Spurring (July 16, 1863)

The magazine that eventually published this Matthew Brady photograph of the Army of the Potomac's crossing at Berlin, Maryland (now Brunswick) called it "Leisurely Pursuit" (Library of Congress).

The magazine that eventually published this Matthew Brady photograph of the Army of the Potomac’s crossing at Berlin, Maryland (now Brunswick) called it “Leisurely Pursuit” (Library of Congress).

Meade was not in a good place when he wrote to his wife on July 16, 1863, from Berlin, Maryland. Lee had escaped and his superiors in Washington had made their displeasure felt. They did not, however, accept Meade’s offer to resign his position.

I wrote to you of the censure put on me by the President, through General Halleck, because I did not bag General Lee, and of the course I took on it. I don’t know whether I informed you of Halleck’s reply, that his telegram was not intended as a censure, but merely “to spur me on to an active pursuit,” which I consider more offensive than the original message; for no man who does his duty, and all that he can do, as I maintain I have done, needs spurring. It is only the laggards and those who fail to do all they can do who require spurring. They have refused to relieve me, but insist on my continuing to try to do what I know in advance it is impossible to do. My army (men and animals) is exhausted; it wants rest and reorganization; it has been greatly reduced and weakened by recent operations, and no reinforcements of any practical value have been sent. Yet, in the face of all these facts, well known to them, I am urged, pushed and spurred to attempting to pursue and destroy an army nearly equal to my own, falling back upon its resources and reinforcements, and increasing its morale daily. This has been the history of all my predecessors, and I clearly saw that in time their fate would be mine. This was the reason I was disinclined to take the command, and it is for this reason I would gladly give it up.

I consider the New York riots very formidable and significant. I have always expected the crisis of this revolution to turn on the attempt to execute the conscription act, and at present things look very unfavorable.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 135. Available via Google Books.

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