“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.


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