The Eve of Battle (November 25, 1863)

Newspaper vendors with the Army of the Potomac in November 1863 in a photography by Alexander Gardner (Library of Congress).

Newspaper vendors with the Army of the Potomac in November 1863 in a photography by Alexander Gardner (Library of Congress).

Both Meade and Theodore Lyman took the time to write letters home on November 25. For the Army of the Potomac it was the eve of battle—the start of the ill-fated Mine Run campaign. Meade felt he had one last chance to strike a major blow before winter put an end to campaigning for the season. Weather was on the mind of both men on November 25, which underscores how much of an impact it had on the performances of Civil War armies. The year had begun with Ambrose Burnsides’ disastrous “Mud March,” and obviously Meade preferred not to repeat that episode.

Yesterday it stormed, which required a postponement of the contemplated movement. I was going to advance to-morrow, and may yet do so, although at present the sky is overcast and threatening. It is of the utmost importance to the success of any movement to have good weather, particularly at this season of the year, when the roads, after a day’s rain, become impassable. I think if I advance we shall have a great and decisive battle, with what result, He who reigns above alone can tell in advance. My army is in excellent condition and in high spirits, and confident of success, if they can get anything of a fair chance, and so far as mortals can anticipate such doubtful matters as battles, I have a right to be hopeful. Let us trust it may please God to crown our efforts with victory, and to extend to me, as He has hitherto so signally done, His mercy and protection.

George is quite well; he has been occupied, taking care of the English Guardsmen, who are so pleased with their visit they are remaining to see the fight.

 Here’s Lyman’s view of events from the same day.

I write a line, merely to say that the entire army is under marching orders, for daylight to-morrow; the men in high spirits. As to the officers, you would suppose they were all going on a merrymaking, to hear them when the order was issued. Our object is to fight the enemy, which I pray we may do, and with success, but Dieu dispose.

Our stopper has been the weather, which to-night promises to be set fair, and the roads are passable, though not good. I wish some critics, who complain of our inactivity, could be compelled to take a soldier’s load and march twenty miles through this mud. Their next article would, I think, clearly set forth the necessity of doing nothing till the driest of weather.

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. 156. 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. 50-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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