Enough Human Weakness (September 22, 1884)

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

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

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

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

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 229-30. Available via Google Books.

And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor

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

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Politics (September 17, 1864)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 228-29. Available via Google Books.

The Beefsteak Raid (September 16, 1864)

"Cattle Raid" by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, "Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Cattle Raid” by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, “Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In this letter George Meade comments on an event that we remember as the Beefsteak Raid, in which Confederate cavalryman Wade Hampton and a force of about 4,500 men md their way behind the Union lines and captured about 2,500 cattle. Union cavalry went in pursuit, but their numbers were too small to do much. It was a brilliant raid, and one that brought much needed supplies back to the Confederates.

“Mr. Cropsey” (or Crapsey) is the reporter that Meade had ordered run out of camp back at Cold Harbor. The fair Meade mentions, held that spring in New York, was another fair to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Enclosed is a receipt of Adams & Co.’s Express for a small box containing the beautiful pistol presented to me by the New York Metropolitan Fair, which I send home for safe-keeping.

Yesterday General Grant took his departure, and to-day my ill luck has brought a rebel cavalry raid, in which they dashed into our lines and succeeded in driving off about two thousand head of cattle that had been, contrary to my judgment, sent down the James River for grazing, to a point just inside our cavalry pickets, and where they were exposed at any moment to be run off, as they have been by a coup-de-main. Grant’s absence, and the usual friendly spirit of the press, will undoubtedly attribute this loss to my negligence, and I really had as much to do with it as you had, except that I had called attention to the danger of having the cattle there. The cattle were not under my control, or that of my commissary, but under a commissary serving on Grant’s staff.

I have this evening a letter from Mr. Cropsey, asking permission to return to the army. I do not altogether like its tone or spirit, but shall not take any other notice of it than to send him a pass.

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. 228. Available via Google Books.

Medals (September 15, 1864)

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor.

In his letter of September 15, 1864, George Meade mentions the presentation of the Medal of Honor to several soldiers of the V Corps. It appears these soldiers were Frederick C. Anderson, George W. Reed, and John Shilling, all three of whom earned their medals for their fighting at the Weldon Railroad. Anderson was a private in Co. A, 18th MA, and he captured the flag and the bearer of the 27th South Carolina. Reed, a private in Co. E, 11th PA, captured the 24th NC’s flag. Shilling, of Co. H, 3rd DE, also captured a flag.

General Grant went this morning to Harper’s Ferry to visit Sheridan. There were some indications of a movement on Lee’s part yesterday, but nothing occurring this morning, he went off. He is to be absent, I believe, some five or six days. What Grant meant by the rebels deserting at the rate of a regiment a day, referred, I presume, to their desertions in all parts of the field, and to the present diminished size of their regiments. This would make a daily desertion of about three hundred. I have no means of knowing what proportion of this amount is drawn from the returns of other armies; but, in the Army of the Potomac, ten a day would be a liberal estimate of the deserters who have come into our lines for some time past. I think Grant was a little hyperbolical in the expression he used. He is of a very sanguine temperament, and sees everything favorable in a strong light, and makes light of all obstacles. In some respects this is an admirable quality, if it is not carried to extremes.

I don’t think that I told you that, day before yesterday, I presented to some soldiers of the Fifth Corps medals of honor, conferred upon them for good conduct on the field of battle. There was a great ceremony on the occasion, and I made a few remarks, which I presume will appear in print. The weather, after being cool, has again become warm. Sickness is beginning to show itself.

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. 227-28. Available via Google Books.

Found It!


Today I returned to Gettysburg. My main goal was to attend the two-hour ranger talk/walk about Alonzo Cushing, the commander of the 4th U.S. Artillery. Cushing was killed during the fighting on July 3 and has recently been in the news because he’s been approved to receive the Medal of Honor, just over 151 years later.

While I was there, though, I decided to try once more to find the Henry V. Fuller monument. This time I succeeded. Last time I had been looking on the wrong side of the trolley bed that leads from Brooke Avenue to the Wheatfield. It took a couple of passes, but the second time I spied what appeared to be evidence that someone had walked through the grass at the side of the trail and into the undergrowth. I decided to follow these faint traces and, sure enough, they led me to this little monument. It was invisible from the trail and I never would have found if someone else hadn’t gone there first.

The Alonzo Cushing ranger walk was pretty interesting. Led by Karlton Smith, it began at the parking lot opposite the National Cemetery. About 80 people showed up, a pretty good turnout for a September Sunday, I thought. It was good timing, too, with the Cushing medal scheduled to be presented at a White House ceremony on Monday. (Smith told us, though, that it appeared the Cushing presentation might be delayed, probably because no one is sure who will receive it, Cushing having died with no direct descendents.) The weather was beautiful, a cool, late-summer afternoon that made it clear fall is on the way.


The monument to Alonzo Cushing near the Angle.

The monument to Alonzo Cushing near the Angle.

All told, an excellent way to spend a gorgeous September afternoon. Once again I was struck by the discontinuity of enjoying myself so much at a place that had seen so much violence and suffering. Without the battle and all the monuments erected to commemorate the fighting, this would be just another patch of land. It’s pretty enough, but if the two Civil War armies had met just a few miles south in Maryland, thousands of people wouldn’t be coming here to walk around and hang out. An accident of history elevated these simple acres into something more.

Living in Central Pennsylvania has its good and bad points, but one of the good ones is that it’s an easy drive to Gettysburg.



Back in Camp (September 10, 1864)

George Gordon Meade has returned to his army but his thoughts remain fixed on Philadelphia. In particular he is depressed about the health of his oldest son, John Sergeant. “Sargie” suffers from tuberculosis and his health is failing. The situation torments his parents.

The Secretary is Edwin Stanton, secretary of war.

I reached here about 4 p.m. to-day, very sad and dispirited, as I reflect on Sergeant’s ill health and your embarrassing position. I wrote you a few hurried lines from Washington by Willie Gerhard. I spent about half an hour with the President and some four hours with the Secretary. Both were very affable, apparently very glad to see me, and said many flattering things. The Secretary, particularly, kept me in his private room, to the exclusion of all other visitors, and was very sociable. I think I wrote you that when I told him of dear Sargie’s ill health, he at once said if I wanted to send him to Cuba or New Orleans, he would place at my disposition a Government steamer to take him out there, which I considered very handsome.

We left Washington at 6 p.m. in a special steamer, which, although quite comfortable, was a very slow one, and we did not reach City Point till 12 m. to-day, though the ordinary run would have brought us there at 6 p.m. yesterday. I saw Grant for a little while before coming here, and he told me he was near telegraphing me to come back on Monday, as on that day there were indications the enemy was going to attack; but they passed away, and he let me alone.

I have thought a great deal about you, and the more I think, the more I am puzzled. I really do not see anything that can be done except your accompanying Sergeant, and I think the best place to go is the Island of Madeira. This would not diminish our expenses any; still I don’t see what other arrangement can be made. If you could only hear of some kind friend who was going to Europe, who would take care of Sergeant, and thus render your going unnecessary, it would be a great relief, as your leaving the younger children is a very great disadvantage. Still, we must accommodate ourselves to things as they are, and not as we would have them, and yield everything in the hope that dear Sargie will be benefitted by the change of scene and air, and under the blessing of God his health restored. I dream about you all the time, and cannot dismiss you from my thoughts day or night.

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. 226-27. Available via Google Books.

A Stop in Washington (September 8, 1864)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

George Meade is on his way back to his army headquarters following a welcome chance to spend some time on leave in Philadelphia. The Willie to whom he refers is his wife’s brother. William Sergeant was appointed the colonel of the 210th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on September 24. Meade will continue to update his wife about her brother over the following months.

I have been received with the greatest kindness both by the President and Mr. Stanton. At my request, Willie’s appointment was immediately made out and given to him, and Mr. Stanton said I might rest assured my major-generalcy would in due time be given me.

I am very much hurried and leave this afternoon at six.

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. 226. Available via Google Books.

Caldwell’s Division

0906141030It’s been a while since we’ve heard from George Meade, who has been back in Philadelphia on leave. But never fear—his letters resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, I spent yesterday on the Gettysburg battlefield, where I took a three-hour tour that covered the July 2 attack of Caldwell’s division through the Wheatfield. The tour was organized by Randy Drais of BattleofGettysburgBuff.com and conducted by licensed battlefield guide Steve Slaughter. I heard about the tour through Facebook and decided it sounded like a great way to spend a Saturday. I was right about that.


The tour begins at the 148th PA monument.

We met at the 148th PA monument off Ayres Avenue and got going at 10:00. I guess there were about 20 people there for the tour, which cost us $17. It was a warm and steamy September morning, with the threat of thunderstorms later in the day. I was just pleased to be spending the day on the battlefield.

Slaughter proved to be an engaging and informed guide. He explained how Meade had ordered II Corps commander Winfield Scott Hancock to send a division to this part of the battlefield. Slaughter pointed out that Meade wanted it to support the V Corps—not Dan Sickles’ over-extended III Corps—which is interesting. However, since the V Corps was supporting the III, I guess you can still say that this was part of Meade’s promise that afternoon to Sickles that he would send whatever he could to help the III Corps, which he knew was in serious trouble because of Sickles’s ill-advised advance.

John c. Caldwell

John C. Caldwell

The best thing about tours like this is they give you a spatial sense of the battlefield that even the best maps can’t provide. (Slaughter advised us several times that it’s often best to take maps with a grain of salt, anyway, and he proved his point by having us make some corrections on one of the maps included in the packet we all received.) Slaughter explained how John Caldwell’s First Division of the II Corps was on that corps’ left on Cemetery Ridge, hence the obvious candidate to move toward the Wheatfield. It consisted of four divisions—the First under Edward E. Cross, the Second (the Irish Brigade) under Patrick Kelly, the third under Samuel K. Zook, and the Fourth, commanded by John R. Brooke. Over the tour’s three hours, Slaughter adroitly explained the movements of these four brigades and also their occasional entanglements with elements of the III and the V Corps. Seeing exactly where these soldiers moved and fought really helped me put the pieces together of the complex and bloody puzzle of the fighting here that day.

We hiked back and forth, down the Wheatfield Road, back up and through the Wheatfield itself, and on to the monuments along Brooke Avenue that mark the furthest advance of Brooke’s brigade. While at this advanced position, Randy Drais took us down into the woods behind Brooke Avenue to show us Brooke’s rock, upon which the brigade commander supposedly stood when he made a speech to rally his men. The rock has an X, barely visible, which, it is said, Brooke himself carved into the boulder on a post-war visit to indicate that this was the very rock that served as his platform.

The X on Brooke's Rock.

The X on Brooke’s Rock.

At the end of the day on July 2, 1863, the surging Confederates pushed the bloodied remains of Caldwell’s division back to the base of Little Round Top and the fighting ended for the day. Slaughter talked about the charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves, the V Corps division commanded by Samuel Crawford, but took some air out of the story by pointing out that most of the Confederates had pulled back by the time the Reserves moved forward. (Slaughter doesn’t much appreciate V Corps commander George Sykes, whom he said spent most of the day behind Little Round Top where people had trouble finding him. For what it’s worth, Sykes and Sickles are the only Union corps commanders at Gettysburg who don’t have statues on the battlefield.)

Steve Slaughter explains things at the monument to Wilson's battery (Battery D, 1st NY Light artillery).

Steve Slaughter explains things at the monument to Wilson’s battery (Battery D, 1st NY Light artillery).

Back at Ayres Avenue we all received tickets for a drawing and I won, choosing for my prize a copy of Bradley Gottfried’s book Brigades of Gettysburg. I even sold a copy of my Meade book to one of the attendees (who earlier had told me he though Meade was a poor general. Maybe he will change his mind after he reads the book).

As I said, it was a terrific way to spend a Saturday.

Now here’s the weird part. A few weeks ago a volunteer for the Gettysburg Foundation informed me that I had left a couple of monuments out of my Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments. I had found the one to Colonel George Willard of the 125th New York (in a thicket west of the Pennsylvania State Monument). I had not located the one to Captain Henry Fuller, of Co. F, 64th New York Infantry. The 64th belonged to Brooke’s brigade. Fuller was wounded in the leg as his regiment charged through the Wheatfield and he later received a second wound in the back that proved mortal. I knew the monument was somewhere above the old trolley bed that runs below Brooke Avenue, but there were no paths leading to it and the thick overgrowth made it very hard to locate. After the tour I set out to find it.

It was a frustrating search. I was crashing through the woods above the trolley line, pushing my way through bushes and spider webs, when I thought I spotted a figure ahead of me through the trees. He appeared to be wearing a Union uniform. I had seen a reenactor up by the 148th PA monument when we started the tour, so I figured it was him. He seemed to be waving me on, so I pushed through the thick undergrowth in his direction but lost sight of him as I was dodging branches. When I reached the spot where I thought he had been, I found the Fuller monument. The mysterious figure, however, was nowhere to be found! He had vanished—even though there was no way anyone could have crashed his way through the trees away from me without my noticing him.

Back at home I found a photograph of Fuller and nearly fell off my chair when I realized he was the spitting image of the figure I had seen in the woods!

Oh, c’mon! Did anyone really believe that story? Seriously? Well, sorry. I was messing with you. I agree with Sherlock Holmes on this one. “The world is big enough for us,” he told Dr. Watson. “No ghosts need apply.” Truth be told, I didn’t find the Fuller monument yesterday. I will try again once in the fall.

There are plenty of ghosts at Gettysburg, but they’re all in our imaginations. They emerge as we walk the fields where so many fought and died. That’s ghost enough for me.

Leaves (August 28, 1864)

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

After today we won’t be hearing from George Meade for a little while. Our loss is the general’s gain, for, despite what he says in the last line of this letter, he does receive permission to go home on leave. He departs camp on September 1 and reaches Philadelphia two days later. He will begin his return trip on September 7, with a stop in Washington, D.C.

The court of inquiry to which he refers is the one regarding the Battle of the Crater.

I received this evening yours of the 26th. In it you acknowledge the receipt, per Mr. England, of my testimony before the court of inquiry. The sittings of the court have been interrupted by our recent movements, but to-morrow they are to be resumed, and I trust they will push matters to a close and come to some conclusion before they are again interrupted.

I have written you of the fighting that has been going on for a week past. It has been quiet for the last two days. The enemy having left us in undisturbed possession of the railroad so long, our position is strengthened to such a degree he could not now drive us away. This is a great point gained, and we are satisfied with its accomplishment, notwithstanding it entailed heavy losses on us, particularly in prisoners. Poor young Grossman belonged to the regulars, and was killed in the first day’s fight on the railroad. I understand he was shot in the head, being unconscious from the moment of receiving his wound till he expired, which occurred soon after. I believe he had not joined very long, and I was not aware of his being here. I sympathize most sincerely with his afflicted parents, but this is one of those dispensations that are almost daily taking place here.

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

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

I understand General Grant has been to Fortress Monroe and returned to-day with his wife and children. He has one little girl, and either two or three boys. He seems very much attached to his children, and his wife is said to possess a great deal of good sense, and to have exercised a most salutary effect over him. I do not know why she has given up St. Louis, her native place, but Grant told me the other day he intended to keep his family in Philadelphia for the next few years, probably for the education of his children.

I think we shall be quiet for some time, unless the enemy attacks, which I hardly think probable. Butler is away now, but when he returns I shall make an effort to get off for a few days, to have a peep at you and the children; but don’t rely too much on my coming.

Theodore Lyman’s letter of August 27 is also the last we shall hear from him for a while. As the book of his letters explains, “The next day Lyman was surprised to have Meade say to him. ‘I think I must order you home to get me some cigars, mine are nearly out!’ But, as the former remarked, ‘It’s hard to surprise a man out of going home, after a five months’ campaign.’

“General [Seth] Williams gravely prepared a fifteen-day leave, and the aides tendered their congratulations. Lyman was bound for Richmond on secret service! So the Staff persuaded the inquisitive [James] Biddle, who talked about it all over camp, and got very mad when undeceived. He recovered, however, when tendered a cocktail as a peace offering.

“Lyman’s visit to the North proved longer than he expected. For, shortly after his arrival in Beverly, where Mrs. Lyman was passing the summer, he had an attack of malaria which kept him in bed for some time. According to the doctors, ‘The northern air, with the late cool change, had brought to the surface the malaria in the system.’ Consequently, he was not able to rejoin the army until the end of September.

“Meanwhile, the gloom was lifting, that had settled on the North after the failure to take Petersburg. For Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, and Sheridan’s victories over Early in the Shenandoah, had somewhat changed the situation, although the Army of the Potomac still lay before Petersburg, where it hovered for many weary months.”

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. 225-26. Available via Google Books.


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