George H. Thomas, Major General U.S.A. "The Rock of Chickamauga," - "The Sledge of Nashville."
"Master of War - Life of George H. Thomas"
Bruce Catton's Review
Grant & Sherman smear Thomas
March to the Sea
Book Recommendations & Web Sites
"Days of Glory"
"Virginian for the Union"
"Master of War"
Thomas' Conflicts
Mill Springs
Stone River
Snake Creek Gap
Blank page
Kennesaw Mountain
Was General Thomas slow at Nashville
Pictures, Photos
Comments or corrections

Enter subhead content here

“Master of War

The Life of

General George H. Thomas”


Benson Bobrick



"Time and History will do me justice," said Major General George H. Thomas to his biographer Thomas Budd van Horne!


Well maybe the time is here!  The History has always been there, but very few were reading it.


Most of those writing about Thomas and the Civil War had a stake in maintaining the slander created by Sherman and picked-up by Grant that Thomas was “slow.”  Most sought to perpetuate the myth that Grant and Sherman were the greatest generals of the war.  A myth easily disproven.  Why would they lie about “History?”  Easy – to sell books.  The profit motive is very strong in liberal academia and it supplements their salaries.


Since Thomas Budd van Horne’s “Life of Major General George H. Thomas” the first biography of Thomas written in 1882, to the first 20th Century effort, “Education in Violence” by Francis F. McKinney, in 1961, several books have been written about Thomas.  Of these McKinney’s still stands as that which others are measured.  In 1997 Thomas Buell wrote “The Warrior Generals - Combat Leadership in the Civil War.”  In it he presented a case for several Civil War Generals.  One of which was George H. Thomas.  It was the first time a compelling case was made for the elevation of Thomas’ Generalship over Grant’s by a major author.  Now, in the space of five years two books on Thomas have appeared and a third will be out in the summer of 2009.  Yes, the “Time” may be here!


Well, I received my copy of Benson Bobrick’s “Master of War - Life of George H. Thomas” and have finished it.


The book is a healthy respite from the current pseudo historical writings that, for the most part, curiously seek to devalue and demean General Thomas’ contributions to the Union civil war effort.  You can find more detailed descriptions of some of those efforts on Robert Meiser's "General George H. Thomas" Web Site: -


Mr. Bobrick writes in an engaging, straightforward style making for easy reading.  He has so far “not” commented on whether General Thomas made any military errors as authors of the last two books on Thomas did.  Mr. Bobrick, in fact, is sympathetic to Thomas.  I always thought it was interesting how writers having no military experience (the first a Reverend and the other a schoolteacher), felt capable of criticizing the deployments, tactics strategies and actions (and in the case of the holy man, Generals Thomas’ physiognomy), of a man trained and fighting in the military style of the 19th Century.  Although tactics and strategies may apply throughout the centuries (in the 1st Gulf war Schwarzkopf used Thomas Nashville tactics in reverse), criticizing troop deployment has to be dependent on knowledge of conditions and circumstances of the moment.  It also has to be cognizant of what is happening at that moment influencing the commander’s actions.  To imply a commander is mistaken because he deploys his units in a particular fashion, without knowing what he is seeing or has seen, is unsustainable criticism.  The critic can only know what has been told him or written by the commander, military reports (O.R.’s), who may or may not supply all the facts or a correspondent, or historian who may or may not know the whole story.  We see plenty of that in histories written by authors with a viewpoint (e.g. Sherman’s and Grant’s “Memoirs”).  A guesstimate may be offered and should include the conditions known to the one making the criticism whose guess it is!


However, while Mr. Bobrick goes over much material known to Thomas scholars, he intersperses new items I’ve never seen.  Original material!  He also brings into focus many of the slanders perpetrated by Sherman and Grant.


He blows Sherman’s story that he nominated Thomas to Robert Anderson as a Brigadier to go west and build an army.  The truth being that Lincoln asked Anderson about Thomas and he without equivocation vouched for Thomas’ loyalty.  Sherman in writing this fabrication in his “Memoirs” also told Anderson added “Thomas was slow.”


He goes through several lies perpetrated by the two officers and gentlemen and explains the untruthfulness of them all.  In my first go though, he seems to have missed Halleck’s contributions to the slander scheme e.g.



Washington, Jan. 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,



Major‑General and Chief of Staff.”


What Halleck’s purpose was in joining this slander campaign is unclear.  It might be a worthwhile topic to discuss.


Bobrick points out that after the charge up Missionary Ridge Thomas mixed with his troops and congratulated them.  To one regiment “he remarked that the men had made a fine race up the hill, and one of the soldiers, who had felt the want of food for weeks, cried out, “Yes, general, you have been training us for this race for several weeks.”  At that moment, looking around, he observed a steamboat puffing and snorting up the river, and he replied, “That is so; but there comes full rations, and in future the Army of the Cumberland shall have full rations.” [1]   


Combine this with the fact that Thomas had his Corps and Divisional commanders in for meetings to discuss their orders from Grant.  The plans to charge up the hill were designed and discussed.  With the meetings and discussions and the comment by the trooper, and Thomas’ response, I do not understand why there is any discussion as to their origin.  They were planned and the troops were following orders!  This is another case of authors failing to do their research.  Or, as historian, Martin van Creveld, claims  “. . . . 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"  Obviously, Thomas prepared his men for the final charge up Missionary Ridge to Sherman’s right as directed by Grant.  Of the eleven brigade commanders engaged in the assault only one stated positively that he was to halt at the foot of the Ridge and await orders.  Two seemed to feel that to continue the advance or to halt was optional.  Four stated that their commands were under orders from the division commander to continue to the crest of the Ridge.  The remaining four considered the top of the Ridge to be their objective.[2]


This was Thomas’ appointed task in all save Grant’s last plan given orally two hours before the attack.


In my opinion, based on the information above, the men were following orders.  They were inspired by their commanders careful planning not the divinity.


Soon after this heroic demonstration by Thomas men, Sherman and Grant began their campaign of slander.


Mr. Bobrick starts on page 355 a discussion of the characters of Sherman and Grant that deserves careful reading.  He demolishes a number of rumors, fictions and outright balderdash created by our so-called historians.  Good book Mr. Bobrick.  Keep them coming.  There’s lots more to clarify.

  1. Memoir of Maj.‑Gen/ George H.  Thomas, Richard W. Johnson, Brigadier General, U.S.A. (Retired), Philadelphia: J.  B.  Lippencott & Co.  1881 p.  131


[2]       McKinney, “Education in Violence”, p 295

Enter supporting content here