A Visit to Gettysburg (June 29, 2013)

DSC_4658I went down to Gettysburg yesterday (June 29). Since I was doing a book signing at the American History Store in town, I figured I would spend the entire day. I’m glad I did. I managed to find a parking space in the lot of the old visitor center and made that my base camp. From there I set out to explore the battlefield.

First I headed down to Meade’s headquarters at the Leister House, past the huge production being set up in the field just north of the building. This will be the site of the big show tonight (June 30). I then headed up to the Meade statue and down Cemetery Ridge to the Pennsylvania Monument. From there I walked down Sedgwick Avenue to the north slope of Little Round Top, skirted the Wheatfield on Wheatfield Road, turned right on Sickles Avenue at the edge of the Peach Orchard, and then followed the Emmitsburg Road into town.

By then I was pretty tired, so I headed up to the National Cemetery and lay down against a huge yellow popular tree at the far northern end. There I could hear the production crew running through the script of the sound-and-light show. It was a pleasantly surreal experience, as I drifted in and out of sleep not too far from the spot where Lincoln made his Gettysburg Address, to hear his words coming from the stage, as though they were being blown to me on the light summer breeze.

I brought with me the new Stackpole book Gettysburg: The Story of the Battlefield with Maps and also my copy of The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg. As I walked about I stopped periodically to dip into both these volumes and profit by their insights. And I brought along a camera. I have included a few photos here.

I was somewhat surprised by the small number of people on the battlefield. Town, however, appeared fairly crowded and by late afternoon a line of cars stretched up Taneytown Road to the cemetery entrance.

I thought it was tremendously exciting to be here on this big anniversary. Since I will be appearing on PCN live on Tuesday and will be doing a Sacred Trust talk at the visitor center on July 6, I felt like I was part of it, in my own small way.

People in period dress approach the 72nd PA monument. Just a few days ago a thunderstorm knocked the statue off its base but park personnel quickly put it back.

People in period dress approach the 72nd PA monument. Just a few days ago a thunderstorm knocked the statue off its base but park personnel quickly put it back.

Who is that? A portrait of Robert E. Lee is projected on a huge screen set up just north of Meade's headquarters.

Who is that? A portrait of Robert E. Lee is projected on a huge screen set up just north of Meade’s headquarters.

The view from the Pennsylvania State Monument, looking towards the 1st MN monument.

The view from the Pennsylvania State Monument, looking towards the 1st MN monument.

The statue of Gen. Andrew Humphreys overlooks a horseback tour group on the Emmitsburg Road. To the right is the 11th MA. The arm and sword atop it were only recently restored after being torn off by vandals in 2006.

The statue of Gen. Andrew Humphreys overlooks a horseback tour group on the Emmitsburg Road. To the right is the 11th MA. The arm and sword atop it were only recently restored after being torn off by vandals in 2006.

General Lee, is that you? Living historians are a common sight on the streets of Gettysburg. I saw several Lees but nary a Meade.

General Lee, is that you? Living historians are a common sight on the streets of Gettysburg. I saw several Lees but nary a Meade.

Visitors admire the victor of Gettysburg.

Visitors admire the victor of Gettysburg.

My table at the American History Store.

My table at the American History Store.

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To Taneytown (June 30, 1863)

On June 30, 1863, Meade moved north from Middleburg, Maryland, to Taneytown, where he established his headquarters at the Shunk farm. Officers of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, who had served in Meade’s brigade, division and corps, arrived there to congratulate him on his new position. “We found him in close conference with Generals Reynolds, Hancock, Sedgwick and others,” recalled Samuel Jackson. “He seemed delighted in welcoming us back to the army. Thanked us for our congratulations, but said that he did not know whether he was a subject of congratulation or commiseration. He appeared anxious and showed that he fully realized the responsibility of his position. He said however that he had all confidence in the bravery of the officers and men of the army and felt assured that we would achieve a glorious victory in the coming conflict.”

From Taneytown Meade sent out orders, via his chief of staff Daniel Butterfield or his assistant adjutant general Seth Williams, to his corps commanders. One order went to John Reynolds, giving him command of the army’s left wing, comprising the I, III and XI Corps. Another circular read:

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

The Commanding General has received information that the enemy are advancing, probably in strong force, on Gettysburg. It is the intention to hold this army pretty nearly in the position it now occupies, until the plans of the enemy shall have been more fully developed.

Three corps, 1st, 3d and llth, are under the command of Major General Reynolds, in the vicinity of Emmettsburg, the 3d Corps being ordered up to that point. The 12th Corps is at Littlestown. General Gregg’s division of cavalry is believed to be now engaged with the cavalry of the enemy, near Hanover Junction.

Corps commanders will hold their commands in readiness at a moment’s notice, and upon receiving orders, to march against the enemy. Their trains (ammunition trains excepted) must be parked in the rear of the place of concentration. Ammunition wagons and ambulances will alone be permitted to accompany the troops. The men must be provided with three-days’ rations in haversacks, and with sixty rounds of ammunition in the boxes and upon the person.

Corps commanders will avail themselves of all the time at their disposal to familiarize themselves with the roads communicating with the different corps.

Another circular, requesting that the corps commanders communicate to their troops how important the upcoming battle would be, ended with this chilling note: “Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldiers who fails in his duty at this hour.”

Sometime during the day Meade wrote home. He said:

All is going on well. I think I have relieved Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and that Lee has now come to the conclusion that he must attend to other matters. I continue well, but much oppressed with a sense of responsibility and the magnitude of the great interests entrusted to me. Of course, in time I will become accustomed to this. Love, blessings and kisses to all. Pray for me and beseech our heavenly Father to permit me to be an instrument to save my country and advance a just cause.

It was June 30, 1863.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 15-18. Available via Google Books.

Straight at Them (June 29, 1863)

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade was now in command of the Army of the Potomac. On June 29 he found time to write to his wife and inform her of this fact.

It has pleased Almighty God to place me in the trying position that for some time past we have been talking about. Yesterday morning, at 3 A. M., I was aroused from my sleep by an officer from Washington entering my tent, and after waking me up, saying he had come to give me trouble. At first I thought that it was either to relieve or arrest me, and promptly replied to him, that my conscience was clear, void of offense towards any man; I was prepared for his bad news. He then handed me a communication to read; which I found was an order relieving Hooker from the command and assigning me to it. As, dearest, you know how reluctant we both have been to see me placed in this position, and as it appears to be God’s will for some good purpose—at any rate, as a soldier, I had nothing to do but accept and exert my utmost abilities to command success. This, so help me God, I will do, and trusting to Him, who in his good pleasure has thought it proper to place me where I am, I shall pray for strength and power to get through with the task assigned me. I cannot write you all I would like. I am moving at once against Lee, whom I am in hopes Couch will at least check for a few days; if so, a battle will decide the fate of our country and our cause. Pray earnestly, pray for the success of my country, (for it is my success besides). Love to all. I will try and write often, but must depend on George.

The General Couch Meade mentions is Dairus Couch, the former commander of the XX Corps who had refused to serve any longer under Hooker following Chancellorsville. He now commanded the Department of the Susquehanna, based in Harrisburg.

It was also on this day that the governor of New Jersey, Joel Parker, took it upon himself to write to President Abraham Lincoln. He wrote, “The people of New Jersey are apprehensive that the invasion of the enemy may extend to her soil. We think that the enemy should be driving from Pennsylvania. There is now certainly great apathy under such fearful circumstances. That apathy should be removed. The people of New Jersey want McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac. If that cannot be done, then we ask that he may be put at the head of the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania troops now in Pennsylvania, defending these Middle States from invasion. If either appointment be made, the people would raise en masse.”

Needless to say, that did not happen. Lincoln replied the next day and assured the governor that Lee was not likely to reach New Jersey. “I beg you to be assured that no one out of my position can know so well as if he were in it the difficulties and involvements of replacing General McClellan in command, and this aside from any imputations upon him,” the president wrote. Still, rumors circulated within the army at Gettysburg that McClellan had resumed command.

Ambrose Burnside. He and Meade will work together later in the war (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside. He and Meade will work together later in the war (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside, one of Meade’s predecessors in command, took time to send him a message from Cincinnati, where he commanded the Department of the Ohio. He wrote, “I am sure you are quite equal to the position you are called to fill. You are regarded by all who know you as an honest, skillful, and unselfish officer, and a true, disinterested patriot. I will not congratulate you, because I know it is no subject of congratulation to assume such a responsibility at such a time, but I will earnestly pray for your success.”

During the day Meade moved the Army of the Potomac forward towards the enemy. By evening Meade has established his headquarters in Middleburg, Maryland, and he wrote again to Margaret.

We are marching as fast as we can to relieve Harrisburg, but have to keep a sharp lookout that the rebels don’t turn around us and get at Washington and Baltimore in our rear. They have a cavalry force in our rear, destroying railroads, etc., with the view of getting me to turn back; but I shall not do it. I am going straight at them, and will settle this thing one way or the other. The men are in good spirits; we have been reinforced so as to have equal numbers with the enemy, and with God’s blessing I hope to be successful. Good-by!

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 11-12 and 13-14. Available via Google Books. Other correspondence from Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series One, Volume XXVII, Part 3, pp. 409 and 410.

General Order No. 66 (June 28, 1863)

The outgoing commander of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

The outgoing commander of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

We should keep in mind that while George Gordon Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, another general was losing that command. After being replaced by Meade, Joseph Hooker issued General Order No. 66.In conformity with the orders of the War Department, dated June 27, 1863, I relinquish the command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, a brave and accomplished officer, who has nobly earned the confidence and esteem of this army on many a well-fought field.Impressed with the belief that my usefulness as the commander of the Army of the Potomac is impaired, I part from it; yet not without the deepest emotion.

The sorrow parting with the comrades of so many battles is relieved by the conviction that the devotion of this army will never cease nor fail; that it will yield to my successor, as it has to me, a willing and hearty support.

With the earnest prayer that the triumphs of its arms may bring successes worthy of it and the nation, I bid it farewell.

Joseph Hooker
Major-General

From Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series One, Volume XXVII, Part III, pp. 373-4.

150 Years Ago (June 28, 1863)

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

It was 150 years ago today—June 28—that Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade received command of the Army of the Potomac. As I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Back in Washington on June 27 Col. James A. Hardie of Halleck’s staff received orders to travel to Frederick and find Meade. Hardie looked more like an accountant than a soldier, with straggly side whiskers, hair slicked down and combed back, and pince-nez clamped to his nose. Wearing civilian clothes in case he encountered Confederate raiders, Hardie took a train from Washington to Frederick, where he found the streets thronged with boisterous and drunken soldiers from the Army of the Potomac. He rented a horse and buggy and made his way through the dark night to Meade’s headquarters at Robert McGill’s farm.

Meade was asleep in his tent, unaware of the agent of fate making his inexorable way toward him. Hardie arrived around 3:00 in the morning. He pushed open the tent flaps and rapped on the flagpole to wake the sleeping general. I’ve come to bring you trouble, he told Meade. Meade’s first thought was that he was being either relieved or placed under arrest, which says something about the state of dysfunction, paranoia, and suspicion that plagued the Army of the Potomac. The groggy general told Hardie he had a clear conscience.

Hardie explained the trouble he had brought. He had orders for Meade to take command of the Army of the Potomac. Meade protested. He wasn’t the right man, he said. Reynolds was. Hardie explained that the decision had been made—Meade had no choice but to obey his orders.

“Well, I’ve been tried and condemned without a hearing, and I suppose I shall have to go to execution,” said Meade.

Following are Meade’s reply to Henry Halleck and his announcement to his army.

To Halleck:

The order placing me in command of this army is received. As a soldier I obey it, and to the utmost of my ability will execute it. Totally unexpected as it has been, and in ignorance of the exact condition of the troops and position of the enemy, I can only now say that it appears to me I must move towards the Susquehanna, keeping Washington and Baltimore well covered, and if the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross the Susquehanna, or if he turns towards Baltimore, to give him battle. I would say that I trust that every available man that can be spared will be sent to me, as, from all accounts, the enemy is in strong force. So soon as I can post myself up I will communicate more in detail.

To the Army:

By direction of the President of the United States, I hereby assume command of the Army of the Potomac.

As a soldier, in obeying this order—an order totally unexpected and unsolicited—I have no promises or pledges to make.

The country looks to this army to relieve it from the devastation and disgrace of a foreign invasion. Whatever fatigues and sacrifices we may be called upon to undergo, let us have in view, constantly, the magnitude of the interests involved, and let each man determine to do his duty, leaving to an all-controlling Providence the decision of the contest.

It is with great diffidence that I relieve in the command of this army an eminent and accomplished soldier, whose name must ever appear conspicuous in the history of its achievements; but I rely upon the hearty support of my companions in arms to assist me in the discharge of the duties of the important trust which has been confided to me.

Orders (June 27, 1863)

Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, a.k.a. "Old Brains." His orders placed Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, a.k.a. “Old Brains.” His orders placed Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade had reached the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland, on June 27, 1863. Meade established his headquarters on land owned by Robert McGill near Ballenger Creek. You can see the farm today next to modern Rt. 85, just south of town. Back in Washington, general-in-chief Henry Halleck prepared the orders that would put Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac. Col. James Hardie left the capital that day on a train to Frederick. Here are the orders he carried:

Headquarters Of The Army, Washington, D. C., June 27, 1863. Major General G. G. Meade,

Army of the Potomac. General:

You will receive with this the order of the President placing you in command of the Army of the Potomac. Considering the circumstances, no one ever received a more important command; and I cannot doubt that you will fully justify the confidence which the Government has reposed in you.

You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters. Your army is free to act as you may deem proper under the circumstances as they arise. You will, however, keep in view the important fact that the Army of the Potomac is the covering army of Washington, as well as the army of operation against the invading forces of the rebels. You will therefore manoeuvre and fight in such a manner as to cover the Capital and also Baltimore, as far as circumstances will admit. Should General Lee move upon either of these places, it is expected that you will either anticipate him or arrive with him, so as to give him battle.

All forces within the sphere of your operations will be held subject to your orders.

Harper’s Ferry and its garrison are under your direct orders.

You are authorized to remove from command and send from your army any officer or other person you may deem proper; and to appoint to command as you may deem expedient.

In fine, General, you are intrusted with all the power and authority which the President, the Secretary of War, or the General-inChief can confer on you, and you may rely on our full support.

You will keep me fully informed of all your movements and the positions of your own troops and those of the enemy, so far as known.

I shall always be ready to advise and assist you to the utmost of my ability.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
H. W. Halleck

A modern view of Arcadia, the farm owned by Robert McGill where Meade established V Corps headquarters on June 27, 1863.

A modern view of Arcadia, the farm owned by Robert McGill where Meade established V Corps headquarters on June 27, 1863.

Last Day at Aldie (June 25, 1863)

Once again Meade writes from Aldie, where his corps waits as Joe Hooker attempts to determine Robert  E. Lee’s plans. The Monroe Estate he mentions is Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. It still stands today but is privately owned.

Little did Meade know it, but in only three days he will receive command of the Army of the Potomac. President Lincoln and general-in-chief Henry Halleck were rapidly losing any remaining confidence in Hooker. There were also doubts within the army. General Marsena Patrick, the army’s provost marshal general (and a notoriously cranky observer), wrote on Hooker around this time, “He acts like a man without a plan and is entirely at a loss what to do, or how to match the enemy, or counteract his movements. . . . He knows that Lee is his master & is afraid to meet him in a fair battle.”

This is a lengthy and interesting letter. Shortly after writing it Meade received orders to move his corps north toward Frederick. The men broke camp early the next morning and marched to Edwards Ferry, where it crossed the Potomac.

This is the last letter in the first volume of Life and Letters. Volume II picks up the story with a narrative of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Reynolds’s honors, commanding the right wing, only lasted two days, for as soon as we got to Manassas, General Hooker informed him he would communicate direct with corps commanders. Reynolds was at first quite indignant, and took it into his head that Hooker expected our withdrawal from the Rappahannock was going to be disputed, and that he had selected him for a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the shock. Everything, however, passed off quietly, as Lee was well on his way up the Valley of the Shenandoah, and A. P. Hill, who was left to guard Fredericksburg, was glad enough to let us go, that he might follow Lee, as he has done and rejoined him, although we could readily have prevented him, and in my judgment should have done so. What Lee’s object is in moving up the valley is not yet clearly developed. He has massed his army between Winchester and Martinsburg. The invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, so far as I can gather, has as yet been a mere foraging expedition, collecting supplies and horses for his army. He does not, at the latest accounts, seem to have crossed any of his good troops; he has perhaps been waiting for Hill, also to see what Hooker and the authorities at Washington were going to do, before he struck a blow. That he has assumed the offensive and is going to strike a blow there can be no doubt, and that it will be a very formidable one is equally certain, unless his forces have been very much exaggerated. He is said to have collected over ninety thousand infantry and fifteen thousand cavalry, with a large amount of artillery. Hooker has at present no such force to oppose him, but I trust the Government will reinforce Hooker with troops that have been scattered at Suffolk, Baltimore, Washington and other places, and that such will be the case seems probable, from a despatch I received from headquarters yesterday, asking me if I would like to have the Pennsylvania Reserves attached to my corps. I replied, promptly: “Yes; they or any other reinforcements that could be obtained.” I understand the Reserves are seven thousand strong, which will be a very decided addition to my present weak corps. I have seen very few papers lately, and therefore know little or nothing of what is going on. I see you are still troubled with visions of my being placed in command. I thought that had all blown over, and I think it has, except in your imagination, and that of some others of my kind friends. I have no doubt great efforts have been made to get McClellan back, and advantage has been taken of the excitement produced by the invasion of Maryland to push his claims; but his friends ought to see that his restoration is out of the question, so long as the present Administration remains in office, and that until they can remove Stanton and Chase, all hope of restoring McClellan is idle. I have no doubt, as you surmise, his friends would look with no favor on my being placed in command. They could not say I was an unprincipled intriguer, who had risen by criticising and defaming my predecessors and superiors. They could not say I was incompetent, because I have not been tried, and so far as I have been tried I have been singularly successful. They could not say I had never been under fire, because it is notorious no general officer, not even Fighting Joe himself, has been in more battles, or more exposed, than my record evidences. The only thing they can say, and I am willing to admit the justice of the argument, is that it remains to be seen whether I have the capacity to handle successfully a large army. I do not stand, however, any chance, because I have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretensions, and there are so many others who are pressed by influential politicians that it is folly to think I stand any chance upon mere merit alone. Besides, I have not the vanity to think my capacity so pre-eminent, and I know there are plenty of others equally competent with myself, though their names may not have been so much mentioned. For these reasons I have never indulged in any dreams of ambition, contented to await events, and do my duty in the sphere it pleases God to place me in, and I really think it would be as well for you to take the same philosophical view; but do you know, I think your ambition is being roused and that you are beginning to be bitten with the dazzling prospect of having for a husband a commanding general of an army. How is this?

Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. Meade visited here on June 24, 1863 (Library of Congress).

Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. Meade visited here on June 24, 1863 (Library of Congress).

This is a beautiful country we are now in, and we are reveling in lovely landscapes, with such luxuries as fresh butter, milk, eggs, lamb, chickens and other delicacies, to which we have for a long time been strangers. There are some nice people about here, though strong “secesh.” I went the other day to see a fine view, which is to be had from the Monroe estate. It is at present in the hands of a Major Fairfax, who is on Longstreet’s staff. While on the ground I received a polite message from Mrs. Fairfax, saying she would be glad to see me and show me the house, whereupon I called, and found her very affable and ladylike and very courteous. I apologized for my intrusion, but she said she did not so consider it; that she was always glad to see the officers of our army, knowing they took an interest in the place from its having been the former residence of a President of the United States. She referred to the war in a delicate manner, and said her husband, the Major, was at home when Pleasanton attacked Aldie, and that he had barely time to mount his horse and get off before their people were obliged to retire. I spent a half-hour chatting with her and left. Generally the women, when they find you are a gentleman, and not violent and bloodthirsty in your feelings, are disposed to be civil and affable.

Young Morrow, of George’s company, has returned from Richmond. He told George that he saw a great deal of Beckham when he was first captured, who inquired very particularly after me.

Everything is very quiet here. The enemy have a small cavalry force watching us, but no signs of their army this side of the Blue Ridge. At what moment they may show themselves, or when we will advance, is more than I can tell. 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.

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. 387-9. Available via Google Books.

End Volume 1

Still in Aldie (June 23, 1863)

Artist Edwin Forbe titled this drawing, which he dated June 24, 1863, "Cavalry fight near Aldie, Va. During the march to Gettysburg; the Union Cavalry; commanded by Gen. Pleasonton, the Confederate by J.E.B. Stuart." (Library of Congress)

Artist Edwin Forbes titled this drawing, which he dated June 24, 1863, “Cavalry fight near Aldie, Va. During the march to Gettysburg; the Union Cavalry; commanded by Gen. Pleasonton, the Confederate by J.E.B. Stuart.” (Library of Congress)

On June 23 Meade and the V Corps remained at Aldie as Joseph Hooker attempted to determine the intentions of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The cavalry in the corps under Alfred Pleasonton had been tussling with the Confederate cavalry in continued attempts to chart the enemy’s movements. The Charles F. Mercer whom Meade mentions was a local lawyer, politician and U.S. Congressman. (Aldie was also the birthplace of Stonewall Jackson’s mother.) Meade was correct about the contrast between the area around Fredericksburg, picked clean by he contending armies, and the relative abundance to the north. In fact, this was one of the motivating factors behind Lee’s move into Pennsylvania, where he wanted to resupply his army  with the lush pickings north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Yesterday General Pleasanton drove the enemy’s cavalry across what is called the Loudoun Valley, or the valley formed by the South Mountain and Bull Run Mountains. He did not find any infantry in Loudoun Valley, and reports Lee’s army about Winchester, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and that A. P. Hill, whom we left at Fredericksburg, is coming up the valley to join Lee. When Hill joins Lee, he will have a large army, numerically much superior to ours, and he will then, I presume, develop his plans.

I have seen a paper now and then, and have been greatly amused at the evident fears of the good people of the North, and the utter want of proper spirit in the measures proposed to be taken. I did think at first that the rebels crossing the line would result in benefit to our cause, by arousing the people to a sense of the necessity of raising men to fill their armies to defend the frontier, and that the Government would take advantage of the excitement to insist on the execution of the enrollment bill; but when I see the President calling out six months’ men, and see the troops at Harrisburg refusing to be mustered in for fear they may be kept six months in service, I give up in despair. I hope it will turn out better, and we have been disappointed so many times when we had reason to look for success, it may be, now that we are preparing for a reverse, we may suddenly find ourselves in luck.

This is a beautiful country where I am now encamped. It is right on the Bull Run Mountains, which, though not very high, yet are sufficiently so to give effect to the scenery and purify the air. Charles F. Mercer lived in Aldie; President Monroe’s estate was here, and the mansion of the old Berkeley family, showing that in old times it was the abode of the aristocracy. It is a great contrast to the arid region around Fredericksburg that we left.

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. 387. Available via Google Books.

Aldie (June 20, 1863)

Judson Kilpatrick. As one of Meade's aides later described him, “His colorless eye, big nose, and narrow forehead, with an indescribable air between a vulgarian & a crack-brain, combine to render him almost laughable. He is pushing & managing in the extreme, but I don’t believe he is worth a fig as a general.” (Library of Congress)

Judson Kilpatrick. As one of Meade’s aides later described him, “His colorless eye, big nose, and narrow forehead, with an indescribable air between a vulgarian & a crack-brain, combine to render him almost laughable. He is pushing & managing in the extreme, but I don’t believe he is worth a fig as a general.” (Library of Congress)

On June 20 Meade wrote from Aldie, Virginia, which three days earlier had been the setting for a spirited cavalry battle. Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry had been screening Robert E. Lee’s army as it advanced north through the Shenandoah Valley. Stuart sought to keep the prying eyes of the Union cavalry away from any of the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains where they could observe Lee’s activity in the valley. At Aldie a Union brigade under Judson Kilpatrick fought for four hours against Confederate cavalry under Thomas Munford. When Kilpatrick received reinforcements from David McMurtrie Gregg’s division, the Confederates retired. (Gregg, incidentally, was cousin to Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin.)

We came here yesterday afternoon to sustain Pleasanton, who has had several brilliant skirmishes with the enemy’s cavalry in this vicinity, and who thought they were bringing up infantry. To-day we hear Ewell has crossed the Potomac at Williamsport. This indicates an invasion of Maryland, of which I have hitherto been skeptical. If this should prove true, we will have to rush after them. I had almost rather they would come here and save us marches. I am in pretty good spirits—a little disgusted at the smallness of my corps, only ten thousand men, but I believe they will do as much as any equal numbers.

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. 386. Available via Google Books.

In Pursuit (June 18, 1863)

As the V Corps headed north with the rest of the Army of the Potomac in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia, Meade sent short notes to his wife to keep her informed of developments. Sometimes there wasn’t much to tell.

We reached here last evening, on our way to Leesburg. The enemy, as far as we can learn, are in the Valley of the Shenandoah, occupying the line they did when McClellan crossed the Potomac last fall. We cannot learn that any great force has crossed into Maryland or Pennsylvania. Should this prove true, we shall have to go to the valley after them.

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. 386. Available via Google Books.