John Milton Thayer

John Milton Thayer, whose Massachusetts forebears date back to 1647, was born on January 24, 1820, in Bellingham. He secured his early education in the district school while working on his father's farm, taught school himself, and in 1841 was graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He then studied law and began practice in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he remained until 1854, meanwhile serving as a lieutenant of the "Worcester Light Infantry," the local militia company. Thayer then moved with his family to Nebraska Territory and acquired farm land near Omaha. When the Pawnees became troublesome, he was commissioned the first brigadier general of the territorial militia and soon demonstrated adeptness as an Indian fighter. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was made colonel of the 1st Nebraska, a regiment recruited as infantry but designated cavalry in 1863. He took a creditable part in the capture of Fort Donelson and the battle of Shiloh, commanding a brigade of Lew Wallace's division on both occasions, and on October 4, 1862, was advanced to brigadier general of volunteers. However, the Senate failed to act on his nomination and it expired by law on March 4, 1863, whereupon he was reappointed to rank from March 13 and was duly confirmed. In the Vicksburg campaign he commanded the 1st Division of the XV Corps and then accompanied General Frederick Steele west of the Mississippi, assuming command of the District of the Frontier with headquarters at Fort Smith, Arkansas, on February 22, 1864. He took part in Steele's Camden campaign, which was designed to support N. P. Banks's advance up Red River, and remained in Arkansas during the balance of the war. On February 27, 1865, Thayer was relieved at Fort Smith and assigned to command of the post at Saint Charles, Arkansas, his troops consisting of a single regiment of Kansas cavalry and a battery. In the omnibus promotions at the end of hostilities, Thayer was made a brevet major general and on July 19, 1865, his resignation was accepted by the War Department. When Nebraska became a state in 1867, he became one of its first two Senators, serving as an ardent Radical Republican and supporter of U. S. Grant. Failing of reelection in 1871, he was appointed governor of Wyoming Territory by Grant. In 1886 Thayer was elected governor of Nebraska and was reelected in 1888. In 1890, although not a candidate for reelection, he filed a suit against his successor, claiming the latter was not a United States citizen; this enabled him to occupy the governor's chair until 1892, when he was dispossessed by the Supreme Court. Thereafter he retired to private life in Lincoln, where he died at the age of eighty-six on March 19, 1906. He was buried in Wyuka Cemetery.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.