Busy (September 19, 1863)

John Minor Botts and family pose for a photograph on the porch of their house in Culpeper. Meade and his staff were frequent visitors here (Library of Congress).

John Minor Botts and family pose for a photograph on the porch of their house in Culpeper. Meade and his staff were frequent visitors here (Library of Congress).

Meade mentions John Minor Botts in his letter of September 19, 1863. Theodore Lyman talks about Botts in his journal entry from the same day. Lyman said Botts was “a fat man, with a mild blue eye, and his clothing seemed to show the world had gone hard with him.” In fact, the world had gone somewhat hard with Botts, who was an island of Unionism on a sea of secession. A Virginia native, Botts was a Whig politician and former U.S. Congressman and had been briefly jailed by the Confederate authorities because of his staunch pro-Union position.

In his memoir, The Great Rebellion: Its Secret History, Rise, Progress, and Disastrous Failure (1866, and available via Google Books), Botts describes how he bought his house in Culpeper and the tribulations he suffered there. “I purchased in the fall of 1862, and moved to the county on the 8th of January, 1863; but I had hardly gotten comfortably warm in the house before General J. E. B. Stuart came in with his whole cavalry force, took possession of every part of my premises (of 2200 acres), except my house, yard, and garden, turned his horses loose to graze in every field, to the exclusion of my own stock, which was left at the mercy of his highly-incensed command, without any effort or desire on his part to restrain them. They killed my hogs, drove off portions of my cattle with their own whenever they moved, and stole from me $50,000 worth of horses, at Confederate prices, and in Confederate money. Daily and hourly I was subjected to all sorts of vexatious annoyances. I had neither peace nor rest, day nor night, from the time this cavalry force came upon me until the arrival of the Federal army under General Meade in the month of September, except during the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, from both of which they came immediately back to take care of me.

“General Meade moved into Culpepper on the 12th of September, 1863, and General Stuart moved back at double-quick across the Rapidan.”

Meade saw a fair amount of Botts until the army moved out on the Overland Campaign in May 1864. On one occasion Lyman said this about the Virginian: “Botts is a ready witted, clear headed man, and entertaining to hear.”

The Beckham Meade mentions is Robert F. Beckham, who had served under him on the survey of Lake Superior just before the war. Beckham threw in his lot with the Confederacy and commanded a battery of J.E.B. Stuart’s horse artillery. The Pendleton he mentions is probably Nathanael Greene Pendleton of Ohio, formerly a Whig Congressman. Meade’s wife’s father, John Sergeant, had also been a Whig politician. Pendleton’s son was Ohio Congressman George H. Pendleton, an anti-war Democrat who ran as George McClellan’s vice presidential candidate in the election of 1864.

The Botts family in Culpeper. Theodore Lyman described the Botts daughters as "pleasing, somewhat countryfied young ladies" (Library of Congress).

The Botts family in Culpeper. Theodore Lyman described the Botts daughters as “pleasing, somewhat countryfied young ladies” (Library of Congress).

At present I am very busy. I made the advance I did under the belief that Lee had sent away a large portion of his army, and would perhaps, if threatened, retire to Richmond. I find, however, he evinces no disposition to do so, but is, on the contrary, posted in a very strong position behind the Rapidan, where he can hold me in check, and render it very difficult to pierce his line or turn his position. Under these circumstances I have referred the question to Washington.

John Minor Botts (Library of Congress).

John Minor Botts (Library of Congress).

To-day John Minor Botts, who lives in this vicinity, came to see me and told me Beckham had been at his house a few days ago (before we advanced), and spoke in the most enthusiastic terms of me; so that Beckham is not changed. A Mr. Pendleton also, who was in Congress and knew your father, called, and spoke of Mr. Joseph R. Ingersoll, who had been at his house. Both these gentlemen are Union men.

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. 150. Available via Google Books.

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