Early life and career
Green was born in Amelia County in Virginia to Nathan and Mary (Field) Green. The family moved to Tennessee in 1817 when Green was still an infant. He attended Jackson College in Tennessee and Princeton College in Kentucky before he received a degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1834. He then studied law with his father, a prominent judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
When the Texas Revolution began, Green left Tennessee to join the rebel volunteers. He arrived in Nacogdoches in December 1835 and enlisted in Isaac N. Moreland's company on January 14, 1836. During the April 21 Battle of San Jacinto, Green helped operate the famed "Twin Sisters" cannons, the only artillery present in Sam Houston's army. A few days after the decisive victory, Houston rewarded Green with a commission as a lieutenant. In early May he was promoted to major and assigned as the aide-de-camp to General Thomas J. Rusk. With hostilities over, Green resigned on May 30 and returned to Tennessee to resume studying law.
In 1837, the legislature of the new Republic of Texas granted large tracts of land to leading veterans of the Revolution, including Thomas Green. After relocating to Fayette County, Green became a county surveyor at La Grange. That same year, fellow San Jacinto veteran William W. Gant nominated Green for the position of engrossing clerk for the Texas House of Representatives. He was subsequently elected and held the office until 1839, when he represented Fayette County in the House of Representatives in the Fourth Texas Congress. After a single term, he chose not to run again and resumed his clerkship. During the Sixth and Eighth Texas Congresses, he served as secretary of the Senate. From 1841 to 1861, he was clerk of the Texas Supreme Court, in both the republic and the subsequent U.S. state.
Between legislative and court sessions, Green served in military campaigns against the Indians and Mexico. In the fall of 1840, he joined John H. Moore in a foray up the Colorado River against the Comanches. After Rafael Vásquez's invasion of San Antonio in March 1842, Green recruited and served as captain of the Travis County Volunteers, a unit that did not see battle. That fall he served as inspector general for the Somervell expedition after Adrián Woll's foray into San Antonio.
When the United States went to war with Mexico, Green recruited and commanded a company of Texas Rangers in La Grange as part of the First Texas Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, led by John Coffee Hays. The Texans helped Zachary Taylor capture Monterrey, Nuevo León, in September 1846.
After returning home from the Mexican-American War, Green married Mary Wallace Chalmers, daughter of John G. Chalmers, on January 31, 1847. Five daughters and one son were born to them.
After Texas seceded in early 1861, Green was elected colonel of the 5th Texas Cavalry, which, as part of a brigade led by Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley, joined the invasion of New Mexico Territory in 1862. There, Green led the Confederate victory at the Battle of Valverde in February. After a difficult retreat into Texas, he led his men, aboard the river steamer Bayou City, to assist in the recapture of Galveston on January 1, 1863. He was also involved in the seizure of the Union steamer Harriet Lane that same day.
Bayou Teche Campaign
In the spring of 1863, Green commanded the First Cavalry Brigade in Richard Taylor's division in the fighting along Bayou Teche in Louisiana. On May 20, he became a brigadier general. In June he captured a Union garrison at Brashear City, but failed to seize Fort Butler on the Mississippi River. Green's cavalry routed advancing Union troops under Godfrey Weitzel and Cuvier Grover at Koch's (Cox's) Plantation on July 13. In September, the First Cavalry Brigade captured another Union detachment at Stirling's Plantation. A similar success followed in November at the Battle of Bayou Bourbeux. In four victories, Green's men inflicted about 3,000 casualties and suffered only 600 losses. Green was subsequently assigned command of the cavalry division of the Trans-Mississippi Department.
Red River Campaign
During the Red River Campaign, Green commanded a brigade of Texas cavalry in the division of Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke. In April 1864, he led successful attacks against Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at the Battle of Mansfield and against Maj. Gen. William H. Emory at the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
A few days later, on April 12, 1864, Green was mortally wounded by a shell from a Federal gunboat while leading an attack on the gunboats patrolling the Red River at Blair's Landing. He soon died on Blair's Plantation. Upon his death, Admiral David Dixon Porter paid tribute to the fallen Confederate cavalryman in saying that Green was "one in whom the rebels place more confidence than anyone else. He led his men to the very edge of the bank, they shouting and yelling like madmen—losing General Green has paralyzed them; he was worth 5,000 men to them." He is buried in the family plot at Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
Historian John D. Winters in The Civil War in Louisiana (1963) quotes a Texas soldier who fought under Green: "He was a man who, when out of whiskey, was a mild mannered gentleman, but when in good supply of old burst-head was all fight."Winters continues: "Well fortified with Louisiana rum, Green with a yell told [his men] that he was going to show them how to fight. The charge against the gunboats was made on horseback. Green was killed well in advance, a cannon shot taking off the top of his head. . . . Drunk or sober, foolish or not in waging the attack, Green was a valuable man, and General Taylor lamented him."
- Lamb's, p. 338.
- North & South - The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, Volume 11, Number 1, Page 30, "The Battle of Stirling Plantation", accessed April 16, 2010.
- Lamb's, p. 339.
- John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN: 0-8071-0834-0, p. 359
- Winters, p. 359