Biography: Major General Thomas Green, CSA (1814-1864)

Major General Thomas Green, CSA (1814-1864)

Major General Thomas Green, CSA (1814-1864)

Born in southwestern Virginia, Tom Green moved at a young age with his family to middle Tennessee. Like many Southerners of his generation, Green traveled to Texas to participate in its revolution against Mexico in 1835-1836. He participated as a private of artillery in the decisive battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836. Green relocated permanently to Texas in 1837, settling in LaGrange. He briefly entered elected politics in 1839, but soon showed a greater talent and inclination for his appointments as engrossing clerk for the Texas House of Representatives and secretary of the Senate. His longest held position was that of clerk of the Texas Supreme Court, a position he assumed in 1841. By all accounts, the well-read and intellectual Green was extremely popular in all these positions.

In the frequent recesses during court and legislative sessions, Green participated in many of the campaigns of the Republic of Texas. As a volunteer ranger, he rode on two successful expeditions against the Penateka Comanches. As a volunteer officer in the army of the republic, he raised mounted companies and served as a staff officer in campaigns against Mexican incursions. During the Mexican-American War, Green served as a company commander in Colonel John Coffee Hays’s 1st Texas Mounted Rifles, where he served with distinction in the Monterrey campaign.

When that regiment disbanded in October 1846, Green returned to Texas and domestic pursuits. He married Mary Chalmers, the oldest daughter of a prominent Austin editor, in January 1847. Within months of the wedding, both of her parents died, prompting the couple to adopt her six siblings and raise them as well as six children of their own. Green, now responsible for a sizable family, put his energy into his twenty-year career as clerk of the Supreme Court, where he became a protege of Justice John Hemphill, an outspoken advocate of states’ rights.

When secession occurred in 1861, Green sprang to the call. He received appointment as a general in charge of a militia district, but left that post to assume command of the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers in late summer 1861. Green’s first campaign was with Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley in New Mexico. Green earned the victory at the battle of Val Verde on 21 February 1861, but showed mediocre leadership during the rest of the campaign, and rumors began circulating that he was a boon companion of the notoriously drunk General Sibley. At the battle of Peralta on 15 April, Federal troops surprised Green’s command in the midst of a fandango at a captured estate, shaking the Texans badly. By the time the 5th Texas returned to Texas at the end of the disastrous campaign, Green’s reputation had clearly suffered.

Passed over for promotion, and eager to salvage his good name, Green fought the rest of the war with a vengeance. At the battle of Galveston on 1 January 1863, he made sure that his command, now designated the 5th Texas Cavalry, played a prominent role, and he received many of the laurels for the stunning victory. After reinforcing General Richard Taylor’s army in Southwestern Louisiana in March 1863, Green earned a reputation as a tenacious fighter. In the Bayou Teche campaign in April, Green’s rear-guard tactics led Taylor to recommend him for promotion, which the Confederate Congress confirmed.

Placed at the head of the disgraced Sibley’s old brigade, Green led the 4th, 5th and 7th Texas cavalries in a number of ferocious battles in the summer of 1863. Most of the time, Green was the de facto commander of a small cavalry division that included the brigade of his brother-in-law Colonel James P. Major. On 23 June, as Taylor attempted to relieve pressure on the besieged garrison of Port Hudson across the Mississippi, Green proved instrumental in the capture of Federal general Nathaniel P. Banks’s depot at Brashear City, Louisiana. The Texan led a poorly coordinated assault on Fort Butler at Donaldsonville on 28 June, resulting in heavy casualties among his command. Afterward, Confederates bypassed the fort, and field artillery and sharpshooters harassed shipping on the Mississippi, temporarily interrupting Banks’s communications with New Orleans. After the fall of Port Hudson on 8 July, U.S. troops moved to contain Taylor. Green soundly drubbed them at the battle of Cox’s Plantation on 13 July, allowing Taylor to abandon the Bayou Lafourche country in good order with his important captures intact.

Green earned two more battlefield successes in 1863 and emerged as Taylor’s most reliable – and aggressive – subordinate. On 12 September, he led his brigade, Major’s brigade, and a brigade of Texas infantry under Colonel Joseph Spaight in a well-executed ambush of a Union brigade-sized outpost at Sterling’s Plantation on Bayou Fordoche. When General Banks launched an offensive toward Alexandria that same month, Green’s troops harassed the advance. When the Federals withdrew in November, Tom Green’s Texans jumped a Union brigade at Bayou Borbeau on 2 November, leading to its destruction. After a year of active campaigning, Taylor ordered Green’s command to protect the Texas coast for the winter.

Early in 1864, Green received greater responsibilities while leading his men in the decisive campaign for Louisiana. Confederate authorities promoted Green to major general, and Taylor appointed him to lead all of the cavalry in his department. In March, General Banks launched his land and riverine Red River campaign toward Shreveport, Louisiana, prompting Taylor’s superior, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby  Smith, to summon all available troops to the state to aid it in the defense. Green, his old command, and an additional small division of Texas cavalry responded. The Confederates under Green skirmished actively with Union troops before joining Taylor’s main body of troops just south of Mansfield. On 8 April, the Confederates turned on Banks’s army and routed it. The following day, at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, Confederate assaults against the battered Federal troops achieved nothing, but did convince Banks to retreat to safer ground. Green immediately ordered a pursuit by his mounted troops.

Green led a large part of his mounted command to the banks of the Red River, hoping to capture Union transports passing back down toward Natchitoches. While Green was coordinating an attack on the Union navy at Blair’s Landing on 12 April 1864, sailors aboard the U.S.S. Osage fired a round of grapeshot at a conspicuous Confederate officer within easy range of their guns. One of the projectiles hit Green in the upper forehead, killing him instantly.

– Donald S. Frazier

[Source: Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. W.W. Norton & Co. 2002. pp. 877-878]

He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas, per FindAGrave.

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Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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