George H. Thomas, Major General U.S.A. "The Rock of Chickamauga," - "The Sledge of Nashville."
Grant, Sherman & Hallecks campaign to defame George H. Thomas
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After the "Battle of Chattanooga" and the charge up Missionary Ridge by units of General G. H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, Grant and Sherman, and occasionally Halleck, began a series of correspondence in which they started demeaning Thomas as 'slow.’

No historian has ever investigated why these "slowness" charges began. I can only surmise that the two prime actors decided to run down Thomas to protect their own public stature and thus had to make "The Rock of Chickamauga" and "Hero of Missionary Ridge" and "The Sledge of Nashville" look bad. After Grant’s victory at Chattanooga, planned by Grant, engineered by Thomas, fought and won by Thomas and Hooker, with Sherman as mostly an audience, Grant’s and Sherman’s hold on the Nation’s headlines dried up. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland’s charge up the Missionary Ridge and Hooker’s capture of Lookout Mountain, planting ‘Old Glory’ at it’s peak, combined with his slashing attack on Bragg’s left and capture of over two thousand Rebels and Dana’s ‘Messianic’ message to Stanton in Washington attributing Thomas’ victorious charge as heavenly intervention, devoured all available national headlines.

After Chattanooga Grant, for the most part, waited in Nashville, trying to provide clothing for Fosters troops in Knoxville and for news of Congress’ approval of his three star promotion. He had run out of opportunities to prove his military prowess. On December 14, 1863, Elihu Washburne introduced a bill to revive the rank of Lt. General. On February 26, 1864, Congress passed the Lt. General bill and on the 29th, Lincoln sent Grant’s name to the senate to fill the position.

Sherman pestered him to carry out the Meridian Campaign. Purportedly planned to eliminate Meridian, Mississippi, a rail center, failing in the long run because the Confederates had it up and running in about two months. The Meridian Campaign, a forerunner of the "March to the Sea" showed the paucity of Sherman’s strategic competency. His plan was to march from Vicksburg to Meridian with over twenty-six thousand infantry, artillery and cavalry, attack and destroy Meridian, Mississippi about hundred miles from Vicksburg. Meridian, guarded by the Rebel Bishop/General Polk and about seven thousand troops1 was a minor railroad center, which was a Sherman fetish and usually attracted his attention. He planned to surround himself with a comfortable and sizeable army and with additional cavalry, as he did later in the ‘March to the Sea.’ He added an additional force to move south from Memphis, Tennessee, about two hundred fifty miles from Meridian. This force, about seven thousand cavalry troopers, was to be headed by B/General William ‘Sooey’ Smith. Smith’s military expertise apparently had focused on commanding a desk. The cavalry provided Smith equaled Bedford Forrest’s entourage, currently operating in the Memphis area. Sherman, clairvoyantly divining that Smith had nothing to worry about from Forrest’s men, ordered him to make the trip (more than twice the distance Sherman had to travel) starting on January 24, 1864 and appearing at Meridian on or about February 10th. During that time he was ordered to drive Confederate forces from the areas he moved through and to destroy railroads and any military manufacturing facilities he came across. He was to provide food and forage for his men and animals from the farming area they moved through.2

Compare this trip to the "March to the Sea" where he took an even larger group (65,000 infantry and cavalry) south through Georgia, defended only by schoolboys and men too old for the Confederate draft. Leaving George H. Thomas (a better choice as a commander than ‘Sooy’ Smith) with only promises for infantry and cavalry. Grant, wising up to what Sherman had done started directing more troops to Thomas. Sherman, finally realizing he had shortchanged Thomas, sent back Schofield’s Corps and Thomas’ old Fourth Corps, roughly 24,000 men, 15,000 of which were due to be discharged. In later correspondence (See below: O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLIV [S# 92] p.728) with Grant, Sherman wonders why Thomas was so optimistic in his final telegraph to Sherman. Well, at that time (Nov, 12,1864) Thomas did not know of the burgeoning furlough problem with Schofield's troops that he would be facing and he was led to believe that A. J. Smith was on his way from Missouri to Nashville to fill out his forces (This was as a result of very poor staff work on the part of Grant and Sherman). Smith finally showed up on December 1st, one day before Thomas' planned battle with Hood, as did Schofield and Steedman. Until that date, Thomas had about 23,000 men at his disposal, mostly Quartermaster Corps employees.

Nor have any ‘slowness’ charges been quantified.

Sherman came close in a personal letter to Grant, where he disparaged not only Thomas but McPherson, Schofield, Kilpatrick, the Army of the Cumberland and others, then claimed they couldn’t keep up with actions as fast as he could think of them.

Listed below are instances where Thomas’ two calumniator’s denigrated Thomas as slow. These documents normally contained distribution list’s and were read by superior’s (in this case Halleck, Stanton, other interested cabinet members as well as Lincoln) including telegraph operators and other gossips. The intensity of the criticism seemed to ratchet up after Thomas’ amazing victory at Nashville.


Early Sherman opinions of GHT

From Sherman to Philoman B. Ewing, July 13, 1862, " . . . Buell is our best soldier. Halleck the ablest man -- Grant very brave but not brilliant Thomas slow, cool & methodic. I dont think much of Pope or McClernand."

"Sherman's Civil War", p.263 ________________________________________________________

Pittsburg , Sunday   June 3, 1863

[To John Sherman]

Dear Brother,

You are with Genl. Patterson. There are two A no. 1 men there—Geo. H. Thomas Col. 2nd Cavy.—and Capt. Sykes 3 Inf.—mention my name to both, and say to them that I wish them all the success they aspire to, and if in the varying chances of war I should ever be so placed I would name such as them for high places—But Thomas is a Virginian from near Norfolk, and Say what we may he must feel unpleasant at leading an invading army—But if he says he will do he will do it well—He was never brilliant but always Cool, reliable, & steady—maybe a little slow. Sykes has in him some dashing qualities—Shepherd was a Classmate of mine—we never liked him much, but I am told he a good soldier. It is now 21 years since we graduated, and they are in their prime.

Yrs. affectionately

W. T. Sherman


The tendency to make Thomas appear slow, however, as this communication from Sherman to Thomas during Sherman's brief and unhappy command of the Army of the Cumberland:

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. IV [S# 4] CHAPTER XII. Correspondence, Orders, And Returns Relating Specially To Operations In Ky. And Tenn. From July 1 To November 19, 1861. UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.--#2

LOUISVILLE, KY., October 11, 1861.

Brigadier-General THOMAS, Commanding Camp Dick Robinson:

SIR: It is very important you should make an advance movement in the direction of the Cumberland. I know your means of transportation <ar4_303> are insufficient, but our adversaries are no better off, and we should fight with similar means. Can you hire some wagons and show a force in the direction of London? Of necessity I cannot give minute directions, and can only say that if your men simply move, the effect will be good.

Yours, W. T. SHERMAN, Brigadier-General, Commanding.


USG & WTS began their campaign to smear Thomas soon after the Battle of Chattanooga. In addition, he now points out to Grant the rapidity with which he (Sherman) moves, physically and mentally

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/4 [S# 75]

UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM MAY 1, 1864, TO JUNE 30, 1864.(*)--#21

You may go on with the full assurance that I will continue to press Johnston as fast as I can overcome the natural obstacles and inspire motion into a large, ponderous, and slow (by habit) army. Of course it cannot keep up with my thoughts and wishes, but no impulse can be given it that I will not guide.

As ever, your friend,

W. T. SHERMAN.

__________________________________________________________

Sherman, however, did not limit himself to the term "Slow Trot." On the contrary, he expanded on it quite creatively. Take this example from a private letter he wrote to Grant while stalled in front of Kennesaw: IN THE FIELD, June 18, 1864.

[General U.S. GRANT :]

"DEAR GENERAL: I have no doubt you want me to write you occasionally letters not purely official, but which will admit of a little more latitude than such documents possess. . .  If our movement has been slower than you calculated I can explain the reason, though I know you believe me too earnest and impatient to be behind time. . . "My chief source of trouble is with the Army of the Cumberland, which is dreadfully slow. A fresh furrow in a ploughed field will stop the whole column, and all will begin to intrench. I have tried again and again to impress on Thomas that we must assail and not defend....This slowness has caused me the loss of two splendid opportunities which never recur in war (this is the army that Sherman could not leave behind on the march to the sea)…. You may go on with the full assurance that I will continue to press Johnston as fast as I can overcome the natural obstacles and inspire motion into a large, ponderous, and slow (by habit) army. Of course it cannot keep up with my thoughts and wishes, but no impulse can be given it that I will not guide." (OR 38:4:507).

Sherman here was simply trying to excuse his own failings which, in the cases he was referring to (New Hope Church and the approach to Kennesaw), consisted of his own slowness of thought and/or shortsightedness. He was unable or unwilling to grasp Thomas's proven approach to battle and refused Thomas's suggestions. Often he did it "his way", with unfortunate results.

Even when Sherman ostensibly tried to praise Thomas, he couldn't avoid the use of the word "slow", even posthumously, as in this letter of 1875 to C.H. Grosvenor: "...I have been [Thomas'] intimate friend and eulogist for forty years (since 1836)....Because I simply recorded what was notorious, what is admitted by his warmest and best friends, - that he was slow, deliberate and almost passive in the face of exasperating danger, but true as steel when the worst came." Sherman knew when he wrote this, that, when it counted in battle (see below), Thomas could be very fast indeed, but Sherman couldn't admit this in public.

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/5 [S# 76]

UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.(*)--#32

Hood finding me twenty miles below him on his only railroad, and Hardee defeated, was forced to abandon Atlanta, and retreated eastward, and by a circuit has got his men below me on the line to Macon. I ought to have reaped larger fruits of victory. A part of my army is too slow, but I feel my part was skillful and well executed. Though I ought to have taken 10,000 of Hardee's men, and all his artillery, I must content myself with 500 dead, 2,000 wounded, 2,000 prisoners, 10 guns on the field and 14 in Atlanta, 7 trains of cars captured and burned, many stragglers fleeing in disorder, and the town of Atlanta, which, after all, was the prize I fought for.


During the Atlanta campaign, Sherman, Grant, and Halleck were conducting a separate letter campaign at Thomas's expense, of which the above cited "ploughed furrow" letter is an example. In this period there exist many other such examples, as you can read below Damning with faint praise:

O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPT. 8, 1864.(*)--#32

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Lovejoy's, twenty-six miles south of Atlanta, September 4, 1864.

General HALLECK:

MY DEAR FRIEND: I owe you a private letter, and believe one at this time will be acceptable to you. ...

I expected Thomas to be ready by 11 a.m., but it was near 4 when he got in; but one corps, Davis', charged down and captured the flank with 10 guns and many prisoners, but for some reason Stanley and Schofield were slow, (they were busy destroying track at Sherman’s order) and night came to Hardee's relief, and he escaped to the south. Hood finding me twenty miles below him on his only railroad, and Hardee defeated, was forced to abandon Atlanta, and retreated eastward, and by a circuit has got his men below me on the line to Macon. I ought to have reaped larger fruits...

George Thomas, you know, is slow, but as true as steel

Your sincere friend,

W. T. SHERMAN.


O.R.-- SERIES I--VOL. XXXVIII/5 [S# 76] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.(*)--#34

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, September 16, 1864.

General W. T. SHERMAN, Atlanta, Ga.:

MY DEAR GENERAL: ...

Thomas is also a noble old war horse. It is true that he is slow, but he is always sure.

Yours, truly,

H. W. HALLECK


O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVIII/5 [S# 76]

UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FROM JULY 1, 1864, TO SEPTEMBER 8, 1864.(*)--#32

George Thomas, you know, is slow, but as true as steel; Schofield is also slow and leaves too much to others


O.R.--SERIES I--VOL. XLIV [S# 92] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND FLORIDA, FROM NOV. 14 TO DEC. 31, 1864.--#12

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field

TO ULYSSES S. GRANT

Headquarters, Military Division of the Mississippi,

In the Field, Near Savannah Ga. Dec. 16" 1864

Lieut. Genl. U. S. Grant  Commander in Chief, City Point, Virginia. General,

"I received, day before yesterday, at the hands of Lieut. Dunn, your letter of Dec. 3d and last night at the hands of Col. Babcock, that of Dec. 6th. I had previously made you a hasty scrawl from the tug-boat "Dandelion" in Ogeechee River, advising you that the Army had reached the sea coast, destroying all rail-roads across the State of Georgia, and investing closely the City of Savannah, and had made connection with the fleet. . . . I know full well that Gen. Thomas is slow it mind and in action: but he is judicious and brave, and the troops have grew confidence in him-I still hope that he will out-manoeuvre & destroy Hood. . . . "

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, U. S.      Army.__________________________________________________________


O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#5

CITY POINT, VA., December 9, 1864--7.30 p.m.

Major-General THOMAS, Nashville, Tenn.:

Your dispatch of 1 p.m. received. I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer; but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise. Receiving your dispatch of 2 p.m. from General Halleck, before I did the one to me, I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity of repeating the orders, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.

U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.


O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#11

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, In the Field, December 21, 1864.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D.C.:

Your dispatch of 12 m. this day is received. General Hood's army is being pursued as rapidly and as vigorously as it is possible for one army to pursue another. We cannot control the elements, and, you <ar94_296> must remember, that to resist Hood's advance into Tennessee I had to reorganize and almost thoroughly equip the force now under my command. I fought the battles of the 15th and 16th instant with the troops but partially equipped, and, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather and the partial equipment, have been enabled to drive the enemy beyond Duck River, crossing two streams with my troops, and driving the enemy from position to position, without the aid of pontoons, and with but little transportation to bring up supplies of provisions and ammunition.....

Although my progress may appear slow, I feel assured that Hood's army can be driven from Tennessee, and eventually driven to the wall, by the force under my command; but too much must not be expected of troops which have to be reorganized, especially when they have the task of destroying a force in a winter campaign which was able to make an obstinate resistance to twice its numbers in spring and summer. In conclusion, I can safely state that this army is willing to submit to any sacrifice to oust Hood's army, or to strike any other blow which would contribute to the destruction of the rebellion.

GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General.

The honest George H. Thomas offers a reasoned argument to people who already know all this, but their intention is not to give him a fair hearing, or even really to decisively defeat Hood. All they want to do is to damage Hood's army so that it can't go to the Ohio and cause them the political embarrassment of letting Sherman get out of the battle of destroying Hood. The casualties Thomas's troops might suffer during such an improvised battle were immaterial to them, as indeed casualties were immaterial to them throughout the war.


O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#16

WASHINGTON, December 30, 1864--1.30 p.m.

Lieutenant-General GRANT, City Point, Va.:

I think, from the tone of General Thomas' telegram of last night, that there is very little hope of his doing much further injury to Hood's army by pursuing it. You will perceive that he is disposed to postpone further operations till spring. This seems to me entirely wrong. In our present financial condition we cannot afford this delay.... If Thomas was as active as Sherman, I would say march directly from Decatur to Talladega, Montgomery, and Selma, living upon the country, and anticipating Hood, should he move by Meridian. But I think Thomas entirely too slow to live on the country. He, however, will make the best possible defense. ...

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General and Chief of Staff.

How would you like to have this guy for a friend?


HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Washington, January 1, 1865. (Received 12th.)

Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Savannah, Ga.:

MY DEAR GENERAL: Your letter of December 24 is received, and I have just shown it to the Secretary of War, who expressed great pleasure and satisfaction in reading it..... Thomas has done well against Hood, but he is too slow for an effective pursuit. Moreover, he will not live on the enemy. He himself is entirely opposed to a winter campaign, and is already speaking of recruiting his army for spring operations

Yours, truly,

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General and Chief of Staff.


O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLV/2 [S# 94]

UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN KENTUCKY, SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA, TENNESSEE, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA, AND NORTH GEORGIA, FROM DECEMBER 1, 1864, TO JANUARY 23, 1865.(*)--#24

CITY POINT, VA., January 18, 1865--9 p.m.

(Received 11 p.m.)

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,   Washington, D. C. :

I now understand that Beauregard has gone west to gather up what can be saved from Hood's army to bring against Sherman. If this be the case Selma and Montgomery will be easily reached. I do not believe, though, that General Thomas will ever get there from the north. He is too ponderous in his preparations and equipments to move through a country rapidly enough to live off of it. West of the Mississippi we do not want to do more than defend what we now hold, but I do want Canby to make a winter campaign, either from Mobile Bay or from Florida. . . Thomas must make a campaign or spare his surplus troops.

U.S. GRANT,   Lieutenant-General.


O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XLVII/2 [S# 99] UNION CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA (FROM FEBRUARY 1), SOUTH CAROLINA, SOUTHERN GEORGIA, AND EAST FLORIDA, FROM JANUARY 1, 1865, TO MARCH 23, 1865.(*)--#35

HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, City Point, Va, March 16, 1865.

Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:

GENERAL: Your interesting letter of the 12th instant is just received. ...

Knowing Thomas to be slow beyond excuse I depleted his army to re-enforce Canby, so that he might act from Mobile Bay on the interior. With all I have said he had not moved at last advices can... He has accumulated a large amount of supplies in Knoxville and has been ordered not to destroy any of the railroad west of the Virginia line. I told him to get ready for a campaign toward Lynchburg, if it became necessary. He never can make one there or elsewhere, but the steps taken will prepare for any one else to take his troops and come east or go toward Rome, whichever may be necessary. I do not believe either will. ...

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.

This after Grant was stuck near Richmond and Petersburg for 10 months.


A last comment from a wannabe:

Here a quote from Schofield's memoirs "Forty-Six Years in the Army," p. 242: "General Thomas did not possess in a high degree the activity of mind necessary to foresee and provide for all the exigencies of military operations, nor the mathematical talent required to estimate 'the relations of time, space, motion, and force'". This is from the general in chief of the armies from 1888-1895 and one of the sorriest battlefield commanders of the Civil War, albeit a pretty good politician.


These and other repeated variations on the same theme were not just harmless comments of this or that moment, because Grant and others seized on them and used them to their own purposes which were, at first, to keep Thomas under control while he was alive, and to attack his reputation after he was dead. As McKinney writes: "The artistry of Grant's slander rests on his choice of the word sluggish. He was charging that Thomas was habitually idle and lazy, slothful, dull and inert with a hint of stupidity. This was the recorded opinion of the ranking Union general. By the time it was made public Thomas was dead and the crushing authority of the Presidency had been added to this sanction. When Grant repeated the charge from his death bed he molded it into historical fact."

Historians have tended to repeat these slights and slanders, for reasons cited in "Warrior Generals" by Thomas Buell: "To paraphrase historian Andrew White, there is a peculiar American institution that the correctness of belief is decided by the number of people who can be induced to believe it-that truth is a matter of majorities." Or to quote another historian, Martin van Creveld, much of what we are given 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" [italics mine].

Don