO WITHDRAW HIS TROOPS
alluded to this conviction in his letter to Governor Johnson, and by the assertion that he was ready to obey orders made provision for a consistent withdrawal of his troops from London, though such a step was against his own judgment. General Sherman had not in any other way intimated to him that a retrograde movement was meditated, and he hoped that it would not be required. But on the l1th he was ordered by General Sherman to withdraw his troops across the Kentucky River, as it was probable that Zollicoffer had twenty thousand men. The next day Sherman announced that he was convinced that General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was then in command of the Confederate forces in Kentucky and Tennessee, intended to advance with an army of about forty-five thousand men between General Thomas at Crab Orchard and General A. McD. McCook at Nolensville, on the Louisville and Nashville railroad, with Louisville and Cincinnati as his objectives; and he directed Thomas to hold himself in readiness to withdraw to a point back of Danville, with the greater part of his troops, leaving the remainder at Rock Castle Hills. General Thomas in reply expressed his want of faith in General Johnston's aggressive purpose, since his own information indicated that the enemy in his front was withdrawing, and no such movement had been discerned by his scouts.
The withdrawal of Thomas' forces caused great suffering and loss of men and material. Sickness was prevalent and the march was a hurried one. As it was not generally known at the time who was responsible for the movement, censure was heaped upon him. Correspondents and critics depicted the sufferings of the men, and the loss of material, and discerning no compensative results, attempted to balance accounts with abuse of Thomas. Under this abuse and misrepresentation he was silent, waiting as at other times for "time and history to do him justice."
This was the situation when General D. C. Buell assumed.
Page 50 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
command of the department on the 15th of November. Five days later the new commander ordered General Thomas to move his command to Columbia, and subsequently directly to Lebanon. At this time General Johnston had fifteen thousand men at Bowling Green, and conjecture had magnified his force threefold. General Buell lost no time in concentrating his troops at first for defense, and subsequently for aggression. He did not approve of an advance into East Tennessee, but proposed for himself a movement upon Nashville, whenever his strength should warrant such a step. Preparations for this movement upon Nashville virtually defeated the East Tennessee expedition, although efforts were subsequently made to set it on foot.
The withdrawal of the greater part of Thomas' command changed for
worse the situation in Eastern Kentucky, besides neutralizing the
expedition into East Tennessee. General Zollicoffer was swift to accept
the invitation for renewed aggression, given by the withdrawal of the
from London, and Crab Orchard, and advanced against Somerset. In less
a week after he left Danville, General Thomas was informed by
Carter, U. S. N., commanding a brigade of East Tennessee troops that
been permitted by General Buell to remain at London, that the enemy was
advancing in heavy force against Somerset, then held by a single
Carter also stated that he could not leave his post to render
Thereupon General Thomas ordered Schoepf's brigade from Lebanon, and
cavalry from Columbia, to Somerset. He subsequently ordered regiments
the rear to the same place, but his orders were countermanded by
Buell, who also forbade him to send other reenforcements without his
As he entertained a different view of the situation at Somerset, and
intent upon advancing in another direction, he declared that Schoepf's
force was sufficient. Soon after the enemy crossed the Cumberland
Page 51 - HE ADVANCES TOWARDS SOMERSET,
then General Thomas asked permission to go to Lebanon with reenforcements, but General Buell refused with the remark that he would not be "diverted more than was necessary from more important matters by the annoying affairs at Somerset." Thomas was thus not only thwarted in the invasion of East Tennessee, but was also restrained from reenforcing his subordinate at Somerset.
He was now in command of the First division of the Army of the Ohio--the new designation of General Buell's forces. This division* comprised sixteen regiments of infantry, a regiment and a squadron of cavalry, and three batteries of artillery, and was consequently a little army in itself; but its component parts were widely scattered, and its commander for some time was forbidden to unite them.
When, however, General Buell learned that the enemy was fortifying on the north bank of the Cumberland River, near Somerset, he directed Thomas, December 29th, to move to the vicinity of Zollicoffer's position, communicate with General Schoepf, and organize a combined attack by Schoepf in front, and Thomas himself on the enemy's left flank. These instructions prescribed a plan of battle, in outline at least; but this plan, made from distant view and on conjectural grounds, did not provide for the actual conditions.
General Thomas began his march December 31st and after eighteen days
of necessarily slow movement, in almost constant rain and over almost
roads, reached Logan's Cross Roads, ten miles distant from the enemy's
position. His orders required a conjunction with Schoepf before he
attack the enemy. He therefore halted his command, disposed his
regiments on two adjacent roads, one leading directly to the enemy's
and the other running thither from Somerset. He placed
* For details of organization see Hist. Army of the Cumberland, Vol.
I, page 51
Page 52 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
detachments of cavalry and infantry far to the front to guard against a surprise. The problem of uniting two columns in the face of a concentrated enemy then demanded solution. Having selected the proper place, from the direction of the roads, for the conjunction of his forces, either for an advance against the enemy or for defense in the event of an attack by him, he communicated with General Schoepf and directed him to send three regiments to his position before the enemy. These dispositions made it possible for him to win a victory the next day in a battle opened by the foe. These dispositions were judicious in their relation to his own contemplated attack, and equally so for the defensive action that was forced upon him. The great general is he who can make provision for all possibilities, and this Thomas did throughout the war, whenever he was free to act upon his own judgment.
The commanders of the Confederate army, Generals George B.
and Zollicoffer, were aware of the approach of General Thomas, and left
their entrenchments at Beech Grove, in hope of crushing him before he
obtain support from Somerset, or be able to concentrate his forces
from Lebanon. The enemy moved from his fortifications so early in the
of January 19th, that he marched the intervening ten miles, and
Thomas' cavalry pickets at 5.30 A. M. But there was no surprise. The
retired slowly, and then the two foremost regiments held the enemy in
until General Thomas was in person on his line of battle, where he
other regiments as they arrived. When he had eight regiments and two
on hand, he pressed the enemy in a brilliant charge, and drove him in
to his intrenchments. As the pursuit began, Colonel Steedman and
Harlan from the rear, with their regiments, the Fourteenth Ohio and
Kentucky, and Schoepf, with his brigade, reached the field.
were made to attack the enemy in his entrenchments on the 20th; but
the night he crossed the river and escaped.
Page 53 - MILL SPRINGS.
In this first successful western battle, fought upon a plan
under the emergency of an attack by superior forces, every movement
first to last was a harmonious part of an action which was fought under
circumstances that would have brought defeat had they not been clearly
perceived and provided for by General Thomas. Seeing that his four
regiments were not safe without support which could be obtained from
before his rear forces could arrive, he gave such orders to Schoepf as
brought three regiments under Carter to the left of the line of battle,
formed by the two foremost regiments, the Tenth Indiana and Fourth
at the moment the enemy was moving to outflank and turn the left of the
line. Two other regiments were at hand -- the Second Minnesota and
Ohio -- to take the place of the Fourth Kentucky and Tenth Indiana, at
the moment of the exhaustion of their ammunition; and the decisive
fully supported, was made at the first moment that success was
And by this charge the battle was won. There was no slowness on the
of Thomas in his first battle, since with unsurpassed quickness he
for every contingency, and by one blow which was made possible by
dispositions, gained a brilliant victory. And he did this while
his soldiers by his own presence on the line of battle and by his
exposure to a common danger. His conduct of this battle was a
of deliberate strategy and tactical dispositions, with the quick
that comes to great generals in trying emergencies. If measured by the
number of troops engaged -- on one side only eight regiments* -- it was
not a great battle; but if estimated by its harmonies and its unity of
force, it was indeed a great action. And on the part of the commander,
there was no balancing of forces for attack and
* Fourth Kentucky, Tenth Indiana, Second Minnesota, Ninth Ohio,
and Second East Tennessee, Twelfth Kentucky, and Kinney's Battery.
Page 54 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
reserve, for all were for attack, and support came when support was needed. Raw troops were inspired to resist and charge with the steadiness of veterans. The final charge, indeed, evinced the spirit of soldiers made bold by frequency of victory, rather than the usual timidity of untried recruits. The enemy was outflanked by an unsupported line of battle, and routed by inferior forces. Beyond its conduct and forceful operations, the battle should be measured by its moral effect and its agency in deranging the enemy's defensive plans. Hitherto the National forces had not gained an important victory in the West, although large armies had been concentrated. Owing to an exaggerated estimate of the enemy's strength in Kentucky, there had been no aggression of importance by the National troops. And this battle, which was only incidental, as far as the great plans and purposes of General Johnston and General Buell were concerned, was the only positive victory won in Kentucky during the war, although large armies subsequently marched and maneuvered in that State. The people of the West, whose patriotism had filled Kentucky with citizen soldiers, and whose hopes had been paralyzed by deferred success, were restored to faith in the triumph of the National cause by the victory at Logan's Cross Roads -- an action designated by the enemy as the "Battle of Fishing Creek," and by ourselves as "Mill Springs."
By this action the right of the enemy's defensive line was
broken, and about ten thousand men eliminated from the operations which
immediately followed. In the life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, by
his son, Prof. Wm. Preston Johnston, it is shown that General
crossed the river without orders, and in like manner the battle of Mill
Springs was fought. General Johnston had been concealing his weakness
months by every artifice possible; and had the forces on his right been
successful, it would not have enabled him to assume the offensive in
other direction. But the temporary disintegration of
Page 55 - COMPLIMENTARY ORDERS.
one-fourth of his entire force imperiled his defensive line, whose centre was at Bowling Green and left at Columbus, Kentucky.
General Buell issued the following order in relation to the action at Logan's Cross Roads:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO, Louisville,
January 23, 1862.
General Orders No. 40.
The General commanding has the gratification of announcing the achievement of an important victory on the 19th inst., at Mill Springs, by the troops under General Thomas, over the rebel forces, some twelve thousand strong, under Gen. Geo. B. Crittenden and Gen. Zollicoffer.
The defeat of the enemy was thorough and complete, and his loss in killed and wounded was great. Night alone, under cover of which his troops crossed the river from his intrenched camp and dispersed, prevented the capture of his entire force. Fourteen or more pieces of artillery, some fifteen hundred horses and mules, his entire camp equipage, with wagons, arms, ammunition, and other stores to a large amount, fell into our hands.
The General commanding has been charged by the general-in-chief to convey his thanks to General Thomas and his troops for their brilliant victory. No task could be more grateful to him, seconded as it is by his own cordial approbation of their conduct.
By command of Brig. Gen. Buell,
(Signed.) JAMES B. FRY, A.A.G. Chief of Staff.
The President of the United States also issued a complimentary order:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, Jan. 26, 1862.
The President, commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, has received information of a brilliant victory achieved by the United States forces over a large body of armed traitors and rebels at Mill Springs in the State of Kentucky.
He returns thanks to the gallant officers and soldiers who won that victory, and when official reports shall be received, the military skill and personal valor displayed in the battle will be acknowledged and rewarded in a fitting manner.
Page 56 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
The courage that encountered and vanquished the
superior numbers of the rebel force, pursued and attacked them in their
intrenchments, and paused not until the enemy was completely routed,
and receives commendation.
The purpose of this war is to attack and destroy a rebellious enemy and to deliver the country from the danger menaced by traitors. Alacrity, daring courageous spirit and patriotic zeal, on all occasions and under all circumstances, will be expected of the Army of the United States.
In the prompt and spirited movements and daring battle of Mill Springs, the Nation will realize its hopes, and the people of the United States will rejoice to honor every soldier and officer who proves his courage by charging with the bayonet and storming intrenchments, or in the blaze of the enemy's fire.
By order of the President.
EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War
On the 28th of January, the Legislature of Ohio passed a vote of thanks to General Thomas and his troops.
It is justly a matter of surprise that when the official reports of
the battle of Mill Springs were received at Washington, there was no
recognition of the services of General Thomas. The complimentary order
did not mention him as commander, and notwithstanding the President's
promise of fitting recognition and reward to those who displayed skill
and personal valor, it was never fulfilled in respect to the one of all
others who displayed these soldierly traits. General Thomas earned
in this battle; but he waited long for it. Other generals received high
rank before they fought battles. Some were promoted for comparatively
achievements. But for unexplained reasons, Thomas' case was made an
to a general rule which obtained at least during the earlier stages of
the war. Report and conjecture attributed the treatment of Thomas to
fact that he was a native of Virginia. The words attributed to the
"He is a Virginian, let him wait," was the accepted explanation at the
time. Had he then been appointed a major-general, he would have
Page 57 - HIS GENERALSHIP INWROUGHT.
taken rank above both Grant and Buell, and would have been entitled to an independent command early in the war. He deserved such a position, because he was then a general of the highest type, and perhaps as conscious of his power, when in person he aligned his troops at Mill Springs as when at Nashville he fought the most brilliant battle of the war. And the fact that he was a native of the South only enhanced his claim for recognition as a loyal general. His generalship was not evolved by costly mistakes. It was not battle-wrought in any sense. But it was inwrought in the man himself by the combination of all the qualities of a great captain, supplemented by twenty years of self-imposed professional study. And he who carefully analyzes his services, in his subordination to others and in his independence as an army commander, will regret that the President of the United States did not do as he promised in his complimentary order.
After the battle of Mill Springs, General Thomas was again hopeful that he would be permitted to lead a column into East Tennessee. General McClellan, commander-in-chief, supported by the President, instructed General Buell to give attention to such a movement. But the commander of the Army of the Ohio, being intent upon establishing cooperative relations with Major General Halleck, commanding in Missouri, made no effective efforts to send an army into East Tennessee. He did nothing but collect meagre supplies, and repair roads for a short distance eastward from Lebanon. And very soon the movement of General Grant against the enemy's forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers turned the Army of the Ohio towards Nashville.
It is evident that General Thomas was the only general of high
in Kentucky from September, 1861, to February, 1862, who clearly
the situation, and who was bold enough to insist on an advance against
the enemy when other generals were trembling on the defensive.
Page 58 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
As he was during that period intent on conducting an army of twenty thousand men into East Tennessee, it is pertinent to ask if his plan was practicable and supported by strong military considerations.
In the first place, it may be assumed that there were enough troops in Kentucky when General Sherman was relieved by General Buell, to maintain the defensive against the enemy at Bowling Green, and give Thomas twenty thousand men for his advance into East Tennessee. The return, giving to the adjutant general at Washington the number of troops in the Department of the Cumberland on the 10th day of November, five days before General Sherman gave place to General Buell, placed the aggregate at forty-nine thousand six hundred and seventeen men, present and absent. This aggregate included the Kentucky regiments in process of organization, but excluded a large force of home guards. At this time General Johnston had twelve thousand five hundred men at Bowling Green, and eight or ten regiments under General Zollicoffer on his right. Thereafter General Buell's army increased far more rapidly than General Johnston's. These facts prove the practicability of the movement into East Tennessee prior to the battle of Mill Springs. After that battle the way was open. General Johnston then despaired of being able to hold his defensive line should General Buell move against him. In fact, he had known from the first that unless reenforced, he would be compelled to fall back. On the 27th he wrote* to the Secretary of War at Richmond: "I suppose a change of the plan of operations has been made, and that the force intended for East Tennessee will now be combined with the force on this line, making an aggregate strength of probably more than 50,000 men to be arrayed against my forces here.
If the forces of the enemy are maneuvered, as I think they may be, I
may be compelled to retire from this place
* Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, page 382.
Page 59 - A.S. JOHNSTON'S FEARS
to cover Nashville with the aid of the volunteer force now being organized which in that way could be brought into cooperation." Again, on the 8th of December, he wrote: * "With the addition of Nelson's and Rosecrans' columns, their force on this immediate line I believe ought not to be estimated over 65,000 men. Our returns at this place show a force of between 18,000 and 19,000, of which about 5,000 are sick (about 3,600 at Nashville) and our effective force is under 13,000 men." And on December 25th he wrote: **
The position of General Zollicoffer on the Cumberland holds in check the meditated invasion and hoped-for revolt in East Tennessee, but I can neither order Zollicoffer to join me here, nor withdraw any more force from Columbus, without imperiling our communications with Richmond, or endangering Tennessee and the Mississippi Valley. This I have resolved not to do, but have chosen, on the contrary, to post my inadequate force in such manner as to hold the enemy in check, guard the frontier, and hold the Barren until winter terminates the campaign, or if any fault in his movements is committed, or his line exposed where his force is developed, to attack him as opportunity offers.
After his right was broken, he wrote, January 22nd: ***
A successful movement of the enemy on my right would
with it all the consequences which could be expected by the enemy here,
if they could break through my defenses. If I had the force to prevent
a flank movement, they could be compelled to attack this position,
we doubt not, can make a successful defense.
If force cannot be spared from other army corps, the country must now be roused to make the greatest effort it will be called upon to make during the war. No matter what the sacrifice may be, it must be made and without loss of time. Our people do not comprehend the magnitude of the danger that threatens. Let it be impressed upon them.
* Life of Gen. A. S. Johnston, page 387.
** Ibid, page 388.
*** Ibid., page 426.
Page 60 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
These statements by the commanding general make it clear, that after Mill Springs, he had no forces to throw before a column marching into East Tennessee.
If there were sufficient National forces in Kentucky before and after the battle of Mill Springs for the detachment of twenty thousand men for the movement on Knoxville, were there other military considerations to have warranted it? It was the most direct route to the heart of the Southern Confederacy, and in the light of subsequent events, it is highly probable, if not certain, that it would have been the best line for the initial invasion of the South from Kentucky. The possession of the Tennessee and Virginia railroad, at Knoxville, or at any other point east of Cleveland, would not only have interrupted the communications of the forces in Tennessee and Kentucky with Richmond, but would have broken all the railroad connections of the Confederacy east and west, except by the railroad through Augusta, Georgia. Had, therefore, General Thomas' scheme been carried out, and had it been supplemented by a railroad from Kentucky to Knoxville, as President Lincoln recommended to Congress, there would have been established the shortest possible railroad line to Chattanooga and Atlanta, and Knoxville could have been made a permanent base for operations towards Chattanooga and Atlanta, or eastward into Virginia, or southeastward into North Carolina. This railroad would have penetrated a mountain region in East Tennessee filled with loyal citizens, and would have been for this and other reasons more easily guarded than any other line of supply for a Union army operating in the central States of the Confederacy.
The importance of General Thomas' plan may be inferred also from the
fear of the enemy that it would be attempted. A prominent Southern
Page 61 - WISDOM OF HIS PLAN.
the situation, after the defeat at Mill Springs:
The armies of the east and west are now connected by two lines of railroad; one, the East Tennessee and Western Virginia, passing through the mountain region of this State (Tennessee), and the other, the Weldon and Wilmington, running along the Atlantic coast. Both of these roads are, in a measure, somewhat exposed to the assault of the enemy, the former being about seventy, and the latter about forty miles from the advance of the Federal forces, on either extreme, in Southern Kentucky and Pamlico Sound. Military affairs are in a situation at present to especially indicate, if not invite, a trial of this scheme. * * * In the mean time strenuous efforts may be made to penetrate East Tennessee by way of Cumberland Gap to reach the great trunk railway at Knoxville or Greenville. * * * Despite the almost insurmountable difficulties of accomplishing such an expedition when every mountain pass should be made a Thermopylae, the late success of the army near Somerset may possibly attract his attention to its supposed practicability, while he still exults with exuberant ecstacy over his triumph. Indeed, we are already informed that General Buell has despatched large reenforcements to Thomas and Schoepf since the battle of the 19th, although their combined commands were known to be three times as large as that of Crittenden which had rallied at last accounts at Livingston, fifteen miles from the Kentucky state line. * * * We have to contend with the disagreeable fact that there is in East Tennessee, the field of this operation, a large disaffected, if not treasonable element, ready at all times to give aid and comfort to the armed legions of the enemy on their coming.
Thus there was in this plan of General Thomas, as in all subsequent
ones, the coincidence of extreme disadvantages to the enemy in
its execution. If it is a wise maxim in war to do what the enemy fears
may be done, the invasion of East Tennessee was desirable as well as
in November and December, 1861, and especially so in January and
Page 62 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Again, the importance of a firm hold of East Tennessee by the National forces, early in the war, may be inferred from their subsequent efforts to gain and hold that region, and by the plans of the enemy to regain it and utilize it for offensive operations. When General Bragg in 1862 formed his plan to wrest Kentucky from the Union and establish his lines on the Ohio River, one of his four columns moved from Knoxville, turned Cumberland Gap, gained a victory at Richmond, Kentucky, and menaced Cincinnati from the hills south of Covington. When General Bragg declined to meet General Buell in battle after the engagement near Perryville, he retreated with his army to Knoxville. Nearly a year later this general withdrew Buckner's forces from Knoxville to concentrate an army to crush General Rosecrans, and thus gave the place to General Burnside; but when that plan had failed, he invited defeat at Chattanooga by detaching Longstreet's corps to wrest Knoxville from Burnside. During the winter following, when General Jos. E. Johnston was meditating a movement to the north from Dalton, Georgia, Confederate forces were maneuvering and fighting in East Tennessee to open the way for his army. And at last, when the Confederacy was in a desperate strait, General Beauregard recommended that a vast army should be concentrated, to be hurled from Knoxville upon Kentucky and the Northern States. A place so important to the enemy during the war was certainly important to the National armies at its beginning.
The importance of the Knoxville line of aggression to the National
may also be inferred from the results of offensive operations on
line, which at first were so imposing. Forts Henry and Donelson,
and Corinth, Middle and Nouthern Tennessee and Sorthern Mississippi,
and Georgia, were gained; but all the more important points, except
fell back to the enemy, to be re-gained at the cost of the battles of
Corinth, Perryville, and Stone River.
THOMAS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE "RIGHT WING" BEFORE CORINTH - ASKS TO BE RELIEVED, AND RE-ASSIGNED TO THE ARMY OF THE OHIO - DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF ADVANCING RAPIDLY FROM CORINTH TOWARDS CHATTANOOGA - THOMAS COMMANDS AT MCMINNVILLE - BELIEVES THAT GENERAL BRAGG WILL INVADE KENTUCKY - RECOMMENDS THAT HE BE RESISTED, FIRST FROM MCMINNVILLE, AND THEN FROM MURFREESBORO - THE ARMY OF THE OHIO MOVES BACK TO LOUISVILLE - THOMAS APPOINTED TO COMMAND IN ROOM OF GENERAL BUELL, DECLINES, AND BUELL IS RESTORED - NAMED AS SECOND IN COMMAND - THE ARMY ADVANCES AGAINST THE ENEMY - BATTLE OF PERRYVILLE - GENERAL BUELL AGAIN RELIEVED.
In the movement of the Army of the Ohio from Nashville to Savannah, Tennessee, General Thomas with his division was in the rear, and consequently did not participate in the battle of Shiloh.
After that battle, General H. W. Halleck united the three armies of
his department and the detached forces on the field before Pittsburgh
and partially re-organized them before advancing against the enemy at
Mississippi. In the main he preserved the identity of his armies; but
changes tended to complexity rather than unity in the relations of his
immense forces as a whole. Under the semblance of a general army
he divided his forces into five parts, designated, "Right Wing,"
" Left Wing," " Reserves," and "Cavalry," each comprising two or more
General Grant was relieved from the command of the Army of the
and announced as second in command. The "Right Wing," comprising four
of the Army of the Tennessee and the First division of the Army of the
Ohio, was given to General
Page 64 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Thomas; the "Centre," including four divisions of the latter army, to General Buell; the "Left Wing," or Army of the Mississippi, with additional divisions, to General Pope; the "Reserves" to General McClernand, and the "Cavalry" to General Gordon Granger. General Thomas had been appointed a major general of volunteers April 25th at the solicitation of General Halleck, who had urged his promotion, that he might assign him to the command of his "Right Wing." His division commanders were Major General W. T. Sherman, Brigadier Generals Hurlbut, T.W. Sherman, Davies, and McKean.
The advance of General Halleck's immense army towards Corinth was very slow, and the plan of movement gave no opportunity to Thomas or any other commander to display ability in handling a large force. The commanding general studiously avoided a general engagement by advancing cautiously by parallels. There was heavy skirmishing from day to day, and occasional reconnoissances in force with resultant combats of trifling importance. Each forward step was marked by an additional line of entrenchments. Prior to the battle of Shiloh, there were no defenses before the isolated camps of the Army of the Tennessee; but now in striking contrast, the united armies passed each night behind entrenchments all the way to Corinth.
The enemy, being too weak to accept battle or siege at Corinth, retreated without serious loss in men, munitions or supplies.
At Corinth General Thomas requested General Halleck to relieve him
the command of the "Right Wing," or Army of the Tennessee, and transfer
him with his old division to the Army of the Ohio in order that General
Grant might be restored to his former position. He did this because he
had learned that General Grant had been deeply hurt by his removal from
the leadership of that army. In this case, as in many others during the
civil war, he decided against his own interests, from regard for
Page 65 - CORINTH.
justice. He was the junior in rank of General Grant, General Buell and General Pope, and in consequence of rank and former relations to the Army of the Tennessee, he considered General Grant's claim to its command superior to his own.
In consequence of this singular request General Thomas descended from the command of an army of five divisions and resumed his former position under General Buell in command of one. This was a long step downward for a general who was anxious to hold a large independent command, but on the score of rank it was legitimate, and as corps organizations had not then been instituted in our armies, there was no place for a general between an army and a division. It is true, however, that military history seldom records such an act of self-renunciation and generosity, and if General Thomas had not made himself prominent in history by great achievements, he still would have deserved a high place for virtues which rarely dominate the ambition and jealousies of men devoted to war and the attainment of personal glory.
On June 5th, General Thomas, by General Halleck's order, was placed in command of Corinth and vicinity. He was relieved from the command of the "Right Wing," on the l0th, and on the 22nd was re-transferred to the Army of the Ohio.
Soon after Corinth was gained, the three armies which had been combined for a short campaign were separated, and were severally given distinct fields and aims. In the projected operations, General Buell was ordered to move his army eastward from Corinth, to gain, if possible, Chattanooga, East Tennessee, and Northern Georgia. This movement, in a circuitous way, was a return to what General Thomas had made effort to accomplish the year before. There was, however, in the second plan, an inversion of the objections which he had suggested and a multiplication of obstacles.
Page 66 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The advance from Kentucky to Knoxville, or some other point in East Tennessee, from Central Kentucky, would have been direct from a reliable base; that from Corinth to Chattanooga gave great exposure to communications with Eastport, and necessitated the detachment of strong forces to defend even those with Nashville. On the line through Kentucky to East Tennessee, the forces in advance would have covered the communications in a measure, and all reserves might have been posted on the line of supply, but on the line in Alabama and Tennessee, heavy detachments from the field forces were necessary, even after the railroads had been put in running order.
At the inception of the movement towards Chattanooga General Buell,
in compliance with orders from General Halleck, gave attention to the
of the railroad eastward from Eastport, but this project was soon
as impracticable. Thereafter all available means were directed to the
of the two railroads leading from Nashville to the Tennessee River and
connecting at Stevenson, Alabama. But the repair of these roads
General Buell's eastward advance, and greatly diminished the strength
the forces moving towards Chattanooga. This slow movement and reduced
were fatal to success. Had a quick advance to Chattanooga been
immediately after the withdrawal of the enemy from Corinth, that
strategic point might have been gained. But two months gave opportunity
to the enemy to concentrate a large army there, another in front of
Grant in Mississippi, and two columns in East Tennessee. After repeated
defeats in the West, he had thus gathered troops at four points with
purpose of uniting all of them in Kentucky to drive all the National
across the Ohio River. General Bragg had succeeded General Beauregard
general command in the West and the new commander hoped that he could
all the territory which had been lost in Mississippi, Alabama,
and Kentucky, and establish a defensive line, if not an offensive one,
on the Ohio river.
Page 67 - FROM CORINTH TO CHATTANOOGA
Early in June General Wood's and General Nelson's divisions were sent eastward from Mississippi to repair the Memphis and Charleston railroad. General O. M. Mitchel's division was already on that road, having moved south from Nashville early in the Spring. On the 11th of June General McCook's division moved eastward from Corinth and General Crittenden's from Boonesville. These two divisions passed the others on the road and took position at Battle Creek far towards Chattanooga, early in July. As fast as the repair of roads, the accumulation of supplies and other circumstances permitted, other forces moved eastward. General Thomas was left in the rear with his division to guard against the contingency of attacks by the enemy from the west and south-west, until a concentration towards Chattanooga was practicable and imperative. He was then ordered from Tuscumbia to Decherd and soon afterwards to McMinnville. He arrived at the former place August 5th and at the latter on the 19th. He was sent to McMinnville by General Buell to command all the troops that were to operate from that place, either to continue the offensive or to resist the enemy in the event of aggression on his part. By this time there were rumors and indications that General Bragg would advance from Chattanooga, although his objective and line of march had not been developed. If Nashville was his objective he could advance by Battle Creek and Stevenson, or across the mountains to McMinnville or Sparta. If his purpose was to invade Kentucky, he would cross into the Sequatchie Valley, while his presence there would indicate equally such a movement or an advance to Nashville by the more northern route. The fact that he could cover his designs in his first operations, gave General Bragg a decided advantage. On the supposition that he would advance to Nashville, General Buell was to provide against the movement by Stevenson or by
Page 68 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
McMinnville, and as the routes were somewhat widely separated, there was danger of his falling upon unsupported divisions or of having an open way to his objective.
On the day that General Thomas reached McMinnville, General Buell discussed the situation in a lengthy despatch : "The enemy crossed three hundred cavalry and three thousand infantry at Chattanooga, yesterday. This may be for the purpose of foraging in Sequatchie Valley, but we must be prepared for more than that. Hold your command in readiness to march at the shortest notice.* * * You should by means of spies and scouts keep yourself thoroughly informed of what is going on between you and Chattanooga. * * * I shall concentrate your division and McCook's at Tracy City or near there, and send Crittenden up the Sequatchie Valley to about the Anderson road. We must be prepared either to fight in detachments or concentrate rapidly, according to circumstances." On the 22nd, General Thomas telegraphed to General Buell: "I have believed for a day or two that the demonstration in this direction is intended to cover the advance of the enemy toward Kentucky. * * * The citizens here think that they will advance into Kentucky." General Buell replied the same day: "From General McCook's information this morning, it seems almost certain that Bragg is marching on McMinnville, his advance was on the top of Waldron's Ridge last night. McCown is said to be crossing at Kingston, and Withers at Harrison. Of course they will expect to unite. What sort of ground can we take by concentrating at McMinnville? How would it do to fight at Altamont? Is the ground such as to give us the advantage of our artillery?"
General Thomas replied the same day: "By all means concentrate here.
The enemy cannot reach Nashville by any other route across the
unless by Sparta. At Altamont, I am positively informed, that the enemy
would have an equal advantage with ourselves. Here we
Page 69 - URGES CONCENTRATION AT McMINNVILLE.
will have a most decided advantage, and by being here, should he march by Sparta, we can meet him either there or at Allen's Ford, across the Caney Fork. He is obliged to pass this place or Sparta to reach Nashville. . . . I cannot think that Bragg is coming here, either by the Hill or Thurman road." In immediate answer General Buell said: "I can hardly think the enemy will attempt to march across to McMinnville - at least, not immediately. It appears to me that he will rather endeavor to get into North Alabama, and perhaps strike across to Decherd. If we advance to Altamont, we may thwart him in both and preserve our communication with Decherd and Nashville. What think you?" General Thomas said in reply also on the 22nd: "We can get neither forage nor water at Altamont. It will be as difficult for us to march across the mountains to Sequatchie Valley as for the enemy to come either to Altamont or this place. I would not advise concentrating here except for battle or for an advance into East Tennessee. I think our connexion with Nashville will be better preserved by holding Decherd with a division to enable us to concentrate either there, if threatened, or at this place. I have also learned that Tupelo, Mississippi, has been abandoned, and most of the enemy at that place have been sent to Chattanooga. I therefore do not apprehend any attempt to seize North Alabama."
The next day General Buell said:
"There is no possibility of our concentrating at
We must concentrate in advance and assume the offensive or fall back,
least, to Murfreesboro. I deem the former the surest, and we will act
I wish you, therefore, to move by a forced march to Altamont, there to
form a junction with McCook and Crittenden and Schoepf.* ...There must
be no delay or failure. The enemy's advance was at the top of Waldron's
Ridge, ten miles from Chattanooga, night before last, and talked of
at McMinnville to morrow: that is hardly possible; but they must be met
at the earliest possible moment."
* General Schoepf was commanding General Thomas' division.
Page 70 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
A day later he telegraphed:
"In advancing to Altamont, take the Hickory Creek road, instead of the Thurman road. This will put you on a shorter line of retreat on Murfreesboro' by way of Manchester, and brings us nearer together. . . . In the event of any reverse which makes it necessary for the whole force to fall back, do so by Manchester and Beech Grove, making a stand to check the enemy whenever it can be done to advantage."
On the aqth [?], General Thomas' scouts returned with intelligence that the enemy would advance on McMinnville by two or three routes, and that forces were at Pikeville and in the Sequatchie Valley. He then reported to General Buell that he would move that afternoon in compliance with orders. It is evident, however, from the foregoing quotations, that he was exceedingly reluctant to move to Altamont, and the issue of that movement proved that his reluctance was well founded.
August 25th at 5 P.M. Thomas telegraphed to General Buell from Altamont:
"The enemy no nearer than Dunlap. It is reported
there is one brigade there and one at Pikeville. . . . Water scarce;
one spring here, and not forage enough in the neighborhood to last for
one day. The road up the mountain is almost impassable; General Wood
been from six o'clock until now, and has not succeeded in getting his
up the road. I deem it next to impossible to march a large army across
the mountains by Altamont on account of the scarcity of water and
and the extreme difficulty of passing over the road. I will therefore
to McMinnville, and await further orders. As I mentioned in one of my
I regard McMinnville as the most important point for occupation of any.
The occupation of McMinnville, Sparta and Murfreesboro will, in my
secure the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad."
Page 71 - ALTAMONT AND McMINNVILLE.
And thus without orders he abandoned a place to which he would not have advanced unless under positive orders issued after his own emphatic protest. In advance of trial, he depicted the exact condition of Altamont as a place for concentration.
The next day General Buell telegraphed: "Keep your position at McMinnville, but make nothing like a permanent establishment. Be always ready to move at a moment's notice. That Bragg is on this side of the river with a large force is beyond all question. It is hardly probable that it is merely for the purpose of demonstration, and we must be prepared to concentrate promptly. Of course the passage of so large a force across the mountains is difficult, but not as much so as you would suppose from the road you took. The Thurman road is very good, and the mountain quite easy of ascent. The descent on this side is easy enough by four roads, all diverging from Altamont; the first going by Beersheba to McMinnville, the second by Hickory Creek to McMinnville or towards Manchester, the third also to Manchester and to Decherd by Pelham, and the fourth by Cowan. The Beersheba road is excellent for a mountain road. The question is, how to meet an advance which may take either of these roads through Altamont. The best position we could take would be McMinnville, Altamont, and on the Thurman road, just this side of Sequatchie Valley. We should not only be able to concentrate against an advance on that road or the Sparta road, but also to threaten his flank if he should attempt to go into North Alabama by Battle Creek- a not improbable thing on many accounts. The difficulty of supplying ourselves on the mountains is, I think, the only objection to the disposition I mention."
On the 28th General Thomas said: "Troops at this place can watch the
direct Chattanooga road, the Dunlap, and the Harrison and Pikeville
and by the system of expresses to be established by Smith, I think I
Page 72 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
you intelligence of the enemy before he can cross Sequatchie
The divergent views of these generals had their foundation in a radical
disagreement as to General Bragg's plans and purposes. General Buell's
suggestions had reference to an advance of the enemy to Nashville
across the mountains or by Battle Creek and Stevenson; and General
rejecting as improbable an advance to Nashville by way of North
and believing that the invasion of Kentucky was to be the outcome of
operations, would have made provision against his advance from the
Valley in the direction of Kentucky, and the proposed concentration at
McMinnville would have provided also for the contingency of an advance
to Nashville from that valley. General Buell looked to the right, and
Thomas to the left, and the subsequent
movements of Bragg's army proved the better discernment of the latter.
General Bragg subsequently demonstrated towards McMinnville, but did this simply to cover his advance into Kentucky. He was most anxious to escape from the mountains without meeting his foe in battle, and for this reason adopted every possible maneuver and artifice to make the impression that he would advance upon McMinnville. And General Buell, acting upon the positive belief that Nashville was his objective, opened the way for him to pass from the Sequatchie Valley and move upon the shortest line to Kentucky.
On the 30th of August General Buell issued an elaborate order,
the movements of each division, to effect a concentration of his army
Murfreesboro. By this order he placed General Thomas in the rear with
and Wood's divisions, and directed him to keep a day's march between
forces and the enemy and not to risk a battle. On the 1st of September
he asked General Thomas: "Do any circumstances present themselves which
should make a change in our movements advisable?"
* General Nelson's division.
Page 73 - MURFREESBORO
Thomas answered: "I think, as the movement has commenced, that it had better be executed." On the day following he told General Buell that he had again heard that the enemy intended to march on McMinnville. He then advised the concentration at Murfreesboro, from which place the main force should be thrown against Bragg's army. He had said on the 30th of August: "If he (the enemy is moving on Murfreesboro by Sparta, I think the sooner we concentrate to meet him and drive him back, the better; and Murfreesboro seems to be the point from which we should operate." But in no way did he intimate that the purpose of concentrating to resist General Bragg's advance should be abandoned. He only, at the last, expressed a preference for Murfreesboro as a base for offense. Doubtless one strong reason for this preference was the expectation that reenforcements would be met at Murfreesboro. Two divisions were marching from Mississippi, and Rousseau's division formerly Mitchel's had moved to Nashville, on the line of the Nashville and Decatur railroad.
During the first three days of September all the divisions and
of the army were put in motion towards Murfreesboro, General Thomas
two divisions being in the rear, reaching Murfreesboro on the 5th. Here
General Thomas met an order from General Buell to proceed to Nashville
by rail; and the meaning of this order was the abandonment of the
plan of operations from Murfreesboro. In this General Buell had not
Thomas, but had decided on reaching that place, although he there met
Jeff. C. Davis' division, General R. B. Mitchell commanding (sent by
Grant), that he would withdraw his army to Nashville. It is evident
his persistence in recommending a concentration, to resist General
first from McMinnville and afterwards from Murfreesboro, that had
Thomas been in command
Page 74 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
of the army, he would have fought the enemy south or east of Murfreesboro. General Buell withdrew five divisions from McMinnville and contiguous points. He met one other at Murfreesboro. He could have drawn reenforcements from Nashville besides. General Bragg advanced from Chattanooga with five divisions of infantry, and General Buell could have met him in battle by advancing from Murfreesboro with seven divisions, at least.
September 7th, General Thomas was assigned to the command of three divisions and the post of Nashville. These divisions were his own, Negley's, and Paine's division, General John M. Palmer commanding, which arrived at Nashville on the 12th, from General Grant's army. General Buell had, in the meantime, ascertained that General Bragg had not followed him to Nashville, but having crossed the Cumberland River at Carthage, was moving into Kentucky. He therefore moved north from Nashville with six divisions - McCook's, Crittenden's, Ammen's, Wood's, Rousseau's and Mitchell's.
On the 13th General Thomas was ordered by General Buell to march on
the l5th, into Kentucky, with his own division and Palmer's, but in
of the fact that General Bragg might have detached a large force to
against Nashville, was permitted to leave Palmer's division at that
if he deemed it necessary. He started from Nashville on the 15th with
own division, and on the 20th joined the main army at Prewitt's Knob.
these changes indicated the need of his services where careful
was required or where fighting was expected. He was nearest the enemy
the march of the army to Murfreesboro, and when it became known that
Bragg had moved into Kentucky, went by order to the front. His transfer
from the rearguard to the vanguard usually indicated a like transfer of
emergencies, and in all his movements and operations, he was at least
rapid as circumstances demanded or orders required.
Page 75 - ASKS FOR BUELL'S RETENTION.
At Prewitt's Knob he was charged with the alignment of the foremost divisions in anticipation of battle, but General Bragg declined to fight, and diverging to the east from the direct road to Louisville, marched northward. In the march to Louisville from Prewitt's Knob, General Thomas was again in the rear of the army for its safety.
During General Buell's movement from Corinth towards Chattanooga, the President, through General Halleck, commander-in-chief, expressed dissatisfaction with his progress and after the army reached Louisville, this dissatisfaction eventuated in an order relieving General Buell from command of the army and appointing General Thomas as his successor. The command was actually turned over, but General Thomas requested that it should be restored to General Buell. In a despatch to Washington he said: "General Buell's preparations have been completed to move against the enemy, and I respectfully ask that he may be retained in command. My position is very embarrassing, not being as well informed as I should be as the commander of this army and on the assumption of such responsibility." Upon the receipt of this despatch the order relieving General Buell was revoked.
Perhaps no act of his life has been so misapprehended, as this
for the retention of General Buell in command of the army, when he had
been appointed his successor. The people of the country and even his
friends have attributed this act to his extreme modesty and distrust of
his own ability as a general. His despatch does not sustain these
especially as explained by himself. He did not positively decline the
He requested that Buell should be retained. But had this request been
he would have accepted the position, although the assumption of such
on the eve of battle was by no means inviting or in harmony with his
of justice to Buell or himself. He considered it unjust to General
to remove him at the culmination of
Page 76 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
his operations. His request was based primarily on the fact that Buell had completed his preparations to move against the enemy, and secondly on his own embarrassments in taking the responsibility of commanding an army on the eve of battle. In another connection it has been shown that his perception of the demands of justice, prompted him to protest against his own removal from command in September 1861. It is equally clear that for the same reason he protested against the removal of Buell. Knowing that his action had been attributed to modesty he once said: "I am not as modest as I have been represented to be. I did not request the retention of General Buell in command through modesty, but because his removal and my assignment were alike, unjust to him and to me. It was unjust to him to relieve him on the eve of battle, and unjust to myself, to impose upon me the command of the army at such a time." When responsible for the issue of a battle he desired to give shape to the antecedent operations. He was modest and he was eager for an independent command, but he was not so modest as to underate himself nor so eager for the command of an army, as to desire it, when involving injustice to another general. Had choice been offered to him between himself, as next in rank to General Buell, and an alien general, he would have accepted the command of the army without hesitation, on the ground, that he had claims superior to any general of his rank outside of the Army of the Cumberland, and that embarrassments to a stranger would be greater than to himself.
It should also be stated that while General Thomas desired an
command it was not pleasant to him to supersede another general. His
of enlarged command was to have his forces multiplied in his own hands,
and thus be promoted without the displacement and mortification of
commander. This certainly was a noble aspiration, one that harmonized
the transcendent excellence attributed to him by his friends.
Page 77 - SECOND IN COMMAND.
Upon resuming command of the army, General Buell named General
as second in command. He had previously organized three provisional
each comprising three divisions, and designated as "First," "Second"
"Third," and had assigned Major-General A. McD.McCook, to the command
the "First," Major-General T. L. Crittenden to the "Second," and
C. C. Gilbert to the "Third." The command of the Third corps belonged
General Thomas, by right, since his own division was in it, and General
Gilbert was then only a brigadier-general by appointment of the
and was never confirmed as such. General Thomas' position was an
one. Nominally second in command, in reality, he was simply given the
of General Crittenden's corps, and the small force of cavalry
with it. This arrangement placed two major-generals with one corps, and
a brigadier-general of unperfected appointment in command of another.
the position of second in command had carried with it authority to act
as commander of the army in absence of the commanding general, or in
beyond his observation, the case would have been radically different.
Thomas had no more authority or independence than an ordinary corps
and consequently his position was a false one, being by designation
than such a commander, while in authority, only his equal. General
was subject to his orders in consequence of defined relations, but no
relations subjected General McCook or General Gilbert to his orders,
by rank alone he could have commanded in certain contingencies. But he
had no knowledge of the plans of the commanding general that was not
by general orders, and consequently his authority was confined to the
on the right, and the cavalry on that flank, except as it might be
by special instructions or by such events as usually devolve the chief
command upon the general of highest rank on the field.
Page 78 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The army moved from Louisville on the first day of October. The three corps marched upon as many roads and converged first upon Bardstown, in expectation that the enemy would there be met. From that place they moved as before, to concentrate at Perryville. On the evening of the 7th the three corps were well advanced towards that town, though not abreast. Gilbert's corps in the centre took position about three and a half miles distant, McCook's corps on the left was some distance behind, and so also was Crittenden's corps. At the place designated in orders for the encampment of Crittenden's troops, there was no water. The men had marched all day in thick dust, without water, and in the evening were almost famished. There was no time to consult the commanding general, and acting under a necessity which his orders had entailed, General Thomas used the discretion which his orders did not give, and moved the command to the right to the nearest water that could be found in sufficient quantity for the troops.
In the evening of that day General Buell announced in orders that a
battle would be fought the next day. He prescribed the movements which
would bring his army into line of battle, and gave special directions
the corps commanders to provide water, to last with sparing use, during
the expected action. He also directed them to report to him in person,
as soon as their respective commands had attained position. The corps
the right and left attained position on each side of Gilbert's, early
the 8th. By noon the whole army was in position, and in line of battle,
except General Wood's division of Crittenden's corps, which at that
was two or three miles in the rear, but marching towards its designated
position in the line. General Thomas had found the enemy in his front
in the morning, and for that reason he did not report in person when
command had attained position, but sent Captain Mack of his staff to
to General Buell the presence of the
Page 79 - PERRYVILLE.
enemy, and ask for instructions. There is but one interpretation of
this refusal to report in person, as required by positive orders, and
is, that he considered it so plainly unadvisable, from military
that he was justified in remaining with his command. General
who had been informed by the officer in command of the cavalry on the
that the enemy was not in his front, reported to General Buell, in
with orders, but on his return to his command found it engaged with the
enemy. General Buell had decided not to fight that day, but had not
revoked his order of the previous evening. General Bragg, however, had
declined to wait, and supposing that he could strike and crush the
troops of the National army before they could be supported from the
massed three divisions, all he had in hand, and hurled them first
General McCook's left division and the flank of the army, and
upon his other division on the right. General McCook had only two
on the field, General Sill's division having been sent to the left to
against General Kirby Smith. General Jackson's division on the left
two brigades of new troops, and upon these untried soldiers the enemy
his initial attack. General McCook sent a staff officer to the nearest
commander of Gilbert's corps - General Sheridan - and requested
to his right flank, or the right of Rousseau's division, and then gave
his attention to his own left, which was the left of the army as well.
After severe fighting against great odds, General Jackson's division
the enemy. The loss, however, was very great, including General Jackson
and his brigade commander - General Terrel - and a large number of
and men.* Having established his left flank the corps commander turned
to the right to meet a far more threatening state of affairs. His
* Colonel Webster, commanding General Jackson's second brigade, was
killed in supporting the left of Rousseau's division later in the day.
Page 80 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
request for support, for the right of Rousseau's division had not
regarded. The troops on the left of Gilbert's corps had moved away,
Rousseau's right in air. General Bragg had sent Buckner's division up
Creek to this uncovered flank, where it had been deployed at right
to McCook's line of battle, and thus with its back to the rest of our
it was moving against his exposed right flank - exposed to extreme
and yet there were six divisions of infantry behind Buckner's division
as it faced towards McCook's line. This was a situation perhaps without
parallel in the history of war. Three divisions had attacked the left
an army of eight divisions in line of battle, and yet one of these
divisions had wedged itself between six of these eight divisions on one
side and two on the other, and turning its back upon the six; moved
the flank of the other two. And while the conflict on the left of the
army was waxing hotter and hotter, not an order was given for two hours
that directed support to the two isolated divisions. The fact that
divisions attacked an army of eight, and escaped severe punishment or
proves that grave errors were committed by responsible commanders in
Buell's army, and that a great opportunity was lost. If, when Buckner's
division was moving upon the flank of Rousseau's division at right
to the general line of battle, the corps of Gilbert and Crittenden had
wheeled to the left, they would have enveloped Bragg's army, and
or utterly crushed it. But General Gilbert's divisions had moved
and made possible the situation on the left, and General Thomas was, by
assignment, too far to the right to apprehend the emergency on the
while General Buell was too far in the rear to learn through the noise
of battle that his army was engaged; and no member of his staff and no
headquarters' courier bore to the rear tidings of the battle, but
Fisher, of General McCook's staff, who had been sent with a second
Page 81 - PERRYVILLE
request for support from Gilbert's corps, and having failed to
it, went of his own accord to General Buell and made known the attack
the enemy and the state of affairs on the left of the army. General
knew that there was fighting on the extreme left of the army, but he
not know whether it had resulted from offense or defense on the part of
the enemy. There was a corps comparatively unengaged on his own left,
he had heard nothing from General Buell since his orders of the
evening announcing a battle for that day, and at no time had his
been such as to authorize him to leave his own command to direct the
of the other two corps. General Crittenden had been urgent that his
should advance against the enemy, but General Thomas had refused
for the assigned reason that he did not
know the plans of the commanding general. General Buell had thrown his army before the enemy to take the offensive himself, but while he was three or four miles in the rear, behind intervening hills, without having authorized General Thomas to take command of the army in the event of an attack by the enemy, all without having given instructions to his corps commanders for the conduct of defensive operations. Had General Crittenden moved forward directly, he would not have aided General McCook, since General Gilbert had so advanced and left McCook's right in air. What Was demanded by the situation was a wheel to the left by Gilbert's and Crittenden's corps, the former maintaining close connection with McCook's right. Had this been done when the enemy first attacked the left of the army, eight connected divisions would have enveloped them, or had the two corps wheeled to the left when Buckner's division was between Gilbert and McCook, the opportunity for the capture or annihilation of Bragg's forces would have been still better. Had this been done, six divisions would have moved to the rear of the three divisions that had been hurled against McCook.
Page 82 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Had General Thomas been second in command in supervision of the whole army, instead of a corps, he would have been responsible for results in the absence of the commander-in-chief. And had he been thus in command, the issue would doubtless have been radically different.
About 4 P. M. Captain Mack returned from General Buell with verbal instructions to General Thomas to hold one division in readiness to reenforce the centre if necessary and to reconnoitre his own front to ascertain if the enemy had reenforced his left or was withdrawing, and to report the facts. Afterwards, he received no orders to advance. After sundown he received the following communication :
October 8, 6.30 p. M.
GENERAL:- The First corps, McCook's, on our left, has been heavily engaged. The left and centre of this corps gained ground, but the right yielded a little. Press your lines forward as much as possible tonight and get into position to make a vigorous attack in the morning. If you have got your troops into position which you deem advantageous, it will not be advisable to make a change for the purpose of complying with the General's instructions for you, sent by Captain Mack. It may be as well to have the division ordered to the centre and let it wait where it is for further orders. The General desires to see you in person as soon tonight as your duties will permit you to come.
J. B. FRY, Colonel and Chief of Staff.
There had not been a strong force in front of General Thomas at any time, but only such a line as General Bragg deemed sufficient to cover his attack with massed forces on the left of the National line.
The verbal instructions sent through Captain Mack in the afternoon,
and this written communication from Colonel Fry at 6.30 P.M., do not
intimate that General Thomas was expected to exercise any control of
troops on the left of his command. His instructions pertained solely to
operations that evening on the right, as preparatory to a battle the
day. He was directed twice to hold a
Page 83 - BUELL REMOVED FROM COMMAND
division in readiness to move to the centre in the event of necessity, but of the necessity he was not to judge. He was not instructed to ascertain the state of affairs on his left but simply to hold his division in waiting for further orders. Late in the evening, by General Buell's order, troops were directed from the centre to assist General McCook in his unequal contest - Gooding's brigade from Mitchell's division, and Steedman's from Schoepfs were sent to his support, the former brigade as the first to participate in the terrific contest on Rousseau's right was hotly engaged and suffered heavy loss.
There was no action on the 9th and no pursuit until the 12th. As soon as the pursuit, which was fruitless in consequence of its late beginning, was terminated, General Buell left the army with General Thomas and retired to Louisville. On the 26th of October he directed General Thomas to put the army in motion towards Bowling Green and Glasgow.
Up to this time the military authorities, although frequently differing from General Buell in respect to his actual and proposed movements, had not restrained him in his operations by peremptory orders. But after the battle of Perryville, dissatisfaction with its issue and the pursuit of the enemy, and a new disagreement in regard to the future operations of the army led to a second and final removal of General Buell from command.
GENERAL ROSECRANS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE ARMY - PROTEST OF GENERAL THOMAS. - ACCEPTS COMMAND OF THE '' CENTRE." - RESTORING RAILROAD COMMUNICATIONS. - ADVANCE OF THE ARMY.- BATTLE OF STONE RIVER. - HE OPPOSES RETREAT. - TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN.
Major-General William S. Rosecrans was assigned to the command of the army, in room of General Buell, by General Orders No. 168, War Department, October 24, 1862. By the same order the Department of the Cumberland was restored, embracing that part of the State of Tennessee, lying east of the Tennessee River, with conditional limits to the south. The forces of the department were designated as the "Fourteenth Army Corps;" but ere long the army bore the name of the department. General Rosecrans assumed command October 30th. His army was then concentrating at Bowling Green, Kentucky, in compliance with the orders of General Buell.
In this assignment of General Rosecrans, General Thomas was overslaughed on the score of rank, and for this and other reasons he considered it unjust. If he was considered worthy of this position on the 23rd of September on the ground of rank and service, he could see no reason why he should be denied the command of the army on the 24th of October. He, therefore, indignantly protested against the assignment of General Rosecrans and against service under him. He thus wrote to General Halleck, commander-in-chief:
Soon after coming to Kentucky I urged on the Government to send me
thousand men properly equipped to take the field, that I might at least
make the attempt to take Knoxville and secure
Page 85 - HE PROTESTS AGAINST INJUSTICE
East Tennessee. My suggestions were not listened to but were even passed by in silence. But without boasting I believe I have exhibited at least sufficient energy to show that if I had been intrusted with that expedition at that time (fall of 1861) I might have conducted it successfully. Before Corinth I was intrusted with the command of the Right Wing, or Army of the Tennessee. I feel confident that I did my duty patriotically, and with a reasonable amount of credit to myself. As soon as the emergency was over I was relieved, and returned to the command of my old division. I went to my duties without a murmur as I am neither ambitious nor have any political aspirations. On the 30th of September I received an order through your aid, Colonel McKibben, placing me in command of the Department of the Ohio, and directing General Buell to turn over the command of his troops to me. This order came just as General Buell had by extraordinary efforts prepared his army to pursue and drive the rebels from Kentucky. Feeling that a great injustice would be done him if not permitted to carry out his plans, and that I would be placed in a situation to be disgraced, I requested that he might be retained in command. The order relieving him was suspended, but to-day I find him relieved by General Rosecrans, my junior, although I do not feel conscious that any just cause exists for overslaughing me by placing me under my junior, and I, therefore, am deeply mortified and grieved at the course taken in this matter.
In this letter he was self-assertive, but not in violation of true
while he was remarkably careful to avoid offensive personalities. He
intensely indignant and the letter reveals this, but the measured
though representing strongly his own mortification, and his conviction
of the injustice to himself, had no venom for others. He did not
in this letter the fact that he had asked to be relieved of the command
of the Army of the Tennessee, since it was not necessary in addressing
Halleck to whom that request was made. He had considered it necessary
the circumstances that he should make this request, and recognizing
necessity, he went to his duties "without a murmur." To an ambitious
one who desired high command, not so much for its own sake, or for an
for patriotic service, as for subsequent political preferment, such a
backward in rank
Page 86 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
would be disappointing, rather than humiliating. But he, having no political aspirations, was willing to accept such positions as the precedents of the service gave him, and did not murmur when these precedents sent him to a far lower command. The fact that he protested against the assignment of his junior over him, indicates his repugnance to humiliation when imposed by arbitrary power. It was not humiliating to him to serve under General Buell in command of a division, after he had been his peer in commanding an army; but his subjection to an alien general, his junior, he regarded as an outrage. And in revealing his indignation, he did not hesitate to recount his own services and to assert his ability to command an army.
In reply General Halleck wrote:
"HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, Nov. 15,1862.
Your letter of October 30th is just at hand. I cannot better state my appreciation of you than by referring you to the fact, that at Pittsburgh Landing I urged upon the Secretary of War to secure your appointment as major-general, in order that I might place you in command of the Right Wing of the army over your superiors. It was through my urgent solicitation that you were commissioned.
When it was determined to remove General Buell another person was spoken of as his successor; and it was through my solicitation that you were appointed. You having virtually declined the command at that time, it was necessary to appoint another, and General Rosecrans was selected.
You are mistaken about General Rosecrans being your junior. But that is of little importance, for the law gives the President power to assign without regard to dates, and he has seen fit to exercise it in this case and many others.
Rest assured, General, that I fully appreciate your military capacity, and will do everything in my power to give you an independent command, when opportunity offers. It was not possible to give command after you had declined it.
H. W. HALLECK, General-in-Chief.
Page 87 - HIS REPLY TO HALLECK.
And thus General Thomas' request for the retention of General Buell in command, because he thought his removal at that time unjust to him, was made a bar to his own reassigment when the crisis had passed and circumstances were radically different. It is apparent from General Halleck's letter that some person or persons higher in authority than General Halleck had not dismissed their distrust of Thomas, either on the score of loyalty, earnestness in the war, or capacity as a general. His assignment to the command of the Army of the Ohio had been made at the urgent solicitation of General Halleck, when another general had been spoken of for the position, and it was not possible after he had virtually declined it, to re-appoint him. Why it was not possible is not expressly stated, but it is evident that the opposition to his appointment to the command of the army had been intensified by his request for the retention of General Buell.
In reply General Thomas wrote:
GALLATIN, TENN., November 21st 1862.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK, Comd'g U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th instant, and to thank you sincerely for the kindness of its tone. I should not have addressed you in the first place, if I had known that General Rosecrans' commission was dated prior to mine. The letter was written not because I desired the command, but for being superseded by a junior in rank, when I felt that there was no good cause for so treating me.
I have no objections to serving under General Rosecrans, now that I know his commission dates prior to mine, but I must confess that I should be deeply mortified should the President place a junior over me without just cause, although the law authorizes him to do so should he see fit.
I am General, very truly yours,
GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-Gen'l U. S. V.
Page 88 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
There is an important statement in this letter illustrating his
He would not have written this for the reason that he desired the
of an army. He would not have asked for such a position, or sought it
political influences, or in any other way. He did desire independence
a general, but he would not humiliate himself by seeking a higher
In his first letter to General Halleck he asked for service in another
part of the country, to avoid subjection to a junior in an army to
he was attached by such ties as appeal to the heart of a true soldier.
But General Halleck had not been altogether candid in asserting that
ranked Thomas, and when the latter ascertained the true history of the
case, he was exceedingly indignant. General Rosecrans' commission as a
major-general of volunteers was dated August l6th, 1862. When it was
to assign him to the command of the army, this date was arbitrarily
to March 21st, 1862. His appointment as a major-general and his
commission, made him the junior of Generals McCook and Crittenden, as well as of General Thomas. When Rosecrans first met Thomas, after his assignment, the latter made inquiry in respect to the date of the former's commission, stating that he was opposed to the violation of the
rule which gave assignments according to rank. Having been informed that Rosecrans' commission bore date of March 21st, 1862, he then said, that his objection to further service in the Army of the Cumberland had been removed. But when subsequently he ascertained that this date was not the original one, and that it had been changed in seeming deference to army traditions, he said to General Halleck: "I have made my last protest while the war lasts. You may hereafter put a stick over me if you choose to do so. I will take care, however, to so manage my command, whatever it may be, as not to be involved in the mistakes of the stick."
He kept his promise to the end of the war, and then he
Page 89 - ACCEPTS COMMAND OF THE CENTER
asserted himself even more boldly than he did on the 30th of October, 1862. Soon after assuming command of the army, General Rosecrans offered to continue General Thomas in his position as second in command, but he preferred a distinct, defined office, and consequently was assigned to the command of the "Centre," composed of four divisions, with Generals Rosseau, Negley, Dumont and Fry as commanders. The "Right" and "Left" of the army contained three divisions each and were commanded respectively by Major General McCook and Major-General Crittenden.
General Rosecrans was as unwilling as General Buell had been to move his army into East Tennessee, and at once gave orders for the concentration of his forces at Nashville, except those under General Thomas. The objects of the new campaign were to defeat General Bragg's army and restore the supremacy of the National government in Tennessee, and as much further south as possible. The second object was indicated by the order which re-created the Department of the Cumberland with limits contingent upon the success of the army in gaining territory. To give success to offensive operations it was first necessary to restore railroad communications between Louisville and Nashville, and then to accumulate supplies at Nashville as a secondary base. This essential work was committed to General Thomas and his troops, and no general was better adapted to the service, since no one was more observant of details in all matters that related to military operations.
General Thomas immediately established his headquarters at Gallatin,
Tennessee, and by the 28th of December preparations were completed for
the advance of the army against the enemy at Murfreesboro. Abundant
had been provided and the forces intended for the field had been
at Nashville. The troops to guard the communications with Louisville
mainly drawn from General Thomas' command, and consequently the
Page 90 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
weaker than the "Wings." He had only Rousseau's and Negley's divisions and two detached brigades from divisions in the rear.
The grand units of the army having marched from Nashville on different roads were abreast before the enemy near Murfreesboro' on the 30th of December. The "Left" and "Centre" attained position on the 29th, and General Rosecrans, having concluded that General Bragg had retreated, ordered General Crittenden on the evening of that day to Cross Stone River and occupy Murfreesboro'. In attempting to carry out this order General Crittenden ascertained that the enemy had not retreated, and that the required movement would imperil his corps. He therefore halted his troops some having already crossed the river until he could confer with the commanding-general. Afterwards, with General Rosecrans' approval, the troops were recalled from their perilous advance. During the afternoon of the 30th General McCook's troops were somewhat heavily engaged near the ground which had been designated for their position in battle.
General Bragg had expected an attack on the 30th and had
held his army in line of battle to meet it. At night he determined to
the offensive himself, and made preparations to open the engagement the
next morning, intending to attack first with the left of his army. As a
defensive measure he had taken General McCown's division from reserve,
and posted it on the left of his first line of battle. He had done this
to meet the expected attack on that flank. But by this measure he had
a division entirely beyond General McCook's right which rested on the
road. This fact had been ascertained by General McCook and communicated
to General Rosecrans on the afternoon of the 30th. In the
of that day General Bragg, in preparation for offense, transferred
division from the second line on his right to a corresponding position
on his left, and placed General Hardee in command
Page 91 - ROSECRANS' LINE OF BATTLE
of the two divisions which were to assail General Rosecrans' right early on the 31st . General Bragg had then placed two divisions, or nearly two-fifths of his infantry, beyond General Rosecrans' right flank, and in their support was Wharton's brigade of cavalry. On the right bank of Stone River, Breckinridge's division of Hardee's corps was formed in continuation of the main line, and here were Jackson's unassigned brigades of infantry, and Wheeler's and Pegram's brigades of cavalry in support. In all there were seven brigades on the right bank of Stone River. This force was held as a possible reserve, and for resistance in the event of an advance in that direction by the left of the National army.
The trend of General Bragg's line of battle was due north from its left to the Franklin road, and thence nearly northeast to Stone River. The general direction of General Rosecrans' line was north and south. The distance between the two armies was least at the Franklin road, in consequence of the bend in the enemy's line at that point. General Bragg's line of battle was defective in formation. This fact was demonstrated the next day by the commingling of brigades from the divisions in parallel alignment. The unity of the divisions was impossible under the circumstances. And the failure of General Bragg to carry his first success to complete victory may be attributed, in part, at least, to this cause.
General Rosecrans' line of battle was radically different and greatly superior. It was formed by divisions in first and second lines and reserves. The brigades of each could act together under the direct control of their common commander. In other battles the same contrast can be traced.
General Rosecrans, besides, made his centre exceedingly strong by
a large division entirely in reserve, but this was in provision for
At night, on the 30th, the divisions in order, from left to
right, were Wood's, Palmers, Negley's, Sheridan's, Davis', and
Page 92 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Rousseau's division was in the rear of Negley's, and Van Cleve's was posted to the left and rear of Wood. Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions were to cross the river and advance to Murfreesboro', in rear of Bragg's army.* The Pioneer brigade was in position to cover these divisions in crossing the river. The centre was made strong to break through the middle of the enemy's line of battle.
General McCook's right flank rested upon the Franklin road. General Davis' division faced a little east of south; Kirk's brigade of Johnson's division on the right of Davis' looked more to the east, and Willich's directly to the south. In facing south Willich's brigade was nearly at right angles to the enemy's line of battle. Baldwin's brigade of Johnson's division was some distance to the rear of Kirk; and General Stanley's cavalry was still farther in the rear of the right flank of the army. General Bragg's plan of battle was similar, in so far as he also intended to take the initiative with the left of his army. But his plan proposed a very different general movement. His four divisions of infantry west of the river were to wheel to the right upon General Folk's right as a pivot.
Each of the commanding generals was ignorant of the purposes of the other, and each in the execution of his own plan expected to throw the other upon the defensive. It was, therefore, inevitable that continued aggression by either army depended upon the success of its initial attack.
Preparations and circumstances gave the advantage to General Bragg.
His troops were in proximity to their point of attack, with no
obstacle. While General Rosecrans' forces had a river to cross, a
of several miles to march, and a strong force of infantry and cavalry
rout before Murfreesboro' could be gained.
* The withdrawal of these divisions the next morning made Palmer's
the left flank of the army. This flank rested between the turnpike and
railroad, a short distance north of their intersection.
Page 93 STONE RIVER
General Bragg availed himself of his advantage and took the
early in the morning of the 31st, with great energy and
effect. He wheeled his two over lapping divisions upon the right flank
of the National army and soon dislodged Willich's and Kirk's brigades,
Kirk having been attacked in front and flank. When these brigades fell
back and drifted to the right a new flank was formed by General Davis'
right brigade, Colonel Post commanding, and Baldwin's brigade of
division from reserve; but these brigades were soon overwhelmed,
Davis, in the meantime, repulsed repeated attacks in front with his
brigades—Carlin's and Woodruff's. These lost and then regained their
but were finally compelled to fall back. Johnson's and Davis' divisions
made repeated efforts to stand against the enemy, but with only
success, and they finally fell back to the Nashville road in rear of
centre of the army. Under the enemy's pressure Sheridan's division
back until it was at right angles to its first position, maintaining
connection of its left with Negley's right. Immediately thereafter
Thomas threw Rousseau's division on Sheridan's right, to support him,
he maintain his position, and to resist the enemy should he fall back.
After these dispositions had been made the enemy repeatedly assailed
three divisions. For some time his attacks were repulsed, but
division having exhausted its ammunition went to the rear. Then came
supreme crisis of the battle. General Cruft's brigade of Palmer's
on the left of Negley, had previously retired a short distance in
of the exposure of its left flank. After Sheridan's division left the
both of Negley's flanks were in air, and Rousseau was in the same
both divisions being completely isolated, and soon after were each
surrounded by the overlapping lines of the enemy. General Thomas at
ordered Miller's and Stanley's brigades of Negley's division to fall
to save them
Page 94 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
from annihilation or capture. The withdrawal of these troops exposed the right of Palmer's division, and Cruft's brigade again fell back. The enemy, having been successful in dislodging the right of the army, pressed with exultation upon Rousseau's, Negley's and Palmer's divisions, which were compelled to-fight in all directions. Grose's brigade of Palmer's division faced to the rear to meet the foe; Negley's brigades fought as they fell back, and Rousseau's three brigades, Shepherd's, Scribner's and Beatty's * were resisting attacks in all directions.
This crisis carried with it the fate of the army. General Thomas at once perceived that the only measure that would save the centre and the army was the establishment of a new line, which should connect itself with Crittenden's force on the left, and with McCook's and other forces on the right. Seldom has a new line of battle been formed under similar circumstances. A permanent line was dependent upon a temporary one, and to both in conjunction General Thomas gave prompt attention. He sent his batteries to the high ground selected for the permanent line, and then formed part of his infantry on low ground in their front to resist the advance of the enemy. Colonel Shepherd's regular brigade lost five hundred men, killed and wounded, and Beatty's and Scribner's lost heavily in covering the movements of other troops, and in fighting their own way to the new position. General Rosecrans had sent the Pioneer brigade to the centre, and its musketry and artillery fire also covered the moving troops.' After hard fighting Rousseau's,
Negley's and Palmer's divisions were firmly connected, and other dispositions made which placed the whole army in a continuous line.
Early in the morning Van Cleve's division had moved from reserve and
formed by brigades in column to cross Stone River, and lead in the
*Col. John Beatty.
Page 95 - STONE RIVER
Five brigades of Wood's division had also been withdrawn from position to take part in the movement. But when Van Cleve's foremost brigade had gained the farther bank, and his second, the nearer one, both had been arrested by the commanding General, who had ordered them and Harker's brigade of Wood's division to the support of the Right Wing. Colonel S. Beatty's brigade of Van Cleve's division, followed by Colonel Fyffe's brigade, opportunely reached the right of Rousseau's division immediately after the establishment of the new line. These fresh troops connected the new centre with McCook's forces on the right. This line of battle bent at the centre at right angles to the original line, and was well refused on its right. The enemy attacked this line repeatedly throughout its length, but was as often repulsed.
Notwithstanding General Bragg's superior strength for his turning
Hardee's two overlapping divisions and a great part of Wither's and
divisions were nearly exhausted before the new line of battle of the
army had been established. As early as 10 A. M., the time of the crisis
in the centre, General Hardee had called for reenforcements.
of General Bragg's army had been moved against General McCook's corps,
and afterwards most of these forces fell upon Thomas's two divisions.
in fighting McCook, and Thomas, and Palmer's division of Crittenden's
all of General Bragg's army on the west bank of the river had recoiled
with heavy losses and broken ranks. Bragg's only hope. thereafter, was
in using all his reserves against the left of Rosecrans' army. In an
to turn this flank, he sent four brigades from the east of the river to
General Polk. The left of the National army was held by Palmer's
and Hascall's and Wagner's brigades of Wood's division. Schaeffer's
of Sheridan's division was in rear, on the railroad, as a supporting
No fighting at any time was more severe than on the left, when General
Bragg was making his final effort to
Page 96 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
win the day. In this struggle Hazen's brigade moved to the left to a stronger position, and Hascall's brigade filled the vacant space, on the right of the railroad. On the left of Hazen's new position, and unconnected, Wagner's brigade resisted the enemy; and its nearness to the river made it necessary for Bragg to hold one brigade of Breckinridge's division on the east bank. The conflict was fierce and protracted, and in failing to carry the left of the National army, Bragg gave up the offensive altogether.
In the evening Starkweather's brigade of Rousseau's division, and Walker's of Fry's, came upon the field; but as Negley's two brigades were then in reserve in the centre, these fresh troops were first posted to support General McCook, and subsequently relieved the forces of General Crittenden's corps that they might return to the left of the line.
General Thomas had only five brigades in the conflict on the 31st, and with this small force he arrested the success of the enemy. Battles are won in a general way by the aggregate force of all operations to which every officer who gives or obeys an order, and every soldier who fires a cannon or a musket, makes a contribution. However, in an engagement of marked emergencies the action of a brigade, division, or corps often stands out distinctly as saving an army. The crisis at the centre was so distinct, that its mastery brought General Thomas and his five brigades into boldest relief, as having saved the army. The prompt dispositions of the commander, and the steadiness and bravery of the subordinate officers and men under circumstances which have often brought confusion to generals and panics to soldiers, give the greater prominence to their action. General Thomas gained greater distinction in other battles, but never did he meet a crisis with more promptness and skill.
In the evening of the first, there was an informal meeting of
officers, at General McCook's headquarters -- a small cabin in the rear
of the line of battle. General Rosecrans soon made known that he was
of retreat, and
Page 97 - STONE RIVER
the discussion of this project lasted till midnight. General Crittenden was vehement in his opposition to the withdrawal of the army. General Thomas was quiet and soon fell asleep on an improvised seat. Near midnight General Rosecrans asked Surgeon Eben Swift, medical director of the Department of the Cumberland, "if he had transportation sufficient to remove the wounded men." The doctor replied that there were five or six thousand wounded, but many of them could walk, and there were enough wagons and ambulances for those severely injured. The commanding-general then awoke General Thomas and said: "Will you protect the rear on retreat to Overall's Creek ?" Thomas promptly answered: "This army can't retreat," and then fell asleep again. He had doubtless decided the matter for himself when it was first proposed, hence his readiness to give his opinion, and resume his restful slumber. He who had snatched his five brigades from the midst of Bragg's army when receiving fire in front, flank and rear, and had established a stable line under a cross fire of artillery and musketry, was not in favor of giving the field to the enemy.
The opposition of his corps commanders to the retreat of the army
not, however, induce General Rosecrans to abandon the project. About
he requested General McCook to ride with him to the rear to select a
position. The two generals rode to the bank of Overall's Creek, a few
towards Nashville, and viewed the ground beyond that stream. General
objected to the position, for the reason that it was so low as to be
by artillery from the southern bank. When returning, General Rosecrans
observed fires on the west of the road, and exclaimed: "The enemy is in
our rear." He had directed General D. S. Stanley, commanding the
to forbid fires that night; but some insubordinate troopers had lighted
torches, and the moving lights induced him to believe that the enemy
passed to his rear.
Page 98 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General McCook went at once to his command to prepare it for action, and General Rosecrans rode back to the place whence he started. As he rode up, he said: "We must fight or die." He then directed Generals Thomas and Crittenden to put their corps in readiness for battle.
He evidently alluded to this personal reconnoissance, and the circumstances that prevented retreat in the following extracts from his official report: " Orders were given for the issue of all the spare ammunition, and we found that we had enough for another battle, the only question being, where that battle was to be fought. * * * *
"After careful examination and free consultation with corps commanders, followed by a personal examination of the ground in the rear as far as Overall's Creek, it was determined to await the enemy's attack in that position, to send for the provision train and order up fresh supplies of ammunition, upon the arrival of which, should the enemy not attack, offensive operations were to be resumed."
General Rosecrans' report contains no allusion to his belief that the enemy was in his rear, and it is not thereby manifest how far it influenced his decision to hold his position.
During the 1st and 2nd days of January the two
armies remained in close proximity, with no fighting beyond what
from tentative offense by the enemy, until late in the afternoon of the
2nd, when there was a fierce conflict on the east bank of
River. General Crittenden had previously sent across the river Van
division and Grose's brigade of Palmer's division. Regarding these
and their artillery as a menace to Polk's line on the opposite bank,
Bragg resolved if practicable to dislodge them and ordered General
to advance for this purpose. Van Cleve's division was driven from
and pursued to the river. But this action and its result drew together
a heavy force of infantry and artillery on the west bank. About fifty
were placed on high
Page 99 - STONE RIVER
ground by Major John Mendenhall, General Crittenden's chief of artillery, with his approval, and that of the commanding general, but their fire did not arrest the enemy who came to the river to the left of these guns, some of the men even crossing the stream. At this juncture Colonel John F. Miller leading seven regiments of Negley's division, without orders from his immediate commander, and against the orders of another general of division, crossed the river in the face of the enemy, and in a brilliant charge drove Breckinridge's forces in rout far towards Murfreesboro'.
Afterwards General Jeff. C. Davis' division advanced to the position coveted by General Bragg, and at once fortified a battery upon it.
General Bragg's object had been a defensive one, simply to gain a position on that side of the river, which commanded his line on the other bank. His troops, however, went far beyond it in pursuing Van Cleve's division, and then were driven back over it again by Miller's unbidden charge. The failure of this operation induced Bragg to abandon the general conflict, not considering his position on the other side of the river tenable when exposed to an enfilading fire of artillery. He feared also that the rising water would divide his army. He maintained position, however, until the night of the 3rd, when to cover his retreat his forces in front of General Thomas were active and annoying, and he obtained permission to make a night attack. This resulted in the penetration of the enemy's line by troops from Beatty's and Spear's brigades, the latter having joined the army with trains. Early the next morning it was discovered that General Bragg had retreated, leaving his wounded at Murfreesboro', but saving his material.
During the first six months of the year 1863 the Army of the
remained at Murfreesboro' and was comparatively inactive. The troops
employed in the construction of elaborate fortifications and in divers
minor operations with defensive or tentative objects.
Page 100 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Early in January the provisional corps, "Right Wing," "Centre" and "Left Wing," were changed to permanent corps d'armee. The " Right Wing " became the Twentieth corps, the "Centre" the Fourteenth corps, and the "Left Wing" the Twenty-first corps, commanded, as before, respectively by Generals McCook, Thomas and Crittenden. The Fourteenth corps, as finally constituted, comprised four divisions, designated as first, second, third, and fourth, commanded respectively by Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau, Major General J. S. Negley, Brigadier-General J. M. Brannan, and Major-General J. J. Reynolds.
In this period of inaction at Murfreesboro' it was common for officers of all grades to obtain leaves of absence to visit their homes, and trips to Nashville were frequent. But the course of General Thomas illustrated his idea of the duty of an officer holding an important command. The months were passing slowly by and weary at last of monotony and inaction, he asked permission to go to Nashville for a day. There was at the time no prospect of operations, offensive or defensive, for his command, and consequently there was no need of his presence at Murfreesboro'. He nevertheless, upon reflection, declined to go, because his reason for asking for a day's leave had been a personal one. Besides it was possible, he thought, though not at all probable, that an action of some kind might take place in his absence. This extreme view of duty was frequently illustrated in his public and private life. He was not "off duty" a single day during the war.
Late in June the Army of the Cumberland advanced against its old
the Confederate Army of the Tennessee, then holding the line of Duck
In this movement the Fourteenth corps was in the centre, its
place, and drove the enemy from Hoover's Gap and from several positions
in front of that gap. General McCook on the right had a severe combat
Liberty Gap, but finally pressed the enemy from the hills. Gen.
on the left did not
Page 101 - TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN
meet much opposition. When Bragg's army had been driven from its defensive line on Duck River, Gen. Rosecrans moved his army towards Manchester, and regarding this movement as indicating either an attack upon his position at Tullahoma, or the interruption of his communications, Bragg fell back from that place. He did not consider himself strong enough to meet Rosecrans in battle, and he consequently retreated first to the Cumberland Mountains, and soon after, across the Tennessee River to Chattanooga. The Tullahoma campaign was begun on the 23rd of June and terminated on the 4th of July. The enemy fought at the gaps of the mountains, but the defense on the whole was feeble. The result was the possession by the Army of the Cumberland of the region from Murfreesboro' to Bridgeport, Alabama.
At the close of the campaign the army advanced to the northern base
of the Cumberland Mountains, and there halted to make preparations for
a campaign south of the Tennessee River.
THE ARMY CROSSES THE TENNESSEE RIVER - GENERAL BRAGG EVACUATES
CHATTANOOGA - PURSUIT IS OPPOSED BY THOMAS, BUT NEVERTHELESS
ORDERED - THE THREE CORPS WIDELY SEPARATED - THOMAS' TROOPS
MEET THE ENEMY AT DUG GAP - BRAGG'S ARMY CONCENTRATED BUT
FAILS TO STRIKE EITHER OF THE ISOLATED CORPS - ARMY OF THE
CUMBERLAND CONCENTRATED ON THE l8TH - FIRST DAY OF BATTLE
LATE in August, in compliance with peremptory orders from
the army again moved forward, crossed the Cumberland Mountains, the
River, and the mountains immediately south of that river, and on the 8th
of September, was encamped in Lookout Valley, near the western base of
Lookout Mountain. Here General Rosecrans had his army in hand, except
brigades that had advanced directly towards Chattanooga from the north.
The position of the army in Lookout Valley threatened General Bragg's
south from Chattanooga. The Twenty-first corps was near the northern
of Lookout Mountain, on the direct road to Chattanooga, the Fourteenth
corps was before Stevens' Gap, with its advance on the summit of the
and the Twentieth corps was at Winston's with its foremost troops also
upon the summit. The mountain then separated the two armies. General
had been withdrawing his army for two days on the road leading to
Georgia, and late on the 8th his rear guard retired from
Very early the next morning General Rosecrans was informed of the
of the town.
Page 103 - BRAGG EVACUATES CHATTANOOGA
General Bragg abandoned Chattanooga in expectation of soon regaining it. His supplies were not sufficient for a siege, and his army was not large enough to hold Chattanooga and cover his communications. He consequently moved south a few miles to save his communications and meet expected reenforcements, where his army might face the mountain passes and strike unsupported corps, as they should debouch from different mountain gaps into the eastern valley. At this time the Confederate authorities were making efforts to give Bragg such an army as, in their judgment, would enable him to vanquish the Army of the Cumberland, to carry the war again to the north, and in the farthest reach of hope to end the war with the independence of the Southern States. But to give strategic force to a retreat that was imperative. General Bragg used various stratagems to conceal his purposes. He sent men into the National army to induce the belief that his army was retreating far to the south, and moved his forces as far as practicable to manifest such a purpose.
The strategy which had compelled the evacuation of Chattanooga was consummate. The forces sent by General Rosecrans first to Pikeville and afterwards directly towards Chattanooga, had effectually covered the movement of the army towards General Bragg's communications with Georgia, and had, at the same time, so threatened his communications with Knoxville, and the forces holding East Tennessee, that Buckner's little army had been withdrawn, and the easy possession of that region by General Burnside had been thereby assured. The only effect of this strategy which had not been favorable to the ultimate success of Rosecrans, had been the reenforcement of Bragg's army before Rosecrans by Buckner's command.
To gain Chattanooga the strategy was perfect, but for immediate
operations south from that important point it was radically defective.
When Rosecrans' army was in Lookout Valley, and his detached forces -
brigades - on the north bank of the Tennessee, with open ways into
Page 104 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
the north and the south, he had gained the objective of his campaign, and the concentration of his army in that town could have been effected without resistance by the enemy. But the pursuit of the enemy, not the occupation of Chattanooga in force, became his object as soon as he was informed that the town had been abandoned.
On the morning of the 9th, General Rosecrans sent the following message to General Thomas:
HEADQ'RS DEP'T OF THE CUMBERLAND, Trenton, September 9th, 3.30 A. M.
MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps :
A despatch is just received from General Wagner, dated 8.30 P. M. yesterday, stating that Chattanooga is evacuated by the rebels and he will occupy it in the morning. The general commanding desires you to call on him at once to consult in regard to arrangements for the pursuit.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
P. S. - The order sending the Ninety-Second Indiana to reconnoitre the mountain is revoked. The General commanding directs you to order your whole command in readiness to move at once.
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
Thus before General Thomas was invited to consult with General Rosecrans it had been decided to pursue the enemy, and he was invited to consult only in reference to the pursuit. But when the two generals met, Thomas opposed the pursuit altogether and presented military considerations of palpable weight against the measure.
At the time of the abandonment of Chattanooga by the enemy, two
of the Army of the Cumberland were within a day's march of that place ;
one of these being very near, since Wood's division of the Twenty-first
corps occupied Chattanooga at noon of the 9th. The Twentieth
corps was about
Page 105 - URGES CONCENTRATION OF THE ARMY
forty miles distant, and could have marched to Chattanooga by noon on the 10th. By that time the main army could have been concentrated in the town with strong detachments on the road to Bridgeport. The mountain would have covered the movement of the Fourteenth and Twentieth corps down Lookout Valley, and Crittenden's corps could have held the town and covered the approaches from the south and east, aided by the brigades from the north bank of the Tennessee. The concentration could have been effected, if it had been the purpose of General Bragg to oppose; but that it was not his intention is expressly stated in his official report, and was evinced at the time by his retreat far towards Lafayette, Georgia. Bragg was not ready for battle in proximity to Chattanooga, and his army was not in a position to prevent the concentration of the Army of the Cumberland in the town, had that been General Rosecrans' object. But the situation gave room for an easy, unrestricted occupation by the whole army. All the roads on the west side of Lookout Mountain were held by the National army, and all converged upon the one which passes over the 'nose' of Lookout, where that mountain abuts the Tennessee River, three miles from Chattanooga, and there was no enemy near to prevent, or even contest, the use of that road. There was not, therefore, a single obstacle to the concentration, and this fact taken in connection with the actual movement of a division into the place from the south, the crossing of troops into it from the north bank of the river, and the march of two divisions in front of it from Lookout Mountain to Rossville on the 10th, proves beyond question that General Rosecrans had gained his objective before he ordered the pursuit of the enemy. He must have thought so himself, or he would not have established his headquarters at Chattanooga behind his army.
In view of the manifest practicability of the concentration of the
at Chattanooga, Thomas urged Rosecrans to abandon his scheme of pursuit
and establish his army at that
Page 106 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
point and perfect communications with Bridgeport and Nashville. After this had been done, the offensive could have been taken from Chattanooga as a base. General Thomas did not know how far Bragg intended to retreat, but independently of the enemy's plans he was urgent that what had been gained should be made secure. He was opposed to a movement that might bring on a battle when the army having nearly exhausted its supplies, transported from Bridgeport, could not follow up a victory, in the event of winning one; and where, if defeat should be the issue, the problem of supplies would be difficult of solution.
But believing that Bragg was retreating on Rome, Rosecrans rejected Thomas' advice, and in doing so entered upon a series of mistakes which culminated, when, by his orders, movements were made on the second day of the battle of Chickamauga, which gave the enemy the opportunity to break and rout the right of his army.
The views of the commanding generals in regard to the situation before the battle of Chickamauga, and in reference to the supposed possibilities to each, are clearly given in their official reports.
These extracts from General Bragg's report reveal his views, purposes and movements.
"Immediately after crossing the mountains to the
the enemy threw a corps by way of Sequatchie Valley to strike the rear
of General Buckner's command, while Burnside occupied him in front. * *
* As soon as this change was made, the corps threatening his rear was
and the enemy commenced a movement in force against our left and rear.
On the last of August it became known that he had crossed his main
over the Tennessee River at and near Caperton's Ferry, the most
point from Stevenson. By a direct route he was now as near our main
of supplies as we were, and our whole line of communication was
whilst his was partially secured by mountains and the river. * * * The
nature of the country and
Page 107 - R0SECRANS (ORDERS PURSUIT)
the want of supplies in it, with the presence of Burnside's force on our right, rendered a movement on the enemy's rear with our inferior force impracticable. It was therefore, determined to meet him in front whenever he should emerge from the mountain gorges. To do this and hold Chattanooga was impossible, without such a division of our small force as to endanger both parts. Accordingly our troops were put in position on the 7th and 8th of September, and took position from Lee and Gordon's mill to Lafayette, on the road leading south from Chattanooga and fronting the slope of Lookout Mountain."
General Rosecrans thus referred to the situation and the pursuit in his report :
"The weight of evidence gathered from all sources was, that Bragg was moving on Rome and that his movement commenced on the sixth of September. General Crittenden was therefore directed to hold Chattanooga with one brigade, calling all the forces on the north side of the Tennessee across, and to follow the enemy's retreat vigorously, anticipating that the main body had retired by Ringgold and Dalton."
After his consultation with General Thomas, General Rosecrans issued the following order:
TRENTON, GA., September 9, 1863, 10 A. M.
Commanding Fourteenth Army Corps :
The General commanding has ordered a general pursuit of the enemy by the whole army. General Crittenden has started to occupy Chattanooga and pursue the line of Bragg's retreat. Our forces across the river from Chattanooga have been ordered to cross and join General Crittenden in the pursuit. General McCook has been ordered to move at once on Alpine and Summerville. The General commanding directs you to move your command as rapidly as possible to Lafayette and make every exertion to strike the enemy in flank, and If possible cut off his escape. Colonel Wilder's brigade * has been ordered to join you at Lafayette.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
Page 108 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Nothing but the certainty that the enemy was retreating with scattered forces to some remote point, could have warranted such a separation of the three corps of the Army of the Cumberland, as resulted from obedience to this order. The movements in compliance gave General Bragg the advantage for maneuver and battle. He had his army in hand behind the mountains, with short lines to each of the three corps of the National army in their complete isolation.
General Rosecrans had been bold to cross the Tennessee River without assured support on right, or left. But when he had gained his objective it was more than bold to send one corps to the rear of General Bragg's concentrated army, another towards its centre, and a third to its left, and each of the three in perilous isolation. And it was one of the most wonderful series of operations of the war, which brought these corps from isolation into union in front of the enemy, in time for battle.
Bragg had a large army when he left Chattanooga. The five divisions that fought the battle of Stone River were with him, two divisions had joined him from Mississippi, and Buckner's two divisions from East Tennessee joined immediately south of Chattanooga. He had then an army of nine divisions of infantry immediately after leaving that town.
General Thomas was nearest this large army, and his designated line
of advance was directly towards its centre. He was therefore the first
in peril. Besides no general would forget that the overthrow of the
corps of an army would doubly expose the other two. It was well,
that the conduct of the perilous advance of this corps was committed to
as prudent a general as Thomas.
* Reynolds' division Fourteenth corps.
Page 109 - CROSSES LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
On the 9th Negley's division moved over Lookout Mountain and debouched into McLemore's Cove, and threw forward skirmishers to Bailey's cross-roads. In the evening Baird's division crossed the mountain to the eastern base. Reports reached Thomas that the enemy's cavalry was drawn up in line in front of Negley, and that a heavy force consisting of infantry, cavalry and artillery, was concentrated at Dug Gap, beyond Negley's position.
Bragg was apprised of this advance, and promptly prepared to meet it. The following extract from his report gives his general plan of operations as well as his purpose in respect to Thomas' movement: "During the ninth it was ascertained that a column, estimated at from four to eight thousand, had crossed Lookout Mountain into the cove, by way of Stevens' and Cooper's Gap. Thrown off his guard by our rapid movement - apparently in retreat, when, in reality, we had concentrated opposite his centre and deceived by the information from deserters and others sent into his lines, the enemy pressed on his columns to intercept us, and thus exposed himself in detail." That night Bragg formed a combination of three divisions and a cavalry force to move against Negley the next day.
Early on the 10th it was ascertained that Dug Gap had
obstructed and occupied by the enemy's pickets. If this was a device to
invite the advance of Thomas it failed of its object, since he was the
more cautious in consequence of an equivocal precaution on the part of
the enemy. General Bragg made effort during the day to move his forces
against Negley, but twice, his subordinates failed to carry out his
He did not however abandon the project and at night gave orders for a
heavier combination for the 11th. Negley's division was
in three directions, through Dug Gap, farther to the left, through
Gap, both in Pigeon Mountain, and on the low ground
Page 110 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
to the north. That evening Baird's division moved towards Negley's position, and Reynolds and Brannan were ordered to move forward early in the morning. The caution evinced by General Thomas called forth the following despatch from General Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, September 10, 1863 - 9:45 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
The General commanding directs me to say General Negley's despatch, forwarded to you at 10 A. M. is received. He is disappointed to learn from it that his forces move to-morrow morning instead of having moved this morning, as they should have done, this delay imperiling both extremes of the army.
Your movement upon Lafayette should be made with the utmost promptness.
You ought not to incumber yourself with your main supply train. A brigade or two will be sufficient to protect it.
Your advance ought to have threatened Lafayette yesterday evening.
I have the honor to be, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
J. P. DROUILLARD. A. D. C. Captain
Later he added:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Chattanooga, September 10, 1863 -- 10 P. M.
Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
In addition to the accompanying despatch the General commanding further directs that you open direct communication with General McCook and take care to hurt the enemy as much as possible.
It is important to know whether he retreats on Rome or Cedar Bluffs.
If the enemy has passed Lafayette, toward Rome, he will threaten McCook ; if he has not passed this point, he will endanger Crittenden.
Much depends on the promptitude of your movements.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Page 111 - BRAGG ORDERS ATTACK
These instructions exhibited an utter misapprehension of the situation. Rosecrans still believed that Bragg was retreating and his plans had reference to pursuit. And Thomas' slow advance under the circumstances did not imperil either McCook or Crittenden, since the longer Bragg was induced to operate against Thomas, the longer would the other two corps be safe. Bragg had choice of corps, as each in isolation was exposed to attack, and it was not in the power of Thomas, McCook or Crittenden to give aid to each other except as each could hold the enemy to the offensive against himself. To be slow therefore under the semblance of offense was the best policy. But at the time that Rosecrans was framing his instructions to Thomas to hasten his movements on Lafayette, Bragg had just moved his headquarters to that place from Lee and Gordon's mill, and was planning to move seven or eight divisions of infantry and a force of cavalry against the foremost divisions of the Fourteenth corps in McLemore's Cove, as the following order and extract from his official report plainly show:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY TENNESSEE, Lafayette, Ga., 12 p. M., September io, 1863.
MAJOR-GENERAL HINDMAN, Commanding, etc.
GENERAL: - Headquarters are here and the following is the information :
Crittenden's corps is advancing on us from Chattanooga. A large force from the south has advanced to within seven miles of this point. Polk is left at Anderson's to cover your rear. General Bragg orders you to attack and force your way through the enemy to this point at the earliest hour you can see him in the morning, Cleburne will attack in front the moment your guns are heard.
I am, General, etc.,
GEORGE W. BRENT, Assistant Adjutant-General.
"Orders were also given for Walker's reserve corps
move promptly to join Cleburne's division at Dug Gap to unite in the
At the same time Cleburne was directed to remove all obstructions in
road in his front, which was
Page 112 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
promptly done, and by daylight he was ready to move. The obstructions in Catlett's Gap were also ordered to be removed to clear the road in Hindman's rear. Breckinridge's division, Hill's corps, was kept in position south of Lafayette to check any movement the enemy might make from that direction.
proceeded to join Cleburne at Dug Gap and found him waiting the opening
of Hindman's guns, to move on the enemy's flanks and rear."
General Hindman had been joined by Buckner's corps the day before, so that Buckner's, Folk's and Walker's corps and one division of Hill's corps, and a cavalry force, under General Bragg in person, were included in the combination against the two advanced division of the Fourteenth corps. And yet these divisions and the other two behind them, escaped overthrow because they had not advanced in compliance with the orders of General Rosecrans.
At 8 A. M., on the 11th, Baird's division was formed on the right of Negley's. By this time it was known that the enemy had removed the obstructions from Catlett's and Dug Gap. Later in the day the enemy advanced through them in heavy force, while another column approached from the north. By skilful maneuvers and gallant fighting Negley's and Baird's divisions, step by step, withdrew from the midst of the three converging columns, and falling back towards Lookout Mountain, were soon within supporting distance of the other divisions of the corps. The strength of the enemy's columns developed the fact that there was a large army before the Fourteenth corps. And yet General Rosecrans was so far from apprehending the actual situation that he sent the following despatch to General Thomas :
CHATTANOOGA, Sept. 12, 1863, 11.15 A. M.
MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Army Corps.
despatch of 10.30 last night and of 4 o'clock this morning, have been
After maturely weighing the notes the General commanding is induced to
think that General Negley
Page 113 - THE ENEMY AT LEE AND GORDON'S MILL
withdrew more through prudence than compulsion. He trusts that our loss is not serious, and that there will be no difficulty in holding the gap. He despatched you last night to communicate with General McCook and call him up if you thought necessary. He trusts this has been done, if not, no time should be lost. * * * * It is very important, at this time, for you to communicate promptly, that the General commanding may know how to manage General Crittenden's corps, which will attack the enemy as soon as it can be gotten in position.
When a battle does begin it is desirable that every command should do its best, and push hard, using the bayonet wherever possible.
I am, Sir, very respectfully your obedient servant.
C. GODDARD, Assistant Adjutant General.
General Thomas mentioned subsequently that he thought that the army
should have been withdrawn to Chattanooga as soon as he had developed
fact of Bragg's concentration in his front, and he claimed that a safe
retreat could have been effected by forced marches. At this time the
gave no promise that the expectations entertained by the commanding
when he ordered the pursuit of the enemy by his entire army, would be
In obedience to orders of the 9th, Crittenden had occupied
with Wood's division, had called over the troops from the north bank of
the Tennessee, and had put Palmer's and Van Cleve's divisions in motion
on the road to Ringgold. These divisions had passed on the 11th
beyond Ringgold, and beyond the right flank of Bragg's army, Wilder's
having advanced to Tunnel Hill. The enemy had been developed on the 10th
on the road to Lee and Gordon's mill, and two brigades of Wood's
- Barker's and Buell's - had been moved from the Ringgold road to the
leading to Lafayette, in consequence of information sent by Wood to
Rosecrans, to the effect that General Bragg, with the bulk of his army,
was at Lee and Gordon's mill. This fact was also indicated by the
offered to Harker's
Page 114 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
advance north of the mill. General McCook had crossed Lookout Mountain to Alpine, and General R. B. Mitchell's cavalry - Crook's and McCook's divisions - had reconnoitred far toward Rome and Summerville without finding the enemy. This fact, and the capture of prisoners of Longstreet's corps from Virginia, indicated the presence of Bragg's army north of Alpine. McCook had thereupon thrown his trains back upon the mountain, and having sent a cavalry force towards Lafayette to develop the facts, was, on the 12th, holding his troops in readiness to recross the mountain upon receipt of orders to do so, or in the event of the return of the cavalry with positive knowledge of the concentration of Bragg's army at Lafayette. On the 12th Crittenden's corps took position on the line of the Chickamauga, with Van Cleve's division thrown across that stream on the direct road to Lafayette, in the immediate front of the enemy. And on the day that General Rosecrans proposed that "Crittenden's corps should attack the enemy as soon as it could be gotten into position," General Bragg turned from Thomas to direct Folk's corps and other forces against Crittenden, first to crush his corps, and then to turn again against the Fourteenth. Fortunately for the National army this plan also miscarried, through the default of subordinate commanders. Bragg's order for the movement against Crittenden is subjoined:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE. Lafayette, Ga., 6 p. M., September 12.
GENERAL :- I enclose you a dispatch from General Pegram. This presents you a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed and the others are yours. We can then turn on the force in the cove. Wheeler's cavalry will move on Wilder so as to cover your right. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.
Very truly yours,
Page 115 - ENEMY CONCENTRATED FOR BATTLE
Afterwards, Buckner's corps was moved in support. General Bragg thus refers to the movement and its failure: "Early on the thirteenth I proceeded to the front, ahead Buckner's command, to find that no advance had been made on the enemy, and that his forces had formed a Junction and recrossed the Chickamauga. Again disappointed, immediate measures were taken to place our trains and limited supplies in safe positions, when all our forces were concentrated along the Chickamauga, threatening the enemy in front."
Lafayette was five miles distant from Dug Gap, ten miles from Lee and Gordon's mill, eighteen from Alpine, and fifteen from Ringgold. Bragg's army was mainly between Lafayette and Dug Gap on his left, and Lee and Gordon's mill in his front, and hence he held interior lines of extreme shortness for operations against an army divided into three parts.
It is, therefore, demonstrable that had General Thomas moved rapidly on the direct road to Lafayette, through Dug Gap, as ordered, the defeat of his corps, or its capture would have been inevitable, and the fate of that corps would have been the fate of the army. It is accordingly not surprising, that when General Rosecrans had full knowledge of the facts, he frankly stated in his official report that "It was, therefore, a matter of life and death to effect the concentration of the army."
When it was evident that General Bragg's army was concentrated north
of Lafayette, McCook's corps was forty miles distant from Crittenden's
by the nearest road, and the distance from Lee and Gordon's mill, and
McLemore's Cove to Bragg's army, was less than between the positions of
Thomas and Crittenden, while McCook's corps was much farther from
position than from the enemy before Lafayette. But, notwithstanding the
wide separation of the corps, the intervening mountains, and the
forces of the enemy in' proximity to Crittenden, the Army of the
Page 116 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGES H. THOMAS
Cumberland was united in time for battle. In abandoning the offensive from the 13th to the 18th, Bragg lost his best opportunity to overwhelm a single corps. During this time Crittenden's corps stood before his army on the opposite bank of the Chickamauga. Had he moved his army forward, he would have forced this single unsupported corps back upon Chattanooga, or westward upon Lookout Mountain, and while doing this he could have covered his communications through Ringgold to Dalton.
At midnight on the 13th McCook received orders to move
of his divisions to Thomas' support, and guard his trains with the
On the following day the corps moved up the mountain, and on the 17th
it was concentrated in McLemore's Cove. In the meantime the Fourteenth
corps had moved gradually towards Lee and Gordon's mill, to be in
to connect in one direction with Crittenden and in the other with
The enemy's forces were lying along the line of march on the right, but
not in such strength, at any time, as to arrest the movement of
forces to the left. In the evening of the 18th General
head of column reached Crawfish Springs, and there he received orders
move to the Chattanooga and Lafayette road, at Kelley's farm, and to
his right with Crittenden's left, at Lee and Gordon's mill. This night
march was rendered necessary by the movement of General Bragg's forces
to his right, down the right bank of the Chickamauga, on the l8th. He
intended to cross that stream and attack General Crittenden on that
but he had been disappointed by the unexpected slowness of his forces
moving to position across the stream, in part resulting from Wilder's
Bragg had been reenforced until he had ten divisions of infantry,
in five corps of two divisions each. The divisions comprised from three
to five brigades each. He had four divisions of cavalry, two on his
covering the movement of his forces by that flank, and two on his left,
Page 117 - ROSECRANS' ARMY CONCENTRATED
to hold the gaps in Pigeon Mountain, and if possible, to direct attention from the real movement on the other flank. General Bragg had failed in three distinct efforts to strike the Fourteenth and Twenty-first corps in their isolation, and it was his purpose in moving his army down the Chickamauga and across it, to envelop Crittenden's corps, as the left of the National army. Had Bragg made the attack on the 18th he could have done this, but losing a day he lost the opportunity altogether, although his plan of operations for the 18th was based upon the belief that it was still practicable to move his forces upon General Rosecrans' left flank, at Lee and Gordon's mill, and interposing between the National army and Chattanooga, to drive it back in rout upon the mountain passes.
When the three corps of the Army of the Cumberland were united on
evening of the 18th it was then practicable to withdraw to
had General Rosecrans been averse to fighting a battle on the left bank
of the Chickamauga. That stream divided the two armies, and General
had no thought of crossing where there were opposing forces. A part of
his army had already moved down the stream, and was across far below
and Gordon's mill, and his plan of battle was such as to give Rosecrans
on the night of the l8th the best possible opportunity to withdraw his
army without harm. Rosecrans had command of three roads to Chattanooga,
the Lafayette road, the Dry Valley road, and the one leading along the
eastern base of Lockout Mountain. The two most easterly roads passed
gaps in Missionary Ridge, and the third passed most of the way between
Lookout Mountain and high hills. These main roads and intersecting
would have afforded facilities for rapid movement and easy defense. By
a forced march, on three roads practicable for the movement of troops
column, the army could have reached Chattanooga by the morning of the 19th,
since the most distant brigade was not more than fifteen
Page 118 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
miles from that place. It was not unusual during the war for armies to retreat from the presence of other armies under circumstances less favorable for quick movement than in this case. Had, therefore, General Rosecrans elected to withdraw, he might have lost some of his wagons, but it is highly probable that he could have saved them all. It is certain that withdrawal was practicable, and he accepted battle on the field of Chickamauga from choice, and not from compulsion.
General Thomas reached Kelley's farm with Baird's division about
and having been informed by Colonel Wilder that the enemy had crossed
Chickamauga in force the evening before at Reid's and Alexander's
faced his troops towards these bridges across the roads leading to
Wilder's brigade of Reynolds' division had taken position on the west
the Lafayette road, about half way from Kelley's farm to General
position. General Thomas intended to place the other two brigades of
division on the right of Baird to connect his right with Wilder's left.
When Brannan's division arrived at Kelley's farm, Thomas posted it on
left of Baird. Soon after it was reported that there was a brigade of
army in proximity, which had been cut off the night before by the
of Reid's bridge by Colonel Daniel McCook of the Reserve corps. In hope
of capturing this isolated brigade General Brannan was directed to move
forward on the road to the burnt bridge, to capture the brigade or
it back across the Chickamauga. This movement developed the enemy and
the battle, at a point far north of the one where General Bragg
to take the initiative against General Rosecrans' left flank. Brannan
encountered Forrest's cavalry, which was covering the right of Walker's
corps, as that corps, Hood's and Buckner's, and Cheatham's division of
Folk's were moving with a left wheel upon Crittenden. The cavalry
after a sharp conflict, given way before Brannan,
Page 119 - CHICKAMAUGA
Bragg moved Walker's corps to Forrest's support. This corps, after a
temporary success against Baird's division was driven back, when other
forces of the enemy were turned to the right. In the meantime the first
divisions engaged on the left of the National army were reenforced, and
from Brannan's initiative both armies extended their lines towards Lee
and Gordon's mill. Early in the day Crittenden had sent a brigade to
left to develop the enemy, if coming against his position. Soon after,
the battle having opened far to his left, while no enemy was
his position, he sent Palmer's division to General Thomas. This
went into position to the right of Baird. In the meantime General
had placed General McCook in command of all the troops on the right of
Crittenden, and directed him to send his own divisions to the left as
should come upon the field. Negley's division at the time was in
on the Chickamauga and was included with the cavalry in McCook's
The first division sent from the right to Thomas was Johnson's division
of McCook's corps, and this division went into line on the left of
Soon after, General Reynolds' division extended the line to the right.
Thus five divisions were thrown before the enemy as his line was
to his left. The lines of neither army were able to maintain
and each at times was broken. The battle-field for the most part was
planted with forest trees, which were a barrier to regularity in the
of troops and the maintenance of connected lines, in the alternations
aggression and defense. Gradually, however, with the oft repeated
of the enemy, General Thomas' line of five divisions became continuous
and stable. Having failed to drive Thomas from position. General Bragg
advanced fresh troops - Buckner's corps - towards the unoccupied space
on the right of Reynolds. To meet this effort to divide his army,
Rosecrans directed Jeff. C. Davis' division of McCook's corps, and
Page 120 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Van Cleve's division of Crittenden's corps, to the right of Thomas' line. These divisions were soon heavily engaged, and Sheridan's division from McCook's corps, and Wood's of Crittenden's were also sent to their support. Later in the day Negley's division of Thomas' corps was also sent to this part of the field. Early in the afternoon General Thomas sent Brannan's division from his extreme left to drive back the enemy who had penetrated the line of battle on Reynolds' right. The enemy's success at this point was the most threatening of the day, but Brannan's timely support restored the connection of Reynolds with the troops on his right.
In this action General Bragg's plan entirely miscarried. Expecting
move seven divisions of infantry and two of cavalry upon the left flank
of Rosecrans' army at Lee and Gordon's mill, and then unite his entire
army on that flank, the battle was forced upon him so far to the north
that one of Crittenden's divisions had been posted opposite Bragg's
and the other two had moved at least a mile to confront the left of his
line of battle. And instead of using the remainder of his infantry
the front of Crittenden's corps near Lee and Gordon's mill he was
to send it down the Chickamauga to cross in the rear of his other
To the defeat of this plan General Thomas contributed largely. He was
to the left by General Rosecrans but, except in compliance with this
he was virtually in independent command of more than half of the
divisions of the army. Thomas disposed five divisions for battle, and
troops under his command formed about five-sevenths of the connected
of battle, and in transferring Brannan's division from his left to the
right of Reynolds he drove back the enemy after the line of battle had
been pierced. No general, in chief or subordinate command, was ever
quick or judicious in his dispositions, or more forceful in fighting an
Page 121 - NIGHT OF THE NINETEENTH
Late in the evening Thomas retired the left of his line a short distance to better ground, and directed the division commanders to construct barricades of logs in front of their troops. It was so evident that the battle had been indecisive in general issue, that both armies were conscious that the renewal of the conflict was inevitable.
During the night the corps commanders were called together for consultation at the headquarters of the commanding general. At this conference General Thomas was urgent that the right and right centre of the army should be withdrawn to Missionary Ridge and the transverse hills to the right and rear of the centre. The ridge and these hills commanded the Dry Valley road and much of the ground between that road and the one leading to Lafayette by Lee and Gordon's mill. Had this suggestion been adopted the defensive strength of the right would at least have been doubled. The strength of the transverse hills was proved on the following day, when Thomas with a part of the army saved the whole of it. But had the entire right of the army been where he would have placed it on the second day of the battle, neither that part nor any other would have been defeated.
The general trend of Missionary Ridge is north and south, but this
is cut into separate hills and series of hills by deep depressions or
long depression stretches from McFarland's house, first to the south
then to the south-east, and cuts the ridge to its base. Through this
runs the Dry Valley road. At McFarland's another gap running to the
is equally deep. These two gaps isolate a series of hills, which trend
south from McFarland's to Villetoe's house on the Dry Valley road, and,
making nearly a right angle at the latter house, stretch to the east.
the south of the hills there is first low ground and then other hills,
lower than the main ridge, extending nearly to Widow Glen's house. On
right side of this road, to one moving south, is Missionary
Page 122 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Ridge; and on the left are the hills which connect themselves almost to Widow Glen's. The right of the army, if it had been withdrawn as General Thomas advised, would have rested on the main ridge and upon the detached hills.
The ridge trending north from the Dry Valley road at Villetoe's, was the position taken by Steedman's, Brannan's and Wood's divisions in the afternoon of the 20th, whose strength was then fully tested. It should be mentioned in this connection that had the right of the army, cavalry included, been retired to these defensive positions, most of the field hospitals would have been entirely uncovered. These hospitals had been established on the 19th, near Crawfish Springs, far in the rear and far to the right of the line of battle on that day. They would have fallen into the hands of the enemy had the right of the army been withdrawn the night of the 19th, but had this been done, they would have been speedily regained as one of the fruits of victory.
In seeming deference to General Thomas' suggestion, General Rosecrans ordered Generals McCook and Crittenden, to withdraw their troops. The former was to establish a new line for the right, and the latter was to place his troops to the left of the new line in reserve. At 11.45 P. M., the following order was given to McCook:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Widow Glen's, September 19, 11.45 P. M.
MAJOR GENERAL McCooK, Commanding the Twentieth Army Corps.
The General commanding directs you, as soon as practicable after the receipt of this order, to post your command so as to form the right of the new battle-front, and hold the same. Leave your outposts and grand guard where they now are till they are driven in by the enemy, when they will fall back upon the main body of your command, contesting the ground inch by inch.
Chief of Staff.
Page 123 - THE ORDERS FOR THE TWENTIETH
Crittenden was ordered to place his two divisions in reserve to support McCook or Thomas :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Widow Glen's House, Sept. 19, 1863 - 11.20 P. M.
The General commanding directs me to inform you that General McCook has been ordered to hold this gap to-morrow, covering the Dry Valley road, his right resting near this place, his left connecting with General Thomas' right. The General places your corps in reserve to-morrow, and directs you to post it on the eastern slope of Missionary Ridge to support McCook or Thomas. Leave the grand guard from your command out, with instructions to hold their ground until driven in, and then to retire slowly, contesting the ground stubbornly.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.
THE BATTLE OPENS ON THE LEFT - ENEMY REPULSED - CHANGES IN POSITIONS
OF TROOPS ON THE RIGHT - THAT WING ROUTED - THOMAS FORMS A NEW
LINE AND REPULSES THE ENEMY - THE WITHDRAWAL TO CHATTANOOGA.
All the movements required by General Rosecrans' orders were made during the night. General McCook posted Sheridan's division on the slope of Missionary Ridge to the right and rear of Widow Glen's with Davis' division to the left of Sheridan, while General Crittenden placed Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions still further to the left on the eastern slope of the ridge. Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry of Reynolds' division, by direction of the commanding general, reported to McCook for orders, and this brigade was placed on the right of Sheridan. McCook, in compliance with orders, made his dispositions to command the Dry Valley road, and to hold the gap near Widow Glen's house. Defenses were constructed during the night and early morning which, with the natural strength of the position, gave great firmness to the right flank of the army. But, although four divisions had then been withdrawn nearly a mile, there had been no corresponding recession of Negley's and Brannan's divisions and the right flank of the former was in air and far from supporting forces.
Very early in the morning of the 20th - 6 A. M. - General
Thomas requested that Negley's division should be sent to him to take
position on the left of Baird which Brannan's division had occupied at
the opening of the battle. Brannan's division was then in line on the
of Reynolds, where it was needed, and Thomas desired to strengthen his
left flank with Negley's division, anticipating that the battle of the
20th would open at that point.
Page 125 - HE ASKS FOR NEGLEY
At 6 A. M., General Thomas sent the following message to General Rosecrans:
H'DQ'RS FOURTEENTH A. C. DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND, Near McDaniels’ House, Sept. 20, 1863 - 6 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL ROSECRANS, Commanding Department Cumberland:
Since my return this morning, I have found it necessary to concentrate my line more. My left does not now extend to the road that branches off at McDaniels' to Reid's bridge. I earnestly request that Negley's division be placed on my left immediately. The enemy's skirmishers have been discovered about three quarters of a mile in front of our left and picket line, proceeding towards the Rossville road. A division on my left would be exactly in their front.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Maj .-Gen'l U. S. V. Com'd'g.
Upon receipt of the foregoing note General Rosecrans issued the following conditional order :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, September 20, 1863 - 6.35 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCooK, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
General Negley's division has been ordered to General Thomas' left. The General commanding directs you to fill the space left vacant by his removal, if practicable. The enemy appears to be moving toward our left.
J. A. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff.
This order was not positive in its requirement, and in view of all
facts the reason is not apparent, for directing General McCook to fill
the space to be vacated by Negley's division
Page 126 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
His two divisions were required by a previous order to extend the line of battle from General Thomas' right to Missionary Ridge, in rear of Widow Glen's, - General Rosecrans' headquarters. General Davis had only two brigades on the field, and had lost about forty per cent. of his men on the 19th. McCook's troops could not form a strong line from Negley's right to the point designated for the right flank, much less from Brannan's right to that point. This order then required that General McCook should move his forces to the left, or use the discretion so plainly given. If this order had been given to General Crittenden, who had Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions in reserve on the eastern slope of Missionary Ridge in readiness to support Thomas or McCook, Negley might have been relieved early in the day and been in position on the left of Baird when the battle opened.
The following extract from the report of General Thomas, in relation to the removal of Negley's division to the left, is subjoined:
"After my return from department headquarters, and about 2 A. M., on the 20th, I received a report from General Baird that the left of his division did not rest on the Reid's Bridge road as I had intended, and that he could not reach it without weakening his line too much. I immediately addressed a note to the commanding general, requesting that General Negley be sent to take position on General Baird's left and rear, and thus secure our left from assault. During the night the troops threw up temporary breastworks of logs, and prepared for the encounter which all anticipated would come off the next day. Although informed by note from General Rosecrans headquarters that Negley's division would be sent immediately to take post on my left, it had not arrived at 7 A. M. on the 20th, and I sent Captain Willard of my staff to General Negley to urge him forward as rapidly as possible, and to point out his position to him."
Lieutenant-General Polk, commanding the right wing of the
army, was ordered by General Bragg to assault General Rosecrans'
left at dawn on the 20th and his divisions were directed to
attack in turn to
Page 127 - AWAITING ATTACK
the left. Lieutenant-General Longstreet, commanding the left wing, was to attack in the same order as soon as Folk's left division was in motion, "and the whole line was then to be pushed vigorously and persistently against the enemy throughout its extent." But the commander of the right wing was not prompt in compliance and, during his absence from his command, Bragg ordered a reconnoissance, which developed the fact that the road to Chattanooga to the left of Rosecrans' army was open, and this knowledge intensified the eagerness of the enemy to attack and turn Thomas' left flank. The reconnoissance reported by Bragg, and the advance of the enemy on his left mentioned by Thomas, were doubtless identical.
General Thomas had done all in his power to strengthen the point
by Bragg for his initial attack. Thomas' plan was to place the
of Negley's division on the eastern base of Missionary Ridge to the
and rear of Baird's division, so as to sweep the space accessible for a
flank movement, and to place Negley's three brigades on the left and in
close connection with Baird. With an entire division supported by three
batteries of artillery, he believed that the left flank of the army
be held against the attacks of the enemy. But Negley was not permitted
by the commanding general to leave position until relieved by other
The division at one time was actually withdrawn, and was forming for
march to the left, but was remanded to the line by General Rosecrans.
8 A. M. Beatty's brigade in reserve was permitted to go to Thomas, but
the other two brigades of Negley's division were not relieved until
later in the morning when Wood's division occupied the position vacated
by Negley. Beatty reached Thomas before the opening of the battle, but
his brigade, in a thin line, was unable to check Breckinridge's
which marched round Baird's flank at the time he was receiving an
Page 128 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Thomas' plan had miscarried through the retention of Negley's two brigades and all his artillery on the right. Thomas knew that the left of the army was both vulnerable and vital, and yet he was baffled in all his efforts to give it strength.
When Beatty's brigade was broken and driven back, Breckinridge advanced southward on the Lafayette road far towards the rear of the centre of our army. Fortunately there were two brigades and some reserve regiments which Thomas could move against this daring division. Stanley's brigade of Negley's division, and Van Derveer's, of Brannan's, advanced directly against the enemy, and a few regiments of Palmer's division, which General Thomas had previously sent to the support of Baird, faced to the rear and struck him in flank. After a sharp conflict Breckinridge's forces fled with broken ranks and heavy loss around Baird's left flank to the sheltering woods beyond. Not only was this turning movement signally defeated, but every attack on Thomas' line, as it was taken up by Bragg's divisions in succession to the enemy's left, was repulsed from first to last. This line was secure, not from the strength of its own left at Baird's position, but from the exhaustion of Bragg's right wing. But on the right of the general line of battle the enemy had been successful to a degree that put the whole army in jeopardy
The line formed by General McCook, in compliance with the order of the commanding general, requiring him to post his troops to hold the gap at Widow Glen's and cover the Dry Valley road, although seen by General Rosecrans during the early hours of the morning, did not finally meet his approval; and having decided upon another change he directed that the troops on the right should be moved to the front and left.
In compliance, Sheridan's division was moved forward from Missionary
Ridge, one brigade advancing abreast, but not in connection with the
of Wood's division, which had at 9.45 A. M. taken Negley's position,
Page 129 - THE ORDERS TO McCOOK
other two brigades taking posts to the right and rear of the first. Davis' division was directed at first to the left and forward by General McCook but, afterwards, by a direct order to General Davis from General Rosecrans, it was advanced to an unoccupied space between Wood's right and the left of Sheridan's advanced brigade. These movements in some measure restored the line of the previous evening, Davis having found in his designated position a rail barricade which had sheltered troops on the 19th. The right of this line, however, did not rest as far forward as on that day, and on the right of Davis was not closely connected at any time. There was a space of about three hundred yards between Davis' right and the left of Sheridan's advanced brigade, and the interval between that brigade and the other two of the division, posted to the rear and right, was about one fourth of a mile, while Wilder's brigade was still further to the rear and right. It was necessary to post these four brigades so as to hold the ground on that flank as far back towards the Dry Valley road as possible, and the distance was too great for them to form a connected line. This flank of the army as then formed was exceedingly weak, but a series of changes was soon after ordered by General Rosecrans, which made it easy for the enemy to rout the infantry on the right of the army, and completely isolate the cavalry. The orders for these new movements are subjoined :
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the field, September 20th - 10.10 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCOOK, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
General Thomas is being heavily pressed on the left. The General commanding directs you to make immediate dispositions to withdraw the right, so as to spare as much force as possible to reenforce Thomas. The left must be held at all hazards, even if the right is drawn wholly back to the present left. Select a good position back this way, and be ready to start reenforcements to Thomas at a moment's warning.
Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.
Page 130 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the field, September 20 - 10.30 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL McCook, Commanding Twentieth Army Corps :
The General commanding directs you to send two brigades of General Sheridan's division at once, and with all possible dispatch, to support General Thomas, and send the third brigade as soon as the lines can be drawn in sufficiently. March them as rapidly as you can without exhausting the men. Report in person in these headquarters as soon as your orders are given in regard to Sheridan's movement. Have you any news from Col. Post ?
JAMES A. GARFIELD, Brigadier General and Chief of Staff.
The second of these orders was received six minutes after the first, and Lytie's and Walworth's brigades were at once withdrawn from line and put in rapid movement to the left. McCook ordered Wilder's brigade to close to the left, and sent a staff officer to General Mitchell with an order for the cavalry to close to the left also. There was then an interval of a mile between the right of Wilder's brigade and the left of the cavalry; but Mitchell reported that he had been ordered by General Rosecrans to remain at Crawfish Springs.
At 10.35 A. M. General Rosecrans sent the subjoined note to Thomas:
HEADQUARTERS D. C., September 20, 1863 - 10.35 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Fourteenth Corps:
The General commanding directs me to say, if possible refuse your right sending in your reserves to the northward, as he would prefer having Crittenden and McCook on your right.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
FRANK S. BOND, Major and A. D. C.
This despatch was returned thus endorsed by Thomas:
The enemy are pushing me so hard that I cannot make any changes. The
troops are posted behind temporary breast-works.
Page 131 - THE ORDER TO WOOD
It thus appears that when General Rosecrans asked Thomas if he could not extend his line northward with his reserves, that McCook and Crittenden should remain on his right, two of Sheridan's brigades had been sent to Thomas, leaving with McCook only three brigades of his corps. And in ten minutes after Rosecrans had made this inquiry of Thomas, and before the answer of the latter could possibly have been received, the following was issued which took from Crittenden all of his command on the right except the two brigades of Van Cleve's division.
September 20, 10.45 A. M.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL WOOD, Commanding Division.
The General commanding directs you to close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him.
FRANK S. BOND, Major and Aid-de-Camp.
The fact that this order was not sent through General Crittenden,
corps commander, emphasized the requirement to make the movement as
as possible. At the time, Wood's left was aligned with Brannan's right,
while the left of the latter was in echelon with Reynolds' right.
Wood did not know where Reynolds' division was posted, but he knew that
the troops on the left of Brannan were heavily engaged; and, supposing
that this was the reason of the order from General Rosecrans, was
in withdrawing his division, by brigades, in order from left to right,
to pass in rear of Brannan's division to the left. The order for McCook
to send two of Sheridan's brigades to General Thomas followed closely
Rosecrans' order to Davis, to take position on the right of Wood; and
again, in a few minutes, General Wood received his orders. The result
that after General Sheridan began his movement to the left, and while
Page 132 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
last brigade was leaving position, the overlapping lines of the enemy, at about 11.15 A.M., advanced upon Davis' two brigades in furious assault, striking also Buell's brigade of Wood's division in flank and rear. By the quick retirement of this brigade, Davis' two brigades, of fourteen hundred men in aggregate, were completely isolated. The line on their left was open to Brannan's right, and on their right was the space, previously held by Sheridan's advanced brigades, upon which Laibold's brigade, while marching in column by divisions to close to the left, was struck by the enemy in front and flank, and immediately routed.
In this situation the only safety for Davis' division was in quick
and McCook, who had gone to the right from Wood's position to order his
remaining troops to close rapidly to the left on Brannan, said to
as he rode up and saw lines five-fold stronger than his own short,
line: "We must either stay here and be killed or captured, or we must
And then, seeing the hopelessness and futility of resistance, ordered
to fall back. When Davis' division, and the supporting but distant
of Wilder, moved to the rear under a terrific fire from the enemy, the
whole line from Brannan's right was gone. Sheridan's two brigades, in
motion to the left on the Dry Valley road, were halted to resist the
as he swept over the vacant ground, but successful resistance was then
impossible, and, in the vain effort, General Lytle fell, and with him
officers and men. Under the pressure of the enemy's vastly superior
Sheridan's division and Wilder's brigade moved to the right towards
Springs, while Davis' division was deflected to the left over
Ridge. Generals McCook, Sheridan and Davis, and numerous officers of
staff and line, did all that was possible to rally the troops, but,
a severe fire, this was impracticable.
Page 133 - ROSECRANS RETIRES TO CHATTANOOGA
The left wing of Bragg's army, strengthened during the night by fresh troops from Virginia, moved first upon a feeble division without support on either flank, and resistance thereafter was hopeless.
Two brigades of Van Cleve's division, also in motion to the left, in
compliance with orders from General Rosecrans, were also broken and
upon Missionary Ridge from the rear of Brannan's position. Brannan's
was exposed by the withdrawal of Wood's division, and his right
attacked in front and flank, bent back for safety. Soon after, General
Brannan retired both brigades - Croxton's and Connell's - and posted
some distance to the rear on a high, rounded knoll on the line of hills
which trends eastward from the Dry Valley road. The cavalry and
brigade of mounted infantry moved across Missionary Ridge into
Valley. A part of the infantry forces also drifted into that valley.
ordered his two divisions to Rossville, and by a detour they moved into
the Dry Valley road north of Thomas' final line. General Rosecrans rode
immediately to Chattanooga, to look after his pontoon bridges and
in the rear of his army. Crittenden, his entire corps having been
from him, followed, first to Rossville and then to Chattanooga to
to the commanding general. General McCook, with General Morton, chief
of the army, and other staff officers, crossed Missionary Ridge to the
west, to reach Rossville by a circuit. Noticing the ascending lines of
dust, and taking observations with a prismatic compass, General Morton
decided that the whole army was retreating. The guide, against the
of General McCook, bore to the northwest, until Spear's brigade was
Learning, upon inquiry, that General Rosecrans was at Chattanooga, and
that he was himself nearer that place than Rossville, and believing
by swift riding he could confer with Rosecrans, and arrive at Rossville
as soon as his troops, dashed into Chattanooga. Upon arrival he was
to remain with the commanding general.
Page 134 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
The only apparent reason for the orders of General Rosecrans, which
weakened the right of his army until successful resistance was
was his belief that General Bragg was moving his army by the right
and that, consequently, there was no danger of an attack in force from
his left. On the supposition that such an attack was probable, the
which opened the line at intervals were injudicious in the extreme.
part of his line of battle had been twice radically changed in a few
and the fact that General Rosecrans gave direct orders to division
relieved his corps commanders of the responsibility of maintaining a
connected line of battle even if they had had enough troops for such a
line. His order to General McCook of 6.35 A. M. plainly manifested his
conjecture that the enemy was moving by the right flank, and his
orders to that general to select a new position for the right and make
dispositions to withdraw his troops, and afterwards for the actual
of a part of them, are not easily explained except on this hypothesis.
But there had been no reconnoissance to determine the presence or
of the enemy in front of his right, and General Thomas had not been
in time, as to the actual state of affairs on the left. Doubtless, the
repeated requests of Thomas for reenforcements had, in General
view, increased the probability that Bragg's army was moving to the
to interpose between the battle-field and Chattanooga. But, in fact,
was only anxious to give stability to the left of his line, which he
could not be effected without the troops which had been promised early
in the morning. He had himself weakened that flank the day before to
back the troops that had pierced the line of battle on the right of
and the long delay of promised reenforcements made frequent
necessary. And notwithstanding orders were given by General Rosecrans
the movement of Negley's, Sheridan's and Van Cleve's divisions to
Page 135 - DELAY OF REENFORCEMENTS
two brigades - Beatty's and Stanley's - joined him from these divisions, until the crisis on his left had passed. With these two brigades, arriving separately, and the reserves of the divisions under his own command, he had driven the enemy in rout from his rear, and thus defeated the movement, which, according to General Bragg's plan of battle, was the most important of all. The withdrawal of Sheridan's and Wood's divisions from line did not help Thomas in defeating Bragg's leading project, though it brought disaster to the right of the army. If the order to General Wood to close up on Reynolds and support him did not have reference to the transfer of other troops to the left besides Sheridan's and Van Cleve's divisions, the reason for it is certainly hidden. lf Brannan's division was out of line, as was partially indicated by the relation of its left to Reynolds' right, it would have been far easier to put that division into line than to move Wood a division interval "to close up on Reynolds," who was not needing support. It was not necessary to move Wood at all, unless Brannan was needed on some other part of the field, and it had been decided to send him to the left, where so many other troops were going. Brannan had two brigades in line, and, consequently, occupied the usual division interval. In his official report General Rosecrans thus mentioned General Thomas' requests for support, and the reason for the order to General Wood.
"The battle in the meanwhile roared with increasing fury and approached from the left to the centre. Two aids arrived successively within a few minutes, from General Thomas, asking for reenforcements. The first was directed to say that General Negley had already gone, and should be nearly at hand at that time, and that Brannan's reserve brigade was available. The other was directed to say that General Van Cleve would at once be sent to his assistance, which was accordingly done.
General Thomas soon followed, that he was heavily pressed, Captain
A. D. C., the bearer, informing me at the same time that General
was out of line,
Page 136 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and that General Reynolds' right was exposed.* Orders were despatched to General Wood to close up on Reynolds, and word was sent to General Thomas that he should be supported, even if it took away the whole corps of Crittenden and McCook. * * * *
General Wood overlooking the direction to "close up" on General Reynolds, supposed he was to support him by withdrawing from the line and passing to the rear of Brannan, who, it appears, was not out of line, but was in echelon, and slightly in rear of Reynolds' right."
But, in a letter addressed to the New York Tribune of October 4th, 1881, General Rosecrans stated that General Wood was to have closed on Reynolds, only when Brannan had withdrawn his two brigades to go to General Thomas. The terms of General Rosecrans' order, however, did not intimate that the required movement was conditional.
General Thomas was related to the movements on the right of the army
only through his requests for reenforcements and these repeated
for promised troops lost their true significance through no fault of
own. In view of all the facts it is manifest that had Negley's
as a whole, been sent to General Thomas early in the morning, no calls
for reenforcements would have gone from the left to the commanding
Thomas did not need more than one division to render his left
and he did not expect that the right would be opened to the enemy by
troops that had not been promised. His requests were repeated because
first delay, and then troops were sent by brigades, too slowly, to give
firmness to the only weak point in his line. Had he called for
after receiving a division, in its unity, or even after he had been
by three brigades, in turn, he would have sustained a nearer relation
the orders of the commanding general.
* Colonel Kellogg has stated, that riding in rear of the line of
he observed that Brannan's left was in rear of Reynolds' right, and,
being questioned, mentioned the fact to General Rosecrans.
Page 137 - HE AGAIN ASKS FOR NEGLEY
At l l A. M., Thomas sent the following note to Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS FOURTEENTH ARMY CORPS, DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND.
Battle-field, Sept. 20th, 1863, 11 A. M.
Commanding Department Cumberland.
The enemy penetrated a short time since, to the road leading to McDaniel's house, and I fear they are trying to cut off our communication with Rossville through the hills behind the centre of our army. I think therefore it is of the utmost importance that Negley's division be ordered to that point, the left of my line.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Maj. Gen'1 U. S. V. Com'd'g.
It is therefore manifest that as late as 11 A. M., the time of the disaster on the right, Thomas repeated his request for Negley's division, one brigade of which had previously joined him; and yet at this hour Sheridan's two brigades and Wood's and Van Cleve's divisions were in motion to the left.
After noon General Thomas hearing firing on his right, which was not
explained by known facts, rode in that direction. He then had no
of the state of affairs on the right of the army or even on the right
his own line. He first met General Wood with Barnes' brigade, who
that he had been ordered to support Reynolds. General Thomas replied
Reynolds did not need support, and directed him to move to the left to
make that flank secure. Barnes' brigade was thereupon sent to Baird's
and General Wood turned back to meet his other brigades and take them
the same point. In the mean time, however, there were unexpected
on the right of Reynolds. Captain Kellogg, who had been sent to conduct
Sheridan's division to the left, reported that he had
Page 138 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
been fired upon by a line of skirmishers, advancing in front of a heavy force, in the rear of Reynolds' position. General Wood had previously thrown Marker's and Buell's brigades to the front on a hill to the left of Brannan's position. An advancing column was now in view in their front, and at first it was hoped that this was Sheridan's division, expected from the direction in which this column was advancing. But it was soon probable that foes not friends were approaching, and measures were taken to ascertain their identity. A flag was raised, and the fire thus elicited, made known that the enemy was in rear of Brannan's former position and indicated that changes had occurred on the right which were plainly suggestive of disaster, but not of its real magnitude.
As another indication of what had occurred, General Thomas learned
Brannan was far from the position which he held in the morning. His
was on the line of hills upon which Thomas had advised Rosecrans to
his line of battle. Necessity had done, in part, what generalship had
demanded. A small force on these hills was now to fight a desperate
not to win a victory, but to save the army. The situation on the right
of Reynolds was now exceedingly critical. There was a wide space
Reynolds and Wood, another more narrow between the latter and Brannan.
And on the right of Brannan to the Dry Valley road there were no
forces. General Negley with his third brigade and all his artillery had
stopped for a short time in this strong position but had disappeared,
with him had gone Beatty's brigade from the left of the line, while its
commander was doing service in the combination which drove the enemy
the rear of that line . Although Brannan's and Wood's troops were not
the strength of the two positions compensated in a great degree for the
lack of continuity of line. Nothing saved the right of this new line
the slowness of the enemy in availing
Page 139 - ARRIVAL OF GRANGER
himself of the open way on the right of Brannan, to turn his position and take his line in reverse. In Brannan's and Wood's commands there were nominally six brigades, but the aggregate including broken forces was about five thousand men. The successful resistance of these men to several fierce assaults by the left wing of Bragg's army made it possible for help to come from an unexpected source when the enemy in heavy force had wheeled upon the hills on the right of Brannan, and was moving to his rear. The long line of the enemy easily overlapped Thomas' short line. He had not been able to connect the parts of that line short as it was. From all the troops that had been assigned to his command or drifted to him during the battle, he could not spare a skirmish line to meet the enemy on the hill made vacant by the retirement of Negley. Opportunely General Gordon Granger, commanding the Reserve corps, reported to him in advance of two of his brigades. This corps commander had been manoeuvering for several days south and south east from the Rossville Gap, near the Lafayette road, and having observed that the noise of battle on the right was nearer than in the morning, had directed General James B. Steedman with General Whittaker's and Colonel John G. Mitchell's brigades of his division to advance towards the manifest conflict. General Thomas ordered these troops to charge the enemy and drive him over the hills. The charge accomplished this grand result, and then the troops extended the line of battle from Brannan's right to the Dry Valley road. In the mean time General Thomas had put Hazen's brigade of Palmer's division between Wood and Reynolds. The line of battle was then nearly continuous throughout its length.
Against this line the left wing of Bragg's army was moved in assault
until it was completely shattered.*
* At 3 P.M., General Longstreet asked for reenforcements and General
Bragg replied, that the troops of his right wing had been so badly
back that they would be of no service. Bragg's losses in aggregate were
forty per cent. Longstreet lost thirty-six per cent of his command on
second day, mainly in the afternoon.
Page 140 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Both wings of that great army were broken in turn, by Thomas' troops on the left and right of his line of battle. Late in the afternoon many of his troops having exhausted their ammunition, repulsed the enemy's attacks with the bayonet. The ammunition train of the Fourteenth corps, and some of the division trains had been sent to the rear by some unauthorized person. Late in the day ammunition was taken from Steedman and given to troops on his left.
It is not practicable to compute with accuracy the number of troops on the last line of battle. There were twenty brigades of infantry, including those that were mere fragments, and all but two had been engaged on the first day and nearly all had been heavily engaged during the forenoon of the second day. The aggregate could not have exceeded twenty-five thousand men, and it may not have included more than twenty thousand, or an average of one thousand men to a brigade. With this meagre force General Thomas repulsed thirty-five brigades of infantry and five or six of cavalry, some of the latter fighting as infantry. The mere statement of this disparity is enough to prove the brilliant achievements of Thomas and the remnant of the Army of the Cumberland.
At 3.35 P. M. General Garfield and Colonel Thruston, chief-of-staff to General McCook, joined General Thomas. The former bore instructions from General Rosecrans, giving Thomas discretion as to the immediate withdrawal of the army. The reply was brief but emphatic:
"It will ruin the army to withdraw it now. This position must be
till night." Colonel Thruston gave information of the presence of
and Davis' divisions in the long gap leading from Villetoe's house to
General Thomas promptly requested Thruston to ask the commanders of
troops to move upon that road to his right. Colonel Thruston
rode over the hills to the gap, and found not only Generals Sheridan
Davis, but General Negley, also. These generals were
Page 141 - DAVIS MOVES FORWARD
holding a conference at McFarland's. When the message was delivered Davis turned to his command and put it in motion to the front, while the other two generals moved with their troops to Rossville. From that place Sheridan passed through the gap to the left of the army on the Lafayette road.
After the left wing of Bragg's army had been gathered in line of
before General Thomas' right, or new line, it was practicable for
to move across the hills east of the Dry Valley road to Brannan's
and the way was open from McFarland's house through a transverse gap to
Thomas' field position in the afternoon. Through this gap a road passed
east to the Lafayette road in rear of the army. The distance from the
Valley road to the left of the line of battle, or Baird's position, was
about two miles. All the troops, therefore, that reached the Dry Valley
early in the afternoon, could have moved across the hills or through
transverse gap to any point in the line, or they could have moved south
on that road to the immediate right of Steedman's flank, after he had
the enemy from the ridge on the right of Brannan. Colonel Thruston
from the extreme right to General Thomas, and so did Surgeons F. H.
and J. Perkins, medical directors respectively of the Fourteenth and
corps. Dr. Gross was on his way to Crawfish Springs, to look after the
wounded of his corps, when the disaster occurred. He was unable to
his destination, but he and Dr. Perkins remained for several hours
the retreating troops, caring for the wounded and securing, as far as
transportation for them to Chattanooga, and they finally crossed the
Valley road to the rear of Thomas' line. Two regiments of Van Cleve's
the Forty-fourth Indiana and Seventeenth Kentucky, also reached the new
Page 142 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
There were from seven to ten thousand men in fighting condition in the vicinity of McFarland's house by 2 P. M., or a little later, and if one half of these had been moved against Bragg's left flank before four o'clock, his army might have been totally defeated. When Longstreet was fighting cavalry as infantry on that flank, there was fear of an attack up on his left. The adjacent hills offered splendid positions for artillery and for an enfilading fire of artillery and musketry. But unfortunately there was no general of rank in that valley to take the responsibility of moving the idle troops against the enemy at the most vulnerable point in his line. Had General Rosecrans stopped at McFarland's house, gathered his broken forces together, and led them against the enemy on Thomas' line, or to the right of it, he would have gained the chief glory of a decisive victory. But in going to Chattanooga in ignorance of the steadfastness of the left and the left centre of his army he lost an opportunity for great distinction. The subjoined extract from his official report gives the circumstances under which he went to Chattanooga, and the reasons for his action.
"At the moment of the repulse of Davis' division, I
standing in the rear of his right, waiting the completion of the
of McCook's corps to the left. Seeing confusion among Van Glebe's
and the distance Davis's men were falling back, and the tide of battle
surging toward us, the urgency for Sheridan's troops to intervene,
imminent, and I hastened in person to the extreme right to direct
movements on the flank of the advancing rebels. It was too late, the
of returning troops rolled back, and the enemy advanced. Giving the
directions to rally behind the ridge west of the Dry Valley road, I
down it accompanied by General Garfield, Major McMichael and Major
my staff, and a few of the escort, under a shower of grape, canister
musketry for two or three hundred yards, and attempted to rejoin
Thomas and the troops sent to his support by passing to the rear of the
broken position of our lines, but found the routed troops far toward
left and hearing the enemy's advancing musketry and cheers, I became
whether the left had held its ground and started for Rossville. On
and further reflection, however, I determined to send General Garfield
there while I went to Chattanooga to give orders for the security of
pontoon bridges at Battle Creek and Bridgeport and to make preliminary
dispositions either to forward ammunition and supplies should we hold
ground or to withdraw the troops into good position."
Page 143 - THE ROCK OF CHICKAMAUGA
All these objects could have been attained by orders issued on the field, except the selection of a good position for his army in the rear, but a new position was only a consequence of utter defeat, and as to this General Rosecrans' was in doubt when he left the battle-field.
Seldom in war has such a burden of responsibility fallen upon a subordinate, as upon General Thomas at Chickamauga. The battle was left to him before noon on the 20th. He received no instructions from the commanding general. He was ignorant of the disaster on the right until the on-coming left wing of Bragg's army revealed it. Uninformed as to the general situation, he could not anticipate emergencies, but he was strong and versatile to master them as they were developed. It was not a light matter to command the Army of the Cumberland, as a whole, against a vast army that had been gathered from the East and West to crush it; an army superior in numbers, and inspired by the hope that in winning a decisive victory the general contest would be decided also. But, to take command of half of the Army of the Cumberland, with no supporting cavalry, with exposed flanks, and unconnected lines - to be supreme on the field by the demands of the situation rather than by the orders of a superior, and under such circumstances to contend successfully against Bragg's whole army, infantry and cavalry, was an achievement that transcends the higher successes of generals.
General Thomas did all that was possible with his forces on both
of battle. He suggested for the whole army a position whose strength he
demonstrated with a part. He discerned the importance of turning all
troops gathered on the Dry Valley road, against the enemy's left flank.
His generalship in this battle cannot be measured alone by his success
in repulsing all the forces that moved against his
Page 144 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
lines on both days. What he suggested, as well as what he achieved, must be taken to give full breadth to his military skill. Had his advice been taken, the battle of Chickamauga would never have been fought, but Chattanooga would have been fortified from choice, as it afterwards was from necessity. He saved his corps and with it the army, by his cautious advance towards Lafayette. And in the battle which he would have avoided he used every resource with the greatest skill to defeat the enemy. A general less calm and self-reliant in undefined emergencies, less stubborn in defense, less quick in disposing troops in the crises of battle or less masterful of resources and advantages, would never have saved the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga.
No commanding general fought such a battle during the war, and no other subordinate commander wrought such a deliverance for an imperiled army and an imperiled cause. There was but one Chickamauga and but one Thomas. It should not therefore be a matter of surprise that when General D. H. Hill, after the war, mentioned three distinct causes for the failure of the Southern arms, one of these was the stubborn resistance of Thomas in this battle. Neither is it strange that he was ever afterwards known as the ROCK OF CHICKAMAUGA. After arriving at Chattanooga, General Rosecrans sent the following despatch to his chief of staff:
CHATTANOOGA, Sept. 20,1863.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL GARFIELD :
See General McCook and other general officers. Ascertain extent of disaster as nearly as you can, and report. Tell General Granger to contest the enemy's advance stubbornly, making them advance with caution.
Should General Thomas be retiring in order, tell him to resist the enemy's advance, retiring on Rossville to-night.
By command of Major-General ROSECRANS.
Maj. and A. D. C.
Page 145 - GARFIELD TO ROSECRANS
General Garfield sent the subjoined note after joining Thomas:
HEADQUARTERS GENERAL THOMAS,
Battle-field five miles south of Rossville, Sept. 20, 1863, 3.45 P. M. (by courier),
GENERAL ROSECRANS -
I arrived here ten minutes ago via Rossville. General Thomas has Brannan's, Baird's, Reynolds', Woods', Palmer's and Johnson's divisions here, still intact after terrible fighting. Granger is here, closed up with Thomas, and both are fighting terribly on the right. Sheridan is in, with the bulk of his division in ragged shape, though plucky for fight. General Thomas holds his old ground of this morning. Negley was coming down on Rossville from the road passing where we saw the trains on our route. - I sent word to him to cover the retreat of trains through Rossville. I also met the Fourth Independent battery at that place, and posted it in reserve in case of need. As I turned in from the Rossville road to General Thomas, I was opened on by a battery; one orderly killed, Captain Graves' horse killed, my own wounded. The hardest fighting I have seen to-day is now going on. I hope General Thomas will be able to hold on here till night, and will not have to fall back farther than Rossville, perhaps not any. All fighting men should be stopped there, and the Dry Valley road held by them. I think we may retrieve the disaster of this morning. I never saw better fighting than our men are now doing. The rebel ammunition must be nearly exhausted. Ours fast failing. If we can hold out an hour more it will be all right. Granger thinks we can defeat them badly tomorrow, if all our forces come in. I think you had better come to Rossville to-night, and bring ammunition.
Very truly yours,
J. A. GARFIELD, Brigadier-General.
To this General Rosecrans replied :
CHATTANOOGA, 9.10 P. M. Sept. 20, 1863.
BRIG.-GEN. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff:
Your despatch of 3.45 received. What you propose is correct. I have seen Furay, who left at 5 P.M. I trust General Thomas has been able to hold his position.
Ammunition will be sent up.
Page l46 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In the evening Thomas received orders from General Rosecrans to withdraw the army, as shown by General Thomas' official report, and by General Garfield's letter from Rossville.
"I soon after received a despatch from General Rosecrans, directing me to assume command of all the forces, and, with Crittenden and McCook, take a strong position, and assume a threatening attitude at Rossville, sending the unorganized forces to Chattanooga for reorganization, stating that he would examine the ground at Chattanooga and then join me; also, that he had sent out rations and ammunition to meet me at Rossville. I determined to hold the position until nightfall, if possible, in the mean time sending Captains Barker and Kellogg to distribute the ammunition, Major Lawrence, my chief of artillery, having been previously sent to notify the different commanders that ammunition would be supplied them shortly. As soon as they reported the distribution of the ammunition, I directed Captain Willard to inform the division commanders to prepare to withdraw their commands as soon as they received orders."
At 5.30 P. M., General Reynolds was directed to withdraw from position and form a line near the Ridge road,* to cover the retirement of the other divisions. In moving as directed, General Reynolds encountered a brigade of the enemy's troops that had moved round his right flank to his rear. This brigade was routed by Turchin's brigade, and was finally driven round Baird's flank by Willich's brigade of Johnson's division.
When Reynolds' division had formed near the road, the divisions, as
rapidly as practicable, left the line and moved towards Rossville.
Johnson and Palmer were attacked as they withdrew, and this fact gave
Confederate generals opportunity to report that their last attack
* The one leading through the gap to the Dry Valley road at
Page 147 - WITHDRAWS TO ROSSVILLE
General Thomas and his troops had doubtless prepared the way for a victory on the 21st, if the Army of the Cumberland had been gathered together in front of the enemy during the night of the 20th. General Bragg's army was not in condition to renew the conflict. He had lost at least two-fifths of his men, the remaining three-fifths had been shattered, and he had no reserves. After such repulses and losses, he could not have taken the offensive vigorously on the 21st. But in a battle on the 21st General Rosecrans could have had nearly, or quite, twice as many troops as fought under Thomas on the afternoon of the 20th. Sheridan's division, Spear's brigade of fresh troops, Col. Dan. McCook's brigade, which had been only slightly engaged, and Minty's brigade of cavalry could have been thrown on the left of Thomas' line; while the troops of Davis, Negley and Van Cleve, Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry, and five brigades of cavalry, could have moved against Bragg's left flank. It is true that the condition of the enemy was not then known, but the fact that Thomas had held his position against Bragg's entire army would, doubtless, have suggested to a commanding general who was on the field and cognizant of the condition and positions of all his divisions and brigades, that it was possible to defeat the enemy by taking the offensive on the 21st. But General Rosecrans was too far away to apprehend the situation and make provision for another battle on the field of Chickamauga.
As soon as his troops were in motion towards Rossville, General
rode thither, and, upon arrival, commenced the formation of the army to
resist the advance of the enemy. He placed Crittenden's corps on
Ridge to the left of the Ringgold Gap, near Rossville, his own corps
that gap and extending to the right upon the Dry Valley road; McCook's
across the valley towards Chattanooga Creek, and the cavalry still
to the right. The enemy approached very cautiously the next day, but
an artillery duel there was no fighting.
Page 148 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
At 8.40 P. M. General Garfield sent the following communication by telegraph:
HEADQUARTERS DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND.
Rossville, Georgia, 8.40 P. M., Sept. 20, 1863.
MAJOR GENERAL ROSECRANS :
returned from the front. I wrote you a long despatch as I arrived on
field and while the battle was in progress, but it was so difficult to
get communication to the rear that I fear you have not yet received it.
Thomas has kept Baird's, Brannan's Reynold's Woods' and Palmer's
in good order and has maintained almost the exact position he occupied
this morning, except that his right has swung back nearly at right
with the Gordon's Mills and Rossville road. Negley has stopped about
thousand men at this place. Sheridan gathered fifteen hundred of his
and reached a point three miles south of here at sunset; Davis is here
with his brigade. General Thomas has fought a most terrific battle and
has damaged the enemy badly. General Granger's troops moved up just in
time and fought magnificently. From the time I reached the
3.45 P. M., till sunset the fight was by far the fiercest I have ever
our men not only held their ground, but at many points drove the enemy
splendidly. Longstreet's Virginians have got their bellies full. Nearly
every division on the field exhausted its ammunition - got supplies and
exhausted it again. Turchin's brigade charged the rebel lines and took
five hundred prisoners, became enveloped, swept around behind their
and cut its way out in another place but abandoned his prisoners.
brigade was attacked just at the close of the fight, and its ammunition
being exhausted, it went in with the bayonet and drove the rebels,
over two hundred prisoners and have got them yet. On the whole General
Thomas and General Granger have done the enemy fully as much injury
as they have suffered from him, and they have successfully repelled the
repeated combined attacks, most fiercely made, of the whole rebel army,
frequently pressing the front and both our flanks at the same time. The
disaster on the right cannot of course be estimated now; it must be
considerable in men and material, especially the latter. The rebels
however, done their best to-day, and I believe we can whip them
I believe we can now crown the whole battle with victory. Granger
them as thoroughly whipped tonight, and thinks they would not renew the
fight were we to remain on the field. Clouds of dust to the eastward
northward seem to indicate some movements to our left. Sheridan thinks
they may be projecting to come in directly on Chattanooga. I don't
so. Your order to retire on this place was received a little after
and communicated to Generals Thomas and Granger. The troops
Page 149 - THE ARMY WITHDRAWN TO CHATTANOOGA
are now moving back and will be here in good shape and strong position before morning. I hope you will not budge an inch from this place but come up early in the morning, and if the rebels try it on accommodate them. General Mitchell left Crawfish Springs at 5 P. M. Our trains are reported safe with him. We have not heard from General McCook. General Crittenden is reported with you. General Lytle killed; also Col. King and many officers. If I am not needed at headquarters to-night, I will stay here ; I am half dead with fatigue. Answer if I can do anything here.
J. A. GARFIELD, Brig. Gen. Chief of Staff.
To this despatch the following reply was sent:
CHATTANOOGA, 9.30 p. M. Sept. 20, 1863.
BRIG. GEN. GARFIELD, Chief of Staff.
You may stay all night if the enemy are drifting towards our left. Rossville position all right. Provision and ammunition have been ordered up. I like your suggestions.
W. S. ROSECRANS. Maj. Genl.
General Thomas considered the position untenable, since all the gaps
south of Rossville had been given to the enemy, who could concentrate
them against General McCook, and, by pressing him back, cut off the
corps from Chattanooga. Thomas therefore advised Gen. Rosecrans to
the army to the town. And, in anticipation of an order for this
he made preparations during the day for its execution at night. He
orders at 6 p. M. to withdraw, and, in consequence of the anticipatory
preparations, the whole army, without the loss of a man, moved to
before Chattanooga by 7 o'clock the next morning. The fortifications,
on the 21st, were carried to completion as soon as
when the army was safe from all danger except starvation. General
was opposed to the attempt to besiege Chattanooga, and proposed to
Bragg that his army should cross the Tennessee River east of the town,
and by operating northward, force Rosecrans to fall back to Nashville:
Page 150 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and after this had been effected, if insufficient transportation should prevent a direct advance to the north, to follow the railroad to Knoxville, destroy Burnside and then from that point threaten General Rosecrans' communications north of Nashville. But General Bragg rejected this plan, because in his view it was forbidden by military considerations, as well as, by insufficient transportation. Believing that he could force General Rosecrans to abandon Chattanooga, by preventing the passage of his supply trains from Bridgeport, Bragg disposed his infantry and cavalry so as to bring starvation to the army which he failed to crush at Chickamauga.
NOTE:- In his account of the battle of Chickamauga, published in the Washington National Tribune of March 25th, 1882, General Rosecrans has made this statement:
"General Thomas, in the exercise of the discretion he had from me, withdrew the troops from position to Rossville, where they were formed in line of battle, where we remained through the next day.
But while this assertion directly contradicts the statements of Generals Thomas and Garfield, it is not congruous with the following extract from General Rosecrans' sworn testimony, given at Louisville, February 4th, 1864:
"The next time I saw him "(General McCook) "he
at Chattanooga and reported to me at Wagner's Headquarters - I should
about 4.30 or 5 P.M. I directed him to wait a short time until I should
hear from General Garfield's report from the extreme front, informing
that he still held the field, that Granger had gone up from Rossville,
that portions of his and Crittenden's corps were reported near
and that the arrival of a further report from General Garfield would
me to give him more definite instructions - both to him and General
On the arrival of the report from General Garfield, I read it to him,
stated its substance, and directed him to go out to Rossville and
command of his corps, that he would occupy a position near there, which
General Thomas had been directed to select. This was given to General
about 9.30 o'clock P. M."
GENERAL THOMAS ASSIGNED TO THE COMMAND OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE
CUMBERLAND - HE RELUCTANTLY ACCEPTS - OPERATIONS TO RELIEVE
THE ARMY FROM STARVATION - PROPOSED ATTACK. UPON THE ENEMY'S
Soon after the army was established in Chattanooga a rumor obtained in the camps that General Thomas was to succeed General Rosecrans. To free himself from the imputation of intriguing against his commander, and to express a deliberate conclusion, Thomas declared that he would not accept the command of the army. He did this, after the closing statements of the following despatch had been communicated to him.
WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, D. C., Sept. 30, 1863.
C. A. DANA, Nashville.
If Hooker's command gets safely through, all that the Army of the Cumberland can need will be a competent commander. The merits of General Thomas and the debt of gratitude the Nation owes to his valor and skill, are fully appreciated here: and I wish you to tell him so. It is not my fault that he was not in chief command months ago.
EDWIN M. STANTON.
Mr. Dana, who at the time was Assistant-Secretary of War, inferred
Mr. Stanton alluded to President Lincoln, and in making known to Thomas
the second sentence of the above despatch, attributed it to the
as well as to the Secretary of War. With the manifestation of strong
General Thomas requested Mr. Dana to say to both,
Page 152 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
that the knowledge of their appreciation of his services was exceedingly grateful to him. But in reply to the statement of Mr. Stanton in respect to chief command, he asked Mr. Dana to state, that, "he certainly should be glad to hold an independent command - to command an army; - but he wished it distinctly understood that he could not consent under any circumstances that he could imagine, to take the command held by General Rosecrans." He made known this decision with great earnestness. When he first met Mr. Dana after his appointment to succeed Rosecrans, General Thomas said, "Well, you have got ahead of me, this time, and I have no option but to obey orders; but, I assure you, I never obeyed an order more reluctantly than this one." This assignment was made October 16th, 1863, by General Orders No. 337, War Department, which also appointed General Grant to command the Military Division of the Mississippi, embracing the Departments and Armies of the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Ohio.
General Thomas' reluctance to supersede General Rosecrans did not
from lack of confidence in himself, nor from distrust of the morale of
his army, but mainly from his fear of external complications. He knew
General Rosecrans had been complicated politically, and not having been
fully acquainted with the cause he feared that he would be similarly
He entertained the opinion from the beginning to the close of the war,
that military considerations should alone rule in shaping military
and he desired no preferment for himself which could be gained by
influence, or would entail political entanglements. Besides, his
to supersede General Rosecrans was objectionable for the same reason
had induced him to request the restoration of General Buell to command,
after he had himself been named as his successor in orders from
He had fully sympathized with General Rosecrans in his efforts to hold
Chattanooga, and doubtless thought that he should have had a fair
Page 153 - HIS LOYALTY TO ROSECRANS
the problem entailed by the battle of Chickamauga. The fact that General Rosecrans had not taken his advice, to concentrate his army at Chattanooga and establish secure communications with Nashville when he had opportunity to do so, did not affect his loyalty to his commander. He always decided questions of official duty unbiased by considerations of personal advantage. He had protested against the assignment of General Rosecrans over himself to command the Army of the Cumberland from regard to an important principle in the administration of military affairs, but was now unwilling to supersede him in spite of the fact that Rosecrans' commission had been arbitrarily antedated. Thus anxious, as he frankly expressed himself to be, to command an army, he was still unwilling to accept such command unless it came to him without the menace of political complications, and without the humiliation of another general. He was, doubtless, over sensitive as to his own liability to imputed intrigue for advancement, and over reluctant to accept a command in room of another general. But these errors, if errors they should be called, evinced on the one hand his abhorrence of unfair means of securing promotion, and on the other, unusual magnanimity.
General Rosecrans was aware of Thomas' unwillingness to assume command of the army, and consequently yielded his position with the kindest feelings.
In General Thomas' report to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, he thus referred to the strength and condition of the army at the time he assumed command.
The Department and Army of the Cumberland at that time comprised the
following commands: the Fourth and Fourteenth army corps at
three divisions of cavalry, the local garrisons of Middle Tennessee,
the Eleventh and Twelfth army corps under command of Major-General
Hooker, just arrived from the East, whence they had been despatched to
reenforce the army at Chattanooga, and which were, at the time of my
command, guarding the railroad from Bridgeport to Nashville. The forces
at Chattanooga were in a very precarious condition from the difficulty
Page 154 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
of obtaining supplies, the only means of procuring which was by wagons and over sixty miles of almost impassable mountain roads, the enemy holding the river and the railroad between Chattanooga and Bridgeport; and his cavalry had destroyed one large train laden with supplies, numbering over three hundred wagons, on its way from Bridgeport to Chattanooga. The question of holding Chattanooga was then simply that of supplies. The animals were perishing by hundreds daily, and the men were suffering from the scantiness of food; but they bore up cheerfully under their difficulties, appreciating the impossibility of giving up Chattanooga, and inspired their officers with renewed confidence in their self-sacrificing devotion.
* The first duty, therefore, of the new commander was the deliverance of his army from the starvation which threatened its hold upon Chattanooga, if not its own existence; and fresh from his parting with General Rosecrans, General Thomas addressed himself to the imperative work.
His first order, issued before he had formally assumed command of the army, had reference to the movement of Hooker's forces to Chattanooga, which had been projected by General Rosecrans:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, October 19, 1863 - 11 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER, Stevenson.
Major-Gen. G. H. Thomas directs me to state, that in obedience to the order of the President of the United States he has assumed command of the Department of the Cumberland. He desires that you will use all possible despatch in concentrating your command, and preparing to move in accordance with the instructions of General Rosecrans, leaving proper railroad guards.
J. J. REYNOLDS, Major-General and Chief of Staff.
This order was exceedingly courteous to General Rosecrans; in giving
a copy of it to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, General Thomas
thus explained his action :
* Report to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, p. 117.
Page 155 - PLANS FOR RELIEF
"The instructions referred to in the above order, were to concentrate as much of his (Hooker's) command at Bridgeport as he could safely spare from guarding the railroad between that point and Nashville, and to hold himself in readiness to move at any moment towards Chattanooga for the purpose of opening communication with that place by river and by rail."*
But no definite plan had yet been devised to gain possession of the left bank of the Tennessee River, so as to support Hooker's advance with forces from Chattanooga. Such was the condition of the army, that immediate steps must be taken to open the Tennessee and the short roads to Bridgeport, or the withdrawal of that army from Chattanooga would be unavoidable. That no plan for attaining this object had been definitely formed, is evident from the following statements by General Thomas :
"Before he was relieved in command of the Department of the Cumberland, General Rosecrans and his chief engineer, Brigadier-General W. F. Smith, had consulted together as to means of relieving the army at Chattanooga from the perilous condition it was in, owing to the great difficulty of obtaining supplies, and had partially planned the movement which was left to me to be completed when I assumed command, namely, to open a short route of .supplies from Bridgeport."+
General Thomas was too just to permit, by his own silence, the
of" a successful movement which he had not originated to be given to
He therefore repeated General Rosecrans' instructions to General
and disclaimed any other relation to the definite plan proposed by
Smith, than approval and generous support in its execution. General
could not move with safety from Bridgeport until measures had been
to drive the enemy from the left bank of the Tennessee River. Had his
moved into Lookout Valley before support was practicable from
* Report to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, p. 118.
Page 156 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Bragg could have sent an overwhelming force against him, and the army at Chattanooga would only have witnessed the failure of the effort to avert starvation. The definite plan was so evidently originated by General Smith, that General Thomas gave him credit for its conception and execution.*
The despatches sent by General Rosecrans at the close of the battle of Chickamauga had so plainly revealed his fear that he could not hold Chattanooga, that it was imagined in Washington that he would needlessly abandon the place. And doubtless General Grant's first despatch to Thomas indicated some anxiety lest he should withdraw the army before Grant could himself reach Chattanooga. On the 19th of October he telegraphed : " Hold Chattanooga at all hazards."
The terse reply of Thomas " We will hold the town till we starve "
equally the expression of his own purpose and that of his army. This
answer had this significance also the confidence of General Thomas in
army, He knew that its morale had been exceedingly good from the day it
retired from the battle-field of Chickamauga. In leaving that field
had been no panic - no hurried retreat, even by those troops who,
no fault of their own, were forced to fight on conditions which forbade
success. But the troops on the right who lost their position, and those
who withstood the whole Confederate army until they were withdrawn by
were in no respect, except from the loss of material, unfitted for the
immediate renewal of the conflict. And no army had ever endured the
of its ration to one-half, one-third, and one-fourth, with less
and less demoralization. The necessity of this reduction was apparent
every soldier, and every soldier was as unwilling as the commanding
to abandon Chattanooga.
* In his report to the Joint Corn. on the Conduct of the War he
''To Brigadier-General W. F. Smith, chief engineer, should be accorded
great praise for the ingenuity which conceived, and the ability which
the movement at Brown's Ferry."
Page 157 - ASSUMES COMMAND
On the 20th of October, General Thomas, in the following order, assumed the command to which he had been assigned :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, Tenn., Oct. 20, 1863.
In obedience to the orders of the President of the United States, the undersigned hereby assumes command of the Department and Army of the Cumberland.
In assuming the control of this army, so long and ably commanded by Major-General Rosecrans, the undersigned confidently relies upon the hearty cooperation of every officer and soldier of the Army of the Cumberland, to enable him to perform the arduous duties devolved upon him.
The officers on duty at the various departments of the staff, at these headquarters, will continue in their respective places. All orders heretofore published for the government of this army will remain in full force until further orders.
GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. Vols.
General Grant arrived at Chattanooga on the evening of October 23rd.
With his coming, General Thomas, though an army commander, became
to an immediate superior in rank, and as completely subject to
in handling his army as he had previously been in the management of his
corps He therefore made known to General Grant, at once, the scheme
had been devised for the relief of the army. The plan had been
in all its details, and needed only the approval of General Grant. On
24th, Generals Grant, Thomas, and W. F. Smith, with other
and subordinate officers, examined the river below Chattanooga,
Island, and the hills on both banks of the river, in reference to the
plan of operations. General Grant approved this plan and ordered its
Page 158 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Thereupon, Thomas telegraphed definite instructions to Hooker in reference to his movement, and promised him cooperation from Chattanooga. General Hooker replied. that he would commence his movement at daylight on the 27th. Orders were then issued for the cooperative movements. Two brigades - Hazen's and Turchin's - and three batteries of artillery under Major John Mendenhall, were given to General W. F. Smith for his operations. His plan provided that fifteen hundred men, with a sufficient force of pontoniers, should embark on pontoons, and, at night, glide past Lookout Mountain, held almost to the edge of the water by the enemy's pickets, and debark on the left bank of the river, just above Brown's Ferry.
For this service a part of General Hazen's brigade, under his own
was taken. The remainder of this brigade, Gen. Turchin's brigade and
artillery were ordered to march across the peninsula formed by the
of the river, and take position on the wooded hill-side near the ferry,
to cover the troops on the pontoons should they fail to land on the
bank, or to join them on that bank in the event of their success. This
expedition was eminently successful. The pontoon boats hugging the
bank of the Tennessee glided by the frowning mountain, gleaming here
there with the enemy's camp-fires, and the troops, with slight
gained the left bank at the designated place. A pontoon bridge was soon
thrown by a detachment of trained men from the First Michigan Mechanics
and Engineers, under Captain P. V. Fox, and fortifications for the two
brigades were constructed on the enemy's side of the river. Having
all that the plan of operations required of them, these troops were in
position to welcome Hooker's column to Lookout Valley in the evening.
then the Tennessee River from Bridgeport to Chattanooga was held by the
Page 159 - BROWN'S FERRY
In view of the fact that General Bragg's hope of regaining Chattanooga depended upon his continued grasp of the river and the short roads to Bridgeport, it is inexplicable that he did not resist the advance of Hooker. He did attempt late at night to cut off Geary's division of the Twelfth corps at Wauhatchie; but failing in this he abandoned all effort to intercept the newly established communications of the beleaguered army.
The problem of supplies was thus brilliantly solved. The boldness of the plan, the nice adjustment of all its details and the importance of the results place these operations among the prominent achievements of the war.
General Grant was as explicit as Thomas in denying any connection with the plan beyond approval. On the 26th of October, he sent the following despatch to Washington:
HEADQ'RS MILITARY DIVISION OF MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga, October 26,1863.
MAJOR GENERAL HALLECK, Washington,
* * * General Thomas had also set on foot before my arrival a plan for getting possession of the river from a point below Lockout Mountain to Bridgeport. If successful, and I think it will be, the question of supplies will be fully settled. * * * *
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
Two days later he again telegraphed in relation to this plan:
CHATTANOOGA, OCTOBER 28,1863.
General Thomas' plan for securing the river and south side road hence to Bridgeport has proved eminently successful. The question of supplies may now be regarded as settled. If the rebels give us one week more time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have passed away, and preparations may soon commence for offensive operations.
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
General Thomas fully sympathized with General Grant in his purpose to take the offensive, although it will appear that these generals twice differed as to the time for aggression.
[Part 2 pages 160-310, Part
3 pages 311-465]