previous next

Chapter XV

  • General Thomas's indorsement on the report of the battle of Franklin
  • -- courtesies to him in Washington -- peculiarities of the official Records in regard to Franklin and Nashville -- documents which have disappeared from the Records -- Inconsistencies in General Thomas's report -- false Representations made to him -- their Falsity confirmed by General Grant.

after I parted from General Thomas in Tennessee, having at our last meeting there congratulated him upon his well-deserved promotion to the highest permanent grade, that of major-general in the regular army, I had no further official intercourse with him, and, so far as I can recollect, did not see him until after June 1, 1868, when I entered the War Department. During the intervening time—more than three years—my attention had been absorbed by important duties, including a mission to France in defense of the then violated ‘Monroe doctrine,’ and command in Virginia during a part of the period of ‘reconstruction.’ I had not even seen the official reports of the campaign in Tennessee, they having been made public while I was in Europe.

Some time in 1868-9 a staff officer in the War Department brought to my notice the indorsement made by General Thomas on my report of the battle of Franklin, and of the preceding operations from the time when, by his order, I assumed command of the army in the field, as follows: [277]

headquarters, Department of the Cumberland, Nashville, Tenn., December 7, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded to the adjutant-general of the army, cordially recommending the gallantry and skill of Major-General Schofield to the commendation of the War Department.

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.

Of course I was much gratified by this high commendation, of which I had never before seen the text, though I had known the substance. I was also shown the telegram from General Thomas to Secretary Stanton recommending that I and Stanley be brevetted one grade in the regular service for our conduct at Franklin. As I received, a short time after that recommendation was made, the appointment of brigadier-general in the regular service, I supposed that General Thomas had based his recommendation for brevet upon his knowledge or belief that I had been, or soon would be, appointed brigadier-general. Hence I had the great satisfaction of believing that I owed my brevet of major-general in the regular army, at least in part, to General Thomas's recommendation.

I cannot now recollect whether or not I saw at that time General Thomas's report of the operations in Tennessee. If I did, there was nothing in it to attract my special attention, as I was too much occupied with the important affairs of the time to think or care very much about anything that was already three years old.

My relations with General Thomas during that time—the winter and spring of 1868-9, when he was, by my selection, president of a very important military court, with General Hancock and General Terry as the other members, and General Holt as the judge-advocate— were very cordial, at least on my part. He was my guest at a large dinner given to the members of the President's cabinet and the Diplomatic Corps, to which the [278] only other gentlemen invited were Generals Thomas and Hancock, as a special mark of distinction to two of my brother officers of the army. When General Grant was inaugurated President I went with General Sherman in person to ask the President to give General Thomas command of the Division of the Pacific, which I had before proposed for him, but which the President had designated for me, under the impression that General Thomas did not want it.

A few days after that we went to our respective commands—General Thomas to San Francisco, and I to Fort Leavenworth. From that time we had no official or personal relations or correspondence during the short remainder of his life.

In respect to what was made public during that brief period, I long since refused to believe that the superior officer whom I had always so highly respected could possibly have been capable, in his own mind and heart, of doing me the grievous wrong which I at one time believed he had done. I now add, as the result of calm and dispassionate judgment, that any criticism at that time, even under great provocation, that could seem unkind, not to say unjust, to that noble, patriotic, and brave soldier, from any source, not excluding myself, was wholly unjustifiable and worthy only of condemnation. His great services had entitled him to the kindest possible consideration of any imperfections, either real or supposed, in his military operations.

Now, in this winter of 1896-7, I have made a careful examination, for the first time since the events, of all the published records of the campaign of 1864 in Tennessee, for the purpose of doing exact justice to the principal actors in that campaign, so far as it is possible for me to do so. In this examination I have discovered some things that have surprised me, but they have not altered my deliberate judgment of the character of the great soldier [279] under whom I had the honor to serve in that campaign. I refer to them only for the consideration of others.

(1) In the report of General Thomas dated January 20, 1865, covering the entire period of the campaign, including both the battles of Franklin and Nashville, in his commendation of subordinates he made no distinction between the corps commanders who had served immediately under him and only in the battle of Nashville, and the army commander who, besides the like service at Nashville, had commanded the army in the field, in the absence therefrom of General Thomas, up to and including the battle of Franklin, where signal victory had prepared the way for the less difficult but brilliant success of General Thomas at Nashville.

(2) In the first letter from General Thomas recommending promotions for services in the campaign, containing the names of a large number of officers, no mention was made of my name or that of General Stanley, who had been conspicuous for gallantry at Spring Hill and at Franklin, where he was wounded.

(3) In a telegram from the Secretary of War calling for recommendations for promotion, General Thomas had been informed that while there was no vacancy in the grade of major-general (the last having, in fact, been given to General Thomas himself), there were then two vacancies in that of brigadier-general; and it was after the receipt of that information, and in view of all it might be understood to imply, that General Thomas sent his telegram to the Secretary of War recommending that Stanley and I be brevetted one grade in the regular service, not, as he had said in his indorsement on my report of the battle of Franklin, for ‘skill,’ but for ‘good conduct.’ As General Thomas well knew, I was then only a captain in the regular army. Hence he recommended me for the brevet of major—that is, of commander of [280] a single battalion of four companies—for my services in command of an army of thirty thousand men, including artillery and cavalry.

(4) The telegram from General Thomas to Secretary Stanton recommending those brevets for Stanley and me was dated December 31, 1864, 5 P. M., while my general report including that of the battle of Nashville bears the same date without hour, but may have been, and probably was, received by General Thomas before he sent his telegram recommending my promotion.

(5) Neither the report of General Thomas nor of any of his corps commanders made any mention of orders for ‘pursuit’ in the morning of December 16, and General Thomas himself in his report took no notice whatever of the glaring discrepancy between my report and some of the others, nor of any facts demonstrated or suggested by the correspondence which was made a part of my report, nor made any mention of the change in his plan of battle for December 15, which was made the day before.

(6) In the publication of my report in the War Records there is a foot-note which says that the orders and correspondence referred to are not found with the report filed in the War Department—a fact similar to that which I had found in respect to my own retained copies of orders and correspondence, which I understood had been carefully locked up in a strong leather trunk ever since I left Washington in March, 1869, but which had nevertheless mysteriously disappeared.

In that report of mine was a reference to the modification made in General Thomas's published plan of battle for December 15, though no intimation that it was made at my suggestion; also the statement that I had, after the close of the battle of December 15, ‘waited upon the commanding general and received his orders for the pursuit,’ but no mention of the previous written orders to [281] the same effect, which had become obsolete by operation of the subsequent orders received in person. There were attached to my report, and made a part thereof, copies of all the orders and correspondence in my possession relating to the battles of Franklin and Nashville, and to the preceding operations of that campaign, including those about the false position of the troops at Pulaski, those about concentration of the troops in Thomas's department, that about the need of a pontoon bridge at Franklin, that about punishing the telegraph-operator by whose desertion I was deprived of communication with General Thomas during the most critical part of the campaign, and, probably, the order in writing which I had received from General Thomas after the battle of December 15. But of course there were no copies of orders or despatches which I had not received; and the desertion of my telegraph-operator and the operations of Forrest's cavalry in my rear had made it probable that there must have been some such despatches sent but not received. There were no annotations or other suggestions as to their significance attached to any of those copies at that time. They were simply included, without comment, as an essential part of the report. The explanations found in this volume were made many years afterward.

In respect to that appendix to my report, I am now compelled to call attention to the fact that it was an absolute necessity. I could not possibly have made a truthful and rational report which would have stood the test of just criticism without reference to the documents in that appendix; and it was far more respectful to General Thomas simply to attach the documents, leaving him to make any explanations he might think necessary, than to call attention myself to the necessity for any such explanations. It would have been impossible to give any rational explanation of the false position occupied [282] by the troops at Pulaski up to the very last moment of safety except by reference to Thomas's orders to Stanley and me, and the subsequent correspondence on that subject. Stanley, with the blunt frankness justified by comradeship, had pointed it out to me the moment we met at Pulaski, while I was governed by the utmost delicacy in discussing the question with General Thomas, so as to avoid suggesting to him that he had made a mistake. Yet so evident was the mistake that I stopped the advance of the Twenty-third Corps some miles north of Pulaski, and no part of that corps actually went to that place. Cox was sent back to a point where he could interpose between Hood and Columbia, and Ruger was stopped at Columbia.

The great tenacity with which I held on at Columbia and on the north bank of Duck River could not have been justified except by reference to the despatches showing Thomas's wishes and his assurance of reinforcements at those points. If I had been free to do so, nothing could have been plainer than my duty to have fallen back behind the Harpeth when I found that Thomas could not or would not reinforce me on the line of Duck River, and before Hood could endanger my retreat. Hence I was compelled to include in the history of that retreat the entire record of facts relating to it.

Again, necessity was the only possible excuse for fighting the battle of Franklin on the south side of the Harpeth, where defeat would have been disastrous; and that necessity had arisen absolutely and solely from the want of a bridge across that river, which I had suggested that General Thomas place there. It was not possible for me, without utter disregard for the truth of history as well as for my own military reputation, to attempt to conceal those facts.

It must seem remarkable that in my report, dated December 7, of operations from November 14 to December [283] 1, 1864, including the battle of Franklin, on which General Thomas placed his indorsement commending my ‘skill,’ no mention whatever was made of any orders or instructions from General Thomas. The simple fact was that I could not have quoted the orders and instructions General Thomas had given me for my guidance during those operations without implied criticism of General Thomas; hence it was then thought best to omit any reference to any such orders or instructions, and to limit the report to a simple recital of the facts, thus making the report strictly truthful so far as concerned my own action and that of the troops under my command, without any reference whatever to my superior at Nashville, under whose orders I was supposed to be acting; and that report of December 7 appeared to be entirely satisfactory to General Thomas in that respect as well as in all others. But when the time came to make my final report of the entire campaign, which must go upon the public records as my full and exact contribution to the history of military operations in which I had taken an important part, truth and justice to all required me to make the record complete so far as lay in my power; and if there was anything in the record, as submitted by me to General Thomas, to which he took exception, it was as plainly his duty to truth and justice to place those exceptions also on the public records. So far from suggesting in my final report any possible criticism of General Thomas, I put the best possible construction upon all the despatches I had received from him, by accepting them together as showing me that his object was ‘to hold the enemy in check’ until he (Thomas) could concentrate his reinforcements, and not to fight Hood at Pulaski, as he (Thomas) had at first ordered. I simply submitted to him the plain record, with the best possible construction I could put upon it, and that only so far as it was necessary for me to construe it to give the general basis of my action. If [284] any official duty remained to be done in that regard, that duty devolved on General Thomas, not on me.

In my final report, dated December 31, 1864, I said, as above indicated, that my instructions from the major-general commanding were embraced in a telegram to General Stanley (dated November 8), in which General Thomas said, ‘Should the enemy overpower them [the cavalry] and march on Pulaski, you must hold that place,’ ‘a copy of which was furnished with the order to assume command at Pulaski, and subsequent despatches, explaining that the object was to hold the enemy in check, should he advance, long enough to enable General A. J. Smith's corps, then expected from Missouri, to reach Nashville, other troops in the Department of the Cumberland to be concentrated, and General Wilson's cavalry to be remounted and fitted for the field. The reinforcements thus expected were about equal to the force we then had in the field, and would make our entire force, when concentrated, equal, or somewhat superior, to that of the enemy. To effect this concentration was therefore of vital importance, a consideration to which all others were secondary. This required that the enemy's advance should be delayed as much as possible, and at the same time a decisive battle avoided, unless it could be fought on favorable terms.’

I refrained from quoting either of the despatches from General Thomas,—that dated November 8 to Stanley, or that dated 19, repeating in substance that of the 8th,—or my reply of November 20 pointing out the reasons why the position at Pulaski was a false one to occupy under the circumstances; and I still think, as I then thought, that that was done as delicately as possible so as to avoid suggesting to General Thomas that I thought his order a blunder. His reply of the same date shows that he so appreciated it. This despatch last referred to from General Thomas, and all the other correspondence after I [285] reached Pulaski, fully justified me in the statement made in my report, above mentioned, as to whence I derived my information of his plans.

But in the report of General Thomas dated January 20, 1865, appears the following: ‘Directions were then sent to General Schofield to leave a sufficiently strong force for the defense of that point, and with the balance of his command proceed to carry out the instructions already given him, viz., to join the Fourth Corps at Pulaski, and assume command of all the troops in the vicinity, watch the movements of Hood, and retard his advance into Tennessee as much as possible, without risking a general engagement, until Maj.-Gen. A. J. Smith's command could arrive from Missouri, and Maj.-Gen. J. H. Wilson could have time to remount the cavalry regiments dismounted to furnish horses for Kilpatrick's division, which was to accompany General Sherman in his march through Georgia. . . . My plans and wishes were fully explained to General Schofield, and, as subsequent events will show, properly appreciated and executed by him.’

Thus, General Thomas, being fully satisfied with the operations of the troops while under my immediate command in the field, asserted that those operations were based upon his ‘plans and wishes,’ which had been ‘fully explained’ to me before I went to Pulaski, and ‘properly appreciated,’ instead of upon what I had gathered from General Thomas's orders to Stanley and subsequent orders to me about fighting Hood at Pulaski, absolutely contradictory to that stated in his report, ‘without risking a general engagement,’ and his assent to my radically different suggestions made after I assumed command at Pulaski, as stated in my report. It is not incumbent upon me to try to reconcile this statement in General Thomas's report with the correspondence, above referred to, found in the official records; and I see no reason for [286] desiring any further corroboration of the strict accuracy of the contrary statement made by me in my report. I am entirely willing to leave any discussion of that subject to others.

In view of the fact that I was not one of General Thomas's corps commanders, but an army commander, holding the same grade of command, by special assignment of the President under the law, as General Thomas himself, he might without military impropriety have left to me in his report, as he had before done in fact, whether intentionally or not, the entire responsibility of the operations of the army under my immediate command from Pulaski to Nashville. The record fully shows that, from the necessities of the case, I was compelled to act, and did act, upon my own judgment from the beginning to the end, not only without any timely orders, but generally without timely or accurate information from General Thomas; and that he approved, from time to time and finally, all that I had done. The question as to why he afterward claimed that all had been done in pursuance of his plans and wishes, fully explained to me in advance, I must leave to others. He was certainly under no official obligation to take upon himself any such responsibility. It may be true, as General Sherman said and General Thomas admitted, that it was his duty to take command in the field himself. But it was not his duty, being in the rear, to hamper the actual army commander in the field with embarrassing orders or instructions, nor to take upon himself the responsibility of failure or success. If I had failed in those hazardous operations, nobody could have held General Thomas responsible, unless for neglect of duty in not commanding himself in person, or in not sending me possible reinforcements. No obedience to any erroneous orders or instructions of his, sent from a distance whence the actual situation could not be seen as clearly as at the [287] front, could have justified me in case of failure. The actual commander of an army in the field must act upon his own judgment and responsibility, though with due deference to the plans and wishes of his superior, so far as they are made known to him, having in view the general object of a campaign. This sound military principle appears to have been fully recognized by General Thomas when he made his report. He only claimed that his ‘plans and wishes were fully explained’ and ‘properly appreciated and executed,’ not that he had given any specific orders or instructions. Why, then, did he assert, in contradiction of my statement previously made to him, and in contradiction of the official record I had submitted to him with that statement in my report, that those ‘plans and wishes’ of his had been ‘fully explained’ to me before instead of after I went to Pulaski? What possible difference could it have made to General Thomas, personally or officially, whether the record showed that his plans and wishes were made known to me before or after I assumed command, provided they were received by me in due time for my action? What possible motive could General Thomas have had in putting on the public records what was in substance a flat contradiction of an official statement I had made to him with full documentary evidence to support it, and that in the absence of any possible ground for his own contradictory statement, except his own recollection of some conversation we may have had more than two months before, in which he might have explained to me his ‘plans and wishes’? I cannot believe that General Thomas ever consciously did any such thing. That feature of the report must have had some other author besides George H. Thomas. It is true that the orders telegraphed to me by General Thomas, November 19, ‘to fight him [Hood] at Pulaski, if he advances against that place,’ were inconsistent with the statement in his report that he had fully explained [288] to me his plans and wishes as specified in that report, and in plain disregard of the general principle recognized in his report, as well as likely to lead to disastrous results if obeyed. But those orders were on the records, and could not be expunged, even if such a man as General Thomas could possibly have wished to expunge anything from his official record. Hence, I repeat, that feature of the report signed by General Thomas could not have been his.

In this connection it is to be observed that General Thomas had not, at the time I went back to report to him in Tennessee, any anxiety about his inability to cope with Hood after the arrival of the Twenty-third Corps. He had assured General Sherman of his entire confidence.1 He had ordered me to march, as Stanley had done, from Tullahoma to Pulaski; but the action of Forrest at Johnsonville about that time caused General Thomas to change his orders and hurry me by rail to Nashville, and thence to Johnsonville, with the advance of my troops, he wishing to see me in person as I passed through Nashville.2 It would not be an unreasonable presumption that the burden of conversation in that brief interview was in respect to the alarming condition at Johnsonville at that time, rather than in respect to some future defensive operations against Hood, then hardly anticipated. Indeed, the entire correspondence [289] of that period, including that which occurred between General Thomas and General Sherman, about which it is important to note that I knew nothing at that time, shows that General Thomas then expected to concentrate his troops at Columbia or Pulaski, or both, in a very short time, take command in the field in person, and begin aggressive operations against Hood. It seems extremely probable that General Thomas had given very little thought at that time to the subject of defensive action, except as against what that troublesome cavalryman Forrest might do. It seems far more probable from the record that General Thomas's ‘plans and wishes’ in respect to defensive action against Hood's advance into Tennessee, which I had so ‘properly appreciated and executed,’ were, like the plans of the battle of December 16 at Nashville, matured after the event, or at least after Hood's advance into Tennessee had actually begun, and after I had, in my telegram to General Thomas of November 20, pointed out to him the dangers of his previous plan, telegraphed to me the day before.

I do not think much importance is generally to be attached to what any man may or may not recall to memory after the lapse of many years, although the recollection of a recent event, repeated in the memory, for good and sufficient reasons, very frequently during a long time, may continue to be very accurate. However this may be, perfect candor compels me to say here that I have never been able to recall any conversation with General Thomas at any time in respect to his plans or wishes in the event of Hood's advance from the Tennessee before Thomas was ready to assume the offensive. I now believe, as I always have done, that the only information I ever received from General Thomas on that subject was that contained in the telegraphic correspondence quoted in this volume. There is now no doubt in my mind, and, so far as I can recall, never has been any, that when I [290] met General Thomas at Nashville, on my way to Johnsonville, he expected A. J. Smith to arrive from Missouri very soon, when he intended to concentrate all his available troops at Columbia and Pulaski, take command in person, and move against Hood; and that he considered his orders of November 8 to Stanley, to fight Hood at Pulaski or Columbia, as Hood might elect, until he (Thomas) could get there with reinforcements, all the orders that could be necessary, even if Hood did get a little the start of him. The records seem to show, still further, that even after Hood's plans of aggression had developed so long in advance of Thomas's preparations to meet him, Thomas did not then see the great danger that might result from obedience to his orders of November 8 to Stanley, and even went so far as to repeat those orders to me on the 19th; but that he promptly corrected that mistake when I pointed it out to him, and then authorized me to act upon my own judgment.

Now, at this late day, when I am so much older than General Thomas was at the time of these events, I feel at liberty to discuss them without reserve. I am not criticizing the acts of my official superior. In my mature judgment, General Thomas was not justifiable, in 1864– 1865, in claiming the credit for what had been done by his inferior in rank in actual command of the army in the field while General Thomas himself was absent.

So, in respect to the battle of Nashville, it would have been utterly impossible to have given any rational explanation of the action of my troops on December 15 under the published orders for that battle. Hence I alluded, as lightly as possible, to the modification in those orders which accounted for what I had done, but gave no hint of the fact that I had suggested that modification. I cannot now recollect whether I had any expectation at that time in respect to what General Thomas would say on that subject in his report; but, in my opinion, [291] his well-known character would have fully justified the expectation that he would say in substance that the foregoing plan of battle, which had been previously prepared, was so far modified, upon the suggestion of General Schofield and with the concurrence of other commanders, as to order the Twenty-third Corps to a position in rear of our right, from which it could reinforce the main attack on the enemy's left, instead of to the reserve position on the left of the Fourth Corps. It does not seem to me that a veteran general could have suffered in his own estimation or in that of the world by such an act of justice or generosity to a young subordinate. But the plain, unavoidable truth is that General Thomas said in his report, besides his statement about the ‘few alterations’: ‘Finding General Smith had not taken as much distance to the right as I expected he would have done, I directed General Schofield to move his command (the Twenty-third Corps) from the position in reserve to which it had been assigned over to the right of General Smith . . .’—leaving it necessarily to be inferred that ‘the position in reserve’ referred to was that to which it had been assigned in the published orders, and that the Twenty-third Corps moved ‘over’ from that position ‘to the right of General Smith’ after General Thomas gave directions to that effect in the afternoon of December 15. Whereas, in fact, that corps had moved over to the right at daylight in the morning, so as to be ready for the action which General Thomas finally ordered; otherwise it could not possibly have moved over to Smith's right before dark. In fact, one of the divisions (Couch's) of the Twenty-third Corps advanced with Smith's corps, ‘keeping within supporting distance,’ as stated in my report, so that Couch was able to take a very important part in the attack that day; while Cox, though much nearer than General Thomas indicated, could not reach the right till near the close of [292] the day's operations, though in time to take part in the final engagement in repelling the enemy's attempt to regain lost ground. When it is remembered that General Thomas was at the rear of our right, where all this could be distinctly seen, no comment seems to be necessary on this feature of his report.

In respect to the statement in my report that I had in the night of December 15 ‘waited upon the commanding general and received his orders for the pursuit,’ that was simply a fact without which there was possible no rational explanation of what occurred, or did not occur, the next day. I must have taken it for granted that General Thomas would make some frank and candid explanation of all those matters in his own report, and I could not have imagined that I might incur his displeasure by telling the simple truth. My opinion of his character forbade the possibility of any supposition that he would desire to conceal anything, even if concealment were possible, of facts to which there were so many witnesses. Hence my astonishment at the discovery of so much that I cannot even attempt to explain.

It was publicly stated, soon after the death of General Thomas, that his mortal stroke occurred when he was trying to write something in regard to the use made of the Twenty-third Corps in the battle of Nashville. If he then saw, as it would seem he must have done, the wrong into which he had been betrayed, his sudden death is fully accounted for to the minds of all who knew his true and honest and sensitive nature. He had been betrayed by some malign influence into an outrage upon his own great reputation which it was not possible to explain away, while the slight wrong he had done to me, even if he had intended it, had already proved utterly harmless. His own great record could not possibly suffer from any discussion of the facts, unless those facts themselves proved damaging to him; and he had been too much accustomed [293] to such discussions to be disturbed thereby. There seems no possible explanation of the great shock General Thomas received but the discovery that he had apparently done an irreparable injury to himself. But I do not believe General Thomas himself was the author of those acts which were so foreign to his nature.

At Nashville, in December, 1864, and afterward, General Thomas appears to have been made the victim of a conspiracy to poison his mind by false accusations against his senior subordinate. A press report of a conversation said to have taken place in San Francisco in the year 1869, between General Thomas and General Halleck, gave some indication of the effect which had been produced on the mind of General Thomas. From that time forward there appeared frequent indications of the secret operations of that conspiracy; but no public evidence of its character or authors came to my knowledge until 1881, when there appeared in the New-York Times of June 22 an article, copied from the Toledo ‘Northern Ohio Democrat,’ which disclosed the character of the false accusations which had been made to General Thomas at Nashville, and the name of their principal, if not sole, author. That publication gave me for the first time the means of refuting a vile slander which had been doing its deadly work in secret for nearly seventeen years. The following correspondence with General Grant shows the character of that slander, and its complete refutation:

London, England, July 12, 1881.
General U. S. Grant, New York, U. S. A.
my dear General: For a long time I have been made aware of the fact that a base falsehood was secretly circulated throughout the country, to the effect that while General Thomas's army was at Nashville in December, 1864, I endeavored in some way to influence you or somebody in Washington to remove him from the command and to place me in his stead. I have not heretofore been able to defend myself against this slander because of [294] its secrecy. But now, for the first time within my knowledge, this falsehood has made its appearance in public print, in the form of an article in the Toledo ‘Northern Ohio Democrat,’ copied into the New-York Times of June 22, of which I send you a slip.

You, my dear General, are probably the only man now living who is able to make an authoritative statement of the facts in respect to this matter, such as must be accepted without question.

I hope, therefore, it is not asking too much to request you to give me, in a form which I may use publicly, a full and explicit statement of the facts in respect to this accusation.

Perhaps you may also be able to recall the substance of a conversation between you and me, on the subject of the delay of Thomas to attack Hood at Nashville, which occurred on the naval steamer on our way from Hampton Roads to Cape Fear River, when we went down to see Admiral Porter and General Terry while my troops were delayed by the ice in the Potomac.

In that conversation I tried to justify Thomas's delay during the storm at Nashville, and, I thought, perhaps succeeded in modifying to some extent your opinion on the subject. If you are able to recollect the substance of that conversation, a statement of it would be an effective answer to the malicious charges that I was not faithful to Thomas as my commanding officer.

Not knowing where you may be when this letter reaches the United States, I send it to Colonel Wherry, to be sent you by mail or handed you by one of my aides, as may be most convenient. Please do me the great favor to send to Wherry, or the other officer who may call upon you, an answer which he may use in public refutation of the malicious charge which has been made against me.

He can then send it to me. The vipers are taking advantage of my absence to publish falsehoods and give them a long start of the truth which must be sent in pursuit. I am, dear General, as ever, sincerely yours,

New York, August 1, 1881.
General J. M. Schofield.
dear General: Your letter of the 12th of July has just been handed me by Colonel Wherry of your staff. I have read it carefully, [295] together with the article from the Toledo ‘Democrat.’ The elapse of time since the event spoken of in that article is so great that I feel some hesitation in answering your letter and the article from the ‘Democrat’ as I might do if I had access to the archives at Washington; but, writing from memory, I think I can say with great positiveness there was never any despatch from you to me, or from you to any one in Washington, disparaging General Thomas's movements at Nashville. On the contrary, my recollection is that when I met you on your way to Wilmington, N. C., subsequent to the battle of Nashville, you explained the situation at Nashville prior to General Thomas's movement against Hood, with a view of removing the feeling that I had that Thomas had been slow. I was very impatient at that time with what I thought was tardiness on the part of General Thomas, and was very much afraid that while he was lying there at Nashville and not moving his army, Hood might cross the Tennessee River either above or below the city of Nashville, and get between him and the Ohio River, and make a retrograde movement of our army at Nashville a necessity, and very much embarrass and delay future operations of the armies. Laboring under this feeling and impression, I was telegraphing General Thomas daily, and almost hourly, urging him to move out and attack Hood, and finally became so impatient that I contemplated his removal and the substitution of another officer in his place; but this feeling on my part was not added to by any despatches from any person from the scene of action, except those from General Thomas himself. I have certainly no recollection of receiving any despatches from Nashville, during the time spoken of in the article in the ‘Democrat,’ from any person but General Thomas himself. I feel very sure that if any despatches had been received from you, I should now recollect it; and I am free to say that it would have created a prejudice to your disadvantage if I had received such despatches. This much you are at liberty to use in any way you may deem proper. The other reflections which the author of the article alluded to [made] against you I of course am not called upon to say anything in regard to. The fact is, your subsequent promotions are proof positive that I entertained none of the views set forth to your disadvantage in this article.

Very truly yours,


The article above referred to asserted that ‘General Thomas knew three days before the battle of Nashville that Schofield was playing the part of Judas by telegraphing to General Grant, at Washington, disparaging suggestions about the action of Thomas,’ and pretended to quote the language of one of those despatches, as follows: ‘It is the opinion of all of our officers with whom I have conversed that General Thomas is too tardy in moving against the enemy . . .’ It also stated that ‘it was known to a number of our officers that . . . Schofield was intriguing with Grant to get Thomas relieved, in order that he might succeed to the command of our army as the general next in rank to Thomas, . . . and he was watched and exposed to Thomas.’

This boastful avowal by James B. Steedman of his own crime in making reports which were false and slanderous to his commanding general must doubtless be accepted as conclusive proof of his own guilt. But a statement by such a witness cannot be regarded as proof that any other officer was guilty of the same crime. So far as I know, no other has ever made any avowal, public or private, of his own guilt, or of that of any one else. Nor has any other, so far as I know, denied the truth of my statements, repeated in this volume, of what occurred in the council held at Nashville on December 9, 1864.

It does not seem probable that one such man as James B. Steedman could have exerted such a powerful and baneful influence over General George H. Thomas as that which now appears to have governed his action. There must, it would seem, have been some others, as Steedman asserted. If so, it is time for them, if living, to come to the front and claim their share in the work of falsifying history, of poisoning the mind and heart of their great and noble commander, causing his untimely death, and endangering his great reputation as a man of honor, truth, and justice. [297]

The complete refutation by General Grant of the falsehood ended the hostility which had been shown toward me during all that time, and gradually led to a general recognition of the truth, which had always been known and maintained by the most ardent friends of General Thomas, like the late General J. S. Fullerton and General H. V. Boynton, and the staff officers and the relatives of the general himself. Finally, when it was proposed in Congress to recognize my past services by promotion to the grade of lieutenant-general on the eve of my retirement from active service, not a voice in opposition was heard from the old Army of the Cumberland; and when we met, for the first time in many years, by their cordial invitation, on the historic fields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, to dedicate those grounds as sacred to the memory of the Army of the Cumberland and its great commander, we met again as brother soldiers, without any trace of the bitterness which malicious slander had for so many years sunk deep into our hearts.

For my part, I had for many years before refused to believe that my old commander, whom I had so faithfully served and so highly respected, could possibly have done me in his own mind and heart the grievous wrong which he appeared to have done. Not long after his death, and many years before the public refutation of the slander which he was said to have accepted and believed, I put on record my deliberate opinion that of General Thomas's character as a man and a soldier his warmest eulogists had not spoken too highly. And now, no matter what injustice General Thomas may have done me under the malign influence which surrounded him, I refuse to alter that deliberate judgment. He is to me in memory the same noble old soldier and commander that he was when he intrusted to me the command of his army in Tennessee, from Pulaski through Columbia, Spring Hill, and Franklin [298] to Nashville, and commended all I had done in that command.

Truthful military history cannot be written without some criticism. ‘He who never made a mistake never made war.’ I am keenly sensible of the delicacy of my personal relation to the history of General Thomas, as well as of my obligation to contribute my share to that history, which no other man could ever do if I neglected it. I have written it with the greatest possible care. If I have fallen into error in anything, there are men still living who can correct my mistakes. It will be more just to the memory of General Thomas to publish it now than to wait until all who could correct any errors of mine are silent in death. Thus far none of the several friends of General Thomas to whom I have applied have been able to give me any explanation of the record referred to which modifies that which I have stated. If any one can suggest a more satisfactory explanation, he will earn my gratitude.

1 See Thomas to Sherman, November 12, 1864,8:30 A. M.:

Your despatch of 12 last night received. I have no fear that Beauregard can do us any harm now; and if he attempts to follow you, I will follow him as far as possible. If he does not follow you, I will then thoroughly organize my troops, and I believe I shall have men enough to ruin him unless he gets out of the way very rapidly. The country through middle Alabama, I learn, is teeming with supplies this year, which will be greatly to our advantage.

I have no additional news to report from the direction of Florence. I am now convinced that the greater part of Beauregard's army is near Florence and Tuscumbia, and that you will at least have a clear road before you for several days, and that your success will fully equal your expectations.

2 War Records, Vol. XXXIX, part III, p. 624.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: