The Rock of Chickamauga, General George Henry Thomas, a cool nickname but was he a good general?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Thomas was one of the principle commanders in the Western Theater but never achieve the historical acclaim he may have deserved, why is this? Suspicion of his loyalty surrounded Thomas because he was a Southerner. Do historians consider Thomas a poor, average. or good general.

I have trouble thinking of a battle where Thomas's performances would be considered sub standard. He performed fairly well at Stones River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Peachtree Creek. Yet Sherman did not take Thomas with him on the March to the Sea and sent he off to fight Hood during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Grant sent John A. Logan to replace Thomas at Nashville, but it appears that Grant relented after General Thomas won the Battle of Nashville.

So some questions about Thomas.
1. Grant apparently did not think highly of Thomas. What was the reason for Gant's low opinion of Thomas?
2. Sherman thought Thomas was slow and not a great general. Again why did Sherman think poorly of Thomas?
3. Should have Grant still relieved Thomas after the Battle of Nashville? If Grand did not have confidence in Thomas, why not relieve him of command despite Thomas having won the Battle of Nashville? If Thomas is a rotten general he is a rotten general.
4. Should Thomas have been relieved because he allowed Hood's army to escape after the Battle of Nashville?
5. Would it have helped Thomas' reputation if he had published a post war book?

I purchased a copy of Rock of Chickamauga The Life of General George H. Thomas by Freeman Cleaves today so perhaps in a couple of week I could discuss this topic better.
 

NedBaldwin

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Location
California
Thomas was one of the principle commanders in the Western Theater but never achieve the historical acclaim he may have deserved...
Did he not? He seems to get a lot of acclaim to me. There are multiple books focusing on him and he get lots of praise in books about the war. In fact I think he has achieved MORE fame than he may have deserved


...Yet Sherman did not take Thomas with him on the March to the Sea and sent he off to fight Hood during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.
Why the "Yet". Sherman gave Thomas a premier assignment, with higher responsibility than the commanders he took with him on the march to the sea... bringing him along and leaving someone else in charge of Tennessee would have been a slap in the face of Thomas

So some questions about Thomas.
1. Grant apparently did not think highly of Thomas. What was the reason for Gant's low opinion of Thomas?
2. Sherman thought Thomas was slow and not a great general. Again why did Sherman think poorly of Thomas?
3. Should have Grant still relieved Thomas after the Battle of Nashville? If Grand did not have confidence in Thomas, why not relieve him of command despite Thomas having won the Battle of Nashville? If Thomas is a rotten general he is a rotten general.
4. Should Thomas have been relieved because he allowed Hood's army to escape after the Battle of Nashville?
5. Would it have helped Thomas' reputation if he had published a post war book?
1) Grant had some concerns about Thomas but in other ways thought very highly of him. I think their interaction, as well as the input Grant received from others (Sherman, Reynolds, etc) is well documented.
2) While Sherman thought Thomas was slow, he also thought he was a great general. So the question is unfairly stated
3) no. the battle settled Grant's anxieties
4) nah. generals didnt get relieved for hat sort of thing
5) Does his reputation need help?
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Did he not? He seems to get a lot of acclaim to me. There are multiple books focusing on him and he get lots of praise in books about the war. In fact I think he has achieved MORE fame than he may have deserved



Why the "Yet". Sherman gave Thomas a premier assignment, with higher responsibility than the commanders he took with him on the march to the sea... bringing him along and leaving someone else in charge of Tennessee would have been a slap in the face of Thomas


1) Grant had some concerns about Thomas but in other ways thought very highly of him. I think their interaction, as well as the input Grant received from others (Sherman, Reynolds, etc) is well documented.
2) While Sherman thought Thomas was slow, he also thought he was a great general. So the question is unfairly stated
3) no. the battle settled Grant's anxieties
4) nah. generals didnt get relieved for hat sort of thing
5) Does his reputation need help?
Well I have yet to read the book I just purchased so perhaps could ask better questions after I read the book. Still if one asked the general US population to list the top 10 Union Generals, I fear General Thomas would not make the cut.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Well, Longstreet showed up at Chickamauga with his ANV Corps and basically routed Rosecrans, who was actually in charge and had the high ground, in a defensive position. This was the second largest battle of the War, after Gettysburg.

If memory serves, Thomas held his position and got nicknamed, "the Rock," but at the end of the day, the Union lost that one. Why would Grant or Sherman ascribe some sort of brilliance to this?

Maybe I should read @major bill's newly acquired book.
 

NedBaldwin

Major
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Location
California
Well I have yet to read the book I just purchased so perhaps could ask better questions after I read the book. Still if one asked the general US population to list the top 10 Union Generals, I fear General Thomas would not make the cut.
Type “top 10 civil war generals” (so not just union) into google and he will appear on most lists.

Few years ago we had a poll on here of “https://civilwartalk.com/threads/who-was-the-greatest-civil-war-general-poll.115919/“
Thomas was third leading Union general and 7th overall
 

James R.

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Jun 4, 2021
He's also known as the "Sledge of Nashville". How could he not be a good general with not just one, but two cool nicknames?

I believe I read on this site that Thomas was the only CW general to never lose an engagement. Do I have that right?
 

rbasin

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Jan 31, 2013
Location
Tampa, Fl
He's also known as the "Sledge of Nashville". How could he not be a good general with not just one, but two cool nicknames?

I believe I read on this site that Thomas was the only CW general to never lose an engagement. Do I have that right?
That's the story. When he attended an army reunion in I think 1868, he was introduced as the Sledgehammer of Nashville.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
Thomas was in the top tier of Union generals. Because he was not a prima donna like Sheridan (or even Sherman), and he did not live long enough to write his memoirs (if he was even planning to do so), his historical reputation, at least among the general public, may not be as well known.
 

jackt62

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New York City
I would disagree that Grant did "not think highly" of Thomas. That narrative may have been perpetuated by the dubious story surrounding Grant's supposedly unfriendly reception by Thomas at Chattanooga. For sure, Grant's style of quick, assertive actions was different from Thomas' more methodical and careful way of planning operations, so there was bound to be friction of sorts. That was very apparent when Grant grew impatient with what he perceived to be Thomas's slow and too cautious approach to attacking the AoT at Nashville.
 

rbasin

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Location
Tampa, Fl
I would disagree that Grant did "not think highly" of Thomas. That narrative may have been perpetuated by the dubious story surrounding Grant's supposedly unfriendly reception by Thomas at Chattanooga. For sure, Grant's style of quick, assertive actions was different from Thomas' more methodical and careful way of planning operations, so there was bound to be friction of sorts. That was very apparent when Grant grew impatient with what he perceived to be Thomas's slow and too cautious approach to attacking the AoT at Nashville.
Grant definitely bad mouthed Thomas to Sherman, calling him slow and saying that he took Thomas's army away from him because Thomas couldn't conduct a campaign like Sherman.

And how Grant could know anything that was happening at Nashville from 600 miles away is ludicrous.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Did he not? He seems to get a lot of acclaim to me. There are multiple books focusing on him and he get lots of praise in books about the war. In fact I think he has achieved MORE fame than he may have deserved



Why the "Yet". Sherman gave Thomas a premier assignment, with higher responsibility than the commanders he took with him on the march to the sea... bringing him along and leaving someone else in charge of Tennessee would have been a slap in the face of Thomas


1) Grant had some concerns about Thomas but in other ways thought very highly of him. I think their interaction, as well as the input Grant received from others (Sherman, Reynolds, etc) is well documented.
2) While Sherman thought Thomas was slow, he also thought he was a great general. So the question is unfairly stated
3) no. the battle settled Grant's anxieties
4) nah. generals didnt get relieved for hat sort of thing
5) Does his reputation need help?
One thing Powell's book mentions is that when the pressure was off, and Grant was playing tourist in his new command, Grant and Thomas and other officers went down to the Chickamuaga battlefield and Thomas pointed out the features. After that Grant maintained Thomas in his command, and Thomas functioned more or less as Sherman's executive officer. In the Georgia campaign, the logistics and the engineering were handled by Thomas. The campaign succeeded just days after the Democrats concluded their convention in Chicago. It was a very impressive achievement by General Thomas.
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Sherman sent Thomas back to Nashville because he knew that there was no one better for organizing an army in Kentucky and Nashville than Thomas.
Grant was under tremendous pressure while Sherman was out of touch on his big march. Thomas won his battle. Sherman reappeared at Savannah. The pressure was off and Thomas was sustained.
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
When the Confederates did not surrender after the country re-elected Lincoln, the war was about to take a dark turn. For the march though Georgia, targeted at plantation owners, and for the massive, but fast moving cavalry raid into Alabama, Sherman and Grant needed the most hard core abolitionists and the people most likely to show the Confederates the hardest hand of war. Thomas, a product of Virginia plantation society was not a good fit for either expedition.
 
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