Silence from Washington (December 3, 1863)

The Charlotte Ingraham whom Meade mentions in his letter of December 3 was the daughter of his sister Elizabeth, who had married Mississippian Alfred Ingraham and moved south with him. Elizabeth became an ardent rebel. In June 1863 Union forces reached her home, Ashwood, during the Vicksburg campaign and generals McClernand and McPherson made their headquarters there. It’s not clear whether she told them that her brother commanded the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps. Meade had mentioned her in his letter of  February 1. Her son Frank fought with the 1st MS and was killed not at Gettysburg but at Mayre’s Heights on May 3, 1863, during the Chancellorsville fighting.

After the war the Ingrahams were buried in All Saints’ Episcopal Cemetery outside Philadelphia. When the three sons, two of whom had been Confederate soldiers, were buried there local Quakes had to stand by the grave and prevent interference by an angry mob. (The third son, Thomas, had died of yellow fever in 1860.) Elizabeth’s diary was published in 2010.

President Abraham Lincoln was greatly distressed by Robert E. Lee's escape back to Virginia after Gettysburg, but on July 21 he wrote to Gen. O.O. Howard and said “General Meade has my confidence as a brave and skillful officer and a true man" (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln was greatly distressed by Robert E. Lee’s escape back to Virginia after Gettysburg, but on July 21 he wrote to Gen. O.O. Howard and said “General Meade has my confidence as a brave and skillful officer and a true man” (Library of Congress).

Two days have now elapsed since I officially announced the return of the army, and yet not a word or line has been vouchsafed me from Washington. I am somewhat at a loss to know what the silence of the authorities means. My despatch simply stated the fact that, finding Lee too strongly posted and entrenched to justify my attacking him, and not being able to make any further tactical movement on his flank, I had felt it my duty to withdraw the army, and feared the lateness of the season would prevent any other offensive operations. I made no explanations of the causes of the failure of my plans, nor have any been asked. I did think at one time of writing to the President, who has always treated me with great kindness, but, upon reflection, I deemed it best to communicate only officially, and in a day or two I shall make an official report, which will set the whole matter right. Of one thing I am sure, that my course has met the full approbation of the army and increased the confidence they before had in me.

I yesterday received a letter from Charlotte Ingraham. She tells me all her brothers, and one brother-in-law, lie on the battlefield, thus confirming the report I had heard that Frank had been killed at Gettysburg. She says her parents are at Port Gibson, completely ruined, and that they have all to begin anew the world. Is not this terrible?

I enclose you a curious correspondence just received to file among the historical papers of the war. Poor Mr. Holstein has committed a very bold act, and I fear it will not be long before he will have to repent. I have written him a letter of thanks and send him my photograph, my hair being too gray to display in Bridgeport and my coats requiring all the buttons they have on them. Is not this a funny world?

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. 159-60. Available via Google Books.

All Responsibility (December 2, 1863)

In a letter that reads less like a missive from a husband to a wife and more like a brief for the defense, George Gordon Meade outlines the reasons why he called off the attack on Lee’s defenses at Mine Run.

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

I expect your wishes will now soon be gratified, and that I shall be relieved from the Army of the Potomac. The facts are briefly these: On the 26th ultimo I crossed the Rapidan, intending to turn the right flank of General Lee and attack him, or compel him to attack me out of his formidable river entrenchments. I had previously been advised, by deserters and others, that he had commenced a line of works running perpendicular to the river, but only extending a few miles, but which he designed covering his flank, and permitting him to leave the lower fords unguarded. I accordingly made my plans to cross in three columns, to unite at a common point below his entrenchments, and then to advance rapidly and attack him before he could prepare any defenses. The plan was a good one, but owing to the failure of others to whom its execution was necessarily intrusted, it failed. In the first place, one corps [William French and the III] was three hours behind time in arriving at the river, and slow of movement afterwards; which caused a delay of one day, enabled the enemy to advance and check my columns before they united, and finally to concentrate his army in a very formidable position, behind entrenchments almost as strong as those I was making a long detour to avoid. Again, after I had come up with the enemy, one corps commander [Warren] reported he had examined a position where there was not the slightest doubt he could carry the enemy’s works, and on his positive and unhesitating judgment, he was given twenty-eight thousand men, and directed to attack the next morning at eight o’clock. At the same time another attack was to be made by fifteen thousand men, at a point where the enemy evidently was not fully prepared. On the eventful morning, just as the attack was about being made, I received a despatch from the officer commanding the twenty-eight thousand men, saying he had changed his opinion, and that the attack on his front was so hopeless, that he had assumed the responsibility of suspending it till further orders were received. This astounding intelligence reached me just ten minutes before the hour of attacking, and barely in time to suspend the other attack, which was a secondary one, and which, even if successful, could not be supported with so large a portion of my force away for the main attack. This lost me another day, during which the enemy so strengthened the point threatened by the secondary attack as to render it nearly as strong as the rest of his line, and to have almost destroyed the before probable chances of success. Finding no possibility of attacking with hope of success, and power to follow up success, and that the only weak point visible had been strengthened during the delay caused by the change of opinion of a corps commander, I determined not to attempt an assault. I could not move any further around the enemy’s flank, for want of roads, and from the danger at this season of the year of a storm, which would render locomotion, off the prepared roads, a matter of impossibility. After reviewing all the circumstances, notwithstanding my most earnest desire to give battle, and in the full consciousness of the fact that my failure to do so was certain personal ruin, I, having come to the conclusion that an attack could not be successful, determined to, and did, withdraw the army. I am fully aware it will be said I did wrong in deciding this question by reasoning, and that I ought to have tried, and then a failure would have been evidence of my good judgment; but I trust I have too much reputation as a general to be obliged to encounter certain defeat, in order to prove that victory was not possible. Political considerations will, however, enter largely into the decision, and the failure of the Army of the Potomac to do anything, at this moment, will be considered of vital consequence, and if I can be held responsible for this failure, I will be removed to prove that I am. I therefore consider my fate as settled; but as I have told you before, I would rather be ignominiously dismissed, and suffer anything, than knowingly and wilfully have thousands of brave men slaughtered for nothing. It was my deliberate judgment that I ought not to attack; I acted on that judgment, and I am willing to stand or fall by it at all hazards. I shall write to the President, giving him a clear statement of the case, and endeavoring to free his action as much as possible, by assuming myself all the responsibility. I feel of course greatly disappointed; a little more good fortune, and I should have met with brilliant success. As it is, my conscience is clear. I did the best I could. If I had thought there was any reasonable degree of probability of success, I would have attacked. I did not think so; on the contrary, believed it would result in a useless and criminal slaughter of brave men, and might result in serious disaster to the army. I determined not to attack, no other movements were practicable, and I withdrew. There will be a great howl all over the country. Letter writers and politicians will denounce me. It will be proved as clear as the light of day, that an attack was perfectly practicable, and that everyone, except myself, in the army, particularly the soldiers, was dying for it, and that I had some mysterious object in view, either in connection with politics, or stock-jobbing, or something else about as foreign to my thoughts, and finally the Administration will be obliged to yield to popular clamor and discard me. For all this I am prepared, fortified as I said before by a clear conscience, and the conviction that I have acted from a high sense of duty, to myself as a soldier, to my men as their general, and to my country and its cause, as the agent having its vital interests solemnly entrusted to me, which I have no right wantonly to play with and to jeopardize, either for my own personal benefit, or to satisfy the demands of popular clamor, or interested politicians.

George was sent with one of the messages to suspend the attack; his horse fell with him, he was a little bruised and cut about the eye, but nothing serious.

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. 156-9. Available via Google Books.

Slowness and Want of Detail (December 1, 1863)

"Scene at Germanna Ford--6th Corps returning from Mine Run" by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress).

“Scene at Germanna Ford–6th Corps returning from Mine Run” by Alfred Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

And so ends Meade’s Mine Run campaign. Theodore Lyman details the Army of the Potomac’s return to camp.

As I put my head out of my tent this morning, I beheld the heavy guns going to the rear, and I thought, well, we shall follow to-night. And so we did. The 1st Corps marched, in the afternoon, to Germanna Ford and halted, to hold the crossing. At dark the 5th marched, by the turnpike, followed by the 6th; and the 3d, followed by the 2d, took the plank road to Culpeper Ford. There was a piercing cold wind, the roads were frozen, and ice was on the pools; but the night was beautiful, with a lovely moon, that rose over the pine trees, and really seemed to me to be laughing derisively at our poor doughboys, tramping slowly along the road. Just at sunset I rode to the front and took a last look at the Rebels. Through my glass they looked almost near enough to speak to, as they stood, in groups of a dozen, and twenty, on the parapet of their breastworks. Some were on the glacis, seeking, I suppose, for firewood for their camps, whose smoke rose in a thin line, as far as the eye could reach, on either side. The Headquarters waited for some time at Robertson’s Tavern, till the 5th Corps had passed, and then followed on. The road was horribly rough, full of great holes and big stones. We crawled, at a snail’s pace, till we got clear of the troops, and then the General slammed ahead at a rate that threatened the legs of all our horses; and which gave two or three officers most awful falls on the frozen ground. At 2 oclock this morning {December 2) we crossed the Rapid Ann, and were glad to roll ourselves in our blankets in the same camp we had the night of the 26th. And so ends what I think I shall call the Great Seven-days’ Flank. If you ask what were the causes of failure, they lie in a nutshell — Slowness and want of Detail. We have fought for two years and a half, but it takes no wiseacre to see that we yet have much to learn. Were it not for the remarkable intelligence of the men, we could not do even as well as we do. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 58-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.