Feeling Defensive (October 30, 1863)

Meade and his staff pose for a photo  in Culpeper in September 1863 ((Library of Congress).

Meade and his staff pose for a photo in Culpeper in September 1863. That’s Theodore Lyman second from right; Andrew Humphreys is to Meade’s right  ((Library of Congress).

Meade strikes a defensive tone when he writes to his wife on October 30. While he may not consider his move back to Centreville a retreat, many others obviously saw it that way. However, by campaign’s end the Armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia had regained their former positions. Meade knew, however, that his masters back in Washington wanted to see some offensive action before the end of the campaigning season. Ambrose Burnside had felt the same pressure in the fall of 1862. The result was the debacle at Fredericksburg. How would Meade react?

You seem to be very much puzzled about my retreat, as you misname it. It was not a retreat, but a withdrawal of the army—manoeuvring to get into a proper position to offer battle, and made to prevent Lee from compelling me to fight at a disadvantage. Had I been able to ascertain his movements, I would have given him battle the day Warren was attacked; but I was misled by information which induced me to believe he was farther ahead. As it afterwards turned out, I was ahead of him; which was the object I was trying to attain before fighting. It was greatly to my interest to fight, and I was most anxious to do so, but I would not do so with all the advantages on his side, and the certainty that if the battle went against me I could not extricate the army from its perilous position. I don’t suppose I shall ever get credit for my motives, except with the army. The soldiers realize the necessity of not letting the enemy have the game in their hands entirely; hence they cheerfully submitted to all the hardships, such as night and forced marches, that I was compelled to impose on them.

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. 154-5. Available via Google Books.

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Lyman Reports (October 26 and 28, 1863)

Theodore Lyman reports from the Army of the Potomac on October 26 and 28. In the first letter he comments on Meade’s notorious temper, which Lyman indicates served a useful purpose.

Ah! we are a doleful set of papas here. Said General Meade: “I do wish the Administration would get mad with me, and relieve me; I am sure I keep telling them, if they don’t feel satisfied with me, to relieve me; then I could go home and see my family in Philadelphia.” I believe there never was a man so utterly without common ambition and, at the same time, so Spartan and conscientious in everything he does. He is always stirring up somebody. This morning it was the cavalry picket line, which extends for miles, and which he declared was ridiculously placed. But, by worrying, and flaring out unexpectedly on various officers, he does manage to have things pretty ship-shape; so that an officer of Lee’s Staff, when here the other day, said: “Meade’s move can’t be beat.” Did I tell you that Lee passed through Warrenton and passed a night. He was received with bouquets and great joy. . . . The last three nights have been cool, almost cold, with some wind, so that they have been piling up the biggest kind of camp-fires. You would laugh to see me in bed! First, I spread an india-rubber blanket on the ground, on which is laid a cork mattress, which is a sort of pad, about an inch thick, which you can roll up small for packing. On this comes a big coat, and then I retire, in flannel shirt and drawers, and cover myself, head and all, with three blankets, laying my pate on a greatcoat folded, with a little india-rubber pillow on top; and so I sleep very well, though the surface is rather hard and lumpy. I have not much to tell you of yesterday, which was a quiet Sunday. Many officers went to hear the Rebs preach, but I don’t believe in the varmint. They ingeniously prayed for “all established magistrates”; though, had we not been there, they would have roared for the safety of Jeff Davis and Bob Lee! . . .

A view of Richmond's Libby Prison as it looked in August 1863 (Library of Congress).

A view of Richmond’s Libby Prison as it looked in August 1863 (Library of Congress).

And on October 28 Lyman wrote:

. . . The guerillas are extremely saucy of late, and, in a small way, annoying. Night before last they dashed at a waggon train and cut loose upwards of a hundred mules and horses, which they made off with, teamsters and all, leaving the waggons untouched. These men are regularly enlisted, but have no pay, getting, in lieu thereof, all the booty they can take, except horses, which they must sell to the Rebels at a fixed rate. They have taken several officers who, from carelessness, or losing their way, have gone alone beyond the lines. Prisoners are treated with consideration, but I fancy that, from all accounts, Libby Prison is pretty dirty and crowded. When some of our officers were taken through Warrenton, on the retreat of Lee, the inhabitants gave them supper; for the 6th Corps were long quartered there and treated the people kindly. When you are here you see how foolish and blind is the clamor raised by some people, to have all property destroyed by the army in the Rebel states, as the troops passed. There was, you know, a great talk about putting guards over houses of Rebels; but, 1st, it is very wrong to punish a people en masse, without regard to their degree of guilt and without properly measuring the punishment; and, 2d, nothing so utterly and speedily demoralizes an army as permission to plunder. It is our custom to put guards over the houses that are inhabited; but, despite that, the cavalry and advanced guard take a good slice of the live-stock; forage, and vegetables. .. .

Theodore Lyman’s letters are from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 38-40. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Capital Visit (October 23, 1863)

The United States Capitol as it appeared on June 28, 1863, coincidentally, the day that Meade received command of the Army of the Potomac. William Franklin, under whom Meade had served at Fredericksburg, had been the engineer in charge of the new dome construction before the war (Library of Congress).

The United States Capitol as it appeared on June 28, 1863, coincidentally, the day that Meade received command of the Army of the Potomac. William Franklin, under whom Meade had served at Fredericksburg, had been the engineer in charge of the new dome construction before the war (Library of Congress).

In which General Meade describes a summons to Washington. His laconic account in this letter to his wife is not terribly informative. Fortunately we have Theodore Lyman to fill in the details (and add, it must be said, a taste of the casual racism that would have been considered perfectly normal in the nineteenth century but grates against twenty-first century sensibilities). I’ve included Lyman’s letters from both October 23 and 24 here.

Yesterday I received an order to repair to Washington, to see the President. I arrived in Washington at 2 P. M., and expected to leave at 6 P. M., but was detained so late that I remained there all night, and left this morning, early. The President was, as he always is, very considerate and kind. He found no fault with my operations, although it was very evident he was disappointed that I had not got a battle out of Lee. He coincided with me that there was not much to be gained by any farther advance; but General Halleck was very urgent that something should be done, but what that something was he did not define. As the Secretary of War was absent in Tennessee, final action was postponed till his return.

Here’s Lyman’s much more expansive account:

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)

And where do you think I was all yesterday? I will tell you. Early, the orderly, poked his head into the tent saying: “Colonel Lyman, the General will have breakfast at seven” (which was an hour earlier than he had said the night before). As soon as I sat down, says the General: “I am going to Washington; would you like to go?” . . . Major-General Humphreys said he too would go, and the General’s son George completed the party. In much haste I ran, and crammed my best coat, pantaloons, shoes, sash, gauntlets, and brushes into my big saddle-bags, the which I entrusted to a mounted orderly. Thereupon we speedily got on horseback, and first rode to General Sedgwick (familiarly called “Uncle John”), to whom General Meade handed over the command, in his absence at Washington, to consult about the late moves and those consequent on them. Uncle John received the heavy honors in a smiling and broad-shouldered style, and wished us all a good journey, for he is a cheery soul. With little delay, we again mounted and rode twelve miles, briskly, to Gainesville, whither the railroad comes. The Chief stepped into a little room, used as a telegraph-office, and, quicker than winking, he stood, arrayed only in his undergarments; then, before, almost, I could get my coat off, he had put on a pair of shoes, a new coat, and an elegant pair of trousers! “Now then, Lyman, are you ready? Where’s Humphreys? Humphreys is always late! Come, come along, the train is going to start!” You should have seen the unfortunate Aide — his coat unbuttoned, his shoestrings loose; on one arm the saddle-bags, on the other, his sword, sash, etc., etc., and he hastening after the steam-engine Meade! However I completed my toilette in the car, which was all to ourselves; and flatter myself that my appearance was considerably peacock. We went rattling and bumping over a railroad that reminded me of the one from Civita Vecchia, to Manassas Junction, and thence to Washington, over a route I have already described to you when I came down. Only this time we came through Alexandria, and, instead of taking there a boat, kept on and went across the long bridge, going thus into the very city by the rail. There was a carriage from Willard’s awaiting us; the guardpost near by turned out in our honor, and we drove in great state to General Halleck’s office; where General Meade went in and held a solemn pow-wow; the two came forth presently and walked over to the White-House, where they held another pow-pow with the President. Captain George and I, meanwhile, studied the exterior architecture, and I observed a blind had been blown off and broken and allowed to lie outside. In fact they have a nigger negligence, to a considerable extent, in this half-cooked capital.

October 24, 1863

We went to Willard’s after the pow-pow and got a very good dinner; only poor General Meade was bored to death and driven out of all peace of mind, by dirty politicians who kept coming up and saying: “Ah, General Meade, I believe; perhaps you do not recollect meeting me in the year 1831, on a Mississippi steamboat? How do you do, sir? What move do you propose to execute next? Have you men enough, sir? What are the intentions of Lee, sir? How are the prospects of the rebellion, sir? Do you look upon it as essentially crushed, sir? Or do you think it may still rear its head against our noble Union, sir?” etc., etc. All of which the poor Chief (endeavoring to snatch a mouthful of chicken, the while) would answer with plaintive courtesy; while the obscure aides-de-camp were piling in all kinds of delicacies. . . . The papers say General Meade received imperative orders to give Lee battle; not a word of truth in it! You might as well give imperative orders to catch a sea-gull with a pinch of salt. Lee would perhaps have given us a chance; but the same storm that prevented our advance carried away the Rapidan bridge, and he could get nothing to eat. His forces were, I think, larger than supposed, especially in cavalry, which was very numerous.

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. 154. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 36-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

 Have you read Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg yet? If not, you can buy it here!

Back to Warrenton (October 21, 1863)

A photograph of the country courthouse in Warrenton, Virginia, taken in August 1862 (Library of Congress).

A photograph of the country courthouse in Warrenton, Virginia, taken in August 1862 (Library of Congress).

When he writes home to his wife on October 21, Meade has returned to Warrenton, Virginia. The pendulum is swinging back the other way and this time it is Lee who is retreating. Meade is realistic about how he reacted to the Army of Northern Virginia’s flanking maneuver.

Lee has retired across the Rappahannock, after completely destroying the railroad on which I depend for my supplies. His object is to prevent my advance, and in the meantime send more troops to Bragg. This was a deep game, and I am free to admit that in the playing of it he has got the advantage of me.

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. 154. Available via Google Books.

An Army in Motion (October 19, 1863)

Brig. Gen. John Buford (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. John Buford (Library of Congress).

There’s no letter from Meade for October 19, but once again Theodore Lyman steps into the breach to provide a detailed account of the Army of the Potomac during what became known as the Bristoe Campaign. The “Rebel regiment of horse” he mentions was none other than Jeb Stuart, who had found himself trapped between two sections of Meade’s army late on October 13. He spent the night hidden in some woods a mere 400 yards from a division of the II Corps, opened up with his horse artillery in the morning, and then escaped.

Lyman also mentions one of the Union’s best cavalrymen, John Buford. When he first encountered Buford, Lyman described him as “a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny moustache and a little, triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots, and his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up he is a very soldierly looking man. He is of a good-natured disposition, but not to be trifled with.”

The attack on Warren’s rear that Lyman mentions is the Battle of Bristoe Station. “Poor Paul Revere” was the grandson of the famed midnight rider. He had been killed at Gettysburg. The 20th Massachusetts was also known as “the Harvard Regiment.”

Lyman also provides a good look at Meade and the general’s gunpowder disposition. Nothing ticked him off more than wagon trains blocking the army’s progress, as Lyman describes here.

The bracketed portion of the text is how it appears in Meade’s Headquarters.

It seems to me I had got to Sunday morning, the 11th, when we began to march back. We started from Headquarters and passed through Brandy Station, forded the Rappahannock, close to the railroad, and took up our camp near the railroad and about two miles from the river. . . . This move, though in the wrong direction, was, without question, a good one, as it bothered the enemy and caused them to hesitate. … In the morning we got off about ten (for the General does not mount till he has heard that the army is properly under way) and rode along the north side of the railroad, past the camp I first came to (H.Q. near Warrenton Junction), and so to Catlett’s Station, where we found the 1st Corps taking their noon rest; also their chief, General Newton, and General (Professor) Eustis, partaking from a big basket. A spy came in also, who gave such information as showed that the Rebels had made less rapid progress than we supposed. Going a mile or two on, we saw a spectacle such as few even of the old officers had ever beheld; namely, 2500 waggons, all parked on a great, open, prairie-like piece of ground, hundreds of acres in extent. I can compare it to nothing but the camp of Attila, where he retreated after the “Hun Schlacht,” which we saw at the Berlin Museum. They were here got together, to be sent off to the right, by Brentsville, to Fairfax Station, under escort of General Buford’s division. How these huge trains are moved over roads not fit for a light buggy, is a mystery known only to General Rufus Ingalls, who treats them as if they were so many perambulators on a smooth sidewalk! We turned off to a house, two miles from Catlett’s, and again pitched our movable houses, on a rocky bit of a field. . . .

At daylight next morning, every corps was in motion, tramping diligently in the direction of the heights of Centreville, via Manassas Junction. We of the Staff had hardly dressed, when there was a great cracking of carbines in the woods, not a mile off, and we discovered that a Rebel regiment of horse had coolly camped there during the night, and were now engaged with our cavalry, who soon drove them away. Pretty soon the sound of cannon, in the direction of Auburn, announced that the Rebels, marching down from Warrenton, had attacked General Warren’s rear. He, however, held them in check easily with one division, while the other two marched along, passing our Headquarters at 9.30 A.m. As they went on, I recognized the Massachusetts 20th, poor Paul Revere’s regiment. And so we jogged, General Meade (who has many a little streak of gunpowder in his disposition) continually bursting out against his great bugbear, the waggons; and sending me, at full gallop, after General Sykes, who was a hundred miles, or so, ahead, to tell him that the rear of his ambulance train was quite unprotected. . . . The 15th was employed in feeling the intentions of the enemy and resting the exhausted men. On the 16th came on a deluge of rain which spoiled our contemplated move next day. On the 18th, yesterday, we got some information of reliable character for the first time, viz: that they had torn up the railroad and were falling back on Warrenton. Before that there was every kind of report: that they were going up the Shenandoah Valley; marching on Washington, and falling back on Richmond; and they keep so covered by cavalry, that it is most difficult to probe them. Thus far in the move they have picked up about as many prisoners as we, say 700; but we have the five guns and two colors, they having none. To-day we all marched out at daylight, and are now hard after them, the General praying for a battle. Our cavalry has been heavily engaged this afternoon, and they may make a stand, or indeed, they may not. I think I was never so well and strong in my life. General Buford came in to-day, cold and tired and wet; “Oh!” said he to me, “do you know what I would do if I were a volunteer aide? I would just run home as fast as I could, and never come back again!” The General takes his hardships good-naturedly.

[The result of the manoeuvres brought the army toward Washington, which caused uneasiness and dissatisfaction at the Capitol. “At Centreville,” writes Lyman, “we had a set-to between Meade and Halleck. Meade had asked, by telegraph, for some advice, and stated that he was not sufficiently assured of the enemy’s position to risk an advance; so conflicting were the reports. Halleck, apparently after dinner, replied in substance, ‘Lee is plainly bullying you. If you can’t find him, I can’t. If you go and fight him, you will probably find him!’ General Meade, much offended, prepared a reply in some such words as these: ‘If you have any orders, I am ready to obey them; but I must insist on being spared the infliction of such truisms in guise of opinions as I have recently been favored with. If my course is not satisfactory, I ought to be and I desire to be relieved.’ He had written ‘bunsby opinions,’ and consulted me as to whether it would do; to which I replied that the joke was capital, but not in accordance with the etiquette of a commander-in-chief; so he substituted the other. Poor General Meade! Said he, ‘I used to think how nice it would be to be Commander-inChief; now, at this moment, I would sooner go, with a division, under the heaviest musketry fire, than hold my place!’“ Lee, finding that he could not outflank Meade, fell back, and Halleck apologized.]

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 33-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Have you read Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg yet? If not, you can buy it here!

From Centreville (October 17, 1863)

Alfred Ward titled this drawing "General Warren fighting at Bristoe Station." Warren and the II Corps gave the Confederates a bloody nose during the battle on October 14, 1863 (Library of Congress).

Alfred Ward titled this drawing “General Warren fighting at Bristoe Station.” Warren and the II Corps gave the Confederates a bloody nose during the battle on October 14, 1863 (Library of Congress).

On October 17 Meade wrote to his wife from Centreville, Virginia. He had pulled the Army of the Potomac back to his position in reaction to Robert E. Lee’s attempt to flank him. Here’s a little of what I wrote about the campaign in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

[General in chief Henry] Halleck wasn’t happy about Meade’s “retrograde” movements or his complaints about his inability to obtain accurate information about the enemy’s whereabouts. “Lee is unquestionably bullying you,” he telegraphed Meade on October 18. “If you cannot ascertain his movements, I certainly cannot. If you pursue and fight him, I think you will find out where he is. I know of no other way.”

“If you have any orders to give me, I am prepared to receive and obey them,” Meade snapped back, “but I must insist on being spared the infliction of such truisms in the guise of opinions as you have recently honored me with, particularly as they were not asked for.” When drafting this message Meade had initially used the words “bunsby opinions,” a reference to a character in Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son who was noted for his baffling advice. Before sending it he asked Lyman if he thought that was the best choice of words. [Theodore] Lyman didn’t. He advised “that the joke was capital, but not in accordance with the etiquette of a commander-in-chief.” They decided to use “truisms” instead.

During all the movements to and fro, it was Lee’s army that suffered the only serious punishment. The encounter took place near Bristoe Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. It happened on October 14 when Gen. A. P. Hill’s forces made a rash attack on what they thought was the Army of the Potomac’s rear guard as the Union army moved north. Had Hill taken the time to adequately reconnoiter, he would have discovered that Warren’s II Corps was still nearby.

Lee made a desperate effort to get in my rear, but I succeeded in out-manoeuvring him, and got into position at this place, Centreville, with my back to Washington, and ready for his attack if he had chosen to make it. This is the third day we have been here and he has not come forward; I am trying to find out where he now is. If he is near me I shall attack him, but I fear that, failing in his manoeuvre, he is either going back, or going up into the Valley of the Shenandoah, where I shall have to follow him.

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. 153-4. Available via Google Books.

If you haven’t already purchased Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, why not buy it now?

“Our Great Object” (October 12, 1863)

As George Meade moves his army to avoid Robert E. Lee’s flanking maneuver he’s a little too busy to write home with news. Fortunately, Theodore Lyman has enough time. Here’s what he wrote on October 12 to explain Meade’s mind-set during this campaign of maneuver.

You will probably have all sorts of rumors of defeats, or victories, or something. The facts are very simple: as our great object is Uncle Lee’s army (one might properly say our only object), we have to watch and follow his movements, so as, 1st, to catch him if possible in a good corner; or, 2d, to prevent his catching us in a bad corner; also 3d, to cover Washington and Maryland, which, for us, is more important than for him to come to Richmond. Thus we have to watch him and shift as he shifts, like two fencers. One may say, pitch into him! But do you think he is so soft as to give us any decent chance, if he knows it? Not he! Meanwhile Meade knows what hangs on this army, and how easy it is to talk about raising 3,000,000 men and how hard it is to raise 30,000. He said yesterday: “If Bob Lee will go into those fields there and fight me, man for man, I will do it this afternoon.” But “Bob” doesn’t see it. Sharp chaps those Rebs. … I do hope that no great battle will be fought unless we can really deal a staggering blow to the enemy. The great fault of the Potomac campaign has been the fighting without any due prospect of profit. This will be found, I think, a good trait in our General, that he will hold his forces in hand for a proper occasion. Meanwhile the papers say, “The fine autumn weather is slipping away.” Certainly; and shall we add, as a corollary, “Therefore let another Fredericksburg be fought!” Put some flesh on our skeleton regiments, and there is no difficulty; but if, instead of ten conscripts, only one is sent, que voulez vous!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 31-2.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

 

An Explanation (October 12, 1863)

Here Meade explains the current movements of his army. He also mentions how he wants to get promotions for John Buford, commander of the cavalry division that had slowed the Confederates at Gettysburg on July 1, and John Gibbon, the II Corps division commander who had also performed ably at Gettysburg (and been badly wounded on July 3).

On Saturday I found Lee was turning my right flank and assuming an offensive position. As to have remained where I was would have endangered my communications, I yesterday fell back to the Rappahannock. As I do not hear to-day anything of his movement on my right being continued, I have sent a force back towards Culpeper, to see whether he will give me battle at any point between the two rivers. If he will, I shall fight him at all hazards. At the present moment there is firing heard, but I have not received any report.

Brigadier General John Gibbon. He became a major general in June 1864 (Library of Congress).

Brigadier General John Gibbon. He became a major general in June 1864 (Library of Congress).

I have most earnestly, by special telegram, recommended Gibbon for promotion. Indeed, himself and Buford are the only two that I have urged in this special manner on the attention of the department. The difficulty is that there are no vacancies in the grade of major general, and several appointments have been made in excess of the number authorized by law.

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. 153. Available via Google Books.

An Army on the Move (October 11, 1863)

Artist Alfred Waud drew Union soldiers burning the railroad bridge at Rappahannock Station on October 13 as the Army of the Potomac fell back to keep from being outflanked (Library of Congress). Click to enlarge.

Artist Alfred Waud drew Union soldiers burning the railroad bridge at Rapphannock Station on October 13 as the Army of the Potomac fell back to keep from being outflanked (Library of Congress). Click to enlarge.

There’s no letter from George Meade on October 11, but his aide Theodore Lyman wrote a typically fascinating account in which he described the Army of the Potomac on the move. Robert E. Lee had sparked the activity by putting his own army into motion, the start of a flanking maneuver much like the one that had caused so much grief for John Pope in the Second Bull Run campaign. In order to prevent his army from being outflanked, Meade opted to pull back from his position on the Rappahannock towards Centreville. Lyman observed it all in his inimitable fashion.

As all is packed, I take to pencil correspondence. Uncle Lee has concluded that we have stared long enough at each other, and so is performing some fancy antics, though whether he means to fight, or retreat after a feint, or merely take a walk, I know not. He is now paddling along, in the general direction of Warrenton, between us and the Blue Ridge; and so has entirely left his station on the other bank of the river. . . . Last night I, being of a foxy disposition, turned in at an early hour, so that I was fresh and fine at four this morning, when we were routed out, and assisted to coffee and bread and cold ham. It was a Murillo-esque (!) sight to behold the officers, in big coats and bigger sabres, standing with the bright light of the camp-fire on their faces. The cavalry cloaks, slouched hats, and great boots, though, as Co [Lyman’s sister] says, “drunk “-looking, are much more suited to a painter than the trig uniforms of the Europeans. So here we are, with horses saddled, waiting to see what is what. You understand that Mr. Reb is not very near us, in fact further off than before, but he is moving, and so we, too, are “en garde.” Our army, I say with emphasis, ought to be able to whip the gentlemen. Down comes General Meade; I clap the pencil in my pocket, and in two minutes we are off, escort, orderlies, Staff and all, winding our way midst miles of baggage and ammunition waggons and slow columns of moving infantry. Ha, ha, ha! They don’t look much like the “Cadets,” these old sojers on the march. There is their well-stuffed knapsack, surmounted by a rolled gray blanket, the worse for wear; from their belt is slung a big cartridge-box, with 1 His sister. forty rounds, and at their side hangs a haversack (satchel you would call it) quite bursting with three days’ rations. Hullo! what has that man, dangling at the end of his musket? A coffee-pot! an immense tin coffee-pot! and there is another with a small frying-pan — more precious to them than gold. And there goes a squad of cavalry, the riders almost obscured by the bags of oats and the blankets and coats piled on pommel and crupper; their carbine hangs on one side and their sabre clatters from the other. And then behold a train of artillery (the best-looking arm of the service), each gun drawn by six or eight horses, and the caissons covered with bags of forage. And so the face of the country is covered, when an army is on the march, the waggons keeping the road, the infantry winding through the open land. It is singular, in regard to the latter, that, however dirty or slovenly the men may be, their muskets always shine like silver; they know it is an important member. Well, you perceive I have leisure to get a pen-full of ink, to continue the letter, begun this morning. In fact we have done our day’s march and our movable houses are all up at a new “Headquarters.” We hear nothing much of the Insurges, but are all ready to pitch into them if we find them in a soft spot. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 29-30.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Reading Material (October 7, 1863)

The article in Blackwood’s Magazine to which Meade refers in this letter to his son, John Sergeant, was written by Arthur Fremantle, a British officer who was present at Gettysburg with Lee’s army. You can read the entire article here.

I have read the article in Blackwood, which is tolerably fair for a “secesh” Englishman. The general officer referred to as being cheered was your humble servant, and I was at that time riding down the line to the left, for the purpose of ordering an attack; but it was so late and the distance to the enemy’s line so great, that by the time the troops were in motion the day was at an end.

Lee’s report has just been published. Considering all things, it is pretty fair, in some places a little too much of what the lawyers call the suppressio veri. Still, I am willing to leave to history the fact, which he plainly admits, that after the battle of Gettysburg he had to retreat continuously till he reached the south bank of the Rappahannock, from whence he had started to destroy my army and accomplish other valuable results.

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. 153. Available via Google Books.