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.*

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