George H. Thomas, Major General U.S.A. "The Rock of Chickamauga," - "The Sledge of Nashville."
"George H. Thomas - Virginian for the Union"
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“George Thomas

Virginian For the Union”

 

Christopher J.  Einolf

 

Well, Mr. Einolf has produced the first biography in the 21th Century of Major General George H.  Thomas.  The ninth of a series of biographies, four of which were written in the 19th century, the rest in the 20th.  That is progress, of sorts. 

 

Ulysses S. Grant, who suffered more casualties in the Wilderness campaign and Cold Harbor than Thomas had soldiers in his Army of the Cumberland, has, according to one source, “Dornbush’s, Vol. IV” been the subject of approximately 90 books.  He lists others but they don’t deal directly with Grant.  Grant’s web site (http://www.granthomepage.com/grantbibliography.htm ) only lists seventy-two  books.  Another web site “Ulysses S.  Grant Association” has published what appears to be the most definitive Grant bibliography.  They supply a disclaimer that the site is not definitive.  I refuse to count them, but there appear to be the +/- five thousand books I was led to believe existed.  Lastly, what appears to be the definitive hard copy of the Grant oeuvre, a new reference work on Ulysses S. Grant by Marie Ellen Kelsey, assistant professor at the College of St. Scholastica, a small, private university in Minnesota, is the latest volume in the Bibliographies of the Presidents of the United States series.  Grant’s canon of primary works is small. He wrote his celebrated “Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant” in 1885, some government reports, and precious little else. The vast bulk of the 4,242 items profiled in Kelsey’s work are secondary sources, biographies, journal and magazine articles, and so on.  So there we are!  Forty two hundred+ works about U.  S. Grant. 

 

The works on Grant appear to be surpassed only by those of Christ.   Can we guess why so many have written so much about Grant?  Well, apparently he’s a money maker.  Compared to the plentitude of Grant tomes, the paucity of information about Thomas is strange. 

 

Why should there be a ratio of four hundred and sixty works of Grant to one over Thomas?  Had Thomas failed in some manner at any time it might be logical.  However, the fact is that Thomas never lost a battle he commanded.  That he saved the military commands of three of his superiors (Missionary Ridge, (Grant) Chickamauga, (Rosecrans) and Stones River (Rosecrans)).  That he cared for the lives and welfare of his troops, modernized his military commands by creating a topographical service, an ambulance and medical corps, reorganized Rosecrans Pioneer Corps, developed a spy system used by Grant for information in the east, planned the annihilation of his foes, rather than settle for drawn battles. That he taught cavalry, artillery and infantry tactics at West Point for three years, utilizing this knowledge better than any other commander of the war, should have placed him on the list of foremost commanders of the civil war.  Yet, he is hardly known.

 

Well, thanks to Mr.  Einolf, we have some additional information about the great General.  We know that Thomas’ southern attitude toward his black troops changed from toleration to admiration after witnessing their contributions at Nashville.  We know that he fought Tennessean prejudice, after the war, and semi-succeeded in protecting the Negroes during his tenure.  While Mr. Einolf briefly explains these historic moves little analysis is provided.

 

When Mr. Einolf does provide analysis it is usually based on opinions rather than facts.  On page 169, he opines that Thomas was content “to wait for Negley’s arrival.  Thomas inaction was in error, as he had several other brigades available to him . . . that he was holding in reserve.”  This is no error on Thomas’ part.  Reserves are part of the “Line of Battle.”  If during the battle the enemy accomplishes a ‘breakthrough’ reserves are necessary to plug the hole and must be ready to make this move immediately.  Reserves are also used to replace units in line that have expended their ammunition and must be replaced with ‘reserves’ while they replenish their stock.  If, in case of a breakthrough by your side, reserves can be used to follow through and expand the action.  Additionally, they (reserves) can be used to expand a flank attack. 

 

But, Mr.  Einolf’s most egregious mistake is to question the battle actions of one of the best tactician’s on the Union side.  With his battle experience, Would Major General Thomas have left the flank in jeopardy if it were being attacked?  I think not.  He probably would have moved some of his carefully hoarded reserves to the danger zone.  The flank in question was not yet under attack and so, in no danger.  The front of his battle line ‘was’ engaged and under attack.  Thomas presumed the night before that Bragg’s main attack would be on his front to try to get between Rosecrans and his supply base, Chattanooga, thus his request to . . . “strengthen the left.”  The choice fell to Rosecrans.  Rosecrans wondered where were they to come from.  The Army commander decided Thomas could hold with what he had.  McCook would close up on Thomas and Crittenden’s two divisions would stay in immediate ‘reserve.  In addition, Gordon Granger seven miles to Thomas’ north would stay on the road to Chattanooga.  Thomas’ request for Negley was reasonable.  He belonged to Thomas XIV Corps and knew Thomas system.  To shuffle an unknown quantity to Thomas would aggravate the problem.  If you were playing football and the game was tied, it was fourth and one, you needed to replace an injured blocking back, would you grab a spectator out of the stands and send him in not knowing the plays, what the blocking assignments were or who your coach was?  I think not.  Mr.  Einolf’s problem is that as Martin van Creveld has maintained  " . . . 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."  Or as Historian Andrew White claims " . . .  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 (historical) truth is a matter of majorities (or polls).

 

Mr. Einolf’s efforts are commendable but he should do more research and independent analysis.

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