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child-forces that may date back centuries and find their origin in the life, and thought, and deeds of remote ancestorsforces, the germs of which, enveloped in the awful mystery of life, have been transmitted silently from generation to generation, and never perish! All cherishing nature, provident and unforgetting, gathers up all these fragments, that nothing may be lost, but that all may ultimately reappear in new combinations. Each new life is thus the “heir of all the ages,” the possessor of qualities which only the events of life can unfold. The problems to be solved in the study of human life and character are therefore these: Given the character of a man, and the conditions of life around him, what will be his career? Or, given his career and surroundings, what was his character? Or, given his character and career, of what kind were his surroundings? The relation of these three factors to each other is severely logical. From them is deduced all genuine history. Character is the chief element, for it is both a result and a cause—a result of influences and a cause of results.
Each of these elements in the career of GENERAL THOMAS throws light on the others; for throughout his life, whether we consider causes or results, there appears a harmony of proportion, both logical and beautiful, which can spring only from a genuine soul, true to itself, and, therefore, false to
From the meager materials at our command, it appears that he was of Welsh descent on his father's side; though his ancestors resided for some time in England before they crossed
Both physically and intellectually, GENERAL THOMAS bore unmistakable marks of that sturdy Cumbrian character which, for four centuries, defied the conquering arms of Rome, and which preserves to this day, in a small corner of Great Britain, a language, literature, and body of traditions all its
On his mother's side he was of French origin; she having descended from the Rochelles, a Huguenot family that fled from the oppression of Louis XIV., to find an asylum in the New World. Few elements ever mingled in our national life that added such purity and brilliancy as that which the religious wars of the sixteenth century sent to us from France; and it would be difficult to form a happier combination than the honest solidity of the Welsh, joined to the genial vivacity of the French.
Both branches of Thomas' family settled in Southeastern Virginia, in the early days of that colony, and became thoroughly imbued with the American spirit.
His own birthplace and home was in that region of Southampton county, Virginia, which forms the water-shed between the James river and the streams that flow into Albemarle Sound. Southampton, like many of the counties in that region, was named by the colonists in memory of their old English home.
GEORGE HENRY THOMAS was born on the 31st of July 1816. We know but little of his early boyhood, beyond the fact that it was passed in a happy country home, in the society of brothers and sisters, and under the direction of cultivated, parents, who ranked among the most respectable and influential of Virginia farmers. One class of influences is specially worthy of notice. There was much in the surroundings of a young Virginian at that time to make him justly proud of his own State.
The glorious part she had borne in the war of independence, and in that noble statesmanship which produced the Constitution and Government of the Republic, was not forgotten by her young men. But much more could be said of Virginia. When THOMAS was eighteen years of age, the Constitution of the United States had been in force forty-five years; and during that period Virginia had held the Presidency thirty-two years, had filled the office of Secretary of State for more than twenty years, and had given to the Nation its greatest Chief Justice for thirty-four years.
These honorable evidences of leadership gave peculiar significance and popularity to the doctrine of a great Virginia statesman, embodied in the now sadly-famous resolutions of 1798, in which Virginia put forth the theory that the National Constitution was a compact between the several States, and that each State, in its own sovereign right, was the final judge of any violation of the Constitution, and also of the measure and mode of redress. During the first quarter of this century, Virginia did not see that the inevitable logic of this theory was, first, Nullification, and finally Secession. She saw in it only a safeguard against possible aggression on the part of the National Government or her sister States. It was gratifying to the pride of her citizens, to look upon their proud State as a virgin queen, foremost in founding a great republic, and nobly supporting it by her sovereign will. We shall never do full justice to the conduct of Virginians in the late war without making full allowance for the influence of these resolutions of 1798.
When Thomas had reached the age of twenty, and had made some progress in the study of the law, his family secured him an appointment as cadet at the Military Academy at West Point. He entered in 1836; and, after a thorough and solid rather than a brilliant course, he graduated in 1840, ranking twelfth in a class of forty-two members, among whom were SHERMAN, EWELL, JORDAN, GETTY, HERBERT, KINGSBURY, VAN VLIET, and others, who afterward attained celebrity. cadet, he was distinguished for what Bacon has called “roundabout common sense” rather than for genius, and for the possession of an honest, sturdy nature that accomplished what
ever he undertook by thorough, intelligent, persistent, hard work.
Assigned to duty on the day of graduation as second lieutenant of the Third Artillery, he served in the Regular Army for twenty years, during which time he renderei honorable and faithful service in the Florida war from 1810 to 1842; in command of various forts and barracks from 1842 to 1815 ; in the military occupation of Texas in 1845-46; in the Mexican war from 1846 to 1848, participating in the battle of Buena Vista and in nearly all the operations of GENERAL Taylor's army; in the Seminole war in 1849–50; as instructor in artillery and cavalry at West Point from 1851 to 1854; on frontier duty at various posts in the interior of California and Texas, leading several expeditions against the Indians from 1855 to the autumn of 1860. During these twenty years he was repeatedly brevetted for gallant and meritorious services, and rose through all the grades to a captaincy of artillery; and in 1855 was made a major of the Second Cavalry, which regiment he commanded for three years. He was wounded in a skirmish with the Indians, at the head-waters of the Brazos river, in August, 1860; and, in the following November, went East on a leave of absence.
Here let us pause, on the threshold of the great events then impending, and inquire what manner of man THOMAS had become. He was forty-four years of age; had walked for nearly a quarter of a century, steadily and uncomplainingly, in the rugged paths of a soldier's life; had made himself complete master of all the details of his profession ; had honored every station he had occupied; was in turn honored by his Government and his comrades; and was held in peculiar honor by the people of his own State. Virginia had presented him a splendid sword, as a recognition of bis high qualities and gallant conduct in the Mexican war; and the proud
aristocracy of Southampton, to which his family belonged, esteemed him a bright ornament of their society. He had scarcely reached home, when the fearful portents of the storm began to appear. Sharing in the traditional sentiment of the army that a soldier should take no part in politics, he had never identified himself with any political party, and probably had never cast a vote. But we have no reason to doubt that he shared in the general sentiments of Virginia, and deprecated any agitation which should disturb her social institutions. During the winter of 1860–61, he watched with painful anxiety the culmination of that conflict of opinion which preceded the war; and he regarded the growing political strife as a measureless outrage, in which both contestants were wrong, but in which Northern agitators were the first aggress
The teachings of the Constitution and laws, relating to the subject matter of the contest, were sadly obscured by the legal subtleties then employed to defend, or apologize for, a dissolution of the Union. The President had declared in his annual message to Congress, December 4, 1860, that « the Constitution confers upon Congress no power to coerce into submission a State that is attempting to withdraw from the Union,”
and that “the sword was not placed in the hands of Congress to preserve the Union by force.” To the officers of the army, this official declaration of their Commander-in-Chief amounted to a decree that should their States secede, neither he nor they could do any lawful military act to prevent it. They had a right to regard this decree, while it remained unrevoked, as an order for the regulation of their conduct.
Before the middle of February, 1861, seven States had passed ordinances of secession ; the Confederate Government was actually set up at Montgomery ; Southern leaders declared the Union lawfully and permanently dissolved, and