Pegging Away (June 1, 1864)

Artist William Waud sketched the arrival of "Baldy" Smith and the XVIII Corps at White House landing on the Pamunkey on May 18. On the front Waud wrote, "Ruins of the White House; the scene of Washington's courtship & marriage; the tent by Pilchard." This White House belonged to Rooney Lee, son of Robert E. George Washington had indeed courted Martha here. On the back Waud wrote, "This is only a small portion of the force shown here as there were many large vessels employed such as the John Brooks, the George Leary, the Escort, the Metamone[sic]-all similar to the Hudson river & sound boats but which I have not the opportunity of sketching if Mr Parsons has drawings of these vessels if the view is thought interesting enough they might be introduced covered with troops hanging on like bees. For description see the letters of Mr. Winser in the Times. W.W." Harpers published an engraving on June 18. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Artist William Waud sketched the arrival of “Baldy” Smith and the XVIII Corps at White House landing on the Pamunkey on May 18. On the front Waud wrote, “Ruins of the White House; the scene of Washington’s courtship & marriage; the tent by Pilchard.” This White House belonged to Rooney Lee, son of Robert E. George Washington had indeed courted Martha here. On the back Waud wrote, “This is only a small portion of the force shown here as there were many large vessels employed such as the John Brooks, the George Leary, the Escort, the Metamone[sic]-all similar to the Hudson river & sound boats but which I have not the opportunity of sketching if Mr Parsons has drawings of these vessels if the view is thought interesting enough they might be introduced covered with troops hanging on like bees. For description see the letters of Mr. Winser in the Times. W.W.” Harpers published an engraving on June 18. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

On June 1 Meade, in a throw-away line at the end of his letter, mentions two things that will irritate him more and more throughout the campaign: the press and the way that Grant was receiving credit for the Army of the Potomac’s successes. His resentments against the press will explode in a few days, with serious repercussions for his reputation. His resentment against Grant will continue to fester, although Meade, a good soldier, discharges his duties to the best of his ability.

We are pegging away here, and gradually getting nearer and nearer to Richmond, although its capture is yet far off. Our advance is within two miles of Mechanicsville, which, if you remember, is the place where the fighting commenced in the Seven Days. The rebs keep taking up strong positions and entrenching themselves. This compels us to move around their flank, after trying to find some weak point to attack. This operation has now occurred four times, namely, crossing the Rapidan, at Old Wilderness, at Spottsylvania Court House, and recently at North Anna. We shall have to do it once more before we get them into their defenses at Richmond, and then will begin the tedious process of a quasi-siege, like that at Sebastopol; which will last as long, unless we can get hold of their railroads and cut off their supplies, when they must come out and fight.

Whilst I am writing the cannon and musketry are rattling all along our lines, over five miles in extent, but we have become so accustomed to these sounds that we hardly notice them.

The weather is beginning to be hot, but I keep in the saddle during the day, and sleep soundly at night.

The papers are giving Grant all the credit of what they call successes; I hope they will remember this if anything goes wrong.

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

Theodore Lyman’s letter from July 1 goes into more detail about the arrival of William F. “Baldy” Smith and the XVIII Corps, sent from Ben Butler’s Army of the James to reinforce the Army of the Potomac. Meade and Smith went back a ways. When Meade received command of the V Corps back in December 1862 after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Smith was one of the generals who shared his celebratory champagne. Smith, who possessed “unusual powers of caustic criticism” and quarreled incessantly with his superior officers, led the VI Corps at Fredericksburg but became so disillusioned by army commander Ambrose Burnside he went to the White House with William Franklin to express his misgivings to President Lincoln. Burnside was dismissed from command but Smith was sent out west. He had redeemed himself, in Grant’s eyes, at least, by performing capably in the campaign to break the siege of Chattanooga. He then accompanied Grant back east, amid rumors that Smith would replace Meade at the head of the Army of the Potomac. However, Grant assigned him to the Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, the most political of political generals. The cockeyed Butler and his army were supposed to form one of the prongs in Grant’s multipronged campaign against the Confederacy. Instead, Butler had gotten his army bottled up at Bermuda Hundred with his back against the James River, where they remained, impotent and useless.

At 1.30 last night, General Wright with the 6th Corps passed round our left flank and marched on Cool Arbor, which already was occupied by our cavalry last night. They would have fallen back, in view of the advance of the enemy’s infantry, but General Meade sent an order to hold it, which they did; and had a very heavy fight early this morning, remarkable from the fact that our cavalry threw up breastworks and fought behind them, repulsing the enemy till Wright could arrive. Baldy Smith too was marching from Whitehouse and came up during the day, forming on the right of the 6th Corps. Meantime, of course, the enemy was marching to his own right, in all haste, and formed so as to cover the roads leading to Mechanicsville and also to continue his line on his right. . . . There was a desperate charge on Smith and Wright at Cool Arbor and the sound of musketry was extremely heavy long after dark, but the Rebels could not do it and had to go back again. Nor did the right of the line escape where they attacked Birney, and were driven back just the same way. . . . Smith had orders to report to General Meade and so became part of the Army of the Potomac. General Meade was in one of his irascible fits to-night, which are always founded in good reason though they spread themselves over a good deal of ground that is not always in the limits of the question. First he blamed Warren for pushing out without orders; then he said each corps ought to act for itself and not always be leaning on him. Then he called Wright slow (a very true proposition as a general one). In the midst of these night-thoughts, comes here from General Smith bright, active, self-sufficient Engineer-Lieutenant Farquhar, who reports that his superior had arrived, fought, etc., etc., but that he had brought little ammunition, no transportation and that “he considered his position precarious.” “Then, why in Hell did he come at all for?” roared the exasperated Meade, with an oath that was rare with him.

Lyman added a footnote to his journal entry. Farquhar reported Meade’s outburst to Smith, Lyman noted. “Smith never forgave him and put that sentence, in large letters, in his report, which appeared many months after and amused Meade, for Smith had dished himself then and was nobody.”

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. 200. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp.137-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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