On this day, Union General George H. Thomas, who deserves a share of the credit for the Union success in the west, is born in Southhampton County, Virginia. Thomas exemplified the difficulties that individuals who chose to break with their native states over the issue of secession faced.
After graduating from West Point, Thomas served in the Seminole and Mexican-American Wars. During the 1850s, he served in Texas with the 2nd Cavalry alongside many prominent future Confederates such as Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Albert S. Johnston, and John Bell Hood. When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, Thomas chose to remain loyal to his country. For this decision, Thomas paid dearly. His family disowned him, and he found advancement in the Union army difficult. He often served under Northern-born men of lesser ability.
Thomas was given command of Union forces in eastern Kentucky, and he distinguished himself with a key victory over the Confederates at Logan’s Cross Roads in January 1862. After the Battle of Shiloh two months later, Thomas was given command of the Army of the Tennessee when Ulysses S. Grant became the second-in-command in the west to Henry Halleck. This command was given back to Grant during reorganization in 1862.
Thomas commanded a corps at Stones River and became a Northern hero for his actions at Chickamauga in September 1863. When a gap appeared in the Union line at a crucial moment and Confederate troops began to pour through it, Thomas led a rally that saved the Federals from a serious defeat. He held the Union line together while the rest of the army, commanded by William Rosecrans, slipped back into Chattanooga.
In 1864, Thomas commanded the Army of the Cumberland during William T. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. After the capture of Atlanta, Thomas’s army was sent to pursue the remnants of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army back into Tennessee while Sherman marched across Georgia. Thomas scored two huge victories at Franklin and Nashville as Hood desperately flung his army at the Yankees, resulting in the near disintegration of the once great Rebel force.
After the war, Thomas remained in the army. He was transferred to the Military Division of the Pacific, and he died of a stroke in 1870.