Thomas John Wood

Thomas John Wood, whose second cousin was General Ben Hardin Helm of the Confederate Army, was born on September 25, 1823, in Munfordville, Kentucky. He obtained his early education in the village schools and then went to West Point, where he was graduated in the class of 1845. During the Mexican War he won a brevet for gallantry at Buena Vista and later was stationed in Mexico City. Although originally commissioned in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, he transferred to the cavalry in 1846 and accordingly saw much service on the Indian frontier. He became captain of the 1st Cavalry in 1855 and from 1859 to 1861 was on leave of absence in Europe. At the beginning of the Civil War he was engaged in mustering Indiana troops into Federal service and on October 11, 1861, was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers. Meantime a fortuitous series of resignations in the several cavalry regiments by officers "going South" propelled Wood from captain to colonel of the 2nd Cavalry in less than eight months. He commanded a division of D. C. Buell's Army of the Ohio at Shiloh and Perryville; and at Murfreesboro in the last days of 1862 he especially distinguished himself while his three brigades of T. L. Crittenden's corps shored up the apex of a Federal line which at this point resembled an almost closed jackknife after the forcing back of Alexander McD. McCook's and G. H- Thomas' corps on the right. Wood was wounded on December 31, but refused to leave the field until the fighting for the day was over. At Chickamauga in September, 1863, the most controversial incident of his military career occurred. At the height of this furious and sanguinary battle one of W. S. Rosecrans' staff officers thought he detected a gap between the divisions of Wood and J. J. Reynolds (which belonged to different corps), although in fact John M. Brannan's division was in the interval, partially screened by woods. When the report was communicated to Rosecrans, he ordered Wood to close up on Reynolds and support him—an order which more than anything else doomed the Federal cause to disaster on that fatal day. Wood, who had been criticized earlier the same day by Rosecrans for not moving rapidly enough, failed to notify the army commander that Brannan was between him and Reynolds and, instead, pulled his division out of the line around the rear of Brannan, leaving a gap of more than a quarter mile into which the alert James Longstreet quickly hurled six Confederate divisions which all but demolished the Army of the Cumberland. Only Thomas' stout defense on Horseshoe Ridge to the north prevented an irretrievable catastrophe. Nevertheless, Rosecrans was removed and Wood was not held responsible for his alacrity to obey what must have struck him as a peculiar order. Despite all this, his subsequent contribution to the Union cause was outstanding. His men were the first over the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge in November; and during the Atlanta campaign, at Lovejoy's Station on September 2, 1864, he went about the battlefield with a shattered leg, encouraging his men. In the later stages of John B. Hood's Tennessee campaign, Wood was temporarily in command of the IV Corps and after the battle of Nashville pressed Hood's fleeing remnants. On February 22, 1865, Wood was made major general to rank from January 27. After the war he was on duty in Mississippi for a time, winning the approbation of its citizens for his humane administration. On June 9, 1868, he was retired from active service, for disability from wounds received in battle, as a major general He then took up a residence in Dayton, Ohio, his wife's home, and became a member of the Military Academy's Board of Visitors. The last survivor of the Academy's class of 1845, he died on February 25, 1906, in Dayton. General Wood was buried at West Point.

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