Winter Leaves (December 10, 1863)

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

It appears that campaigning is over for the winter and attention turns to more mundane things: leaves and winter quarters. Theodore Lyman takes the pulse of the army and reports on the speculation about Meade’s replacement. Major Biddle is James C. Biddle of Meade’s staff. In Meade’s Army: the Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, editor David Lowe reports that Biddle “came from a distinguished military family but did not always meet expectations. He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor.”

All the officers are inclined to be petulant and touchy, for they think that winter quarters are coming and are all stretching out for “leaves,” which they know only a part can get. Major Biddle becomes quite irate over the subject. “Now there is General Webb has a ten-day leave,” says B. petulantly; “every corps is to give one general a ten-day leave. I don’t want any little ten-day leave; I want a decent leave; a sixty-day leave. I have been two years and a half in this army, and never had but seven days’ leave, except once when I was sick; and it isn’t any fun to be sick. If we are going into winter quarters, one third of this army can do what is necessary, just as well as the whole; and they might as well be liberal to us. It is too bad! really too bad!” Such discoveries of patriotic services as the officers now make, to back up their applications, are miraculous. They have all been in service since the First Bull Run (the Genesis of the Potomac Army); they have all been wounded six times; they have never been absent a single day; their wives are very sick; their mothers are not expected to live; and they can easily bring back fifty volunteers with them, to fill up their regiment! All of which General [Seth] Williams receives with the blandest smile, as if he had never before heard of so strong a case, and promises to refer it to General Meade, which indeed he does. Meanwhile the rattling of axes is heard on all sides, and villages of little log huts, with canvas roofs, spring into existence in a single night. General [Rufus] Ingalls asked if the troops could have permission to build huts: to which the Major-General commanding replied, with charming non-committal. “Build huts; certainly; why not? They can move from huts as well as from tents, can’t they?” I observe the papers continue to discuss the succession of the General. He himself thinks he will be relieved, but I doubt it. If for no other reason, because it is hard to find anyone for the post. General Sedgwick would, I think, refuse; General Warren is very young, and is, besides, under a cloud about his movement on our left. General Sickles, people would say, is too much of a Bowery boy. Generals French, Newton, and Sykes are out of the question. General Humphreys has no influence strong enough to put him up. Any subordinate general would have to be of great note to be lifted thus high; there is no such one. I think they would not try a western general, after Pope’s experience. The only one I can think of is Hancock, for a long while laid up by his Gettysburg wound, and not yet in the field. He belongs in this army, is popular, and has an excellent name. The New York Herald insists on General Pleasonton, which is an original idea. I heard of an officer who asserted that he had seen the order putting him in command; a rather unlikely assertion.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p 61. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google
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