Miserable Failure (May 20, 1863)

"Lord Abinger (William F. Scarlett, 3d Baron Abinger, Lt. Col. Scots Fusilier Guards) and group at headquarters, Army of the Potomac" (Library of Congress).

“Lord Abinger (William F. Scarlett, 3d Baron Abinger, Lt. Col. Scots Fusilier Guards) and group at headquarters, Army of the Potomac” (Library of Congress).

In this letter to his wife Meade sums up his opinions on Hooker and the Battle of Chancellorsville. It is, to say the least, an unfavorable view of Fighting Joe. Meade also talks a bit more about the visit of Lord Abinger. He often had to deal with foreign visitors who came to America with a view to observing military operations.

The battle of Chancellorsville was a miserable failure, in which Hooker disappointed me greatly. His plan was admirably designed, and the early part of it, entrusted to others, was well executed; but after he had assembled his army on the other side near Chancellorsville, instead of striking at once vigorously and instantly, before the enemy, who were surprised, could concentrate, he delayed; gave them thirty-six hours to bring up and dispose of their troops; permitted them to attack him, and after their doing so, failed to take advantage of their error in dividing and separating their forces, but allowed them to engage only about half his army and to unite their forces after driving back a portion of ours. He then assumed the defensive, doing nothing for two days, while we could hear Sedgwick’s guns, and knew they were trying to crush him and must succeed. Finally he withdrew to this side, giving up all the advantages gained, and having to recross with all the obstacles and difficulties increased.

Notwithstanding these are my views, I have abstained from making them known to any one, out of consideration for Hooker, who has always pretended to be very friendly to me. I declined to join Couch in a representation to the President, when he was down here, and I refused to join Slocum, who desired to take action to have Hooker removed. I told both these gentlemen I would not join in any movement against Hooker, but that if the President chose to call on me officially for my opinions, I would give them. I have spoken to no one but Governor Curtin, and to him only because he came to see me and spoke so freely and bitterly against Hooker, that I allowed myself to say a part of what I have above written. I considered my conversation with Governor Curtin private, and did not expect he would repeat it or quote me. I have seen Senators Wade, Chandler, Wilson and Doolittle, all of whom have been down here to find out what they could, but I have abstained from saying anything, as they did not think proper to ask me any questions. Hooker is safe, I think, from the difficulty of finding a successor, and from the ridiculous appearance we present of changing our generals after each battle. He may, and I trust he will, do better next time; but unless he shows more aptitude than in the last affair, he will be very apt to be defeated again. Lee committed a terrible blunder in allowing us to come back; he might have destroyed us by a vigorous attack while we were retreating.

The review of my corps passed off very well yesterday, and Lord Abinger expressed himself greatly pleased. After the review I had a collation at my quarters, which seemed to be equally pleasing to his lordship. He said that if he had time to stop in Philadelphia, he would hunt you up.

Turnbull, who was at the review, showed me a few lines he had received from Proctor Smith, by a flag of truce that went after the wounded. Smith is Chief Engineer on Lee’s staff. He begs to be remembered to you and me. Beckham is major of artillery and commands a battery with Stuart’s cavalry. Smith is colonel.

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. 379-80. Available via Google Books.

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1 Comment

  1. Sebastian Page

     /  June 17, 2015

    I have just brought out a diary of Abinger’s visit to the Army of the Potomac, written by his traveling companion, Thomas M. Crowder, the figure in the dead center of the group shown above.



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