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WAMC News

Gravesite Rededication Ceremony To Be Held In Troy For Civil War General

General George Thomas gravesite at the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY
Oakwood Cemetery
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General George Thomas gravesite at the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY

A rededication ceremony is scheduled to recognize a Civil War general buried in the Capital Region. General George Thomas was born in Virginia, but fought for the Union Army. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy – the home of his wife – as his family disowned him for his stance during the war. The estimated $50,000 effort to repair elements of his gravesite has taken about 10 years and hundreds of hours of work.

WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Tom Maggs, the president of the cemetery’s board and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans. He recalled how Thomas and his family were forced to flee Southern Virginia during Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion.

The General George Thomas monument before restoration
Credit Oakwood Cemetery
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The General George Thomas monument before restoration

Maggs: He was 15 years old. And his mother said, ‘Hey, this is a very serious situation, they're on their way here. We got to get in this wagon and get out of get out of here.’ And they rode quite a ways and then decided that it wasn't even safe in that wagon. And they literally crawled into the swamps in that area to get to a safe place. Okay, so that was his introduction. He grew up in a slaveholding community and a slave owning family. So move the calendar ahead a few years, and he ends up at West Point, and has a very good career there and is involved in a number of hostilities at that time with Mexico and several other places, and the war breaks out in 1861. Now, as a Southerner from Virginia, as many of his colleagues did they went with the South. He did not, he chose to stay with the Union. His family literally disowned him. He was vilified, and just horrible treatment by his family to the point of when he died in 1870, they would have nothing to do with him. So he married a woman from Troy. He’s buried in Troy. During the Civil War, he was a brilliant strategist. And he was way ahead of his time. And I think this is what I find, that comes to where we are in today's world. He took Black troops and engaged them and integrated them into white units, and put these people out to go foraging and see what what's going on up ahead. But he didn't use them as fodder. He cared about them dearly. And he was loved by his men during the war. He won the one of the first major battles in the western campaign in Tennessee. James Garfield, who was also in the war, who later became president referred to him as a ‘rock.’ And he became known as the rock of Chickamauga, which was an area in Tennessee. After the war, there was the first national cemetery was created around the Nashville area, and he was in charge of that. When he was asked, ‘how do we bury these troops? Do we bury them by state?’ He said, ‘absolutely not. I am not a favor of this nonsense thing called states’ rights.’ Again, if you look at that, the comparisons to today where we are. This man was way ahead of his times. When he died in 1870, General Grant bled a procession of 10,000 all this cabinet and so on, came to Troy for his internment. He was just a person that through the years who has been greatly admired and in some ways, maybe forgotten in some areas, but his wife erected a magnificent monument to him with these beautiful, wrought iron fences and planted trees and so on. And over the years, that area became a well the safest way to say it, the trees did a job on the monuments and on the fence and it was really almost an impossible situation to try to restore this back to where it was. And that's where, you know, I don't know if that brings you up to where we are today and what we're hoping to celebrate.

The General George Thomas monument before restoration
Credit Oakwood Cemetery
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The General George Thomas monument before restoration

Levulis: Yeah, absolutely. I want to learn about what the Sons of Union Veterans did to repair the grave site and the marker there. So in that vein, what does the resting place look like now for General George Thomas?

Maggs: Well, I happen to be the president of Oakwood Cemetery. And this had been an area that had greatly troubled me and we did so much to try to improve the cemetery. We were in some pretty financial difficulty when I took over as president, I don't 10 or 12 years ago. Subsequently, we've worked very hard and things have really turned around. We have just about restored and repaired just about every monument in that cemetery. A lot of it, 90% of it done by volunteer labor. Back in 2012, the commander of the [Sons] of Union Veterans of civil war, Commander David Dziewulski came and met with myself and our Bernie Vogel, who is our gem who keeps this wonderful operation going. And proposed to us to take on the restoration of this Kellogg family lot where General Thomas’ monument is located. The Colonel George Willard Camp 154 took this on. And I mean, we were thrilled to participate. I mean we wanted to see this happen. And to make a long story very short, their inspiration to this encouraged us to reach out and work out together. The actual monument to General Thomas was cleaned and restored. We were able to contact Albany Steel who actually fabricated this magnificent fence, which had been there since 1870. And never did we ever think that this could be done. I mean, they did an amazing job at that. And then they were these flames that had been broken. They have reproduced out in Montana, a foundation came forward and help with this. But the Camp drove this effort working in collaboration with Oakwood and the Board of Trustees there and the friends of Oakwood ended at the site is absolutely magnificent.

The General George Thomas monument before restoration
Credit Oakwood Cemetery
/
The General George Thomas monument before restoration

The rededication ceremony is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Oakwood Cemetery. It will include Civil War-era musical performances, reenactments and a musket salute.

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