« PreviousContinue »
lantly at Monterey and Buena Vista that the citizens of his native county, proud of his bravery, presented him with a sword. The war department gave him the brevet rank of captain.
Made a major in the cavalry in 1855, Thomas was sent to Texas and remained there for five years, seeing some service against the Indians. In one skirmish an Indian's arrow pierced his chin and sank into his breast, but he pulled it out and went on fighting. He found life more dangerous when at home in 1860 on leave of absence, since he was caught in a railroad accident, in which his spine was injured. This was perhaps the cause of his slow riding and deliberate manner of moving in the war that soon followed.
In 1861 the secession movement in the South filled the land with rumors of war and the military men of North and South began to line up with their respective sections. Lee and Stonewall Jackson prepared to draw their swords for their native State and it was supposed that Thomas would do the same, especially as, early in 1861, he had asked for a position as instructor of cadets in the Lexington Military Academy, in which Jackson was a professor. But Major Thomas did not view his duties to the Union in that way, and when the State seceded he remained in the old army.
His first duty was on April 21, when he helped put down a secession riot in Maryland. On May 5 he was made colonel of his regiment, the fifth cavalry, and took part in the fight between Stonewall Jackson and General Patterson at Falling Waters. In August he was made brigadier-general and sent to Kentucky. Here he so found himself sed to the Confederate General Zollicoffer, who had invaded Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap.
It was not long before Thomas was actively at work against his enemy, a force sent out by him driving Zollicoffer's men back into the Gap. He proposed to follow up this advantage and invade east Tennessee, but an order from General Buell called him back to Lebanon, Ky. Here he organized the first division of the army of the Cumberland, for which he found work very quickly. Zollicoffer had crossed the Cumberland in spite of opposition and intrenched himself at Mill Spring. Thomas at once took the road against him, making a difficult march to a point ten miles from the Confederate works, where he halted to wait for some expected reinforcements.
The over-confident Zollicoffer, thinking he had a good opportunity to win an easy victory, left his lines on January 19, 1862, drove in Thomas's pickets, and made an attack upon his line. But the affair did not work according to his plans. The vigilant Thomas was ready for him, checked his advance, and made a brilliant charge which drove the Confederates back to their works. The reinforcements coming up, he proposed to attack these works the next day, but when day dawned Zollicoffer was gone. He had crossed the river so hastily during the night that his artillery and supplies were left for the victors. In this way Thomas won the first Union victory in Tennessee. Thanks came to him for it, but no promotion.
We must go on now till October, 1862. Thomas had found plenty of marching but no fighting to do, but recently General Bragg had invaded Kentucky in an impetuous way that caused Buell to hasten back to Louisville, fearing it might be captured. The authorities at Washington were dissatisfied with this movement, which looked like giving up the State to the enemy, and an order was sent taking the command from Buell and giving it to Thomas. This the gallant fellow did not like. Buell had increased his army to one hundred thousand men and was prepared to face his foe, and it did not seem just to rob him of his chance under the situation. The generous Thomas declined the promotion and contented himself with the command of Buell's right wing when, on the 7th of October, he moved out of Louisville. On the 8th the battle of Perryville was fought, but the right wing was so placed that it took little part in that fight. It ended in Bragg's retreat.
The authorities at Washington were still dissatisfied. Buell did not make the active pursuit they expected, so he was again removed, General Rosecrans being now ordered to replace him, an injustice to Thomas, who should have had the post. The two armies again came together near the end of the year at Murfreesboro, Ky., where on December 31, a battle of the utmost fierceness was fought. The Union right was viciously attacked and driven back and the left met with the same fate. Only the stubbornness of the centre, commanded by General Thomas, saved Rosecrans from a disastrous defeat. While his supports were retiring in confusion the brave fellow held the enemy at bay with calm and unyielding firmness, changing his front and shifting his position in the face of a victorious foe.
That night a council of war was held at which it was decided to retire upon Nashville. Thomas went sound asleep during the deliberations, at the end of which Rosecrans wakened him, saying, “Will you protect our retreat ?" He looked up in amazement. "This army can't retreat," he said, and fell asleep again.