December 15, 2020

“The Rock Fails to Roll:  General George Henry Thomas at Kennesaw Mountain” – Brian Steele Wills

December 15, 2020

The American Civil War opened avenues for many individuals to emerge as leaders in the conflict.  In 1861, Southampton County, Virginia, native George Thomas brought with him a West Point education and extensive earlier service in the field, including active involvement in the Mexican American War.  His meticulous manner, reflected in the pre-war nickname, “Old Slow Trot,” also raised questions in the minds of superiors and some colleagues about the degree to which Thomas might be able to contribute to ultimate Union victory.  George Henry Thomas overcame his doubters to become one of the Union’s top generals, known best to history as “the Rock of Chickamauga.”

Subsequently, the Virginian in blue took a prominent role in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864, commanding the largest of the three armies assigned to William T. Sherman.  Sherman occasionally became exasperated with Thomas’s more cautious approach to campaigning, but often placed him at the center of the movements.  It was Thomas who received the order to attempt to break through the Confederate lines of Joseph Johnston at Kennesaw Mountain in June.  Nevertheless, he found the work formidable as a result of facing some of the Confederacy’s finest fighters—Patrick Cleburne and Benjamin Franklin Cheatham at the “Dead Angle.”  Union success would have to wait before the “Rock” could roll on toward Atlanta.

 Brian Steel Wills is the Director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era and Professor of History at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.  Dr. Wills is a member of the Georgia Civil War Commission and immediate past President of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table.  He is also the author of numerous works relating to the American Civil War.