Thomas was born in Newcastle, Delaware. In 1823, he graduated from the U.S. Military
Academy at West Point. He saw action in the (Second) Seminole War and served as General
William O. Butlers chief of staff in the Mexican War. Thomas then became General
Winfield Scotts chief of staff until the outbreak of the Civil War. In March 1861 he
was named adjutant-general and, two months later, given the rank of brigadier-general. In
March 1863, as punishment for alleged inadequacy, he lost his status as adjutant (while
retaining his rank) and was assigned to organize black troops in the South. After the war
he was breveted a major-general in recognition of his military service.
Thomas played a
pivotal role in the political battle between President Johnson and the Congressional
Radicals for control of Reconstruction. When the President decided to fire Secretary of
War Stanton in February 1868, he named Thomas to replace Stanton on an ad interim basis
and restored the generals adjutant status. Thomas was not well respected in the
army, but he had a grudge against Stanton and he supported Johnson on Reconstruction.
Thomas personally delivered the Presidents dismissal notice to Stanton, but the
Secretary refused to accept its legitimacy or to vacate the premises. Instead, Stanton had
Thomas arrested for violating the Tenure of Office Act. When Stanton realized, however,
that the arrest would allow the courts to review the law, which was what Johnson wanted,
the Secretary of War had the charges dropped. Thomas retired in 1869 at the end of
Johnsons term. He died in Washington, D. C.Robert C. Kennedy, HarpWeek
Sources consulted: Albert Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson; Harpers
Encyclopedia of United States History; and Mark Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary.
(26 October 1804 - 2 March 1875)
Source: Harper's Weekly