Summary: The nick name "Slow Trot" was used pejoratively by Sherman, Grant and others to deprecate Thomas and his achievements. At times, when "Slow Trot" was not thought forceful enough, it was reinforced by additions such as, "slow of mind, word and deed". How was the nickname "Slow Trot" derived and what was it's real meaning? Read on and you'll find out.
Several contemporaries and some historians throughout the years have used George H. Thomas's various "nicknames" as proof of points they are trying to make; usually that he was slow (in mind, thought or deed). The one that serves their intent most often is "Slow Trot".
This practice, started by Major General W. T. Sherman, attempted to downplay Thomas's military achievements and usually involved use of the word 'slow'. In the parlance of today, this 'Spin' was picked up by Grant, Sheridan, Schofield Badeau, Porter and others associated with Grant's historical re-creation. Sherman, a classmate and room mate of Thomas at West Point, used the term 'Slow Trot' consistently. His usage implied Thomas was slow and ignored the fact that as a cadet, he must have known 'Slow Trot' was a 'cavalry command' and thus what it signified.
Coppee, one of Thomas's early biographers (Coppee, Henry, LL.D, "General Thomas", New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1893), gives the source of the nickname as from the time "...he was instructor of cavalry and artillery at West Point. The cadets, who were hard riders, and the horses, which understood the drill just as well as the cadets, wanted to gallop and charge; so when the command to trot was given they expected it to be followed by (the command) to gallop. Then the deep and sonorous voice of Thomas would check their ardor with the order 'Slow trot.' So he was called, at West Point, 'Old Slow Trot,' and the name followed him through the civil war."
McKinney, (McKinney, Francis F., "Education in Violence", Americana House, Inc., Chicago, Illinois, 1991) cites on page 54 Coppee's information and expands on it: "Horses, dragoons and officers sufficient for the instruction of the cadets were now provided. The cadets were receiving practical instruction each day the weather permitted. What the instructor of artillery and cavalry needed now was a new riding hall. Cadets were injured by being knocked out of their saddles by the iron columns in the building they were then using or by skinning their knees against the walls. The project was initiated, but not carried to its conclusion until after Thomas had been detailed to other duties."
"When Thomas was commanding the cadets in cavalry drill, he would never permit them to go beyond a slow trot. Just as soon as the line of mounted cadets began to gain a little speed, Thomas would order, 'Slow trot,' and the cadets began to call him 'Slow Trot Thomas.' It may be that Thomas did not object to speed in his cavalry drills, but had in mind the advanced age and physical infirmities of his horses and the danger from the narrowness of the hall. Nicknames are generally a sign of popularity and it is a matter of record that Thomas was popular with many of his cadets."
Sherman, however, did not limit himself to this term. On the contrary, he expanded on it quite creatively. Take this example from a private letter he wrote to Grant while stalled in front of Kenesaw: "My chief source of trouble is with the Army of the Cumberland, which is dreadfully slow. A fresh furrow in a ploughed field will stop the whole column, and all will begin to intrench. I have tried again and again to impress on Thomas that we must assail and not defend....This slowness has caused me the loss of two splendid opportunities which never recur in war…. You may go on with the full assurance that I will continue to press Johnston as fast as I can overcome the natural obstacles and inspire motion into a large, ponderous, and slow (by habit) army. Of course it cannot keep up with my thoughts and wishes, but no impulse can be given it that I will not guide." (OR 38:4:507).
Sherman here was simply trying to excuse his own failings which, in the cases he was referring to (New Hope Church and the approach to Kenesaw), consisted of his own slowness of thought and/or shortsightedness. He was unable or unwilling to grasp Thomas's proven approach to battle and refused Thomas's suggestions. Often enough he did it "his way", and with unfortunate results.
This tendency to make Thomas appear slow, however, began much earlier, as this communication from Sherman to Thomas during Sherman's brief (12 month) and unhappy command of the Army of the Cumberland:
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. IV [S# 4] CHAPTER XII. Correspondence, Orders,
And Returns Relating Specially To Operations In Ky. And Tenn. From July
1 To November 19, 1861. UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.--#2
LOUISVILLE, KY., October 11, 1861.
Brigadier-General THOMAS, Commanding Camp Dick Robinson:
SIR: It is very important you should make an advance movement in the direction of the Cumberland. I know your means of transportation <ar4_303> are insufficient, but our adversaries are no better off, and we should fight with similar means. Can you hire some wagons and show a force in the direction of London? Of necessity I cannot give minute directions, and can only say that if your men simply move, the effect will be good.
Yours, W. T. SHERMAN, Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Even when Sherman was ostensibly trying to praise Thomas, he couldn't avoid the use of the word "slow", even posthumously, as in this letter of 1875 to C.H. Grosvenor: "...I have been [Thomas'] intimate friend and eulogist for forty years (since 1836)....Because I simply recorded what was notorious, what is admitted by his warmest and best friends, - that he was slow, deliberate and almost passive in the face of exasperating danger, but true as steel when the worst came." Sherman knew when he wrote this, that, when it counted in battle (see below), Thomas could be very fast indeed, but Sherman couldn't admit this in public.
During the Atlanta campaign, Sherman, Grant, and Halleck were conducting a separate letter campaign at Thomas's expense, of which the above cited "ploughed furrow" letter is an example. In this period there extant many other such examples, as you can read below:
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE,
AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY
1864, TO SEPT. 8, 1864.(*)--#32
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Lovejoy's, twenty-six miles south of Atlanta, September 4, 1864.
MY DEAR FRIEND: I owe you a private letter, and believe one at this time will be acceptable to you. ...
I expected Thomas to be ready by 11 a.m., but it was near 4 when he got in; but one corps, Davis', charged down and captured the flank with 10 guns and many prisoners, but for some reason Stanley and Schofield were slow, and night came to Hardee's relief, and he escaped to the south. Hood finding me twenty miles below him on his only railroad, and Hardee defeated, was forced to abandon Atlanta, and retreated eastward, and by a circuit has got his men below me on the line to Macon. I ought to have reaped larger fruits...
George Thomas, you know, is slow, but as true as steel
Your sincere friend,
W. T. SHERMAN.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.(*)--#34
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, September 16, 1864.
General W. T. SHERMAN, Atlanta, Ga.:
MY DEAR GENERAL: ...
Thomas is also a noble old war horse. It is true that he is slow, but he is always sure.
H. W. HALLECK
O.R.--SERIES I--VOL. XLIV [S# 92] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND FLORIDA, FROM NOV. 14 TO DEC. 31, 1864.--#12
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Savannah, December 16, 1864.
Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT, Commander-in-Chief, City Point, Va.
I myself am somewhat astonished at the attitude of things in Tennessee. I purposely delayed at Kingston until General Thomas assured me that he was "all ready," and my last dispatch from him, of the 12th of November, was full of confidence, in which he promised me that he would "ruin Hood," if he dared to advance from Florence, urging me to go ahead and give myself no concern about Hood's army in Tennessee. Why he did not turn on Hood at Franklin, after checking and discomfiting him, surpasses my understanding. Indeed, I do not approve of his evacuating Decatur, but think he should have assumed the offensive against Hood from Pulaski in the direction of Waynesburg [Waynesborough]. I know full well that General Thomas is slow in mind and in action, but he is judicious and brave, and the troops feel great confidence in him. I still hope he will out-maneuver and destroy Hood....
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, U. S. Army.
If that's how Sherman writes about a "friend", one can wonder how he
writes about an enemy.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#5
CITY POINT, VA., December 9, 1864--7.30 p.m.
Major-General THOMAS, Nashville, Tenn.:
Your dispatch of 1 p.m. received. I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer; but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise. Receiving your dispatch of 2 p.m. from General Halleck, before I did the one to me, I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity of repeating the orders, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#11
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the Field, December 21, 1864.
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D.C.:
Your dispatch of 12 m. this day is received. General Hood's army is being pursued as rapidly and as vigorously as it is possible for one army to pursue another. We cannot control the elements, and, you <ar94_296> must remember, that to resist Hood's advance into Tennessee I had to reorganize and almost thoroughly equip the force now under my command. I fought the battles of the 15th and 16th instant with the troops but partially equipped, and, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather and the partial equipment, have been enabled to drive the enemy beyond Duck River, crossing two streams with my troops, and driving the enemy from position to position, without the aid of pontoons, and with but little transportation to bring up supplies of provisions and ammunition.....
Although my progress may appear slow, I feel assured that Hood's army can be driven from Tennessee, and eventually driven to the wall, by the force under my command; but too much must not be expected of troops which have to be reorganized, especially when they have the task of destroying a force in a winter campaign which was able to make an obstinate resistance to twice its numbers in spring and summer. In conclusion, I can safely state that this army is willing to submit to any sacrifice to oust Hood's army, or to strike any other blow which would contribute to the destruction of the rebellion.
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General.
The honest George H. Thomas offers a reasoned argument to people who
already know all this, but their intention is not to give him a fair
or even really to decisively defeat Hood. All they want to do is to
Hood's army so that it can't go to the Ohio and cause them political
The casualties Thomas's troops might suffer during such an
battle were immaterial to them, as indeed casualties were immaterial to
them throughout the war.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#16
WASHINGTON, December 30, 1864--1.30 p.m.
Lieutenant-General GRANT, City Point, Va.:
I think, from the tone of General Thomas' telegram of last night, that there is very little hope of his doing much further injury to Hood's army by pursuing it. You will perceive that he is disposed to postpone further operations till spring. This seems to me entirely wrong. In our present financial condition we cannot afford this delay.... If Thomas was as active as Sherman, I would say march directly from Decatur to Talladega, Montgomery, and Selma, living upon the country, and anticipating Hood, should he move by Meridian. But I think Thomas entirely too slow to live on the country. He, however, will make the best possible defense. ...
H. W. HALLECK, Major-General and Chief of Staff.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, January 1, 1865. (Received 12th.)
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Savannah, Ga.:
MY DEAR GENERAL: Your letter of December 24 is received,(+) and I have just shown it to the Secretary of War, who expressed great pleasure and satisfaction in reading it.....
Thomas has done well against Hood, but he is too slow for an effective pursuit. Moreover, he will not live on the enemy. He himself is entirely opposed to a winter campaign, and is already speaking of recruiting his army for spring operations
H. W. HALLECK, Major-General and Chief of Staff.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLVII/2 [S# 99] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA (FROM FEBRUARY 1), SOUTH CAROLINA, SOUTHERN GEORGIA, AND EAST FLORIDA, FROM JANUARY 1, 1865, TO MARCH 23, 1865.(*)--#35
HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, City Point, Va, March 16, 1865.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:
GENERAL: Your interesting letter of the 12th instant is just received. ...
Knowing Thomas to be slow beyond excuse I depleted his army to re-enforce Canby, so that he might act from Mobile Bay on the interior. With all I have said he had not moved at last advices can... He has accumulated a large amount of supplies in Knoxville and has been ordered not to destroy any of the railroad west of the Virginia line. I told him to get ready for a campaign toward Lynchburg, if it became necessary. He never can make one there or elsewhere, but the steps taken will prepare for any one else to take his troops and come east or go toward Rome, whichever may be necessary. I do not believe either will. ...
I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
These and other repeated variations on the same theme were not just harmless comments of this or that moment, because Grant and others seized on them and used them to their own purposes which were, at first, to keep Thomas under control while he was alive, and to attack his reputation after he was dead. As McKinney writes: "The artistry of Grant's slander rests on his choice of the word sluggish. He was charging that Thomas was habitually idle and lazy, slothful, dull and inert with a hint of stupidity. This was the recorded opinion of the ranking Union general. By the time it was made public Thomas was dead and the crushing authority of the Presidency had been added to this sanction. When Grant repeated the charge from his death bed he molded it into historical fact."
Historians have tended to repeat these slights and slanders, for reasons cited in "Warrior Generals" by Thomas Buell: "To paraphrase historian Andrew White, there is a peculiar American institution that the correctness of belief is decided by the number of people who can be induced to believe it-that truth is a matter of majorities." Or to quote another historian, Martin van Creveld, much of what we are given to believe is based on..."a sad testimonial to the readiness of many historians to copy each other's words without giving the slightest thought to the evidence on which they are based" [italics mine].
Now lets examine General Thomas slowness!
Thomas organizes an Army at Nashville
Near the end of the "Atlanta Campaign", Sherman's mental derangement revisited him. On September 2nd, he had Hood cornered in Jonesborough, and rather than administer the coup de grâce to Hoods shrunken, out manned and defeated Army, he turned around and marched back to Atlanta.
His chance to end the war in the west vaporized like a wisp of smoke. The chance to save thousands of lives on both sides in the western war vanished. Not only that, but it could have stopped Grant's butchery in the east sooner.
Hood, no doubt thanking the gods of war for his fortuitous deliverance, sent a telegram to Bragg, dunning him for more troops to begin an offensive against Sherman.(1) Less than a month after Sherman retreated to Atlanta, Hood was on the march North.
After chasing Hood through much of the same ground that had been conquered two months before, Sherman sent Thomas to Nashville to finish off Forrest and, if he had to, Hood. Sherman then headed back to Atlanta to cajole, wheedle and finally tell Grant of his plans to march through Georgia.
Before Sherman left Atlanta, Lincoln, Stanton and Grant wanted assurances that Thomas would be given adequate troops to defend Nashville and all of the subdued territory under Sherman's command. Sherman fraudulently listed the numerous troops that he would leave Thomas.
Here's a quote from S. Z. Starr's Cincinnati Round Table presentation:
"In his memoirs, Sherman blithely calls the roll of the 82,000 troops he left for Thomas, while he himself took off with 62,000 hand-picked veterans with nothing but Wheeler's 4,000 cavalry, some makeshift units of Georgia Militia and boys from some of the military academies to oppose him. Who, then, were these 82,000? The nucleus of this force was D.S. Stanley's IV Corps of 15,000, to which, on October 30, Sherman added John Schofield's XXIII Corps of 12,000."
Ostensibly, this made a force of 27,000 veteran infantrymen, but when the two Corps reached Chattanooga, it was found that nearly 15,000 officers and men either had furloughs to go home to vote in the presidential election, or were due to be mustered out because of the expiration of their terms of enlistment; these 15,000 were replaced by 12,000 "perfectly raw troops" in newly-raised regiments, with an effect on the fighting capabilities of the two Corps that requires no elaboration. Moreover, both Corps . . . were partially stripped of transport by…Sherman before he released them, and this lack had to be made good by Thomas. Steedman's (5,000) troops were primarily garrison troops, most of which were newly recruited blacks. His cavalry was mostly without horses. In addition to mounting and equipping these men, he had to maintain the cavalry pickets and screen in various parts of his command. Had he not waited to mount this force, can you imagine what the pursuit of Hood would have been like? The same applies to transports. Do you think Sherman left him the best? The fact that he could not complete refitting his transports did hobble the pursuit of Hood. Artillery was ok because Sherman only took about 65 guns with him to Savannah.
You may quibble about semantics, but this was not an organized, elite force such as Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, that was assembled, organized and trained by Thomas. And of course, taken for a vacation to Savannah en toto by Sherman.
My original point is not to denigrate the army Thomas put together at Nashville, but to refute charges that he was 'slow'! When you organize a force from zip, zero, zilch, nada, that in seven weeks (not counting one when he and Hood were trapped in camp by an ice storm), went out and destroyed an Army of about 30,000 to 40,000 battle hardened veterans (depending on whose numbers you use), led by people such as FORREST (while not at the battle proper, came to Hood's defense, provided rear guard protection and reported his unit had been destroyed in the action), WHEELER, CHEATHAM, LEE and HOOD (who, despite his strategic inability, and some would question that, was acknowledged then and now as one of the fiercest fighters, on either side), you are not, in my opinion, 'slow'!
This frenetic activity was hampered by the fact that Thomas was unsure of when and where A. J. Smith's "Israelites", reinforcements from Rosecrans in Missouri, were! He was telegraphed that they were on the way; then that they would be delayed because of transportation problems, then they seemed to disappear from the face of the earth.
In later correspondence with Grant, Sherman wonders why Thomas was so optimistic in his November 12th telegram. He seemed optimistic about his ability to meet and defeat Hood when they met. Well, at that time Thomas did not know of the furlough problem and he was led to believe that A. J. Smith was on his way to Nashville to full out his forces (Smith finally showed up on November 30th, one day before Thomas's planned battle with Hood.
Remember also, that the destruction of Hood's Army was not Thomas's
only responsibility! He was charged with the missions (by Sherman and
of protecting east Tennessee, to get Forrest out of middle Tennessee
he did, along with the remnants of Hood's Army, a task that no others
able to accomplish and which Sherman gave up on entirely), and protect
the railroads from Chattanooga to Nashville and from Nashville to
As an aside, Sherman told him to keep an eye on Mississippi, Alabama
Kentucky. He was also to maintain troops under Granger at Decatur,
at Murfreesboro and Steedman at Chattanooga and guards at all essential
railroad points. Sherman states that Thomas had about 10,000 dismounted
cavalry at Nashville that he was charged with remounting (Sherman had
all the serviceable mounts and equipment). To compound Thomas' problem
he was not given authority to impound horses until the 30th of
1864, a day before his planned attack on Hood (Vice President Johnston
immediately 'contributed' his carriage horses). All this while
training his green troops, planning a battle plan to fight Hood!
To add to his problems, that whining weasel, Schofield, was telegraphing Grant directly with misinformation about Thomas activity and of course, without Thomas's knowledge. Schofield actively campaigned for Thomas's command while Thomas was planning his historic battle. Thomas pondered why Schofield, whose troops had been scheduled to accompany Sherman on his excursion thru Georgia, were reassigned to Thomas's Nashville command. Certainly, there was more "glory" to be gained in accompanying Sherman. Schofield's bumbling at Columbia nearly cost him his command and army before he finally picked up his skirts and ran for cover to Nashville as originally ordered by Thomas and warned by Wilson. There, his lack of interest in the battle of Nashville (He had to be ordered by Thomas to attack, after Smiths divisions had carried his load).
One of Smith's divisions had been assigned to Schofield during the battle and he cried for another, but Thomas refused when Smith pointed out he had done nothing with the one that was reassigned. In addition, with this added unit, Schofield would have more of Smith's troops than Smith did. Finally, General MacArthur (the father of our famous Douglas), tired of waiting for Schofield to start, moved to attack Schofield's objective. Thomas, exasperated, finally ordered him to "put in his troops." Schofield's delays and stumbles continued from the original plan of attack at 6:00AM, through Wilson's flanking Hoods left and notification at 1:00PM to attack, too finally being ordered to move at 3:30PM.(2) Schofield's loss for the two-day battle was 11 killed and 154 wounded. By contrast, Woods 4th Corps lost 135 killed and 837 wounded. A. J. Smith's Provisional Detachment had 76 killed and 670 wounded. Steedman's Provisional Detachment lost 129 killed and 631 wounded and Wilson's Cavalry lost 36 killed and 270. One wonders if others were secretly writing to Grant and their reports of Schofield's reticence on the battlefield caused him to change his mind about giving Thomas's command to Schofield and instead ordering Logan to Nashville.(3)
In addition, with this continuous tumult, Thomas was bombarded with daily telegraphs (Each of which Thomas answered almostimmediately) by suggestions, demands, insults and orders from: 1. His immediate commander 2. The former General in chief, 3. The Secretary of War. All these armchair generals apparently were able to divine the situation and solution at Nashville (600 miles away), better than the commander on the scene.
Not even on his deathbed could Grant relax in his campaign to attack Thomas's reputation as this description of the Nashville campaign in Grant's "Personal Memoirs" demonstrates. I quote here from pages 502-503:
"Thomas made no effort to reinforce Schofield at Franklin, as it seemed to me at the time he should have done, and fight out the battle there…Hood was allowed to move upon Nashville, and to invest that place almost without interference….To me his delay was unaccountable…General Thomas's movements being always so deliberate and so slow, though effective in defense."
There we have on the one hand Grant's character assassination of Thomas summarized, and on the other hand Grant's own mean-spirited character perfectly illustrated. Thomas needed more time to refit the cavalry as part of his later spectacularly successful plan to eliminate Hood's army. The best place to wait while preparing was behind the impregnable fortifications of Nashville. Grant wasn't willing to allow Thomas this time while winter storms raged which pinned Thomas inside his fortress and Hood in front of it. But as we know, here again Grant had his ulterior motives.
Now let us see how slow Thomas actually was. Thomas arrived at Nashville on October 3, 1864. He attacked Hood on December 15, 1864 and destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Time involved 74 days.
Sherman was ordered by Halleck to Tennessee to help Rosecrans on September 15th, 1863. On October 27th, 1863 while bridge building in Tuscumbia, he received orders from Grant to move to Bridgeport…with all possible dispatch…! Sherman reached Chattanooga on November 13th. On November 17th, 1863 he left to move his forces into line. He finally engaged the enemy on the 25th of November, 1863. Time involved 71 days.
Grant arrived at Chattanooga on October 23rd, 1863. He planned to open his offensive against Bragg at daylight on the 21st of November. He finally attacked Bragg on November 24th, 1863.
The distance was 35 to 40 miles. He was unable to maneuver in time for the attack and Grant postponed the action until the 22nd. He delayed again and the battle was postponed once more until the 23rd. On the 23rd of November 1863 he finally got three of his divisions 'near' their position, leaving another on the 'left' bank of the Tennessee while Thomas was making a reconnaissance in force and capturing Orchard Knob. On November 24th, 1863, Hooker notified Thomas at 4:00AM that he was ready to advance on Bragg's left! By mid-afternoon Hooker had seized the point of Lookout Mountain and moved to attack Rossville and Missionary Ridge the next day. In the meantime, Sherman had finally gotten two of his divisions across the river. The 25th of November was Sherman's day. He started his attack at daylight; but, again things went wrong. His poor personal reconnaissance did not discover the series of hills that impeded the advance of his six divisions, not to mention the stalwart resistance of Cleburne's Division, and his attack stalled. In addition, he failed to make any further reconnaissance when on the south side of the Cumberland even though he had Thomas's Cavalry with him. Had he made the reconnaissance, he would have found he had no opposition up to Chickamauga Springs, where Bragg had his stores of ammunition and foods.
Sherman's mission from Grant was to take the Confederate right on Missionary Ridge then Thomas was to join him in the attack on Bragg's left. Instead he gave up before 4:00PM and left Thomas to attack the Ridge with no support from Sherman on his left.
We all know what Thomas did with his only support from the indomitable Hooker on his right.
Slow? Was Thomas slow when Buell called him from Nashville to reenforce him at Prewit's Knob in Kentucky? The march, over 100 miles, was accomplished in 5 days. Only the Immortal Jackson's "Foot cavalry" beat that record.
Was Thomas slow when he drove Crittenden's troops over the Cumberland River and dispersed his entire force?
Was Thomas slow when he chased Bragg off Missionary Ridge, after
spent two days trying to whip a mixed
Confederate brigade with six perfectly appointed divisions?
Was Thomas slow when he had his Army of the Cumberland at Tunnel Hill on May 5th, as ordered by Grant when McPherson was still trying to reach Ringold on the 7th?
Was Thomas slow when he tried to coax Sherman into cutting Johnston's communications to Atlanta at Resaca. At Lays Crossing. At Calhoun?
Was Thomas slow when he asked Sherman to allow him to cut off Hardee's Corps at Lovejoys' Station and was REFUSED?
We've already read about how slow Thomas was at creating, building and training an Army. So, was Thomas slow when he pursued Hood to the Tennessee River in December of 1863? A pursuit that averaged 10+ miles per day! A pursuit with a poorly mounted cavalry under Wilson? A pursuit with broken down and salvaged wagons left by Sherman who took the best? A pursuit that covered the ground that was foraged not only by the retreating Hood, but by several Armies, several times prior to this, both coming and going?
Thomas, planning ahead as usual, sent Steedman and his troops by rail to cross the Tennessee at Decatur, east of Hood's retreat and cut him off before he crossed, joined by General R. S. Granger but they failed by hours. Steedman, the fighting Buckeye (Thomas felt Steedman, a sheriff from Toledo, Ohio was the best divisional Commander he commanded), did not give up. He sent forces to engage and destroy any units found on the south bank. In this action, one unit destroyed 110 wagons and Hood's pontoon train while another destroyed 340 wagons. In additions to this, Thomas sent General Cruft on to engage and largely destroying or dispersing the Confederate forces under Lyon. He ended his operations on January 14th, 1865.
An interesting comment indicating the conditions hampering Thomas's organizational difficulties before the battle is a paragraph from Cruft's after-action report:
"…The total casualties of the division in battle on the entire campaign cannot be given with exact accuracy as to names and regiments at this time. It was impossible to prepare correct lists of the recruits received during the last few days at Nashville before starting upon the march, and in some instances, in the haste of arming and equipping the men, this important matter was improperly neglected. It is probable that a number of worthy men have fallen in battle and by disease of whom there is no record…."(4)
Here a quote from Schofield's memoirs Forty-Six Years in the Army, p. 242: "General Thomas did not possess in a high degree the activity of mind necessary to foresee and provide for all the exigencies of military operations, nor the mathematical talent required to estimate 'the relations of time, space, motion, and force'". This is from the general in chief of the armies from 1888-1895 and one of the sorriest battlefield commanders of the Civil War, albeit a pretty good politician.
Yeah, Thomas was slow all right, but only in figuring out who was out to get him!
However, Thomas had other nicknames. Coppee recounts: "Still another endearing name was given to him. His pride in his command, his paternal care of his soldiers, and a somewhat grave and fatherly air, caused them to call him 'Pap Thomas', a name which, connected with the command of men, speaks volumes. It is echoed today by the survivors of his army whenever they meet on festal occasion, and recall with pride and sadness their beloved old commander."
Thomas's other nicknames were 'George Washington', 'Uncle George', 'old Tom' and 'old Pap Thomas'. Rosecrans thought Thomas resembled the Father of our Country portrayed by Stuart. The others were bestowed by his men.
Slow as a Rock. Slow as a Sledge.
1. Hood, J. B., "Advance and retreat", Da Capo Press, NY, 1993, p 245.
2. Van Horne, Thomas Budd, "The Life of General George H. Thomas",
331-340, Charles Scribner's Son's, New York,
3. O.R.-SERIES I-VOLUME XLV/1 [S# 93], NOVEMBER 14, 1864-JANUARY 23,
1865.--Campaign in North Alabama
and Middle Tennessee.No. 7.--Return of Casualties in the U. S. Forces, under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, at the battle of
Nashville, Tenn., December 15-16, 1864. P 97
4. O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/1 [S# 93] p 517