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.

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