The Funeral of Gen. Thomas
The Funeral of Gen. Thomas
from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1870
On the 8th inst, the remains of Major-General George H. Thomas, the hero of Mill Springs and Nashville, were buried with appropriate civil and military honors in Oakwood Cemetery, at Troy. The occasion drew together a vast concourse of people desirous of paying the last tribute of respect to one whose services to the Union will ever cause his memory to be held in the highest veneration by his countrymen. The funeral services were held in Saint Paul’s church, which was appropriately draped for the occasion. The remains of the lamented soldier, in a metallic burial casket, were deposited on a dais in front of the chancel. A ribbon of immortelles and wreaths of ivy were twined around the edge of the casket in California, and were deposited with it in the grave. As it lay in the chancel an elegant crown of evergreens and roses, surmounted by a cross of immortelles, was placed at the head, and a wreath of japonicas and lilies at the foot of the casket. A plain silver plate bore the simple inscription, “Gen. George Henry Thomas, U.S. Army. Born July 31, 1816. Died March 28, 1870.” President Grant, General Sherman, General Hooker, and many other distinguished men were present to do honor to his memory.
The sketch underneath represents the scene in the cemetery at the moment of depositing the remains in the vault belonging to the family of the deceased soldier’s wife. The burial service was read by Bishop Doane, after which the customary burial salute was fired by the United States Infantry, and the procession left the cemetery, each portion of it wheeling out of line on the return, as it reached its appropriate place. In the evening a funeral oration was delivered, in Dr. Baldwin’s church, by General Stuart L. Woodford, on the life, character, and services of the late General, there having been, at the special request of Mrs. Thomas, no panegyric or eulogy pronounced over the remains.
After a rapid sketch of his military career the orator gave some interesting personal reminiscences of the General, which served to illustrate his character and show the estimate in which he was held by his soldiers. Silent, sedate, never familiar, though always kind, he had none of the petty arts and practiced none of the stage devices that sometimes attract a short-lived popularity. His men had always known him to be thoughtful of their wants and considerate of their comforts. He had never exacted from them useless work. He had never tolerated the slightest evasion of duty, from his brigadiers down to his orderlies. Always, when possible opportunity was afforded, he had visited the regimental hospitals and looked himself after the condition of the sick. Many a hospital steward and company cook in the old Cumberland Army remember the unexpected and personal inspection which the sick-quarters and the company kitchen received from the Major-General himself. And not soon will they forget how once his face hardened into a white heat of passion when he found that a drunken commissary had neglected to provide sufficient food, and how, taking out his penknife he ripped off the fellow’s shoulder straps, and simply said, “Go home, Sir, by the next train. You may do to feed cattle; you shall not feed my soldiers”. His soldiers called him “Old Pap Thomas”. The name was not over-respectful, perhaps; but it fitly expressed the love and fealty of the brave men who followed him from victory to victory. Our hearty volunteers, while as obedient to discipline as they were steady in fight, when off duty and around the camp-fires, retained their democratic habits and their sturdy personal independence of thought and language. They picked off the shoulder-straps and dissected the uniforms, and looked down below the commission and into the man, and measured his real worth and work with unerring instinct. The judgments they formed of their leaders, expressed in quaint and familiar epithets, have undoubtedly anticipated the graver verdict of the historian.