Good-bye, Baldy (February 6, 1863)

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

In this letter from February 6, 1863, Meade mentions General William “Baldy” Smith, another man with whom he would have unpleasant dealings later. Smith and Meade were friendly enough at this time. In fact, Smith was one of the generals Meade invited to share his champagne and celebrate his assumption to command of the V Corps on December 23. But Smith, who had commanded the VI Corps at Fredericksburg, had also been one of the generals undermining Ambrose Burnside. He had even visited Abraham Lincoln at the White House to complain about Burnside’s generalship. (William Franklin, whom Meade mentioned in his previous letter, went with Smith. Both generals were sent packing from the Army of the Potomac.) When Theodore Lyman, Meade’s observant aide, met Smith in 1864 he described him as “a short, quite portly man, with a light-brown imperial and shaggy mustache, a round, military head, and the look of a German officer, altogether.” He was not really bald, although his hair was thinning. He possessed “unusual powers of caustic criticism” and quarreled incessantly with his superior officers. The Sedgwick who replaced Baldy Smith at the head of the VI Corps was John Sedgwick. He was a Connecticut native who had graduated from West Point two years after Meade. A lifelong bachelor, he was “married” to the army and enjoyed passing the time playing long games of solitaire. War correspondent George W. Smalley called him “one of the best generals we had: a man of utterly transparent honesty, simplicity, and truth of character; trusted, beloved, ardently followed by his men; a commander who had done great things and was capable of greater.” His men loved him and called him “Uncle John.”

I assume the Frailey Meade mentions is James M. Frailey, a Philadelphian who commanded the USS Quaker City, a sidewheel steamer that served in the Union blockading fleet. Southern ironclads had attacked Union vessels outside Charleston on January 31, seriously damaging the Quaker City.

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John." (Library of Congress)

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John.” (Library of Congress)

To-day an order is issued abolishing grand divisions and returning to the system of corps. I am announced as in command of the Fifth Corps. This is what I expected and accords with my ideas of what is best for the efficiency of the army. Baldy Smith has been relieved of his command and Sedgwick takes his corps—cause unknown, but supposed to be his affiliation with Franklin, and the fear that he would not co-operate with Hooker. This, however, is mere surmise, I have not seen any one to know or hear what is going on.

Last evening I received orders to send out an expedition this morning, which I did; but it has been storming violently all day, and this afternoon I sent to recall it. The Ninth Corps, which came with Burnside from North Carolina, is not announced in the order published to-day, and I hear it is under orders to move—where it is going, not known, but the probability is that Burnside has asked to have it with him, in case he returns to North Carolina.

The news from Charleston looks very badly, I hope our friend Frailey will come out all right. Stellwagon of theMercedita,if you remember we met at Mrs. Frailey’s last summer, the evening I went in there. Our navy has hitherto been so successful, that it seems hard to realize a reverse.

I do not know what to make of the political condition of the country. One thing I do know, I have been long enough in the war to want to give them one thorough good licking before any peace is made, and to accomplish this I will go through a good deal.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 353-354. Available via Google Books.

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