The Union’s Most Undervalued General

tags: Civil War, Chickamauga, George Thomas



Phil Leigh is an independent Civil War historian and author. He is writing a book about wartime intersectional trade between North and South, Trading With the Enemy.

Despite his brilliant victory at Vicksburg in July, some lingering doubts remained about Gen. Ulysses S. Grant when he took command of the besieged Union forces at Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 23, 1863. Earlier, when his army was taken by surprise at Shiloh, he had amplified the misgivings of critics by denying the attack was unexpected and falsely claiming he was outnumbered two-to-one. More recently, a limp resulting from a horseback-riding accident during post-Vicksburg victory celebrations in occupied New Orleans fed persistent rumors of alcoholism.

But when Union infantry swept Confederate general Braxton Bragg’s army off Chattanooga’s battlefield on Nov. 25, 1863, they also brushed away any remaining doubts about Grant among the nation’s leaders. Newspapers immediately promoted him as a presidential candidate. After Grant convincingly denied the aspiration, President Lincoln called him east, and gave him full command of all Union armies.

But until it proved successful, Grant had angrily denounced the unauthorized assault that chased the rebels away from Chattanooga and brought him glory, muttering that, should it fail, “somebody will suffer.” And Grant had a very particular somebody in mind, a leader he persistently disparaged because he dreaded the man as a rival: Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas....



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