Measles (May 15, 1863)

Meade’s son, George, belonged to the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Rush’s Lancers) and was going to take part in George Stoneman’s attempt to get behind Lee’s lines before the battle of Chancellorsville. But George fell ill with a severe case of measles, a very real concern in the nineteenth century, and was sent back.

In his letter of May 12 Meade mentioned a meeting with Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin. Here he writes about the unexpected consequence of that meeting. It would help drive a wedge between Meade and Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac. I have to think that Meade was either incredibly naïve or perhaps being disingenuous when he says that he thought he was merely expressing his views privately to Curtin, who was, after all, the governor of Pennsylvania.

I received to-day your letter of the 12th instant, advising me of George’s arrival at home, which relieved me greatly, although I only yesterday learned of his being sick and having gone to Washington. In utter ignorance of his being sick, and supposing him with his regiment, I saw Hooker and got the order issued assigning him to duty on my staff. It was only my accidentally meeting Lieutenant Furness, of George’s regiment, on Stoneman’s staff, who first told me George had been very sick on the expedition, but that he was better, and that he (Furness) had seen George and Benoni Lockwood both in the cars on their way to Washington.

I have been very much worried to-day by very extraordinary conduct on the part of Governor Curtin. He came to see me, and in the familiarity of private conversation, after expressing himself very much depressed, drew out of me opinions such as I have written to you about General Hooker, in which I stated my disappointment at the caution and prudence exhibited by General Hooker at the critical moment of the battle; at his assuming the defensive, when I thought the offensive ought to have been assumed; and at the withdrawal of the army, to which I was opposed. This opinion was expressed privately, as one gentleman would speak to another; was never intended for the injury of General Hooker, or for any other purpose than simply to make known my views. Imagine, then, my surprise when General Hooker, who has just returned from Washington, sent for me, and said that General Cadwalader had told him that Governor Curtin had reported in Washington that he (General Hooker) had entirely lost the confidence of the army, and that both Generals Reynolds and Meade had lost all confidence in him. Of course, I told Hooker that Governor Curtin had no warrant for using my name in this manner. I then repeated to Hooker what I had said to Governor Curtin, and told him that he knew that I had differed with him in judgment on the points above stated, and that he had no right to complain of my expressing my views to others, which he was aware I had expressed to him at the time the events were occurring. To this Hooker assented and expressed himself satisfied with my statement.

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. 375-6. Available via Google Books.

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