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?

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