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John Milton Thayer
January 24, 1820(1820-01-24) – March 19, 1906 (aged 86)
John Milton Thayer - Brady-Handy.jpg
John Milton Thayer
Place of birth Bellingham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
Place of death Lincoln, Nebraska
Place of burial Wyuka Cemetery. Thayer County, Nebraska
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Brevet Major General
Battles/wars American Civil War

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, as well as the governor of both Wyoming Territory and Nebraska.


Early life and career

John M. Thayer was born in Bellingham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. He attended and then taught in rural schools, and later studied law at Brown University and established a practice in Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a lieutenant in the local militia company before deciding to move with his family to the West.

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

Thayer served as delegate to the Convention which organized the Republican Party in the Nebraska Territory and was elected to the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in 1860-61.

Civil War

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, 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 then was 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 career

After the Civil War, Thayer was a member of the State constitutional convention in 1866. 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 in the Senate until 1871, 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 resumed his law practice.

Thayer served two full terms as Governor of Nebraska (1887 – 1891) and 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.

John M. Thayer died in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was buried in Wyuka Cemetery. Thayer County, Nebraska, is named for him. A bust of Thayer is on the grounds of the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.

See also


  • 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 links

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

United States Senate
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 1) from Nebraska
Served alongside: Thomas W. Tipton
Succeeded by
Phineas W. Hitchcock
Political offices
Preceded by
John Allen Campbell
Governor of Wyoming Territory
1875 – 1878
Succeeded by
John Wesley Hoyt
Preceded by
James W. Dawes
Governor of Nebraska
1887 – 1891
Succeeded by
James E. Boyd
Preceded by
James E. Boyd
Governor of Nebraska
1891 – 1892
Succeeded by
James E. Boyd


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