|Delaware Military History
Lorenzo Thomas (October 26, 1804 – March 2, 1875) was a career United States Army officer who
was Adjutant General of the Army at the beginning of the American Civil War. After the war, he
was appointed temporary Secretary of War by President Andrew Johnson, precipitating Johnson's
Thomas was born in New Castle, Delaware. He graduated from the United States Military
Academy in 1823, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry. He fought
in the Seminole War in Florida and, during the Mexican-American War, he was the chief of staff to
General William O. Butler. He received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel for Monterrey.
From 1853 to 1861, he served as chief of staff to the commanding general of the U.S. Army,
Just before the start of the Civil War, Thomas was promoted to colonel and adjutant general of the
U.S. Army on March 7, 1861. He was promoted to brigadier general on May 7. Camp Thomas, a
Regular Army training base in Columbus, Ohio, was named in his honor in July 1861. He held
the position of adjutant general until he retired in 1869, except for a special assignment to recruit
African-American troops in the Military Division of the Mississippi from 1863 to 1865.
Thomas did not get along well with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and this assignment
outside of Washington, D.C., was considered a form of banishment. Many historians have claimed
Thomas was banished in disgrace after conspiring to defame Union General William T. Sherman
as insane. Thomas was replaced by Maj. Gen. Edward D. Townsend as Adjutant General, who
would serve until 1880.
From March 17 to July 23, 1862, he served as the chairman of the War Board, the organization
that assisted President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary Stanton in the management of the War
Department and the command of the Union armies during the period in which there was no
general-in-chief. Just before the end of the war, he was given a brevet promotion to major general
in the regular army, as of March 13, 1865.
A Harper's Weekly cartoon gives a humorous breakdown of "the situation". Secretary of War Edwin Stanton
aims a cannon labeled "Congress" on the side at Thomas and President Andrew Johnson to show how he was
using congress to defeat the president and his unsuccessful replacement. He also holds a rammer marked
"Office Bill" and cannon balls on the floor are marked "Justice". Ulysses S. Grant and an unidentified man
stand to Stanton's left.
Thomas played a pivotal role in the political battle between President Johnson and the
Congressional Radicals for control of Reconstruction. When the President decided to fire Secretary
of War Stanton in February 1868, he named Thomas to replace Stanton on an ad interim basis and
restored the general’s adjutant status. Thomas was not well respected in the army, but he had a
grudge against Stanton and he supported Johnson on Reconstruction. Thomas, still stinging from
his bad treatment by Stanton, boasted of his ability and determination to oust him from office by
force, if necessary. Some historians believe that it was this attitude in his testimony at Johnson's
impeachment trial in the Senate that was partially responsible for Johnson's acquittal.
Thomas personally delivered the President’s dismissal notice to Stanton, but the Secretary refused
to accept its legitimacy or to vacate the premises. Instead, Stanton had Thomas arrested for
violating the Tenure of Office Act. When Stanton realized, however, that the arrest would allow
the courts to review the law, which was what Johnson wanted, the Secretary of War had the
charges dropped. Thomas retired from the Army on February 22, 1869, ten days before Johnson
left office. He died in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 1875 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery,
Fort Thomas, a military post established in Arizona Territory in 1876, was named for Thomas.