Satisfied (November 25, 1864)

In his letter, Meade mentions the Dutch Gap Canal. Benjamin Butler had initiated the digging of the canal on the James River to bypass Confederate forts. It wasn't completed until after the war (Library of Congress).

In his letter, Meade mentions the Dutch Gap Canal. Benjamin Butler had initiated the digging of the canal on the James River to bypass Confederate forts. It wasn’t completed until after the war (Library of Congress).

Meade receives word of his promotion and pronounces himself satisfied. The Mr. Cropsey is the newspaper reporter whom Meade had drummed out of camp at Cold Harbor. It seems he has now irritated Hancock, whose time with the Army of the Potomac is almost over.

On my return from my visit to General Grant, I found your letter of the 23d inst. General Grant told me that, as soon as he spoke to the President, the President acknowledged the justice of his statements, and said he had hesitated when appointing Sheridan on the very ground of its seeming injustice to me, and he at once, at General Grant’s suggestion, ordered the Secretary to make out my appointment, to date from August 19th, the day of the capture of the Weldon Railroad, thus making me rank Sheridan and placing me fourth in rank in the regular army. Grant virtually acknowledged that my theory of Sheridan’s appointment was the correct one, and that without doubt, had the matter been suggested at the time, I would have been appointed a few days in advance.

As justice is thus finally done me, I am satisfied—indeed, I question, if left to me, whether I should have desired my appointment announced in the way Sheridan’s has been. At one tiling I am particularly gratified, and that is at this evidence of Grant’s truthfulness and sincerity. I am willing to admit, as he does himself, that his omissions have resulted unfavorably to me, but I am satisfied he is really and truly friendly to me. I like Grant, and always have done so, notwithstanding I saw certain elements in his character which were operating disadvantageously to me.

To-morrow I am going with General Grant to visit General Butler’s famous canal at Dutch Gap. Grant does not think Mr. Stanton will be removed, or that he desires the Chief-Justiceship.

He says Stanton is as staunch a friend of mine as ever, and that the President spoke most handsomely of me.

You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Mr. Cropsey has again gotten himself into trouble. I received to-day a letter from General Hancock, complaining of Mr. Cropsey’s account of our recent movement. I told General Hancock to put his complaints in the form of charges and I would have Mr. Cropsey tried by a commission, and abide by its decision.

Hancock leaves us to-morrow, he having a leave of absence, after which he will be assigned to recruiting duty. Humphreys takes his place. The change in my position has rendered it unnecessary to have an officer of Humphreys’s rank, as chief-of-staff. I deemed it due to him to suggest his name as Hancock’s successor.

Butler has finally succeeded in getting the colored troops with this army, replacing them with an equal number of white troops. He is going to organize a corps of colored troops, and expects to do very great things with them.

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. 247-8. Available via Google Books.

The Best Man the War Has Yet Produced (November 24, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant and his horse, Cincinnati. Click to enlarge  (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant and his horse, Cincinnati. Click to enlarge
(Library of Congress).

Anyone interested in the relationship between George Meade and Ulysses S. Grant should find this letter fascinating. In it, Meade writes to his brother-in-law, Henry A. Cram of New York, and analyzes his standing with the general in chief. Although irritated by the promotions of Sherman and (especially) Sheridan, Meade does not hold a grudge against Grant, believing he just doesn’t worry about such things. He also notes the fault in Grant that will later plague him as president: that he has a “a simple and guileless disposition, which is apt to put him, unknown to himself, under the influence of those who should not influence him, and desire to do so only for their own purposes.” All in all, this is a remarkably fair minded letter.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman describes Thanksgiving with the Army of the Potomac.

I thank you most gratefully for your opinion that Time and History will do me justice, but I very much fear your kind feeling has caused the wish to be father to the thought. No man in this country will be appreciated who does not dazzle his fellow-citizens with continued brilliant success. Fortunately I knew so much of the fickleness and unreasonableness of public opinion, that when I was elevated to my present position I was prepared for the reaction and my fall; indeed, considering all things, I consider myself very fortunate in having retained my position so long as I have. However, I don’t want to inflict a letter of complaints on you. I have done and shall continue to do my duty to the best of my ability, and try to be contented under whatever it may please God to have happen to me. Adopting the philosophy of the Irishman who, when going into battle, said he would consider himself “kilt”; if he was, it would be no more than he expected; if he got through safe, it would be clear gain. So, expecting nothing, all acts of justice and kindness that fall to my lot I shall consider so much gain.

I am sorry to hear what you say of Grant, but it is in accordance with my theory and experience. Public expectation in his case, as in Sherman’s, having been wrought up to a false and unreasonable pitch, expecting impossibilities and miracles, visits on them the failure to do what only public imagination renders practicable. Both these men at one time were down. Sherman was pronounced crazy, and Grant was at one time deprived of command; and now, should success by any accident attend the efforts of either, their stars will be more in the ascendant than ever.

Grant is not a mighty genius, but he is a good soldier, of great force of character, honest and upright, of pure purposes, I think, without political aspirations, certainly not influenced by them. His prominent quality is unflinching tenacity of purpose, which blinds him to opposition and obstacles—certainly a great quality in a commander, when controlled by judgment, but a dangerous one otherwise. Grant is not without his faults and weaknesses. Among these is a want of sensibility, an almost too confident and sanguine disposition, and particularly a simple and guileless disposition, which is apt to put him, unknown to himself, under the influence of those who should not influence him, and desire to do so only for their own purposes. Take him all in all, he is, in my judgment, the best man the war has yet produced. When I say this, I refer more particularly to those I have come in contact with, and do not include Sherman, about whom I know nothing but what I see in the papers. I like Grant, and our relations have been very friendly. He has always in words expressed himself most kindly towards me, and I believe does feel so; but his acts, from causes alluded to above, have not been so; but I acquit him of any actual intention of injustice. His coming here has resulted virtually in setting me aside, almost as effectually as if I had been relieved. To be sure, I saw this plainly before he came. He did not see it then, and he don’t see it now; there is the difference between us. I over-sensitive, and he deficient in sensibility. There are many things in Grant that call for my warmest admiration, and but few that I feel called on to condemn. He has been greatly over-rated; but I should be really sorry to see him, through a reaction, under-estimated. Let all this be confidential between us. Grant will make use of me or any one else to carry out his views, but he will always do justice to others, though he may often be slow in doing so, and let slip opportunities presenting themselves, because he does not see they are opportunities. Early in the campaign he recommended me strongly for appointment as major general in the regular army, recommending Sherman at the same time. Yet he has not only had Sherman made, but has now permitted them to make Sheridan, who was not dreamed of at the time I was recommended. Still he did not appreciate that this was injustice to me; but when I called his attention to it, and explained how I thought it was unjust, he readily and frankly acknowledged I was right.

I am very glad to hear you propose to visit camp this winter. Unless we are much stronger than we are now, I see no prospect of taking Richmond. It is a pure question of numbers, requiring on our part great superiority, and even then it is not going to be a very easy task. If the good people will only turn out and fight with the unanimity they have voted to do so, we will soon bring the war to a close. There is no doubt the last dependence of the South is a divided North. The election has not dissipated this hope; but swelling our armies, promptly and cheerfully, with the bone and sinew of the country (not miserable foreigners and substitutes), who come to fight, and not for money, this, when it happens, will, in conjunction with hard fighting, open the eyes of the South and bring it to terms, if anything will.

In 1864, Thanksgiving meant turkey. Theodore Lyman writes home about the holiday.

This was Thanksgiving, which is sloppy and snowy and haily with us, as a general thing, but here was sunny and pleasant. All day the waggons were distributing turkeys to the patriots, of whom I believe all got some, sooner or later. Flint, having seen that his squadron had their poultry, called a sergeant and asked him how much it made to each man. “Well,” said the sergeant, “it makes about a quarter of a turkey, a piece of pie, and four apples.” “Oh!” said Flint, “quite a meal.” “Yes,” said the sergeant dubiously, “yes, a small meal; I could eat half a turkey myself!” The turkeys were ready cooked and were a great treat to our ragamuffins. I took a ride in some woody spots within the lines, and it was pleasant, in the warm hollows, to hear the wee birds twittering and warbling, visitors from a northern climate, that have left you some weeks ago. Then there was a pileated woodpecker (not known with us), a great fowl, as big as a crow; black, with white feathers in his wings, an ivory beak and a gay scarlet cockade. He thought himself of great account, and pompously hopped up and round the trunks of trees, making a loud, chattering noise, which quite drowned the wee birds, like a roaring man in a choir. The pompous old thing was very much scared when I approached, and flew away, but soon began his noise on a distant tree.

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. 245-7. 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. 278-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Distinguished Foreigners (November 22, 1864)

George Meade did not vote in the presidential election. In 1860 he had voted for John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. Bell’s running mate was Edward Everett. On November 19, 1863, Everett was the featured speaker at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. President Abraham Lincoln also spoke there.

I do not know how the fact of my not voting has reached Philadelphia, or is there considered a matter of importance. One of the Republican agents, formerly an officer in the Reserves, came to see me and desired I would vote at the polls of the regiment where he was going to be. I declined going to his polls, but did not intimate to him whether I was or was not going to vote. It is probable, however, that some zealous partisan has watched to see what I did. I cannot but be flattered that so much importance is attached to my action, particularly as nearly all other general officers, including Grant, did the same—that is, not vote.

I should like to see the article in the British Military Review you refer to. It is some consolation to know that distinguished foreigners think well of you.

Theodore Lyman takes the army’s British visitors out on a tour. In his notebooks he also mentions at stop at Winfield Scott Hancock’s headquarters. Andrew Humphreys is supposed to replace Hancock at the head of the II Corps. Lyman noted, “Hancock has not yet his orders, and Gen. Humphreys is fussing and fuming, afraid that he shan’t have any fighting this autumn–as he is to command the 2d Corps.”

As it was fine, after three days’ rain, General Humphreys bestirred himself to give rational entertainment to the two Englanders; and so General Meade ordered a couple of brigades of cavalry turned out and a horse-battery. We first rode along the rear line and went into a fort there. It made quite a cortege, for, besides the Generals and their officers and orderlies, there followed Mr. Lunn in a four-horse spring waggon, with General [Henry] Hunt to bear him company; for Lunn had received the horseback proposition with mild horror. So he followed in a waggon, much as Mr. Pickwick was wheeled after the shooting party, when he finally turned up in the pound. In the fort was a company of soldiers that you might know beforehand were Germans, so dirty and especially so grimy — they have a great facility for looking grimy do the Germans. It was funny to see the different chaps among them: one, evidently a ci-devant Prussian soldier, was seized with rigidity in all his muscles on beholding a live brace of Generals. There was another who was an unmistakable student; he had a moustache, a poetically fierce air, a cap with the brim turned up, and a pair of spectacles. There he stood, a most out-of-place individual, with our uniform on, watching anxiously the progress of a pot, boiling on a fire. The cavalry looked what I have learned to consider as very well; that is, the men looked healthy, the horses in good flesh, and the arms and equipments in proper repair. To a European they must have been fearful; very likely so to Major Smyth, though he was silently polite—no polish, horses rough and woolly, and of all sizes and colors; men not sized at all, with all kinds of beards and every known species of hat; but as I know that men do not fight with their hats and beards, I was satisfied to see evidences of good discipline. Thereafter we called on General Gregg, where I had a treat in form of some Newton pippins, of which excellent apple there was a barrel on hand.

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. 244-5. 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. 277-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Only Exception (November 20, 1864)

"Photograph showing Generals Wesley Merritt, Philip Sheridan, George Crook, James William Forsyth, and George Armstrong Custer around a table examining a document." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Photograph showing Generals Wesley Merritt, Philip Sheridan, George Crook, James William Forsyth, and George Armstrong Custer around a table examining a document.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Meade is steaming over Philip Sheridan’s promotion to major general in the regular army, and rightly so. Adding to his insecurity are his doubts about Grant role in this. Is the general-in-chief conniving against him? Is he being sincere? This issue will continue to gnaw at Meade.

General Grant promised me he would, when in Washington, use all his influence to have justice done to me, disclaimed any agency in Sheridan’s appointment, acknowledged I was entitled to it before, and ought now to be appointed his senior; and that if he found any difficulty in Washington (which he did not anticipate) he would have me relieved. He furthermore expressed regret at not having insisted on my appointment when Sherman was appointed, and assured me my not being assigned to the Middle Military Division was accidental, as he always intended I should go there, until it was too late. Finally, he assured me, on his word of honor, he had never entertained or expressed any but the strongest feeling in my favor, and that whenever speaking or writing of me, he had expressed his appreciation of my services. Now, I believe Grant, hence my eyes are not opened by Sheridan’s appointment. He was to return to Washington to-night, spend to-morrow and perhaps the next day there, and then return here. I shall await his return and hear what he has to say.

Every other officer in this army, except myself, who has been recommended for promotion for services in this campaign has been promoted. It is rather hard I am to be the only exception to this rule.

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. 244. Available via Google Books.

All’s Well! (November 19, 1864)

Theodore Lyman gives us a taste of life in camp. Even when nothing happens, he finds a way to make it amusing.

The rain continued, being cold, by way of variety, and from the northeast; whereby it happened that we got no mail. Be-cause what? as small Co says. Well, because the captain of that gallant ship went and ran her aground somewhere on a shoal which they told me the name of—whereat I was no wiser. The result to us was disastrous; when I say to us, I mean our mess; for the chef, Mercier, (no relation of French minister) was on board with many good eatables for us, but in the confusion, the knavish soldiery, who were on board as passengers, did break the boxes and did eat much and destroy and waste more. “Aussi,” said little Mercier, “they broke many bottles; but,” he continued, with the air of a good man, whom a higher power had protected, “that made no difference, for they belonged to other people!” In the night we were favored with quite a disturbance. The officer of the guard, who had possibly been storing his mind from some mediaeval book on the ordering of warders in a walled town, suddenly conceived an idea that it was proper for the sentries to call the hours. So we were waked from the prima quies by loud nasal and otherwise discordant cries of: “Post number eight! Half-past twelve! All’s well!” etc., etc. The factionaries evidently considered it a good joke, and, as they had to keep awake, determined no one else should sleep; and so roared often and loud. Some of the officers, hastily roused, fancied the camp was on fire; others conceived the sentinels were inebriated; others that Mosby was in the camp; and others again, like myself, didn’t think anything about it, but growled and dropped off again to sleep. “What was that howling?” said the testy General, at breakfast. “Yes, what did the confounded fools mean?” added the pacific Humphreys. But the most indignant personage was Rosencrantz. “I do svear!” he exclaimed, “this whole night have I not a single vink slept. It is not enough that those sentry fellows should tell us vat time it is, but they must also be screaming to me a long speech besides! Vat do I care vat time it is; and if all is vell, vy can they not keep it to themselves, and not be howling it in my ears and vaking me up? This is the most fool tings I have seen!” You may be sure that was the first and last of the warders.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 276-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Brits (November 18, 1864)

A stereo view of Fort Hell, a.k.a. Fort Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

A stereo view of Fort Hell, a.k.a. Fort Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman relates the visits of even more Britishers. The “Fort Hell” they visit was officially known as Fort Sedgwick. In his journal entry, Lyman wrote, “What is the reason that Englishmen, whether they know anything or not, always succeed in looking more or less idiotic?” In Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, David W. Lowe identifies Smyth as Henry Augustus Smyth, who published his observations in Minutes of Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institution.

Warm it is this morning—too much so; I would prefer it frosty, but remember the farmer whom Jupiter allowed to regulate the weather for his own farm, and who made very poor crops in consequence. As Albert came last night, I honorably discharged the ebony John this morning, giving him a character, an antique pair of trousers and a dollar or two extra wages, whereat John showed his ivory, but still remarked, standing on one leg: “Er ud like er pass.” “What do you want a pass for?” asked I, in that fatherly voice that should always be used to a very black nig. “Go a Washington.” “If you go to Washington they’ll draft you, if you don’t look out.” “Oh,” said John, with the grave air of a man of mundane experience, “dem fellers what ain’t travelled none, dey gets picked up: but I’s travelled a right smart lot!” Whereupon the traveller departed. It should be stated that his travels consist in having run away from his master, near Madison Court House, and in having since followed the army on the back of a spare horse. We were favored with a batch of two J. Bulls (lately they have taken to hunting about here, in couples and singly). These were a certain legation person, Kirkpatrick, and an extraordinary creature named H____, who is said to have been once in the British army and to be now in Oxford—rather a turning about. He had a sort of womanish voice and a manner of sweet sap; his principal observations were: “Ao, inde—ed”; “Ao, thank you”; and “Ao, I wish you a good morning.” He had an unaccountable mania for getting shot through the head, and insisted on going to Fort Hell, and staring through embrasures; from which I judge he was more idiotic than he seemed. He was also, it would appear, very fond of fresh air, while his companion (who also disagreed with him on the shooting-through-the-head matter) rather liked a door shut. They were put in a log cabin to sleep, and H____ secretly opened the door at night; whereupon it came to rain and blow, and the Bulls awaked in the morning to behold their shoes and stockings sailing about the room! Really, General Hunt, to whom these creatures are usually billetted, ought to get board free from his many former guests for the rest of his life.

In the evening we had a charge on the enemy under a new form, or rather a very old one, for it was after the fashion of Samson’s foxes. A number of beef cattle, in a pen near Yellow Tavern, were seized, in the night, with one of those panics for which oxen are noted, and to which the name “stampede” was originally applied. They burst out of the enclosure and a body of them, forty strong, went, at full gallop, up the Halifax road, towards Petersburg! What our pickets did does not appear; one thing they did not do—stop the fugitive beef. On they went in wild career through the dark, with no little clatter, we may be sure. The Rebel videttes discharged their pieces and fled; the picket sentries opened fire; the reserves advanced in support, and fired too; heedless of killed and wounded, the oxen went slap through the whole of them; and, the last that was heard from that drove was the distant crash of a volley of musketry from the enemy’s breastworks! When the gray morn lifted, the first sight that greeted our disgusted pickets was a squad of grey-backs comfortably cutting savory steaks from a fat beef, the quarry of their bow and their spear! The evening brought us warm rain; also, as toads fall in a shower, one military Englishman, and one civilian Blue-nose. The Briton was a Major Smyth, of the Royal Artillery—a really modest, gentlemanly man, with a red face, hooked nose, and that sure mark of greatness, a bald head. The Blue-nose was modest also (the only one I ever saw) and was of the class of well-to-do, honorable Common-Councilmen; his name was Lunn, suggestive of “Sally Lunns.”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 273-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Nobody Hurt (November 17, 1864)

Meade's aide Frederick Rosenkrantz, in a detail from Alexander Gardner's photo "Studying the Art of War" (Library of Congress).

Meade’s aide Frederick Rosenkrantz, in a detail from Alexander Gardner’s photo “Studying the Art of War.” About Rosenkrantz, Gardner wrote, “A very reliable soldier, and one of the best Aids on the Staff, his genial disposition, unfailing amiability, and keen appreciation of humor, made him acceptable everywhere. He was probably as well known as any officer in the field.” (Library of Congress).

George Meade writers to his oldest son, who is slowly dying of tuberculosis back in Philadelphia. He covers some of the same topics he had written about to his wife previously. “Owen Meredith” was the pen name for Robert Bulwer-Lytton, an English author who also served as the Viceroy of India. He was the son of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the man for whom the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, for the best bad writing, is named. “Lucille” was one of the younger Bulwer-Lytton’s most popular poems.

Theodore Lyman also wrote home about the story of Meade aide Frederick Rosenkrantz and the British visitors.

Well, the election is over, and nobody hurt. In the army it passed off very quietly, Mr. Lincoln receiving two votes to McClellan’s one. This result was fully anticipated by me—indeed, McClellan’s vote was larger than I expected.

The election being over, it is now to be hoped the earnest attention and best energies of the Government and people will be devoted to raising and sending men enough so to swell our armies that our onward movement will be irresistible, and the Confederacy convinced that further resistance is useless. There are significant signs that our enemies are beginning to feel the exhaustion and effects of a three years’ war. Among these the most important is the proposition of Mr. Davis to arm forty thousand slaves, who are to receive their freedom as a boon for faithful services. They are to be employed, it is ingeniously said, as engineer troops, and to act as a reserve to be called on in an emergency. This is a plausible disguise, to sound the temper of the Southern people on the question of arming and freeing the slaves. Nothing but the conviction of the necessity of this measure could ever have justified its enunciation. It has produced the most violent discussions pro and con in the Southern journals, and bids fair to be as great a firebrand with them as it has been with us. My own judgment is it will be abandoned, for although the number as yet is fixed at forty thousand, as a test, to see if the negroes can be relied on and will fight, I believe that the experiment will prove that the arming the slaves is more dangerous to the Confederacy than to us. I have no doubt that many will be faithful to their masters, but the great body will, after being armed, desert to us or go back to their homes. Now, in view of the position the South has always taken on this subject the change of ground can only be attributed to desperation, and a conviction that the war in its present gigantic proportions cannot much longer be carried on by the whites at the South. Should this theory be correct, the end cannot be far distant, when we have such armies in the field, as we ought to and I hope soon will have.

I have recently picked up a story in verse by Owen Meredith, called “Lucille.” I don’t suppose you are well enough to read a great deal. The story is quite interesting, and told with much pathos, though I don’t think the poetry very superior.

We have recently had an influx of John Bulls in the form of officers and others. You would have been delighted to see the admirable display of whiskers, fine clothes, etc. An amusing incident occurred with Rosencrantz, who was showing a couple of them our lines. On finding him a foreigner, they were delighted and said, now you can tell us what the American officers really think of us. “Veil,” said Rosey, “they no like you, they say,’ven this war be over they vill take Canada.'” “God bless me, you don’t say so,” they exclaimed, and did not ask Rosey any more questions of this nature. Approaching a part of the lines, where it was dangerous from sharpshooters, Rosey said they had better not go, but they pooh-poohed him, and he started on. Pretty soon the balls began to fly pretty thick and close, when they changed their mind, expostulated, and finally begged Rosey to turn back, but he had his dander up and replied, “No, ve vill go on, ve vill go on,” and go on he did, and return, fortunately without any one being hit.

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. 242-3. Available via Google Books.

The Case for Meade (November 16, 1864)

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. (Library of Congress).

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. This is the cover image for the 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar, which you can order through  (Library of Congress).

News of Philip Sheridan’s promotion spurs Theodore Lyman to write a stirring defense of General Meade. True, he overestimates Lee’s numbers at Gettysburg, but still. This is a fair statement of the case for General Meade, without taking anything away from Sheridan.

They have made Sheridan a Major-General in the Regular Army. I think he deserves it for that remarkable battle of Cedar Creek. Those of Opequon and of Fisher’s Hill were joyous occasions; but he ought to have won those, because his forces were probably at least as two to one, and his cavalry immeasurably superior; but this last battle was the thing that brought out his high merit. The language of the order is not to be commended, as it makes Sheridan a cat’s-paw to give McClellan an insulting hit. It is hard on Meade, and I think he feels it; during a long campaign, in many respects unprecedented in military history for its difficulties and its grandeur, he has handled an army, which has at times considerably exceeded 100,000 men; and that too under circumstances very trying to a man who has had a chief command; that is to say, obliged to take the orders and tactics of a superior, but made responsible for all the trying and difficult performance, which indeed is more than one half the game of war. I undertake to say that his handling of his troops, when a mistake would be the destruction of the entire plan, has been a wonder: without exaggeration, a wonder. His movements and those of Lee are only to be compared to two exquisite swordsmen, each perfectly instructed, and never erring a hair in attack or in defence. Of course, it is idle to tell such facts to people at large; they don’t understand, or care, or believe anything about it. It is true, the army has played what seems its destined role, to kill and to be killed without decisive actions, until both sides pause from mere exhaustion; but do people reflect what a tremendous effect all this has on the Rebels? that by wearing ourselves, we have worn them down, until they are turning every teamster into the ranks and (of all things) are talking of arming the negroes. Suppose there had been no army capable of clinging thus for months in a death-grapple, and still clinging and meaning to cling; what would have become of Sherman and his great work? The record of General Meade is a remarkably clear one. He has risen from a brigadier of volunteers to all the higher commands, by hard fighting and an experience that dates from the first days of McClellan. He has done better with the Army of the Potomac than McClellan, Pope, Burnside, or Hooker; and—I will add boldly and without disparagement to the Lieutenant-General—better than Grant! and you would agree with me did you know what power and what men Grant has had to command. Meade’s great virtue is, that he knows when to fight, and when not to fight. Taking up an army on the march, he fought and won the greatest battle of this war—Gettysburg—100,000 men against 110,000—a battle that saved Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia, and nobody knows what besides. He wouldn’t fight (assault) Lee at Williamsport, and immediately he was “timid, timid, timid!” Now look here: we assaulted at Spotsylvania, at Cool Arbor, at Petersburg, and were repulsed with perfect slaughter; after all that, if Lee had assaulted us in position what would, what would have become of him? Why, we would have used him up so, that he wouldn’t have known himself. Just turn this about and apply it to Gettysburg and reflect how “the people” are frequently semi-idiotic! He followed Lee to the Rappahannock and got orders to stop. In September he was to move and attack Lee on the Rapid Ann; the day before this move they took 20,000 men from him and sent West: it couldn’t be done to Grant. Then Lee marched on Centreville; Meade beat him and got there first; Lee wouldn’t fight and retreated (he also knows when not to fight). It was in just such a move that Pope was smashed all to pieces and driven into Washington. Then Meade forced the Rappahannock, and drove Lee in haste over the Rapid Ann. The Mine Run expedition followed; we did not go fast enough—that was unfortunate; but it would have been more unfortunate to have left 10,000 men on the slopes there. If Meade had lacked the great moral courage to say “retreat,” after having been called “timid” by the papers, and having been hounded on by Halleck and Stanton to “do something,” he would not only have got a disastrous defeat, but would have destroyed the plan of re-enlistments by which we obtained the very backbone of our army for this campaign. His “timidity” lies in this, that he will not try to build a house without enough of tools and timber. Lately, they have turned round, 180 degrees, and now call him “butcher”; but that does just as well—blow hot, blow cold. This is a fair statement. I don’t say he is Napoleon, Caesar and Alexander in one; only that he can handle 100,000 men and do it easy—a rare gift! Also, as Sherman and Sheridan, commanding the two other great armies, have been made regular Major-Generals, he too, who is doing his part, and has fought more than both of them put together, ought to have equal rank. General Grant, as far as I can hear, thinks everything of General Meade, and it is said will have him promoted like the others. I believe it will turn out that Sherman is our first military genius, while Sheridan is most remarkable as a “field fighter,” when the battle is actually engaged. Bless my soul! quelle lecture on my commanding General! Never mind, variety is the spice of life.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 270-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Life of Devotion to Duty (November 15, 1864)

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

George Meade’s off-hand mention of Philip Sheridan’s promotion belies the anger he truly felt over the fact that Grant seemed to favor Sheridan over him.  He will return to the topic in future letters. In the meantime, he continues to worry about the health of his oldest son, John Sergeant.

I am very glad Bishop Odenheimer was so kind as to visit you and talk to Sergeant, and am truly happy to hear dear Sergeant proposes to make public what I felt sure was the case, that he is a sincere and good Christian. With such a life of devotion to duty, and freedom from all the faults that youth is liable to, it needed for me no more evidence to feel satisfied that my dear boy was in the right path as far as human infirmity admitted.

General George McClellan (Library of Congress).

General George McClellan (Library of Congress).

I hear from City Point this evening that McClellan’s resignation has been accepted, and that Sheridan has been appointed a major general in the regular army. It is also reported that General Canby, commanding in Louisiana, has been mortally wounded whilst going up Red River.

An officer called to see me to-day, just from Detroit, bringing me many kind messages from friends. This officer says that, whilst at a hotel in Columbus, Ohio, he heard a man publicly proclaim that the Army of the Potomac, under my influence, was going to vote for McClellan. My friend told the individual his statement was false, that he knew me and the army, and he knew I would never influence a man for either side, and he knew the army would vote largely for Mr. Lincoln. But this report of my interference was circulated all through the Western country.

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. 242. Available via Google Books.

Ivory and Ebony (November 14, 1864)

Col. Charles Sawyer Russell (via Wikipedia).

Col. Charles Sawyer Russell (via Wikipedia).

It’s Theodore Lyman writing today. How he avoided developing writer’s cramp remains a mystery. In this letter, he writes about African-American soldiers, and Lyman’s views on that subject often create some discomfort for us here in the 21st century. Lyman seems unable to see black soldiers as anything but objects of curiosity or comic relief. Although race is obviously a major factor in his outlook, I don’t think it is the only one. Lyman tended to see Irish and German soldiers in a similar light, as subjects for jokes or condescension. Lyman was from Boston and Havard and considered himself of the best pedigree, so he would have considered most soldiers in the army to be below him in class standing. The Col. Russell he mentions is Charles S. Russell, who had commanded the 28th USCT before being promoted to brigade command in the IX Corps. In his journals back in July, Lyman had described him as “a bald headed and extremely funny man and a good officer, though coarse.”

If doctors and quartermasters had not quarrelled, I should not have come unto sorrow; thus, a hospital was placed nigh to a place on the railroad where the quartermasters would fain have a platform. “Move your tents,” said the quartermasters. “We won’t,” said the doctors. “You shall,” retorted the quartermasters. “We shan’t,” reiterated the M.D’s. The strife waxed hot. Inspectors were called: they inspected much and shook their heads; that being a negative conclusion, the Major-General Commanding the Army of the Potomac was appealed to, and he rode out to enter a fiat. In riding out he took me, and I took a chill. So confusion to all doctors and quartermasters! But the former shall be forced to cure me and the latter to make me comfortable in mine house. There came over, for a visit, the Colonel Russell, of the funny turn, who commands now a brigade of negro troops. He has always something funny to relate of their manners and customs. It would appear that his nigs were once relieved by troops of the 2d Corps, and, as both parties had just been paid off, the ivory and the ebony sat down to play poker, wherein the ebony was rapidly getting the better of their opponents. The enemy meanwhile began to fire shells over the woods, but the players were too interested to leave off. At last one cute Yankee, who, despite his cuteness, had been entirely cleaned out, wandered off and found an empty shell, which he carefully filled with damp gunpowder, adding a paper fuse. Approaching the group that seemed to have most money on the board, he lighted the innocent combustible, screamed “Look out!” and threw it into the midst of them, following up himself, to secure the greenbacks left by the fugitives. Russell said when the recruits first come down they get into all sorts of snarls. As, for example, two of them found what they call “one er dese ere mortisses,” by which they would say mortar shell. “Hullo, dar’s er mortiss: s’pose dat ar’ll ’splode?” “‘Splode! ’corse it’ll ’splode.” “No, it wun’t; how’s gwine to ’splode, when’s been shot out uv er cannon?” “Bet yer five dollars ’ll ‘splode.” “Bet yer it wun’t!” The next thing the Colonel knew was a tremendous report, and two or three bits of iron flying through his tent. He rushed forth and collared a handful of the darks, and demanded immediate explanation. Whereunto one replied, with the utmost simplicity: “Didn’t mean nuphin, Kernul; all fault er dat ar stupid nigger — said er mortiss wouldn’t ’splode!” This day was further remarkable by the erection of a stately flagstaff, which seemed to imply that General Williams thought we should stay some time; but I think it will doubtless make us move at once; just as building log huts has a similar effect.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 269-70. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.


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