On the second day of the battle of Chickamauga the Confederates came close to destroying the Army of the Cumberland. They were prevented from reaching this goal by a stubborn defense of Major General George Thomas, who earned that day the title of The Rock of Chickamauga.
Thomas, a native born Virginian, stood with the Union at considerable personal cost. His beloved three sisters turned his pictures to the wall, regarded him as dead to them and had no further communications with him for the remainder of his life. Relatively unknown today, Thomas was probably the ablest Union commander of the War not named Grant or Sherman,
Thomas commanded the Union left, and his men were involved in heavy fighting from 9:30AM to Noon on September 20, beating off a heavy two division Confederate attack.
Through a comedy of errors in miscommunication a gap appeared in the Union center when a division led by Brigadier General Thomas Wood moved out of the line. At 11:10 AM Longstreet attacked the Union center with three divisions, one of those divisions going right through the gap in the line created by Wood’s withdrawal. After several hours of hard fighting the Union center and right collapsed.
Thomas held the field on the Union left, forming his men into a semi-circle and beating off Confederate assault after Confederate assault. He only withdrew after he was ordered to, and after darkness fell. His stand deterred the Confederates from what could have been a disastrous pursuit of the retreating Union troops.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s special investigator, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was at the battle and he telegraphed the news to Stanton that would soon have the entire North hailing Thomas as the Rock of Chickamauga. (Ironically on September 20, Dana, convinced that the battle was lost, and demanding an escort to Chattanooga, helped distract Union Colonel John Wilder from ordering a counterattack against Longstreet by his mounted infantry brigade that may have stopped the collapse of the Union center.) Continue Reading