Gettysburg in the Rain

meade statue

Meade's display in the Gettysburg visitor center museum (Tom Huntington).

Meade’s display in the Gettysburg visitor center museum (Tom Huntington).

It was gray and drizzly yesterday but my wife, Beth Ann, and I decided to head down to Gettysburg anyway. It was not a day for hiking around the battlefield, so we stuck to the visitor center instead. Beth Ann had never been through the new museum and Cyclorama and I had not had a chance to see the temporary “Treasures of the Civil War” exhibit. Despite the weather we found the parking lot at the visitor center to be pretty full, and plenty of people inside (although it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was in July). I checked the bookstore to make sure they had plenty of copies of Searching for George Gordon Meade and Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments on hand. (They did.) Then we watched the movie and took in the Cyclorama program.

I’m still blown away by the Cyclorama. It remains an impressive achievement, even in this era of CGI. The level of detail in the painting is magnificent. We spotted Meade off in the distance and one of the staff members on hand pointed out John Gibbon, Winfield Scott Hancock, Alexander Webb, and other generals. I was not convinced about the identify of Henry Hunt, though, because the figure indicated did not have Hunt’s beard–but what do I know? The man also showed us the figure of Abraham Lincoln that artist Paul Philippoteaux had inserted into his huge canvas. We all know that Lincoln wasn’t really on the battlefield (if memory serves, he was busy fighting a trainload of vampires at the time) but Philippoteaux wanted to include the late president as a symbolic gesture.

Then it was on through the museum and finally to the “Treasures” exhibit. I had wanted to see this small display for some time because it includes a bunch of Meade artifacts, including his glasses, boots, hat, and frock coat. It also had the gorgeous, jewel encrusted sword that the Pennsylvania Reserves had presented to him in August 1863. It was a beautiful object, indeed, though I had to agree with Meade’s assessment that “It seems a pity, though, to waste so much money on an article that from its great value is actually rendered useless.”

Meade's presentation sword (Tom Huntington).

Meade’s presentation sword (Tom Huntington).

After some beers at the Reliance Mine Saloon and dinner at Gettysburg Eddie’s, it was time to head home through a driving rain. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.

The general and his glasses (Tom Huntington).

The general and his glasses (Tom Huntington).

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The Return of Lyman (March 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman, George G. Meade’s observant aide, has been on leave in Boston, depriving us of his accounts of life in the Army of the Potomac for much of March 1864. He returns to find a transformed army, with several of its top generals transferred elsewhere.

The heavy artillery regiments he mentions will receive a baptism in blood soon enough.

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

I am pretty well, I thank you, and not so blue as when I came back the other time, perhaps because the generals are here and it is not so utterly triste. However, I am fain to say I draw invidious comparisons between it and home, mais that helps nothing. There have been marvellous changes within these three weeks. Generals Sykes, Newton, French, and Pleasonton are ordered off. I do feel sorry for Sykes, an excellent soldier, always sure to do his duty, and with this army for a long time. I fear they displaced him at Washington because they disliked his rough manners. General Pleasonton was always very civil to me and I am sorry therefore to see him go. I have not yet got it clearly in my head how the corps have been shifted about, but I suppose I shall in a few days. . . .

The latest joke is the heavy sell that has been practised on some regiments of “Heavy Artillery,” which had reenlisted and had been sent home to recruit. Now these gentry, having always been in fortifications, took it for granted they should there continue; consequently the patriotic rush of recruits (getting a big bounty) was most gratifying; one regiment swelled to 1900; another to 2200, etc., etc. Bon! Then they returned to the forts round Washington, with the slight difference that the cars kept on, till they got to Brandy Station; and now these mammoth legions are enjoying the best of air under shelter tents! A favorite salutation now is, “How are you, Heavy Artillery?” For Chief of Cavalry we are to have a General Sheridan, from the West. He is, I believe, on his way. If he is an able officer, he will find no difficulty in pushing along this arm, several degrees. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 80-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Father and Son (March 29, 1864)

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

George Meade continues to enjoy his time with son Spencer.

Of the officers he mentions in this letter, George Sykes will head west to take command of the Department of Kansas. John Newton, whom Meade had assigned to command of the I Corps over Abner Doubleday at Gettysburg, will command a division in William Sherman’s army. William French’s days of combat are over; he will serve as an administrator for the rest of the war. Why Meade fought to retain him after French’s failures at Mine Run is a bit of a mystery. Alfred Pleasonton will also head west to command cavalry in the Department of the Missouri.

In Washington, Daniel Buttefield spreads the story that Meade planned to retreat from Gettysburg.

Spencer and the Whipple boys continue to enjoy themselves. Yesterday was a fine day, and they rode over with me to Hancock’s, some five miles. We then rode to Culpeper Court House, five miles, where I met General Grant, just from Washington. After which we returned to headquarters, a distance of six miles, making in all sixteen miles for the day’s riding. En route the boys ascended Pony Mountain, a hill of some five hundred feet elevation, near Culpeper, on which we have a signal station and a fine telescope, and from whence you have a good view of the country, the rebel lines, camps, etc. At night Pennie was pretty well fatigued. But this morning he was up bright and early, and started with me, before eight o’clock, to go to Culpeper, where General Grant reviewed two divisions of infantry, and one of cavalry. It commenced to rain, however, during the review, which curtailed the ceremonies, and after spending an hour with Grant, we returned home in the rain. I borrowed an India rubber poncho for Pennie, so that he came back dry, but on the way his horse, and Willie Whipple’s, became excited and started off with them at full speed. The boys, however, kept their seats beautifully till George and an orderly headed off the horses and stopped them.

Grant continues very affable and quite confidential. He laughs at the statement in the papers of his remarks about balls, etc., and says he will be happy to attend any innocent amusement we may get up, he including among these horse races, of which he is very fond.

I join with you in the regret expressed at the relief of Sykes. I tried very hard to retain Sykes, Newton, and even French, as division commanders, but without avail. I had very hard work to retain Sedgwick. As to Pleasanton, his being relieved was entirely the work of Grant and Stanton.

I hear Butterfield has been swearing terribly against me. I shall go up day after to-morrow to meet his charges.

It is storming now violently.

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. 185. Available via Google Books.

Easter (March 27, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant with his horse Cincinnati (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant with his horse Cincinnati (Library of Congress).

In 1864 Easter Sunday fell on March 27, explaining the presence of Bishop H. B. Whipple with the Army of the Potomac. In 1872 Whipple will give the address at George Meade’s funeral in Philadelphia. Meade’s Easter letter strikes a sad note regarding the health of John Sergeant Meade. From this point forward many of Meade’s letters contain anguished passages about his oldest son but when it came time to publish them in Meade’s Life and Letters, his editors (son George and grandson) cut much of that overly personal material.

It would be interesting to learn what Mrs. Meade had to say about Grant. Most likely she resented the way the new general-in-chief was overshadowing her husband.

Your letter of the 25th inst. arrived this afternoon. I am very much distressed to hear of Sergeant’s continued weakness. As to my going home, that is utterly out of the question. You must not expect to see me till next winter, unless, as before, I am brought home on a litter. Whatever occurs, I shall not voluntarily leave the field.

We have had most interesting services to-day by Bishop Whipple, who administered the Holy Communion to quite a number of officers and soldiers, hastily collected from the staff and the detachments on duty at these headquarters. We had afternoon services, and afterwards the bishop and his assistant, with General Seth Williams, dined with me. The bishop brought down with him a magnificent bouquet of flowers, with which our rude altar was adorned. The bishop is a most interesting man, about forty years of age, but full of life and energy. He preached two most appropriate and impressive discourses, well adapted to all classes of his hearers.

General Grant went up to Washington to-day, expecting to return to-morrow. You do not do Grant justice, and I am sorry to see it. You do not make a distinction between his own acts and those forced on him by the Government, Congress and public opinion. If left to himself, I have no doubt Grant would have let me alone; but placed in the position he holds, and with the expectations formed of him, if operations on a great scale are to be carried on here, he could not well have kept aloof. As yet he has indicated no purpose to interfere with me; on the contrary, acts promptly on all my suggestions, and seems desirous of making his stay here only the means of strengthening and increasing my forces. God knows I shall hail his advent with delight if it results in carrying on operations in the manner I have always desired they should be carried on. Cheerfully will I give him all credit if he can bring the war to a close.

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. 184-5. Available via Google Books.

Sons and Generals (March 26, 1864)

Meade wished this quickie biography had devoted more space to his engineering work (Archives.com).

Meade wished this quickie biography had devoted more space to his engineering work (Archives.com).

In his letter of March 26, Meade mentions two of his sons, Spencer (Pennie) and John Sergeant (Sargie). John Sergeant was Meade’s oldest son, born on November 4, 1841. Spencer, his third son, was born on January 19, 1850. The second son, George, was serving on Meade’s staff. Poor John Sergeant was already ill with the tuberculosis that will kill him in less than a year.

The letter about a court of inquiry that Meade mentions is the one he wrote in response to the article by Historicus, which he believed was either written or dictated by Dan Sickles. The Life and Public Services of General Meade was one of several quickie biographies of Union generals published by T.R. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia.

Pennie arrived yesterday, looking very well and quite delighted with his journey and at getting to camp. Willie and Davy Whipple came with him. Unfortunately they came in a storm of rain, and although to-day has been blustering and raw, they have been out on horseback, commencing their sight seeing. This evening they have gone over to one of the neighboring camps, where the soldiers are going to have a negro minstrel exhibition.

The weather has been so unpropitious that no inspection has been practicable by General Grant. I spent several hours with him yesterday. He appears very friendly, and at once adopts all my suggestions. I believe Grant is honest and fair, and I have no doubt he will give me full credit for anything I may do, and if I don’t deserve any, I don’t desire it.

I think I wrote you I had a long and friendly letter from Mr. Harding, in which he said he had seen Mr. Stanton, who told him of my letter in reference to Sickles, asking for a court of inquiry, which Mr. Stanton said he should not grant, for the reason that he did not deem one necessary; that I had been made a brigadier general in the regular army and thanked by Congress for my services at Gettysburg, and that no attention should be paid to such a person as Sickles. Mr. Stanton told Mr. Harding he thought I was unnecessarily nervous about these attacks, and that I ought not to give them a thought. I, however, think differently, and do not believe in the policy of remaining quiet, under the false and slanderous charges of even the most insignificant.

Tell Sargie two copies of the famous “Life and Services of Major General Meade” have been sent me by the publishers. I had no idea my services would take up so much printing matter. I must confess I think a little more space might be given to my services prior to the Rebellion. I always thought my services in the construction of lighthouses, and subsequently on the Lake Survey, were of considerable importance.

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. 183-4. Available via Google Books.

Reorganizing (March 24, 1865)

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps).

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps). Now French and Sykes are out and Warren has command of the V Corps (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

I have been very busy to-day. The much-talked-of order for reorganizing the Army of the Potomac has at last appeared. Sykes, French and Newton are relieved. Sedgwick, Hancock and Warren command the three corps. This evening an order has arrived relieving General Pleasanton, which, although I did not originate it, yet was, I presume, brought about by my telling the Secretary that the opposition I had hitherto made to his removal I no longer should make. As the Secretary has been desirous of relieving him ever since I have had command, and I have been objecting, he has taken the first chance to remove him as soon as my objections were withdrawn.

Grant arrived to-day. I met him at the depot near my headquarters and accompanied him to Culpeper, where I spent several hours and returned. He was as affable as ever, and seems not at all disposed to interfere with my army in any details.

I hear Butterfield is in Washington, and is going to swear that I told him to prepare an order to retreat, and from what Gibbon writes me, it is evident he did prepare such an order; but I trust by the concurrent testimony of every other officer on the field, the documentary evidence in the shape of orders at different periods of the day, and my own sworn statement, to prove that the preparation of this order was not authorized by me, and that it was due to Butterfield’s own fears. I understand the Secretary is very indignant at his coming to Washington, and has ordered him back to his post.

Get the last number of the Spirit of the Times, in which there is a scathing article on Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Schofield and myself, and lauding, as usual, Joe Hooker.

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. 182-3. Available via Google Books.

More Historicus (March 22, 1865)

In this print, titled "Grant and his Generals," George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant's right (Library of Congress).

George Meade does appear in this print, titled “Grant and his Generals,” off to Grant’s right, next to William Sherman (Library of Congress).

In this letter Meade mentions the newspaper article by “Historicus” and the replies by a V Corps staff officer and General James Barnes. You can read those items here.

Grant is emphatically an executive man, whose only place is in the field. One object in coming here is to avoid Washington and its entourage. I intend to give him heartiest co-operation, and so far as I am able do just the same when he is present that I would do were he absent.

[Winfield Scott] Hancock is in Washington and will be down to-morrow. He was before the committee to-day. [Andrew] Humphreys has returned, having been before the committee, where he gave testimony about Gettysburg. Have you seen the article in the Herald, signed “Staff Officer, Fifth Corps,”  and one in Monday’s (yesterday’s) paper signed by General Barnes? I think Historicus after awhile will be sick of his only true and authentic account of the battle.

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. 182. Available via Google Books.

Butterfield (March 20, 1864)

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib" (Library of Congress).

Daniel Butterfield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib” (Library of Congress).

No one can deny that George Meade had a knack for making enemies. One of them was Daniel Butterfield. Back in 1862 Ambrose Burnside appointed Butterfield to command the V Corps. Meade pointed out that he outranked Butterfield and the position should have been his. Burnside agreed, and Meade took over from Butterfield. He thought he and Butterfield smoothed things over afterwards, but apparently not. Joe Hooker later appointed Butterfield his chief of staff. “I believe Hooker is a good soldier,” Meade wrote to his wife back then; “the danger he runs is of subjecting himself to bad influences, such as Dan Butterfield and Dan Sickles, who, being intellectually more clever than Hooker, and leading him to believe they are very influential, will obtain an injurious ascendancy over him and insensibly affect his conduct.” Once Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac he tried to find someone to replace Butterfield as chief of staff, but he could not find anyone willing to take the job. When John Sedgwick heard that Butterfield would keep his position, the VI Corps commander “looked solemn and said he regretted it, that he knew Butterfield well, that he was a bold bad man and that Meade would live to regret it.” Sedgwick was right. When the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War began investigating Meade and Gettysburg, Butterfield, who had been sent west, traveled to Washington without leave to provide damaging testimony. He said that on July 2 Meade had told him to prepare an order directing the Army of the Potomac to retreat from the battlefield, a charge Meade vehemently denied.

I have received a letter from [John] Gibbon which has worried me a great deal. It is now evident that Butterfield, either intentionally or otherwise, misconstrued something that I said to him on the 2d of July into instructions to prepare an order to withdraw the army. To-be-sure, this order was never issued; it is also certain I never intended it to be prepared, much less issued. Nevertheless, the fact that he did prepare it, and, as he will swear, was ordered to do so, notwithstanding it was never issued, will operate against me, as people disposed to find fault will say I was all the time anticipating defeat, and hampered accordingly. God knows my conscience is clear that I never for a moment thought of retreating, although I presume I held in view the contingency that the enemy might compel me so to do, and I may have told Butterfield to familiarize himself with the roads, etc., so that if it became necessary we would be prepared to do it promptly and in good order. Out of this he has manufactured the lie that I intended at the time to do so. The falsehoods that have been uttered against me, and the evidence of a regular conspiracy which has been organizing almost since the date of the battle, make me heartsick. I believe now that Butterfield commenced deliberately, from the time I assumed command, to treasure up incidents, remarks and papers to pervert and distort in the future to my injury. How otherwise to account for his having a copy of this pretended order? Not only is no such order or paper found among the records of the Adjutant General’s Office, but the clerks and others have no recollection of any order.

It is hard that I am to suffer from the malice of such men as Sickles and Butterfield.

Grant is expected here next Wednesday. He spoke very fairly when here last, and from all I can hear of what he has said of me to others, I ought to be satisfied, as I understand he expressed every confidence in me, and said no change would be made in the command, as far as he was concerned. Still, he undoubtedly will have the power, and will exercise it, of bringing here such a force as will effect results that hitherto I have been unable to effect, and this will by the ignorant public be set down to his superior merit and quoted against me. However, I shall do my duty to the best of my ability, and trust to Providence.

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. 181-2. Available via Google Books.*

“Almost a Farce” (March 18, 1863)

I see General Grant’s assuming command and announcing that his headquarters will be with the Army of the Potomac, is in the public journals, and by to-morrow will be known in Richmond. Of course this will notify the rebels where to look for active operations, and they will prepare accordingly.

You need not think I apprehend any trouble about my being relieved. I don’t think I have at any time been in any danger. It would be almost a farce to relieve the man who fought the battle of Gettysburg, nine months after the battle, not for retreating, not for ordering a retreat, but for preparing an order, which was never issued; for such is the last and most serious charge against me.

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. 181. Available via Google Books.

No Ordinary Man (March 16, 1864)

Meade’s battles have shifted from Congress to the press, specifically an article, signed “Historicus,” that appeared in the New York Herald. You can read the Historicus article and its follow-ups here.

 

Daniel Sickles (Library of Congress).

Daniel Sickles (Library of Congress).

My Gettysburg fight is at present in statu quo, except that I have enclosed to the War Department the letter from the New York Herald, of the 12th, signed Historicus, saying I believed it was written, or dictated, by General Sickles, and that I desire he may be called on to state whether he authorized it, or endorses it; and should he reply in the affirmative, I then ask for a court of inquiry. If the department is not disposed to accede to this, I then ask permission to make public such official documents as I deem necessary to my defense.

George has gone to a ball to-night, given in the Fifth Corps. I thought I had better keep quiet at home, and not expose myself, as my cold, though better, still hangs about me. These balls were always against my judgment, and I see they are beginning to be animadverted on by those who are unfriendly to this army, and who are ready to catch at anything to find fault with.

As I told you, I was much pleased with Grant, and most agreeably disappointed in his evidence of mind and character. You may rest assured he is not an ordinary man.

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. 180-1. Available via Google Books.