A Southerner for the Union: Major General George Henry Thomas - A Brief Biographical Sketch and Analysis of the Causes and Effects of His Decision for the North

Presenter Information

Miranda BeckerFollow


Liberty University

Start Date

30-4-2014 1:00 PM


This paper was presented at the 2014 Liberty University Graduate Research Symposium.


Apr 30th, 1:00 PM

A Southerner for the Union: Major General George Henry Thomas - A Brief Biographical Sketch and Analysis of the Causes and Effects of His Decision for the North

Liberty University

The American Civil War was a conflict that set a country against itself, making enemies out of friends, severing familial bonds, and leaving a legacy that is evident to this day. There is no better illustration of this conflict than the life of Union Major General George Henry Thomas of the Western theater in Tennessee. When the Southern states seceded, each citizen had an important decision to make whether to side with the Union or the Confederacy. For some it seemed an easy conclusion, whether it meant staying loyal to their state or because they believed in the cause of one of the two sides. However, choosing sides would prove to be a conflict for others, because in many cases they felt split in two: between state and country, family and conscience, friends and conviction, government and beliefs. Thomas was one of those who chose to make the tough decision: to fight for the Union, even though he had been raised in a Southern home. Unfortunately, this choice would result in the consequence of not being trusted on both sides of the war: the Confederates would brand him as a traitor, and even his own family turned against him. Meanwhile, the Union was wary of trusting him, believing him to be a spy at worst, or a commander that might prove to be hesitant when forced to face his fellow countrymen in battle at best. However, as one looks at the story of George Thomas, they find a unique individual who overcame prejudice, stood up for what he believed. Throughout the Civil War, Thomas was viewed with suspicion by both sides, some thinking him a traitor, others believing him to be a spy, and still others fearing he would falter in battle as a result of a divided heart between his upbringing and his convictions. Many would argue that he made the wrong decision in choosing to fight for the Union, that he should have followed Lee's example. However, the North might have suffered more serious reverses in the Western theater without Thomas's services, and the war itself could very well have had a different turnout. It is ironic that he is best known for the Union's greatest defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, and yet it is not failure on his part that is remembered, but success in that he was able to stand courageously and be an example to a fallen army. Many suspected his loyalty, while others would not even think of questioning it, for they saw that he was no less a patriot than any of the rest of them, his Southern upbringing notwithstanding. Throughout his life before, during, and after the Civil War, Thomas's Southern roots clearly influenced his decisions, but it is also evident that he did not see himself as a Northern or Southerner, but a Unionist. He was determined to see his country stay together, even if he had to sever himself from his family in order to fight for that cause.