The Final Farewell
Union Headquarters, Chattanooga, TN, October, 1863
Major General George H. Thomas enters the Union Headquarters at Chattanoga. Thomas, known as "The Rock of Chickamauga" for his tenacious stand against Rebel forces there, didn't feel so gallant today. This would be a bitter-sweet meeting. His stomach in knots, palms sweaty, he walks past the front desk to the office of Major General William S. Rosecrans. As he enters, he snaps to attention and salutes his senior officer. Although, Thomas has had his differences with Rosecrans in the past, this would mark a turning point for both men. Today, Gen. Rosecrans would recieve all the honor and respect due him. Thomas' disciplined nature would assure that he conducted himself properly, but there was no way he could have prepared himself for such a time as this.
Rosecrans looks up as Thomas enters and stands to return the salute. His outstretched hand assures Thomas that some things are understood without words. The silent respect between these two great men permeates the room.
"Sir," Thomas starts. "I have come as you requested."
"Please George, have a sit." The familiarity in Rosey's voice somewhat calms the tension in Thomas' gut. Rosecrans looks weary. Thomas knows his turmoil. The task before them is intense.
Rosecrans begins solemly, "We both know why I have called you here today."
Thomas lowers his eyes in humble affirmation.
"I have been relieved of my duties by General Grant. You are to assume full command immediatley." Rosecrans' eyes meet Thomas'. His face does not hide his anquish.
Beads of sweat appear on Thomas' brow. Rosecrans had routed the Rebels in Tennessee and successfully cut the Confederacy in half. But, then there was Chickamauga. Slightly outnumbered, the Federals had made a hearty stand just a short time before. But, for whatever reason the battle had been lost and the Army of the Cumberland had retreated to Chattanooga. Thomas was not one to second guess his superiors. If he has been in command, would it have been different? Who knows! But, that wasn't the issue and now the command was being surrendered to him by a man he esteemed highly.
"It is with a heavy heart that I do this Sir." Thomas chokes out the words.
Rosecrans lifts his hand for Thomas to stop. "Greater honor goes to the one who carries out his orders without question."
Thomas regains his composer. "Yes, Sir."
And with that, both men stand to their feet, come to attention, and salute simultaneously. Moving from behind the desk, with his hat in his hand, Gen. Rosecrans faces Gen. Thomas. Eye to eye the two generals exchange a last mementous handshake. No words are necessary. Pride and respect swells within them both.
"Give em hell, General!" and with that Rosecrans is gone.
The room becomes deathly quite. Thomas slowly walks to the window. He watches Rosecrans mount his horse and ride away without looking back. Ringing in his ears are Rosey's words. "Greater honor goes to the one who carries out his orders without question."
"Farewell, my friend." Thomas whispers. "The greater honor goes to you."
© Coleen Mohr 2001