Benson Bobrick’s Master of War

Benson Bobrick’s Master of War is the biography of General George H. Thomas, the man for whom Fort Thomas, Kentucky is named.  In it, certainly, you will learn much of the Civil War valor, heroism, and intelligence of one of the Union’s great generals.  While Thomas is best known today as the “Rock of Chickamauga,” his defeat of the Confederate army at Nashville is equally as impressive.  His defense at Chickamauga was to fight a defensive position – very successfully - while the entire Union army around him was in strategic defeat.  Nashville on the other hand was a battle of Thomas’s design that resulted in an overwhelmingly successful rout of the Confederate forces.  

But in spite of learning about Thomas’s brilliant military career - of which there is little doubt - we found the book tedious in its non-stop whining about how bad Thomas was treated by Grant and Sherman.  To read Bobrick, you’d think that Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and Sheridan were vain, glory seeking incompetents, while, if General Thomas could just have been put in charge, the whole war would have been over in a couple of months, and there would have been free milk and cookies for everybody! 

Ultimately, Bobrick’s hero-worshiping deification of the “no-doubt-he-could-have-walked-on-water” Thomas, and his carping about Grant and Sherman serve only to call into question the author's descriptions of the legitimate skills, courage and valor of Thomas.  

Or as Gerald J. De Groot wrote in his excellent history of World War I: “In the study of history, inquests are more appropriate than prosecutions . . .. Attempts to prove guilt encourage a blinkered view.  Simple explanations are sought, usually where they are woefully inappropriate.  Subjectivity becomes obstructive.  By focusing on a single culprit, one loses sight of coincidental forces and accessories to the crime.”  So it was in this biography.