Lee Moves North (June 16, 1863)

Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy waited unti it was too late to retreat from Winchester, Virginia (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy waited unti it was too late to retreat from Winchester, Virginia (Library of Congress).

On June 16 Meade wrote to his wife from near Manassas. At long last the Army of the Potomac was on the move. That meant Robert E. Lee’s army was as well. The Army of Northern Virginia was moving north down the Shenandoah Valley, in hot and steamy weather that would not break until June 18. Lee’s first target was Winchester, Virginia, held by a Union garrison under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy. Henry Halleck in Washington sent Milroy messages suggesting he abandon Winchester before it was too late but Milroy disregarded them until it was too late. On June 15 Winchester fell to Richard Ewell’s corps, with Union losses of 3,400 captured and 1,000 killed or wounded. Soon the remnants of Milroy’s shattered campaign were streaming north across the border into Pennsylvania. For the North it was an inauspicious beginning of a campaign that would climax at Gettysburg.

George wrote to you yesterday and informed you the army had been withdrawn from the Rappahannock. We are now collecting in the vicinity of this place and Centreville, awaiting orders; I presume, also, the development of the enemy’s movements. He has not as yet followed us from the Rappahannock, and it is reported that he is in heavy force up the Valley of the Shenandoah, having taken Harper’s Ferry and advanced to Chambersburg. I think Lee has made a mistake in going into Maryland before meeting our army. I hope his movement will arouse the North, and that now men enough will be turned out, not only to drive him back, but to follow and crush him. If his course does not awake the North from the lethargy it has been in, nothing will ever save us. We have had the usual hard service of active operations for the last few days, loss of rest and hard riding, but both George and I stand it very well.

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. 385-6. Available via Google Books.

Reynolds (June 13, 1863)

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

As I write in the book, John Fulton Reynolds played an important role in Meade’s life  until his death on July 1, 1863. “He was a fellow Pennsylvanian, having been born in Lancaster in 1820, and a West Point graduate, from the Class of 1837. He had fought in Mexico, served in California and Oregon, and was an instructor at West Point when the Civil War broke out. One of his soldiers described him as ‘somewhat above the medium height, well-formed, but rather slight in build–had a stern face with black whiskers and mustaches, from which a set of beautiful white teeth now and then peeped forth–black hair, and dark, piercing, penetrating eyes. His look and manner denoted uncommon coolness, and he spoke not unpleasantly. His countenance was one not likely to encourage familiarity; his age, perhaps, thirty-eight.’ One of Reynolds’s aides described him as ‘somewhat rough and wanting polish,’ but thought him ‘brave, kind-hearted, modest,’ and “’a type of the true soldier.’”“Reynolds was a man of few words. Apparently, no one in his family or in the army knew that he was engaged to be married, which is why he wore a Catholic medal around his neck, with a gold ring shaped like clasped hands on its chain. He and Katherine Hewitt had met when Reynolds was returning east. They planned to marry and honeymoon in Europe if Reynolds survived the war. If he died, Kate pledged to enter a convent.

Everything continues very quiet, and two corps having been moved above me on the river, I feel quite secure and comfortable. Reynolds moved up yesterday, and stopped to see me as he passed. He told me that being informed by a friend in Washington, that he was talked of for the command of this army, he immediately went to the President and told him he did not want the command and would not take it. He spoke, he says, very freely to the President about Hooker, but the President said he was not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire once; that he would pick the lock and try it again. To-day I hear Hooker is going to place Reynolds in command of the right wing of the army—that is, his corps, Birney’s and mine.

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. 385. Available via Google Books.


Radio Smart Talk

radioGeorge Gordon Meade never appeared on radio, but I have. If you missed my appearance on WITF’s Radio Smart talk the other day, never fear! You can listen to it here.

PCN will rebroadcast my appearance on PA Books on June 14 at 8:00 a.m. You can also catch me in person that day as I will be speaking and signing books at the Pages of the Past bookstore in Gettysburg, just off the square. Of course, you can keep up with all my appearances at the Event Calendar page, here.

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.

False Alarm? (June 8, 1863)

The cavalry push that Meade mentions in his letter of June 8 will result the next day in the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle on the North American continent. Although technically a victory for the Confederates, it was also a huge black eye for Rebel cavalry commander Jeb Stuart, who was surprised and embarrassed by the Union attack.

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John." (Library of Congress)

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John.” (Library of Congress)

I think for the present the storm has blown over. Both Lee and Hooker appear to be playing at cross-purposes. Hooker took it into his head that Lee was moving and made preparations accordingly. These preparations were construed by Lee into a movement on our part, etc. Sedgwick is still, I understand, across, below Fredericksburg, but is unmolested by the enemy. Pleasanton, with a large force of cavalry, will cross above to-day, and push his way towards Culpeper and Gordonsville, to see what they are doing in that direction.

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. Available via Google Books

Stirrings (June 6, 1863)

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

June 1863 would prove to be a momentous month for George Gordon Meade and it would set the stage for the cataclysm at Gettysburg. In his letter of June 6, Meade explains to his wife what is going on in Virginia, as army commander Joe Hooker attempts to determine just what his adversary, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, were up to. Here’s what I say in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, about Lee’s actions after he routed Hooker at Chancellorsville:

 Robert E. Lee had not been idle in Chancellorsville’s aftermath. After [Stonewall] Jackson’s death he reorganized his army from two corps into three plus a cavalry division under Jeb Stuart. James Longstreet, Lee’s “old warhorse,” remained in command of the I Corps, with three divisions under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood. The II Corps, previously Jackson’s, was now commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run. Like his predecessor, the high-strung Ewell had a reputation for strangeness. Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon described him as “the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate army.” Ewell, too, had three divisions, under Major Generals Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Lee selected A. P. Hill–McClellan’s old rival in love–to command the newly created III Corps. Hill had three divisions under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and William D. Pender.

(Lee would begin moving north soon—but not until after a clash of cavalries at Brandy Station on June 9.

My last letter told you that my corps had been moved up the river, charged with the duty of guarding the several crossing places, and preventing, if possible, the passage of the river by the enemy. General Hooker had received intelligence which induced him to believe Lee was about attempting a manoeuvre similar to the one we tried last month. I have consequently been actively employed riding about, superintending the posting of troops, giving instructions, etc. As yet everything has been very quiet on our part of the line. To-day, however, Hooker had reason to believe most of the enemy had left his immediate front on the heights back of Fredericksburg. He accordingly undertook to throw a bridge across, where Franklin crossed last December. About five o’clock yesterday evening we heard heavy firing, which lasted nearly two hours, which, I understand, was our batteries, endeavoring to drive the enemy from the rifle-pits they had dug to oppose the construction of the bridge. I do not know whether we succeeded or not, as, being some miles away, I have no means of ascertaining. It has been my opinion for some time that Lee would assume the offensive so soon as he was reinforced sufficiently to justify him in doing so; but whether he has yet commenced is, I think, not positively settled. Nor have I quite made up my mind what he will do when he moves. I should think it would be policy on his part to endeavor to overcome this army before he undertakes any invasion of the North. His experience of last summer should teach him the danger of leaving an army on his flank and rear, and if he can once destroy or cripple this army, he will have no opposition to his progress of invasion. It is this reasoning which makes me wonder at the supineness and apathy of the Government and people, leaving this army reduced as it has been by casualties of battle and expiration of service, and apparently making no effort to reinforce it.

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. 382-3. Available via Google Books.

Son George (June 3, 1863)

Young George Meade, as he appeared when he belonged to the 6th PA Cavalry (US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, via Maj. William McKern).

Young George Meade, the general’s son, as he appeared when he belonged to the 6th PA Cavalry (US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, via Maj. William McKern).

General Meade’s second oldest son, George, was born on November 2, 1843. The son followed his father to West Point, although with less happy results: he flunked out of the military academy in 1862 after receiving too many demerits. He accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, an elite Philadelphia regiment known as Rush’s Lancers. The regiment received its name from its commander, Co. Richard Rush, and the long spears they carried, an archaic bit of cavalry gear that Gen. Meade called a “turkey-driving implement.” Meade reassured Margaret that their son would have “a comparatively pleasant time” in the cavalry as “we have not lost over a dozen cavalry officers since the war began.” Before the Fredericksburg campaign, Brig. Gen. George Bayard, who commanded the cavalry for Ambrose Burnside’s Left Grand Division, offered to add George to his staff, but Meade declined the offer. “I certainly believe it is better for a young officer to serve with his regiment before accepting a staff appointment,” he said. After the Chancellorsville campaign, though, Meade did add George to his own staff and doubtless found it comforting to have his son nearby.

George made his appearance this morning; he seems quite delighted with the change in his position, and particularly tickled at being made a captain. Lieutenant Colonel Webb (son of James Watson Webb), who is on my staff, has just returned from a short leave in New York. He says every one in New York is talking of the fight at Chancellorsville, and is well posted up in all its details.

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. 382. Available via Google Books.