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.

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