Thomas J. Wood was a prominent Union general who participated in nearly every major campaign in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
Thomas John Wood was born in Munfordville, Kentucky, on September 25, 1823. He was the second of two sons of George Thomas Wood and Elizabeth (Helm) Wood. Wood’s father was a prominent farmer, slaveholder, and local politician in Hart County, Kentucky. His mother came from a distinguished Kentucky family and was the sister of future Governor Charles Helm.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
As a youth, Wood attended a local school, along with his close friend Simon Bolivar Buckner. Both excelled with their education. In 1840, Buckner received an appointment to the United States Military Academy. He would later become a notable Confederate general during the Civil War and, afterward, governor of Kentucky.
Following in the footsteps of his friend, Wood received an appointment to West Point the next year. Wood entered the Academy on July 1, 1841 and graduated on July 1, 1845, ranking fifth in his class of forty-two cadets. During his first year at West Point, Wood roomed with future Lieutenant General of the Army and President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant. Other prominent members of the class of 1845 included future Union generals William F. Smith, Fitz-John Porter, and Gordon Granger, and Confederate General Edmund K. Smith.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, Wood received a brevet commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Foregoing the customary leave of absence extended to West Point graduates, Wood accepted an immediate assignment with the staff of General Zachary Taylor at Corpus Christi, Texas.
Less than one year later, the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848) erupted, and Wood was engaged as a combat engineer. Charged with conveying artillery to the front lines, Wood experienced his first action during the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846. Later that summer, he took part in the Battle of Monterey (September 21‑23, 1846). Soon thereafter, the army transferred Wood to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons on October 19 and promoted him to the full rank of second lieutenant on December 2, 1846. The next year, Wood fought at the Battle of Buena Vista (February 22‑23, 1847), where his performance earned him a brevet promotion to first lieutenant “for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct.”
After the Mexican-American War, the army assigned Wood to various posts in Texas from 1848 to 1854. While serving there, officials promoted him to first lieutenant on June 30, 1851. The army sent Wood east in 1854, where he spent a year recruiting in New York.
On March 3, 1855, the army commissioned as a captain in the newly created 1st Cavalry and sent him to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Serving in the West until 1857, Wood and his regiment campaigned against Native Americans and helped quell the violent strife between Free Soilers and pro-slavery advocates in “Bleeding Kansas.”
In 1858, Wood’s regiment traveled to the Utah Territory and took part in the Utah War, an armed expedition against Mormon settlers. One year later, the army assigned Wood to command Fort Washita in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In the fall of 1859, Wood received a leave of absence to travel in Europe, where he remained until early 1861.
With the possibility of civil war approaching, the United States War Department canceled all leaves in 1861. Wood returned to America and was promoted to major on March 16, 1861. Soon thereafter, he traveled to Indianapolis, where he engaged himself recruiting, training, and equipping soldiers to meet Indiana’s quota for the volunteer army being assembled to fight for the Union. On May 9, 1861, Wood was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army. By October, Wood’s recruits were ready for action and reported to Camp Nevin, Kentucky.
On December 5, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 106 announcing that Wood had received an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers to date from October 11, 1861. The same order also announced that Wood’s promotion to the rank of colonel in the regular army to date from November 12, 1861.
Two weeks after his promotion to colonel, Wood traveled to Dayton, Ohio, where he married Caroline E. Greer on November 29, 1861. Their marriage lasted until Wood’s death forty-five years later and produced three sons, two of whom survived to adulthood.
Army of the Ohio
Following his marriage ceremony, Wood returned to his brigade and spent the winter preparing to campaign with the Army of the Ohio in western Kentucky. On February 25, 1862, Wood and his brigade took part in the occupation of Nashville, the first Confederate state capital to fall into Union hands during the Civil War. Effective the same day, Major General Don Carlos Buell placed Wood in command of the 6th Division of the Army of the Ohio.
Battle of Shiloh
Under orders from Major General Henry Halleck, commanding Department of the Mississippi, Buell’s Army of the Ohio left Nashville on March 13, 1862, to join Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing on the Mississippi River in western Tennessee. As Buell’s army approached their destination on April 6, they could hear the sounds of battle. Wood ordered his division to undertake a forced march of approximately thirty miles and arrived at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) on the second day in time to pursue Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s retreating Army of Mississippi.
Siege of Corinth
Following the Union victory at Shiloh, Halleck personally assumed command of the federal forces in west Tennessee and moved against Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard’s army safeguarding the important rail center at Corinth, Mississippi. Wood’s division took part in the successful advance upon and the resulting Siege of Corinth that lasted from April 29 to May 30, 1862.
Confederate Heartland Campaign
While Wood and his command spent the summer guarding and repairing railroads in northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee after the fall of Corinth, Confederate President Jefferson Davis made a major change in the Rebel command structure in the West. On June 27, 1862, Davis relieved Beauregard of command of the Army of Mississippi and replaced him with General Braxton Bragg. The pugnacious Bragg soon hatched a plan to put the Confederacy on the offensive by invading Kentucky.
Leaving 32,000 soldiers in Mississippi to deal with Grant, Bragg moved his remaining 34,000 men to Chattanooga, Tennessee to launch his invasion of Kentucky. Once in Kentucky, Bragg planned to combine forces with Wood’s former West Point classmate, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s 18,000 soldiers, stationed near Knoxville, Tennessee and move against the Army of the Ohio.
Smith left Knoxville on August 14, 1862, and he defeated a Union garrison at Richmond, Kentucky on August 30. Bragg left Chattanooga in late August and, on September 17, occupied Wood’s hometown, following his victory at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862).
Throughout September, the two-headed Rebel onslaught forced Buell back toward Louisville, Kentucky. There, Buell received reinforcements and, by early October, with up to 60,000 men under his command, Buell left Louisville and became the pursuer. The Army of the Ohio departed from Louisville in three columns. Wood commanded the 6th Division of the 2nd Corps, which comprised the right column.
On October 8, the Army of the Ohio engaged Bragg, who had yet to combine forces with Smith, at the small crossroads town of Perryville. The Confederates fought well, but running short on supplies and ammunition, Bragg ordered a retreat following the day-long Battle of Perryville.
Army of the Cumberland
Buell’s half-hearted pursuit of Bragg as the Confederates withdrew from Kentucky became a source of frustration on the Union side. On October 24, 1862, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 168 reestablishing the Department of the Cumberland, Major General William S. Rosecrans commanding. The order also stated that all of the troops under Rosecrans’ command, including the Army of the Ohio, would be designated as the 14th Army Corps. Under the reorganization, Wood was assigned to command the 1st Division of the Left Wing of the 14th Corps, which soon came to be referred to as the Army of the Cumberland.
Wounded at the Battle of Stones River
Rosecrans quickly established headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee and prepared his army for battle. On December 26, Rosecrans left Nashville in pursuit of Bragg’s army encamped at Murfreesboro. Rosecrans found Bragg’s army on December 29, and his men moved into line the next day. On December 31, the two armies engaged.
At approximately ten o’clock in the morning, a Minié ball struck Wood in the left heel. Refusing to dismount or have the wound dressed, Wood continued to lead his men until the fighting ended at nearly seven o’clock that evening.
The wound proved serious enough to prevent Wood from taking part in the fighting over the next two days that led to a Union victory at the Battle of Stones River. On January 1, 1863, Wood went on sick leave and did not return to action until February 15.
Following the Battle of Stones River, Bragg withdrew the Army of Tennessee to Tullahoma, Tennessee, thirty-six miles to the south. Rosecrans established winter quarters at Murfreesboro, where his army remained relatively inactive for the next five and one-half months.
On January 9, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 9, dividing the Army of the Cumberland into three army corps. When Wood returned to active duty in February, officials placed him in command of the 1st Division of Major General Thomas Leonidas Crittenden’s 21st Corps.
While Rosecrans rested and prepared his army for the summer campaign, he resisted pressure from his superiors to press Bragg. Finally, under threat of being relieved of his command, Rosecrans moved into action on June 23, 1863. During the brilliantly conceived and executed Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans cleverly outmaneuvered Bragg, forcing the Confederate army to retreat to the relative safety afforded by the mountainous terrain and Tennessee River at Chattanooga. Rosecrans followed, and by mid-August, the Army of the Cumberland was on the outskirts of Chattanooga. By September 1, 1863, the bulk of the Army of the Cumberland was across the Tennessee River. Realizing that his army was once again in peril, Bragg abandoned Chattanooga on September 9, marching his army into northern Georgia. On the same day, Wood’s division became the first federal troops to occupy Chattanooga.
Battle of Chickamauga
Rosecrans had achieved his goal of capturing Chattanooga, but rather than regrouping and securing the city as he had done at Murfreesboro, he pursued Bragg’s army into Georgia. Intent on recapturing Chattanooga, Bragg turned to fight on September 18, along Chickamauga Creek, in northern Georgia. The Battle of Chickamauga marked the low point of Wood’s military career.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., on September 20, 1863, Rosecrans ordered Wood to move his division forward from a reserve position to fill a gap near the right flank of the Union line. Later that morning, Rosecrans received erroneous information about a gap in the Union line near Major General Joseph J. Reynolds’ Division to Wood’s left. Rosecrans reacted by drafting an order at 10:45 instructing Wood to “close up on Reynolds as fast as possible, and support him.”
Rosecrans’ order created a dilemma for Wood because he knew that moving to support Reynolds would create a gap in the Union line that the Rebel forces facing him could exploit. Assuming that his superior officer had a better overall sense of the battlefield situation and reluctant to disobey a direct order, Wood complied with Rosecrans’ directions.
Rosecrans and his apologists later laid the blame for the federal loss at the Battle of Chickamauga on Wood, claiming that he should have realized the obvious flaw in the order, and disobeyed it. They claimed that executing the questionable order enabled Confederate General James Longstreet to take advantage of the gap created by Wood’s departure, causing the right flank of the Union line to collapse, sending the Army of the Cumberland scurrying back to Chattanooga.
Wood, Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis, and Major General Philip Sheridan, who were on the Union right flank, saw things differently, however. Their after-action reports contended that Longstreet’s envelopment of the Union right preceded his penetration of Wood’s original location. While many historical accounts side with Rosecrans, Washington officials did not. On October 16, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 337, relieving Rosecrans from command of the Department and Army of the Cumberland.
Honor Restored at the Battle of Missionary Ridge
General Orders, No. 337 also merged the Union forces in the West to form the Military Division of the Mississippi, Major General Ulysses S. Grant commanding. Grant came to Chattanooga and reorganized the forces there, as he planned to cut short the siege that Bragg had established. Grant united the 20th and 2Ist Corps to form the 4th Corps, commanded by Major General Gordon Granger. Wood received command of the 3rd Division of Granger’s 4th Corps. If Wood’s performance at Chickamauga sullied his reputation, the men of the 3rd Division restored it during Grant’s operations to break Bragg’s siege.
On November 25, 1863, Grant launched his breakout offensive against Bragg’s forces. Major General William T. Sherman (who still did not have his entire Army of the Tennessee on the battlefield) was to attack the Confederate right flank, while Major General Joseph Hooker’s forces were to demonstrate against the left flank. Grant ordered General George H. Thomas, who commanded the Northern troops in the center of the line, to assist Sherman.
When stiff Confederate resistance late in the afternoon slowed Sherman’s strike, Grant ordered Thomas to storm the Confederate rifle pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge. Led by Wood’s Division and Major General Philip Sheridan’s Division, Thomas’s men advanced, seized the rifle pits, and then proceeded, against their original orders, to drive the Confederates up the hill and off of Missionary Ridge.
As Grant observed the action, he reportedly asked Thomas and Granger, “Who ordered those men up the hill?” Granger purportedly replied, “When those fellows get started all hell can’t stop them.” Although Sheridan—one of Grant’s favorites—later received the bulk of the credit for the Union victory at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, historical evidence supports the conclusion that Wood’s soldiers were the first to reach the top of the promontory.
The Battle of Missionary Ridge substantially ended the Chattanooga Campaign. Afterward, Grant dispatched Wood’s Division north to help relieve Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s troops, under siege at Knoxville, Tennessee. Wood’s division remained in eastern Tennessee for a few months after Confederate General James Longstreet lifted his siege of Knoxville in December. In May 1864, Grant sent the 4th Corps south to join Major General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.
In early May 1864, Major General William T. Sherman led three armies (the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General James B. McPherson; the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield; and the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas) out of Tennessee in pursuit of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. Wood commanded the 3rd Division of the 4th Army Corps (part of the Army of the Cumberland) as Sherman inched toward Atlanta.
For the next four months Wood led his division through many engagements in Georgia including operations around Dalton (May 7‑12) the Battle of Resaca (May 13-15), the Battle of Adairsville (May 17), the Battle of New Hope Church (May 25-26), the Battle of Pickett’s Mill (May 27), the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27), the Battle of and Peachtree Creek (July 20), the Siege of Atlanta (July 22-September 2), the Battle of Jonesborough (August 31-September 1), and operations near Lovejoy’s Station (September. 2). During the last engagement, a rifle shot that passed through Wood’s left foot. As at the Battle of Stones River, Wood refused to leave the field during the engagement.
Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, 1864, and Sherman’s forces occupied the city on the next day. After being forced out of Atlanta, Hood and Confederate President Jefferson Davis hatched a plan that would have Hood’s 39,000 soldiers move north toward Chattanooga, destroying Sherman’s supply lines back to Tennessee along the way. Sherman responded by sending Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville on September 29 to organize all the Union troops in Tennessee.
Wood had a few weeks to heal during Sherman’s occupation of Atlanta. By late October, Sherman convinced Grant that his time would be better spent making Georgia howl on his “March to the Sea” than by chasing Hood around the South. Consequently, Sherman turned the pursuit of Hood over to General Thomas and approximately 60,000 soldiers, 30,000 of whom were in the Nashville area with Thomas. The other 30,000 men, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, were ordered to move north and join Thomas.
Before Schofield began his pursuit of Hood, officials added the 4th Army Corps to his Army of the Ohio. Still hobbled by his wound at Lovejoy’s Station, Wood commanded the 3rd Division of the 4th Corps from his horse with his foot bound in a buffalo hide because he could not wear a boot.
By this time, Hood had grand dreams of defeating Thomas and Schofield before they could unite their forces, invading Kentucky, and possibly threatening Ohio. Hood’s scheme disintegrated when Schofield slipped his army past the Army of Tennessee at Spring Hill, Tennessee during the night of November 29, 1864. On the following day, determined to crush Schofield’s force before it could be united with Thomas at Nashville, Hood ordered an all-out assault against Schofield outside of Franklin, Tennessee.
Temporary Corps Commander
During the Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864) Confederates shot corps commander David S. Stanley through the neck, and Wood assumed command of the 4th Corps. As corps commander, Wood contributed to the Union victory at the Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864), and he pursued Hood’s army as it retreated to Mississippi.
On Christmas Day 1864, General Thomas recommended Wood’s promotion to major general. One month later, President Lincoln nominated Wood for promotion. On February 14, the Senate confirmed Lincoln’s nomination, and on February 22, the President appointed Wood to the rank of major general of volunteers. Soon thereafter, on March 13, 1865, Wood received brevet promotions to the rank of brigadier general in the regular army “for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Battle of Chickamauga,” and to major general in the regular army for “Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Nashville.” On May 26, 1865, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 97, announcing Wood’s appointment to the rank of major general in the volunteer army.
Service in the West
When General Stanley returned from his convalescence on January 31, 1865, Wood resumed command of his division with the 4th Corps. As the war wound down, the army stationed the 4th Corps in East Tennessee to prevent Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was under assault by the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, Virginia, from escaping to the west. In June 1865, officials sent Wood and his division to New Orleans, Louisiana en route to Texas, where they spent the rest of the year.
During Reconstruction, Wood held several administrative posts in the South. From September 9 to November 3, 1865, he served as military commander of the Central District of Arkansas. At General Thomas’s request, the army appointed Wood to command the Department of Mississippi (later renamed the District of Mississippi) on November 14, 1865. Wood mustered out of volunteer service on September 1, 1866, but remained in the regular army and continued his assignment as district commander until January 17, 1867.
Following a leave of absence from June 17 to November 30, 1867, Wood rejoined his pre-war unit, the 2nd Cavalry, at Fort McPherson, Nebraska. Less than two months after assuming command of the regiment, on December 19, Wood realized that the lingering effects of his Civil War injuries were not conducive to life on the frontier. Wood surrendered his command on January 28, 1868, and on June 8, he received a disability retirement from the army at the rank of brevet major general.
Unlike many of his fellow Civil War generals, Wood did not pursue a civilian career after his retirement from the military. He returned to his wife’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio, where he remained active with the Grand Army of the Republic. He also launched a writing campaign, defending his actions at Chickamauga and lobbying heightened acknowledgment of the success of his division at Missionary Ridge.
In 1895, President Grover Cleveland appointed Wood to the board of visitors at the United States Military Academy. When the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898, Wood volunteered his services, though the War Department turned him down because he was long beyond the army’s upper age limit.
Thomas Wood died in Dayton on February 25, 1906. (Major General John Schofield, Wood’s former commander of the Army of the Ohio, died just two weeks later). The last surviving member of the West Point class of 1845, Wood was buried on the grounds overlooking the Academy, at West Point Cemetery.