A VIRGINIAN FIGHTS FOR THE UNION
with Michael Gillespie
“During the war I permitted the National authorities to do what they pleased with me,” wrote an aging George Henry Thomas to President Andrew Johnson. For once in Thomas's life his pen flowed freely, unencumbered by his usual shy and reticent manner. “The life of the nation was then at stake, and it was not proper to press questions of rank,” he continued, “but now that the war is over and the nation saved, I demand a command suited to my rank, or I do not want any.”
These were not easy words for Thomas, but neither had his treatment at the hands of his superiors been easy to endure for this Virginian who served in the Federal army during the Civil War. He had a heavy burden to bear for his loyalty to the Union and for making a choice of conscience. It had meant banishment from his family and home, and distrust from many of his fellow commanders in the North.
Thomas was born on July 31, 1816, to John and Elizabeth Rochelle Thomas. Theirs was a comfortable home in Southampton County, Virginia. They owned a substantial farm planted in cotton, corn, and tobacco, and ample slaves to work the land and maintain the house. Young George grew up amidst a family of three sisters and two brothers, largely content with his station and with the firm discipline practiced by his parents.
Reprinted with permission from Virginia Cavalcade 34:2 (Autumn 1984), © 1984
The Library of Virginia.