Old Baldy Goes Home (April 24, 1864)

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade's funeral procession (Library of Congress).

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade’s funeral procession (Library of Congress).

The spring campaign is about to begin, and Meade decides to part with an old campaigner. It’s time for Old Baldy, Meade’s long-suffering horse, to head to retirement. Baldy suffered his first wound during First Bull Run, when Gen. David Hunter owned him. Meade bought Baldy from the quartermaster for $150 in 1861. His aides learned to dislike Baldy because the horse moved at an awkward pace somewhere between a walk and a run, making it difficult to keep pace, but Meade thought him a loyal and steadfast mount.

Baldy received a second wound at Second Bull Run; at Antietam he was so badly injured that Meade gave him up for dead. Baldy suffered his final wound during the second day at Gettysburg. He carried the Confederate bullet he received there inside him for the rest of his life. “I did not think he could live, but the old fellow has such a wonderful tenacity of life that I am in hopes he will,” Meade wrote to his wife back in Philadelphia.

On November 11, 1872, Baldy marched, riderless, in Meade’s funeral procession. The horse lived for another ten years, until the ailing steed was put down at the ripe old age of 30 on December 16, 1882. That Christmas Day two Union veterans received permission to remove his head and have it mounted. They attached the relic to a wooden plaque outlining Baldy’s war record and presented it to the George Meade Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in Philadelphia.

A pin from Old Baldy's "grand unveiling."

A pin from Old Baldy’s “grand unveiling.”

I have a soft spot for the horse, which Meade referred to as “the old brute.” I first became acquainted with the General Meade Society of Philadelphia when my wife and I attended the “grand unveiling” of Old Baldy’s head at the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library. The museum had just won a custody battle to get the head back into its collections and a bunch of people showed up to celebrate. It was a fun day and my wife got her picture, gazing respectfully at Old Baldy, in the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day.

In this letter Meade mentions Cram, who was Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother-in-law. John Cadwalader was another Philadelphia resident and later a U.S. District Court judge. Like many others, Meade is still trying to get an accurate impression of Ulysses S. Grant. Zachary Taylor was the general under whom Meade served in Mexico and comparing Grant to him was high praise indeed.

Cram and John Cadwalader arrived yesterday afternoon. To-day Cram went to church with me, where we heard an excellent sermon from a Mr. Adams, a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman from New York. After church I drove Cram and Cadwalader to Culpeper, where we paid a visit to General Grant. After coming away, I plainly saw Cram was disappointed. Grant is not a striking man, is very reticent, has never mixed with the world, and has but little manner, indeed is somewhat ill at ease in the presence of strangers; hence a first impression is never favorable. His early education was undoubtedly very slight; in fact, I fancy his West Point course was pretty much all the education he ever had, as since his graduation I don’t believe he has read or studied any. At the same time, he has natural qualities of a high order, and is a man whom, the more you see and know him, the better you like him. He puts me in mind of old Taylor, and sometimes I fancy he models himself on old Zac.

Old Baldy as he appears at his current home in Philadelphia.

Old Baldy as he appears at his current home in Philadelphia.

Yesterday I sent my orderly with old Baldy to Philadelphia. He will never be fit again for hard service, and I thought he was entitled to better care than could be given to him on the march.

I have just had a visit from a very intelligent young Englishman, named Stanley, a son of Lord Stanley, of Alderney. He is no relative, I believe, to the Earl of Derby, though his father is in the Ministry as Secretary for the Colonies. He is quite young (only twenty-four) but highly educated, very smart and clever, and full of information. He brought me a letter from Mr. Seward, and spent a day with us seeing the army sights.

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. 191. Available via Google Books.

Two Generals

Outside the Eisenhower's house in Gettysburg

Outside the Eisenhowers’ house in Gettysburg

While spending the day at Gettysburg last week, Beth Ann and I decided to visit the Eisenhower farm. We had been there several years ago but back then we had two young children in tow and that meant we had to move pretty quickly through the place, prodded along by incessant queries of “Can we go now?” This time we had no kids to nag u,s but we were on the last tour of the day so we still had a deadline.

Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower bought the house and farm on the western edge of the battlefield in 1950 but couldn’t make it their permanent home until after Ike finished his second term as president. Ike did know the area fairly well, having served during World War I as the commander of Camp Colt, the army’s training center for the tank corps, which was actually on part of the battlefield. After he bought the house he liked to take visiting dignitaries on battlefield tours.

The sitting room, stuffed with framed pictures, bric a brac and glass cases with ceramic figures. No wonder Ike found it stuffy.

The sitting room, stuffed with framed pictures, bric a brac and glass cases with ceramic figures. No wonder Ike found it stuffy.

In the sitting room (which Ike didn’t like because it was so stuffy) I spotted matching Meade and Lee figurines, both on horseback, atop one of the display cabinets. The fireplace in the room was one that Ulysses S. Grant had taken from the White House in 1873, which Ike later acquired. I also spied a framed print of John Batchelder’s map of Gettysburg hanging in one of the rooms.

Overall the place seemed like something that would have been occupied by slightly stuffy grandparents. I got the sense that it probably wasn’t a lot of fun for the grandkids to hang around—I bet there were lots of rules, spoken and unspoken, about how to behave around the general and ex-president. But, furnished as it was with original belongings, it had real feeling of having been lived in. It was almost like the Eisenhowers had just stepped away for the afternoon while we visited.

I found another Meade reference in the gift shop, when I was thumbing through Ike’s book At Ease. In it he writes a bit about the Battle of Gettysburg and talks about Meade’s reactions when he arrived on the field late on the night of July 1, after having been in command for only three says. “No council of war could be called,” wrote Ike. “No delay for a leisurely study would be permitted by Lee. The decision had to be made. And the decision was solely Meade’s responsibility. As he turned his horse, he is quoted as saying, almost to himself: ‘We may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else.’ Then he quietly rode away to issue the orders that would make his decision operative.

“In all this, there is neither visible drama nor glamour; only the loneliness of one man on whose mind weighed the fate of ninety thousand comrades and of the Republic they served. Meade’s claims to greatness in that moment may very well be best evidenced by the total absence of the theatrical. When thousands of lives were at stake there was no time for postures or declamations.”

I thought this was especially interesting because it was a general writing about another general. Not a lot of people knew what it was like to bear that kind of leadership burden. Ike certainly did. I wonder if, as he wrote that, he cast his thoughts back to June 5, 1944, when he had to decide whether to go ahead with the D-Day landings or wait for better weather. Ike wasn’t a man who liked posturing and declamations; I guess he liked that about George Gordon Meade.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

The Antrim 1844 Inn in Taneytown, Maryland.

The Antrim 1844 Inn in Taneytown, Maryland.

My wife and I stayed last night in Taneytown, Maryland, at the beautiful Antrim 1844 inn. George Meade also stayed in Taneytown for one night, the night of June 30, 1863. He had been in command of the Army of the Potomac for two days at that point. The next day fighting erupted some 14 miles north, outside Gettysburg. We all know what happened there.

North of Taneytown on Route 94 there’s a historical marker. “Meade’s Headquarters,” it reads. “Major General George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, maintained headquarters on the nearby Shunk Farm from June 30 until the night of July 1, 1863.”

Whitelaw Reid, a correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette, passed through this “pleasant Maryland hamlet” on July 1 and noted the confused activity of an army on the move. “Army trains blocked up the streets,” he wrote; “a group of quartermasters and commissaries were bustling about the principal corner; across on the hills and along the road to the left, as far as the eye could reach, rose the glitter from the swaying points of bayonets as with steady tramp the columns of our Second and Third corps were marching northward.” He found Meade’s headquarters at the Shunk farm. “In a plain little wall tent, just like the rest, pen in hand, seated on a camp-stool and bending over a map, is the new ‘General Commanding’ for the Army of the Potomac.” Reid went on to describe Meade: “Tall, slender, not ungainly, but certainly not handsome or graceful, thin-faced, with grizzled beard and moustache, a broad and high but retreating forehead, from each corner of which the slightly-curling hair recedes, as if giving premonition of baldness–apparently between forty-five and fifty years of age–altogether a man who impresses you rather as a thoughtful student than a dashing soldier–so General Meade looks in his tent.”

Not a book about George Gordon Meade, the victor of Gettysburg.

Not a book about George Gordon Meade, the victor of Gettysburg.

The Antrim Inn says that it’s rumored that Meade established his headquarters there, but that’s not the case. It’s certainly possible that he stopped at the house as he entered town. It would have looked much as it does today, a dignified brick building with white wood trim. Inside, the rooms have soaring ceilings and antique furnishings. It’s really quite an elegant place. My wife and I decided we had to stay in the Meade Room. It’s on the second floor, its tall windows looking out over the edge of Taneytown. It’s a beautiful room but there’s nothing about Meade in it. There is, however, a book about—wait for it—Robert E. Lee. And in the gift shop/reception room, there are twin portraits of Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

I tell you, poor Meade gets no respect.

Our dinner with Meade.

Our dinner with Meade.

However, we did find Meade in the restaurant, a cool, brick-lined space on the Inn’s lower level. He shared the expansive dining area with a number of his fellow generals from both sides. Grant was here, too. So were Lee, Jeb Stuart, Joshua Chamberlain, James Longstreet, and Lewis Armistead. We dined beneath Meade’s portrait, satisfied to see that the Old Goggle-eyed Snapping Turtle received some recognition in Taneytown.

Hatchets Buried (April 18, 1864)

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

David Birney realizes the uselessness of the attempts to remove Meade from command and replace him with either Joe Hooker or Dan Sickles. Now he must mend fences. It must have been an uncomfortable meeting for Birney but apparently he was pleased with the results. “I am again on very pleasant terms with Gen. Meade,” Birney wrote to a friend. “He assured me of his high regard, and desire for me to remain.”

In this letter Meade also comments once again on the failed raid on Richmond that Judson Kilpatrick and Ulric Dahlgren had attempted in March. Dahlgren had been killed and on his body the Confederates found letters outlining a plan to burn Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and members of his cabinet. The Mr. Bond he mentions is L. Montgomery Bond, who had headed a campaign to get Philadelphians to volunteer for the Sanitary fair held in that city. Quite likely Meade had written to him about that subject.

Following Meade’s letter is Theodore Lyman’s observations on the Army of the Potomac, written on the same day. Where Meade mentions the review of the VI Corps, Lyman describes it.

I had an interview with General Birney to-day, who disclaimed ever having entertained unfriendly feelings towards me, or being a partisan of Sickles, and expressed the hope he would be permitted to serve under me. I listened to all he had to say, but made no reply, except that I had never heard he had any unfriendly feelings towards me.

To-day Grant reviewed the Sixth Corps (Sedgwick’s). It was a fine day, and the men looked and marched finely. Grant expressed himself highly pleased, and is quite astonished at our system and organization.

I see a letter I wrote to a Mr. Bond, Chairman of Committee on Labor, Income and Revenue, has already gotten into the papers. I declare I am almost afraid to put pen to paper, when writing to any one but you. I had supposed that my present humble position would shield me from getting into print, and that letters from Grant only would be of value. You would be amused to see the worshipping of the rising sun by certain officers in this army; but Grant behaves very handsomely, and immediately refers to me all the letters and communications he gets from my subordinates, who apply to him when they have axes to grind. I have received a letter from General Lee, enclosing photographic copies of the papers found on Colonel Dahlgren, and asking whether these papers were authorized, sanctioned or approved by the Government of the United States, or Colonel Dahlgren’s superior officers. This was a pretty ugly piece of business; for in denying having authorized or approved “the burning of Richmond, or killing Mr. Davis and Cabinet,” I necessarily threw odium on Dahlgren. I, however, enclosed a letter from Kilpatrick, in which the authenticity of the papers was impugned; but I regret to say Kilpatrick’s reputation, and collateral evidence in my possession, rather go against this theory. However, I was determined my skirts should be clear, so I promptly disavowed having ever authorized, sanctioned or approved of any act not required by military necessity, and in accordance with the usages of war.

Here’s Lyman’s letter. The Rowley he mentions is William Rowley, who had been with Grant out west and now was serving as his military secretary. There was some tension between the staffs of Meade and Grant; perhaps Lyman’s observations are a reflection of this.

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

I have seen some high-bush blackberries that already had wee leaves, just beginning to open; and the buds of the trees are swelling; and hundreds of little toads sing and whistle all night, to please other hundreds of Misses toads. The sap is rising so in the oak trees that the wood won’t burn without some trouble. It really looks like a beginning of spring; and everything is so quiet that it is quite amazing; whether it is that old soldiers get lazy and sleep a good deal during the day, I don’t know, but really just a short way from camp, it is as still as if not a human being were near; and here at Headquarters, the only sounds are the distant car-whistles and the drums and trumpets sounding the calls; except, indeed, the music of the band, which is hardly a noise and is very acceptable. I suppose we may call this the lull before the hurricane, which little short of a miracle can avert. There is Grant, with his utterly immovable face, going about from Culpeper to Washington and back, and sending no end of cipher messages, all big with strategy. He evidently means to do something pretty serious before he gives up. To-day was a great day for him; he reviewed the entire 6th Corps, which, as you know, has been strengthened by a division of the late 3d Corps. The day has been fine, very. At eleven o’clock we started and rode towards Culpeper, to meet General Grant, who encountered us beyond Brandy Station. He is very fond, you must know, of horses, and was mounted on one of the handsomest I have seen in the army. He was neatly dressed in the regulation uniform, with a handsome sash and sword, and the three stars of a lieutenant-general on his shoulder. He is a man of a natural, severe simplicity, in all things — the very way he wears his high-crowned felt hat shows this: he neither puts it on behind his ears, nor draws it over his eyes; much less does he cock it on one side, but sets it straight and very hard on his head. His riding is the same: without the slightest “air,” and, per contra, without affectation of homeliness; he sits firmly in the saddle and looks straight ahead, as if only intent on getting to some particular point. General Meade says he is a very amiable man, though his eye is stern and almost fierce-looking.

Well, we encountered him, as aforesaid, followed by three or four aides; one of whom, Lieutenant-Colonel Rowley, was oblivious of straps, and presented an expanse of rather ill-blacked, calfskin boots, that took away from his military ensemble a good deal. When a man can ride without straps, he may do so, if he chooses; but, when he possesseth not the happy faculty of keeping down his trousers, he should make straps a part of his religion! We took our station on a swell of ground, when we could see a large part of the Corps in line; but there was so much of it, that, though drawn up by battalions (that is, ten men deep), there could be found, in the neighborhood, no ground sufficiently extensive, without hollows. At once they began to march past — there seemed no end of them. In each direction there was nothing but a wide, moving hedge of bright muskets; a very fine sight. . . . General Grant is much pleased and says there is nothing of the sort out West, in the way of discipline and organization. . . .

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. 190-1. 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 82-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

More Reviews (April 16, 1864)

The headquarters of Joseph B. Carr in Culpeper, Virginia. Carr commanded the 3rd division of the III Corps but was transferred to the Army of the James just before the Overland Campaign began (Library of Congress).

The headquarters of Joseph B. Carr in Culpeper, Virginia. Carr commanded the 3rd division of the III Corps but was transferred to the Army of the James just before the Overland Campaign began. You can read more about this building and its fate here (Library of Congress).

General Grant returned yesterday. The papers will tell you I was present the other day when [Winfield Scott] Hancock reviewed Birney’s division, and the next day, when he reviewed [Joseph B.] Carr’s and [John] Gibbon’s divisions. These troops all looked splendidly, and seemed, officers and men, in fine spirits.

The reorganization, now that it is over, meets with universal approbation, and I believe I have gained great credit for the manner in which so disagreeable an operation was made acceptable to those concerned. Even General [David] Birney, of the smashed up Third Corps, is, I believe, reconciled.

How much I should like to see you all. At times I feel very despondent about the termination of this war and the prospect of my return, but I try to keep up my spirits and hope for the best.

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. 190. Available via Google Books.

A Review (April 13, 1864)

The home of John Minor Botts, site of the II Corps review that Theodore Lyman writes about (Library of Congress).

The home of John Minor Botts, site of the II Corps review that Theodore Lyman writes about (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman writes home on April 13, 1864, and describes his first impressions of Winfield Scott Hancock and Philip Sheridan. We have encountered John Minor Botts before. David Birney now commands a division in Hancock’s II Corps. The brigade commanders are Hobart Ward and Alexander Hays.

Philip Sheridan was the army’s new head of cavalry. He and Meade will develop a rancorous relationship. “Little Phil” had commanded cavalry for a grand total of only about three months during his military career, but he had served under Grant in the West and the new general in chief liked his aggressive nature. “He was brusque, demanding, profane, and unforgiving,” wrote biographer Roy Morris Jr. “He was also hardworking, patriotic, uncomplaining, and brave.” He was a hard fighter on the battlefield and was equally aggressive at furthering his own reputation.

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

We went to a review of Birney’s Division near J. M. Bott’s house. The two brigades are under H. Ward and Alex. Hays. About 5000 men were actually on the ground. Here saw General Hancock for the first time. He is a tall, soldierly man, with light-brown hair and a military heavy jaw; and has the massive features and the heavy folds round the eye that often mark a man of ability. Then the officers were asked to take a little whiskey chez Botts. Talked there with his niece, a dwarfish little woman of middle age, who seems a great invalid. She was all of a tremor, poor woman, by the mere display of troops, being but nervous and associating them with the fighting she had seen round the very house. Then there was a refreshment at Birney’s Headquarters, where met Captain Briscoe (said to be the son of an Irish nobleman, etc., etc.); also Major Mitchell on General Hancock’s Staff. The Russ was delighted with the politeness and pleased with the troops. Introduced to General Sheridan, the new Chief of Cavalry — a small, broad-shouldered, squat man, with black hair and a square head. He is of Irish parents, but looks very like a Piedmontese. General Wilson, who is probably to have a division, is a slight person of a light complexion and with rather a pinched face. Sheridan makes everywhere a favorable impression.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 80-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

General-in-Chief (April 13, 1864)

Meade's staff at the general's headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

Meade’s staff at the general’s headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

When it comes to Meade’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, so far, so good. Before getting to Meade’s letter, here is what Grant communicated to Meade regarding his plans, in an order written on April 9:

“For information and as instruction to govern your preparations for the coming campaign, the following is communicated confidentially for your own perusal alone.

“So far as practicable all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre. Banks has been instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile. This he is to do without reference to other movements. From the scattered condition of his command, however, he cannot possibly get it together to leave New Orleans before the 1st of May, if so soon. Sherman will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim. If successful he will secure the line from Chattanooga to Mobile with the aid of Banks.

“Sigel cannot spare troops from his army to reinforce either of the great armies, but he can aid them by moving directly to his front. This he has been directed to do, and is now making preparations for it. Two columns of his command will make south at the same time with the general move; one from Beverly, from ten to twelve thousand strong, under Major-General Ord; the other from Charleston, Va., principally cavalry, under Brig.-General Crook. The former of these will endeavor to reach the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, about south of Covington, and if found practicable will work eastward to Lynchburg and return to its base by way of the Shenandoah Valley, or join you. The other will strike at Saltville, Va., and come eastward to join Ord. The cavalry from Ord’s command will try to force a passage southward, if they are successful in reaching the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, to cut the main lines of the road connecting Richmond with all the South and South-west.

“Gillmore will join Butler with about 10,000 men from South Carolina. Butler can reduce his garrison so as to take 23,000 men into the field directly to his front. The force will be commanded by Maj.-General W. F. Smith. With Smith and Gillmore, Butler will seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours.

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.

“These advantages and objections I will talk over with you more fully than I can write them.

“Burnside with a force of probably 25,000 men will reinforce you. Immediately upon his arrival, which will be shortly after the 20th inst., I will give him the defence of the road from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station and to the front.

“There will be naval co-operation on the James River, and transports and ferries will be provided so that should Lee fall back into his intrenchments at Richmond, Butler’s force and yours will be a unit, or at least can be made to act as such. What I would direct then, is that you commence at once reducing baggage to the very lowest possible standard. Two wagons to a regiment of five hundred men is the greatest number that should be allowed, for all baggage, exclusive of subsistence stores and ordnance stores. One wagon to brigade and one to division headquarters is sufficient and about two to corps headquarters.

“Should by Lee’s right flank be our route, you will want to make arrangements for having supplies of all sorts promptly forwarded to White House on the Pamunkey. Your estimates for this contingency should be made at once. If not wanted there, there is every probability they will be wanted on the James River or elsewhere.

“If Lee’s left is turned, large provision will have to be made for ordnance stores. I would say not much short of five hundred rounds of infantry ammunition would do. By the other, half the amount would be sufficient.”

This is what Meade’s aide, Theodore Lyman, wrote about Grant on April 12: “Grant is a man of a good deal of rough dignity; rather taciturn; quick and decided in speech. He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it. I have much confidence in him.”

Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived, and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here. It is undoubtedly true he will go with it when it moves, and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operations, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present. Moreover, whilst I have no doubt he will give me all the credit I am entitled to, the press, and perhaps the public, will lose sight of me in him. Nevertheless he is so much more active than his predecessor, and agrees so well with me in his views, I cannot but be rejoiced at his arrival, because I believe success to be the more probable from the above facts. My position before, with inadequate means, no power myself to increase them, and no effort made by others to do so, placed me in a false position, causing me to be held responsible, when in fact I could do nothing. My duty is plain, to continue quietly to discharge my duties, heartily co-operating with him and under him.

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. 189. Available via Google Books.

Birney (April 11, 1864)

David Bell Birney.

David Bell Birney.

David Bell Birney was not a Meade ally. He had been born in the South, but a hatred of slavery motivated his father to pack up the family and move north. Birney took up the law and was practicing in Philadelphia when war broke out. As Theodore Lyman wrote, Birney “was a pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness; only he would smile politely when you spoke to him. He was spare in person, with a thin face, light-blue eye, and sandy hair.”

The bad blood between Meade and Birney stretched back to Fredericksburg, at least. When Meade’s brigade broke through the southern lines south of town, Meade sent to Birney for support. Birney replied that he could not move forward until he received word from John Reynolds to do so. This outraged Meade. He sent another officer to Birney with another demand for reinforcements. Birney again refused. Now Meade galloped over himself. He had his recent commission as a major-general in his pocket, and that meant he outranked Birney. “General, I assume the authority of ordering you up to the support of my men,” he said, according to one account. According to another, Meade said much more, in language strong enough to “almost make the stones creep.”

Birney later testified before Congress that he received only one message from Meade and in his official report he said he responded “immediately.” However, in a letter to a friend that Birney wrote shortly after the battle, he said that when a reporter from the New York Herald urged him to send some of his artillery to help Meade, “I told him the Reserves might run and be damned, that not a gun should leave my Division.”

Birney led a division of the III Corps at Gettysburg and took corps command after Daniel Sickles was wounded.

To help speed Meade’s departure from the army, Birney decided to cast his lot with Hooker and Sickles. “Meade is a fraud,” he had written to a friend in March. “We must have Hooker back to this army and I believe he will be sent to us!” he wrote. He also had great hopes for the future of Dan Sickles. “Sickles will I think command this army and in time will be President,” he had predicted back in October. So when Birney testified before the committee, he claimed that on July 5 he had wanted to attack the retreating Confederates but received an order not to do so. That was just the kind of example of timidity the congressmen were seeking. No matter that such an order never appeared in any official record, nor had Birney mentioned this incident in his official report.

Following elimination of the III Corps, Birney received a division in the II Corps under Hancock. He realized he had backed the wrong horse. “Grant killed the demonstration for Hooker, that was assuming shape, and would have ended in the decapitation of Meade,” he noted in a letter on April 5.

There is no doubt General Birney is scared at the turn things have taken in the Sickles matter, for I received a note from Hancock, the other day, saying Birney had been to see him, disclaiming being a partisan of Sickles, and saying he would like to come and see me to explain matters, but did not like to do so without some intimation on my part that it would be agreeable. I replied to Hancock that I was not aware of there being any occasion for explanation on the part of General Birney, as I had heard nothing except what I had seen in the papers about his testimony, and that he had denied in writing. At the same time I was always ready to see General Birney whenever he chose to do me the honor to call.

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. 189. Available via Google Books.

That Crazy Old Man (April 8, 1864)

Count Adam Gurowski (via Wikipedia).

Count Adam Gurowski (via Wikipedia).

In this letter from April 8, Meade mentions one Gurowsky, whom he describes as “that crazy old man.” Adam Gurowski was indeed one of the eccentric characters who enlivened Washington during the Civil War. (You can read more about him here.) His emotional and sometimes almost unhinged behavior on the city streets even made President Lincoln eye him as a potential assassin. A Polish count, Gurowski had come to the United States in 1849 after a life of radical (and inconstant) political agitation. As the Civil War approached the excitable Polish count allied himself with the Radical Republicans. Once the war began he pestered Lincoln with numerous hectoring letters about war policy. “He was the perfect radical type, an uncompromising Puritan in the fold,” wrote Leroy H. Fischer in the article linked above. As such, George McClellan—whom Gurowski described as “that half ass half traitor”—and anything associated with him, including Meade, would have been anathema.

The fair that Meade mentions is the Great Central Sanitary Fair, held in June 1864 to raise money for the Sanitary Commission, which provided care for wounded soldiers. In his book Philadelphia and the Civil War, Anthony Waskie described the fair as “probably the greatest purely civic act of voluntary benevolence ever attempted in Philadelphia.” By the time it closed on June 28 the fair had raised $1,261,822.55.

The New York Tribune of yesterday informs the world it has been positively ascertained that I am and have been in constant correspondence with McClellan, and that this fact has destroyed all my chances for nomination as major general in the regular army, but it is not believed it will remove me from command. I know where this canard comes from. Grant told me that he had received several visits and innumerable letters from that old crazy man Gurowsky, all to the effect that I was completely under the influence of McClellan, and in constant correspondence with him, and urging Grant to relieve me. I saw Historicus’s last effort, and was greatly amused at the very powerful position that he assigned me in the despotism he asserts I have exercised in the face of the lieutenant general and others. I am sure I ought to be flattered that I am allowed to exercise such powers. It is a redeeming trait in the powers that be, and in my countrymen, that the base and persistent attacks on me have so signally failed, principally from the bad standing of my assailants. As to my being nominated for the regular army, I never dreamed of it, though I always believed the secret of some of the attacks on me was to remove a rival from some one who did want and expected to be nominated.

The Philadephia fair's dining saloon, in one of the temporary buildings erected in Logan Square (Library of Congress).

The Philadephia fair’s dining saloon, in one of the temporary buildings erected in Logan Square (Library of Congress).

I think it a pity Philadelphia was so late in getting up its fair. The subject will be so thoroughly exhausted that people will be tired with such matters. Still, there seems to be great spirit evinced by those who have it in charge.

I have now as a guest Lieutenant Colonel Strave, of the Russian Engineers, who seems a young man of intelligence. He came down with letters from Mr. Seward and Mr. Stanton.

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. 188-9. Available via Google Books.

Reputation (April 6, 1864)

The Army of the Potomac's head of artillery, Henry Hunt. He said he would have known if Meade had been planning a retreat from Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac’s head of artillery, Henry Hunt. He said he would have known if Meade had been planning a retreat from Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

Henry Hunt, the Army of the Potomac’s head of artillery, was one witness who testified in Meade’s favor for the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Since moving his ammunition trains was an important logistical consideration when moving the army, Hunt said he would certainly have known if Meade was planning a retreat from Gettysburg. Hunt had also met with Daniel Sickles at Gettysburg on July 2 before that III Corps commander moved his men forward. Sickles had told Hunt he wanted to move out of the general depression along the Union line where Cemetery Ridge ceased being a ridge, and take a position on the higher ground alongside the Emmitsburg Road. He had been especially concerned about a peach orchard that would offer Confederate artillery an excellent position to wreak havoc on the Union line. Hunt had agreed that the forward line had some advantages but felt it also had some serious drawbacks. Then Hunt had heard firing from the direction of Cemetery Hill and prepared to ride off and investigate. Sickles had asked him if he should move his troops forward. “Not on my authority; I will report to General Meade for instructions,” replied Hunt. He found Meade and told him that Sickles’s proposed line had favorable offensive possibilities but that he would not recommend it. Sickles had moved forward without permission.

David Birney had been one of Sickles’ division commanders at Gettysburg and took corps command after Sickles was wounded. He had no love for Meade and sought to see him replaced by either Joe Hooker or, even better, Dan Sickles.

General Grant returned yesterday, and I have seen him to-day. Nothing new or important has transpired.

General Hunt has been up to Washington and before the committee. He says, after questioning him about the famous order of July 2, and his telling them he never heard of it, and from his position and relations with me would certainly have heard of it, they went to work and in the most pettifogging way, by a cross-examination, tried to get him to admit such an order might have been issued without his knowing anything about it. This, after my testimony, and that of Warren, Hancock, Gibbon and Hunt, evidently proves they are determined to convict me, in spite of testimony, and that Butterfield’s perjury is to outweigh the testimony of all others. I suppose you have seen the last effusion of Historicus. There is no doubt now about the author, as he quotes a private letter from [David Bell] Birney, which could not have been written to any one but Sickles. The best joke is that Barnes, it is said, has a letter from Birney, denying that he ever made any statements of the kind quoted in his letter to Historicus. Is it not too bad that one’s reputation should be in the hands of such men?

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. 187-8. Available via Google Books.

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