Changing sides: John Thomas chooses the North

by Philip Shackelford

For some Civil War soldiers, the idea of pledging allegiance to the other side was much more attractive than wasting away in a prisoner of war camp.

Confederate soldier John H. Thomas was one such person.

Born in Virginia’s famous Shenandoah Valley, Thomas was brought up in the same Southern political atmosphere as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. When war broke out in South Carolina, Thomas was loyal to the cause and enlisted in a Virginia regiment in 1862.

Approximately one year later he was captured by Union forces in Richmond, the capital of his own state.

More about Portage County and the Civil War

    *Medicine in the Civil War: Primitive and Painful

    *Four Portage County African-Americans honored with monuments, markers

    *County residents among the witnesses to Lincoln’s assassination

    *Three Portage County soldiers received a Medal of Honor

    *Persistent Patriot: Samuel H. Cole of Franklin Mills enlisted in the Union military four times

    *Three Portage County brothers fight for the Union but only one survives

    *Changing sides: John Thomas chooses the North

    *Portage County residents were not in total agreement over the draft system

    *Coverage differed among Portage County’s newspapers during the Civil War

    *Two poets interpret the Civil War and its impact on their Portage County neighbors

    *Portage County soldiers detested anti-war factions

    *Portage County’s Buel Whitney provides spiritual counsel to those on the battlefield

John Thomas grave markerJohn Thomas’ gravestone, with CSA marker, in Kent’s Standing Rock Cemetery. Photo by Fred Endres

As a young man of twenty-nine, Thomas was still hopeful to have a full life ahead of him. Between poor living conditions, rampant disease and a variety of other decrepit conditions of prison camps, Thomas changed sides. He had only been imprisoned four days before he pledged allegiance to the United States. Soon after, he was a free man.

It didn’t take long for this Virginia native to feel quite comfortable in his adopted hometown. Following a journey through Washington D.C. and New York City, Thomas landed in Franklin Mills, Ohio, where he began working for the local railroad company. His first jobs were digging ditches, moving loads of stone and, eventually, running the stables.

After a brief stint in the livery business, Thomas returned to the railroad company to work in the lumberyard. From then on, Thomas remained employed at the railroad, gradually working his way up and becoming an instrumental part of making Kent a major railroad center.

By the time of his death in 1934 Thomas was a well-known, respected, and much-loved member of the Franklin Mills community.

As to whether John Thomas ever reminisced for his old Confederate days – no one knows. But from the respect he received in the north, it can be assumed he led a productive life here in Kent and left his adopted community proud.