At the outbreak of the Civil War, southern officers were divided by their loyalty to their states and to their country. Thomas, loyal to his country, fought for the Union. This was an act of betrayal to family and colleagues. General George Henry Thomas was a U.S. officer and major general in the Civil War. His military strategy helped the Union win the campaign at the Western Theatre.
George Henry Thomas was born on July 31, 1816 at Newsom’s Depot in Southampton County, Virginia north of the North Carolina border. His family were slaveholders owning 685 acres of land and 24 slaves. When he was thirteen, his father was killed in a farming accident putting the family in financial dire. During Nat Turner’s revolt, the family was forced to flee from their land.
At the age of twenty, Thomas received an appointment by Congressman John Y. Mason to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. He was appointed cadet officer in his second year and graduated 12th in a class of 42 in 1840. He was appointed second lieutenant in Company D, 3rd U.S. Artillery.
During his military career, he led troops in the Seminole Wars. From 1842 to 1845, he served at posts in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Maryland. In June 1845, he was ordered to Texas at the height of the Mexican-American War. He led a crew at the battles of Fort Brown, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista receiving three brevet promotions.
In 1851, he returned to West Point as a cavalry and artillery instructor under superintendent Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee. He trained two known Confederate generals J.E.B. Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee. Under his tutelage, both men were recommended assignments to the calvary. Thomas married Frances Lucretia Kellogg on November 17, 1852. The couple remained at West Point until 1854. On December 24, 1853, he was appointed captain.
Thomas’s artillery regiment was transferred to California in the spring of 1854. He led two companies to San Francisco via Isthmus of Panama and an overland march to Fort Yuma. On May 5, 1855, he was appointed major of the 2nd U.S. Calvary, which was redesigned by Secretary of War and State Jefferson Davis. Braxton Bragg, who fought alongside him during the Mexican-American War recommended him for the position. In November 1860, he took a leave of absence. On his way to Lynchburg, VA, he fell off the train platform injuring his back. This caused him pain for the remainder of his life.
Thomas was promoted to lieutenant colonel in April 25, 1861 replacing Robert E. Lee and colonel May 3, replacing Albert Sidney Johnston. He commanded a brigade under Major General Robert Patterson in the First Bull Run Campaign. Much of his military success was in the Western Theatre where he defeated the Confederacy. He was nicknamed “The Sledge of Nashville”.
After the war, he protected freedmen from abuse and set up military commissions to enforce labor contracts because local courts ceased to operate or wouldn’t hire African-Americans. He enlisted troops to protect places threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.
Thomas being a modest person wasn’t interested in gaining notoriety like Sherman and Grant. He chose not to enter politics as his colleague Ulysses S. Grant. He was dedicated to his military career. He died of a stroke in San Francisco on March 28, 1870. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York.
The bronze equestrian statue was sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward and is located at the center of Thomas Circle bordering downtown and Logan Circle. The memorial was dedicated on November 19, 1879.