Letter from Capt. William T. Smith of the 42nd Georgia
FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE AT PEACH ORCHARD HILL
Cliff Roberts of Georgia, following a Nashville battlefield tour by Jim Kay of BONPS, sent the following personal account of the 42nd Georgia’s December 16, 1864, engagement with Federal troops at Peach Orchard Hill, and his escape through cornfields south of Nashville and finally his rescue in the town of Franklin. The personal details of his account of the battle portray both the high risk and the humor of combat on that decisive day. Below is the introduction to the article by Mr. Roberts:
“Attached is the perspective of Captain William T. Smith (1842-1904), of the Independent Rebels of Gwinnett County. ‘Close Calls’ was a series of articles by Confederate veterans from Georgia that appeared in the Atlanta Journal around 1900. To my utter frustration, the Journal has never been digitized and indexed, so I don’t have an exact date of the article (yet). The article was pasted into a scrapbook of Colonel Lovick P. Thomas, also of the 42nd Georgia.
“At the beginning of the war, William T. Smith of Gwinnett County served several months in Company H of the 16th Georgia with his brother James Smith. William resigned due to bad health, but re-enlisted in Company B of the 42nd Georgia.
After the Battle of Tazewell, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and served in that capacity until the Tennessee campaign, where he was promoted to captain after the death of Ben Weaver at the Battle of Franklin. Smith married Mary Jones in 1865, and they would have seven children. The Smith family lived for 15 years in Titus County, Texas where Captain Smith was elected justice of the peace for two terms and served in the Texas Legislature for three terms. In 1881, they returned to Buford, Georgia. Captain Smith was a successful merchant and served four terms in the Georgia Legislature. The Confederate Pension Act of 1888 was largely the result of his labors. He also served as a Trustee.”
Here is his account (click to enlarge for easier reading):
BRENTWOOD RESIDENT LOCATES SITE OF FORT
The combination of historical inquisitiveness by Nashvillian Rob Field, the use of Google satellite imagery, and a rare map posted on the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society’s website, has resulted in an interesting new find – an aerial view of the remains of the long-vanished Fort Brentwood.
The fort, built in 1862 by Union troops to guard the railroad trestle at the Little Harpeth River in Brentwood, TN, was part of the Union Army’s stronghold on Middle Tennessee at the time and was home for the 104th Illinois and 19th Michigan regiments.
On March 25, 1863, the stockade was attacked and captured by the 4th Mississippi and the 10th Tennessee Calvary units led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, bringing about the surrender by Capt. Elijah Bassett of the 19th Michigan, along with about 200 men, all supplies, arms and a dozen wagons. It was eventually reclaimed by Union Forces led by Brig. Gen. Green Clay Smith with about 700 Union cavalry, causing Forrest to retreat west towards Hillsboro Road.
It is unclear exactly how, when or why the fort was destroyed, but Rob Field, who grew up as a kid in Brentwood, became curious about the location of the fort after viewing a photograph of a map on the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society’s website, www. Bonps.org.
The photo is of a copy of an original drawing by John L. Anderson, probably drawn in 1863 and made available on the BONPS website courtesy of the Jim Kay Collection. The only other known sketch of the stockade was completed by Anson Smith and is in The National Archives.
After seeing the outline of the fort as depicted on the map, Field decided to view satellite imagery to see if any features of the landscape along the Little Harpeth River could offer a clue as to the location. Tracing the course of the river, the ghostly, faint outline of the fort emerged from fields located immediately northeast of the point at which the current rail line crosses the Little Harpeth, just west of I-65 and north of Concord Road.
A comparison of the contours of the outer walls of the Stockade and the straight lines of pale grass in the field make it almost certain that the remnants of the fort lie just under the surface of the field. Field sent his images and explanation to BONPS, which are reprinted below with his permission (NOTE: click any photo to enlarge):
“Here’s what I believe to be the Brentwood stockade, visible in the fields south of town”:
“If you look in the large field (which is tan to the left half and green to the right) in the center of the image, between the highway and the railroad tracks and just west of “The Heritage at Brentwood”, you can make out the outline of the stockade breastworks (it’s lighter in color.)”
“Here’s a comparison with the crude map drawn during the time period. You can see that the lighter outlines in the field match pretty well to the curves of the map, especially in the jagged top left edge. The slightly darker area with the single tree may correspond with the remains of the raised redoubts. The highway would appear to have destroyed the easternmost section of the stockade.”
UNION OFFICER’S BOOK HARSHLY DESCRIBED NASHVILLE’S BEST-KNOWN CITIZENS
In 1864, Federal officer John Fitch was with the Union Army in occupied Nashville and wrote a “best-selling” book entitled “The Annals of the Army of the Cumberland.” In it, he described the city and its citizens, with special emphasis on the city’s most influential and wealthiest men. The book was reviewed by Nashville Tennessean feature writer Hugh Walker in a lengthy article published in October, 1966. The photocopies below are from the collection of Jim Kay. (Click on image to zoom)
Union Letter Describes Nashville During the Battle
The two-page letter below was written on December 19, 1864, by Union officer Charles Grundy who was stationed in Nashville during the Battle of Nashville. He did not see action in the battle, because, according to his letter, he had not been able to join his command with Gen. Sherman. In this letter, with excellent penmanship which makes the cursive very readable, Grundy describes his summary of and observations during the battle of Nashville on the field, and what was happening in the city of Nashville at the time. NOTE: A PDF file containing the typewritten transcription of the handwritten letter is located below the photocopies of the letter. The document is from the collection of Jim Kay.
Typed transcription of Charles Grundy Letter written three days after the battle
Recollections Of A Confederate Major
Maj. Joseph B. Cummings was assigned to the staff of Gen. John Bell Hood. After the war, he wrote a colorful first-person account of his involvement in the battle and Hood’s staff, from the end of the Battle of Franklin to his final retreat back to Franklin. His paper, ‘War Recollections,” is in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this excerpt, he gives a personal glimpse of his days at Traveller’s Rest (John Overton’s home) where Hood set up his Nashville HQ, his faithful devotion to a barrel of Robinson (Robertson?) County whiskey, his “damn fool” exploits on a white horse during the fighting, a surprising meeting with a Union soldier, and his night time escape through open fields after the rout of the Confederate army on December 16.
400-Year-Old Witness Tree Saw Civil War Fighting
The Witness Tree of Richland Country Club dates to about 1613. This stately Bur Oak (quercus macrocarpa) is the oldest tree on the property and has witnessed the progress, destruction and the vast changes in Middle Tennessee.
Located one hundred yards from Nashville’s most historical trail – the Granny White Pike – this tree witnessed buffalo walking single file to the Great French Lick in present day downtown Nashville. It served as cover from the heat and storms for early Indians and later for the Creek, Cherokee and Chickasaw hunters. John Rains, one of Nashville’s earliest settlers, killed 32 bear in the cane breaks just north of this location late 1770. Travelers from Nashville to Franklin went past this tree and this included Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Benton, John Overton and John Lea. This Bur Oak witnessed the construction of Granny White turnpike in 1849 on the old buffalo path.
On December 16, 1864, Confederate cavalry under the command of Col. D.C. Kelley and Col. Ed Rucker began its defense of the road to Brentwood as the Confederate army was swept from the field of the battle at Nashville three miles north. The Battle of the Barricade began nearby and the fierce fighting continued around this tree and to the south before the hand to hand combat ended in the cold darkness. On the same night, part of the victorious but exhausted U.S. cavalry under the command of General James Wilson camped under its branches.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture dedicated this tree as the 33rd historical tree in the state in 2013 and the Richland witness tree proudly stands watch over the club at the number nine gold tee. It is a lasting tribute to those who have come and gone before us, lived their lives and made their marks on American soil.
Another Witness Tree, the Basket Oak, stands on the grounds of the Battle of Nashville Monument on Granny White Pike. For more on this ancient survivor of the battle, click here.
Local Historian Describes Battlefield’s History
The link below contains a talk by Ridley Wills, II, a Nashville historian who has authored numerous books on local history, to the Lealand Garden Club of Nashville on October 7, 2013. The paper presents a very readable and fact-filled description of the history of the area of South Nashville which surrounded the Lealand Plantation and was a hotly-contested part of the battlefield during the Battle of Nashville.
Mr. Wills is a descendent of William Giles Harding, owner of Belle Meade Plantation, one of the city’s most prominent historic sites and which Mr. Wills wrote about in his book, The History of Belle Meade: Mansion, Plantation and Stud. In addition to his prolific output of books exploring Tennessee and Nashville history, he is also a past winner of the Tennessee History Book Award (1991), and has served as adjunct professor of history at Belmont University in Nashville.
BONPS Included In USA Today “Travel Tips”
The Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, along with numerous other Middle Tennessee Civil War resources, sites and locations, has been listed as a go-to resource for explaoration of Battle of Nashville information. Also listed are Travellers Rest, Belmont Mansion, Fort Negley and others.
To see the article, go to USA Today Travel Tips.
Book: Tennessee’s Railroads During the Civil War
The Chattanooga Country: Gateway to History (the Nashville to Atlanta Rail Corridor of the 1860s) by Dr. James W. Livingood, presents a detailed overview of the status and importance of the rail system as it existed in Tennessee during the Civil War. It was published by the Chattanooga Area Historical Society in 1995. The volume is available through the CAHS for $15.00. See the link below for information about the book and Dr. Livingood. The book is hardcover with dust jacket and 698 pages in length.
Smithsonian.com Article: Dealing With Prostitution in Civil War Nashville
During the Union occupation of Nashville during the Civil War, prostitution was one of many problems the occupying forces had to deal with, and they came up with interesting answers to the questions. The article is available at :
Article from the New York Times, February 8, 1865.
The article below was written for The New York Times about six weeks after the Battle of Nashville. It is in the form of a letter dispatched from a Times columnist who sent more than 50 dispatches from areas affected by the Civil War, many of them originating from Tennessee.
Effects of the War on Tennessee — Destruction of Property Through Hood — Restitution — Death’s Doing Since Dec. 15 — A Good Sanitary Exhibit for 1865 — A Parting Word.
Nashville, Tenn, Sunday, Jan 29, 1865.
The citizens of Nashville will long remember Hood. The sense of the injuries inflicted on them and their city by his recklessness and folly, will have more than a passing poignancy. Before Hood came on his quixotic errand, the condition of the city was anything by seemly and desirable. It had long ceased to challenge praise from visitors of the ground of its beauty. The marring hoof of war had trodden too deeply for that. But it retained, in spite of three or four years incessant trampling of iron heels, many bright signs to show what it had been in it palmiest day. A number of its fairest edifices, lying without and around the city, had been but slightly touched by war’s deforming fingers. And though the citizen, as speaking to the stranger of Nashville now, and contrasting it with Nashville as before the war, sighed as some old Trojan, exclaimed, “”Ilsum fuit” [sic] might do, there were yet attractive points, here and there, to greet the eye, and give assurance that the city’s former claims to admiration were not placed a little too high.
Hood’s coming, and the effects it brought, made the little remnant less. The huge gaping trench and rifle-pit cordon around the city, stands a hideous disfiguration. It will stand thus for long, for these ghastly cuts, like those upon animate bodies, require time to cure. Right through many a smiling yard and fruitful garden, as the summer showed them, these remorseless gulches too their way, the fences on every side being torn down, and wept in to aid and finish the defences. Houses on the outskirts stood in all directions, and stand yet, bare of post or picket, as if a fence were thought a superfluity, and the people loved to have all things in common.
Many fences were carried away by the soldiers and burnt for fuel, on the biting cold days just before the battle. It was a “military necessity” for which it would be hard to blame the brave fellow who were shivering on the icy ground, and found nothing else to warm them. Even a part of the cemetery fence was demolished, as all would have been by the troops in their strait, had not the most energetic measures been restored to, to protect it. Hood’s forces around the city kept fuel from getting into it, and hence the pressure. A considerable section of Nashville, adjacent to the cemetery, is lying fenceless to-day.
Outside of the city limits, the havoc and desolation are more strikingly seen. Not only are the fences utterly swept away, but in many instances houses are burned or partially demolished by shells. From a stand-point half a mile beyond Fort Negley, and in the direction of the Franklin Pike, along which the most desperate fighting of the two days took place, the eye takes in numbers of houses that once lay nested in the bosom of tasteful shrubbery or rich forest growths, now denuded and bare as if planted in the heart of some Western prairie. I rode out to the house of Mrs. A. V. Brown, two miles and a half from the city, and just beyond the first line of rebel rifle-pits. The pits remained just as the rebels left them, and very artistically finished structures they were. They ran in front of Mrs. Brown’s house, which, with the fences around it, were not molested, though reported at one time burned. A strong rebel guard kept the premises from harm, and the family did not leave the house during the battles, nor while the rebels lay around. It is marvelous that the fast-falling shells from our forts and batteries did the house no injury, while others in its vicinity were dismantled. It has been Mrs. Brown’s singular good fortune to find protectors in both belligerents during all the rebellion. The sister of Gen. Pillow and the widow of one of our former Cabinet officers, her relations, added to her amiable and benevolent character, and the charms of her hospitable home, have seemed to make loyal and rebel rival each other in acting toward her the part of friends and guardians. Mrs. Ackland’s house, also, one of the most elegant in Nashville, situated just within our lines, and the headquarters of Gen. Wood during the battle of the 15th and 16th of December, enjoyed similar immunity. Some others near the battle-ground, and with shot and shell flying all around them, had an equally fortunate escape.
The destruction of property, however, was immense all around the city. It would be hard to write down the sum accurately in figures. Greater values were absorbed and sunk through the last abortive struggles of Hood than the rebellion ever inflicted on the State before. A good deal of these parties will seek to recover from the Government. Where private property was taken from Union citizens for the purposes of the Government, a claim may be put in, and a competent tribunal will decide how fair restitution shall me bade. It will be a slow process, and a difficult one, to decide truly between the many and conflicting claims which by and by will press upon the proper court. This will prove one of the troublesome sequels to the rebellion. The greater matter settled, however, the lesser ones will adjust themselves in due time.
The number of deaths in the various hospitals here since Dec. 15, is a trifle under 1,300, far the greater part have been wounds received in battle. The soldier’s cemetery contains a total of 11,500 of our heroic men, who devoted life for the country — a number equaling the entire population of many pretentious towns. This is but a fraction of the stupendous necrology that this dire rebellion has written up; and what an appalling picture does war present looked at in this aspect. To counterbalance this, the gains from the struggle must be great indeed. And they will be. Given the death of slavery alone, as the fruit of these frightful throes, and who will say that all these sacrifices have not been amply repaid?
The Winter mortality among the black people and the enlisted soldiers in colored regiments is large. It has averaged for this month and part of December, twenty deaths a day. Fifteen of these are from contrabands, about five from soldiers. The cold weather is hard upon the half-clad, half-fed and half-housed blacks, who have sought the asylum of the city in crowds. With all the considerate aid the Government can give them the condition of many is wretched enough. Freedom however, they sigh for, and will have when attainable; any lowly and suffering lot as freeman, in preference to slavery, though the chains may sit easily in some exceptional cases. The colored soldiers have good care in the hospitals provided for them. The numbers brought in wounded show how gallantly they performed their part in the recent battles. But wintry exposure in the field, affects them more than it does those of the more fortunate race. They suffer more from sickness proportionably [sic], and sickness seizes them with [a] stronger and more tenacious grasp. Field service, however, in the sultry season deems to harm them less. Their claim to being good soldiers, to rendering signal service to the cause they love to fight in, is established beyond dispute.
The Sanitary Commission’s work for this department during the year ending Jan. 1, 1865, deserves a glance. The number of articles distributed among our soldiers in hospitals and in the field, for this period reached the total of 1,021, 433 — one bushel, one pound, one gallon, and so on being counted as one article. There were disbursed 150,000 pounds of canned fruit, 114,655 pounds crackers, 72,823 pounds condensed milk, 35,446 bushels of potatoes, 25,484 bushels of onions, 36,397 bottles of wine and liquors, 51,854 gallons of pickles, and other articles of highest value to the needy soldier, on a like liberal scale. The streams of the people’s show, have continue to flow to with the steady and unimpeded current. It is one of the most marvelous spectacles that the eye has witnessed. It is a splendid record that will challenge praise from the coming ages, in behalf of a great Christian people, whose sentiments and acts proved them worthy of the trust which God devolved upon them.
Your correspondent, assigned to another department, closes with this letter the series addressed to the Times from Tennessee, but of fifty-two letters written since June of 1863, not one has failed to reach its destination, nor to appear in due time to afford perchance a transient interest to some of your many readers. A twenty months’ observation from a very interesting standpoint has enabled me to aid a little, I hope, in illustrating certain phases of the war, its effects on the border states, and especially Tennessee, the steadiness with which the great principles involved in the issue have advanced, and the sure and probably speedy triumph to crown the struggle for Union and Freedom. It has been pleasant to speak words of hope and good cheer in regard to the brightening future through the columns of a paper which, and has been, in full accord with the grand progressive movements of the age, and has hopefully stood by the righteous cause of nation unity and a sorely tried Government in the darkest hours. The worst danger is overpast [sic]. The nation will live. Its path, like that of the just, will grow brighter and brighter. And to have contributed something to his august and inestimable result, will be to the humblest helper a life-long glory and joy.
Maps of Forest Hills Stone Wall Fences
During the summer of 2007, the staff of the R.O. Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) mapped the locations of stone fences in the City of Forest Hills, the small residential city in south-central Davidson County, Tennessee which comprises part of the Battle of Nashville battlefield. The mapping project was initiated at the request of Forest Hills Commissioner William Coke with the objective of developing a GIS (Geographic Information System) spatial data layer of stone fence locations.
The project is important for its identification of dry-stacked stone wall fences that could have played a role in the battle. The 2007 study supplements an earlier 2001 study commissioned by Forest Hills which primarily concentrated on stone walls lining public streets. Both studies offer interesting insights into dry-stacked limestone walls, their history, location and preservation. Both can be found on the Forest Hills website:
1963 Tennessean Article Revives Story
Confederate Mystery: Recovered Revolver Rekindles Strange Tale of Murder
Edwin C. Bearss — History’s Pied Piper
Ed Bearss is one of the country’s foremost military historians, focusing for most of his career on the Civil War as well as World War II, in which he served in the Pacific with the US Marine Corps and was wounded in combat. As a civilian, he became a legendary battlefield tour guide, serving as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. His extensive knowledge of the Civil War and its battlefields has made him a household name among those who have studied the conflict. His work in this field includes being featured in Ken Burns’s PBS series on The Civil War.
Mr. Bearss is a much sought after speaker and was in Nashville for a presentation on July 16, 2012 during which he spoke to a packed house gathered at the Looby Theater. To view and listen to a recording of his comments, click this link.
Below, BONPS presents Edwin Cole Bearss — History’s Pied Piper, the complete 76-page biography written by John C. Waugh in 2003 for the Edwin Cole Bearss Tribute Fund, Inc., proceeds of which are dedicated to battlefield preservation. It chronicles the life and work of this consummate historian:
NOTE: Click link below to read book. This is a large PDF file. Please allow sufficient time for loading.
INTERVIEW WITH STANLEY F. HORN
This wide-ranging interview of Stanley Horn took place in Nashville in June, 1976 when he was 87 years old. The interviewer was Charles W. Crawford. Mr. Horn by then had authored 10 books, including the first detailed account of the Battle of Nashville entitled The Decisive Battle of Nashville, published in 1956. His many accomplishments in the area of Tennessee history included serving as State Historian of Tennessee and chairman of the Tennessee Civil War Centennial Commission.
Link to an interesting story about the Battle of Nashville
The recording below was made in the 1930’s with credits to WBT radio in Charlotte, NC
Effectively Tapping into Local, County, State Historical Societies and Libraries
By Barry J. Ewell
A detailed 69-page guide to researching your roots.
Nashville National Cemetery
1420 Gallatin Road South, Madison, TN 37115
Office hours: M-F 8-4:30.
Gates open for visitation during daylight hours.
For more information, go to the cemetery website:
On this website, there are 12,769 listings for Civil War-era soldiers (Union) buried at the National Cemetery.
View Burial Listings of Civil War-ear Soldiers
(Alphabetized by Last Name):
In addition, there are 4,131 unknown soldiers buried there.
Information for known burials includes (in order) Last Name, First Name and (if available) Middle Initial, Burial Section, Grave Number, Date of Death, State, and Rank.
HISTORY OF THE CEMETERY
This hallowed ground was established as a U.S. Military Cemetery on Jan. 28, 1867. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad runs through the cemetery, dividing it into two nearly equal halves. The stone wall around the cemetery and the limestone archway at the front entrance were constructed in 1870. Among other outbuildings and structures, a speaker’s rostrum was completed in 1940.
Roll of Honor, No. XXII, dated July 31, 1869, submitted to Quartermaster General’s Office, U.S.A., Washington, D.C., recorded the graves of 16,485 Union soldiers interred in the national cemetery at Nashville, Tennessee and remains as a part of the cemetery’s historical records.
Originally there were 16,489 interments (burials) of known soldiers and employees: 38 were officers, 10,300 were white soldiers, 1,447 were colored soldiers, and 703 were employees.
Among the unknown, there were 3,098 white soldiers, 463 colored soldiers and 29 employees. The deceased had been gathered from an extensive region of Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. The number of distinct burial places from which these bodies were taken is 251.
A very large proportion of the dead in the cemetery, however, were transferred from the hospital burial grounds in and around the city of Nashville and from temporary burial grounds around general hospitals in Nashville and nearby battlefields of Franklin and Gallatin, Tenn. Reinterments were also made from Bowling Green and Cave City, Ky.
During the Civil War, if marked at all, wooden headboards with the names and identifying data painted thereon marked graves of those who died in general hospitals, on the battlefields, or as prisoners of war. Many of these headboards deteriorated through exposure to the elements. The result was that when the remains were later removed for burial to a national cemetery, identifications could not be established, and the gravesites were marked as unknown.
NOTABLE MONUMENTS, MARKERS:
- Statue dedicated in 2006 to the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War, including both days of The Battle of Nashville at Granbury’s Lunette and Peach Orchard Hill. This is the only free standing monument of a United States Colored Troop in America. Sculptor Roy W. Butler used William Radcliffe of the 13thUSCT as a model for the statue.
- One of the oldest private markers in the cemetery is a spire located in Section M, Grave 16234, which was dedicated to the memory of James A. Leonard of the 1st Kansas Battery. He was killed by guerillas on Jan. 23, 1864 and interred on Jan. 27, 1864.
- In 1920, the State of Minnesota erected a monument in Section MM inscribed, “In memory of her soldiers here buried who lost their lives in the service of the United States in war for Preservation of the Union–AD 1861-1865.”
- Chaplain Erastus M. Cravath, 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was interred in Section MM, Grave 16694, in 1900. Chaplain Cravath was one of the founders of Fisk University in Nashville, and served for 25 years as its president.
- Colonel James W. Lawless, 5th Kentucky Cavalry, was buried in Section MM, Grave 10662, on June 25, 1899. Col. Lawless was born in Ireland and came to the United States at the age of 16.
Colonel Edward S. Jones, Commander of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, was also the founder of the Department of Tennessee and Georgia Grand Army of the Republic and served as Commander for many years. He was interred in Section MM, Grave 16520, in Nov. 1866.
“General George Thomas, The Sledge of Nashville,” by Historian Brian S. Wills
Gen. George Henry Thomas, the victorious Union commander at the Battle of Nashville, was a native Virginian and career soldier who felt honor-bound to stay loyal to the Union when the Civil War began. The military career of General Thomas was the subject of a BONPS program on June 17, 2004, at Belmont Mansion featuring Brian Steel Wills, a professor of history at the University of Virginia at Clinch Valley. Professor Wills is also a tour guide and biographer of Nathan Bedford Forrest with a biography of General Thomas in the works — “The Sledge of Nashville.” In 1860, Thomas supported the unsuccessful Presidential candidacy of Tennessean John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. He was offered the position as Chief of Ordnance for the state of Virginia but he turned it down.
Because he fought for the Union, his family disowned him, “turned his picture to the wall,” and there was no reconciliation after the war.
Prior to the Battle of Nashville, Gen. U.S. Grant had nearly relieved Thomas of command because he was “too slow” in attacking Hood’s army.
After the battle, despite Thomas’ valuable military leadership at Mill Springs, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Atlanta, and Nashville, Grant virtually dissolved Thomas’ command, scattering his troops throughout the Western Theater.
Wills considers Thomas to be one of the best generals of the Civil War, if not the best, ranking above even Grant and Sherman.
Thomas was a graduate of West Point (ranking 12th in the 1840 class of 42) and fought in the Seminole and Mexican wars.
Being a Virginian, his loyalty to the Union was often questioned. President Lincoln had his doubts, at least until Thomas’ West Point roommate, William T. Sherman, vouched for him.
Thomas was honest to a fault and did not participate in army politics. He was not much at self promotion.
During the 1862 Kentucky campaign, the command of the Dept. of the Ohio was offered to Thomas, but he turned it down because he thought it unfair to replace his commander, Gen. Don Carlos Buell, in the middle of a campaign.
Later, Thomas was “mortified” when he was overlooked and Buell was replaced by Gen. William S. Rosecrans, an officer of junior rank. Nevertheless he carried on as the loyal soldier that he was.
At Murfreesboro, his men held the center and prevented a rout of Rosecrans’ army. Asked after the first day if the beleaguered army should retreat, he replied, “I can think of no better place to die.” Days later, it was the Confederates who retreated.
At Chickamauga, a great Confederate victory, Thomas prevented a complete disaster and commanded an orderly retreat, earning the name “Rock of Chickamauga.”
At Missionary Ridge, his men stormed and carried the heights, stealing the honors from Grant’s favorite, Sherman. But, again, Thomas refused to take much of the credit.
Wills noted that writing a biography of Thomas is not an easy task in that his wife, a native Northerner, destroyed all of the general’s papers upon his death in 1870. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY, his wife’s home.