Minstrel Show (March 5, 1865)

A Timothy Gardiner photograph of the Poplar Grove Church (Library of Congress).

A Timothy Gardiner photograph of the Poplar Grove Church (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman is a great source for details about the day-to-day life in the Army of the Potomac. His letter of March 5, 1865, is a prime example. He describes a ride along the lines and he attends a minstrel show at the Poplar Grove Church, constructed by the 50th New York Engineers under the command of Ira Spaulding.

Lyman mentions two resignations. One is Jacob Henry Sleeper, a fellow Bostonian who had commanded the 10th Massachusetts Battery. He had been wounded in the army at Reams’ Station. The other resignation was Maj. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg, who led a division of the cavalry. Greg, cousin to Pennsylvania’s governor, was a capable commander who had stopped Jeb Stuart on July 3 at Gettysburg. The reasons for his resignation still remain something of a mystery, although he may have resented the way Philip Sheridan had been promoted over him.

David McMurtrie Gregg (Library of Congress).

David McMurtrie Gregg (Library of Congress).

. . . Well, the rain held up and some blue sky began to show, and I mounted on what I shall have to call my Anne of Cleves—for, in the choice words of that first of gentlemen, Henry VIII, she is “a great Flanders mare”—and rode forth for a little exercise. Verily I conceived we should rester en route, sich was the mud in one or two places! She would keep going deeper and deeper, and I would strive to pick out a harder path and would by no means succeed. Nevertheless, I made out to find some terra firma, at last, and, by holding to the ridges got a very fair ride after all. I found not much new out there, towards the Jerusalem plank: some cavalry camped about, as usual, and a new railroad branch going to supply them, and called Gregg’s branch. Gregg, by the way, has resigned. He is a loss to the service, and has commanded a cavalry division very successfully for a long time. I don’t know why he went out, since he is a regular officer. Some say it is a pretty wife, which is likely, seeing the same had worked in that style with others. Then there is Major Sleeper, resigned too. He has served long and well, and been wounded; so I say, what a pity that he should not stick to the end. It is human nature to expect a full performance of duty, when once a man has done decidedly well. These branch railroads are like mushrooms, and go shooting out at the shortest notice. The distinguished Botiano was entirely taken down by the performances of this sort. Just at the time of our new extension to the left, he went for a few days to Washington. When he got back, he was whisked over five miles of new railroad, including a number of bridges! This upset him wholly, and it was hard to make him believe that there hadn’t been an old line there before. Now where do you suppose I went last night? Why, to the theatre! Certainly, in my private carriage to the theatre; that is to say, on horseback, for may high powers forfend me from an ambulance over corduroys and these mud-holes! Rather would I die a rather swifter death. To explain, you must understand that good Colonel Spaulding commands a regiment of engineers, a fine command of some 1800 men. As they are nearly all mechanics, they are very handy at building and have erected, among other things, a large building, which is a church on Sundays, and a theatre on secular occasions. Thither the goodly Flint rode with me. On the outside was about half the regiment, each man armed with a three-legged stool, and all waiting to march into the theatre. We found the edifice quite a rustic gem. Everything, except the nails, is furnished by the surrounding woods and made by the men themselves. The building has the form of a short cross and is all of rustic work; the walls and floors of hewn slabs and the roof covered with shingles nailed on beams, made with the bark on. What corresponds to the left-side aisle was railed off for officers only, while the rest was cram-full of men. The illumination of the hall was furnished by a rustic chandelier, that of the stage by army lanterns, and by candles, whose rays were elegantly reflected by tin plates bought from the sutler. The entertainment was to be “minstrels”; and, to be sure, in walked an excellent counterpart of Morris, Pell, and Trowbridge, who immediately began an excellent overture, in which the tambourine gentleman, in particular, was most brilliant and quite convulsed the assembled engineers. The performances were, indeed, most creditable, and there was not a word of any sort of coarseness throughout. A grand speech on the state of the country, by a brother in a pair of gunny-bag trousers, was quite a gem. He had an umbrella, of extraordinary pattern, with which he emphasized his periods by huge whacks on the table. I think the jokes were as ingeniously ridiculous as could be got up, and that, you know, is the great thing in minstrels. Brudder Bones came a little of the professional by asking his friend: “What can yer play on dat banjo?” “Anyting,” says the unwary friend. “Well, den, play a game o’ billiards!” “Can’t play no billiards! kin play a tune,” cries the indignant friend. “Well den, if yer kin play a tune, jis play a pon-toon!” All to the inextinguishable delight of the engineers. After the play the good Colonel, who is one of the salt of the earth, insisted on my taking pigs’ feet as a supper.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 310-12. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Quite a Sensation in the Army (March 4, 1865)

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The affair of the “Mine” continues to reverberate, as both George Meade and Theodore Lyman comment on an account of the action, also known as the Battle of the Crater, that appeared in the Washington Chronicle. Meade also mentions that the 114th Pennsylvania (a.k.a. the “red legs” are no longer serving as the headquarters guard.

To-day’s Chronicle has part of the opinion of the court of inquiry, which I suppose will be published in the Philadelphia papers. It has made quite a sensation in the army, as it censures Burnside, Willcox, Ferrero and a Colonel Bliss. But few persons understand the allusion in the last sentence.

Senator Harris told me that, after I was confirmed, he received a letter from Burnside, saying he was glad of it, and that I deserved it. I told Senator Harris I had no personal feeling against Burnside, and no desire to injure him.

Deserters still continue to come in, there being seventy-five yesterday, forty with arms. There are, however, no indications of an immediate evacuation either of Petersburg or Richmond, and the great fight may yet be fought out in this vicinity. There is nothing new in the camp, except you may tell George the Third Infantry has reported, and is doing guard duty at headquarters in place of the “red legs.”

Lyman takes a ride along the front.

Yesterday the rain gave over partly, and so, in the afternoon, Rosie and I mounted and rode forth to see the new line to the left. The mare knew me and greeted me, in her characteristic way, by trying to kick and bite me. I felt quite funny and odd at being once more on horseback, but had a fine time, for the mare was in great spirits and danced and hopped in a festive manner. Rosie was very proud to show me all the last battle-ground, and to explain the new roads; for he has a high opinion of his ability to find roads, at which, indeed, he is very capable. So we jogged along, sometimes in danger of sticking in the mud, and again, finding a sandy ridge where we could canter a little. This last addition, which goes to Hatcher’s Run, makes our line of tremendous extent; perhaps a continuous parapet of eighteen miles! The Rebs are obliged to draw out proportionately, which is a hard task for them. As we rode along the corduroy we met sixteen deserters from the enemy, coming in under guard, of whom about a dozen had their muskets, a sight I never saw before! They bring them in, all loaded, and we pay them so much for each weapon. The new line is a very handsome one, with a tremendous sweep of artillery and small arms. To eke out this short letter I enclose the report of the Court of Enquiry on the “Mine.” You see it gives fits to Burnside, Ledlie, Ferrero, and Willcox, while the last paragraph, though very obscure, is intended, I fancy, as a small snub on General Meade.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 266. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 309-10. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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General Webb (March 3, 1865)

Alexander Webb, Meade's chief of staff (Library of Congress).

Alexander Webb, Meade’s chief of staff (Library of Congress).

When Andrew Humphreys received command of the II Corps, he was replaced by Alexander Webb as Meade’s chief of staff. Webb had been a hero at Gettysburg when, nearly in command of the Philadelphia Brigade in John Gibbon’s division of the II Corps, he had played a pivotal role in repulsing Pickett’s Charge. He later received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle. Prior to that he had served as chief of staff for the V Corps when Meade had commanded that unit.

In his letter of March 3, Theodore Lyman describes yet another foreign visitor to the Army of the Potomac, this time a captain from Romania. Those who believe that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a work of non-fiction might find Captain Botiano to be especially intriguing, and wonder if he wasn’t traveling from Transylvania under an alias.

Our evanescent Chief-of-Staff, General Webb, has gone to Washington for a day or two, to see his wife. He insisted, before he went, that the Rebs were not going to evacuate Petersburg at present, on any account. “Ah!” said General Meade, “Webb is an anti-evacuationist, because he wants to go to see his wife, and so wants to prove there isn’t going to be any move at present.” General Webb is a good piece of luck, as successor to General Humphreys. He is very jolly and pleasant, while, at the same time, he is a thorough soldier, wide-awake, quick and attentive to detail. In fact, I believe him much better for the place than Gen. H. from the very circumstance that he was such a very superior man, that General Meade would take him as a confidential adviser, whereas the General does much better without any adviser at all. My only objection to General Webb is that he continually has a way of suddenly laughing in a convulsive manner, by drawing in his breath, instead of letting it out —the which goes to my bones.

It is not too much to say that yesterday was a day without striking events, as it was characterized by a more or less steady rain, from the rising to the going down of the sun. I wrote you a letter, I entertained the chronic Duane, and I entertained — oh, I forgot to tell you about him. I entertained the officer from Roumania, the one whom General Meade could not make out because he had no map of Europe. This Roumania, as I have ascertained by diligent study, is what we call Wallachia and Moldavia, and is a patch of territory lying north of the Danube, and running from its mouth, on the Black Sea, to the northwest, into the Carpathian mountains. As to the Roumanians themselves, they have the misfortune to be tremendously protected by everybody. Imprimis, they pay to the Porte an “honorary tribute” of 600,000 crowns, in return for which his word is pledged to protect them against all comers, which is a good joke, seeing he can’t protect himself against any comer at all! Then the Emperor Nap considers them “une nation Latine,” and so he is to protect them. Then the British protect them for fear the Russians should invade Turkey on that side. Then the Russians protect them because they want their land as a high road to Constantinople; and finally, the Austrians and Italians protect them, just to keep in the mode. Meanwhile the Roumanians seem to dislike all their kind friends, but still keep smiling and bowing round at them, hoping these protectors will one day get into a shindy, when they, the protected, propose to discontinue the honorary tribute, grab Bulgaria from the Turks, Bessarabia from the Russians, the Banat and part of Transylvania from the Austrians, and make a grand pan-Roumanian empire, with no protectors at all. All of which we shall know when they do it. Captain Botiano (that’s his name) informed me that his countrymen were descended from Roman colonists, led thither by Trajan. To judge from the gallant Cappy, as a specimen, the colonists must have intermarried considerably with various Gentiles; for his face denotes a combination of Greek, Italian, and Turk, with a dash of Tartar and a strain of some other barbarian, whose features are to me not familiar. On the whole, I felt like saying to him: “Oh, fiddle! don’t come humbugging round here. Just put on a turban, and stick five silver-mounted pistols and seven oriental daggers in your cashmere sash, and look like yourself!” For you must know he has received his education in the French army, and now appears trussed in a modern uniform, a cross between a British Grenadier Guard and a Prussian Chasseur. He talks good French and is sufficiently intelligent, and apparently well educated. We aired our Gallic for a long time together and discussed many mighty topics. He, of course, like all those who have the French way of thinking, was mildly horrified at the want of central power in this country and thought the political power delegated to the states was highly dangerous. They ought only to have power to look out for the bien publique. All of which was edifying to me, as coming from a descendant of a colonist of Trajan.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 307-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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The Return of Lyman (March 2, 1865)

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, "Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure" (Library of Congress).

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, “Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure” (Library of Congress).

After two months on leave back in Boston, Theodore Lyman finally returns to the Army of the Potomac. “Over two months at home!” he noted in his journal on February 27. “Now it seems hardly possible—about two weeks, that is the way it seems.” From this point on we will be hearing from Lyman as well as Meade. Lyman’s letters home are invariably entertaining and detailed, although he often composed them several days after the date they bear.

Meade’s comment about Gouverneur Warren is interesting, because he two generals had fallen out the previous summer, and Meade had even considered having Warren relieved.

Lyman has returned without waiting for my summons, he becoming nervous for fear some movement of Lee’s might precipitate matters before he could get notice, and if the army should move, it might be a difficult matter to join it.

I see by the papers Howard and Schofield have been made brigadier generals in the regular army. This I think injustice to General Warren, whom I recommended some time ago to General Grant for this position.

Meade’s Headquarters, the book of Lyman’s wartime letters, has this to say about Lyman’s absence and his return to the Army:

“As the Army of the Potomac was now settling down to winter quarters before Petersburg, Meade chaffingly remarked to Lyman one day toward the end of December: ‘I have a Christmas present for Mrs. Lyman—a certain worthless officer whom I shall send home to her.’ And that evening he gave him a 300-day leave, with the understanding that Lyman was to return with the opening of the active campaign in the spring.

“Toward the end of February, Lyman became restless, and fearing that operations might start in his absence, turned up at Headquarters on March 1. On going into dinner, he was kindly greeted by General Meade, who, poor man, although he had just come back from burying his son, managed to say playfully that he would have Lyman court-martialed for returning without orders.”

Here is Lyman’s letter from March 2.

It was raw yesterday, or chilly rather, without being cold, and to-day we are favored by a persistent northeast rain, such as we had a month later than this at Culpeper. The season, I should fancy, is earlier here than at Culpeper—very likely by two weeks or more. Indeed last night the toads were whistling in the bog-holes, as they do with us in the last of April; and Rosie had, on his mantel, a bud of narcissus, or some such flower, he had found in a swamp. You would not give us much credit for a chance to move, could you see the country; the ground everywhere saturated and rotten, and giving precarious tenure even to single horses, or waggons. I did not believe very earnestly that we should soon move, when I left, but only wanted to be within all chances. I do really doubt whether anything will be done before the 1st of April. I think the state of the country will hardly permit it to either party. When Sherman gets, say, in the latitude of Weldon, if he does so without check, he must, I think, strike the perfection of the mud zone; and must stick for a while; besides which he must establish a regular base, and, if he contemplates hard or protracted fighting, he must have a protected line for supplies. All these things take time, and take season also. Of course, it is not Lee’s policy to let go his hold hereabout, till the very last moment. He has gone south in person, to gather up all possible forces and put them in the best order for resistance he can. The impression here seems to be, that the combined forces against Sherman are not very strong in the sum total, and are, of course, not so good in quality as Lee’s own men. Then again, his very army, it is within bounds to say, never was so low in morale as now. During the twenty-eight days of February nearly 900 men deserted to the lines of this army alone, and a proportional number to those of the Army of the James. The remarkable point, also, is that these are old men—nearly all of them—and not the raw conscripts. In one day there came over 134 men, including also their non-commissioned officers, bringing their arms with them. Among the deserters have been four commissioned officers. During the time I have been with the army, I recall only two or three instances, besides these. Of course many more desert to the rear than to the enemy; so that I doubt not that Lee’s losses from this cause during February were something between a large brigade and a small division. General Meade, after reviewing Lee’s position and prospects, said: “I do not see what he is to do!”—which is a very strong speech for the cautious General. Well, as I have always said, he has the remaining chance, should everything work precisely to favor him, of falling with fury and with all available troops, on a part of Sherman’s army, or even on the whole of it, and dealing a stunning blow, whereby his evil day would be postponed; but how it could be averted seems to me inconceivable, save by a sort of miracle. If I am not mistaken, the forces now opposed to the Rebels in the east are at least as two to one. And again they have almost everything against them excepting the important advantage of interior lines.

Meantime all is very quiet with us. Last night I certainly heard not over half-a-dozen musket-shots, whereas in the autumn we had a real skirmish fire all the night through, not to speak of intermittent shelling. As I told you, Duane was on hand to welcome me. He looks very well and is better as to his eyes. Then Rosie—had he not, in my honor, caused constructed a new and very high hedge, or shelter, of pine branches, topped off with a tuft of cedar, and a triumphal arch of the same over the doorway! Within the tent were further improvements; andirons to wit (weak as to their legs, and frequently tumbling over on their sides at critical moments). Then a large Swedish flag, with the Union over my bed—a gift from some Scandinavian marines who visited the Headquarters, and upon whom Rosie quite ran himself aground in the matter of oysters, at the saloon over the way. Then, too, the middle tent-pole has been removed and the interior of the tent supported by a framework, a part of which takes the form of a shelf, running round the sides and very handy for any small articles. I must also give credit to that idiotic Frenchman, who waited at table, for having ingeniously burned down our mess tent, during my absence, whereby we now have a much improved hospital tent, very pleasant, and we have got rid of the idiot and have a quite intelligent nig, which actually keeps the spoons clean.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 265. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 304-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Pleasant Journey (February 28, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes home to his grieving wife once he has returned to the army after a short stop in Washington. The generals he mentions are Edward Ord, who had replaced Benjamin Butler in command of the Army of the James, and Frank Wheaton, who had a division in the VI Corps. The Secretary is Edwin Stanton.

After writing to you yesterday I saw the Secretary, who was as usual very kind. He apologized for ordering me away when he did, and said he had forgotten dear Sergeant’s sickness, and some telegrams coming from Ord he did not like, he thought, in Grant’s absence, I had better be there. He wanted me to stay in Washington over night, but I declined, when he directed a special steamer to be got ready to take me at seven in the evening. From the Department I went to the Capitol, where I saw Mr. Cowan and Judge Harris. They both said they would see that the same number of copies of the proceedings of the court of inquiry were ordered to be printed as had been ordered of the committee’s report.

I had a pleasant journey, there being no one on board but General Wheaton and myself. We reached City Point at 1 p.m. to-day. I spent two hours with General Grant, reaching my headquarters about half-past four this afternoon.

I find we have not been attacked, and Petersburg has not been evacuated, although I should judge there had been a stampede ever since I left, and that both contingencies had been expected. It has been raining, I am told, nearly all the time I have been absent, and the roads are in an awful condition.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 265. Available via Google Books.

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Submission and Resignation (February 27, 1865)

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery.

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

George Meade had left the army for his home in Philadelphia on February 21, and arrived two days later. By then his oldest son, John Sergeant, was dead. He had died at 11 p.m. on the 21st of the tuberculosis he had been fighting for years. On the 26th, Meade received a telegram from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton calling him back out of fear that Robert E. Lee was stirring. Meade wrote this letter while still in Washington.

The mention of Winfield Scott Hancock is a reference to the general’s appointment as commander of the Department of West Virginia. He was replacing General George Crook, who had the misfortune of being captured while in bed by Confederate guerillas.

I take advantage of a delay, waiting to see the Secretary, to send you a few lines. I slept nearly all the journey, much to my surprise; but I was grateful it was so, as I feel in consequence much better than if I had lain awake all night.

Hardy Norris was very kind to me this morning, and accompanied me to the hotel, where we breakfasted, after which I came up here.

General Hancock left suddenly yesterday for Western Virginia. This has given rise to rumor of movements of Lee in that direction, but I have heard nothing reliable in this respect. I saw General Hooker this morning at breakfast. He was very affable and civil, and enquired particularly after you, expressing deep sympathy with us in our affliction. This feeling has been manifested by all whom I have met, including Senator Foster, Mr. Odell and others.

I hardly dare think of you in your lonely condition, surrounded by so many associations of our beloved boy. God have mercy on you and send you submission and resignation! No human reasoning can afford you or myself any consolation. Submission to God’s will, and the satisfaction arising from the consciousness that we did our duty by him, is all that is left us.

I shall leave here at 3 p.m., and will write to you on my arrival at my headquarters.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 264-5. Available via Google Books.

John Segeant Meade, 1841-1865 (February 21, 1865)

Over the past few months, George Meade has agonized over the health of his oldest son, John Sergeant, who was dying of tuberculosis back in Philadelphia. Even 150 years later, you can still feel the anguish in this letter, as the general communicates his sense of being pulled between his duty to his position, and the duty to his family.

On the day that his father wrote this, John Sergeant Meade died of his disease.

I told George last evening to write to you and acknowledge the receipt of your letters of the 17th and 18th, also your telegram of the 20th. The latter I did not understand until this evening, when George received a letter from Jim Biddle, of the 19th, from which I infer Sergeant was considered sinking on Sunday, and finding him better on Monday, you telegraphed. George will leave to-morrow, and will take this. It is impossible for me to go to you, unless I resign my command. If I left for a short time, I should undoubtedly be recalled almost as soon as I reached there. Besides, to be with you for a few days would be but little satisfaction to you; and as to dear Sergeant, his condition is such that I presume it does not make much difference who is with him. For your sake I should like to be home, and for my own, but it is God’s will, and I must submit.

My duty to you and my children requires I should retain the high command I now have. My reputation and your interests are involved, and I cannot shut my eyes to these considerations, however cruel may be the conclusion that I cannot be at your side and that of my dear boy in this hour of agony and trial. We must all endeavor to be resigned to God’s will. We cannot avert the severe affliction with which it has pleased Him to visit us, doubtless for some good purpose. All we can do is to bear it with humility and resignation, and endeavor to profit by it, in preparing ourselves, as I believe my beloved son is prepared.

Dear Margaret, let me rely on your exhibiting in this, the greatest trial you have had in life, true Christian fortitude. Bear up, in the consciousness that you have ever devoted all the energy of a tender mother’s love to check and avert the fatal disease that is carrying off our first born; all that human power could do has been done. Our boy has had warning, and not only his good life, but the consciousness that he knew and was prepared for the change, should sustain us in that parting which had to be encountered one day, for we all must die in time.

George will tell you all about me.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 263-4. Available via Google Books.

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2015 Meade Symposium

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Armies. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence), George Meade, Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the armies in Washington. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence), George Meade, Secretary of the Navy Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

It’s safe to say that the 2015 Meade Symposium was a great success. There must have been at least 60 people present, despite severe cold and strong winds. The weather had been so bad, in fact, that one of the speakers, Ralph Peters, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia from his home in Virginia. Held in the beautiful conservatory building at West Laurel Hill Cemetery on Sunday, February 15, the symposium featured four speakers (myself included) who provided a cradle-to-grave summary of George Gordon Meade’s life. Dr. John Selby of Roanoke College spoke about Meade’s life up until the Civil War; Jerry McCormick picked up the story through the Battle of Chancellorsville; and Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, stood in for Col. Peters and covered the rest of the Civil War. I wrapped things up by talking about the last seven years of Meade’s life, which included incidents of murder, torture, armies of Irishmen, and the difficulties of Reconstruction.

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

If that weren’t enough, Jim Schmick of Civil War and More was there with a large selection of Civil War books for sale, and the Kearney Kommissary was on hand to provide a delicious lunch (plus wine and beer).

The conservatory provided an extremely picturesque setting for the day’s events, with large windows looking out over the cold and windswept cemetery. Just 200 yards away was the grave of Meade’s West Point classmate Herman Haupt, the Union’s railroad mastermind (and one of Meade’s critics). I wish I had the time to find his grave, as well as those of other notables buried there. One of those eternal residents is Francis Adams Donaldson, who journal of his experiences in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry provided the material for the book Inside the Army of the Potomac. I had used that book when I researched Searching for George Gordon Meade. It’s fascinating. Donaldson hated his commanding officer, so he contrived to get kicked out of the army, with the plan of visiting Abraham Lincoln in Washington and having the president give him an honorable discharge. It sounded like a far-fetched plan, but that is exactly what Donaldson did.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

Other celebrity residents include musicians Grover Washington, Jr., and Teddy Pendergrass. West Laurel Hill is a big, sprawling cemetery, with dozens of elaborate mausoleums, and I hope to go back on a warmer, greener day and explore.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade. The general watches me with trepidation.

As I said, this was a great event. It’s truly gratifying to see so many people with this kind of interest in history. And it wasn’t all seriousness, either. There were plenty of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. History should always be so much fun!

This is George Meade’s bicentennial year and I have a lot of talks scheduled. Next up are appearances before the round tables in Milwaukee and Chicago, and then talks at Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Later in the year I’m scheduled to speak in Richmond, at a Meade bicentennial event in Gettysburg, and at the Civil War Round Table at Philadelphia’s Union League in December. The year will end at the Meade 200th birthday commemoration at Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. Check out the event calendar for details.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

No Chance for Peace (February 13, 1865)

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar on February 15. Click here for more details.

The visit by the three Confederate peace commissioners has obviously failed to achieve any results. In George Meade’s opinion, another campaign appears inevitable. Spring approaches, and with it more fighting.

There is no chance for peace now. The South has determined to fight another campaign, and it is to be hoped the North will be equally united, and turn out men to fill up all our present armies and form others at the same time.

Grant returned from Washington to-day. He forgot to say anything about the court of inquiry, so I have to-day telegraphed Mr. Stanton, asking him to have the proceedings published.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 263. Available via Google Books.

Its Usual Malice (February 11, 1865)

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

Once again, George Meade takes issue with the press, this time over an account of the fighting known today as the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. He would have been well advised, I think, to have avoided reading newspapers altogether.

The Willie to whom Meade refers is his wife’s brother. He will not survive the war.

I assume the sculptor Meade mentions is Franklin Simmons. Born in Maine, Simmons sculpted the equestrian statue of Gen. John A. Logan that stands in the circle in Washington, D.C., that bears the general’s name. He was also commissioned to do a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and met with the president about it on the day before Lincoln’s assassination. His bronze medallion of Meade (as well as those of other generals) is in the Union League in Philadelphia. There’s more about Simmons here.

I see the Tribune, with its usual malice, charges the recent movement as a failure, and puts the blame on me. I told Grant, before the movement was made, it would be misunderstood and called a failure. But he promised to telegraph to Washington what we intended to do, thinking by this to avoid this misapprehension. His telegram, if he sent one, was never published, nor has any of his or my telegrams to him about the affair been made public. Now, the facts of the case are that I accomplished a great deal more than was designed, and though the Fifth Corps at one time was forced back, yet we repulsed the enemy the day before, had been driving him all that day, and the next day drove him into his works, and on the whole the success was with us. It is rather hard under these circumstances to be abused; but I suppose I must make up my mind to be abused by this set, never mind what happens,

Willie’s regiment was in the thickest of the fight and suffered severely, but I believe behaved very well.

There is now here an artist in bronze, of the name of Simmons, who is sculpturing a life-size head of me, of which he intends casting a medallion in bronze. His work is pronounced excellent, and he promises to present you a copy, so you will have your Meade art gallery increased. Grant is still away.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 262-3. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar on February 15. Click here for more details.

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