Peebles’ Farm (September 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman provides a good description of the battle known as Peeble’s Farm. It was part of Grant’s strategy to force Lee to stretch his lines until they broke. While the Army of the James was attacking Lee’s left north of the James River, Meade’s Army of the Potomac hit the right. Fighting will continue on October 1.

If the General will ride out at 8.30 A.m., and get back at 10.30 P.m., and fight a good part of the day, how am I to feel wakeful and lively to write to you? I am very well and getting stronger; was in part of the battle beyond the railroad; but only had a few bullets and one solitary cannonball in my neighborhood. This going from Beverly to battle is quite a sharp contrast. Our advantage was signal and important if we have good luck in holding on, which I think we shall. There may be fighting to-morrow, but I incline to think not.

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade's headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade’s headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

On October 4, Lyman wrote out a more complete account of the events of September 30. I include it here for the sake of chronological consistency. Gouverneur Warren commands the V Corps. John Parke had replaced Ambrose Burnside at the head of the IX Corps. Samuel Crawford and Charles Griffin command V Corps divisions. Griffin is the profane general whom Grant wanted Meade to arrest for insubordination at the Wilderness; Meade had assured him that Griffin’s intemperate speech was only “his way.”

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

At 8.30 in the morning, the General, with the combative [Andrew] Humphreys and all the Staff, rode towards the left, stopping of course at the irresistible Hancock’s. At noon we got to Globe Tavern, which is some six miles from our old Headquarters. [Samuel] Crawford’s division still held the works on the Weldon road, while Warren, with two divisions, followed by [John] Parke, with two divisions of the 9th Corps, had moved out to the west, and already we could hear the Rebel artillery shelling our advance. . . . . At the Poplar Grove Church the Rebels began to throw shells, with a good deal of accuracy, into the road; for they had the range, though they could not see for the woods. Near here was a swampy run, where our skirmishers drove those of the enemy across, and the division then got over and kept ahead. General Meade, meantime, staid at the Globe Tavern, waiting for the movement to develop. He sent out an aide or two, to tell Warren he was there and to bring news of the progress. Warren sent in word that; having got across the run, he would soon see what could be done. At 12.45 we could hear pretty brisk musketry, which continued a short time and then ceased. Some time after, an aide came in from General Warren, with news that Griffin had captured a strong line and a redoubt, in handsome style. Not long after, the General rode to the front, where we arrived at 2.45. Most of the road was through a pleasant wood, chiefly oak. Passing the “church” (a little, old, wooden building that might seat forty persons), we turned to the right and came out on a large, open farm. On a roll of land, just ahead, was the Peeble house (pretty well riddled with bullets), and hence you looked over more open land ending in a fringe of wood. Perhaps 400 yards in front was the captured line and the redoubt: the former very strongly and handsomely made; the latter not quite finished inside, wanting still the platforms for the guns; otherwise it was done, with a ditch outside and an abattis. So far as I can learn, the occupying force was about equal to the attacking; but they did not make as good a fight as usual. The two assaulting brigades advanced very handsomely and rushed over the works. The enemy began at once to draw off their cannon, but the horses of one piece were shot, and it fell into our hands. The loss was very small in the assault, not over 100, which shows how much safer it is to run boldly on: the enemy get excited and fire high. I went into the redoubt. A Rebel artillery-man lay dead on the parapet, killed so instantly, by a shot through the head, that the expression of his face was unchanged. In front they were burying two or three of our men and a corporal was marking their names on a headboard, copying from letters found in their pockets. Parke was now ordered to form on the left of Warren ([Romeyn] Ayres being on the right of Griffin), and it was understood that the whole line would then advance from its present position, near the Pegram house, and see if it were practicable to carry the second line, which lay perhaps three fourths of a mile beyond. As I understand it, General Meade’s orders were not properly carried out; for Griffin did not form, so as to make an extension of Parke’s line. At 5.30 we were sitting in the Peeble house, waiting for the development of the attack, when we heard very heavy musketry beyond the narrow belt of the woods that separated us from the Pegram farm; there was was cheering, too, and then more musketry, and naturally we supposed that Parke was assaulting. But presently there came from the woods a considerable number of stragglers, making their way to the rear; then came even a piece of a regiment, with its colors, and this halted inside the captured works. The musketry now drew plainly nearer, and things began to look ticklish. I watched anxiously a brigade of the 5th Corps that stood massed in the edge of the wood, beyond the redoubt. Suddenly it filed to the left, at a double-quick, the brigade colors trotting gaily at the head, then formed line and stood still. In another moment the men leveled their muskets, fired a heavy volley and charged into the wood. The musketry receded again; a battery went forward and added itself to the general crash, which was kept up till darkness had well set in; while we sat and watched and listened, in comparative safety, just beside the captured redoubt. [Robert] Potter had been taken in the flank by the Rebels charging, and had been driven back in confusion. Griffin had advanced and restored the retired line. And who rides hither so placidly? It is General Humphreys: he has stolen off and, bless his old soul, has been having a real nice time, right in the line of battle! “A pretty little fight,” said he gingerly, “a pretty little fight. He! he! he!” Poor Potter! it wasn’t his fault. Our extreme advance was driven back, but the day was a great success, with important strategic bearing.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 231 and 234-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Grand Movement (September 29, 1864)

"Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works"by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

“Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works”by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman’ wrote this letter on October 3, but it covers the events of September 29. I thought I’d post it today.

The night of my arrival, curiously enough, was the eve of a grand movement. [ “The move now proposed consisted of an advance both on the right and the left flanks. On the right, towards Richmond, taking the north side of the river; on the left towards the Boydton plank road and southside rail. The strategic object was two-fold: first, to effect threatening lodgments as near as possible to these points, gaining whatever we could by the way; and, secondly, to prevent Lee from reinforcing Early.” — Lyman’s Journal. ] I never miss, you see. Rosey [aide-de-camp Frederick Rosencrantz]drew me aside with an air of mystery and told me that the whole army was ordered to be packed and ready at four the next morning, all prepared to march at a moment’s notice. Headquarters contented itself by getting up about half-past five, which was plenty early enough, as turned out. We rode down to General Hancock’s about 9.30. He was camped not far from us, or had been, for now his tents were struck and packed, and there lay the familiar forms of Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan and Major Mitchell, on some boards, trying to make up for their loss of sleep. The cheery Hancock was awake and lively. We here were near the point of the railroad, which excited General Meade’s indignation by its exposure. Now they have partly sunk it and partly built a bank, on the enemy’s side, so that it is covered from fire. Here we got news that Ord and Birney had crossed the James, the first near Dutch Gap, the other near Deep Bottom, and advanced towards Richmond. Birney went up the Newmarket road, took a line of works, and joined Ord, who took a strong line, with a fort, on Chapin’s farm, which is before Chapin’s bluff, which again is opposite Fort Darling. We got sixteen guns, including three of heavy calibre, also some prisoners. General Ord was shot in the thick of the leg, above the knee. There was another line, on the crest beyond, which I do not think we attacked at all. We went down then to the Jones house, where were Parke’s Headquarters, and talked with him. I saw there Charlie Mills, now on his Staff. Finally, at 1.30 we got to Globe Tavern where was the astute Warren. Everything was “set,” as he would say, for an advance by Griffin’s and Ayres’s divisions, while Willcox’s and Potter’s divisions of the 9th Corps were massed at the Gurley house, ready to support. General Gregg made an advance west of Reams’ station, and was heavily attacked about 5 p.m., but repulsed them. Their artillery blew up one of his caissons and we could see the cloud of smoke suddenly rise above the trees. This was all for that day in the way of fighting.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 232-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Hooker Encounter (September 29, 1864)

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker(Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker(Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman resumes writing his detailed letters home, providing a wealth of detail about his experiences in the war. Here he describes how during the trip back to rejoin the army he encountered Joe Hooker, Meade’s predecessor as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Following his defeat at Chancellorsville, Hooker had been sent out west, where he served capably as a corps commander under Ulysses S. Grant in the Army of the Tennessee. But Hooker asked to be relieved when Grant promoted Gen. Oliver O. Howard over him following the death of Gen. John McPherson. In his journal entry, Lyman said that Hooker “was shaky about the legs, red in the face and had a boiled eye, like one who had been on a great spree.” Grant had no love for Hooker. In his memoirs he acknowledged that Hooker’s actions at Chattanooga had been “brilliant,” but added, “I nevertheless regarded him as a dangerous man. He was not subordinate to his superiors. He was ambitious to the extent of caring nothing for the rights of others. His disposition was, when engaged in battle, to get detached from the main body of the army and exercise a separate command, gathering to the standard all he could of his juniors.”

Lyman reaches the army just as Grant launched another offensive, with the Army of the James fighting the battles of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights and for Forts Gilmer and Harrison, and the Army of the Potomac stretching out to probe the far left of its line. Interestingly enough, just last week the National Park Service discovered an unexploded shell from the Civil War in the moat around Fort Gilmer. It apparently dated from the battle on September 29, 1864. Confederate defenders may have rolled it into the moat so it would explode among the attacking soldiers of the Union States Colored Troops.

The 6.45 p.m. train, which bore me, on Monday, from the ancient town of Beverly, did arrive in very good season in Boston, where I hired a citizen, in the hack line, to convey me with speed and safety to the Worcester depot. With an eye to speculation the driver took in also a lone female, who looked with a certain alarm on me, doubtful as to whether I might not be in the highway-robbery line. She had evidently been on a sea-shore visit, and bore a small pitcher with a bunch of flowers therein. By a superior activity I got a place in the sleeping-car, for it seems to be the policy to have about half room enough for the sleepy passengers, so that those who don’t get places may look with envy on t’others and determine to be earlier next time. Geo. D____ was along. The canny man had got a good berth, in the middle of the day, and you should have seen his traveller’s fixings: a blanket, a sort of little knapsack, and finally a white handkerchief to tie over his head; “For,” said he, “perhaps the pillows are not very clean.” With martial indifference I took off boots and blouse, got on an upper shelf (not without convulsive kicks), and composed myself to the fitful rest which one gets under such circumstances. There was, as the conductor truthfully observed, “a tremendous grist of children in the car”—of all sizes, indeed, from a little one that publicly partook of its natural nutriment, to youths of some twelve summers. The first object I saw, on wakening in the morning, was an attentive Ma endeavoring to put a hooped skirt under the dress of a small gal, without exhibiting to a curious public the small gal’s legs; which attempt on her part was a lamentable failure. I was glad to get out of the eminently close locomotive dormitory and hop with agility on the horse-car, which landed me, a little before seven a.m., at the Astor House. Here I partook of a dollar and a quarter’s worth of tea and mutton-chop, and stretched my legs by a walk to the Jersey ferry, and there, as our pilgrim fathers would have said, took shipping for the opposite shore. I should not neglect to say that at the Astor I had noticed a tall man, in the three buttons of a Major-General, whom I at once recognized as the original of the many photographs of General Hooker. I was much disappointed in his appearance: red-faced, very, with a lack-lustre eye and an uncertainty of gait and carriage that suggested a used-up man. His mouth also is wanting in character and firmness; though, for all that, he must once have been a very handsome man. He was a passenger for Washington and sat near me. Next me was a worthy minister, with whom I talked; he, I do remember, delivered a prayer at our chapel last winter, at Headquarters. He was like all of that class, patriotic and one-sided, attributing to the Southerners every fiendish passion; in  of which he had accumulated all the horrible accounts of treatment of prisoners, slaves, etc., etc., and had worked himself into a great state. Evening. 10 p.m. I have got to Baltimore and can’t go a step farther; for all day have I been on the Weldon railroad with General Meade, and I must slap to bed, for I am most sleepy, though all right.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 229-31. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Lyman Returns (September 28, 1864)

Theodore Lyman

Theodore Lyman

Theodore Lyman returns to the army. He had gone back home on leave and almost immediately fell ill. Upon his return, he noted in his journal, “Gen. Meade received me very kindly.” Lyman also mentioned the reason why the two French observers who were with the army when he left were no longer around. “The fact is, old De Chanal wrote some pretty Union letters, officially, whereof one fell into the paws of the Minister of Marine, who married a secesh,” he observed. “Thereat he raised a row and it was implied to M. le Colonel that he might as well inspect the gun manufacturies, and not write so much of politics.” It will be good to have Lyman back to share his inimitable observations about General Meade and the Army of the Potomac.

It is late; I am somewhat tired and sleepy; I must be up early to-morrow, and many friends keep coming in to say “How are you?” So you will let me off from a long letter till to-morrow. It is as “nat’ral as the hogs” here. I have just taken my supper in a tent as gravely as if I never ate in a room. I got here without delay or accident and am stronger than when I started.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 229. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Reappraisal (September 27, 1864)

Philip Sheridan and his generals, Henry E. Davies, David McMurtrie Gregg, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson. Tis Brady photograph was probably taken in July 1864 near City Point (Llibrary of Congress).

Philip Sheridan and his generals, Henry E. Davies, David McMurtrie Gregg, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson. Tis Brady photograph was probably taken in July 1864 near City Point (Llibrary of Congress).

Meade takes a second look at Philip Sheridan’s success and the Shenandoah Valley and decides it hasn’t been so brilliant after all. He was correct that Sheridan had the advantage of numbers. At Winchester (Opequon Creek) the Union had about 35,000 troops to Early’s 12,000. At Fisher’s Hill, Early’s force had been reduced to around 9,500 and he faced Sheridan’s 29,000. So this is not entirely sour grapes on Meade’s part and he does graciously acknowledge the importance of Sheridan’s activities in the valley.

Sheridan’s victories are undoubtedly important, as all victories are; but it now turns out Early was preparing to leave the Valley, and a considerable part of his force had already gone, so that Sheridan when he attacked had greatly superior numbers. This is the secret of a great many brilliant victories. Nevertheless, the destruction of a part of Early’s forces, and the number of prisoners taken, are matters of great importance, sure to inspirit our army and people, and depress the enemy. These are points gained.

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. 230-31. Available via Google Books.

Visitors (September 25, 1864)

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Secretary of State William Seward and Congressman Elihu Washburne drop in on the Army of the Potomac. I would like to hear more about Meade’s reactions to Washburne. The Illinois congressman was Ulysses S. Grant’s political patron and Meade suspected that Washburne had been responsible for spreading the rumor—reported by Edward Crapsey (or Cropsey)—that the commander of the Army of the Potomac had wanted to retreat after the Battle of the Wilderness but Grant had overruled him. When he saw Crapsey’s article, Meade had thrown the reporter out of the army and vowed to his wife that he would show Washburne “no quarter” if the rumor of his involvement turned out to be true.

To-day we had a visit from Mr. Secretary Seward and Mr. Congressman Washburn. I had some little talk with Mr. Seward, who told me that at the North and at the South, and everywhere abroad, there was a strong conviction the war would soon terminate, and, said he, when so many people, influenced in such different ways, all unite in one conviction, there must be reason to believe peace is at hand. He did not tell me on what he founded his hopes, nor did I ask.

Sheridan’s defeat of Early will prove a severe blow to the rebs, and will, I think, compel them to do something pretty soon to retrieve their lost prestige. There have been rumors they were going to evacuate Petersburg, and I should not be surprised if they did contract their lines and draw in nearer Richmond. I never did see what was their object in defending Petersburg, except to check us; it had no other influence, because, if we were able to take Richmond, we could take Petersburg; and after taking the one when resisted, the other would be more easily captured.

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. 230. Available via Google Books.

Very Great News (September 23, 1864)

"Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher's Hill, VA. Sent to the rear under guard of Union troops" (Library of Congress).

“Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher’s Hill, VA. Sent to the rear under guard of Union troops” (Library of Congress).

Once again Meade must acknowledge a victory by Philip Sheridan over Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. Although Meade graciously salutes Sheridan’s accomplishments, they were a bitter pill for him to swallow. He felt that Grant had promised him the position Sheridan now holds, and while Sheridan was collecting the glory Meade was still stuck with the thankless task of commanding the Army of the Potomac with Grant looking over his shoulder.

To-night we have the news of Sheridan’s second victory at Fisher’s Hill, near Strasburg. This is very great news. The destruction and dispersion of Early’s army is a very great feat, and at once relieves Maryland and Pennsylvania of any fears of more invasion this year. If now we are only rapidly reinforced, we may be enabled to give Lee some hard blows before he can recruit and increase his army.

I feel quite unhappy about Sergeant having to go away, though I have the highest hopes of the good effect of the change of climate.

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. 230. Available via Google Books.

Enough Human Weakness (September 22, 1884)

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

The victory of Sheridan’s to which Meade refers in this letter is Third Winchester, a.k.a. the Battle of Opequon Creek, in which Philip Sheridan and his men repulsed Jubal Early’s II Corps. In this letter Meade refers to Ulysses S. Grant’s indications that Grant was going to assign Meade to the command that he eventually gave to Sheridan. Meade and Sheridan had a mutual dislike that dated back to at least the Wilderness in May. During the Union army’s movement towards Spotsylvania Sheridan and Meade had held a heated conversation about the cavalry’s activities. Since then, Sheridan’s star—aided by Grant—had risen while Meade’s had, at best, remained static.

To-day we have Mr. Stanton’s despatch announcing Sheridan’s brilliant victory. I am very glad for the cause and glad for Sheridan’s sake; but I must confess to enough human weakness to regret this opportunity of distinction was denied me, who was, I think, from previous service and present position, entitled to it. It is all settled, however, now, as I see Mr. Stanton announces Sheridan has been permanently assigned to the Middle Military Division, and that he has been made a brigadier general in the regular army. This last piece of disingenuous news will be amusing to those who know he was appointed to this place six weeks ago, in advance of his present well-merited laurels. My time I suppose has passed, and I must now content myself with doing my duty unnoticed.

George and I both continue very well. I did not intend to alarm you about the health of the army. I only meant to say we were beginning to experience in a slight degree the effects of a residence in this not very healthy location. Still, taking all things into consideration, the health of the army is wonderful. The enemy predicted we would never be able to pass the summer here, and counted largely on the fevers of the country driving us 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. 229-30. Available via Google Books.

And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor

SearchingGGMeadeWith no letters to post today (Meade is silent and Theodore Lyman is still back in Boston), it seems like a good time for a commercial message.

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Politics (September 17, 1864)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. People remain baffled by politics and politicians today, even as George Meade was 150 years ago. No doubt he is responding to some comment of his wife’s about the upcoming presidential election, in which Abraham Lincoln is battling Democratic candidate George McClellan.

Robert Gould Shaw, who was related to Theodore Lyman by marriage (Library of Congress).

Robert Gould Shaw, who was related to Theodore Lyman by marriage (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman is sending notes and cigars to Meade because he remains in Boston on leave, where he has fallen ill. Lyman’s sister was married to Rowland Shaw, whose nephew was Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Shaw had been killed the previous July leading his African-American soldiers into battle outside Charleston, South Carolina.

I wish you would dismiss all politics from your mind; I think you allow yourself to be unnecessarily harassed about such matters. I fancy we shall be happy, never mind who is President, if God will only spare my life, restore me to you and the children, and graciously permit dear Sergeant’s health to be re-established. Besides, politics are so mixed up that, thinking about them, and trying to unravel their mysteries, is enough to set a quiet person crazy.

I got a nice note last evening, and a box, from Lyman. The box had five hundred cigars in it, which he said were a present from his patriotic sister, Mrs. Rowland Shaw, and his wife, so you see how I am honored. By-the-by, talking of presents, I have never suitably acknowledged Mr. Tier’s handsome present of a box of tea. I wish you would tell him it is most excellent, just the kind I like, and that all the members of my mess, including the French officers, one of whom served in China and is therefore a judge, are equally with myself delighted with the flavor and hold him in most honorable and grateful remembrance. Poor Colonel de Chanal has received letters from the Minister of War, who does not seem to be oversatisfied with his reports from the field, and wants more information about our arsenals and manufacture of arms and munitions; so the colonel is going to leave us, to travel; which I regret very much, as he does, for I believe he has become quite attached to our service and the officers of my staff.

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. 228-29. Available via Google Books.

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