A Message for Beauregard (June 19, 1864)

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (National  Archives).

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (National
Archives).

Once again General Meade sends Theodore Lyman on a mission to request a truce so they army could collect its dead and wounded, as he had done at Cold Harbor. This mission is slightly less nerve-wracking although ultimately much more frustrating. The Confederate commander who spurned the request was Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. The Louisiana Creole had been in the thick of things since Fort Sumter, where he commanded the Confederate bombardment against his former West Point artillery instructor, Robert Anderson. Beauregard—a name that almost demands to be spoken in a Southern drawl—had been second in command under Joseph Johnston at First Bull Run, but his combustible personality and strained relations with President Jefferson Davis, as well as doubts about his actual ability on the battlefield, got him sent out west. When he returned east he took command of Charleston’s defenses. Back in Virginia he thwarted Benjamin Butler’s attempts to take Richmond, and then bottled up the Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred. He was in command of Petersburg’s defenses when the Army of the Potomac suddenly appeared after its surprise crossing of the James River.

It having been represented to General Meade that there were some wounded and a good many dead between the lines, he determined to send a flag to get a short armistice, as at Cool Arbor. I was again selected, as the man having good clothes, to undertake the mission. This time I determined to have a bugler, and so I did, and very spruce he was, with a German-silver key-bugle. Likewise was there a tall sergeant, in Sunday best, with General Seth Williams’s new damask tablecloth, on an appropriate staff! Thus equipped, and furnished with a large letter, I rode forth. . . . We crossed the rail near Colonel Avery’s, rode into the woods and immediately came on the picket reserves of cavalry, where we got a man to guide us to the extreme left of the infantry picket line. We floundered through a little swampy run, brushed through some brush, and came on a little clearing, at the other side of which was a gentleman, with a cocked musket, eyeing us suspiciously, but who withdrew on seeing our color. There we came on what is always a pretty sight, a picket line in a wood. The men are dotted along, ten or fifteen feet apart, with stronger parties on the roads; and you see them indistinctly, as they stand, half-hidden among trees and bushes. I found there Captain Thatcher in command of the picket line. There was some delay here, in sending word to the division commander, and to a battery that was firing. As soon as they were notified, Captain T. and myself, with the flag about five paces ahead, and the bugler behind, walked along the wood-road. Thatcher is a brisk, black-eyed little man, and kept peeping about, through the dense pines, and saying: “We are getting somewhere pretty near them. Wave your flag, Sergeant!” As for myself, I looked with some confidence for a salutation of two or three bullets; but made no observation, as being superfluous under the circumstances. Presently the flag-bearer, who, you may be sure, kept an extremely bright look-out, said: “There’s one of’ ’em!” and immediately waved the emblem of peace in a truly conscientious manner. I looked and saw the main road, and, in an open field beyond, stood a single grey-back, looking dubiously at us, with his rifle ready for any emergency. I told the bugler to blow a parley, which he did in very good style, while I advanced to call to the solitary sentry; but the effect of the bugle was most marvellous—quite as when “he whistled shrill and he was answered from the hill.” In an instant, a line of some seventy-five men rose, as if out of the ground. It was their pickets, who had been concealed in little holes, dug in the slope of the gentle hill. One of them laid down his musket and came forward, when I asked for an officer; whereat, he touched his hat (probably awestruck by my cotton gloves) and returned to fetch one. Then came a red-faced captain, who received my despatch, and a bundle of letters from Rebel prisoners, and promised a speedy answer. So the flag was stuck up on a fence and we waited. In a few minutes the commander of the pickets hastened out to do me honor—Major Crow, of Alabama, a remarkably bright, nice-looking man. We exchanged compliments and newspapers, and he entertained me with an amusing account, how he had gone on a “leave” to north Alabama, and how our cavalry suddenly rushed into the town, whereupon he ascended briskly into the belfry of the court-house, through the slats of which he beheld a large number of his friends gobbled up and marched off, while he himself nearly froze to death with the extreme cold! By this time we had the variety of a visitor on horseback, Colonel Ring, a handsome man, who was curious about the negro troops and said, with an honesty unmistakable, that he would not be a bit afraid to fight them, one against two. They, however, said nothing at all unpleasant or rude. The next comer was apparently a Staff officer, a young man of rather a sour countenance, with a large pair of spurs. He brought a message that we should immediately retire from the lines, and hostilities would then recommence, till the answer was ready, when they would put a white flag on their rifle-pit. This amused me, for I had already seen all that could be seen and knew just where their position was just at that point! I returned whence I came, and waited at a wretched, deserted house. … At seven in the evening I got the reply and carried it in. The sum of it was: “Have the honor to acknowledge your favor. As to your proposition—Ah, don’t see it!”* And so there was no armistice. Our poor wounded fellows, I believe, we got off that night, all of them, or all but a very few. And thus ended my second diplomatic mission. Since then, General Williams has caused a regular white flag to be made, ready for use in future.

*”It was signed by Beauregard, and was a specimen of his mean Creole blood. ‘He did not know there had been any fight of consequence and should therefore refuse. After any engagement of real moment, he should be glad to extend the courtesies of war!’ He lied; for he knew full well that there had been heavy fighting and that we at least had lost some thousands. But he wished to show his dirty spite. Lee does not do such things.”—Lyman’s Journal.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 170-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: