Dust (July 6, 1864)

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade's brother (Library of Congress).

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade’s brother (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman goes into more detail about the moves to halt Jubal Early before he can attack Washington, D.C., an incident to which Lyman referred in his journal on July 5. He mentions Brigadier General James Ricketts, who had experienced an interesting war, to say the least. Ricketts began it as a battery commander and was wounded and captured at First Bull Run. He commanded a division in the I Corps at Antietam. When corps commander Joe Hooker was wounded and turned command over to Meade, Meade believed it was a mistake and tried to hand the command to Ricketts, who outranked him. (But it was Meade, not Ricketts, whom Hooker wanted in command). Ricketts was related to Meade by marriage—his sister had married Meade’s brother Robert.

Sent to Maryland, Ricketts’ division fought with General Lew Wallace (later the author of Ben-Hur) at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland, which delayed Early long enough for Horatio Wright nd the rest of the VI Corps to reach Washington’s defenses. The General Tyler to whom Lyman refers must be Erastus B. Tyler, who was in command of Baltimore’s defenses and went to Wallace’s aid. I cannot find any reference to his history with Meade’s chief of staff, Andrew A. Humphreys.

We have no rain here — never expect any; air hazy with a faint dust, finer than twice volted flour, which settles on everything — but that won’t kill anybody. So Ewell is (or was — don’t know his whereabouts at this precise moment) at Harper’s Ferry. We knew he was poking up there somewhere. As to the A. of P., it is sitting here, trying to get some fresh cabbages, not very successfully, so far — the last issue, I am told, furnished one small one to every fifteen men. Old Uncle Lee is “in posish,” as General Williams would say, and seems to remark: “Here I am; I have sent off Ewell; now why don’t you come on?” I suppose you think I speak flippantly of what the French call the “situation”; but one gets so desperate that it is no use to be serious. Last night, after I had got to bed, I heard the officer of the day go with a despatch into the General’s tent and wake him up. Presently the General said: “Very well, tell General Wright to send a good division. I suppose it will be Ricketts’s.” And he turned over and went asleep again. Not so Ricketts, who was speedily waked up and told to march to City Point, thence to take steamers for Washington, or rather for Baltimore. We do not appreciate now, how much time, and labor, and disappointment, and reorganization, and turning out bad officers, have to be done, before an army can be got in such condition that a division of several thousand men may be suddenly waked at midnight and, within an hour or so, be on the march, each man with his arms and ammunition ready, and his rations in his haversack. Now, nobody thinks of it. General Meade says, “Send Ricketts”; and turns over and goes to sleep. General Ricketts says, “Wake the Staff and saddle the horses.” By the time this is done, he has written some little slips of paper, and away gallop the officers to the brigade commanders, who wake the regimental, who wake the company, who wake the non-commissioned, who wake the privates. And each particular private, uttering his particular oath, rises with a groan, rolls up his shelter-tent, if he has one, straps on his blanket, if he has not long since thrown it away, and is ready for the word “Fall in!” When General Ricketts is informed that all are ready, he says: “Very well, let the column move”—or something of that sort. There is a great shouting of “By the right flank, forward!” and off goes Ricketts, at the head of his troops, bound for City Point; and also bound, I much regret to say, for the Monocacy, where I fancy his poor men stood up and did all the fighting. From what I hear, I judge we had there about 10,000, of whom a good part were next to worthless. The Rebs had, I think, some 12,000, all good troops. This General Wallace is said by officers here to be no general at all, though brave; and General Tyler is the man whom General Humphreys had tried for cowardice, or some misbehavior in the presence of the enemy; and who has, in consequence, an undying hate for the Chief-of-Staff. I remember thinking to myself, as I went to sleep—“division—why don’t they send a corps and make a sure thing?” Behold my military forethought!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 184-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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1 Comment

  1. Kevin Bennett

     /  July 26, 2014

    BG Erastus B. Tyler is who is referenced in Lyman’s letter. In late Feb 63 he was a brigade commander under BG A.A. Humphreys division of the V Corps. Two men could not have been more ill-suited to work together. Humphreys was intensely detested by the volunteer troops and officers he commanded. While personally brave, he was the worst kind of martinet and unable to understand and motivate volunteers, resorted to a rash of court-martials to enforce his sense of required discipline,for even the most petty of offenses. His ire with Tyler (who had distinguished himself at Kernstown and Port Republic and had been wounded at Fredericksburg) was that Tyler had the temerity to write a report to Gov. Curtin of Pennsylvania extolling the performance of his brigade of PA regiments during the battle. Tyler committed the breach of not first forwarding this letter through his division commander Humphreys, but more egregious in Humphreys mind, was that the letter did not mention Humphreys role in the battle. Incensed, Humphreys had Tyler ordered back from his sick leave and ginned up seven different charges against his subordinate to include misbehavior before the enemy at Fredericksburg. Despite the impassioned but illogical testimony of Humphreys, the court-martial panel cleared Tyler of all the charges save for the one in which he was charged with revealing official military information (the letter to Curtin) even though the panel acknowledged that the same info was already public through Congressional testimony prior to Tyler writing his letter. He was reprimanded and returned to command. Unfortunately, the damage was done and when his brigade was disbanded due to enlistment expirations, he was sent packing off to the backwater of Baltimore.
    At the Battle of Monocacy he was lauded by MG Lew Wallace for his efforts in stemming the advance of Rodes division with green 100 day National Guardsmen, buying time with his holding action and keeping the escape route open for the rest of the small Union force.
    Tyler had his faults, cowardice on the battlefield was not one of them.


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