A Tender-hearted Man (May 27, 1864)

Theodore Lyman shows us two sides of General Meade. One is the hot-tempered snapping turtle, the other a man who would give a southern family his lunch and five dollars.

David A. Russell of the VI Corps, photographed when he was the colonel of the 7th Massachusetts (Library of Congress).

David A. Russell of the VI Corps, photographed when he was the colonel of the 7th Massachusetts (Library of Congress).

Last night Russell’s trusty division of the 6th Corps set out on a very long march, as our advanced guard in a flank movement to the Chickahominy. . . . This necessitated our early “getting out of that,” for we were on the bank of the river, and the Rebel skirmishers would be sure to follow right down with the first daylight to the opposite side. Indeed, a little while after we were gone they did come down and fired into the telegraph waggon, wounding the side of the same. By four we had taken our breakfast and were in the saddle. Wonderful how promptly all the servants pack the things and strike the tents when they expect to be shot at! We rode first to Burnside, into whom the General pitched for cutting the march of General Warren and not sending up the brigades to hold the fords; and B. rather proved that he was right and Warren wrong. I can tell you aquafortis is mild to the Major-General commanding when he gets put out; which is quite not at all unfrequently; but I have seen him in no such fits as in the falling back from Culpeper to Centreville. Here he can lean upon Grant more or less, though he does all the work; so much so that Grant’s Staff really do nothing, with the exception of two or three engineer officers. Then we passed by the gushing Hancock, who explained what he was going to do, in his usual flowing style. At Chesterfield Station we found two divisions of the 6th Corps massed, and just then beginning to march out. They were issuing rations, to each man his bit of beef and his “hard tack.” We got ahead of the infantry and kept on the way, sending some cavalry ahead in case of wandering Rebels. The road was strown with dead horses, worn out and shot by the cavalry, when they came this way from their raid. Really whenever I may see civilized parts again, it will seem strange to see no deceased chargers by the roadside. We made a halt to let the column get up, at a poor house by the way. There were a lot of little children who were crying, and the mother too, for that matter — a thin ill-dressed common-looking woman. They said they had been stripped of nearly everything by the cavalry and expected to starve. So the soft-hearted General, who thought of his own small children, gave them his lunch, and five dollars also; for he is a tender-hearted man. We kept on, through a very poor and sandy country, scantily watered; for this was the ridge and there was no water except springs. At 9.30 we dismounted again at an exceptionally good farm, where dwelt one Jeter, . . . who was of a mild and weak-minded turn. He said he was pleased to see such well-dressed gentlemen, and so well-mannered; for that some others, who had been there two days since, had been quite rude and were very dusty; whereby he referred to the cavalry, who, I fear, had helped themselves. . . . About one o’clock, having ridden some twenty-two miles in all, we stopped at the house of one Thompson and, that afternoon, camped near by, just close to Mangohick Church. . . . I discovered to-day that the Lieutenant-General has sick-headaches periodically — one now, for example, for which he put some chloroform on his head.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp.128-30. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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