Thomas and Longstreet, Much in Common
by Gordon Thorsby
There were two generals during the war who possessed great talent to gain victories against their enemies, George H. Thomas and James Longstreet. They are two generals that the very mention of their names could raise ire of many from their own sides in their times. They didn't try for controversy, but they got it anyway. On opposite sides, they had much in common and there were many examples.
- were West Point graduates, Thomas, class of '40, Longstreet, class of '42
- were Mexican War veterans, and both were Southern, Thomas from Virginia, Longstreet originally from Georgia, raised in South Carolina.
- never stopped fighting. Thomas never took leave during the War. Longstreet only took leave when he was seriously wounded at the Wilderness forcing almost nine months to recover.
- were hated by their foes because if the enemy had to face Thomas' or Longstreet's troops, there was a very strong chance they would lose.
-were strongly loyal to superiors. Thomas was loyal to Don Carlos Buell and William Rosecrans even when the officers were being relieved. When President Andrew Johnson nominated Thomas to be Lieutenant General as a slight to Ulysses Grant, Thomas asked the Senate to withdraw his name out of loyalty to the country. Longstreet was loyal to Robert E. Lee. He questioned Lee’s judgment at Gettysburg, and Longstreet’s reputation is stained to this day by it. When Lee was preparing to surrender at Appomattox in 1865, Longstreet advised Lee to continue the fight because Lee had performed miracles for three years.
- had detractors on their own sides. Thomas, being a Virginian, experienced constant doubt of his loyalty to the North from Washington. Longstreet gained hate from fellow Southerners when he joined the Republican Party shortly after the war and served in various governmental posts. Both did their best to further the new-found freedom for the Blacks.
- had ties to opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. For Thomas, his family was Virginian though he had no further contact after the war's beginning. Longstreet had familial ties to the Flint-Saginaw area of Michigan by marriage. Thomas Stockton, the first Colonel of the 16th Michigan was the connection.
-fought fiercely against KKK forces in the reconstruction South.
- paid for their efforts during Reconstruction. Thomas was placed in an out-of the-way command in California and also continued to be disowned by his Virginian family until twenty years after his death. Thomas died of a stroke at his post in California, writing a response to accusations from Union Gen John Schofield. Longstreet was disowned by most every ex- Confederate general after the war and in 1875, during an effort to break up a white supremacy riot in Louisiana was wounded.
- and both had wives that were their greatest admirers and their staunchest defenders. For George, he had Frances. James Longstreet was married twice; Maria until death and Helen (also called the fighting lady.)
Historians speak of their respective strength; defense. Catton wrote, “[Thomas] comes down in history...as the great defensive fighter, the man who could never be driven away… Yet it may also be worth making note that just twice in all the war was a major Confederate army driven away from a prepared position in complete rout—at Chattanooga and at Nashville. Each time the blow that finally routed it was launched by Thomas."
Longstreet is considered a defensive general but his assaults at Chinn Ridge at 2nd Bull Run, the flank attack at the Wilderness, the massed assault at Chickamauga that routed the Federal army (except for Thomas), and the assault on the Union left on July 2, 1863. Of the latter, Longstreet described it as “finest three hours of fighting ever done by any troops on any battlefield.” Few debate that.
They both earned multiple nicknames- Thomas earned “Paps” by his men, “Rock of Chickamauga” and my personal favorite, The “Sledge of Nashville.” Longstreet was given "Old Pete" by his men, “Lee’s War Horse,” and the lesser known “Bull of the Woods”. (Union Gen Winfield Hancock would probably say that was most apt when Longstreet rolled up his flank at the Wilderness.
Both Longstreet and Thomas are getting fresh looks at what they did. Both earn a place in our history.
Thomas' Grave in Troy, NY.
General George H Thomas by Broadwater, Robert B., Mcfarland and Co, 2009
George Henry Thomas, As True as Steel, by Wills, Brian, University Press of Kansas 2012.
Smithsonian Magazine, by Furgurson, Earnest B.
Gettysburg’s Peach Orchard, Hessler, James A. And Isenberg, Britt C., Savas Beatie, 2019.
Reconstruction, by Foner, Eric, HarperPerennial, 2014.
Grant, by Chernow, Ron, Penguin Press, 2017
Longstreet's Grave in Gainesville, GA