Greeting Cosmic Americans!
For this week's edition of Western Theater Wednesdays, I wanted to talk a little about Union General George Thomas.
Oh sure - I could go to great lengths to about the "Rock of Chickamauga" in terms of military acumen...but from time to time I dare to venture off the beaten path.
I would much rather point out that this particular general, a hero of the Western Theater who nevertheless does not share the same fame as some of the other big shots in the Union army, went against the Rebel grain.
As we all know, George Thomas was a Virginian. A career officer in the United States army in 1861, Thomas thought it best to honor his oath of allegiance to the United States. Many Virginians thought him a traitor to his state and to the southern cause - even members of his own family. A few years after the Civil War (in 1870), when an US officer came to notify Thomas's sister of his death, the officer was told "my brother died in 1861" and had the door slammed in his face. Ouch.
So, loyalty has drawbacks, I suppose. Now you might find Thomas's decision surprising. The usual story about southern officers resigning their commissions and seceding along with their states suggests that even those who loved the Union held a greater love for their native soil. This "state over country" approach - often presented by Confederate apologists, implies that the Union of 1860 was really a tenuous collection of localities - and that nationalism as we know it had not yet developed.
I am not so sure. And officers like Thomas, as well as Winfield Scott (another Virginian who remained loyal to the Union), illustrate that national commitment often trumped local...so much so that some individuals could turn their backs on their communities and families.
Further, Thomas and Scott were not alone in their decision. Plenty of southerners remained loyal to the Stars and Stripes - many more than you might imagine. In fact, as historian James M. McPherson notes, scores of southern officers remained with the Union - officers like Tennessean David Farragut, who captured New Orleans, and North Carolinian John Gibbon, who commanded a division of the Army of the Potomac while three of his brothers fought for the Confederacy.
And of course it was George Henry Thomas who not only saved the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga but also kicked some Rebel ass and destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville. I am quite sure that the citizens of the United States were pleased with Thomas's decision to stick around.