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Thomas, George H.

Thomas, George H. (1816–1870), Civil War general.A native of Southampton County, Virginia, Thomas graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840. Commissioned as an artilleryman, he won brevet promotions as a captain and major at Monterey and Buena Vista in the Mexican War. Transferring to the cavalry in 1855, he served on the Texas plains until 1861. In the secession crisis, Thomas spurned a Virginia state commission and remained loyal to the Union. Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in August 1861 and ordered to Kentucky, he gained public attention with a minor victory at Mill Springs in January 1862. Thereafter, he commanded a division in the Army of the Ohio at Shiloh and Corinth, rising to major general in April 1862. Offered command of that army in September, he declined and acted as Don Carlos Buell's deputy at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. Following Buell's relief, Thomas loyally served the new commander, William S. Rosecrans, formerly his junior. Commanding the center of Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Stones River, he performed brilliantly.

Subsequently, Thomas commanded the XIV Corps in the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns in 1863. At the Battle of Chickamauga, he and his command stood firm while Rosecrans and other corps commanders fled the field. Nicknamed the “Rock of Chickamauga,” Thomas led the Army of the Cumberland to victory at Missionary Ridge and in the Atlanta campaign of 1864. Sent to Nashville at the time of Sherman's march to the sea, Thomas destroyed John B. Hood's Army of Tennessee in December 1864. Postwar, he remained in the regular army, until his death in 1870 as commander of the Military Division of the Pacific.

Although Thomas's record in the Civil War as a consistently competent and tenacious tactician was unsurpassed, his unwillingness to promote himself meant he received less credit than was his due. Nevertheless, few Union officers made a greater contribution to the ultimate victory.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Union Army.]


Francis F. McKinney , Education in Violence: The Life of George H. Thomas and the History of the Army of the Cumberland, 1961.
Peter Cozzens , This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga, 1992.

William Glenn Robertson

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