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ERAL SHERMAN, to return with a portion of his
portion of his army into Tennessee and defend the department against Hood's invasion. By the end of October, SHERMAN had determined to cut loose from his base and march to the sea. For this service he selected the flower of his grand army, including two of the best corps of Thomas' army.
By the 5th of November, Hood was encamped on the banks of the Tennessee with forty thousand infantry and not less than twelve thousand of the best cavalry in the rebel service. Thus THOMAS was confronted by that veteran army which had so ably resisted SHERMAN's army on its march to Atlanta. At the same date, Thomas had an effective force of but twenty-three thousand infantry and seven thousand cavalry. Convalescents and dismounted cavalry were coming back to him from Atlanta; raw recruits were arriving from the North, and two divisions were en route from Missouri. The problem before him was how to delay the advance of the enemy, until he could organize a force strong enough to win a battle.
The history of this campaign is too well known to need repetition here. I allude to it only to exhibit his characteristics as a soldier. After the skillful resistance at Duck river and Spring Hill, and the remarkably brilliant and bloody battle at Franklin, he found Hood's army in front of Nashville on the 1st of December. With his accustomed care, he had measured the force of the opposing armies and determined that by one plan only could he achieve certain success. That plan required him to delay the battle until he could get his new and improvised army fully in hand, and could organize a cavalry force to secure the fruits of victory. The authorities at Washington, fearing the breaking up of our communications with Chattanooga, and, perhaps, another invasion of Kentucky, were dissatisfied with his delay, and urged him to
give battle immediately. He knew, better than any other could know, the law of his own mind and the methods by which he had a right to expect success. The 9th of December came, and with it the intelligence that an order was prepared to suspend him from command and to require another to make the attack.
It may well be questioned whether his response to this intelligence will not confer more glory on his name than the winning of a battle. In his dispatch of December 9th to GENERAL HALLECK, he said :
“ Your dispatch of 10:30 A. M. this date is received. I regret that GENERAL GRANT should fcel dissatisfaction at my delay in attacking the enemy. I feel conscious that I have done everything in my power to prepare, and that the troops could not have been got ready before this; and if be should order me to be relieved I will submit without a murmur. A terrible storm of freezing rain has come on since daylight, which will render an attack impossi ble until it breaks."
On receiving this dispatch, GENERAL Grant answered him that he had telegraphed to suspend the order relieving him, and in conclusion said: “I hope most sincerely that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.”
On the 11th, however, he received from GENERAL GRANT a peremptory order to “ delay no longer for weather or reinforcements." Still the storm ragerl, and Nashville was locked in ice. On the 12th he attempted to form his lines for battle ; but the ground was so thickly incrusted with ice, that his troops could neither ascend the slopes nor move in good order on level ground. That night, he stated the situation to GenERAL HALLECK, in a telegram which concluded with these words : “ Under these circumstances, I believe that an attack at this time would only result in a useless sacrifice of life.” Not until the morning of the 15th did he deem it possible to win a battle. That morning, the Lieutenant General had
started from City Point, Virginia, on his way to Nashville to assume the command himself; but at Washington, the news reached him of the first day's fight. On the evening of the 16th Thomas had substantially destroyed the army of Hood.
In reviewing these transactions there would be no justice in crimination or recrimination; in blaming the living in order to praise the dead. It was the spectacle of two able commanders, each true to himself, each honoring the other while following his highest convictions of duty-the one, impelled by the wishes of his superiors, the President and Secretary of War, and by his own judgment of the situation to deliver immediate battlethe other, preferring to lose his con mand rather than to sacrifice his army, to be right rather than seem so. Of THOMAS' conduct on this trying occasion, our comrade, GENERAL Cox, who bore so noble a part in the Nashville campaign, has well said :
“He waited with immovable firinness for the right hour to come. It came, and with it a justification of both his military skill and his own self-forgettul patriotism, su complete and glorious that it would be a mere waste of words to talk ab »ut it."
GENERAL Grant himself has officially put it on record, that the defeat of Hood was the vindication of Tuomas' judgment.
Nashville was the only battle of our war which annihilated an army. Hoop crossed the Tennessee late in November, and moved northward with an army of tifty-seven thousand vete
Before the end of December twenty-tive thousand of that number were killed, wounded, or captured; thousands more had deserted, and the rabble that followed him back to the South was no longer an army.
In summing up the qualities of GENERAL THOMAS, it is difficult to find his exact parallel in history. His character as a man and a soldier was unique. In some respects he resembled ZACHARY TAYLOR; and many of his solid qualities, as
soldier, were developed by his long service under that honest and sturdy commander.
In patient attention to all the details of duty,in the thoroughness of organization, equipment, and discipline of his troops and in the powerful grasp by which he held and wielded his army, he was not unlike and fully equaled WELLINGTON.
The language applied to the Iron Duke, by the historian of the Peninsular War, might almost be mistaken for a description of THOMAS. NAPIER says:
held his army in hand, keeping it, with unmitigated labor, always in a fit state to inarch or to fight.
Sometimes he was indebted to fortune, sometimes to his natural genius, always to his untiring industry; for he was emphatically a painstaking man."
The language of LORD BROUGHAM, addressed to WELLINGTon, is a fitting description of THOMAS:
Mighty Captain! who never advanced except to cover his arms with glory; Mightier Captain! who never retreated except to eclipse the glory of his advance."
If I remember correctly, no enemy was ever able to fight THOMAS out of any position he undertook to hold.
On the whole, I can not doubt that the most fitting parallel to GENERAL THOMAS is found in our greatest American, the man who was, “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.' The personal resemblance of GENERAL THOMAS TO WASHINGTON was often the subject of remark. Even at West Point, ROSECRANS was accustomed to call him GenERAL WASHINGTON.
He resembled WASHINGTON in the gravity and dignity of his character; in the solidity of his judgment; in the careful accuracy of all his transactions; in his incorruptible integrity, and in his extreme, but unaffected, modesty.
Though his death was most sudden and unexpected, all his official papers, and his accounts with the Government, were in perfect order, and ready for instant settlement. His reports and official correspondence were models of pure style, and full of valuable details. Even during the exciting and rapid campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, he recorded, each month, the number of rounds his men had fired, and other similar facts concerning the equipment and condition of his army. He has left behind him a great mass of most valuable papers, classified and arranged in perfect order, the publication of which will make an almost complete history of the Army of the Cumberland. His modesty was as real as his courage.
When he was in Washington in 1866, his friends with great difficulty persuaded him to allow himself to be introduced to the House of Representatives. He was escorted to the Speaker's stand, while the great assembly of representatives and citizens arose and greeted him with the most enthusiastic marks of affection and rever
Mr. Speaker Colfax, in speaking of it afterward, said:
" I noticed, as be stood beside me, that his hand trembled like an aspen leaf. He could bear the shock of battle, but he shrank before the storm of applause."
He was not insensible to praise; and he was quick to feel any wrong or injustice. While grateful to his country for the honor it conferred upon him, and while cherishing all expressions of affection on the part of his friends—he would not accept the smallest token of regard, in the form of a gift.
So frank and guileless was his life, so free from anything that approached intrigue, that when after his death his private letters and papers were examined, there was not a scrap among them that his most confidential friends thought best to destroy.
When PHIDIAS was asked, why he took so much pains to