Theophilus H. Holmes
Theophilus H. Holmes
Holmes in uniform, ca. 1862
|Birth name||Theophilus Hunter Holmes|
|Born||November 13, 1804|
Sampson County, North Carolina, U.S.
|Died||June 21, 1880 (aged 75)|
Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S.
MacPherson Presbyterian Church,( )
Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S.
|Years of service|
|Rank|| Major (USA)|
Brigadier-General (NC Militia)
|Commands held||Reserve Brigade, Army of the Potomac|
District of Fredericksburg
Department of North Carolina
District of Aquia
District of Arkansas
North Carolina Reserve Forces
|Battles/wars||American Indian Wars|
|Relations||Gabriel Holmes (father)|
Theophilus H. Holmes (November 13, 1804 – June 21, 1880) was a senior officer of the Confederate States Army who commanded infantry in the Eastern and Trans-Mississippi theaters of the American Civil War. He had previously served with distinction as an officer of the United States Army in the Seminole and Mexican–American wars. A friend and protégé of Confederate States 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 education
Theophilus Hunter Holmes was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, in 1804. His father, Gabriel Holmes, was a former Governor of North Carolina and U.S. Congressman. 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. Holmes was apparently quite deaf, and was almost never aware of loud gunfire.
United States Army
After graduating, Holmes was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry. In 1838, Holmes attained the rank of captain. During his early services, Holmes served in Florida, the Indian Territory, and Texas. Holmes also served in the Second Seminole War, with distinction. In 1841, he married Laura Whetmore, with whom he would have eight children. During the Mexican–American War, he was brevetted to major for the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. This promotion was due to Jefferson Davis witnessing his courageous actions there. He received a full promotion to major of the 8th U.S. Infantry in 1855.
Confederate States Army
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. He commanded the coastal defenses of the Department of North Carolina and then served as a brigadier-general in the North Carolina Militia. He was appointed brigadier-general on June 5, 1861, commanding the Department of Fredericksburg. Holmes was assigned to P.G.T. Beauregard, for the First Battle of Manassas. Beauregard sent Holmes orders to attack the Union left, but by the time the orders reached him the Confederacy was already victorious. He was promoted to major general on October 7, 1861. He subsequently commanded the Aquia District  before being assigned to the Department of North Carolina.
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. His division consisted of the brigades of Brigadier-Benerals 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. 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 was then reassigned to commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was promoted to lieutenant-general, on October 10, 1862, by Jefferson Davis, but declined on the grounds that he had not done anything to deserve this promotion. However, Davis urged him and eventually he accepted. 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 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. As one other serious difficulty, the remote Trans-Mississippi region had considerably lower levels of support for the Confederate cause than the states of the east. The decision to secede from the Union in 1861 had largely that of the state legislature of Arkansas, and was not well received among much of the population. Attempts to enforce conscription into the Confederate army met with resistance and many locals dodged the draft, became guerrillas, or even joined the Union army, resulting in harsh penalties being imposed by state governments against draft dodgers.[page needed]
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.
District of Arkansas
After Holmes was relieved as head of the Trans-Mississippi Department, General Kirby Smith appointed him head of the District of Arkansas and in June, ordered Holmes to make a desperation attack to take some pressure off the beleaguered Vicksburg garrison. On July 4, the day Vicksburg fell to Ulysses Grant's army, Holmes attacked the Union garrison at Helena, Arkansas with 8,000 men. 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. On July 23, Holmes became ill and temporarily relinquished command in Arkansas to Sterling Price. Price evacuated Little Rock on September 10, and two weeks later Holmes resumed command. In a letter sent to Jefferson Davis on January 29, 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". Upon learning of this, an insulted Holmes resigned his post on February 28. 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.
Later service and 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. Holmes, along with General Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered to William Tecumseh Sherman on April 26, 1865. 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 MacPherson Presbyterian Church Cemetery.
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