Theophilus H. Holmes

Theophilus Hunter Holmes
Born (1804-11-13)November 13, 1804
Sampson County, North Carolina
Died June 21, 1880(1880-06-21) (aged 75)
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Place of burial MacPherson Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Fayetteville
Allegiance United States United States of America
Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 182961 (USA)
186165 (CSA)
Rank Major (USA)
Brigadier General (NC Militia)
Lieutenant General (CSA)
Unit 7th U.S. Infantry
8th U.S. Infantry
Commands held Reserve Brigade-Army of the Potomac
District of Fredericksburg
Department of North Carolina
District of Aquia
Trans-Mississippi Department
District of Arkansas
North Carolina Reserve Forces

American Indian Wars
Mexican-American War

American Civil War

Theophilus Hunter Holmes (November 13, 1804 June 21, 1880) was a career United States Army officer and a Confederate Lieutenant General in the American Civil War. A friend and protégé of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, he was appointed commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, but failed in his key task, which was to defend the Confederacy's hold on the Mississippi.

Early life and career

Holmes was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, in 1804.[1] His father, Gabriel Holmes, was a former Governor of North Carolina and U.S. Congressman.[2][3] After a failed attempt at plantation managing, Holmes asked his father for an appointment to the United States Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1829. He was ranked 44 out of 46, in his class.[4] Holmes was apparently quite deaf, and was almost never aware of loud gunfire.[1]

United States Army

I, who knew [Holmes] from his school-boy days, who served with him in garrison and in field, and with pride watched him as he gallantly led a storming party up a rocky height at Monterey, and was intimately acquainted with his whole career during our sectional war, bear willing testimony to the purity, self-abnegation, generosity, fidelity and gallantry, which characterized him as a man and a soldier.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government[3]

After graduating, Holmes was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry. In 1838, Holmes attained the rank of Captain.[3] During his early services, Holmes served in Florida, the Indian Territory, and Texas. Holmes also served in the Second Seminole War, with distinction.[2] In 1841, he married Laura Whetmore, with whom he would have eight children.[3] During the Mexican-American War, he was brevetted to major for the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846.[2] This promotion was due to Jefferson Davis witnessing his courageous actions there.[3] He received a full promotion to major of the 8th U.S. Infantry in 1855.[4]

Confederate Army

Early service

Almost immediately after the firing on Fort Sumter, Holmes resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and his command of Fort Columbus, Governors Island in New York City on (April 22, 1861), having accepted a commission as a Colonel in the Confederate States Army in March.[2] He commanded the coastal defenses of the Department of North Carolina and then served as a brigadier general in the North Carolina Militia.[5] He was appointed Brigadier General on June 5, 1861, commanding the Department of Fredericksburg.[3] Holmes was assigned to P.G.T. Beauregard, for the First Battle of Manassas.[4] Beauregard sent Holmes orders to attack the Union left, but by the time the orders reached him the Confederacy was already victorious.[4] He was promoted to Major General on October 7, 1861 and assigned to the Department of North Carolina.[3]

Peninsula Campaign

During the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, Holmes was moved to the Richmond area to defend it from the Union assault on the Confederate capital, thus he became temporarily attached to the Army of Northern Virginia.[5] His division consisted of the brigades of Brigadier Generals Junius Daniel, John G. Walker, Henry A. Wise, and the cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. On June 30, 1862, while the battle of Glendale was fought to the north, Holmes was ordered to cannonade retreating Federals near Malvern Hill. His force was repulsed at Turkey Bridge by artillery fire from Malvern Hill and by the Federal gunboats Galena and Aroostook on the James. During the battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, his force was in reserve.

Trans-Mississippi Department

After the Seven Days Battles, Robert E. Lee expressed displeasure at Holmes's mediocre performance. The two also had fundamental disagreements on strategy and Lee appears to have not been alone in his belief that the nearly 60-year-old Holmes was too old, sluggish, and passive (better as an administrator than a field commander) to wage the aggressive war of movement that Lee planned. In truth, the entire Confederate counterattack in the Seven Days Battles had been handled defectively and many generals were to blame, including Lee himself. Jefferson Davis in particular did not think Holmes was any more at fault than the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia's command structure. Nonetheless, his age and unremarkable record in the war up to this point were factors against him and Lee quickly made it clear that Holmes would not make the cut during the post-Seven Days restructuring of the army. General D.H. Hill, who was known for his sarcastic temperament, also widely spread the story of Holmes saying "I thought I heard firing." at Malvern Hill. Holmes became the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was promoted to Lieutenant General, on October 10, 1862, by Jefferson Davis.[4][4] During his time as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, Holmes failed to perform his most important duty: defend the Confederacy's hold on the Mississippi River. He refused to send troops to relieve Vicksburg, during the Vicksburg Campaign, leading to the Union's victory. Holmes, operating from Arkansas, protested that the troops in that state were nearly useless and there was no realistic possibility of using them to relieve Vicksburg. For the most part, the Confederate forces in this remote area were little more than a disorganized mob of militia scattered across all corners of the state. There were few weapons available and even fewer modern ones. The soldiers for the most part had no shoes, no uniforms, no munitions, no training, organization, or discipline, a situation worsened by the fact that many communities in Arkansas had no government above the village level. People did not pay taxes or have any written laws and strongly resisted any attempt to impose an outside government or military discipline on them. Soldiers in the Arkansas militia did not understand the organization of a proper army or obeying orders from above. Even worse, many of them were in poor physical condition and unable to handle the rigors of a lengthy military campaign. Holmes for his part believed that he could muster an army of about 15,000 men in Arkansas, but there would be almost no competent officers to lead it anyway. Further compounding his difficulties were multiple Union armies converging on the state from all sides. In this situation, Holmes wrote to Richmond that even if, by some miracle, he could organize the Arkansas militia into an army and get them across the Mississippi River, they would simply desert as soon as they got to the east bank.[6]

After numerous complaints were sent to Davis, who had little understanding of events in a region almost 900 miles from Richmond, Holmes was relieved as head of the Trans-Mississippi Department, in March 1863.[4]

District of Arkansas

After Holmes was relieved as head of the Trans-Mississippi Department, General Kirby Smith made him head of the District of Arkansas.[4] Holmes decided to attack the Union-held city of Helena, Arkansas. He planned a coordinated attack in conjunction with Sterling Price, John S. Marmaduke, James Fleming Fagan, and, Governor of Arkansas, Harris Flanagin. Despite miscommunication, the Confederates had some success. After hours of fighting, a general retreat was called, and the Confederates pulled back to Little Rock, Arkansas.[4] After returning from his failed expedition, Holmes was confined to a sick bed.[1] After months of sickness, he returned to his command, in November 1863. In a letter sent to Jefferson Davis on January 20, 1864, Kirby Smith reported that Holmes's age was catching up to him and that he was deficient in energy and apparently also suffering memory problems, thus he needed to be replaced by a younger man. The soldiers he commanded in Arkansas had already taken to sarcastically calling him "Granny". In March 1864, Holmes was relieved as head of the District of Arkansas. His age and physical ailments did not apparently dampen his libido, as during this time he fell in love with a 16-year-old Arkansas girl. The two became engaged, but Holmes's recall back east of the Mississippi cut the romance short and the two never saw each other again.[1][7]

Later service and later life

In April 1864, Holmes commanded the Reserve Forces of North Carolina. Holmes saw little action after being appointed to this new position. He held this position until the end of the Civil War. He, along with General Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered to William Tecumseh Sherman on April 26, 1865.[8]

He returned to North Carolina, where he spent the rest of his life as a farmer. Holmes died in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and is buried there in McPherson Presbyterian Church Cemetery.[3]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Welsh, p. 104.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Hoig, p. 306.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 McCrady, pp. 608-09.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Williams, pp. 989-90.
  5. 1 2 Dougherty, pp. 22-23.
  6. Hilderman
  7. Hilderman, p. 146.
  8. Eicher pg. 875


Further reading

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