View our animated map of the July 21, 1861 Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). Learn about the strategies and the movements of the two armies as they engage in the first major combat of the American Civil War. Watch McDowell’s Federal army make its bold flank attack. Witness Stonewall Jackson establishing a stout line atop Henry Hill and the final Confederate assaults on Chinn Ridge. Bull Run (First Manassas) would become the largest and bloodiest battle in American history up to that time.
JULY 31, 1816 – MARCH 28, 1870
Although only twice in chief command of a field army during battle — Mill Springs, Ky., near the war’s beginning, and Nashville, Tenn., near its end — M aj. Gen. George H. Thomas played a significant role in shaping the war beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
Thomas was born into a slave holding family on a Virginia plantation just north of the North Carolina border in 1816. At age 20, he received an appointment to West Point, where his significantly younger peers called him “Old Tom.” He graduated in 1840, 12th in a class of 42, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in Company D, 3rd U.S. Artillery.
During the Mexican-American War, Thomas served with distinction alongside fellow artillerist Braxton Bragg, whom he would face across many battlefields two decades later. After the close of hostilities, Thomas was appointed instructor of cavalry and artillery under academy superintendent Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas did not resign his commission in the U.S. Army, despite the offer of several prominent commissions in the Confederate army. His decision to remain loyal to the Union created a deep rift with his family, one that would not heal in his lifetime. Thomas’s comrades and former students reacted no less vehemently: former star pupil and fellow Virginian J.E.B. Stuart wrote to his wife, “I would like to hang, hang him as a traitor to his native state.”
Although an earlier back injury made his physical movements deliberate, Thomas possessed deep tactical understanding of warfare, attributable to having served in all three branches of the military. During the Battle of Chickamauga, he held his position, rallying broken and scattered units to prevent a hopeless rout. Future president James Garfield reported to Army of the Cumberland commander William Rosecrans that Thomas was “standing like a rock,” and the name stuck; the “Rock of Chickamauga” was soon elevated to command and rose to greater fame.
Following the end of hostilities, Thomas commanded the Department of the Cumberland in Kentucky and Tennessee, and at times also West Virginia and parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, where he worked to uphold the rights of freedmen against abuses. In 1869, he requested a transfer to command the Department of the Pacific in San Francisco, where he died the following year of a stroke.
Thomas’s innate desire for privacy — he destroyed his private papers to keep his life from being “hawked in print” — and early death prevented him from publishing his memoirs, a popular genre for former generals in the 1870s and 1880s, and defending his legacy from fellow commanders looking to promote their own at others’ expense. William T. Sherman, a lifelong friend since their West Point days, however, called Thomas’s services throughout the war “transcendent” and listed him along with Ulysses S. Grant as the heroes deserving “monuments like those of Nelson and Wellington in London, well worthy to stand side by side with the one which now graces our capitol city of George Washington.”
Today, an equestrian statue of the Rock of Chickamauga stands in downtown Washington D.C.’s Thomas Circle.
Via: Civil War Trust
On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo area when the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. The disaster, which became the subject of Britain’s largest criminal investigation, was believed to be an attack against the United States. One hundred eighty nine of the victims were American.
Islamic terrorists were accused of planting the bomb on the plane while it was at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Authorities suspected the attack was in retaliation for either the 1986 U.S. air strikes against Libya, in which leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s young daughter was killed along with dozens of other people, or a 1988 incident, in which the U.S. mistakenly shot down an Iran Air commercial flight over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. Read more