University Press of Kansas, 2012, 585 pp., $39.95
Reviewed by Gordon Berg
When Virginia joined the Confederacy, many wondered what Thomas would do. For him, there was never any question. His loyalty to the uniform he wore and dedication to the nation it represented was strong, steady, and unwavering, much like the man himself. His decision cost him dearly; his sisters never spoke to him again.
Thomas' success on the battlefield is unrivaled. He gained the Union's first significant victory at Mill Springs, KY, reminded his commander that "this army doesn't retreat" at Stones River, stood steadfast on Snodgrass Hill and saved the Army of the Cumberland from destruction at Chickamauga, vowed to hold Chattanooga "'til we starve," proudly watched his men storm Missionary Ridge, and achieved the closest thing to a battle of annihilation by destroying the Army of Tennessee at Nashville.
Thomas was not given to making speeches, but when he bid farewell to his beloved army, his praise was heartfelt and eloquent. "We have not only broken down one of the most formidable rebellions that ever threatened the existence of any country," he said, "but the discipline of the Army of the Cumberland alone has civilized two hundred thousand valuable patriots and citizens."
Wills poignantly recounts Thomas' unsettled postwar years. He refused to play the political games practiced in the peacetime army nor would he become a self-promoter for post or rank. His ire was aroused, however, when his achievement at Nashville was questioned.
Thomas died at his post at the Presidio in San Francisco on March 28, 1870 while serving as commander of the Division of the Pacific. In 1879, his comrades in the Society of the Army of the Cumberland unveiled a magnificent bronze statue of Thomas in Washington, DC. He is mounted on his horse, sitting ramrod straight, hat off, surveying the country he did so much to save.
Gordon Berg is a past President and member of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia (cwrtdc.org). His reviews and articles appear in the Civil War Times and America's Civil War, among other publications.