A Ball and a Review (February 24, 1864)

Artist Edwin Forbes sketched the 2nd Corps ball, held in honor of Washington's Birthday, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Artist Edwin Forbes sketched the 2nd Corps ball, held in honor of Washington’s Birthday, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Today we have the opportunity to see how General Meade and his aide, Theodore Lyman, wrote about events in the Army of the Potomac in letters composed on the same day. Meade first:

Since writing last we have had quite a gay time. The ball of the Second Corps came off on the 22d, and was quite a success. The room constructed for the purpose was beautifully decorated. There were present about three hundred ladies, many coming from Washington for the occasion, an elegant supper furnished by Gautier, indeed everything in fine style. I rode over in an ambulance a distance of five miles, and got back to my bed by four o’clock in the morning. The next day I reviewed the Second Corps for the benefit of our lady guests. I mounted my horse at 11 o’clock, rode over to the review and got back at six, having been seven hours in the saddle, and I believe I was less fatigued than any of my staff, so you can judge I have quite recovered my strength. George went to the ball and enjoyed himself hugely.

And here’s Lyman’s account, which provides much more detail than Meade’s rather terse description. Governor Sprague is the governor of Rhode Island; the vice president is Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. The “Abbott” Lyman mentions is fellow Harvard graduate Henry Abbott. Within a few months, in the Wilderness, Lyman will sit by Abbott’s hospital bed and watch him die of his wounds.

Judson Kilpatrick. Lyman did not think much of him (Library of Congress)

Judson Kilpatrick. Lyman did not think much of him (Library of Congress)

…I went yesterday to a review of the 2d Corps gotten up in honor of Governor Sprague. It was some seven or eight miles away, near Stevensburg, so that it was quite a ride even to get there. General Meade, though he had been out till three in the morning at the ball, started at eleven, with the whole Staff, including General Pleasonton and his aides, the which made a dusty cavalcade. First we went to the Corps Headquarters, where we were confronted by the apparition of two young ladies in extemporaneous riding habits, mounted on frowsy cavalry horses and prepared to accompany. General Meade greeted them with politeness, for they were some relations of somebody, and we set forth. The review was on a large flat (usually very wet, but now quite dry, yet rather rough for the purpose) and consisted of the Corps and Kilpatrick’s division of cavalry. When they were all ready, we rode down the lines, to my great terror, for I thought the womenkind, of whom there were half a dozen, would break their necks; for there were two or three ditches, and we went at a canter higglety-pigglety. However, by the best of luck they all got along safe and we took our place to see the troops march past. We made a funny crowd: there were the aforesaid ladies, sundry of whom kept chattering like magpies; then the Hon. Senator Wilkinson of Minnesota, in a suit of faded black and a second-hand felt that some officer had lent him. The Honorable rode bravely about, with a seat not laid down in any of the textbooks, and kept up a lively and appropriate conversation at the most serious parts of the ceremony. “Wall, Miss Blunt, how do you git along? Do you think you will stan’ it out?” To which Miss Blunt would reply in shrill tones: “Wall, I feel kinder tired, but I guess I ‘ll hold on, and ride clear round, if I can.” And, to do her justice, she did hold on, and I thought, as aforesaid, she would break her neck. Then there was his Excellency, the Vice-President, certainly one of the most ordinary-looking men that ever obtained the suffrages of his fellow citizens. Also little Governor Sprague, a cleanly party, who looked very well except that there is something rather too sharp about his face. Likewise were there many womenkind in ambulances discreetly looking on. The cavalry came first, headed by the valiant Kilpatrick, whom it is hard to look at without laughing. The gay cavaliers themselves presented their usual combination of Gypsy and Don Cossack. Then followed the artillery and the infantry. Among the latter there was a good deal of difference; some of the regiments being all one could wish, such as the Massachusetts 20th, with Abbot at its head; while others were inferior and marched badly. Thereafter Kill-cavalry (as scoffers call him) gave us a charge of the 500, which was entertaining enough, but rather mobby in style. And so home, where we did arrive quite late; the tough old General none the worse.

Edwin Forbes sketched the stand where the band played at the 2nd Corps' ball. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Edwin Forbes sketched the stand where the band played at the 2nd Corps’ ball. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

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. 167. 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 75-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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  1. Reflection (July 10, 1864) | Searching for GEORGE GORDON MEADE

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