Family Ties (February 1, 1863)

A view of Fredericksburg, taken in February 1863. So near, and yet so far.

A view of Fredericksburg, taken in February. So near, and yet so far. (Library of Congress)

The American Civil War is often characterized as being “brother against brother” and that was sometimes literally true. For example, General John Gibbon, whom Meade mentioned in his letter of January 28, had three brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Even under circumstances not quite so extreme, the conflict often divided families. Meade’s family is a case in point. His wife’s sister, Sarah, had married Henry Wise, who became governor of Virginia, signed John Brown’s death warrant, and served in the Army of Virginia under Robert E. Lee.

Meade’s own sister, Elizabeth, had married a Virginia planter named Alfred Ingraham and moved to Mississippi with him. She became an ardent rebel. In June 1863 Union forces reached her home, Ashwood, during the Vicksburg campaign and generals John McClernand and James McPherson made their headquarters there. It’s not clear whether she told them that her brother commanded the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps.

On July 23, 1863, Elizabeth wrote to her brother. “My dear George,” she began, “We have been despoiled of everything, our crops ruined, our home literally gutted, but the Federal soldiers under Gen’l Grant & McClernand, Gen’l McPherson being in my parlor during a portion of the time & to whom I applied personally without effect.” Among the possessions she said the soldiers had ruined was their father’s desk. She wanted to a permit to cross the Federal lines with what possessions she still had. “My sons are dead,” she said, “Edward murdered at Farmington [MS] after he had surrendered, he’s buried near Corinth. Frank, killed at Chancellorsville on 3rd May, the very day this house was despoiled, is buried on Mary’s Hite, without even a winding sheet, it being one of the barbarous usages of this cruel & unnatural war to strip the dead—God help me.”

But those tragedies still lay in the future when Meade wrote to his wife on February 1, 1863, to tell her he had received word from his doomed nephew Frank, who was with Lee’s army at Fredericksburg. (Ned was Frank’s brother, who had died in Mississippi and Apolline his sister.)

The Franklin that Meade mentions is Major General William Franklin. A native of York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, to which Meade’s brigade belonged, at the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December. The Committee on the Conduct of the War now had Franklin in its sights.

Yesterday I received by the flag of truce, a note from Frank Ingraham, who says he is a private in the Twenty-first Mississippi Regiment, now at Fredericksburg. He says Ned was killed last spring, and that Apolline has lost her husband, who died from exposure in service; that his mother and the rest are all well, and wish to be remembered to his yankee relatives.

Major General William Franklin. After the Battle of Gettysburg he found himself the focus of Congressional attention. (Library of Congress)

Major General William Franklin. After the Battle of Gettysburg he found himself the focus of Congressional attention. (Library of Congress)

The weather continues most unfavorable, rain and mud are the order of the day, and in my judgment it will be some months before we can undertake operations of any magnitude. I am afraid, from what I see in the papers, that General Franklin is going to have trouble, for which I shall be truly sorry, for I really like Franklin.

Elizabeth’s letter is from Moore, Sue Burns, and Drake, Rebecca Blackwell, editors. Leaves: The Diary of Elizabeth Meade Ingraham, the Rebel Sister of General George Meade. Champion Hill Heritage Foundation, 2010.

Meade’s letter is taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 353. Available via Google Books.

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