The Return of Meade (February 14, 1864)

Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher (Library of Congress).

Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade has been in Philadelphia, on a leave from the army that became extended after he fell ill. The result has been a long gap with no letters home. Now recovered, Meade has left Philadelphia behind to begin his journey back to the Army of the Potomac.

A note about some of the people he mentions in this letter. Henry Cram was Meade’s wife’s brother-in-law. Colonel Hartman Bache was not only Meade’s brother-in-law, before the war Meade had served under him in the topographical engineers, making lighthouses. The Senators with whom Meade dined included Jacob Collamore of Vermont and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts (later the vice president under President Ulysses S. Grant). “Wilkeson” was probably Morton S. Wilkinson of Minnesota; and Powell must have been Lazarus Powell of Kentucky. If that is so, Powell was the odd man out, as the only Democrat present as well as a harsh critic of the Lincoln administration. The host, Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher of Indiana, had traveled with President Lincoln to Gettysburg back in November and had been seated with the president on the stage when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Judge Holt was Joseph Holt, later one of the three prosecutors at the trial of Lincoln’s assassins. As the Union Army’s judge advocate general, Holt had also presided over the court-martial of General Fitz John Porter. The conversation at Usher’s dinner party must have been interesting indeed.

Joseph Holt (center) was one of the guests at Secretary of the Interior Usher's dinner party (Library of Congress).

Joseph Holt (center) was one of the guests at Secretary of the Interior Usher’s dinner party (Library of Congress).

I felt very badly at leaving you, but I tried to reconcile myself to what was inevitable and could not be helped. We had a very pleasant journey to this place. Mr. Cram and Colonel Bache joined us at the depot, and at Wilmington I found General Hartsuff and Colonel Sackett on the train and took them into the car. Mr. Felton, the president of the company, was at the cars and was very civil. When we crossed the Susquehanna an elegant cold collation with champagne was set out, of which we all freely partook. On arriving here we took tea, and soon afterwards, about nine o’clock, I went to bed. The next day I spent all the day at the Department and White House. The Secretary was, as he always is, very civil and ready to accede to all my suggestions. He gratified me very much by saying that there was no officer in command who had to so great a degree the implicit confidence of all parties as myself; but he said there were several officers in my army that did not have the confidence of the country, and that I was injuring myself by retaining them. I told him I did not know who they were, but that if he was aware of this fact, I thought it was his duty to retire them, and I should not object; and I suppose the result will be a pretty general sweeping out. While with the Secretary, Mr. Usher, Secretary of the Interior, came in and invited me to his house at seven o’clock. Supposing it to be an evening party, where I could show myself and slip out, I accepted; but on going there I found it to be a regular dinner party. Senators Collamore, Wilson, Wilkeson and Powell, together with Judges Holt and Law, and the ladies of the family, constituted the party. All received and treated me with great distinction and civility, and about 10 p.m. I got home, and, after a talk with Cram, went to bed, a little tired. I had intended to go down to the army this morning, but received last night a note from the Secretary, saying he wanted to see me to-day; so I had to spend some four or five hours at the Department, and the rest of the day have remained quietly in the house with Cram.

Mr. Harding with Mrs. Harding are here, also Cortlandt Parker. I have not seen our friends the Harrises, except the Senator.

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. 164-5. Available via Google Books.

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