Defending Meade (December 12, 1863)

Theodore Lyman defends his boss. As time passes it becomes more certain that Meade will remain in command of the Army of the Potomac. I do not know who he means by his reference to the “Hon. Kellogg,” but the quote Lyman credits to him does remind me of something from a letter Meade wrote back in December 20, 1862, just after the Battle of Fredericksburg.It is understood [General in Chief Henry] Halleck says: ‘This army shall go to Richmond, if it has to go on crutches,’ which (as over ten thousand cripples were made the other day) seems likely to occur before long.”

I still think, and more strongly than ever, that no change will be made in our chief command; and those who have been to Washington think the same. I am more and more struck, on reflection, with General Meade’s consistency and self-control in refusing to attack. His plan was a definite one; from fault of his inferiors it did not work fast enough to be a success; and he had firmness to say, the blow has simply failed and we shall only add disaster to failure by persisting. By this time the officers here know just about how well the Rebels fight, and what we have a reasonable expectation of taking, and what not. It should be remembered, also, as a fundamental fact, that this line is not approved as a line of operations, and never has been; but we are forced to work on it. Those who think that (according to the Hon. Kellogg) “it would be better to strew the road to Richmond with the dead bodies of our soldiers rather than that there should nothing be done!” may not be content; but those who believe it best to fight when you want to, and not when your enemy wants to, will say simply they are sorry nothing could be effected, but glad that there was no profitless slaughter of troops that cannot be replaced.

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 Books.

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