58 thoughts on “The Sunday Question: Sherman or Thomas?

  1. Bob Huddleston September 25, 2011 / 6:37 pm

    George Thomas was a fascinating man and a very good general.

    He was involved in the Nat Turner revolt in Southampton Virginia as a boy, but outgrew slavery and Virginia, remaining loyal to the Old Flag in 1861. Among his friends was Uncle Billy Sherman, who was probably as responsible as anyone for Thomas receiving his first star.

    At the end of 1860, Thomas was roughly the seventy-fifth officer in terms of seniority in the Army. Four years later Thomas ranked number six in the United States Army, behind only Grant, Halleck, Sherman, Meade, and Sheridan. Not bad company!

    I also have a personal interest in Thomas since my great-grand father, Captain and brevet Major John Scott, Company H, Twenty-fifth Illinois Veteran Volunteers, was one of the Pap’s soldiers in the Army of the Cumberland.

    That said, I must take issue with the idea that Thomas was in any way one of the Great Captains of history, let alone the Civil War.

    First, Thomas commanded in only two battles: Mill Springs, a small (4,500 Federals to about 5900 Rebels) action where the total casualties were about 246 Union to 533 Confederate. Hardly much of a battle, since Thomas was forced to fall back after it was over. Thomas commanded some ten regiments and Crittenden eight; roughly two divisions fighting it out. Thomas casualties were low – but then so were Crittenden’s.

    From Mill Springs, January 19, 1862, until Nashville, almost exactly three years later, Thomas was never in command of a single battle; he was always in the position of having someone immediately over him, as the commander – and the one responsible for the victory or the defeat.

    At Nashville, Thomas commanded about 50 to 60,000 men – against an already nearly destroyed Army of the Tennessee with less than half that number. Thomas’ casualties were in the neighborhood of 3,000. According to Wiley Sword, Hood’s losses were about 2,300 killed and wounded and about 5,000 men captured at Nashville.

    Contrast that with the real victory that made Nashville possible: Franklin.

    Schofield had a force of around 23,000 against Hood’s 29,000. Schofield lost about 2300 men – but inflicted around 6,200 casualties on the Rebels, including what must have seemed to the Confederates, an entire brigade of generals!

    Given the relative strengths of the opposing sides, Schofield, with a slightly superior force, took out 3 Confederates for every one he lost. Thomas, two weeks later, facing a dispirited Army of Tennessee, minus the best of its generals, and with the Yankees outnumbering the Rebels two to one, was only able to remove two of the enemy for every one he lost.

    The Army of Tennessee was broken at Franklin, not Nashville.

    The claim “even though Grant hated and belittled Thomas” is also made. I am always amazed when I hear that since all it would have taken was for Grant to say the word and Thomas would not have received the coveted stars in the Regular Army. Some hatred!

    Grant outranked Thomas throughout the war and from Donelson on always was at a higher level of command. Grant was a theater commander when Thomas was still a corps commander: how could Grant, the victor of Donelson, Shiloh, the Vicksburg Campaign, and Chattanooga, have ever been “jealous” or “hate” Thomas?

    I will finish with the comparison that truly counts:

    From the day he took command of the Twenty-first Illinois in June 1861, until the end of the War, Grant was always the immediate commanding officer, with no one near by outranking him, as he rose from regimental command, to brigade, corps, army, army group, theater and continental command. The only exception was the roughly three months when Henry Halleck tried to prove he was as good a field general as he was a desk one!

    When Thomas was still a subordinate to Sherman, Grant was in command – and responsible for – of all of the United States Army forces from Maine to California. Grant forced three armies to surrender to him. That is a record unparalleled in the Civil War or practically any other war.

    • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 9:39 am

      Bob — You ask how Grant could have been jealous of or hated Grant.
      I don’t know that Grant had such feelings toward Thomas, However, as you know, Halleck made Grant second in command before Corinth and gave the right wing command to Thomas. According to Mrs. Thomas, this caused Grant to resent Thomas even though Thomas was at least nominally subordinate to Grant in this configuration.
      As you know, I believe, these items are covered in my article “Ulysses in His Tent,” in Civil War History (June 2010). Also, Steve Woodworth has a nice discussion of reasons why Grant got on better with Sherman than with Thomas in Grant’s Lieutenants II. IIRC, Woodworth indicates that Thomas rather resented the unmilitary Grant. CRS

  2. Bob Huddleston September 25, 2011 / 7:05 pm

    Hard to tell. Thomas never commanded in a major campaign — Nashville aside –or battle against a healthy competent foe. It is easy to say Thomas had all the attributes of a great commander but, in large part because he turned down the opportunity before Perryville, he never had the opportunity.

  3. Bob Huddleston September 25, 2011 / 7:06 pm

    IIRC, Castel, not a Sherman fan, argued Sherman, not Thomas, was the proper man for USG to leave in charge in the west since WTS had the confidence of Grant, something Thomas was lacking.

  4. Ray O'Hara September 25, 2011 / 8:29 pm

    Tho,as was handy to have around during the shooting.
    But Sherman knew what to de between the fights, and that’s what matters.
    Winning battles is nice, winning campaigns wins the war.

  5. Jeff Davis September 25, 2011 / 8:37 pm

    Well, Missionary Ridge was a place where Sherman sort of fell short. But at Chickamauga, Thomas was supreme, the only Union Commander who held. From Snodgrass Hill to the Battleline Road area, he kept up morale, and fought his men well, buying much needed time for the rest of Rosecrans command, and a dear price. This was George Thomas’ equivilant to Hancock at Gettysburg.

    While Sherman was stumbling and getting bogged down northeast of Missionary Ridge, it was Thomas’ men who stormed the ridge and chased Bragg for quite a few miles. [I stipulate that Sherman was given a tough assignment but he failed to have the ground he was to traverse scouted, hence the delays.]

    This is the only place where you can make any kjind of comparison between the two in battle. It was the same battle. Grant was there, so was Sheridan [“I’ll have our guns for that!”].

    When it came to Independent Command, I believe that was where Sherman excelled, having learned at the feet of the master, Grant. Thomas had no such teacher, between Buell, and Rosecrans, niether of which was great at logistics. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t up to Grant’s meticulous mastery of logistics.

    Grant brought three things to the table: an understanding of the importance of rivers in the Confederacy and the necessary cooperative combined arms between his infantry and the Navy’s river boats; a clear understanding that no operation can succeed unless every single minie ball, every single spare cannon carriage wheel, every tent peg, and every horse and mule’s single oat, and the boats, ships, trains, or wagons to carry them were in place along with any bridging matierals and enough engineers to get them through to wherever they needed to go; and finally, a toughness and self reliance and independence and [outwardly] self-confidence unseen in any other General in the Union Army during the Civil War.

    Had Thomas served with Grant to the extent that Sherman did, perhaps the outcome of Nashville might have been different.

    So the answer is, depending on which level you are comparing them, it is Thomas at Field command level, and Sherman at Army command.

    I can tell you that the men of the 79th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment felt a loyalty and kinship to both. Uncle Billy shared their campfires on the March to the Sea, but George Thomas shared their Battle at Chickamauga with them and saluted their stand on Battle Line Road, before undoing their reluctance to withdraw to Chattanooga at the end of the Battle. The Lancaster, PA GAR Hall is named in honor of George Thomas.

  6. James F. Epperson September 26, 2011 / 4:46 am

    These are poor comparisons, because different men have different strengths.

    I think Sherman was a poor battlefield commander. Thomas was better, but also made his share of errors (his constant calling for more troops contributed to the Big Mistake at Chickamauga).

    Sherman was much better at planning and managing a campaign.

  7. Ned Baldwin September 26, 2011 / 6:23 am

    Sherman. I think his strategic sense is overrated but nonetheless I think he was a better commander. Grant once said “I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun”. The context was about suffering and existence. But it makes me think of how some people embody activity and energy. Sherman was a verb.

  8. Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 8:12 am

    Your refernce to Sherman’s energy is what most impresses me most on this question of who would you draft first.
    If the Union could only have one of them, I believe that the better choice would be Sherman, with all his extraordinary forward energy. I know that many consider it unfair to call Thomas “slow,” but even one of his own chiefs of staff said something like “by God Almight, he was slow.”
    On the choice between Sherman and Thomas, see the discussion by Manning Force (pp. 197-198).
    Carl Schenker

  9. Tony Gunter September 26, 2011 / 8:17 am

    As far as battlefield command goes, I don’t feel entirely qualified to answer because I know little about Thomas. I know Sherman made some jaw-dropping gaffes, lacked any finesse on the tactical offensive, and tried to sabotage Grant’s move south of Vicksburg. He also pointed fingers rather than accept blame for his mistakes. Grant was an excellent mentor, giving his subordinates the freedom and confidence to make mistakes and learn from them. I can’t think of a single subordinate of Sherman that experienced remarkable growth as a commanding officer under him.

    One thing stands out to me, though: Sherman excelled as a result of always being on a great team, while Thomas excelled even when he wasn’t on a great team.

    • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 8:53 am

      Tony — What do you mean by “the tactical offensive”? Wasn’t Sherman’s campaign of maneuver toward Atlanta a demonstration of finesse? Was there no growth in McPherson, Blair, Logan, even the maligned Howard? Also, while Sherman may have opposed the move South, he helped bring it off. Starting with making a feint that Grant felt would reduce Sherman’s reputation, but Sherman noentheless was willing to make. CRS

      • Tony Gunter September 26, 2011 / 9:30 am

        Tactical offensive … direct command of attacking forces at the front. I’m thinking of engagements like Chickasaw Bayou and Chattanooga. At Chickasaw Bayou, his attack was straight up the gut into the trap set by the Confederates. He blamed the defeat largely on Morgan’s failure to get the pontoon in place, yet accepted none of the blame for the pontoon failure himself. And even if he had gotten the pontoon in place, any troops moving across it would have been chewed to pieces as the location was enfiladed by both the Indian mound and the Chickasaw Bayou fortifications. There were several alternative movements available: 1) lay the pontoon across McNutt Lake and flank the Indian mound position from the south 2) move up along Blake’s Levee and assault the Chickasaw Bayou defenses from the north 3) land at Blake’s plantation and take Drumgould’s Bluff 4) land at Snyder’s Bluff.

        I know much less about Chattanooga but know that Sherman didn’t receive rave reviews for his performance there.

        • Ned Baldwin September 26, 2011 / 5:05 pm

          In my opinion, Sherman did better than Thomas at Chattanooga. Jeff Davis earlier wrote “it was Thomas’ men who stormed the ridge” — that is true and it says something about the men, but doesn’t tell us much about Thomas.

          • Bruce Martin September 28, 2011 / 7:27 am

            Sherman had 2 divisions, comprising 5 brigades, 2 miles from Tunnel hill at 12:30 pm. There was not a single Confederate unit within 2 miles of Tunnel hill at that point. It took 2 hours for him to advance to the last hill of Missionary Ridge (now called Lightburn’s Hill), where a single brigade (Smith’s Texans) caused him to panick and dig in for the night. The next day , with overwhelming numbers at his command, he launched numerous piecemeal attacks which resulted in no ground gained.

            In addition to Smith’s and Ewing’s troops on hand, he also left Jefferson Davis cooling his heels back at the river, as well as Howard’s troops moving downstream from Chattanooga to try to flank the hill. Lt Col. Henry Boynton (the 1st official historian of the Chattanooga Nat. Military Park), called Sherman’s actions an “astonishing error which caused utter failure to the whole movement against Bragg’s right”. It was Thomas, on the other hand, who urged Grant to allow Hooker to pressure Bragg’s left flank at Rossville, which resulted in the collapse of Breckenridge’s Corps. And it was Thomas’s troops who went right up Missionary Ridge, effectively destroying the Army of Tennessee (CSA) as a viable force. ( Cozzens covers this in detail in ‘Shipwreck Of Their Hopes’.)

            ( Note: If you haven’t been to Tunnel Hill, you must go. It’s the closest thing to a private battlefield you’ll ever find, tucked away at the end of N. Crest Drive. I’ve also posted photos of it on Flickr, available for anyone to view.

          • Carl Schenker September 28, 2011 / 8:51 am

            Bruce —
            Your post sounds well informed about these matters. As I would like to get better educated, Is Cozzens the best thing to read on this?
            Boynton, as you doubtless know was an anti-Sherman man. That, of course, does not necessarily vitiate his opinion. But didn’t Sherman face terrain difficulties that neither he nor Grant had anticipated when the plan was devised?

          • Ned Baldwin September 28, 2011 / 9:44 am

            I think Wiley Sword’s book Mountains Touched With Fire is better than Cozzens.

          • Bruce Martin September 28, 2011 / 10:27 am

            Cozzens is the best that I’ve read so far, although there may be others.

            As far as Boynton being ‘anti-Sherman’, I don’t know that, but if that’s the case, any criticism of Thomas could be construed as ‘anti-Thomas as well. Boynton’s criticism is based on fact, that being that Sherman, who had an opportunity for an easy victory, failed to do basic reconnaissance and acted timidly by failing to use his overwhelming numbers against a lightly defended area. As far as difficulties with terrain, yes, it is true that approaching the hill from the Tunnel side involved a steep climb under fire, but it was no less difficult than what Thomas’s troops faced on Missionary Ridge, as well as Hooker on Lookout Mt. Grant had no reason to believe that the terrain was any different. Furthermore, the reverse slope of Tunnel Hill was easily accessible simply by skirting around the base of Lightburn Hill, which Sherman failed to capitalize on (that lack of reconnaissance thing again). Had he done so, Grant might not have been the only one to bag an entire army in the war.

            I’m not saying that Thomas was a ‘better’ commander than Sherman. But if, as one reply stated, that Sherman did ‘better’ than Thomas at Chattanooga, that just can’t be supported by the facts.

          • Ray O'Hara September 28, 2011 / 12:37 pm

            climbing Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mt was mostly in defilade and the troops weren’t under fire. the CSA placed their troops at the geographic crest not the military crest. their positions were badly laid out.

          • Ned Baldwin September 28, 2011 / 9:41 am


            You wrote “There was not a single Confederate unit within 2 miles of Tunnel hill at that point. “

            Simply not true. Under the direction of Hardee 3 brigades of Walker’s division with batteries had been on the hill just south of the Tunnel since the night before. In addition, Polk’s brigade of Cleburne’s division had been sent that morning to the rail crossing of the Chickamauga to the east of the Tunnel. Also it was Grigsby’s cavalry brigade, posted along the river in that area which had supplied Bragg with the word of Sherman’s crossing.

            “… a single brigade (Smith’s Texans) caused him to panick and dig in for the night. “

            Also untrue. In addition to encountering Smith’s brigade on the hill, Sherman’s men tangled with Wright’s brigade near Boyce’s station along the Chickamuaga. Also there was Walker’s division nearby (as mentioned above) and Cleburne was arriving with his last two brigades. Furthermore, I see no sign of ‘panick’.

            “The next day , with overwhelming numbers at his command”

            I don’t see the numbers as overwhelming. Sherman was facing the divisions of Cleburne, Walker and Stevenson. There were about the same number of brigades on each side.

            “he launched numerous piecemeal attacks which resulted in no ground gained.”

            Ground was gained. Piecemeal is your interpretation.

            “In addition to Smith’s and Ewing’s troops on hand, he also left Jefferson Davis cooling his heels back at the river”

            Davis was guarding the bridge over the Tennessee, the bridge over the Chickamauga and the space between the bridge and Sherman’s position.

            “Howard’s troops moving downstream from Chattanooga to try to flank the hill.”

            Howard’s command didnt join Sherman until the afternoon.

            “Lt Col. Henry Boynton (the 1st official historian of the Chattanooga Nat. Military Park), called Sherman’s actions an “astonishing error ….”

            Well goody for Boynton.

            “It was Thomas, on the other hand, who urged Grant …”

            Did he?

            “to allow Hooker to pressure Bragg’s left flank at Rossville, which resulted in the collapse of Breckenridge’s Corps.”

            Untrue. Hooker defeated a portion of a single division (Stewart). It was the advance of Baird-Wood-Sheridan-Johnson that collapsed the rest of Breckenridge’s Corps.

            “( Cozzens covers this in detail in ‘Shipwreck Of Their Hopes’.)”

            Swords’s book is better.

          • Bruce Martin September 28, 2011 / 11:33 am

            I stand corrected – there were to Confederate troops within 2 miles of Sherman’s flank at 1:30 PM when he advanced from the mouth of S. Chickamauga Creek towards Tunnel Hill.

            However, there were no Confederate troops on the hill itself at that time. Cleburn didn’t arrive at the hill until 3:00, ahead of his troops, who had spent the night bivouacked behind Bragg’s HQ at the Moore House, miles away. Stevenson was not in supporting distance. The 1st Rebel troops to reach the hill were in fact Smiths Texans, who arrived from Chickamauga Station at the double-quick, with Shermans troops a mere 1/2 mile away. The first artillery arrived at the same time, and unlimbered overlooking the Tunnel. If you’re implying that Tunnel Hill was bristling with Rebel troops as Sherman approached, you’re wrong. He had 3 divisions on hand, the 4th (Davis) Guarding nothing at all back at the river, and which were never engaged. The Rebel forces on hand amounted to 2 brigades. If he hadn’t spent the morning entrenching at the mouth of the creek, he would have found no troops at all on top of the hill.

            “Ground was gained. Piecemeal is your interpretation.”

            Ground was gained is your interpretation.

            “Well goody for Boynton.”

            Goody isn’t a real word.

          • Ned Baldwin September 28, 2011 / 1:41 pm

            “If he hadn’t spent the morning entrenching at the mouth of the creek, he would have found no troops at all on top of the hill.”

            Rubbish. As you seem to have acknowledged, there were confederate forces nearby and, as was demonstrated, Bragg could move troops to the area when needed. If Sherman had moved away from the river earlier, Confederates could have moved to the hill earlier. Hardee had a division (Walker’s) posted just south of the Tunnel since the night before and Cleburne was cooling his heels near Bragg’s HQ all morning, having sent Polk’s brigade up the ridge already.

            “Goody isn’t a real word.”


          • Tony Gunter September 28, 2011 / 1:26 pm

            On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate Sherman’s performance here? Thomas’?

            I suppose you are taking major points from Thomas for his apparent lack of control over his troops (the spontaneous charge up the hill prior to receiving orders, failing to ensure that his subordinates were following the plan).

          • Ned Baldwin September 28, 2011 / 2:36 pm

            Perhaps Sherman 6.5; Thomas 6.

            Whatever one’s interpretation of what Grant was thinking or saying regarding the charge up the ridge, there was clearly a problem in the chain of communication between Grant and the front line division commanders. I think Granger was the culprit, but he was Thomas’s responsibility.

            In addition, Thomas was functioning under Grant’s direct supervision something which I see as limiting his impact on the battle. The result of the attack was great. But what did Thomas really have to do with it?

          • Ned Baldwin September 28, 2011 / 2:36 pm

            Perhaps Sherman 6.5; Thomas 6.

            Whatever one’s interpretation of what Grant was thinking or saying regarding the charge up the ridge, there was clearly a problem in the chain of communication between Grant and the front line division commanders. I think Granger was the culprit, but he was Thomas’s responsibility.

            In addition, Thomas was functioning under Grant’s direct supervision something which I see as limiting his impact on the battle. The result of the attack was great. But what did Thomas really have to do with it?

          • Christopher Shelley April 16, 2014 / 3:20 pm

            I would argue that Sherman’s “getting bogged down” and attracting the attention and reserves of Bragg was what allowed Thomas’ men to storm Missionary Ridge. Grant was certainly of that opinion.

  10. John Foskett September 26, 2011 / 8:37 am

    I’d have to go with Sherman, although not by a wide margin since I think they’ve both been pretty much overrated, at least from the standpoint of tactics/so-called “grand tactics”. Sherman mishandled things at Missionary Ridge but Thomas didn’t exactly do anything there himself which justifiably could be called “brilliant” And Thomas really never had a larger, independent responsibility, so he has to be graded “incomplete” at that level. Nashville was simply a situation of hunkering down and waiting for an opponent who was even more operationally challenged to show up with his army after it had been decimated at Franklin. Of Course, Pap had an opportunity given to him on a silver platter in late September, 1862 but he declined it because Buell was “in the midst of a campaign” Imagine if Meade had taken that position in late June, 1863 when summoned.

  11. Ray O'Hara September 26, 2011 / 9:59 am

    Sherman’s reputation suffers from not have any flashy battlefield victories.
    He rather disliked battles and would maneuver to avoid them. His best successes Peach Tree Creek and the decisive battle Jonesboro where moves that forced Hood to attack him.
    Like the Revolutionary General Nathaniel Greene he might not have ever routed anybody but when the campaign was over he had achieved his objective and the enemy had to abandon the region.. Great victories make fun reading and great history,but the objective is the objective and they captured that, firmly and totally.

    It really does highlight Grant though, he faced 4 armies, three he flat out captured as mentioned by Brooks and the 4th he sent flying twice in total defeat and he completely destroyed the enenmy country, that is unmatched by anybody except Al the Great Gehnghis Khan and Cyrus the Great {the best ever}.

  12. Bryn Monnery September 26, 2011 / 10:11 am

    On the field Thomas is better. I fed their battlefield results into a modified Lancester square law many years back (using modifiers from Dupuy’s Quantitative Judgement Model and a Quality Factor derived from Barloon’s PhD thesis). Using a very limited dataset Thomas scored the best out of all Union generals and Sherman actually scored worst. Interestingly Sherman as commander scored much better in the battles where Thomas was present. However, I must caveat the very limited dataset (Livermore’s).

    However, when their conduct of operations is viewed Sherman looks better, not to disparage Thomas.

    I will suggest that in fact they both worked best together. The Prussian staff system has effectively two army commanders and their command arrangements in 1864 roughly paralleled this, although under the Prussian system the tactical commander (Thomas) usually was the superior of the operational commander (Sherman). We can see similarities in the Grant-Meade command relationship and even, although in a convaluted fashion, to the McClellan-Porter command relationship (it would have been interesting to see how McClellan’s October-November reorganisation plan into three numbered armies would have panned out).

    I should note, I am one of the few people who find fault with Thomas’s conduct of the Battle of Nashville. I find his failure to keep a true reserve very telling, and it allowed the Army of Tennessee to escape mostly intact after it was routed. Had Wilson’s cavalry been formed en masse as a corps de chasse then Hood’s Army would have been finished that day. This is however a more general criticism and Sherman is as guilty when it comes to keeping a reserve.

    In summary, neither. They complemented each other.

  13. Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 11:12 am

    BTW, I admire Grant. However, on the subject of fingerpointing (raised by Tony), I am unaware of anything more egregious than Grant’s April 13, 1863 letter (effectively to Halleck) regarding Shiloh and Lew Wallace: “Had General Wallace been relieved from duty in the morning, and the same order delivered to Brig. Gen. Morgan L. Smith . . . I do not doubt that the [Third] division would have been on the battlefield and in the engagement before 10 o’clock.” (1) Grant may not even have sent his order to march by then. (2) Wallace certainly rcd no such order before 11 am. (3) A five or six mile march would have consumed at least two 1/2 hours. Therefore, the earliest that Wallace could have possibly reached the field was about 2 pm. [Perhaps the telegram in the OR reflects a typo and Grant actually wrote some other time than 10 am. I will look at PUSG and post further if they question it.] CRS

    • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 11:50 am

      Well, PUSG 8:59 says 1 pm, not 10 pm. So I must substantially stand down. (Oddly, the PUSG editors do not address this important discrepancy between their rendition and that in the OR.) CRS

      • Tony Gunter September 26, 2011 / 2:36 pm

        Although the orders to Wallace were verbal and completely open to misinterpretation … when the boss’ (Grant) boss’ (Halleck) flunky (McPherson) shows up to escort you to the battlefield, it’s probably not a smart idea to take the time to reverse your march order, or dissemble and hem and haw and force him to scout ahead to verify that the route he is telling you to take is viable. Based on McPherson’s version of Wallace’s march, Wallace is lucky he wasn’t arrested upon arrival.

  14. Buck Buchanan September 26, 2011 / 12:08 pm

    I have always been in the minority I have found in my admiration of Thomas. It may be I am myopic since I was in the the 19th Infantry which earned its moniker while standing with Thomas at Snodgrass Hill. Thomas was effective and he ha dthe air inexorable about him. He did not panic, and while prickly at times, he was an effective and loyal subordinate and commander. Old Pap was great in the tight slugging match and was absolutely tenacious. My favorite description of him was that of an elephant crossing a footbridge…he will tread carefully but cross the bridge he will.

    It was often difficult to know what was happening in Sherman’ shead but he was an excellent commander as well. He, like Grant, was very adept at the maneuver. When he tried to slug it out in the straight away attack he was not often succesful. However he was able to maneuver very effetively.

    Some could question who had the better defensive stand…Sherman at Shiloh or Thomas at Snodgrass Hill.

    All I know is what I have heard Grant’s answer when asked the question how many major gnerals of the Regular Army should have. He responded 4…Sherman, Meade, Thomas and Sheridan…and their dates of rank shopuld read Gettysburg, Atlanta, Cedar Creek and Nashville.

  15. Ray O'Hara September 26, 2011 / 12:18 pm

    Grant had every reason to be mad at Wallace, he sent the order with the route to take noted, Wallace wanting to be a hero chose instead to use “initiative” and things didn’t quite go as Wallace planned.

    A commander isn’t there to cover for weak sisters and Lew was quite correctly exiled. and Never forgiven by Grant. He even managed a slap at Lew when “praising” his fightat the Monocasy..

    but ultimately he was near routed at Donelson. inexcusably late at Shiloh, it speaks to Wallace’s well placed friends he kept his commission.

    • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 12:40 pm

      (1) I agree Grant had reason to be disappointed in Wallace’s march on day 1 of Shiloh. The “10 am” notation in the OR version of Grant’s April 1863 letter, however, would have been completely unfair.criticism. If what Grant really wrote was “1 pm” (as stated in PUSG), then the unfair criticism charge largely falls aside. Although 2 (or even 3) pm might be nearer the truth of what Grant really could have expected, having chosen to tell Wallace to await further orders when he stopped at Crump’s Landing on his was to Pittsburg Landing.
      (2) We do not know what Grant’s actual order intended for Wallace was because it was entirely verbal. Grant says he told Wallace to come by the river road, but we do not know what was stated in the written order that Wallace received from Baxter (because Wallace’s aid lost the order). Indeed, it is interesting that we don’t even know who wrote the order down. John Rawlins says that he did, but so does Baxter say he wrote it. I have never really seen any comment on that discrepancy, so far as I can recall.

      • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 2:35 pm

        Ray — I see that I should correct myself as to para (2) above. On closer examination, I see that both Rawlins and Baxter say that Rawlins dictated to Baxter the contents of Grant’s verbal order to Wallace. Baxter says specifically that Rawlins then signed the order but Wallace maintained the order he rcd was not signed. CRS

    • Tony Gunter September 26, 2011 / 2:40 pm

      You are assuming things that are not in evidence. We don’t know for sure what order Wallace received. Our criticism of Wallace should be confined to the time in which he was being escorted by McPherson.

    • Bryn Monnery September 26, 2011 / 3:15 pm

      Wallace never received any order to make his movement down the River Road until he was almost on the field. Rawlins (carrying the written order) was not despatched until 1pm, 1.5 hours after Wallace had received the verbal order to “come up on the right”, and arrived 3 hours after Wallace started marching. Rawlins then convinced Wallace to countermarch rather than mount a flank attack. There was bad staffwork. It was Grant’s shoddy orders rather than Wallace’s understanding that were truly to blame.

      I don’t understand your criticism of Wallace at Fort Donelson. Originally I thought it aimed at Grant (who was notably absent for much of the battle). It was Wallace who commanded the attack that saved Union fortunes and Grant’s career. Grant was lucky at Donelson, he performed poorly and would likely have been destroyed if the Confederates had a competent GOC.

      On Sherman, I have speculated that it was him who infected Grant with the massively inflated Confederate numbers he thought he was facing at Shiloh. He of course duly reported repelling over 100,000 Confederates.

      • Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 4:00 pm

        Bryn —

        I have been looking (reasonably carefully, I hope) at Wallace related stuff about the march lately, and can’t agree with much of your 1st paragraph.

        (1) It is possible that the written order delivered to Wallace by Baxter circa 11 am did tell LW to take the river road. That is what John Rawlins says, and it apparently was he who dictated the order to Baxter.

        (2) Rawlins did not carry the written order to Wallace; Baxter did that earlier and probably delivered it no later than 11 am.

        (3) Later Rawlins (and previously Rowley, I think) told Wallace that he should be headed for Pittsburg Landing itself, not Shiloh church. IIRC, it was Rowley rather than Rawlins who caused Wallace to change his course. (I don’t think anybody told LW to countermarch (ie, bring his head of column back up through the ranks, as opposed to reverse marching).

        (4) I’m not sure that Wallace had to be convinced not to make a flank attack. I think he wavered on that fact over the years. At the moment, he may have been glad to learn that he was aiming too far west of the river and was going to march into the enemy rear rather than join the Union right wing.

        (5) Not sure how you can say with any confidence that it was “Grant’s shoddy orders” that were to blame. Grant MAY have given a proper order — come to the base at PL and then move out. That MAY have been the order conveyed to Wallace by Baxter (as dictated by Rawlins). Also, having started on the “wrong” road, it may have been for the better that Wallace came to the base rather than going into the enemey’s rear where he might have been forced to surrender.

        (6) Just before his death, Grant acknowledged that Wallace had understandable reasons to start his march on the Shunpike [though they should not have overridden a specific order, it seems to me.

        (7) Gail Stephens has a good new book on all this “Shadow of Shiloh.” She says Grant and Wallace were both at fault for not developing a common understanding BEFORE THE CRISIS as to what options were available to Wallace (Shunpike v. River Road) and what he should do if he was needed to reinforce the gang at Pittsburg Landing.

        Carl Schenker

        • Bryn Monnery September 27, 2011 / 6:00 am

          My thanks for the corrections. It’s interesting and I need to read more around this specific area when I have time.

  16. John Foskett September 26, 2011 / 4:30 pm

    Carl: I think we can flat out agree that nobody ordered Wallace to take the facially absurd step of countermarching to relieve an army in dire straits at Pittsburg Landing by wasting gobs of valuable time so that his “lead” brigade was still his “lead” brigade. I’m leaving aside the lunch diversion he also undertook. The irony is that most of the “delay” criticism against Wallace was based on the soecificity of orders received regarding which road to take. He was almost certainly “wronged” on that issue. But he should have been pilloried for how he handled the march once the route was adequately clarified. It’s a bit analogous.to the cashiering of Fitz John Porter for his “delay” at Second Bull Run when,. despite Pope’s self-delusion, Porter was blocked by Longstreet’s vastly larger force. Porter should have been ashiered, but on the basis of his correspondence with Manton Marble, not his alleged disobedience of Pope’s deluded orders.

  17. Carl Schenker September 26, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    Question: Is Grant’s summons to Wallace the most famous instance of a lost written order during the war? If not, what is? CRS

    • Ned Baldwin September 27, 2011 / 5:22 am

      Lee’s Special Order 191 lost near Frederick Maryland in September 1862.

      • Carl Schenker September 27, 2011 / 10:40 am

        Ned, Thank you for your response. I was thinking in terms of orders whose contents have remained in dispute because the written copy was lost from the record. Of course, Lee’s lost order is famous because the Union got to see it. CRS

  18. TF Smith September 26, 2011 / 8:00 pm

    One of the responsibilities of any leader (manager, supervisor, commander, etc.) is training a replacement – viewed in that light, although Grant would have left content with Sherman as his deputy at any time from Shiloh to Appomatox, I don’t know that Thomas could have stepped in…

    Both were excellent officers, but Sherman certainly was the pick of the two to lead an offensive; Thomas, similarly, was a solid defender.

    In my personal line-up (YMMV), Grant is number 1, Sherman 2, Sheridan 3, Meade 4, and Thomas 5. Grant is Grant; Sherman and Sheridan get the edge for their abilities on the offensive; and Meade edges Thomas because of his ability to take command in the field in 1863 and win at Gettysburg.

    After that, in terms of commanders who led independent army/corps-level actions, it is sort of a long way to Rosecrans, Buell, McClellan, etc.

  19. Carl Schenker September 27, 2011 / 5:17 am

    Overnight, I was thinking that no one (except Bob H) noted expressly that Grant actually faced the Sherman or Thomas question in leaving the West and turning the Military Division of the Mississippi over to Sherman (junior), rather than Thomas (senior as a MG).
    Bob points out that Castel says this was good on personal grounds because of the working relationship of USG and WTS.
    It seems to me that there were more good reasons behind it, though. Sherman was rather a whirlwind and could be expected to move the army into Georgia better, faster, more relentlessly than Thomas (“By God Almighty, he was slow”).
    Grant had personal observation of Sherman’s tenacity at Shiloh, of course knew of his troubles at Chickasaw and Chattanooga. But he also knew that Sherman MOVED — he got his force to Chickasaw (when Grant turned back after Holly Springs), he played a plenitude of roles at Vicksburg (even though Grant knew that WTS thought the plan too dangerous), he got a corps to Chattanooga, he rushed off to Knoxville, he raided Meridian successfully. This was a man who could be trusted to push forward.
    Not so clear that Thomas fell into this category. Grant had a chance to observe them both during the Shiloh campaign — where Thomas left little impression on the record as right wing commander but Sherman rather shone as the commander of the right-most division. And I believe Grant was less than impressed with Thomas himself at Chattanooga, though his troops (including Sheridan) did well. Of course, Thomas also shone at Chickamauga.
    So, when Grant had to make his choice (looking into the future), I think he probably said “Sherman and I get on well, we understand each other, and he’s a can-do guy. He is a better bet to keep the ball rolling the way I want than is GHT.” And events proved his choice fully satisfactory, as Manning Force says.
    BTW, someone (possibly Force) points out that Thomas’s 1864 stature led to the fact that his AoC was much larger than McPherson’s or Schofield’s forces, thereby limiting some of Sherman’s flexibility in moving hjis three armies during the Atlanta campaign.
    Anyway, I think Grant had more than good rapport on his mind when he preferred Sherman to Thomas for the MDoM and leadership of the Atlanta campaign.
    Carl Shenker

    • TF Smith September 28, 2011 / 7:17 pm

      Yup; Sherman was the choice of the two t lead an offensive.

  20. Buck Buchanan September 27, 2011 / 8:17 am

    “…and Meade edges Thomas because of his ability to take command in the field in 1863 and win at Gettysburg.”

    But what of Thomas’ ability to takeover from Rosecrans at Chattanooga? Is that to be belittled? He kept that army together through his leadership.

    • TF Smith September 28, 2011 / 7:16 pm

      No, but as impressive as Thomas’ work at Chattanooga, it was a different operational situation than Meade’s…Thomas took over in the middle of a battle that another commander had started, and finished it about as well as could be done, given the circumstances. Quite an accomplishment, but limited to the tactical/operational level.

      However, Meade took command before the battle, and – although on the strategic defensive – fought it out at the strategic and operational level. Meade had a different level of responsibility.

  21. Tony Gunter September 28, 2011 / 3:28 am

    One thing nobody has noted here: Thomas was the Master of War. ‘Nuff said.

  22. John Foskett September 28, 2011 / 7:27 am

    Thomas was basicaly serving as a placeholder for Grant. He gets credit for “keeping that army together”, but Meade was handed an army in the midst of a campaign, chasing Lee into Pennsylvania and within three days was locked in a titanic battle. Thomas had a similar opportunity in September, 1862 in Kentucky but declined it with the excuse that Buell was in the midst of an active campaign. He would have had about two weeks to get ready to meet Bragg at Perryville. As it turned out, he ended up as a fairly useless supernumerary in that battle.

    • Carl Schenker September 28, 2011 / 2:19 pm

      There has been some discussion about Grant’s personal relationship with Thomas.

      It’s worth remembering that, when Grant was elevated to command of the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi, he was expressly given his choice of Rosecrans (incumbent) or Thomas to command the Department and Army of the Cumberland. And he chose Thomas.

      Don’t know how much that proves, but at a minimum it seems to show that USG didn’t hate Thomas’s guts so that he would shun the oppty to work with him and stick with Rosecrans. James Harrison Wilson says that Grant and Thomas got off to a bad start at Chattanoogha personally and always had cool relations, which he seems to blame mostly on Thomas. (Pp. 272-76.)

      Carl Schenker

      • Tony Gunter September 28, 2011 / 4:34 pm

        > It’s worth remembering that, when Grant was elevated to command
        > of the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi, he was
        > expressly given his choice of Rosecrans (incumbent) or Thomas

        Not much of a choice. Rosecrans is the guy that accused (via proxy) Grant of drunken incompetence at Iuka to excuse his own incompetent handling of the attack. I think Rosecrans would have been his last choice.

        I still think that it assumes things that are not in evidence to assume Grant had any ill will towards Thomas.

      • Bob Huddleston October 1, 2011 / 3:06 pm

        A better example of USG’s feelings toward Thomas concerned Thomas’ promotion to brigadier and major general in the Regulars. *That* was the great prize for career soldiers. Halleck told Grant that Thomas was on a “promotion list’ in the summer of ’63 for a vacant brigadier slot, along with Sherman and McPherson. Grant wrote a fine letter recommending the latter two and they got the star. Thomas got his in the aftermath of Chickamagua — a fine reward for a guy in a losing battle! And he got the second star for Nashville. In either case all Grant had to do was say the word and someone else (Hancock and Sedgwick were the other two names, IIRC) would have received the Regular Army stars.

  23. Carl Schenker September 30, 2011 / 6:07 am

    In this thread, Tony posted that Grant was an excellent mentor, bringing forth growth in his subordinates and Sherman not so much (or maybe Tony would say not at all).

    I have been struck in reading about Lew Wallace lately by some of his Shiloh-era comments about how uncommunicative Grant was, with Wallace having little idea what Grant wanted or was thinking before the battle of Shiloh. (I know, sour grapes . . . but fresh picked.)

    So, my question is what is the specific evidence that Grant was a excellent mentor? Sherman blossomed under Grant, no question. But how much was that due to the mentor and how much to the mentee?

    I am not trying to gainsay Tony. I just wonder how one thinks analytically about such things as mentoring in this context. Perhaps Grant would not have achieved some of his successes if George Thomas, instead of Sherman, had been his number two. And perhaps that was not because USG mentored WTS, but because WTS had inherent strengths.

    Or put another way, Sherman “played the fool” before Shiloh (to quote Steve Woodworth), under the uninspired mentorship of Grant (“I have scarsely the faintest idea of an attack”). WTS probably would have done better as eyes and ears if Henry W. Halleck had been in command in the field, as Halleck probably would have insisted on fortifications, better intelligence, bettet picketing, etc. (Even coordinated timepieces.)

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