A Party of Ladies (January 29, 1864)

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

The business of war wasn’t always hell; there was frivolity, too, especially in winter camp. In this letter Theodore Lyman details some of the less-serious side of life in the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys, of course, is Meade’s chief of staff, Andrew Humphreys.

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

If you saw the style of officers’ wives that come here, I am sure you would wish to stay away. Quelle experience had I yesterday! I was nearly bored to death, and was two hours and a half late for my dinner. Oh, list to my harrowing tale. I was in my tent, with my coat off, neatly mending my maps with a little paste, when Captain [Adolphus] Cavada poked in his head (he was gorgeous in a new frockcoat). “Colonel,” said he, “General Humphreys desires that you will come and help entertain some ladies!” I held up my pasty hands in horror, and said,”What!” “Ladies!” quoth Cavada with a grin; “ a surprise party on horseback, thirteen ladies and about thirty officers.” There was no moyen; I washed my hands, put on the double-breaster, added a cravat, and proceeded, with a sweet smile, to the tent, whence came a sound of revelry and champagne corks. Such a set of feminine humans I have not seen often; it was Lowell factories broken loose and gone mad. They were all gotten up in some sort of long thing, to ride in. One had got a lot of orange tape and trimmed her jacket in the dragoon style; another had the badge of the Third Corps pinned all askew in her hat; a third had a major’s knot worked in tarnished lace on her sleeve; while a fourth had garnitured her chest by a cape of grey squirrel-skin. And there was General Humphreys, very red in the face, smiling like a basket of chips, and hopping round with a champagne bottle, with all the spring of a boy of sixteen. He spied me at once, and introduced me to a Mrs. M , who once married somebody who treated her very badly and afterwards fortunately went up; so Mrs. M seemed determined to make up lost time and be jolly in her liberty. She was quite bright; also quite warm and red in the face, with hard riding and, probably, champagne. Then they said they would go over to General [John] Sedgwick’s, and General Humphreys asked if I would not go, too, which invitation it was not the thing to refuse; so I climbed on my horse, with the malicious consolation that it would be fun to see poor, modest Uncle John with such a load!

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John" (Library of Congress).

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John” (Library of Congress).

But Uncle John, though blushing and overcome, evidently did not choose to be put upon; so, with great politeness, he offered them sherry, with naught to eat and no champagne. Then nothing would do but go to Headquarters of the 3d Corps, whither, to my horror, the gallant Humphreys would gang likewise. Talk about cavalry raids to break down horses! If you want to do that, put a parcel of women on them and set them going across the country. Such a Liitzow’s wild hunt hath not been seen since the day of the respected L. himself! Finally one lady’s horse ran away, and off went the brick, Humphreys, like a shot, to stop her. Seeing her going into a pine tree, he drove his horse between the tree and her; but, in so doing, encountered a hidden branch, which slapped the brisk old gent out of his saddle, like a shuttlecock! The Chief-of-Staff was up in a second, laughing at his mishap; while I galloped up, in serious alarm at his accident. To make short a long story, the persistent H. tagged after those womenfolk (and I tagged after him) first to Corps Headquarters, then to General Carr’s Headquarters, and finally to General Morris’s Headquarters, by which time it was dark! I was the only one that knew the nearest way home (we were four miles away) and didn’t I lead the eminent soldier through runs and mud-holes, the which he do hate!

To-day we have had a tremendous excitement: a detail of 250 men to “police” the camp, under charge of [James C.] Biddle, just appointed Camp Commandant. They have been sweeping, cutting down stumps, burning brush, and, in general, making the worst-looking camp in the army neat and respectable.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 65-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Annual Seminar

Every year the General Meade Society of Philadelphia holds a seminar focusing on some Meade-related aspect of the Civil War. This year the topic is “Meade and Grant–The Virginia Campaign of 1864.” It will take place on Sunday, February 16, 2014, at the conservatory at the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. The speakers will be Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg and Hell or Richmond; Tom Huntington (author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg) and Jerry McCormick (the world’s leading authority on General Andrew Humphreys). In addition, the Kearney Kommissary will serve its delicious food and Jim Schmick of Civil War and More will be on hand with a large selection of books. Like all the society events, it promises to be both informative and fun.

The $40 admission cost includes lunch. I encourage all the attend!

I’ve posted the flyer. Click on it to see a larger version.Meade seminar

Order of Merit

Order of MeritI just got home from George Gordon Meade’s home town, where I was honored and flattered to receive the Order of Merit from the General Meade Society of Philadelphia. Anyone who has read my book, Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, should know about the General Meade Society because the book included some accounts of its activities. Among them were the “grand unveiling” of the head of Old Baldy, Meade’s horse, at the Grand Army of the Republic Library and Museum, as well as the annual birthday celebrations in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. Well, every year the Society awards the Order of Merit to an individual who they feel deserves to be honored for furthering the society’s mission of commemorating the memory of General Meade. I’m very pleased to say the board members picked me this year. At the annual champagne brunch and awards ceremony I received a beautiful medal (pictured). Many thanks to Andy Waskie, president and founder of the Meade Society, and to all the board members who made this possible. It was a wonderful day and, like all the Meade events I’ve attended, a lot of fun. And I guess I should extend my thanks to General Meade, too, without whom none of this–including the book–would have been possible!

Lyman Returns (January 23, 1864)

An officer of the Army of the Potomac lounges outside his winter quarters. No wonder soldiers sought to go home on leave (Library of Congress).

An officer of the Army of the Potomac lounges outside his winter quarters at Brandy Station. No wonder soldiers sought to go home on leave (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade and his aide, Theodore Lyman, both stopped writing letters when they departed for their respective homes while the Army of the Potomac established winter camp, thus depriving us of their observations on current affairs. But Lyman finally returns to the fold with a letter dated January 23. I include the editorial note included in Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox (1923). General Humphreys is Andrew Humphreys, Meade’s chief of staff.

[Toward the end of December, the army being then well settled in winter quarters, Lyman obtained leave of absence, passed Christmas at home, and returned to the army about the middle of January. He found Headquarters almost deserted, General Meade sick in Philadelphia with an attack of inflammation of the lungs, General Humphreys, and his tent-mate Rosencrantz, away on leave of absence, and Barstow sick and weak, with a cold on the lungs.]

Yesterday came General Humphreys, to my great content. His son, with Worth and myself, rode down to bid him welcome. Such a sea of mud round Brandy Station was enough to engulf the most hardy. There is no platform to get on; nothing but the driest spot in the mud. You should have seen the countenances of the unfortunate officers’ wives, as they surveyed, from the height of the platform, this broad expanse of pap! Then the husband would appear, in great excitement, and encourage them to descend, which they presently would do, and dab across to an ambulance, seeming mutely to say, that this wasn’t quite what they expected. The neat General (who left in hard weather) was entirely aghast, and said, in painful accents, “What! must I get down there? Oh, the deuce!” I do believe that officers will next be trying to bring down grand pianos. You needn’t talk of coming here with “small hoops.” I have too much respect for you to allow the shadow of such an idea. As Frank Palfrey sensibly observed: “I think I should consider some time before I brought my wife to a mud-hill.” . . . The whole country, besides the mud, is now ornamented with stumps, dead horses and mules, deserted camps, and thousands upon thousands of crows. The deserted camps (than which nothing more desolate) come from the fact that several divisions have lately changed position. General Meade has been seriously ill at home; but we have a telegraph that he is much better, and I have forwarded him, for his edification, a variety of letters, opened by me at General Williams’s request.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 64-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Zouaves (January 6, 1864)

The 114th PA band, photographed at army headquarters, Brandy Station, in the spring of 1864 (Library of Congress).

The 114th PA band, photographed at army headquarters, Brandy Station, in the spring of 1864 (Library of Congress).

Charles Collis, taken at Petersburg in 1864 (Library of Congress).

Charles Collis, taken at Petersburg in 1864 (Library of Congress).

George Meade wrote this brief note to his son John Sergeant on January 6, 1864. The “Zu-Zu” regiment to which he refers is the 114th Pennsylvania, also known as the Collis Zouaves after its former commander, Charles Collis. The 144th PA had been assigned as the army’s headquarters guard. The regiment had adopted the bright Zouave uniforms inspired French and Algerian soldiers. Before the war the most famous zouave unit was a crack drill outfit raised by Elmer Ellsworth, later killed in Alexandria, Virginia, when he removed the Confederate flag atop a hotel there and was shot to death by the owner.

Born in Ireland, Charles Collis had been wounded at Chancellorsville and did not fight at Gettysburg but he returned there after the war and built a house that he called Red Patch, after the III Corps’ insignia. The house still stands on Confederate Avenue and recently became a bed and breakfast. Collis is buried in the National Cemetery and has a monument there.

We have now at headquarters Collis’s “Zu-Zu” Regiment, commanded by one of the Bowens, Collis being in command of a brigade in the Third Corps. They have a fine band, one of the best in the army.

A good many of the old volunteers have re-enlisted—more than I expected—and if Congress allows the bounty hitherto paid, many more will re-enlist.

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. 165. Available via Google Books.

Happy Birthday, General Meade!

gravesite volley

Once again the General Meade Society of Philadelphia hosted a successful birthday commemoration of General George Gordon Meade at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. It would have been Meade’s 198th birthday (and also his wedding anniversary). Living historians, VIPs and others braved the cold to gather at the cemetery gatehouse and proceeded to the general’s gravesite for a short ceremony and a champagne toast. Here are a few photos.

Outside the gatehouse of Laurel Hill Cemetery. George Meade and his family, as well as scores of other notable people, are buried on the grounds here.

Outside the gatehouse of Laurel Hill Cemetery. George Meade and his family, as well as scores of other notable people, are buried on the grounds here.

Living historians represent members of the United States Colored Troops.

Living historians represent members of the United States Colored Troops.

Beck's Band prepares to lead the procession to the gravesite. Not easy temperatures for playing brass instruments!

Beck’s Band prepares to lead the procession to the gravesite. Not easy temperatures for playing brass instruments!

The ceremony included the laying of several wreaths at the gravesite.

The ceremony included the laying of several wreaths at the gravesite.

Prof. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, leads the ceremony at the gravesite.

Prof. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, leads the ceremony at the gravesite.

Tom Huntington, author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg (and this blog) makes a few appropriate remarks.

Tom Huntington, author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg (and this blog) makes a few appropriate remarks.