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.

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