The Storm Subsides (March 10, 1864)

Meade appears upbeat about his battles in Congress on March 10. At the end of the letter he mentions Grant’s arrival for a visit, which is even bigger news. This is how Grant himself recalled the meeting in his memoirs:

A sketch of Ulysses S. Grant by Alden Finney Brooks (Library of Congress).

A sketch of Ulysses S. Grant by Alden Finney Brooks (Library of Congress).

My commission as lieutenant-general was given to me on the 9th of March, 1864. On the following day, as already stated, I visited General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, at his headquarters at Brandy Station, north of the Rapidan. I had known General Meade slightly in the Mexican war, but had not met him since until this visit. I was a stranger to most of the Army of the Potomac, I might say to all except the officers of the regular army who had served in the Mexican war. There had been some changes ordered in the organization of that army before my promotion. One was the consolidation of five corps into three, thus throwing some officers of rank out of important commands. Meade evidently thought that I might want to make still one more change not yet ordered. He said to me that I might want an officer who had served with me in the West, mentioning Sherman specially, to take his place. If so, he begged me not to hesitate about making the change. He urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions. For himself, he would serve to the best of his ability wherever placed. I assured him that I had no thought of substituting any one for him. As to Sherman, he could not be spared from the West.

This incident gave me even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.

Meade’s position afterwards proved embarrassing to me if not to him. He was commanding an army and, for nearly a year previous to my taking command of all the armies, was in supreme command of the Army of the Potomac—except from the authorities at Washington. All other general officers occupying similar positions were independent in their commands so far as any one present with them was concerned. I tried to make General Meade’s position as nearly as possible what it would have been if I had been in Washington or any other place away from his command. I therefore gave all orders for the movements of the Army of the Potomac to Meade to have them executed. To avoid the necessity of having to give orders direct, I established my headquarters near his, unless there were reasons for locating them elsewhere. This sometimes happened, and I had on occasions to give orders direct to the troops affected.

In that excerpt Grant mentions the changes in the Army of the Potomac. Meade had requested that the army be consolidated from five corps to three, and the War Department issued the official orders on March 23. The I and III Corps, both terribly battered at Gettysburg, were broken up, their units distributed to the II, V, and VI Corps. That meant the departures of John Newton and William French, moves that created little regret. George Sykes was also removed from command of the V Corps; prickly, perfectionistic Gouverneur Warren now filled that post. Alfred Pleasonton, the dapper self-promoter who commanded the cavalry, had departed, too. His replacement was the short, pugnacious, and eager-for-glory Philip Sheridan. The General Gibbon whom Meade mentions is John Gibbon, who commanded a division of the II Corps. Reverdy Johnson is the conservative Democratic Senator from Maryland.

Brigadier General John Gibbon as he appeared during the war.

Brigadier General John Gibbon as he appeared during the war.

The storm in which I have been involved seems to be subsiding, as I note the Tribune now says that no charges were preferred against me by General Sickles or Doubleday. Tell General Gibbon that I have received his letter, and am greatly obliged to him for his gallantry and daring in coming out so boldly in my defense; but I do not wish him to compromise himself, and affairs are becoming complicated.

I think I wrote you on my return from Washington I found a polite note from Reverdy Johnston, saying he had assumed the responsibility of denying Mr. Wilkinson’s statement, and asking me if he was not right. This act of courtesy I considered entitled to an acknowledgment, so I replied to Mr. Johnston, and explained to him wherein I thought Mr. Wilkinson had been misled. This letter, it appears, Mr. Johnston showed to his friends, and its receipt was announced in Forney’s Chronicle. To-day I got a sharp letter from the Secretary of War, asking by what authority I wrote to Senators on military operations. I have replied my note was private and not intended for publication or circulation, and that I was not aware I required any authority to write private letters defending myself from the false and slanderous reports with which the public press has been filled for a week, particularly as the military operations referred to took place nine months ago, and the official reports have been published. This may involve me in trouble with the Secretary, but I cannot help it; I will not yield my right to defend myself.

To-day Lieutenant General Grant arrived here. He has been very civil, and said nothing about superseding me.

I go to-morrow to Washington, and shall go again before the committee, to add to my testimony.

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. 176-7. Available via Google Books.

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  1. Weighing Grant (March 14, 1864) | Searching for GEORGE GORDON MEADE

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