George H. Thomas, Major General U.S.A. "The Rock of Chickamauga," - "The Sledge of Nashville."
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The "Rock of Chickamauga"
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M/Gen. Geo. H. Thomas

Virginia, "The old Dominion," "Mother of Presidents," "Mother of States," cornerstone of the Confederacy, home of the Army of Northern Virginia, is parenthetically, the birthplace of two of the greatest leaders of the American Civil War. One is an American Icon, a Southern hero, whose name is fixed forever in American history. His courage in battle and daring struggles against staggering odds elevated the level of war to new heights. Robert Edward Lee, a southern ‘blue blood’, whose ancestors included founders and warriors, has entered our history as the most innovative and daring General in the Civil War.

The other is largely forgotten. His fame originated at one battle. When, with remnants of the Army of the Cumberland, he fought Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to a draw at Chickamauga Creek. Outnumbered almost three to one, after the right wing of the Army of the Cumberland and its commander Rosecrans, fled the field, and retreated to Chattanooga. He rallied the Union remnants and fought at Snodgrass Hill. Longstreet, after rolling up the Union right, claimed he made 25 separate attacks on what was left of the Army of the Cumberland, but could not move him. Polk and Pat Cleburne, the Stonewall of the West could not move him on the left.

He stayed at Chickamauga until, he, decided it was time to leave. He extracted his men, out of ammunition and food and in an orderly fashion, marched to the Rossville gap, and there, at Rosecrans orders, he organized his defenses. Then, after reviewing the area, decided the place was indefensible, withdrew to Chattanooga and after more than 48 hours without adequate sleep, he posted his troops in a defensive alignment, and then rested.

His name, George Henry Thomas, obscure to most until the term "Rock of Chickamauga," is spoken, then, many still do not recall the name. Yet, George Henry Thomas, in his way, was as fine an offensive planner as Lee.

On May 5, 1864, (three days after Grant ordered the campaign to begin ) Sherman finally led his Armies out of Chattanooga to fight Joe Johnston and the Army of the Tennessee, Thomas had a plan. He proposed to hold Johnston in place at Dalton, Ga. with the Armies of McPherson and Schofield and march the Army of The Cumberland thru the Snake Creek Gap. Thomas planned to march north of Resaca and place his Army of the Cumberland across Johnston's railroad lifeline to Atlanta. Thomas, in defense, would be a indomitable foe. Johnston could fight with his slightly smaller Army, retreat into the sparsely settled, mountainous regions of East Tennessee or, surrender. Sherman, reversing Thomas’s plan, lost the chance to end the war in the west four days after starting.

Thomas's planned his battles to include the total defeat and destruction of the opposing forces at the least cost to himself. His devastation of Hood’s Army at Nashville was a parallel of an earlier campaign against Crittenden at Mill Springs. His steadfast refusal not to retreat at Stones River turning a certain defeat into a small victory, was duplicated at Chickamauga. Further evidence is gathered from the O. R. ‘s. He gives Sherman several plans during the campaign that would have cut off and destroyed the Confederates under Johnston and Hood. But Sherman ignores all of them. He is obsessed with destroying railroads, now of no use to his enemy, to the exclusion of his ordered target, The Army of the Tennessee.

Thomas proposed several plans during the Atlanta campaign that would have trapped and destroyed Johnston and Hood. But Sherman botched them. At the end of the campaign, Thomas had Hood trapped at Jonesboro and begged Sherman to allow him to attack. Instead, Sherman, hearing Atlanta had fallen to Slocum’s XX Corps, recalled his troops, retreated to Atlanta and left Hood and his Army free to plan future mischief. Within two weeks Hood heads north. To deal with the problem, Sherman sends Thomas to deal with Hood and Forrest, defend Nashville as well as Tennessee. Sherman plans his trip to Savannah. Thomas returns and starts building an Army to defend Nashville and destroy Hood.

Military thinkers have proclaimed his victory at Nashville as one of the two most perfect battles ever planned and fought. The other, Napoleon’s, at Austerlitz. Some see parallels to Frederick the Great. Whatever, three and a half months after Thomas destroyed Hood's Army of the Tennessee at Nashville, the war ended.

Yet, Thomas when remembered, is recalled today only as a ‘defensive’ general.