Meade’s Repy to Halleck (July 31, 1863)

On July 31 Meade wrote two letters, one to his wife and one to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. The one to his wife comes first, followed by the letter to Halleck, which is his reply to Halleck’s letter of July 28.

I enclose you two letters recently received—one from the President to General Howard, who thought it proper to write to Mr. Lincoln, deprecating his dissatisfaction with me, and informing him I had the full confidence of the army. The other is from General Halleck, written voluntarily and without any particular call that I know, unless he has had repeated to him something that I have said. His letter is certainly very satisfactory, and places the matter, as I have replied to him, in a very different light from his telegram. Disappointment was a feeling natural to every one, and was fully shared in by myself. It could have been entertained without implying censure, but dissatisfaction implied a failure on my part, which I repudiated at the time and since. I have answered Halleck in the same spirit as his letter, thanking him for his kind feeling and good opinion, and explaining my position, and stating that personal considerations aside, I hope that whenever the President thinks I am wanting, or has another whom he deems better suited, I trust he will at once put me aside.

I see by the Richmond papers that Lee denies we had any fight at Falling Water, or that I captured any organized body of prisoners. He has been misinformed and it will be easy to prove the truth of my despatches.

Meade to Halleck:
Headquarters, A. P., July 31, 1863. (Unofficial.)
Major-general Halleck, General-in-Chief.

My Dear General: I thank you most sincerely and heartily for your kind and generous letter of the 28th inst., received last evening. It would be wrong in me to deny that I feared there existed in the minds both of the President and yourself an idea that I had failed to do what another would and could have done in the withdrawal of Lee’s army. The expression you have been pleased to use in a letter, to wit, a feeling of disappointment, is one that I cheerfully accept and readily admit was as keenly felt by myself as any one. But permit me, dear General, to call your attention to the distinction between disappointment and dissatisfaction. The one was a natural feeling in view of the momentous consequences that would have resuited from a successful attack, but does not necessarily convey with it any censure. I could not view the use of the latter expression in any other light than as intending to convey an expression of opinion on the part of the President, that I had failed to do what I might and should have done. Now let me say in the frankness which characterizes your letter, that perhaps the President was right. If such was the case, it was my duty to give him an opportunity to replace me by one better fitted for the command of the army. It was, I assure you, with such feelings that I applied to be relieved. It was, not from any personal considerations, for I have tried in this whole war to forget all personal considerations, and I have always maintained they should not for an instant influence any one’s action. Of course you will understand that I do not agree that the President was right—and I feel sure when the true state of the case comes to be known, however natural and great may be the feeling of disappointment, that no blame will be attached to any one. Had I attacked Lee the day I proposed to do so, and in the ignorance that then existed of his position, I have every reason to believe the attack would have been unsuccessful and would have resulted disastrously. This opinion is founded on the judgment of numerous distinguished officers, after inspecting Lee’s vacated works and position. Among these officers I could name Generals Sedgwick, Wright, Slocum, Hays, Sykes, and others.

The idea that Lee had abandoned his lines early in the day that he withdrew, I have positive intelligence is not correct, and that not a man was withdrawn until after dark. I mention these facts to remove the impression which newspaper correspondents have given the public: that it was only necessary to advance to secure an easy victory. I had great responsibility thrown on me: on one side were the known and important fruits of victory, and on the other, the equally important and terrible consequences of defeat. I considered my position at Williamsport very different from that at Gettysburg. When I left Frederick it was with the firm determination to attack and fight Lee without regard to time or place as soon as I could come in contact with him. But, after defeating him and requiring him to abandon his schemes of invasion, I did not think myself justified in making a blind attack, simply to prevent his escape, and running all the risks attending such a venture. Now, as I said before, in this perhaps I erred in judgment, for I take this occasion to say to you, and through you to the President—that I have no pretensions to any superior capacity for the post he has assigned me to—that all I can do is to exert my utmost efforts and do the best I can; but that the moment those who have a right to judge my actions think or feel satisfied either that I am wanting, or that another would do better, that moment I earnestly desire to be relieved, not on my own account, but on account of the country and the cause. You must excuse so much egotism, but your kind letter in a measure renders it necessary. I feel, General, very proud of your good opinion, and assure you I shall endeavor in the future to continue to merit it. Reciprocating the kind feeling you have expressed, I remain, General, most truly and respectfully yours,

George G. Meade, Major-General.

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), pp. 137-8 and 139-41. Available via Google Books.

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