John Milton Thayer

John Milton Thayer (January 24, 1820 – March 19, 1906) was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a postbellum United States Senator from Nebraska. Thayer served as Governor of Wyoming Territory and Governor of Nebraska.

John M. Thayer
John Milton Thayer - Brady-Handy.jpg
6th Governor of Nebraska
In office
January 6, 1887 – February 8, 1892
Preceded byJames W. Dawes
Succeeded byJames E. Boyd
2nd Governor of Wyoming Territory
In office
March 1, 1875 – April 10, 1878
Preceded byJohn Allen Campbell
Succeeded byJohn Wesley Hoyt
United States Senator
from Nebraska
In office
March 1, 1867 – March 3, 1871
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byPhineas W. Hitchcock
Personal details
Born(1820-01-24)January 24, 1820
Bellingham, Massachusetts
DiedMarch 19, 1906(1906-03-19) (aged 86)
Lincoln, Nebraska
Political partyRepublican
Alma materBrown University
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1861–1865
RankUnion Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Brevet Major General
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Thayer was born in Bellingham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts.[1] He attended and taught in rural schools. He graduated from Brown University in 1841, and established a practice in Worcester, Massachusetts. Thayer was the editor of the Worcester Magazine and the Historical Journal. Thayer served as a lieutenant in the local militia company before deciding to move with his family to the West. He was married to Mary Torrey Allen on December 27, 1842, and they had six children.[2]


Arriving in Nebraska in 1854, he quickly affiliated himself with the Republican Party and actively participated in politics, as well as owning a large farm near Omaha. He became the major general of the Territorial Militia[3] and gained a reputation as an Indian fighter in his encounters with the local Pawnee.

Thayer served as delegate to the 1860 State Constitution Convention which organized the Republican Party in the Nebraska Territory. He was elected to the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in 1860.[4]

Civil WarEdit

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Thayer wrote a letter to Secretary of War Simon Cameron asking that he be allowed to raise a Nebraska regiment in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers. He resigned his legislative seat in June 1861 to become Colonel of the 1st Nebraska Infantry Regiment,[5] and spent the entire war fighting in the Western Theater. He commanded a brigade under Lew Wallace in the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh. Promoted to brigadier general in October 1862, he led a brigade in the XV Corps. He saw action at the battles of Chickasaw Bayou and Fort Hindman and the siege of Vicksburg.

Thayer was then assigned to the cavalry and commanded the District of the Frontier with his headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He participated in the Camden Expedition and other actions in the region, seeing considerable action at the Battle of Prairie D'Ane. He commanded the rearguard of Frederick Steele's force at the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, battling Confederate troops under Sterling Price for over four hours before forcing Price to disengage. His delaying action enabled Steele to successfully extricate his army to safety.

In February 1865, Thayer was relieved of command of Fort Smith and sent to the smaller post at St. Charles, Arkansas, with a regiment of Kansas cavalry and a single artillery battery. However, with the omnibus promotions of leading generals at the close of the war, Thayer was brevetted major general of volunteers in 1865.

Postbellum careerEdit

After the Civil War, Thayer served as a member of the 1866 State Constitutional Convention. Upon the admission of Nebraska into the Union as a state, he was elected as one of its first two United States senators. He served as a member of the Senate from 1867 to 1871,[6] when he was unsuccessful in winning reelection.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Thayer Governor of the Territory of Wyoming in February 1875 and he took the oath of office March 1, 1875. His service ended on May 29, 1878, and he returned to Nebraska to resume his law practice.

In 1886, Thayer secured the Republican gubernatorial nomination and was elected Governor of Nebraska by popular vote. He served two full terms as Governor of Nebraska, from 1886 to 1888. He was the seventh governor of Nebraska.[7]

Thayer served part of a third term, (May 5, 1891 – February 8, 1892). He contested the results of the 1890 election, in which he lost to James E. Boyd; Boyd was initially installed as governor, but Thayer again became governor until the election was ruled in favor of Boyd. He then retired from public life to follow literary pursuits.

Death and legacyEdit

John M. Thayer died in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was buried in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska.[citation needed]

Thayer County, Nebraska, is named for Thayer.[8] A bust of Thayer is located on the grounds of the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. The bust was erected in May 1915 and was sculpted by T.A.R. Kitson.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Gen John Milton Thayer". Find A Grave. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  2. ^ John Milton Thayer. The Encyclopedia of Nebraska. 1999-01-01. ISBN 9780403098347. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  3. ^ "Nebraska Governor John Milton Thayer". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  4. ^ "Nebraska Governor John Milton Thayer". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  5. ^ "Nebraska Governor John Milton Thayer". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  6. ^ "Nebraska Governor John Milton Thayer". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  7. ^ "Nebraska Governor John Milton Thayer". National Governors Association. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
  8. ^ "Profile for Thayer County, Nebraska, NE". ePodunk. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
  9. ^ "Brigadier General John M. Thayer". National Park Service. Retrieved October 30, 2012.

Further readingEdit

  • American National Biography
  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Curtis, Earl G. John Milton Thayer Nebraska History 29 (March/June 1948): 134-50.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website

Party political offices
Preceded by
James W. Dawes
Republican nominee for Governor of Nebraska
1886, 1888
Succeeded by
L. D. Richards
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Nebraska
Served alongside: Thomas W. Tipton
Succeeded by
Phineas W. Hitchcock
Political offices
Preceded by
John Allen Campbell
Governor of Wyoming Territory
Succeeded by
John Wesley Hoyt
Preceded by
James W. Dawes
Governor of Nebraska
Succeeded by
James E. Boyd