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Master of War: The Life of General George H.…

Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas (2009)

by Benson Bobrick

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Memo to Benson Bobrick: The American Civil War was not a war between Ulysses S. Grant and George H. Thomas. It was a war between the Union and the Confederacy.

You could be forgiven for not knowing that, should you read this book without knowing more about the Civil War. It is far too much of a smear campaign against Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Bobrick constantly accuses those two generals of deliberately sabotaging Thomas to improve their reputations.

To be sure, there is near-universal agreement that Thomas was one of the great generals of the war. His victory at Mill Springs was one of the first great Union successes of the war. He very possibly saved the Union with his brilliant defense at Chickamauga. His victory at Nashville was the most decisive Union win of the war, and it ended the last Southern hopes. Thomas was certainly a better tactical fighter than Grant or Sherman, and probably the best such general the Union had. Many -- I'm one of them -- think him the best Union general of the war. The only general on either side who can make a serious claim to be greater is Robert E. Lee.

But Grant, for all his tactical ineptitude, did win the war. Sherman, for all his flightiness and mistakes, did supply the second pillar of Grant's great two-pronged offensive. It's clearly true that Grant under-valued Thomas, and it perhaps made Grant's task harder. But it wasn't as if Grant was setting out simply to make Thomas look bad!

Far too much of this book consists of unfair charges against Grant and Sherman. This isn't just off-putting, it wastes space that otherwise could be devoted to Thomas's achievements. And it distorts the picture. Too, the book probably devotes too much time and space to the Civil War, ignoring the rest of Thomas's life. Also -- although this may not be Bobrick's fault -- all the maps are placed too far forward in the text, making it difficult to refer to them.

George H. Thomas, pillar of the Union, the greatest general of the Northern side, deserves a good modern biography. Sadly, this isn't it. ( )
1 vote waltzmn | Nov 5, 2017 |
This is a first-rate narrative of an unjustly forgotten, or at least overlooked Union General. The author pulls no punches in criticizing Gen Thomas's cohorts, especially Sherman and Grant in their (successful) attempts at impugning Thomas. His reputation likely also suffered by his early death, still in uniform. At the very least the existence of Gen Thomas proves that Confederate generals could have chosen national over parochial interests in the great test of their age, and been successful Northern leaders instead of traitorous 'Secesh'. ( )
  kcshankd | Aug 23, 2017 |
I am in agreement with the other two reviews at this time. For me there was much added information on Thomas that I was interested in and happy to read. That Thomas was underrated and under appreciated is a case well worth pursuit, but this book was in need of more supporting information as it was a soft oversell on Thomas. The intent to blame Grant and Sherman as the source of most of the problems Thomas had actually detracts from his case for Thomas. The next step is a more balanced book evaluating his worth.
1 vote Newmans2001 | Jan 22, 2011 |
I was disappointed that there wasn't much new infromation in the book. Most of the details are taken from past published books. His defense of Thomas as the best Union General is admirable, however he could have exemplified how Thomas built an affective fighting force from the hand me downs that Sherman passed off to him. The accusations that both Sherman and Grant were jealous of Thomas' successes and worked towards down playing his accomplishments should have been better proven. . ( )
2 vote dhughes | Jan 26, 2010 |
It's hard to sweep away decades of thinking to try to get a fresh perspective of history. With little to go on aside from the slanted writings of people, re-writing events to reflect well on themselves, one has little to fall back on except official records and documents, which can be slow and contradictory. General George Thomas is one historical figure long overdue for a fresh look, and not just because of his record in battle. His character, his decision to fight with the Union even after his state seceded, and the experiences of his formative years are all aspects of his life and legacy that I hunger for, and I thank Benson Bobrick for provoking that hunger. While I do agree that the book is a little overly energetic at promoting General Thomas, my own understanding of Sherman, Grant and the whole sorry political state of Union military history makes Bobrick's case for him. I did not expect this book to be a definitive "last word" on General Thomas - or Grant and Sherman, for that matter, so I was not so disappointed as some in the tone of the book. I felt the book was well-written and did credit to what I understand to be General Thomas' character. It satisfied my curiosity, piqued my interest to learn still more, and left me wishing the book was longer; and I reckon that is as good a testimony of the book's value as any. ( )
1 vote davemac | Jun 3, 2009 |
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"Time and history will do me justice."
"It takes time for jealousy and ambition, spewing out calumny, to gnash, gnaw, and consume themselves. But time is long, and justice never dies.
Hagop Missak Merjian,
one of the great teachers of my youth
Marvin and Evelyn Farbman,
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On April 8, 1870, the remains of the man were deposited in a metal casket, twined around with a ribbon of ivy and mounted on a dais in the chancel of St. Paul's Church in Troy, New York.
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Historian Bobrick argues here that George H. Thomas was the greatest and most successful general of the Civil War. Because Thomas didn't live to write his memoirs, his reputation has been largely shaped by others, most notably Grant and Sherman, who, Bobrick says, diminished Thomas' successes in their favor in their own memoirs. Born in Virginia, Thomas remained loyal to the Union, unlike fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee. In the entire Civil War, he never lost a battle or a movement. He was the only Union commander to destroy two Confederate armies in the field. Throughout his career, he was methodical and careful, and always prepared. Unlike Grant, he was never surprised by an enemy. Unlike Sherman, he never panicked in battle. Although historians have always regarded Thomas highly, he has never captured the public imagination, perhaps because he has lacked an outstanding biographer--until now.--From publisher description.… (more)

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