Paper Battles

The official reports that officers submitted following a battle often created their own conflicts, wars of letters waged by their own comrades in arms. Other officers in the army scoured the reports to see what had been said about their units. Those who felt slighted often made their displeasure felt.

Brigadier General John Robinson’s division fought bravely at Gettysburg but the general was miffed to receive no mention in Meade’s official report.

If George Meade wasn’t aware of this before he submitted his report on the Battle of Gettysburg, he certainly was afterwards. One of officers his report ticked off was Brigadier General John C. Robinson, who commanded the Second Division of the I Corps during the battle but received no mention. He made his feelings known in a letter he wrote on November 15, 1863. “General,” wrote Robinson, “I feel it is my duty to inform you of the intense mortification and disappointment felt by my division in reading your report of the battle of Gettysburg.

“For nearly four hours on July 1 we were hotly engaged against overwhelming numbers, repulsed repeated attacks of the enemy, captured three flags and a very large number of prisoners, and were the last to leave the field.

“The division formed the right of the line of battle of the First Corps, and during the whole time had to fight the enemy in front and protect our right flank (the division of the Eleventh Corps being at no time less than half a mile in rear). We went into action with less than 2,500 men and lost considerably more than half our number.

We have been proud of our efforts on that day, and hoped that they would be recognized. It is but natural we should feel disappointed that we are not once referred to in the report of the commanding general.”

Nicknamed “Slow Come” for his supposedly dilatory behavior at Gettysburg, Henry Slocum did not like Meade’s report on the battle.

The commanders of the XII Corps were even angrier. Meade had lacked some reports from that corps when he wrote his report, which explains some of his oversights. But Henry Slocum was still incensed, particularly by Meade’s failure to mention that at one point Slocum had command of not just the XII Corps, but a wing of the army that also included the VI and the V. “I allude to this fact for the purpose of refreshing your memory on a subject which you had apparently entirely forgotten when you penned your report,” Slocum complained, “for you have not failed to notice the fact of General Schurz and others having held, even for a few hours, commands above that previously held by them.” Perhaps I am not alone in thinking that Slocum comes across as just a bit petty here.

Brigadier General  Alpheus S. Williams, a XII Corps division commander who had temporarily taken corps command when Slocum held the reins of the wing, wrote to Slocum with similar complaints on December 26, 1863. “I know General Meade to be a high-toned gentleman, and I believe him to be a commander of superior merit and of honest judgment, and I confess to have read that part of his official report relating to the Twelfth Corps with a mixed feeling of astonishment and regret,” said Williams.

Alpheus Williams of the XII Corps shared Slocum’s displeasure.

Meade wrote to Slocum the next February, granting some points, disputing others. “I very much regret that any injustice should have been done in my official report of the battle of Gettysburg to any part of the Twelfth Corps or any officer in it,” he wrote. “I do assure you most sincerely that nothing was further from my intentions, and that what has occurred was the result of accident and not of design, the occurrence of which I will endeavor to explain.” He admitted to some mistakes but was not willing to take blame for some errors of omission. It was just not possible to credit every brigade and division, he explained. As for omitting George Greene’s stubborn defense of Culp’s Hill on July 2, Meade said, “I am willing to admit that, if my attention had been called to the services of Greene’s brigade in the pointed manner it now is, I would have given it credit for this special service.” In other words, if it was so important to you, why didn’t you say more in your official report? He had a point. While Slocum had praised Greene in his report, he hadn’t gone overboard. “Although General Greene handled his command with great skill, and although his men fought with gallantry never surpassed by any troops under my command, the enemy succeeded in gaining possession of a portion of our intrenchments,” Slocum had noted. “After a severe engagement of nearly three hours’ duration, General Greene remained in possession of the left of our line of works, while the right, which had previously been held by the First Division, was in possession of the enemy. During this engagement, General Greene was re-enforced by three regiments from the First Corps and three from the Eleventh Corps, all of which did good service.”

It wasn’t easy being command of the Army of the Potomac, even between the real battles.

 For the correspondence relating to these issues, see Official Records, Series I, Volume XXVII, Part 1, Meade’s report in on pages 114-119; Robinson’s complaint is on page 119; Slocum’s letter is on pages 763-765; Williams’ letter appears on pages 765-768, and Meade’s reply is on pages 769-770. The entire volume is available via Google Books here.

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  1. A Report and a Disappearance (October 4, 1863) | Searching for GEORGE GORDON MEADE
  2. Assignment Complete (November 5, 1864) | Searching for GEORGE GORDON MEADE

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