Master of War

Master of War

The Life of General George H. Thomas

Book - 2009
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Baker & Taylor
A major portrait of the successful Civil War general examines his childhood escape from Nat Turner's rebellion, victory at the Battle of Chickamauga, and his role in rescuing both Grant and Sherman from defeat.

& Taylor

A major portrait of the successful Civil War general includes coverage of his childhood escape from Nat Turner's rebellion, victory at the Battle of Chickamauga, and his role in rescuing both Grant and Sherman from defeat. 60,000 first printing.

Simon and Schuster
In this revelatory, dynamic biography, one of our finest historians, Benson Bobrick, profiles George H. Thomas, arguing that he was the greatest and most successful general of the Civil War. Because Thomas didn't live to write his memoirs, his reputation has been largely shaped by others, most notably Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, two generals with whom Thomas served and who, Bobrick says, diminished his successes in their favor in their own memoirs.

Born in Virginia, Thomas survived Nat Turner's rebellion as a boy, then studied at West Point, where Sherman was a classmate. Thomas distinguished himself in the Mexican War and then returned to West Point as an instructor. When the Civil War broke out, Thomas remained loyal to the Union, unlike fellow Virginia-born officer Robert E. Lee (among others). He compiled an outstanding record as an officer in battles at Mill Springs, Perryville, and Stones River. At the Battle of Chickamauga, Thomas, at the time a corps commander, held the center of the Union line under a ferocious assault, then rallied the troops on Horseshoe Ridge to prevent a Confederate rout of the Union army. His extraordinary performance there earned him the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga."

Promoted to command of the Army of the Cumberland, he led his army in a stunning Union victory at the Battle of Chattanooga. Thomas supported Sherman on his march through Georgia in the spring of 1864, winning an important victory at the Battle of Peachtree Creek. As Sherman continued on his March to the Sea, Thomas returned to Tennessee and in the battle of Nashville destroyed the army of Confederate General John Bell Hood. It was one of the most decisive victories of the war, and Thomas won it even as Grant was on his way to remove Thomas from his command. (When Grant discovered the magnitude of Thomas's victory, he quickly changed his mind.) Thomas died of a stroke in 1870 while still on active duty. In the entire Civil War, he never lost a battle or a movement.

Throughout his career, Thomas was methodical and careful, and always prepared. Unlike Grant at Shiloh, he was never surprised by an enemy. Unlike Sherman, he never panicked in battle but always remained calm and focused. He was derided by both men as "Slow Trot Thomas," but as Bobrick shows in this brilliant biography, he was quick to analyze every situation and always knew what to do and when to do it. He was not colorful like Grant and Sherman, but he was widely admired by his peers, and some, such as Grant's favorite cavalry commander, General James H. Wilson, thought Thomas the peer of any general in either army. He was the only Union commander to destroy two Confederate armies in the field.

Although historians of the Civil War have always regarded Thomas highly, he has never captured the public imagination, perhaps because he has lacked an outstanding biographer -- until now. This informed, judicious, and lucid biography at last gives Thomas his due.

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2009
ISBN: 9780743290258
Characteristics: 416p, [8] leaves of plates : ill., ports. ; cm


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Apr 07, 2018

I’ve recently have read a ton of books on the civil war and was interested in a book that focused on General Thomas.

I was disappointed in this book. Partly due to it being about the war more than about All Things Thomas, and partly because the authors storytelling just isn’t compelling.

I’ve read “better”, elsewhere.

The infamous Rock of Chickamauga story is only 2 pages long!

The author casually mentions that General Albert Sidney Johnson died. That’s it? But there is a great story behind his death, and who can forget his quote "Yes... and I fear seriously."? Nor does he mention that Johnson was the highest ranking officer of either army to be killed.

The author also does a poor job of describing how General Zollicoffer met his demise. Another interesting and memorable event.

It’s clear the author is negative on both Grant and Sherman.

I stopped reading after Missionary Ridge, again maybe 2 pages. Those 2 events were the major highlights of Thomas’ career, and if those are told in a less than interesting way, I don’t want to read further.

Dec 24, 2012

This book is a biography of George Henry Thomas, the southern general who saved the Union. While Robert E. Lee was from far northern Virginia and turned his back on the country he had pledged himself to and instead supported the southern rebellion, George Henry Thomas was from a slave holding family in the far southeastern corner of Virginia and held true to his oath of allegiance to the United States.

I am convinced that if Thomas had supported the southern rebellion, the result of the war would have been changed. Thomas never lost a battle or conducted a retreat. He won the first major Union victory at Mill Springs. He held at Murfreesboro when all looked lost. He stopped the retreat at Chickamauga. Defeat in either of these places would have likely led to an invasion of Ohio. Defeat at Chickamauga would have led to Lincoln?s defeat in the election of 1864. Thomas? Army led the charge up Missionary Ridge. His long planned attack destroyed the Confederate Army in the west at the Battle of Nashville and was instrumental in leading to Union victory.

On the other side of this equation, add Thomas to the Confederacy. Imagine that Thomas as a senior officer in the U.S. Army had resigned, as everyone expected, to support his native Virginia and had commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia while Robert E. Lee had been in place of the marginally competent Braxton Bragg and others in the Confederate west. The Confederacy would have won!

Thomas expected to pay a personal price for his loyalty and he did. He was hated in the south and mistrusted in the north. His sisters never spoke to him again. Lifelong friends turned their back on him. As a general from a seceded state, he had no champions in Congress. He succeeded only through competence. Kipling unknowingly captured his essence when he said ?If you can keep your head while others about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you?? That was Thomas.

Benson Bobrick, in this biography, has done the best of the five Thomas biographies I have read of writing a readable life story of this amazingly underestimated American figure. Bobrick has tried to add flesh to Thomas and ask why he was loyal while others who had attended West Point turned on their country. He has added as much as he could to a scanty record of Thomas? upbringing in Virginia and personal life as a professional soldier to try and ask why Thomas was loyal when loyalty to the union was rare for southerners like Thomas.


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