Brandy Station (June 11, 1863)

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry monument at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington).

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry monument at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington).

In his letter of June 11, Meade provides a brief account of the huge cavalry battle that took place on June 9 at Brandy Station. He was particularly interested in accounts of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, also known as Rush’s Lancers. It had been the unit to which his son, George, had belonged before he was assigned to his father’s staff and it was also a Philadelphia regiment, so the Meades were acquainted with many of its members. The 6th PA Cavalry fought hard at Brandy Station and suffered 108 casualties. John Buford, who commanded the division, declared that the men of the 6th PA “had covered themselves with glory.” Wrote Eric Wittenberg in Rush’s Lancers: the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War, “Brandy Station became the regiment’s defining moment, its greatest accomplishment. After the end of the war, the veterans chose June 9 as the date for their annual reunion in tribute to their valor that day.”

This army is weakened, and its morale not so good as at the last battle, and the enemy are undoubtedly stronger and in better morale. Still, I do not despair, but that if they assume the offensive and force us into a defensive attitude, that our morale will be raised, and with a moderate degree of good luck and good management, we will give them better than they can send. War is very uncertain in its results, and often when affairs look the most desperate they suddenly assume a more hopeful state. See the changes and transitions at Vicksburg, to say nothing of our own experience. This makes me hope that it will be our turn next time. The day before yesterday Pleasanton, with all the cavalry and two brigades of infantry, crossed just above us, and had a very brilliant affair with the enemy’s cavalry, who it appears were just ready and about starting on a grand raid, some say into Pennsylvania. They outnumbered us, but after handling them pretty severely, Pleasanton came back. The Lancers particularly distinguished themselves, though I am sorry to hear with considerable loss. It is said Major [Robert] Morris [Jr.] is missing, supposed to have been thrown from his horse and fallen into the enemy’s hands. Captain [Charles B.] Davis was killed. [Thompson] Lennig is missing, believed to be wounded. [Captain Chalres L.] Leiper is missing. Lieutenant [Rudolph] Ellis is wounded. Lieutenant [Samuel R.] Colladay, missing. Charley Cadwalader was with them, also Captain [Ulric] Dahlgren, of General Hooker’s staff. This latter officer says he was with Morris, and had just jumped a ditch, when his horse was shot. On dismounting, and looking around, he saw Morris’s horse without a rider, and he thinks Morris was thrown in jumping the ditch. Charles Coxe is all right, so also is Willie White, who had two horses shot under him, and broke two sabres. [Frederick D.] Newhall was on Pleasanton’s staff, and was not with the regiment when it made a dashing and gallant charge on a battery, getting in among the guns, which they would have captured had they been promptly supported. Harry Winsor is safe, also [Osgood] Welsh. I am glad the regiment has had a chance and so brilliantly availed themselves of it. George is quite disgusted with his luck, but I tell him a live dog is better than a dead lion.

The backing out of Burnside’s course towards the Chicago Times looks suspicious on the part of the President. If peace can be secured without loss of honor, no one would be more rejoiced than I; but I do not see how this can be brought about, with matters as they stand at present. If we could only thoroughly whip these fellows two or three times, regular out-and-out defeats; but I don’t advocate peace until we have clearly shown them, as we ought to have done long since, our superiority in the field. I can hardly expect you to enter fully into these views, but if you had been humiliated as I have been by seeing your cause and party defeated when they should be victorious, you would be roiled, too, and would not be willing to give up till things assumed an aspect more consistent with your pride and honor.

We are now on the qui vine to know what the enemy are going to do. I am removed from Hooker’s headquarters and know nothing of what is going on, either of plans or surmises. In some respects this is convenient, as I am spared much speculation. In other respects it is not so agreeable, because I like to form my own judgment on what is going on, and to make my preparations accordingly. If Lee is going to assume the offensive, I presume he will not long delay; but whether he will move to our right, trying to get between us and Washington, or whether he will move up the valley as he did last summer, or whether he will attack us here, are questions the future only can solve. All we can do is to be on the lookout and ready. Perhaps Hooker may find a chance to assume the offensive and reverse matters, as the enemy did at Chancellorsville. This I think would be good luck for us.

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. 383-5 Available via Google Books.

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