A Beautiful Day at Gettysburg

The 96th PA monument on Wheatfield Road

The 96th PA monument on Wheatfield Road.

It was such a gorgeous day yesterday that I decided to drive down to Gettysburg and walk around the battlefield. I was especially interested in following the bed of the old trolley that once circled around Devil’s Den. I’ve been researching battlefield history for an article I’m writing for a special Gettysburg publication, and one of the things that really intrigued me was the story of this trolley. The Gettysburg Electric Railroad Company started blasting and excavating the trolley bed in 1893—and they even blew up rocks and boulders around Devil’s Den. This so infuriated Daniel Sickles, then an aged Congressman from New York, that he introduced a bill to make the battlefield into a national park. In the meantime the U.S. government used its powers of eminent domain to try to condemn battlefield land and stop the trolley. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the government could condemn land for preservation purposes. It was too late to stop the trolley, though, and it carried passengers over the battlefield until it ceased operations in 1916.

The 40th New York monument in the Slaughter Pen opposite Devil's Den. The 99th PA monumet is in the background..

The 40th New York monument in the Slaughter Pen opposite Devil’s Den. The 99th PA monument is in the background.

The rails were taken up in 1917 but the old bed still remains as a hiking trail. I followed the old bed around Devil’s Den, climbed up a hill to see the remains of a quarry that had operated here (and was probably the source for the big boulder on the grounds of Prospect Hall, outside Frederick, Maryland, where Meade met with Joseph Hooker on June 28, 1863, to exchange command of the Army of the Potomac). Then I followed the bed to the Wheatfield and walked back up to Little Round Top until I returned to my car near the 20th Maine monument.

The view from Round Top looking over towards Devei's Den. You can see the trails of Ski Liberty in the distance.

The view from Round Top looking over towards Devil’s Den. You can see the trails of Ski Liberty in the distance.

After that I visited the visitor center to make sure they had Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg (they did) and then drove down Baltimore Pike to Powers Hill. During the battle Henry Slocum, commander of the Union’s XII Corps, made his headquarters here. When the shelling on July 3 made Meade’s Leister House headquarters on Taneytown Road too dangerous, Meade rode over here to establish new headquarters but he headed back when he discovered that the signalmen who were supposed to remain at his old HQ were not there. He rode back and reached Cemetery Ridge just after Pickett’s Charge had been repulsed. (You can read all about it in the book.) The park service recently finished cutting down a lot of trees here to restore the area more to its 1863 appearance. There are a few monuments to Union artillery batteries on top of the hill, along with some newly cleaned and painted cannons and carriages, and you can get some nice views over towards Culp’s Hill. I have to believe that the landscape was even clearer during the battle because there’s no way now you can see through the trees to the Leister House.

Monuments on Powers HIll. Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery, is in the foreground, then Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (Knap's Battery) and Battery A, 1st Maryland Light Artillery (Rigby's Battery).

Monuments on Powers HIll. Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery, is in the foreground, then Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (Knap’s Battery) and Battery A, 1st Maryland Light Artillery (Rigby’s Battery).

It was an absolutely beautiful day and once again I was struck by the incongruity of how much enjoyment I can get walking around a place that has been preserved because of the horrors it witnessed. So many men were killed and wounded here yet it now offers visitors like me a place of picturesque beauty. Then I thought about the Victorian garden cemetery movement, which created attractive places not only to bury the dead, but also to give living visitors places to visit and picnic and enjoy. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Meade’s final resting place, is one product of that movement. Perhaps Gettysburg isn’t too different. It’s a place to remember the dead (aided by the profusion of statuary) but also a place for the living to enjoy.

Which is what I did at Gettysburg yesterday.

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Courtesy Call (March 30, 1863)

When Meade’s fellow generals passed through Philadelphia they often paid visits to Margaret Meade. Her husband always appreciated such courtesy and often mentioned the visits in his letters. Here he’s writing about William Franklin, the embattled former head of the VI Corps, who had become the target of a Congressional inquiry over his actions at Fredericksburg.

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

I am truly glad to hear Franklin called to see you. I am sure you will bear testimony to the respect and good feeling I have always expressed towards Franklin, and my earnest desire to avoid being drawn into the controversy between himself and Burnside. I think Franklin missed a great chance at Fredericksburg, and I rather infer from his letter that he thinks so now; but I have always said he was hampered by his orders and a want of information as to Burnside’s real views and plans. A great captain would have cast them aside and assumed responsibility. At the same time I must say that he knew and I know that if he had failed, then his going beyond his orders would prove utter ruin.

Deserters from the other side say the men are really suffering from the want of sufficient food, but that their spirit is undaunted, and that they are ready to fight. The morale of our army is better than it ever was, so you may look out for tough fighting next time.

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), p. 362. Available via Google Books.

The Plot Thickens (March 29, 1863)

Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

As March approaches its end Meade still finds himself entangled in the fallout from the Fredericksburg battle. Now he’s stuck in a war of words between William Franklin and Ambrose Burnside over the question of who would end up being cast as the fall guy for the December disaster. The Birney whom Meade mentions is David Bell Birney, with whom he exchanged some harsh words at Fredericksburg. Governor Curtin is Andrew Gregg Curtin, the governor of Pennsylvania. The Republican Curtin had been elected in 1860 and soon realized that war was inevitable. He had met with President Lincoln only four days before the attack on Ft. Sumter ushered in hostilities and after returning to Pennsylvania asked the legislature to help the state prepare for war. Curtin will later add to the tension between Meade and Joseph Hooker following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

I received yesterday your letter of the 26th. The same mail brought me a letter from Franklin. It is evident from Franklin’s letter that my surmise was correct, that he had taken it into his head that I had been talking to Burnside and furnishing him with data for the controversy. I don’t intend to quarrel with Franklin if I can help it, because I feel that in all this war he has shown more real regard for me and appreciation for me than any other man. I have never had any official relations with Franklin, till Fredericksburg, and I know that he has on numerous occasions referred to me as one who has not been advanced in proportion to his merits. Besides this feeling, selfish to be sure, my judgment is that Burnside is making a mistake in holding Franklin responsible for the disaster at Fredericksburg. Franklin may be chargeable with a want of energy, with failing, without reference to orders, to take advantage of a grand opportunity for distinction, with, in fact, not doing more than he was strictly required to do; but it is absurd to say he failed to obey, or in any way obstructed the prompt execution of his orders; that is, so far as I know them.

Burnside says he sent him orders about the middle of the day to attack with his whole force. Franklin, I understand, denies having received any such orders. Moreover, Baldy Smith, I hear, has sworn that a day or two before Franklin was relieved, Burnside told him (Baldy Smith) that he was going to give up the command of the army and urge the President to put Franklin in his place. This seems very inconsistent with his subsequent course, as there is no doubt Franklin’s command was taken away from him on the representations of Burnside. My position, with my friendly feelings for both, is not only peculiar but embarrassing.

We had some grand races day before yesterday, gotten up by Birney. I went over there and met Governor Curtin. He returned with me and inspected several of the Pennsylvania regiments in my command, making little speeches to each.

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. 361-2. Available via Google Books.

Art and War (March 21, 1863)

In the letter below Meade refers to a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It appears he is not talking about a production of Shakespeare’s play; the reference appears to be to Die Lustigen Weiber Von Windsor, an operatic adaptation by Otto Nicolai to a libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal . The 1849 opera made its American debut in Philadelphia in 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863 (Library of Congress).

“Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray” was the battle that took place up the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford Union, when cavalry under Brig. Gen. William Averell battled Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate horsemen on March 17, 1863. Here’s how I describe it in the book:

 Averell had a score to settle with his old friend Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee’s nephew. After an earlier cavalry skirmish had gone badly for the Union, Lee left behind a taunting note for Averell: “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home. You ride a good horse, I ride a better. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”

Averell brought about three thousand men with him to answer Lee’s taunt. He made a difficult crossing of the swiftly flowing river at Kelly’s Ford and launched a spirited cavalry battle on the other side. Averell’s ingrained caution prevented him from routing Lee’s forces, but he made a surprisingly good showing for the until-then toothless Union cavalry. He also left behind some coffee and a note. “Dear Fitz,” it read. “Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly's Ford.

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly’s Ford.

One of the Confederates who died in the fighting was “Gallant” John Pelham, the young officer who had troubled Meade with his horse artillery at Fredericksburg.  There’s a small monument to him hidden away in the trees near Kelly’s Ford.  

I had seen in the papers a glowing account of the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” which must have been a great treat. There is nothing I feel so much the deprivation of as hearing good music, and I was very sorry that there was no opportunity to indulge myself while in Philadelphia.

We have literally nothing new or exciting in camp. Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray has been the camp talk. The enemy, through Richmond papers, admit they were whipped and believe it to be the commencement of Hooker’s campaign, and already talk of the probable necessity of Lee’s having to fall back nearer Richmond. This confirms what we have suspected, that their force opposite to us had been much reduced, and that when we pressed them they would retire. There is not much chance of doing this at present, however. Yesterday it snowed all day, and to-day it is raining, so that our roads are again, or will be, in a dreadful condition.

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), p. 361. Available via Google Books.

The Pelham monument near Kelly's Ford.

The Pelham monument near Kelly’s Ford.

Investigations (March 17, 1863)

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

This letter from March 17, 1863, is fascinating. In it Meade discusses the political fallout from the debacle at Fredericksburg. Burnside, of course, is Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. Franklin is William Franklin. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had come in first in his West Point class of 1843. Like Meade he was an engineer and he had been in charge of constructing the new dome of the Capitol in Washington when war broke out. At Fredericksburg he had been in charge of the army’s left wing, which included Meade’s division. Franklin was angry with Burnside. He had been under the impression that Burnside wanted Franklin’s wing would make the main attack from below Fredericksburg and didn’t learn otherwise until the morning of the attack. Now both men were being investigated by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

The General Parke whom Meade mentions is John Parke. Wright is Horatio Wright, later to succeed John Sedgwick at the head of the VI Corps.

I returned to-day from Washington. I went up day before yesterday, the 15th, arriving in Washington about 7 P. M. I went to Willard’s, where, as usual, I saw a great many people. Finding Burnside was in the house, I sent up my name and was ushered into his room, where I found himself and Mrs. Burnside, the latter a very quiet, lady-like and exceedingly nice personage, quite pretty and rather younger than I expected to see. Burnside was very glad to see me, and we had a long talk. Among other things he read me a correspondence he had had with Franklin. Franklin had called his attention to the letter which appeared in the Times, said this was known to be written by Raymond, the editor, and it was generally believed his information was derived either from Burnside himself or some of his staff. Hence this letter was considered authority, and as it did him, Franklin, great injustice, he appealed to his, Burnside’s, magnanimity to correct the errors and give publicity to his correction. Burnside replied that he had not read the article till Franklin called his attention to it; that he was not responsible for it, nor was he aware that any of his staff had had any part in its production. Still, he was bound to say that in its facts it was true; that as to the inferences drawn from these facts, he had nothing to say about them and must refer him to Raymond, the reputed author. Several letters had passed, Franklin trying to get Burnside to (as he, Burnside, expressed it) whitewash him. This Burnside said he was not going to do; that Franklin must stand on his own merits and the facts of the case; that he had never made any accusation against him, except to say that the crossing of the river, being against his, Franklin’s, judgment, he thought Franklin had been wanting in a zealous and hearty co-operation with his plans. That about the time my attack failed, hearing from one of his, Burnside’s, staff officers, just from the field, that Franklin was not attacking with the force and vigor he ought to, he immediately despatched him an order “directing him to attack with his whole force if necessary,” which order he assumed the responsibility of not executing, and he must now take the consequences, if blame was attached to him for it.

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, "Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains." (Library of Congress.)

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, “Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains.” (Library of Congress.)

The next morning I went up to the Capitol, to the committee room, and found only the clerk present. He said the committee had been awaiting me some days; that Senators Chandler and Wade were the only two members present, and now down town; that he would hunt them up, and have them at the room by three o’clock, if I would return at that hour. At three I again presented myself to the committee, and found old Ben Wade, Senator from Ohio, awaiting me. He said the committee wished to examine me in regard to my attack at Fredericksburg. I told him I presumed such was the object in summoning me, and with this in view I had brought my official report, which I would read to him, and if he wanted any more information, I was prepared to give it. After hearing my report, he said it covered the whole ground, and he would only ask me one or two questions. First, was I aware that General Burnside, about the time of my attack, had ordered General Franklin to attack with his whole force? I answered, “At the time of the battle, No; indeed, I only learned this fact yesterday evening, from General Burnside himself.” Secondly, what, in my judgment, as a military man, would have been the effect if General Franklin had, when my attack was successful, advanced his whole line? I said I believed such a movement would have resulted in the driving back of the enemy’s right wing; though it would, without doubt, have produced a desperate and hard-contested fight; but when I reflected on the success that attended my attack, which was made with less than ten thousand men (supports and all), I could not resist the belief that the attack of fifty thousand men would have been followed by success. This was all he asked, and except the last question, the answer to which was a mere matter of opinion, I don’t think any one can take exception to my testimony. My conversations with Burnside and Wade satisfied me that Franklin was to be made responsible for the failure at Fredericksburg, and the committee is seeking all the testimony they can procure to substantiate this theory of theirs. Now, Franklin has, first, his orders, as received from Burnside, and then the fact that the execution of these orders was entrusted to Reynolds, for his defense. Before the committee, of course, he will not be heard, but after their report comes out, it will be incumbent on him to notice their statements and demand an investigation. I feel very sorry for Franklin, because I like him, and because he has always been consistently friendly to me.

After returning from the Capitol, I dined with General and Mrs. Burnside and Parke. Parke said he was about being left off the list of major generals, when Burnside’s opportune arrival saved him, Halleck giving as a reason that he had exercised no command since his appointment. Burnside, however, had his name sent in, and now he is going to supersede Baldy Smith and take command of the Ninth Corps, which is to accompany Burnside in his new command, to which he, Burnside, expects to be ordered in a few days.

The best piece of news I learned when in Washington was that the President was about issuing his proclamation putting in force the conscription law, and ordering immediately a draft of five hundred thousand men. Only let him do this, and enforce it and get the men, and the North is bound to carry the day.

I sometimes feel very nervous about my position, they are knocking over generals at such a rate. Among others, Wright, who was my beau ideal of a soldier, and whom I had picked out as the most rising man, has had his major-generalcy and his command both taken away from him, because he could not satisfy the extremists of Ohio (anti-slavery) and those of Kentucky (pro-slavery), but tried by a moderate course to steer between them.

Did I tell you the old Reserves had subscribed fifteen hundred dollars to present me with a sword, sash, belt, etc.? It is expected they will be ready about the close of the month, when I am to go, if possible, to their camp near Washington to receive them.

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. 358-61. Available via Google Books.

Foreshadowing (March 15, 1863)

Meade wrote the following letter to his oldest son, John Sergeant, on March 15, 1863. (The George he mentions is the son who was serving with the army’s cavalry with the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, a.k.a. “Rush’s Lancers.”) The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War is an agency with which Meade would have many unpleasant dealings in the future. Here’s what I say in the book:

Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Michigan’s Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Michigan’s Republican senator Zachariah Chandler had spearheaded the committee’s creation to investigate war-related matters following the Union disasters of Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff. Three senators and four congressmen served on the committee. Chandler and another Republican senator, Ohio’s Ben Wade of Ohio, were the committee’s driving force, but Democrats served on it as well, including Andrew Johnson, later Lincoln’s vice president and successor. In the years since the Civil War historians have gone back and forth on the question of the committee’s impact on the war. Some think it had a negative effect, others a positive, and still others little cumulative effect at all. Yet writing in 1881 Alexander S. Webb, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg and even served as Meade’s chief of staff, wrote, “That body must be counted among the President’s most influential advisors. It was a power during the war.”

This letter also demonstrates how Meade’s opinions about how to approach the war had evolved over time. Back in February 1862 he had said the people in the North should “deport ourselves more like the afflicted parent who is compelled to chastise his erring child, and who performs the duty with a sad heart.” Compare that to the passage below. I think we can link the changes in Meade’s thinking to the disillusionment he felt over George McClellan, who he felt erred “on the side of prudence and caution.”

Ohio's Senator Benjamin "Bljff Ben" Wade (National Archives).

Ohio’s Senator Benjamin “Bljff Ben” Wade (National Archives).

I am obliged to go up to Washington to-day, to appear before the “Committee on the Conduct of the War.” I have no idea what they want me for, but presume it is in relation to the Fredericksburg battle, and that my being called is due to the testimony of General Burnside, who has perhaps referred to me in his statement. I am very sorry I have been called, because my relations and feelings towards all parties are and have been of the most friendly character, and I shall be sorry to become involved in any way in the controversies growing out of this affair.

I have only seen George once since my return; the weather and roads have been so bad that neither of us could get to the camp of the other. The regiment has been very highly complimented by General Stoneman. One squadron has been armed with carbines, and it is expected that in a short time the whole regiment will be thus equipped and the turkey-driving implement abandoned.

I am completely fuddled about politics, and am afraid the people are very much demoralized. I trust one thing or another will be done. Either carry on the war as it ought to be, with overwhelming means, both material and personal, or else give it up altogether. I am tired of half-way measures and efforts, and of the indecisive character of operations up to this time. I don’t know whether these sentiments will be considered disloyal, but they are certainly mine; with the understanding, however, that I am in favor of the first, namely, a vigorous prosecution of the war with all the means in our power.

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. 357-8. Available via Google Books.

Nothing Lasts Forever

The old Cyclorama Building meets its Waterloo.

The old Cyclorama Building meets its Waterloo.

I went down to Gettysburg yesterday to do some work in the library at the visitor center and walk along the old trolley bed that circles around Devil’s Den, part of my research for an upcoming magazine article. It was an interesting day. As I was drove around the battlefield I listened the news reports from Rome, where a crowd of some 100,000 people were waiting in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement of the new Pope. On the battlefield I was passing over land where history had already happened as I heard about new history being made.

Before going to library I stopped to watch the work crews that were tearing down the old Cyclorama Building. Constructed in 1962 to house Paul Philippoteaux’s huge, 360-degree painting of the fighting on the battle’s third day, the building had outlived its usefulness once the Cyclorama had been removed for installation in the new visitor center. Some preservationists wanted to save the building but the park service was determined to tear it down and restore the landscape on Cemetery Ridge to something closer to its appearance in July 1863. Since I had never been inside the old Cyclorama Building I had no nostalgic ties to it and I was glad to hear that it was going away. The big concrete structure just didn’t belong there.

At the library I was amused to come across a quote from the building’s architect, Richard Neutra. Back in 1959 he said this about his design: “The building will last forever. Many honored guests will come here and many distinguished speaker[s] will speak. Their speeches must be brief because the building itself is most important and comes first. This building will be a shrine for many nations and the free world . . . . It is a building for eternity because it has deeper characters than any of the finest buildings  in the world.”

Cyclorama

Science!

Joseph Henry, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution who didn't want to see Meade become "food for powder." (Library of Congress.)

Joseph Henry, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution who didn’t want to see Meade become “food for powder.” (Library of Congress.)

George Meade spent much of his time just before the war doing scientific work, including a survey of Lake Superior. “Many were the regrets expressed at this time by those with whom he had come in contact in the course of those labors, at the loss to science of one who had evinced for it such high qualifications,” wrote his son in the first volume of Meade’s Life and Letters. “So strong was this feeling on the part of Professor [Joseph] Henry, the distinguished secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, that he endeavored to dissuade General Meade from seeking active service. They had been thrown much together during the last few years while General Meade was conducting the lake survey, and Professor Henry had come to regard him as one possessed of so great aptitude for that class of work that he was unwilling to lose him from the ranks of science, to which he was himself so enthusiastically devoted. Professor Henry even went so far as to call upon Mrs. Meade, on the occasion of a visit of his to Philadelphia, for the express purpose of beseeching her to lend her aid to prevent a step which would result in so great a loss to science. From his point of view he regarded it as sheer waste for one possessed of the scientific qualifications of General Meade to relinquish his brilliant future in the field of science, and, as he expressed it, become mere food for powder.” The opening of Meade’s letter from March 13, 1863, shows that he still retained his interest in science. If the professor is John C. Cresson, Meade must have gotten to know him better after the war when both men served as commissioners for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

I am glad you went to Professor Cresson’s experiments on the polarization of light, which must have been very interesting, even though unintelligible!

Captain Magaw and ladies left us to-day. Though we were utterly unprepared for such visitors, we managed to make them quite comfortable, and they left delighted. Yesterday I put the ladies in an ambulance and mounted Magaw on Baldy, and we went over and took a look at Fredericksburg, and afterwards called on Hooker. The General was, however, absent at a grand wedding which took place yesterday in camp, followed last night by a ball, and I understand another ball is given to-night by General Sickles. Not being honored with an invitation to these festivities, I did not go.

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), p. 357. Available via Google Books.

Confirmation (March 12, 1863)

George Meade, like all officers in the Union army, was very aware of his rank and where he stood in comparison to other officers in the army. The confirmation he mentions in this letter is his promotion to major general in the volunteers. At the Battle of Fredericksburg Meade had carried his letter from Secretary of War Stanton regarding his promotion in his pocket and he cited his new rank when he ordered David Birney to send troops to support Meade’s Pennsylvania Reserves. Now Congress had finally put its seal on the promotion.

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

The Reynolds he mentions is his division commander, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds. Meade and Reynolds had a decent relationship, although one that was sometimes strained by events. For example, after the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Meade felt Reynolds had not given him the necessary support, he wrote to Margaret, “He knows I think he was in some measure responsible for my not being supported on the 13th as he was commanding the corps & had the authority to order up other troops—and it was his business to have seen that I was properly supported, and the advantage that I had gained, secured by promptly advancing reinforcements.” Yet Meade retained his affection for Reynolds. “He is a very good fellow, and I have had much pleasant intercourse with him during the past eighteen months, and considering how closely we have been together and the natural rivalry that might be expected, I think it is saying a good deal for both that we have continued good friends.”

You will see by the papers that we have all been confirmed, with the dates of our appointment.

You have never mentioned Reynolds in your letters. He has been off on ten-days’ leave, and I presumed he would be in Philadelphia. Did you hear of his being there? I have not seen him since his return to ask. I was invited to his headquarters yesterday to dine, it being the anniversary of the organization of the First Corps; and as I had for a time commanded the corps, and also a division in it, I was honored with an invitation. The dinner was given by the staff.

This evening Captain Magaw, of the navy, with his mother, wife and a young lady friend, made their appearance at headquarters, and asked hospitality. He commands the gun-boat flotilla in the Potomac. His wife is quite a sweet, pretty woman, is the daughter of a navy officer, and was born at Pensacola when my sister, Mrs. Dallas, was there, and is named after her and Margaret. The young men on the staff turned out with alacrity and fitted up a tent in which they are quite comfortable.

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), p. 357. Available via Google Books.

March 7, 1863

The Alexander Coxe whom Meade mentions in this letter was a Philadelphian who had served as one of the general’s aides. Back in January Meade had written to Margaret with delight about a conversation Coxe had overheard on a street in Washington when a couple of passing men spotted Meade.  “What major general is that?” asked one of them.

“Meade,” his companion replied.

“Who is he?” asked the first man. “I never saw him before.”

“No, that is very likely, for he is one of our fighting generals, is always on the field, and does not spend time in Washington hotels.”

William Jay would return to Meade’s staff, after serving for a time with George Sykes. He was the grandson of John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The paper linked below includes this quote from a letter Jay wrote during the Overland Campaign: The papers seem to give all the credit of the campaign to Grant which is an immense mistake. He looks on and puts in his oar occasionally I suppose, but General Meade commands the army… It is not enough that you should give all the credit to Grant, but history will give General Meade an equal if not larger share of the honor of this campaign. If it does not, it ought to.”

Before this reaches you, you will have seen Alexander Coxe, who left this morning for home. I am most truly sorry to lose him, for he has not only rendered himself most useful to me, but has attached himself to me as a friend, from his manly character and social qualities. I sincerely hope he will be benefited by rest and medical treatment at home, and will be able to return.

Captain [William] Jay has joined me, and seems quite a clever gentleman. We have also had at our mess John Williams, who has been taken away from Ricketts and ordered to report to this army for duty, but who has not yet been assigned to any general.

The bill amalgamating the two corps of Engineers has passed, so the old Topographical Corps is defunct, and I shall have the honor of being borne on the register as a Major of Engineers. The bill makes one brigadier general (Totten), four colonels (of which Bache will be one), ten lieutenant colonels, twenty majors (of whom I shall be the tenth), thirty captains, thirty first lieutenants and ten second lieutenants. It don’t make much difference to me, if the war lasts as long as I expect it to and I survive it.

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. 356. Available via Google Books.