Theophilus H. Holmes
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.
Place of birth Sampson County, North Carolina
Place of death Fayetteville, North Carolina
Allegiance United States of America,
Confederate States of America
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Years of service 1829–61 (USA), 1861–65 (CSA)
Rank Major (USA)
Lieutenant General (CSA)
Commands held Trans-Mississippi Department, District of Arkansas
Battles/wars Second Seminole War
Battle of Monterrey
American Civil War
Seven Days Battles
Battle of Helena
Early life and career
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. He graduated from the United States Military Academy
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 came after Jefferson Davis witnessed Holmes's
courageous actions there. and received a full promotion to Major of the 8th U.S. Infantry in 1855.
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
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 Bull
Run. Beauregard sent Holmes orders to attack the Union left, but the orders did not reach him in time.
When the orders did arrive, he sent his troops to attack. When they arrived, the Confederacy had
already claimed victory. He was promoted to Major General on October 7, 1861.
During the Seven Days Battles of the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Holmes fought under Robert
E. Lee. Holmes was put in charge of the Department of North Carolina, rather than serving un Lee
in the Army of Northern Virginia. Holmes's 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.
Holmes's troops fought extensively, during the Battle of Malvern Hill. During the early parts of the
afternoon, on July 1, one of the greatest artillery barrages of the war took place. In the middle of the
barrages, Holmes came out of his hut, cupping his ear, and said unsurely, "I thought I heard firing".
Because of his bad hearing, Holmes was caught completely by surprise. During the Battle of Malvern
Hill, Holmes's troops provided no help for the Confederate Army that was attacking the hill.
After the Peninsula Campaign, Holmes became the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department.
He was promoted to Lieutenant General, on October 10, 1862, by Jefferson Davis. Holmes tried to
change Davis's mind, but Davis did not change his mind. During his time as commander of the
Trans-Mississippi Department, Holmes failed to perform his most important duty. That duty was to
defend the Confederacy's hold on the Mississippi River. He refused to send troops to relieve Vicksburg,
during the Vicksburg Campaign. After numerous complaints were sent to Davis, 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 made him
head of the District of Arkansas. Holmes decided to attack the Union-held city of Helena, Arkansas.
A coordinated attack was planned by Generals Theophilus H. Holmes, 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. After returning from his failed
expedition, Holmes was confined to a sick bed. After months of sickness, he returned to his command,
in November 1863. Kirby Smith reported that Holmes was losing his memory, and that he needed to
be replaced. In March 1864, Holmes was relieved as head of the District of Arkansas.
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 would hold 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. They were the last of the Confederate Army in the East to surrender, during the war.
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.
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