The Russians are Coming! (December 16, 1863)

Brig. Gen. John Buford, who died on December 16, 1863  (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. John Buford, who died on December 16, 1863 (Library of Congress).

On December 16 George Meade and Theodore Lyman both write home about an Russian invasion of sorts, as they Army of the Potomac received a delegation of naval officers from that country. Both letters are included here. Lyman included more details, and strong dash of anti-Semitism, in his diary entry for December 15 (which you can read in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe). The leader was a “a very well looking, intelligent man, with somewhat of a Sclavic [Slavic] face, short nose, round countenance, and eyes rather small and sunken.” Lyman noted that some of the other men were “palpable Jews.”

Meade also expresses his indignation at a recent action of Congress, which issued an official thank you for the victory at Gettysburg. The first person named was Joe Hooker. Meade came second, with Oliver O. Howard third. It was an indication of the troubles Meade would face in Washington in 1864.

In his diary entry for December 16 Lyman mentions receiving word of a great loss for the Army of the Potomac–the death of John Buford. The stalwart cavalryman had died of typhoid in Washington.

I received yesterday your letter of the 13th inst., and would have answered it at once, but about 2 p. m. we had a sudden invasion of Muscovites, some twenty-four officers of the fleet visiting the army, and I had to give them my attention till after 10 P. M., when they returned to Alexandria. I had the Sixth Corps paraded and some artillery to show them. We had great fun with them in mounting them on horseback, which they all insisted on attempting; but we had not proceeded far before one was thrown and some half a dozen ran away with. After the review we gave them some dinner, with plenty of brandy and whisky, and, making them jolly, sent them back highly delighted with their visit and reception. They appeared intelligent and gentlemanly, almost all speaking English quite well. The admiral did not honor us, Captain Bourtakoff being the senior officer with the party.

I presume you have seen how highly honored I have been in having my name associated with General Hooker by Mr. Wilson, in the Senate, in a vote of thanks for the Gettysburg campaign. Why they confined the including of my predecessors to Hooker I am at a loss to imagine. He certainly had no more to do with my operations and success at Gettysburg than either Burnside or McClellan; but I presume Mr. Wilson, who is a great friend and admirer of Hooker, was a little doubtful of a distinct resolution on his behalf getting through.

Here is Theodore Lyman’s view of things from December 16. This is his last letter of 1863 as he will soon head to Boston on leave.

Yesterday we had one of the funniest exhibitions that the Army has been favored with in a long while. The peaceful dolce far niente of the forenoon was suddenly broken by a telegraph, announcing a Russian invasion — nothing less than a legion of Muscovite naval officers pouring down, to the number of twenty-four, in a special train, on our devoted heads! And they were to come in a couple of hours! Would they pass the night? if so, where put them, in a camp where two or three guests make a crowd? Would they be fed? Even this was a problem, unless we ordered the Commissary to open a dozen boxes of the best stearine candles. However, General Meade at once orders the 6th Corps to parade, and gets hold of all the ambulances of the Staff, which are forthwith sent to the depot, after the serene Bears. And soon the vehicles returned, with flat caps hanging out of all the openings. Then the thing was to put them on horseback, as soon as possible, for it grew late in the day, already. You have heard of “Jack on horseback,” and this was a most striking instance. Each one sat on his McClellan saddle, as if doublereefing a topsail in a gale of wind. Their pantaloons got up, and their flat caps shook over their ears; and they kept nearly tumbling off on one side and hoisting themselves up again by means of the pommel. Meanwhile they were very merry and kept up a running fire of French, English and Russian. The extraordinary cavalcade having reached a hill, near the ground, there was found an ambulance, which had brought such as did not wish to ride, including the Captain, Bootekoff, who was the head feller. He, however, was persuaded to mount my mare, while I remained in the carriage. Thereupon the other carriage company were fired with a desire also to mount. So a proper number of troopers were ordered to get down, and the Russians were boosted into their saddles, and the procession moved off; but suddenly —

A horseman darted from the crowd
Like lightning from a summer cloud.

It was a Muscovite, who had discovered that the pommel was a great thing to hold on to, and who had grasped the same, to the neglect of the rein; whereupon the steed, missing his usual dragoon, started at a wild gallop! Off flew the flat cap and away went the horse and rider, with a Staff officer in full chase! Example is contagious, and, in two minutes, the country was dotted with Russians, on the wings of the wind, and vainly pursuing officers and orderlies. Some tumbled off, some were caught and brought back; and one chief engineer was discovered, after dark, in the woods, and in the unpleasant vicinity of the enemy’s picket line. However, the most of them were at last got up and viewed the troops from their uncertain positions. After which they were filled up with large quantities of meat and drink and so sent in a happy frame of mind to Washington. The Captain was a very intelligent man; but most of the rest had no character or manliness in their faces, and two or three of them seemed to me almost full-blooded Jews. . . .

To-morrow I lose my tent-mate, the phlegmatic countryman of Gustav Adolf and Charles XII. He could not get permission to remain on General Hunt’s Staff and so will have the satisfaction of joining his cavalry regiment, which is hutted somewhere in the mud, near Culpeper! In his place I shall probably have Rosencrantz, another Swede, and for some time at Headquarters as A.D.C. He is a courteous man, an old campaigner, and very amusing with his broken English.*

*This final paragraph is from a letter dated December 15.

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. 161. 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 61-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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