Defender of Nashville Tennessee

A month later, General Ulysses S. Grant took command of all the Union armies in the West. Grant chose Thomas to command the Army of the Cumberland. By this time, Confederate forces had pushed the Union troops back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and set up a siege of the city (a blockade intended to prevent the delivery of food and supplies). On November 25, Thomas and his army led an assault on Missionary Ridge—the strong point in the Confederate defenses—that helped break the siege.

In May 1864, Thomas and his army helped Union general William T. Sherman capture the important Southern industrial city of Atlanta, Georgia. That fall, Sherman's army continued moving through Georgia on its destructive "March to the Sea." Meanwhile, Confederate general John Bell Hood (1831-1879; see entry) began moving his forces northward toward Tennessee. Thomas and his army of thirty-five thousand men were sent to defend Nashville. If they failed to prevent Hood from taking the city, the Confederates would have a clear path to continue moving north.

Hood reached Nashville in December 1864. Thomas and his men remained behind the city's defenses as the Confederates set up a siege. At this point, Union leaders wondered why Thomas was hesitating and pressured him to attack. Despite his impressive service to the Union, some people questioned his patriotism. In fact, Grant almost removed him from command. But Thomas believed that proper preparation was a key factor in winning battles. He allowed his tired army to recover and regain their strength, then attacked

Union general George Thomas (seated at table) with a group of officers near Ringgold, Georgia, on May 5, 1864. (Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery.)

with great force on December 15. His Army of the Cumberland conquered Hood's troops and forced them to retreat southward all the way to Mississippi.

Thomas's successful defense of Nashville ended up being one of the most decisive Union victories of the Civil War. Afterward, he was promoted to the rank of major general. But Thomas felt he had earned this honor a year earlier. He believed that the promotion had been delayed because he was from the South. "It is better late than never, but it is too late to be appreciated," he stated. "I earned this at Chicka-mauga." The U.S. Congress later recognized his contributions to the Union cause and gave him their official thanks.

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