Packing (March 28, 1865)

The Army of the Potomac prepares for its spring offensive against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Theodore Lyman reports.

You must let me off with a few lines to-night, because I have some little packing yet to do and would like a good modicum of slumber; for to-morrow we are up and moving betimes in light order. I do not look for any grand action from this (taking the liberty of guessing where I am in the dark). I fancy a heavy infantry force will move to our left and rear, to mask and protect a great movement of cavalry with Sheridan at its head, directed at the South Side R. R. and other communications; all of which the enemy must be fully aware of; but I don’t think he can have one half our force in cavalry. The amount of fighting will depend on the moves of the enemy; but I do not ever expect to see more than one such field-day as we used to have in the ever memorable campaign of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania— perhaps not even one. Meantime I will not recklessly run against bullets. It isn’t my style; not exactly. Yesterday I rode about with the General, who confabbed with Wright, Warren, and the gay Humphreys. The latter is confirmed as the commander of the 2d Corps, at which we are glad, for he was only its commander ad interim before.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 326. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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The President (March 26, 1865)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee’s attack on Fort Stedman interrupted the visit by Mrs. Meade and the Meade children. Meade was with his family on the steamer Thomas Collyer at City Point when word of the attack arrived. “Meade was greatly nettled by the fact that he was absent from his command at such a time, and was pacing up and down with great strides, and dictating orders to his chief of staff, General Webb, who was with him, in tones which showed very forcibly the intensity of his feelings,” recalled Horace Porter, Grant’s aide-de-camp. President Lincoln had come down to visit Grant. The next day, when word arrived that the Confederate attack had been repulsed, he accepted Grant’s offer to visit the Petersburg front.

Following Meade’s letter to his wife is Theodore Lyman’s letter from the same day. He has some interesting observations about the president.

Your visit seems so like a dream I can hardly realize you have been here.

The orderly who took Meta McCall’s saddle down says he arrived just in time to put it on board, so I presume you started soon after

12 M. To-day is a fine day, without wind, and I trust you will have a pleasant journey up the Potomac and get safe home.

After I arrived here, the President and party came about 1 p.m. We reviewed Crawford’s Division, and then rode to the front line and saw the firing on Wright’s front, at the fort where you were, where a pretty sharp fight was going on. Indeed, Humphreys and Wright were fighting till eight o’clock, with very good results, taking over one thousand prisoners from the enemy, and inflicting heavy losses in killed and wounded. The day turned out to be a very successful one, we punishing the enemy severely, taking nearly three thousand prisoners and ten battle flags, besides the morale of frustrating and defeating his plans.

Mrs. Lincoln spoke very handsomely of you and referred in feeling terms to our sad bereavement. The President also spoke of you, and expressed regret that your visit should have been so abruptly terminated. I suppose Mrs. Hopkinson and yourself will have great fun in recalling the incidents of your trip. Altogether, your expedition was very successful, and I am very glad you came.

I expect we shall have stirring times before long. The fighting yesterday proved the enemy has still some spirit left in him, and Lee, having once begun, is likely to try his hand again; and if he don’t, I suppose we shall have to take the matter in hand.

Here is Lyman’s letter. His impressions of Lincoln certainly come filtered through his own Boston snobbery, yet overall it’s a favorable portrait. Lyman does not include his impressions of Mrs. Meade in his letters, but he did in his journals. “Mrs. Meade has a pleasant and still good looking face, for her age, and very fine hair,” he wrote. “She has a little of the languid, half southern way, and is wanting in force, somewhat.”

My letter of yesterday only gave a part of the day’s work. Our train went briskly up to the front and stopped not far from the little rustic chapel you saw; for there was General Parke with his Staff, waiting to receive the General and report the morning’s work. . . . Brevet Brigadier McLaughlen got taken in trying to maintain his line—a good officer. He was the one who had been five days in Boston and told me he was so tired that he thought he should go right back. A certain Major Miller was captured and sent, with a guard of four men, a little to the rear. They sat in a bomb-proof for protection and Miller did so describe the glories of Yankeedom to his captors, that, when we retook the work, they all deserted and came over with him! Then we kept on and got out at our own domus, where General Meade (it being then about 11.30 a.m.)telegraphed sundry orders to his generals; wherefrom resulted, at 12.15, the greatest bang, bang, whang, from good Duke Humphrey, who, spectacles on nose, rushed violently at the entrenched skirmish line of the enemy and captured the same, with the double view of making a reconnaissance and a diversion, and furthermore of showing the Johns that we were not going to be pitched into without hitting back.

Then there was a lull, filled by the arrival of a long grey procession of some 1500 prisoners from the 9th Corps. Really these men possess a capacity for looking “rough” beyond any people I ever saw, except the townsmen of Signor Fra Diavolo. They grew rougher and rougher. These looked brown and athletic, but had the most matted hair, tangled beards, and slouched hats, and the most astounding carpets, horse-sheets and transmogrified shelter-tents for blankets, that you ever imagined. One grim gentleman, of forbidding aspect, had tempered his ferocity by a black, broad-brimmed straw hat, such as country ministers sometimes wear—a head-dress which, as Whittier remarked, “rather forced the season!” Singularly enough, the train just then came up and the President and General Grant, followed by a small party, rode over to the Headquarters. “I have just now a despatch from General Parke to show you,” said General Meade. “Ah,” quoth the ready Abraham, pointing to the parade-ground of the Provost-Marshal, “there is the best despatch you can show me from General Parke!” The President is, I think, the ugliest man I ever put my eyes on; there is also an expression of plebeian vulgarity in his face that is offensive (you recognize the recounter of coarse stories). On the other hand, he has the look of sense and wonderful shrewdness, while the heavy eyelids give him a mark almost of genius. He strikes me, too, as a very honest and kindly man; and, with all his vulgarity, I see no trace of low passions in his face. On the whole, he is such a mixture of all sorts, as only America brings forth. He is as much like a highly intellectual and benevolent Satyr as anything I can think of. I never wish to see him again, but, as humanity runs, I am well content to have him at the head of affairs. . . . After which digression I will remark that the President (who looks very fairly on a horse) reviewed the 3d division, 5th Corps, which had marched up there to support the line, and were turned into a review. As the Chief Magistrate rode down the ranks, plucking off his hat gracefully by the hinder part of the brim, the troops cheered quite loudly. Scarcely was the review done when, by way of salute, all those guns you saw by Fort Fisher opened with shells on the enemy’s picket line, which you could see, entrenched, from where you stood. Part of the 6th Corps then advanced and, after a sharp fight, which lasted, with heavy skirmishing, till sunset, drove off the Rebels and occupied their position, driving them towards their main line. At four and at seven P.m. the enemy charged furiously on Humphreys, to recover their picket line, but were repulsed with great loss; our men never behaved better. Both Wright and Humphreys took several hundred prisoners, swelling the total for the day to 2700, more than we have had since the noted 12th of May. Our total loss is from 1800 to 2000; while that of the enemy must be from 4000 to 5000 plus a great discouragement. Isn’t it funny for you to think of the polite Humphreys riding round in an ambulance with you Friday, and, the next day, smashing fiercely about in a fight?

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. 267-8. 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. 323-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Fort Stedman (March 25, 1864)

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The campaigning season begins, and Robert E. Lee striking the first blow with a dawn attack on Fort Stedman. Early in the morning on March 25, a group of rebels pretending to be deserters approached in the darkness and subdued the Union picket line. Behind them streamed some ten thousand men under the command of Gen. John B. Gordon. The rebels charged across the fields and overwhelmed Stedman’s defenders. Then they turned left and right and captured the batteries on each side. A counterattack by the IX Corps soon turned the tide, and as the Confederates retreated, the Union guns turned the fields into “a place of fearful slaughter,” recalled one soldier. “My mind sickens at the memory of it—a real tragedy in war—for the victims had ceased fighting, and were now struggling between imprisonment on the one hand, and death or home on the other.”

In this letter from March 25, Theodore Lyman describes the fighting. He will resume his narrative tomorrow.

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

We may indeed call this a many-sided field-day: a breakfast with a pleasure party, an assault and a recapture of an entrenched line, a review by the President of a division of infantry, and sharp fighting at sundry points of a front of eighteen miles! If that is not a mixed affair, I would like to know what is? It has been a lucky day, for us; and the 9th Corps, after patient waiting for eight months, have played the game of the “Mine” against their antagonists. The official despatches will give you the main facts very well, but I can add some particulars. About daylight, the enemy having massed three divisions and a part of a fourth, made a sudden rush and carried Fort Stedman and about half a mile of line commanded by it. The garrisons of the forts on either side stood firm, however, and repelled a severe attack with much injury to the enemy. Meantime, General Parke had ordered that the works should be retaken, if it cost every man in the Corps; and all the scattered regiments immediately at hand were put in and checked a further advance, until General Hartranft (I’m not sure about the spelling of his name) brought up the 3d division, which had been camped in reserve. He personally led in one brigade of it, with conspicuous gallantry, retook the whole portion lost, and captured, at one swoop, 1800 Rebels. It was just the “Mine,” turned the other way: they got caught in there and could not get out. Their loss also in killed and wounded must have been severe, not only from musketry, but also from canister, which was thrown into a ravine by which they retreated. Upwards of a hundred Rebel dead lay in and round Fort Stedman alone. Our own losses in the 9th Corps will be somewhat over 800, half of whom may be reckoned prisoners, taken in the first surprise. I should guess the loss of their opponents as not less than 2600.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 322-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Holy Patrick (March 18, 1865)

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade's St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade’s St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

What unit is better fitted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than the Irish Brigade? Theodore Lyman describes the festivities.

This morning I sent you a telegraph, which may be rather late, I fear, though I sent it at the earliest chance. It was to ask you to pay a day’s visit here, and see the army, as a curiosity. Mrs. Meade is coming with a party in a special boat from Washington. . . .

You probably are aware that yesterday was the nativity of the Holy Patrick, in whose honor the Irish Brigade, of the 2d Corps, got up a grand race, with a printed programme and every luxury. The weather, which had been most evil the night before, unexpectedly cleared up and the day was fine, exceedingly. We found the course laid out near the Cummings house, in rear of what you remember as the noted Peeble house. There was a judge’s stand, flaunting with trefoil flags, and a band beside the same, which had been accommodated with a couple of waggons, in lieu of orchestra. Then there were plenty of guards (there need be no lack of such) and a tent wherein were displayed plates of sandwiches. Alas! This was the weak point, the bitter drop in the Irish festa. The brigade, with an Irish generosity, had ordered a fine collation, but the steamer, bad luck to her, had gone and run herself aground somewhere, and poor Paddy was left to eat his feast the day after the fair. Nevertheless, we didn’t allow such things to stand in the way, and the races proceeded under the august auspices of General Humphreys, who didn’t look exactly like a turfman, and had a mild look of amusement, as he read out: “Captain Brady’s grey mare.”—Captain Brady bows. “Captain—, Hey? What is that name? I can’t read the writing.” “Murphy,” suggests General Miles. “Oh, dear me, of course, yes; Captain Murphy’s bay gelding.” “No! red,” suggests Miles. “Ah, yes, to be sure—red.” “Here,” says the long-expectant Murphy. Then a bugler blows at a great rate and the horses are brought to the line; the bugler blows at a great rate some more, and away they go. There were a good many different races, some of which were rather tiresome, by reason of the long waiting and the fact that none of the horses were really racers, but only swift officers’ steeds, which were not enough trained to go round regularly, but often would balk at the hurdles and refuse to go round at all. Wherefrom we had tragic consequences: for one, scared by the crowd and by the brush hurdle, bolted violently and knocked down a soldier; and Colonel von Schack, in another race, had his horse, which had overleaped, fall on him heavily. . . . Everything was extremely quiet and orderly, and no tipsy people about. . . .

[Mrs. Meade, with a large party, including Mrs. Lyman, arrived at City Point on the evening of March 22. The next two days were spent in visiting the front, and in excursions on the river. On the morning of the 25th, it was found that the Confederates had made an unexpected attack. The visitors were shipped back to Washington, and their hosts made for the front.]

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 321-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. 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.

Junketings (March 16, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac is quite the tourist attraction in the days leading up to the final campaign of the war. Here, Meade describes yet another delegation, which included Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. In his journal, Theodore Lyman described Stanton as “short, dark, very thick set, very big-headed; a small, turned-up nose; a long, black beard, mixed with gray, and a somewhat goblin air.”.

To-day Mr. Stanton and lady, with a select party, among whom was the French Minister, visited the army and went the rounds, witnessing among other things a review of Warren’s Corps. Yesterday we had a party of Senators, with their families, so that we have had junketings almost every day for a week past.

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. 267. Available via Google Books.

The Mine, Again (March 13, 1865)

Artist Alfred Waud’s description of his drawing: Explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg July 30th 1864. The spires in the distance mark the location of the city; along the crest, in front of them are the defensive works, it was an angle of these that was blown up, with its guns & defenders. The explosion was the signal for the simultaneous opening of the artillery and musketry of the Union lines. The pickets are seen running in from their pits & shelters on the front, to the outer line of attack. In the middle distance, are the magnificent 8 & 10 inch Mortar batteries, built and commanded by Col. Abbott. Nearer is a line of abandoned rifle pits, and in the foreground is the covered way, a sunken road for communication with the siege works and the conveyance of supplies and ammunition to the forts. The chief Engineer of the A. of P. is standing upon the embankment watching progress throw [sic] a field glass (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud’s description of his drawing: Explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg July 30th 1864. The spires in the distance mark the location of the city; along the crest, in front of them are the defensive works, it was an angle of these that was blown up, with its guns & defenders. The explosion was the signal for the simultaneous opening of the artillery and musketry of the Union lines. The pickets are seen running in from their pits & shelters on the front, to the outer line of attack. In the middle distance, are the magnificent 8 & 10 inch Mortar batteries, built and commanded by Col. Abbott. Nearer is a line of abandoned rifle pits, and in the foreground is the covered way, a sunken road for communication with the siege works and the conveyance of supplies and ammunition to the forts. The chief Engineer of the A. of P. is standing upon the embankment watching progress throw [sic] a field glass (Library of Congress).

Back in Philadelphia, Margaretta Meade is stiff grieving over the death of her eldest son, John Sergeant, the previous month. The general suggests she come and visit the army. He also writes home yet again about the official inquiry in the disastrous Battle of the Crater. The report from the Army and Navy Journal that he mentions appears after Theodore Lyman’s letter from today. Meade’s mention of Wade Hampton and Judson Kilpatrick is a reference to the North Carolina Battle of Monroe’s Crossing, also known as “Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle.” Surprised by the Confederate cavalry, Kilpatrick had fled in his nightshirt, barely escaping capture. Kilpatrick had earlier served in the Army of the Potomac and led the disastrous raid on Richmond in February 1864.

I wish you would think favorably of my proposition to take a trip to the army. I think it would arouse you and distract your mind.

You do not do justice quite to the court of inquiry. The finding is a complete vindication of my part in the operation. I enclose a slip from the Army and Navy Journal, which gives in full the “Finding of the Court,” the papers having only published that portion in which individual officers are censured by name. On reading this you will see the court states that, had my orders been carried out, success was certain, and that failure was due to the neglect of my orders by Major General Burnside and others. It is true the court might have amplified this much more than it did, and not ignored altogether Burnside’s extraordinary course, in the withdrawal of his command, which was the cause of our great loss. The Richmond papers say Hampton has whipped Kilpatrick, and we have a despatch from Sheridan reporting the occupation of Charlottesville and destruction of the James River Canal.

Both Meade and Lyman mention Sheridan’s successful efforts in their May 13 letters. Neither man cared personally for the Sheridan (especially Meade) but both were willing to acknowledge his successes.

We have a long telegram from Sheridan, dated Columbia (a small place on the James, between Lynchburg and Richmond). His raid has been a complete surprise. After defeating Early utterly at Waynesboro’, he met with no further opposition, but entered Charlottesville and destroyed the rail and bridges; then struck south and got to the James, where he destroyed all destructible parts of the Lynchburg canal, and continued the work as he marched down the river. If you will look at the map, you will see how important it is to break these routes, for they leave only the road via Burkeville Junction open to their great base, Lynchburg. The canal was especially important for transportation of supplies,s just as the Erie Canal is so essential tomarket the grain of the West. . . .

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE, FINDINGS OF THE COURT OF INQUIRY IN THE INVESTIGATION OF THE PETERSBURG MINE EXPLOSION, MENTIONED IN LETTER OF MARCH 13, 1865.
(Army and Navy Journal, of March 11, 1865)
THE PETERSBURGH EXPLOSION Decision Of The Court Of Inquiry Into The Cause Of Its Failure

The following is the finding and opinion of the court ordered to investigate the circumstances attending the failure of the explosion of the mine before Petersburgh:—

Finding

After mature deliberation of the testimony adduced, the court find the following facts and circumstances attending the unsuccessful assault on the 30th July:

Ambrose Burnside. (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside. (Library of Congress).

The mine, quite an important feature in the attack, was commenced by Major General Burnside, soon after the occupation of his present lines, without any directions obtained from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. Although its location—and in this the engineers of the army concur—was not considered by Major General Meade a proper one, it being commanded from both flanks and reverse, the continuance of the work was sanctioned.

It was not the intention of the Lieutenant General Commanding, or of the Major General commanding the Army of the Potomac, it is believed, to use the mine in the operations against Petersburgh, until it became known that the enemy had withdrawn a large part of his forces to the north side of the James River, when it was thought advantage might be taken of it as an assault. All the Union troops sent north of the James had been recalled in time to participate in the assault, so that the whole of the forces operating in front of Petersburgh were disposable.

The mine was ordered to be exploded at 3.30 a.m., but owing to a defective fuse, it did not take place till 4.45.

The detailed order or plan of operations issued by Major General Meade is in accordance with General Grant’s instructions, and was seen and approved by the latter previous to its publication. (It is marked K in the appendix of the report of the Court of Inquiry.)

It is the concurrent testimony that had the order been carried out, success would have attended the attack. Also it is in evidence that General Meade met General Burnside and three of his division commanders the day before the assault, and impressed upon them that the operation was to be one of time; that unless prompt advantage were taken of the explosion of the mine to gain the crest, it would be impossible to get it, or the troops to remain outside of their lines.

That order directed that General Burnside should “form his troops (the Ninth corps) for assaulting,” and that General Ord commanding the Eighteenth corps, and General Warren commanding the Fifth corps, should support the assault on the right and left respectively.

Brig. Gen. James Ledlie (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. James Ledlie (Library of Congress).

Major General Burnside’s order (No. 60 Appendix) directed Brigadier General Ledlie’s division, immediately on the explosion of the mine, to be moved forward and crown the crest known as Cemetery Hill. Brigadier General Wilcox was to move his division forward as soon as possible after General Ledlie’s bearing off to the left, and Brigadier General Potter was to move his (colored) division next, and pass over the same ground that General Ledlie did.

Five minutes after the explosion of the mine, General Ledlie’s division went forward, and it was followed by those of Generals Wilcox and Potter, though it is in evidence that the latter did not move in the prescribed order, and that they were not formed in a manner to do the duty assigned them.

General Ledlie’s division, instead of complying with the order, halted in the crater made by the explosion of the mine, and remained there about an hour, when Major General Meade received the first intimation of the fact through a dispatch from Lieutenant Colonel Loring, Assistant Inspector General of the Ninth corps, intended for General Burnside, in which he expressed the fear that the men could not be induced to advance.

The crater was on the enemy’s line of works, and was fifty to sixty yards long, twenty yards wide and twenty to twenty five feet deep. It was about five hundred yards from the cemetery crest.

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero.  (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero. (Library of Congress).

General Burnside was then (5.40 A. M.) ordered to push forward to the crest all his own troops, and to call on General Ord to move forward his troops at once. It is in evidence that when the order was communicated to General Ferrero, commanding the colored division, he said he could not put in his troops until the troops already in front should be moved out of the way. They did go forward, however, after some delay, but only to be driven back, and in their flight to rush impetuously against other troops, destroying their formation and producing disorder.

At 6.10 a.m., inquiry being made of General Burnside if it would be an advantage for Warren’s supporting force to go in at once on the left, the answer was, “there is scarcely room for it in our immediate front.” The importance of the utmost promptness and the securing of the crest at once, at all hazards, were urged upon him at 6.50 a.m.

At 7.20 a.m. General Burnside reported to General Meade that he was doing all in his power to push forward the troops and, if possible, carry the crest, and also that the main body of General Potter’s division was beyond the crater. It does not appear in evidence, however, that they ever got any considerable distance, not exceeding two hundred yards, beyond the crater, toward the crest, whence they were driven back immediately. This was also the fate of the few colored troops who got over the enemy’s line for a moment.

At 9 o’clock a.m., General Burnside reported many of the Ninth and Eighteenth corps were retiring before the enemy, and then was the time to put in the Fifth corps. It having just been reported, however, by two staff officers (not General Burnside’s) that the attack on the right of the mine had been repulsed, and that none of the Union troops were beyond the line of the crater, the commanding General thought differently; and the Lieutenant-General concurring, General Burnside was directed, at 9.10 a.m., to withdraw to his own entrenchments immediately or at a later period, but not to hold the enemy’s line any longer than was required to withdraw safely his men. This order brought General Burnside to General Meade’s headquarters, where he remonstrated against it, saying by nightfall he could carry the crest. No other officer who was present, and who has testified before the court, concurred in this opinion. The troops in the crater were then ordered to retire; but before it could be effected they were driven out with great loss at 2 a.m. These troops, however, were making preparations to retire, and but for that would probably not have been driven out at that time.

The Fifth corps did not participate at all in the assault, and General Ord’s command only partially, because the condition of affairs at no time admitted of their co-operation, as was contemplated by the plan of assault.

The causes of failure are:

  1. The injudicious formation of the troops in going forward, the movement being mainly by flank instead of extended front. General Meade’s order indicated that columns of assault should be employed to take Cemetery Hill, and that proper passages should be prepared for those columns. It is the opinion of the court that there were no proper columns of assault. The troops should have been formed in the open ground in front of the point of attack, parallel to the line of the enemy’s works. The evidence shows that one or more columns might have passed over at and to the left of the crater without any previous preparation of the ground.
  2. The halting of the troops in the crater instead of going forward to the crest, when there was no fire of any consequence from the enemy.
  3. No proper employment of engineer officers and working parties, and of materials and tools for their use in the Ninth corps.
  4. That some parts of the assaulting columns were not properly led.
  5. That want of a competent common head at the scene of assault, to direct affairs as concurrence should demand.

Had not failure ensued from the above causes and the crest been gained, the success might have been jeopardized by the failure to have prepared in season proper and adequate debouches through the Ninth corps lines for troops, and especially for field artillery, as ordered by Major General Meade.

The reasons why the attack ought to have been successful are:

  1. The evident surprise of the enemy at the time of the explosion of the mine, and for some time after.
  2. The comparatively small force in the enemy’s works.
  3. The ineffective fire of the enemy’s artillery and musketry, there being scarcely any for about thirty minutes after the explosion, and our artillery being just the reverse as to time and power.
  4. The fact that some of our troops were able to get two hundred yards beyond the crater toward the crest, but could not remain there or proceed farther for want of supports, or because they were not properly formed or led.

Opinion

The court having given a brief narrative of the assault, and “ the facts and circumstances attending it,” it remains to report, that the following named officers engaged therein, appear from the evidence to be “answerable for the want of success” which should have resulted:

  1. Major General A. E. Burnside, United States Volunteers, he having failed to obey the orders of the commanding General.
  2. In not giving such formation to his assaulting column as to insure a reasonable prospect of success.
  3. In not preparing his parapets and abatis for the passage of the columns of the assault.
  4. In not employing engineer officers who reported to him to lead the assaulting columns with working parties, and not causing to be provided proper materials necessary for covering the crest when the assaulting columns should arrive there.
  5. In neglecting to execute Major General Meade’s orders respecting the prompt advance of General Ledlie’s troops from the crater to the crest, or in default of accomplishing that, not causing those troops to fall back and give place to other troops more willing and equal to the task, instead of delaying until the opportunity passed away, thus affording the enemy time to recover from his surprise, concentrate his fire, and bring his troops to operate against the Union troops assembled uselessly in the crater.

Notwithstanding the failure to comply with orders, and to apply proper military principles, ascribed to General Burnside, the court is satisfied that he believed the measures taken by him would insure success.

  1. Brigadier General J. H. Ledlie, United States Volunteers, he having failed to push forward his division promptly according to orders, and thereby blocking up the avenue which was designed for the passage of troops ordered to follow and support him in the assault. It is in evidence that no commander reported to General Burnside that his troops could not be got forward, which the court regards as a neglect of duty on the part of General Ledlie, inasmuch as a timely report of the misbehavior might have enabled General Burnside, commanding the assault, to have made other arrangements for prosecuting it, before it became too late. Instead of being with his division during this difficulty in the crater, and by his personal efforts endeavoring to lead his troops forward, he was most of his time in a bomb-proof ten rods in rear of the main line of the Ninth corps, where it was impossible for him to see anything of the movements of troops that were going on.

III. Brigadier General Edward Ferrero, United States Volunteers—

  1. For not having all his troops found ready for the attack at the prescribed time.
  2. Not going forward with them to the attack.
  3. Being in a bomb-proof habitually, where he could not see the operations of his troops, showing by his own order issued while there, that he did not know the position of two brigades of his division, or whether they had taken Cemetery Hill or not.
  4. Colonel Z. R. Bliss, Seventh Rhode Island Volunteers, commanding first brigade, Second division, Ninth corps:—

In this, that he remained behind with the only regiment of his brigade which did not go forward according to orders, and occupied a position where he could not properly command a brigade, which formed a portion of an assaulting column, and where he could not see what was going on.

  1. Brigadier General O. B. Wilcox, United States Volunteers:— The court are not satisfied that General Wilcox’s division made efforts commensurate with the occasion, to carry out General Burnside’s order to advance to Cemetery Hill, and they think that more energy might have been exercised by Brigadier General Wilcox to cause his troops to go forward to that point.

Without intending to convey the impression that there was any disinclination on the part of the commanders of the supports to heartily co-operate in the attack on the 30th day of July, the court express their opinion that explicit orders should have been given assigning one officer to the command of all the troops intended to engage in the assault when the commanding General was not present to witness the operations.

Winfield S. Hancock, Major General United States Volunteers, President of Court.
Edward Schriver,
Inspector General U. S. A., Judge Advocate. The court then adjourned sine die.
Winfield S. Hancock, Major General United States Volunteers, President of Court.
Edward Schriver, Inspector General, U. S. A., Judge Advocate.

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. 267. Newspaper account from pp. 345-9. 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. 320-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Medal Ceremony II (March 12, 1865)

Now it’s Meade’s turn to report on Grant’s medal, but with much less detail than Theodore Lyman treated us with yesterday. You can see the actual gold medal here.

Yesterday General Grant with a small party came out here and I had a review for them. In the evening General Grant was presented at City Point with the gold medal voted him by Congress, and I went to City Point to the presentation. To-day Pendleton Watmough and young Parker (Cortlandt’s nephew), both of whom command gunboats in the James, came to see me, and I took them around the lines. Your brother Willie came in whilst they were here, looking very well and in good spirits. We are quiet and nothing going on.

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. 266-7. 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.

A Medal Ceremony (March 11, 1865)

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).

There will be time for fighting before the month is up, but for now the Army of the Potomac is functioning more like a social club—at least at the headquarters level. In today’s letter, Theodore Lyman details another such occasion, this time to give General Grant a medal for his capture of Vicksburg in 1863.  (David W. Lowe reports that the medal is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.) “Daddy” Washburn[e] is Grant’s political patron, Illinois congressman Eli Washburne. He had been with Grant at the start of the Overland Campaign—and Meade suspected that it had been Washburne who told reporter Edward Crapsey that Meade had wanted to retreat after the first day in the Wilderness. Lyman’s Harvard friend, Henry Abbott, had been mortally wounded in the Wildnerness while in command of the 20th Massachusetts.

From Grant we got a despatch that he would come up, with some ladies and gentlemen, to see our left and to review a few troops. The General rode down to the terminus of the railroad (which is not very far from Hatcher’s Run), and soon after came the train, with Grant and his party. Among them was our old friend Daddy Washburn, the same who came to the Rapid Ann, last May, to behold Grant swallow Lee at a mouthful, and—didn’t see it! Two divisions of the 2d Corps were turned out under the eye of the redoubtable Humphreys. They made a fine appearance, marching past; but I could have cried to see the Massachusetts 20th with only a hundred muskets or so, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis, whom I used to see at Culpeper with a lieutenant’s shoulderstraps. How changed from last spring, when they passed in review with full ranks, and led by Abbot! . . .

That evening we were invited to City Point, to see a medal given to General Grant. This medal had been voted by Congress in honor of him and his soldiers, after the battle and capture of Vicksburg. And you now see the rationale of the Hon. Washburn’s presence. He was to present it. The Corps commanders with a few aides, and some division commanders, were all the General took with him in the special train. We arrived about 8.30 p.m. and at 9 the ceremony began, in the upper saloon of the steamer Martyn, lying at the wharf. The solemnities were these: General Grant stood on one side of a small table, with an expression as if about to courageously have a large tooth out. On the other stood Washburn, with what seemed an ornamental cigar-box. Whereupon W., with few words, remarked that the Congress of the United States of Amerikay had resolved to present him a medal, and a copy of their resolutions engrossed on parchment. “General” (unrolling a scroll), “this is the copy of the resolutions, and I now hand it to you.” (Grant looked at the parchment, as much as to say, “That seems all right,” rolled it up, in a practical manner, and put it on the table.) “This, General” (opening the ornamental cigar-box, taking out a wooden bonbonniere and opening that), “is the medal, which I also hand to you, together with an autograph letter from President Lincoln.” The “all-right” expression repeated itself on Grant’s face, as he put down the bonbonniere beside the scroll. Then he looked very fixedly at Mr. Washburn and slowly drew a sheet of paper from his pocket. Everyone was hushed, and there then burst forth the following florid eloquence: “Sir! I accept the medal. I shall take an early opportunity of writing a proper reply to the President. I shall publish an order, containing these resolutions, to the troops that were under my command before Vicksburg.” As he stopped, Major Pell drew a long breath and said: “I thought we were sure of a speech this time, but now we never shall get one out of him.” The medal was of gold, three pounds in weight; on one side a bad likeness of Grant; on the reverse a goddess, in an impossible position, who, as General Meade remarked, “seemed to keep a general furnishing shop of guns and sabres.” “What is the meaning of the allegory?” he enquired of the Lieutenant-General. “I don’t know,” replied Grant, with entire simplicity, “I don’t know, but I am going to learn, so as to be able to explain it to people!” Then the distinguished militaries crowded round to gaze. Major-General Ord, who can’t get over his Irish blood, said: “I believe, sir, you are the first man who medalled with his battalion.” To which Grant, not taking the point in the faintest degree, replied gravely: “I don’t know but I was.” There was a heavy crowd of Hectors, I can tell you. Generals Meade, Warren, Wright, Parke, Humphreys, Ord, Gibbon, Ayres, Griffin, Rawlins, Ingalls, etc., etc. Very few ladies. After this a moderate collation, and so home to bed.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 318-20. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. 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.

Matinee Musicale (March 10, 1865)

Another view of the very photogenic Poplar Grove Church, with the headquarters of the 50th New York Engineers next to it. Some of the engineers are visible in the photo. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Another view of the very photogenic Poplar Grove Church, with the headquarters of the 50th New York Engineers next to it. Some of the engineers are visible in the photo. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman returns to the Poplar Grove Church for another entertainment. War isn’t always hell, apparently. Perhaps someone can explain why the wife of Alexander Webb (Meade’s chief of staff) refers to her husband as Andrew.

What think you we did yesterday? We had a “Matinee Musicale,” at the Chapel of the 50th New York Engineers. Nothing but high-toned amusements, now-a-day, you will perceive. In truth I was very glad to go to it, as good music always gives me pleasure. The band was the noted one of the New Jersey brigade, and consisted of over thirty pieces. But the great feature was Captain Halsted, aide-de-camp to General Wright, in capacity of Max Maretzek, Carl Bergmann, Muzio, or any other musical director you please. It appears that the Captain is a fine musician, and that his ears are straight, though his eyes are not. There was a large assemblage of the fashion and nobility of the environs of Petersburg, though most of the first families of Virginia were unavoidably detained in the city. We had a batch of ladies, who, by the way, seem suddenly to have gone mad on visiting this army. No petticoat is allowed to stay within our lines, but they run up from City Point and return in the afternoon. Poor little Mrs. Webb accompanied the General to our monkish encampment and tried, in a winning way, to hint to General Meade that she ought to remain a day or two; but the Chief, though of a tender disposition towards the opposite sex, hath a god higher than a hooped skirt, to wit, orders, and his hooked nose became as a polite bit of flint unto any such propositions. And so, poor little Mrs. Webb, aforesaid, had to bid her Andrew adieu. The batch of ladies above mentioned were to me unknown! I was told, however, there was a daughter of Simon Cameron, a great speck in money, to whom Crawford was very devoted. Then there was Miss Something of Kentucky, who was a perfect flying battery, and melted the hearts of the swains in thim parts; particularly the heart of Lieutenant Wm. Worth, our companion-in-arms, to whom she gave a ring, before either was quite sure of the other’s name! In fact, I think her parents must have given her a three-week vacation and a porte-monnaie and said: “Go! Get a husband; or give place to Maria Jane, your next younger sister.” The gallant Humphreys gave us a review of Miles’s division, on top of the concert; whereat General Meade, followed by a bespattered crowd of generals, Staff officers and orderlies, galloped wildly down the line, to my great amusement, as the black mare could take care of herself, but some of the more heavy-legged went perilously floundering in mud-holes and soft sands.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 317-18. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Party of Ladies and Gentlemen (March 8, 1865)

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it's from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it’s from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

When the army was not fighting, it was often entertaining visitors. Here, Meade writes about the efforts made for one party of civilians, which included the wife of General Grant, the niece of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and future Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley. It also included Mr. and Mrs. George Harding. Harding was a patent lawyer; his father had founded the Philadelphia Inquirer. Harding also occupies a footnote in presidential history as one of the many men who underestimated Abraham Lincoln. In 1855, Harding was one of the lawyers defending John H. Manny in a patent infringement suit brought by Cyrus McCormick over mechanical reapers. Feeling the legal team needed a local, Midwestern lawyer purely for reasons of appearance, they hired Abraham Lincoln sight unseen, but then refused to let him participate in the legal work. “Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here,” another lawyer on the team asked Harding; “he does not know any thing and can do you no good.” That other lawyer was Edwin Stanton. Although the legal team stayed at the same Cincinnati hotel during the trial, Harding said of Lincoln that neither he nor Stanton “ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him.” Lincoln was quite pained by this ill treatment at the hands of these elite Eastern lawyers.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the same outing.

George Harding (Library of Congress).

George Harding (Library of Congress).

Yesterday about 11 A. M.. Mr. and Mrs. George Harding, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, arrived at these headquarters. Mr. Harding had telegraphed me from City Point he was coming. I took them to see the camps and works, and turned out some of the troops for them to see. Then brought them back here and gave them a lunch, with some of Lyman’s champagne, and sent them back to City Point, quite delighted with their trip and all they saw. The day was a beautiful one and the roads in fine order. Mrs. Grant accompanied them and seemed as much pleased as the rest. I was glad to have it in my power to be civil to Mr. Harding, as some slight return for all he has done for me.

You will have heard of Sheridan’s success in the Valley, which I trust will be continued. We are now looking with interest for news from Sherman, and to know what force the enemy have been able to collect to confront him.

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman, as is his habit, provides a much more detailed account of the outing Meade mentions almost in passing. Thanks to David W. Lowe’s editing for his book Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, we can identify the people who Lyman’s previous editors kept anonymous, and make some corrections. For example, the Miss Stanton described below was actually the niece, not the daughter, of the secretary of war. In his journals, Lyman described Mrs. Grant as “very even and quiet, with a pleasant expression though she has a tremendous cast in one eye.” He noted that Miss Bradlee [sic] “was the best looking,” and made an observation that he probably felt was not appropriate for a letter to his wife: “[O]n the whole they were comeliest lot we have ever had.”

Yesterday, as I hinted in my last, we had a toot, of much duration. At ten A.m. the General got a telegraph (one of those charming City Point surprises) saying that a train was just then starting, holding a dozen of womenkind and a certain force of the male sex; that they would arrive in an hour or so, and that we would please rather to entertain them pretty well! We telegraphed to the 5th Corps to turn out some troops, and to General Wright, to say we were coming that way, and ordered out ambulances to go to the station, and turned out officers to go over also. Your hub, not without growls of a private sort, girded hisself with a sash and ordered the charger saddled. In due time they kim: Colonels Badeau and Babcock to guide them. As sort of chief of the honorable committee of reception, I took off my cap and was solemnly introduced to twelve distinct ladies, whose names I instantly forgot (ditto those of distinguished gentlemen accompanying), all except Mrs. General Grant, who was, of course, too well known to slip from memory. However, at the end of the day, I began to have a flickering and vague idea who some of them were. . . . Then Miss Stanton—of course I was brilliant about her. After I had more or less helped her over puddles and into ambulances for an hour or two, it occurred to me that the name of the Secretary of War was also Stanton. Then, after a period of rest, my mind roused itself to the brilliant hypothesis that this young lady might be the daughter of the Stanton who was Secretary of War. Once on this track, it did not take me over thirty minutes to satisfy myself that I actually had been rendering civilities to the offspring of him who holds the leash of the dogs of war! She is not a roarer, like her paternal, but very subdued and modest, and reminded me of the ci-devant Newport belle, Miss L C[lark]. . . . Likewise, may we here mention Bradlee père, a dried-up lawyer of New Jersey, after the fashion of the countenance of Professor Rogers. He was valiant and stuffed his trousers in his boots and clomb an exceeding tall horse, which so pleased another old party, Judge Woodruff, that he did likewise, and subsequently confessed to me that his last equestrian excursion was in 1834; from which I infer, that, at this present writing, Judge Woodruff’s legs are more or less totally useless to him as instruments of progression. He had a complement, his daughter, to whom I did not say much, as she had somebody, I forget who it was. Then we must mention, in a front place, the Lady Patroness, Mrs.H[arding], and the Noble Patron, Mr. H[arding]. These two seemed to take us all under their protection, and, so to speak, to run the machine. Mrs. was plump, fair, and getting towards forty. Mr. was of suitable age, stout, looked as if fond of good dinners, and apparently very tender on Mrs., for he continually smiled sweetly at her. Also he is a large legal gun and part proprietor of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Then there was a pale, no-account couple, Dr.and Mrs. G[rier]. The Doctor’s sister was Mrs. Smith, to whom Rosie attached himself with devotion that threatened the tranquillity of the absent S. All these, and more, were carted over to the Headquarters, where the General bowed them into his tent and cried out very actively: “Now Lyman, where are all my young men? I want all of them.” So I hunted all that were not already on hand, and they were introduced and were expected to make themselves as agreeable as possible. Without delay we were again en voyage (I, being sharp, got on a horse, which tended much to my physical comfort, prevented my conversation from being prematurely played out) and took the party to see the glories of the engineer camp and the chapel thereof; after which, to the model hospitals of the 6th Corps, of which Dr. [Silas Atherton]Holman is the Medical Director, who prides himself on doing everything without aid from the Sanitary, which he doubtless can do, when in winter quarters. It was like packing and unpacking so many boxes, to “aussteigen” and “einsteigen” all the females. We descended them, for the third time, at Fort Fisher, whence we showed them the Reb line and the big guns, and the signal tower of trestle work, 140 feet high. The next pilgrimage was a long one, as far as the 5th Corps Headquarters, on the left of the line. General Warren issued forth and welcomed the ladies to oranges, apples, grapes, crackers, cheese, ale, and cider, into the which the visitors walked with a vigor most commendable. By the time the males had made a considerable vacuum in the barrel of ale, Griffin’s division was ready for review, and thither we all went and found the gallant Humphreys, whom I carefully introduced to the prettiest young lady there, and expect to be remembered in his will for that same favor! A review of Crawford’s division followed, very beautiful, with the setting sun on the bayonets; and so home to an evening lunch, so to speak, whereat I opened my “pickles,” to the great delectation of both sexes. All this was dreamland novelty concentrated to the visitors, who departed with vehement thanks to us, well expressed by Mrs. Grant: “General Meade, I would far rather command an army, as you do, than live at City Point and have the position of Mr. Grant!” They were to have a dance that night on their boat at City Point, and politely and earnestly asked me to go down with them; but the point was not noticed by your loving hub.

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. 314-16. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. 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.

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