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Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas Paperback – March 15, 1986

4.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Freeman Cleaves, who is also the author of Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas (University of Oklahoma Press), was a member of the editorial staff of Financial World) but his avocation for many years has been research in American history, especially Civil War history. Mr. Cleaves was educated in Bates College, the University of New Hampshire, and Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (March 15, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806119780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806119786
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I first started studying the civil war nearly 30 years ago, one of my first thoughts was: "Why haven't I heard of George Thomas?'' There are those who argue, including Cleaves in several sections, that he was the most important Union general _ one list, in fact, makes him one of the five men (and the only military figure) most important in the North's victory. In the prewar Army, he served with Lee, another Virginian who wavered, and was close to being considered Lee's equal.
The reasons for Thomas' relative obscurity have been well stated in other reviews _ his southern heritage; his self-effacing disposition except (as Cleaves points out) when he felt he had been done an injustice. It didn't help that Sherman, one of his sponsors and Grant, his classmate at West Point, shut him out of the post-war glory and that he died in 1870, too early to establish a reputation.
Is the subtitle ("The Man who Save the Union?'') justified? Look at it this way: There's no question that Thomas' stand at Chickamauga made Sherman's campaign through Georgia possible. And if that hadn't happened, Lincoln might not have been re-elected in 1864, perhaps leading to a truce that would have left the nation split. That in itself is reason enough to celebrate Thomas.
But as Cleaves emphasizes, Thomas was more than that. Military historieans consider him one of the best defensive generals ever, a man who would have stood out in any war. And unlike many of our heroes, he was a decent man.
We could use more like him.
This 55-year-old book could use more readers.
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Format: Paperback
Written over 52 years ago, this book is a ground breaking contribution to the Civil War's saga. It really is a must read for understanding the intricacies of the Union high command.
Union loyalists of Southern birth like Thomas, Buford, etc. were just as alone and alienated in their army as Southern loyalists of Northern birth like Pemberton. They suffered an ostracism, a fundamental distrust that really reached its peak in this country when we sent thousands and thousands of Japanese Americans to concentration camps in California in World War II while concurrently having their sons fight and die in Europe. Thomas' story is really no different and every bit as unfair.
This type of unfortunate, `protective tuck' is a natural reaction during a national emergency. Fortunately, leading edge historians like Freeman Cleaves have left us a record of one man's sacrifice for the country of his birth.
George Thomas was not treated properly by anyone, North or South. Lincoln treats him as a political liability and pawn, Stanton fundamentally distrusts everyone of Southern heritage, and the Union troika of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan have much to be ashamed of: Grant for his smallness, Sheridan for the desertion of someone who must have been his mentor and Sherman for betraying a long standing friendship. The South simply refused to acknowledge his existence. When Thomas was down, everyone kicked. Being Southern born, he was an easy competitive target for both sides both during and after the war. He simply had no mentor anywhere.
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This book elaborates somewhat more on the information I could find about Thomas on the internet, but overall it just left me with more questions. The wheres, whats, and whens of his life were covered well, but a lot of the whys were just hinted at, and it's the whys that are driving me crazy. Two new Thomas biographies are due out for '09 (I've ordered Bobrick's), so maybe they'll shed more light in discussing the wide disparity of views concerning Thomas.

Those who say he was a good but not great general are firm about it. Some say he just didn't have the right stuff to be truly great. Those who think he was THE BEST general, bar none, are even more adamant, and they can tell you a thousand reasons why. I know lack of primary sources hinder the true picture, but I'm looking for something that will explore in greater depth, even if it's an educated guess, why Thomas missed out on his "rightful" place in history, or even if it was deserved at all.

My best guess is that Thomas had the ability; he was just "too nice". When the opportunity came to replace Buell, he was so overly concerned with protocol, modesty, appearances, cold feet (some or all the above) that he declined the command. That sense of "integrity" to his admirers translates as "not taking the initiative when the time was ripe", i.e, a weakness. I read on someone's site that the offer came about because, without Thomas knowing, 20 of his officers pleaded with the powers in Washington to have Buell replaced with Thomas. This episode wasn't mentioned in the book (if it indeed happened), but it makes me wonder why the officers didn't just tell Thomas their feelings to try and sway his decision to take over.
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