Weighing Grant (March 14, 1864)

This print, titled "Lincoln and His Generals," shows the president with Admirals Porter and Farragut and Generals Sherman, Thomas, Grant and Sheridan. In typical fashion, Meade is not included (Library of Congress).

This print, titled “Lincoln and His Generals,” shows the president with Admirals Porter and Farragut and Generals Sherman, Thomas, Grant and Sheridan. In typical fashion, Meade is not included (Library of Congress).

As of March 14 George Meade may think the tempest raised by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War is over, but there are more storm clouds ahead, including repercussions from an account of Gettysburg published on March 12 in the New York Herald by an anonymous correspondent calling himself Historicus. In a broader sense, though, Meade was correct that his position was secure, but that was due less to his own forceful testimony than to the fact that Ulysses S. Grant had become general-in-chief. Grant’s presence essentially derailed the efforts to get either Joe Hooker or Dan Sickles assigned as Meade’s replacement. As David Bell Birney, one of the generals backing Hooker, will write in a letter on April 5, “Grant killed the demonstration for Hooker, that was assuming shape, and would have ended in the decapitation of Meade.” In this letter Meade also continues the story of his letter to Senator Reverdy Johnson, which me mentioned in his letter of March 10.

I wrote you, I think, on the evening of the 10th, the day Grant was here. It rained all that day, and as he could not see anything, he determined to return to Washington the next day. The President having invited both General Grant and myself to dinner on Saturday, the 12th, I had of course to go up to Washington, and as I wanted to add to my testimony to the committee, I concluded to go up with General Grant. When I arrived, I immediately went before the committee and filed documentary evidence to prove the correctness of my previous assertion that I never for an instant had any idea of fighting anywhere but at Gettysburg, as soon as I learned of Reynolds’s collision and obtained information that the ground was suitable. Mr. Wade was the only member present. He took great pains to endeavor to convince me the committee were not responsible for the newspaper attacks on me, and I might rest assured there was no disposition on their part to do me injustice. Afterwards I saw Mr. Stanton, who told me Mr. Wade had been to see him, and said my testimony was the clearest statement that had ever been made to the committee, and that, as far as he could see, it was perfectly satisfactory in explanation of all charges against me. I soon found the tide had turned in my favor, and that Sickles had overreached himself. I also ascertained that Chandler and Wilkinson were my foes on the committee, that Wade was rather friendly, and that Harding, of the Senate, Gooch and Odell, of the House, were my warm friends.

I think I wrote to you that the Secretary had officially inquired of me by what authority I had written to Hon. Reverdy Johnston, a Senator, about military affairs, and that I had replied to him I did not require any authority to write a private letter to a friend, defending myself from slanders. When I saw Mr. Stanton I referred to this matter, when he told me his letter had been written in my interest; that I had made a great mistake in writing to Mr. Johnston, who was showing it to everybody, and making it appear he was my chosen champion; and that his political status was such that any identification with him could not fail to damage me and my cause. He said he was aware of how I had been led into the step, and all he wanted was just such a reply as I had made, which he would now show to Senators and Representatives when they called on him to know what my relations were with Reverdy Johnston. I fortunately met Mr. Johnston in the street, begged him to consider my letter strictly private, and borrowed it to copy for file in the War Department.

I think I told you I was very much pleased with General Grant. In the views he expressed to me he showed much more capacity and character than I had expected. I spoke to him very plainly about my position, offered to vacate the command of the Army of the Potomac, in case he had a preference for any other. This he declined in a complimentary speech, but indicated to me his intention, when in this part of the country, of being with my army. So that you may look now for the Army of the Potomac putting laurels on the brows of another rather than your husband.

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. 177-8. Available via Google Books.

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