Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas
by Benson Bobrick
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 10, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743290259
- ISBN-13: 978-0743290258
This is a very well written book about one of our more interesting Civil War generals. George Thomas has a large vocal fan club that is quick to defend his actions and attack those who do not share their adoration. Much about Thomas is admirable. He refused to join the Confederacy, even as his family broke with him. His two sisters are reputed to have turned his portrait to the wall. He was a faithful subordinate, refusing to replace Don Carlos Buell and supporting William S. Rosecrans. Thomas’ actions at Chickamauga may have allowed the broken army to reach the safety of Chattanooga, preventing the destruction of a principle Union army. That day, he earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga”. He worked well with Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign. Returned to Tennessee, Thomas organized his forces and defeated the Army of Tennessee during the Battle of Nashville. However, he was not without problems. Thomas had a tendency to rub people the wrong way and displayed an astounding lack of understanding of politics. In addition, Thomas seems to have forgotten simple manners at critical times. This placed him in a series of unfortunate positions while damaging his chances for major commands.
This book is everything the adoring Thomas fan could want. George Thomas is always right. George Thomas always has the answer. George Thomas is never defeated. George Thomas can do no wrong. The other officer causes all of the problems Thomas has. For much of the book, the “other officer” is Grant and/or Sherman. This is the biggest of many problems with this book. Simply put, the author decided Grant is a drunken butcher and Sherman is his crazy buddy. That this is not accurate, historical or even true seems never to have occurred to the author. It never occurs to the author either that the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War is a questionable source. This committee dominated by Radical Republicans attacked anyone who would not bow to them and the author quotes them a number of times to support his attacks.
The book is full of inconsistencies stemming from the author’s adoration of Thomas. The author tells us Thomas did very well at West Point giving the impression Sherman needed his help. A few pages later, we are told Sherman graduated sixth and Thomas twelfth in the Class of 1840. In another place, Thomas’ promotion to Captain gives the impression that he beats a number of others to this rank. Later, we find he is brevetted to Captain and his promotions were very much at the standard pace for an outstanding officer.
The worst part of the book is the author’s acceptance of the anti West Point bias of the Radicals in Congress; the idea that Jefferson Davis planned secession while Secretary of War and stacked the 2nd Cavalry as a Southern training ground. In his attack on West Point for teaching secession, the author quotes Benjamin Wade, not the most reliable or uninterested of sources.
A word on footnotes and quotes, there are no footnotes in the text. In the 30 pages of notes at the end of the book, a chapter and page number links the note to a quote. The reader needs to count quotes on the page, to determine where a quote came from. Only quotes are noted. None of the author’s more startling conclusions or statements rates a source. Among these are:
“Joseph E. Johnston Outwitted Sherman for much of the Atlanta Campaign”. I have heard Richard M. McMurry contradict this statement.
Thomas is “The most successful general on either side of the Civil War”. In addition, “He arguably won the war for the North”.
William S. Rosecrans “was promoted over Thomas to succeed Buell”, ignores Thomas refusing to take command when told Buell was being relived.
Braxton Bragg “was decisively beaten by Thomas at Missionary Ridge”. This ignores Thomas stating that he did not order the men up the ridge, something which all historians agree on. Bragg was “decisively beaten” but Thomas & Grant had little to do with it.
This is not a balanced history and I cannot and will not recommend this book. While well written and very convincing, the book is full of misinformation that will require years of unlearning.
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