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Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas Hardcover – February 10, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

George Thomas remains one of the less studied and less appreciated Union generals in the Civil War. In the first full-scale biography for decades, historian Bobrick (Testament: A Soldier's Story of the Civil War) presents a Virginian who stood by his oath to the United States; a commander who saved Kentucky for the Union; brought the Army of the Cumberland out of disaster at Chickamaugua to glory at Missionary Ridge; and destroyed an entire Confederate army at Nashville. Bobrick describes Thomas as consistently victimized by generals Sherman and Grant, who created from whole cloth an enduring image of Thomas as slow to act and think. Bobrick makes a convincing case that the only time Thomas was slow was in retreating under fire. Above all, Thomas understood that the modern high-tech battlefield required not heroic inspiration but deliberate preparation. When the time was right, he acted with a decisiveness comparable among his contemporaries only to Prussia's Helmuth von Moltke. Bobrick considers Thomas the greatest Union general. That remains open to argument, but he incontrovertibly stands in the 19th century's first rank as a master of war. 16 pages of illus.; maps. (Feb.)
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"Dietz creates a warm portrait of the quiet, dignified Thomas, letting the general's good-hearted personality come through." ---AudioFile --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743290259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743290258
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read this book after reading all I could find on the internet about Thomas, as well as reading Cleaves' Rock of Chickamauga and Buell's The Warrior Generals. As an accidental discoverer of Thomas (leading to first time in-depth Civil War reading), I was intrigued to find out why such an amazing, "unknown" general, who exhibited brilliant and varied military skills countless times on and off the battlefield, a general who was so popular with his men and his country for a long period after his untimely death at age 54, could be so completely forgotten today. This book, although unabashedly shouting Thomas's praises throughout, begins to unravel that mystery, while giving us the only picture of Thomas available to the author: a picture formed from the spoken and written words of his admirers (of which there were many - and usually expressed in words of heartfelt reverence and awe), detractors (decidedly few, and always it seems, by those with some kind of ax to grind), and Thomas's and others' official correspondence. Bobrick accomplishes this in a fascinating, eminently readable, tale of duty, honor, and courage. Master of War deserves to be read.

While weaving this absorbing story, Bobrick gives us a helpful mini-history leading up to the Civil War as well as a few detailed sidebars like the Nat Turner-led slave uprising (an episode Thomas experienced as a teenager). The quotes from other sources flow seamlessly and naturally with the author's own writing style, and I liked the fact that there were no intrusive numbers and footnotes. For a reader like myself, just interested in the story, the bibliography was sufficient. Finding minor errors and inaccuracies like what kind of guns were or were not used or the true meaning of the word Chickamauga was not my intent.
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Format: Paperback
George Thomas is probably the least-studied senior Civil War general. It's not hard to understand why: he left little in the way of papers behind, his actions are occasionally enigmatic in the extreme, and he died before he could write memoirs, if he had any intention of doing so anyway. That being said, he was one of the most successful generals on the Union side, and he ought to be the subject of a book, here and there. The lack of primary sources, however, appears to cripple such a project from the outset.

It's not like other biographers haven't taken on other similarly reticent subjects. James Robertson did biographies of both A.P. Hill and Stonewall Jackson, and managed to produce readable, interesting books that had a lot of information, while at the same time staying within their scholarship. This proves it's not impossible to write this sort of book, it's just harder. To demonstrate how difficult it is, Benson Bobrick has written a 400-page biography of George Thomas that's so argumentative, opinionated, and over-the-top that it's hard to see what it adds to our understanding of General Thomas, beyond a few family details.

Thomas was a relatively senior officer when the war started, and he naturally was advanced quickly. Bobrick provides a narrative of Thomas' service, from his post as staff officer to Patterson during the Bull Run campaign right through his conduct in the Nashville campaign in 1864-5, that's so biased and incomplete it's just completely out of whack. So when the account starts, the author somehow absolves Patterson (and by extension Thomas) of any responsibility for the escape of Joe Johnston's army from the Shenandoah Valley, which led directly to McDowell's defeat at 1st Bull Run.
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Format: Hardcover
Some time ago, a friend and I were driving home from an event and went through Thomas Circle, in downtown Washington D.C. Thomas Circle is dominated by a large equestrian statue of General George Thomas constructed in 1879 by the Society of the Army of the Cumberland and cast from captured Confederate guns. My friend has lived in Washington, D.C. for many years, is well-educated and has an excellent knowledge of political United States history. "Who was General Thomas?", he asked as we drove through the Circle. I explainted that General George Thomas was a Union Civil war hero who fought mostly in the western theatre and was best-known as the "Rock of Chickamauga" for his grand defense during the course of a Union retreat.

Many people with only a cursory knowledge of the Civil War or of American history, will not know anything about General George Thomas (1816 -- 1870). This is a pity. Thomas was a remarkable person and General whose accomplishments and character deserve recognition. Thomas was born in Virginia to a slaveholding family. In his youth, he and his family narrowly escaped murder in Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Thomas attended West Point where he was a solid if not outstanding student and served in the U.S. Military all his life. He earned a reputation for military skill and judgmment in the Mexican War, Indian wars, and in participating on courts-martial panels.

When Thomas's home state of Virginia seceeded in 1861, Thomas without hesitation or reserve cast his lot with the Union, for which his family disowned him. Thomas achieved an early and important military success in the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, an important predecessor to the Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson.
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