MASTER OF WAR by Benson Bobrick


The Life of General George H. Thomas
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Revisionist biography of the Union general who overcame long odds to win the war in the West.

Bobrick (The Fated Sky: Astrology in History, 2005, etc.) makes his views clear from the outset, arguing that Grant and Sherman, both of whom outlived George Thomas (1816–70), promoted their own reputations at his expense. A Virginian by birth, Thomas excelled at West Point, where Sherman was his roommate. His career after graduation was typical of his generation of officers: the Seminole War, the Mexican War and a stint as instructor at West Point, where he befriended Lee. In 1855, he was appointed to the 2nd Cavalry, an elite regiment created by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis that included among its officers 16 future generals, 11 for the Confederacy. When the Civil War came, Thomas remained with the Union despite his Southern origin and connections. Sent to Kentucky to train recruits, he won a significant battle at Mill Springs in early 1862 and was a key figure in the Union victory at Stones River later that year. His real fame came toward the war’s end, when he was instrumental in the battles of Chattanooga, Chickamaugua, Atlanta and his greatest triumph, Nashville, where he essentially destroyed the Confederate army in the West. While giving a clear account of all these events, Bobrick piles up evidence that Grant, Sherman and even Lincoln not only failed to recognize Thomas’s brilliance, but consistently acted to prevent his rise. He also argues that Sherman and Grant were bunglers, the one a megalomaniac, the other an alcoholic butcher who battered his opponents into surrender at the cost of his own men’s lives. After the war, Thomas’s natural modesty kept him from aggrandizing or profiting from his reputation. He served honorably in Reconstruction duty and showed no political ambition, though some urged him to run against Grant for president. Bobrick attributes his death from a stroke to anger provoked by a letter denigrating his generalship, possibly written at Grant’s instigation.

The author’s unrestrained advocacy can be annoying, but he provides a strong portrait of an undervalued general.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9025-8
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2008


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