Open War (May 19, 1863)

Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the Chancellorsville house, where Hooker had his headquarters during the battle. He was on the front porch when a cannonball hit the house, striking Hooker with debris. The general although knocked unconscious and probably severely concussed, retained command after awakening. (Library of Congress)

Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the Chancellorsville house, where Hooker had his headquarters during the battle. He was on the front porch when a cannonball hit the house, striking Hooker with debris. The general although knocked unconscious and probably severely concussed, retained command after awakening. (Library of Congress)

The rupture between Meade and Hooker is now complete. Meade wasn’t the only person harboring serious doubts about Fighting Joe’s abilities, though. As I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

After Chancellorsville the New York Tribune sent George W. Smalley to Virginia to determine what had gone wrong. “If I am to be investigated, it might as well be by you as anybody,” Hooker told him. Smalley like Hooker, but he put his personal feelings aside. During the course of his investigation decided that the general had lost his army’s confidence. Several staff officers even urged Smalley to tell Meade he was their choice to command. Smalley agreed to speak to him and found Meade just as the general was getting on his horse. The general invited the reporter to ride along with him.

As Smalley began to explain his mission, Meade turned and looked sharply at him. “I don’t know that I ought to listen to you,” he said. Smalley told the general that he was not acting in any official capacity; he intended only to explain what he had heard. Meade allowed him to continue. “I said my say,” Smalley related. “From beginning to end, General Meade listened with an impassive face. He did not interrupt. He never asked a question. He never made a comment. When I had finished I had not the least notion what impression my narrative had made on him; nor whether it had made any impression. He was a model of military discretion. Then we talked a little about other things. I said good-bye, rode away, and never again saw General Meade.”

 I am sorry to tell you I am at open war with Hooker. He yesterday came to see me and referred to an article in the Herald, stating that four of his corps commanders were opposed to the withdrawal of the army. He said this was not so, and that Reynolds and myself had determined him to withdraw. I expressed the utmost surprise at this statement; when he said that I had expressed the opinion that it was impracticable to withdraw the army, and therefore I had favored an advance, and as he knew it was perfectly practicable to withdraw, he did not consider my opinion as being in favor of an advance. I replied to him that this was a very ingenious way of stating what I had said; that my opinion was clear and emphatic for an advance; that I had gone so far as to say that I would not be governed by any consideration regarding the safety of Washington, for I thought that argument had paralyzed this army too long. I further said that if the enemy were considered so strong that the safety of the army might be jeopardized in attacking them, then I considered a withdrawal impracticable without running greater risk of destroying the army than by advancing, and that it seemed rather singular that he should set me down as the advocate of a measure which he acknowledged I asserted to be impracticable. He reiterated his opinion and said he should proclaim it. I answered I should deny it, and should call on those who were present to testify as to whether he or I was right. The fact is, he now finds he has committed a grave error, which at the time he was prepared to assume the responsibility of, but now desires to cast it off on to the shoulders of others; but I rather think he will find himself mistaken. At any rate, the entente cordiale is destroyed between us, and I don’t regret it, as it makes me more independent and free. I also told him that it was my impression at the time, but that of course it could only be known to himself and his God, that he had made up his mind to withdraw the army before he had heard the opinions of his corps commanders. To this he did not make any reply, and I am satisfied that such was the case. I have not seen Reynolds, or any of the others present on the occasion, since I had this conversation with him, but I intend to address each a letter and ask for their impressions of what I did say. Such things are very painful and embarrassing, but I have always feared the time would come when they would be inevitable with Hooker; for I knew no one would be permitted to stand in his way. I suppose he has heard some of the stories flying round camp in regard to my having the command, and these, in connection with what George Cadwalader told him Governor Curtin said, have induced him to believe that I am manoeuvering to get him relieved, that I may step in his shoes. God knows the injustice he does me, and that I have never spoken a word to any one except Governor Curtin, and to him I never referred to Hooker’s being relieved, but only criticised his recent operations, saying nothing more, or if as much, as I have written to you. I can tell him that if he had no stronger enemy than I am, he might rest much more secure than he can, knowing all that I do. I wish he could hear what some others say; he would look on me very differently.

There are two English officers on a visit to the camp. One of them, Lord Abinger (formerly Mr. Scarlett), Lieutenant Colonel of the Scots Fusileer Guards, brought me a letter from George Ramsay. I am going to-morrow to review my corps, and have invited them to be present. Lord Abinger seems a very nice fellow. He was in Philadelphia in 1857, and speaks a great deal about his visit and the people there. He recognized Major Biddle, asked after his mother, and altogether appears quite at home in Philadelphia society.

I have lost nearly a division by the expiration of service of the two-years’ and nine-months’ men, so that I have had to break up Humphreys’s division, and he is going to take command of the division recently commanded by General Berry, in Sickles’s corps. I am very sorry to lose Humphreys. He is a most valuable officer, besides being an associate of the most agreeable character.

My relations with Hooker are such that I cannot ask for the necessary leave to go up to Washington, to receive my sword; so unless they take some action and get the Secretary to authorize my going up, I fear it will be some time before I come into possession.

Just think, it is nearly two years, indeed over two years, since we have been separated.

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. 377-379. Available via Google Books.

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