George H. Thomas, Major General U.S.A. "The Rock of Chickamauga," - "The Sledge of Nashville."
"Days of Glory" - Larry Daniels
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A Review of

"Days of Glory"

 by Reverend Larry J. Daniels

 

In his book, the Reverend Daniel professes to shed light on the history of "The Army of the Cumberland" claiming history writers have neglected it. This is a true statement. 

 

Then he crosses the "The Army of the Cumberland," a two-volume history by Thomas Budd Van Horne, off the list as biased reporting.

 

His rationale is that it does not engage in the gossipy, snickering and backbiting of the officers’ corps because they were not "fraternal or solidified."Alternatively, it is not great reading and the real reason it is not acceptable is that it is an apologia for Major General George H. Thomas.

 

In the second paragraph of his Preface, he lets us know that all efforts before his were attempts to ‘vindicate’ Thomas.  In the third paragraph he claims Thomas ". . . is a flawed character. . . ."  The rest of the book is spent damning Thomas.

 

Jeez! A guy who early in the war defeats "Stonewall" Jackson, saves his army not once, but twice, was undefeated in battle, destroys two Confederate armies, ends the war in the west, is flawed and requires ‘vindication?’ That sounds like something appropriate to ‘crazy’ or ‘drunken’ generals. Perhaps these vindicators were just telling Thomas’s story. The story in which no one else had shown any interest. Besides, are not most of Grant and Sherman’s writers sympathetic to their subject? One has only to go to Perret’s slavering idolization of Grant to show the depths of silliness to which those types descend. I have found none of that in Thomas’s biographers.

 

He criticizes Thomas Van Horne, Thomas’s biographer, as an advocate of Thomas. If being an advocate is wrong, then all the writings by Catton, Simon, Porter, Wilson, et al, not to mention Grant and Sherman’s "Memoirs,” are pure "hogwash." The Reverend’s inference is that only those who dislike, disapprove, or are in some fashion at odds with the subjects are the only ones qualified to write about them.

 

Reverend Daniel immediately dismisses all extant material about Thomas before his own as "grounded in postwar writings that cannot be proven by contemporary evidence." Let’s see, according to the good Reverend, every historian and would-be historian since 1865 is wrong about Thomas including Castel, McKinney and Buell all of whom he quotes extensively? I don’t understand what "contemporary evidence" is either. Is that evidence not in existence until the Reverend finds it? What is wrong with the sources quoted in Castel, McKinney or Buell? They are all immaterial according to the Reverend. He apparently dismisses all the material that Thomas gave to Van Horne for inclusion in his history. "Contemporary evidence" does not support them, but they were contemporary evidence as reported by Van Horne. Much of Van Horne’s work is taken from Thomas’s personal papers, which Mrs. Thomas destroyed after the General’s death, and the O. R.’s. The Reverend claims since they do not now exist that they are also all irrelevant e.g. "No contemporary evidence." I wonder how he explains the Bible to his flock?

 

He disposes of "contemporary history" writers by claiming they did not have the heart to dive into the National Archives because of the "sheer volume." Nevertheless, the good Reverend has waded through this miasma of dust-covered and cobwebbed material, no doubt turning himself brown in the process, to glean nuggets he claimed were hidden there. I failed to find little others have not uncovered.  He missed most of what is in McKinney’s excellent history.

 

He then states that Thomas, along with Buell and Rosecrans, has ‘solid’ biographies which reverses what he claimed and dismissed (Van Horne and Cist) earlier in his Preface.

 

The Reverend claims he has ". . . stayed clear of battle minutiae that can easily be found in other works. . . ." Instead he substitutes minutiae of the individual soldier, whose overall comprehension of the action swirling around him is normally limited to his immediate front. A private’s overall knowledge of the tactics, strategy or battle plan, or of the ebb and flow of the battle is extremely limited to what he can see in his front. He usually never knows the Strategy involved. How can he? As to social problems, he can only add his one vote, yea or nay, to the generally acknowledged existing racism. Morale is a nebulous perception, not necessarily shared universally. If the Reverend served any time in the military he would have found that men griped about everything and they do not all share the same opinion. I’m sure it was the same during the Civil War. However, Reverend Daniel treats these comments as though they flowed from the lips of Aristotle, Jefferson, Napoleon or Clausewitz. This adds nothing to the understanding or analysis. As any good statistician knows, a sample size of one (1) defining a situation, morale, conscription, or emancipation, is not worth the powder to blow it to. . . . Heck. Probably just adds more to the price they pay the good Reverend for the book. Too many historians today think that this adds authenticity to their work. To me, it resembles the Polls taken today about politics, morals and whatever other item the media deems worthy of exploring with the public. They achieve no real understanding, but what the hell, it fills space and sometimes it’s fun to read. Which today, may be what “history” writers and publishers are all about.

 

He frets that "Thomas supporters" will think him too hard on Thomas. Well, by the end of the book there are included 132 (my count) derogatory or backhanded comments about one individual (Thomas).  He certainly has reason to worry. One must wonder why all the negativity about one man? In the large picture, the Reverend’s portrait of Thomas does not stand up to the universally held perception. This man at the beginning of the war made a soul wrenching choice to support a government and it’s policy against his native state. Is not that commendable? He was never defeated in battle. Is that not praiseworthy? He gave the Union it’s first victory in battle at Mill Springs. Is that not estimable? He saved the Union Amy of the Cumberland at Chickamauga. Is not that laudable? He defeated the Confederates at Missionary Ridge by a victory claimed by others as "miraculous." Is that not creditable? Despite Sherman, he helped defeat the Army of Tennessee in Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign. Cannot that be recognized? He destroyed the Army of Tennessee, at Nashville, again despite Sherman and Grant and ended the war in the West. Is that not meritorious? Despite Grant’s diminution of his efforts and the dispersion of his forces at Nashville, he outfitted and sent a cavalry force that he built despite Grant’s interference and led by James Harrison Wilson, to conquer and destroy the industrial sites at Selma and Montgomery in Alabama. Besides meeting and destroying the mythical Nathan Bedford Forrest, he also captured Jefferson Davis in Georgia. Is that not deserving? His efforts at reconciliation after the war brought Tennessee back into the Union before any other officers efforts in any other departments. Was he not a great man? Not in the Reverend’s opinion!

 

I’m not sure how Daniels reached the wrong rationale that the IV Corps was the heart of the Army of the Cumberland, but he erred again. The XIV Corps, Thomas’s old Corps, was it’s heart. So good that after Sherman secretly degraded it to Grant from Resaca to Jonesboro, he had to take it to protect him on his holiday from the war in Savannah and sent the Reverends choice back to Thomas.

 

Well so much for the "Preface."

 

This is not a history of the "Army of the Cumberland."

 

It is a shallow review of the early history of the AOC and some of its battles. Its primary focus is to denigrate George H. Thomas as an ineffective, slow, spiteful, insubordinate officer. In four hundred and thirty-four pages there are roughly one hundred and thirty-two demeaning references regarding Thomas.

 

As others have done (See Creveld below), the Reverend leaps at the opportunity to repeat the Grant/Sherman’s aspersion about Thomas being "slow." He repeats the slander that Grant/Sherman initiated to degrade Thomas’s military performances. He repeats the story that they called Thomas "Slow Trott [sic]" because of his performance, not true. "Slow Trot" is a Cavalry Command and Thomas, when he taught cavalry tactics at West Point used it. Due to the natural instincts of the future officers to be, their first inclination in formation to was to charge rapidly. Thomas at this instant and mindful of the condition of the animals, instinctively ordered "Slow Trot" which slowed the intended gallop. His pupils, including many who would fight for and against him in the future, cheated of their fun, reluctantly obeyed and ever afterward they called Thomas "Slow Trot." The full derivation of the nickname is presented on the AOTC.net website (http://aotc.net/article3.htm), as are other nicknames associated with Thomas none of them derogatory.

 

To quote historian Martin van Creveld, much of what historians give us to believe is based on . . . "a sad testimonial to the readiness of many historians to copy each other's words without giving the slightest thought to the evidence on which they are based."

 

The Reverend also adopts the silly argument (previously presented by others) that the Army of the Cumberland was slow because of its size. Now, with about 65,000 men, the AOTC was about 10,000 men smaller than the Army of Northern Virginia. That Army was never been accused of being slow. If size is some criteria of speed than the Army of the Potomac’s must have been as a snail. No, size is not measure of an Armies speed or effectiveness. It’s what the army’s generals do with them that count. With two different armies, Thomas destroyed two separate rebel forces. At Chickamauga, with less than half an army, he fought the Army of Tennessee, numbering 75,000, to a standstill.

 

Why is Daniels so negative about Thomas? The disapproval extends to a negative comment or statement or quote on about every third page. Is this a trick to create discussion where none exists? Is this a subterfuge to create a controversy to increase sales? Is this derogation of Thomas to prepare the way for another overblown apotheosis of Grant? This certainly isn’t history.

 

The Reverend’s negativity does not confine itself to Thomas alone. No officer in the book seemed to have escaped his criticism.  I am surprised that these quarrelsome, egotistical, inept, envious, and covetous people won any battles.

 

Well, we’ll have to wait a while for a real history of the Army of the Cumberland to appear. We’ll have to make do with Van Horne’s flawed versions, and McKinney’s adulations, despite their disposition toward Thomas.

 

There are continuous deprecations of Thomas and his ‘slowness’ for no apparent reason other than to repeat the words. On p. 315, he claims that " . . . the XIV Corps began its march north. Long halts were taken in order for skirmishers to scour the woods to the front and right. At the pace of a quarter-mile an hour could Thomas, never known for his speed, be in position by dawn?"

 

Well, Thomas and his men had been marching that day to unite with the rest of Rosecrans army and had to march to his new position on the left flank of Rosecrans army during the night. Crittenden had failed to warn Rosecrans of any activity on his left or northern flank so Thomas knew nothing of the Rebels position or activity. Now where I come from a night march could be a real adventure. Never know when you’ll walk into a tree, over a cliff, fall into water or run into a Rebel Division. Lottsa things can happen at night. I’m not sure how rapidly the good Reverend thinks moving an entire Corps, four divisions and something like 20,000 men, not to mention artillery batteries and Corps trains, several miles through dusty woods, over unknown territory should take. In his scorn, is he suggesting that Thomas should have double timed his men? Perhaps he can count on divine intervention. Thomas couldn’t.

 

Daniel snidely reports on p. 353 that on "Monday morning, October 19, Rosecrans rode out for his daily inspection tour, leaving Granger in charge, an odd selection given that Thomas ranked him by five months."

 

Well, if the Commanding Officer (C. O.) is absent from his post for any length of time, or tied up on other duties, normally another officer is designated as an ‘Officer of the Day’ (O. D.) whose duty is to attend to the protocols and operational duties of the army that would normally fall in the C. O.’s domain. Perhaps Reverend Daniel has not had the privilege of serving in the armed forces and is unaware of military procedures. If this is the case, should it have been left unsaid?

 

On page 139, Daniel claims that by October 1862, "The Virginian (Thomas), though an excellent officer, lacked experience in his present assignment . . ." By that time Thomas had built and trained and army, been a regimental and division commander and second in command of the AOTC. Since Reverend Daniels was not aware of the duties or position of Officer of the Day, how does he judge a Generals abilities? Does he have ‘contemporary evidence?’

 

On page 325, note 28, the Reverend claims Thomas withheld 18 regiments in reserve. Claiming that ". . . This amounted to more than 50 percent of his force . . . "  Then he listed the regiments in the "Orders of Battle" for the Chickamauga campaign as 54 regiments, including Grose and Willich’s brigades. This left him two thirds of his force or 36 regiments to man his battle line. A Corps commander who puts a third of his force in reserve, to take care of any unexpected emergency is acting within accepted military protocol. I’m sure his experience helped him devise this ratio. Nevertheless, of course according to the Reverend, Thomas really hadn’t gained from any of this valuable experience - yet. According to the Reverend, "he had not matured."

 

Daniels repeated the often quoted tale of Thomas’s inhospitable behavior to Grant at his arrival at Chattanooga on the night of October 22, 1863 on page 363 and his footnote three. He quotes Major James H. Wilson, a Grant aide as coming to "army headquarters to find Grant on one side of the room and Thomas on the other, both looking glum and ill at ease" Wilson supposedly prompted Thomas to make Grant more comfortable, Grant refused. This story has only Wilson’s word to back it up. Horace Porter reported the same incident, but in Wilson’s book, "Under the old Flag" p. 274, Wilson reported Porter only arrived later accompanied by General "Baldy" Smith, negating Porters version. So, contrary to the Reverend’s dismissal of Thomas Buell’s dismissal of Wilson’s report, we must dismiss the Reverend’s dismissal. If this incident did occur we have no "contemporary evidence" which mentions this unnecessary report which therefore is certainly dismissible.

 

There are many more (132) of these negativities, poor research and tortured rationales by the Reverend. Too many to refute individually so I’ll leave it to the reader to decide the need for this type of history.

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