Regrets (April 12, 1863)

Lt. Arthur Dehon, who was serving as Meade's aide when he was killed at Fredericksburg (Courtesy Rick Lawrence).

Lt. Arthur Dehon, who was serving as Meade’s aide when he was killed at Fredericksburg (Courtesy Rick Lawrence). You can learn more about Dehon here.

Meade opens today’s letter on a mournful note. Arthur Dehon and Hamilton Kuhn were aides who had been killed in earlier battles, Dehon at Fredericksburg and Kuhn at Glendale, the same fight in which Meade had been wounded. Dehon’s father had even visited Margaret in Philadelphia. Back on January 2 Meade had written to Margaret, “I send you a piece from a Boston paper on poor Dehon, sent to me by some friend or relative. It does no more than justice to Dehon, who was a gallant officer and clever gentleman. I have felt his loss even more than poor Kuhn’s, because, in his case, I was directly instrumental in placing him where he received his death wound, though at the time I sent him I had no idea of the great danger attending his mission. Kuhn, you know, was not with me when he fell, and I have never been able to ascertain whether he fell before or after I was wounded, but think it must have been very near the same time, and that he could not have been very far from me, though I did not see him.”

I am not sure to which scandal of Hooker’s Margaret had referred but Hooker was not unacquainted with scandalous behavior regarding women. It’s interesting to see that Meade defends him against drunkenness, one charge that many others were willing to throw at the current army commander.

Meade continues to be concerned about the fate of William Franklin, his former corps commander whom the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had criticized for his actions at Fredericksburg.

I feel very sad when I think of young Dehon and Hamilton Kuhn, both so full of life and promising so much; to be cut off in the way they were, is truly mournful, and I feel sometimes as if I was individually responsible, and in some measure the cause of the misfortune of their friends.

I have had another hard day’s work. No sooner had the President left, than a Major General Follarde, of the Swiss army, comes down here, with orders to Hooker to show him every attention, and as he does not speak English, and I have some pretensions to speaking French, Hooker turned him over to me, and I have, to-day, been taking him all through my camps and showing him my command. He seems like all foreign officers of rank, intelligent and educated. He expressed himself delighted and wonder-struck with all he saw, and says our troops will compare favorably with the best troops in Europe, and he has seen them all. If he goes back to Philadelphia, I will give him a letter to you, for I think he will interest you.

I note what you say of General Hooker. I think he will outlive that scandal, for it most certainly is a scandal. Whatever may have been his habits in former times, since I have been associated with him in the army I can bear testimony of the utter falsehood of the charge of drunkenness.

I spoke to the President when here about Franklin, and endeavored to convince him that the whole affair turned on a misapprehension, Burnside thinking he was saying and ordering one thing and Franklin understanding another. I know that Franklin did not, nor did any of those around him, believe or understand that Burnside intended our attack for the main attack, which Burnside now avers was always his intention.

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. 365-6. Available via Google Books.

Sucking Up (April 11, 1863)

On April 9, 1863, Alfred Waud sketched President Lincoln as he and various Union generals reviewed the Army of the Potomac. Someone has clipped off Joe Hooker's head. Click on the image for a larger version (Library of Congress).

On April 9, 1863, Alfred Waud sketched President Lincoln as he and various Union generals reviewed the Army of the Potomac. Someone has clipped off Joe Hooker’s head. Click on the image for a larger version (Library of Congress).

George Meade was an ambitious man. That’s obvious even in his edited letters, which appeared in print as The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army in 1913. The unedited versions show even more clearly how much Meade aspired to reach a position to which he felt entitled. He often expressed his ambitions in his letters to his wife. In this one he amusingly details some of his efforts to ingratiate himself with Abraham Lincoln when the president visited the Army of the Potomac. (It’s possible that Meade is the only person to refer to Mary Todd Lincoln as “amiable.)

The Lancers are the cavalry regiment to which Meade’s son, George, belonged. Stoneman was George Stoneman, commander of the army’s cavalry corps.

Major General George Stoneman, who commanded the cavalry corps (Library of Congress).

Major General George Stoneman, who commanded the cavalry corps (Library of Congress).

The President has now reviewed the whole army, and expresses himself highly delighted with all he has seen. Since our review, I have attended the other reviews and have been making myself (or at least trying so to do) very agreeable to Mrs. Lincoln, who seems an amiable sort of personage. In view also of the vacant brigadiership in the regular army, I have ventured to tell the President one or two stories, and I think I have made decided progress in his affections. By-the-by, talking of this vacancy, I have been very much gratified at the congratulations I have received from several distinguished general officers on the prominence that has been given my name in connection with this appointment. The other day, Major General Stoneman came up to me and said he was very glad to hear I was so much talked of in connection with this vacancy; that he hoped I would get it, and that he believed the voice of the army would be in my favor. Coming as this does from those who are cognizant of my services, some of whom are themselves candidates, I cannot but regard it as most complimentary and gratifying, and I am sure it will please you. Stoneman also told me that, hearing I had a boy in the Lancers, he had sent for him and introduced him to Mrs. Stoneman. Stoneman also spoke very handsomely of the Lancers, and said he intended they should have full chance to show what they were made of.

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. 364-5. Available via Google Books.

A Presidential Visit (April 9, 1863)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

In early April President Abraham Lincoln traveled down to Virginia to meet with Joseph Hooker and review the Army of the Potomac. It was the eve of the spring campaigning season and Lincoln wanted to see the force he hoped would help put an end to the war. He also wanted to get out of Washington. Meade remarked on how tired the president looked. Newspaperman Noah Brooks, a friend of the president who was traveling with Lincoln’s party, noted the same thing but watched as Lincoln became more cheerful as the days passed. “I remarked this one evening as we sat in Hooker’s headquarters, after a long and laborious day of reviewing,” wrote Brooks. “Lincoln replied: “It is a great relief to get away from Washington and the politicians. But nothing touches the tired spot.”

I have omitted writing for a day or two, as I have been very much occupied in the ceremonies incidental to the President’s visit. I think my last letter told you he arrived here on Sunday, in the midst of a violent snow storm. He was to have had a cavalry review on that day, but the weather prevented it. The next day, Monday, the cavalry review came off; but notwithstanding the large number of men on parade, the weather, which was cloudy and raw, and the ground, which was very muddy, detracted from the effect greatly. Orders were given for an infantry review the next day (Tuesday). I was invited on this day (Monday) to dine with General Hooker, to meet the President and Mrs. Lincoln. We had a very handsome and pleasant dinner. The President and Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Bates, Secretary of the Interior, a Dr. Henry, of Colorado, who accompanied the President, Mrs. Stoneman, wife of Major General Stoneman, besides the corps commanders, constituted the party. The next day, owing to the ground not being in condition, the infantry review was postponed; but the President did me the honor to visit my camps and inspect them, and I believe (leaving out the fatigue) passed a very pleasant day. Yesterday (Wednesday) we had the grand infantry review, there being out four corps, or over sixty thousand men. The review passed off very well indeed. The day, during the early part of it, was not favorable, being cloudy and raw, but after noon the sun came out and rendered everything more cheerful. Mrs. Carroll and Mrs. Griffin and the two Misses Carroll, together with two other young ladies, having come down to General Griffin’s, I was invited to meet them at dinner, which I did yesterday evening, and had a very pleasant time. So you see we are trying to smooth a little the horrors of war. I saw George the day of the cavalry review. He told me he was to have a leave that day, so that he will undoubtedly be there when this reaches you.

The day I dined with Hooker, he told me, in the presence of Mr. Bates, Secretary of the Interior, that he (Hooker) had told the President that the vacant brigadiership in the regular army lay between Sedgwick and myself. I replied that I had no pretensions to it, and that if I were the President I would leave it open till after the next battle. The next day, when riding through the camp, Hooker said the President had told him he intended to leave this position open till after the next fight.

You have seen the report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War. It is terribly severe upon Franklin. Still, I took occasion when I had a chance to say a good word for Franklin to the President, who seemed very ready to hear anything in his behalf, and said promptly that he always liked Franklin and believed him to be a true man. The President looks careworn and exhausted. It is said he has been brought here for relaxation and amusement, and that his health is seriously threatened. He expresses himself greatly pleased with all he has seen, and his friends say he has improved already.

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. 363-4. Available via Google Books.

Presentations (April 5, 1863)

TestimonialCivil War soldiers liked to give their officers fancy (and expensive) presentation swords. It was a way to honor their commanders and also acknowledge their own performances. In the letter below Meade writes about the sword that his old division, the Pennsylvania Reserves, had ordered to present to him. I’ve included scans of the articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer of April 1, 1863, to which he was referring. At the end I’ve included a scan of the item that appeared immediately above the one about Meade’s sword. It says something about public reaction to the subject of black soldiers.

Meade did not actually receive the sword until August 27 and he had to admit it was a thing of beauty. It had a blade of Damascus steel and a scabbard of gold. His initials were engraved near the hilt and inlaid with enamel, gold and diamonds. Precious stones circled the handle. Engraved on the blade were the battles that Meade and the reserves had shared. “The more I examine my sword the more I am delighted with its beauty,” Meade wrote home. “It is really most chaste and artistic. It seems a pity, though, to waste so much money on an article that from its great value is actually rendered useless.” The sword had been on display at the Civil War museum on Pine Street in Philadelphia but went into storage when that museum closed. I hope it will go on display someplace for the Gettysburg 150th anniversary.

I have to assume the letter he mentions at the end is this one, which New York Times reporter Samuel Wilkeson wrote about David Birney, with whom Meade had clashed at Fredericksburg. (Apparently Wilkeson was under the impression he was dealing with David’s brother William, another Union general.) Wilkeson, who had been with the Tribune during the Peninsula campaign, was reporting for the New York Times when he was with the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. His son, 19-year-old Bayard Wilkeson, was at Gettysburg, too, as the commander of Battery G, 4th U.S. Artillery. The young Wilkeson died during the first day’s fighting, after being forced to amputate his own shattered leg.

Yesterday I received yours of the 2d instant, announcing you had been to Bailey’s to see my sword. I saw the item in the Inquirer you allude to, and was not a little taken down by another in the next column, in which the presentation fever was most justly inveighed against. I did all I could to prevent anything being given to me, and on several occasions when I was approached to know what I would like to have, I always refused to take anything, and earnestly requested as a personal favor to have the thing stopped. This last affair was gotten up after I had left the division, and the first I knew of it was that the sword had been ordered and would soon be ready for presentation. There is to be a grand jollification at Willard’s, I hear, on the occasion, when the Governor and divers other big-bugs will be present to gas and make me feel uncomfortable. I would give a good deal to escape this ordeal, and am in hopes we shall be on the move before they get ready. I would much prefer the men giving their money to their wives, or, if they are not so blessed, to the widows and orphans that the war has made. I see by the Inquirer of yesterday that the 18th instant is the day appointed for the presentation, but I rather think that by that date I shall have other work on hand.

Some one has sent me a copy of the Evening Journal with Wilkeson’a letter about Birney in it.

Meade really did not need to worry about this article. It was complaining about the presentations of swords to doctors, not to soldiers.

Meade did not need to worry about this article. It was complaining about sword presentations to doctors, not soldiers.

This is the item that appeared in the Inquirer just above the one about Meade’s sword:

This is the news items that appeared directly above the one about Meade's sword in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 1, 1863.

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. 362-3. Available via Google Books.