Ignorance, Not Bliss (April 18, 1863)

In his letter of April 18 Meade complains about Joe Hooker’s tendency to keep his plans to himself. This is something that would increasingly bother Meade. Only three days before he took command of the Army of the Potomac, as Hooker was following Lee towards Pennsylvania, Meade wrote to his wife, “I hear nothing whatever from headquarters, and am as much in the dark as to proposed plans here on the ground as you are in Philadelphia. This is what Joe Hooker thinks profound sagacity—keeping his corps commanders, who are to execute his plans, in total ignorance of them until they are developed in the execution of orders.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade's commissions (National Archives).

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade’s commissions (National Archives).

On April 2 Richmond citizens had rioted over the lack of bread and Meade mentions Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s proclamation about food, issued on April 10. He asked the Southern people to switch production from cotton and tobacco to foodstuffs and fodder. “Let your fields be devoted exclusively to the production of corn, oats, beans, peas, and other food for man and beast,” asked Davis.

To-day is fine and beautiful, and if we only have a continuance of such weather, we shall soon be on the move. I suppose the sooner we get off the better. General Hooker seems to be very sanguine of success, but is remarkably reticent of his information and plans; I really know nothing of what he intends to do, or when or where he proposes doing anything. This secrecy I presume is advantageous, so far as it prevents the enemy’s becoming aware of our plans. At the same time it may be carried too far, and important plans may be frustrated by subordinates, from their ignorance of how much depended on their share of the work. This was the case at Fredericksburg. Franklin was not properly advised, that is to say, not fully advised, as to Burnside’s plan. I am sure if he had been so advised, his movements would have been different.

I suppose you have seen Jeff Davis’s proclamation on the subject of food. It undoubtedly is a confession of weakness, but we should be very careful how we allow ourselves to be led astray by it. Not a single exertion on our part should be relaxed, not a man less called out than before. We might as well make up our minds to the fact that our only hope of peace is in the complete overpowering of the military force of the South, and to do this we must have immense armies to outnumber them everywhere. I fear, however, that this plain dictate of common sense will never have its proper influence. Already I hear a talk of not enforcing the conscription law. Certainly no such efforts are being made to put the machinery of the law into motion as would indicate an early calling out of the drafted men. In the course of the next month and the one ensuing, all the two-year and nine-month men go out of service. Of the latter class there were called out three hundred thousand. How many are in service I don’t know. I do know, however, that this army loses in the next twenty days nearly twenty-five thousand men, and that I see no indication of their being replaced. Over eight thousand go out of my corps alone. These facts have been well-known at Washington for some time past, and pressed upon the attention of the authorities, and perhaps arrangements unknown to me have been made to meet the difficulty.

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. 366-7. Available via Google Books.

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