Generals in Conversation (July 12, 1864)

Mathew Brady took this photo of Winfield Scott Hancock with his staff and division commanders. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Mathew Brady took this photo of Winfield Scott Hancock with his staff and division commanders. Francis Barlow leans against the tree to Hancock’s right. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Things remain quiet before Petersburg but, as Meade writes on July 12, things are getting a little interesting up north, as Jubal Early threatens Washington. It was on either July 11 or 12 that President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington and came under fire in the Union defenses. (One soldier, supposedly Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., yelled at the president, “Get down, you damned fool!”) Within the Army of the Potomac other conflicts are brewing. As detailed below, Winfield Scott Hancock had heard that Meade was to be relieved as commander. This is the start of a series of rumors that would leave Meade feeling increasingly angered and disrespected and ultimately result in Philip Sheridan getting his own command in the Shenandoah Valley, a command Meade believed Grant had promised to him. (It was also a command intended to unify the competing army elements that Meade writes about here.)

Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Michigan’s Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Senators Zachariah Chandler and Morton Wilkinson were persistent Meade critics in Washington. Chandler, of Michigan, nursed a grudge that dated back to 1861 when Meade was still a captain in Detroit. The citizens of Detroit, in a burst of early patriotic fervor, had asked Meade and his men to publicly take an oath of loyalty to the United States. Meade refused out of principle but said he would be happy to if the war department requested it. This angered Chandler.

Theodore Lyman also writes about Winfield Scott Hancock in a letter that captures the Union generals at their most human.

I received to-night your letter of the 10th, and am glad to see you are not excited about the rebel invasion. This is a bold stroke of Lee’s to endeavor to procure the withdrawal of this army from its menacing attitude, and to prevent the sending of reinforcements to Grant. The manoeuvre thus far has been successful, as not only has the Sixth Corps been sent away, but the Nineteenth Corps (twenty thousand strong), which was to reinforce us, has been diverted to Washington. This loss of strength will practically prevent our doing anything in the way of offensive movements until the campaign in Maryland is settled and the rebels so crippled as to quiet all apprehensions of their return. I understand Ord has been sent to Baltimore to command, in place of Wallace, defeated, and that Howe has been sent to supersede Sigel. Augur is in Washington, and Hunter coming from Cumberland. The danger is that with so many commanders, independent of each other (I ought to have mentioned Couch also), and their forces so scattered, that the rebs will have it all their own way to commit depredations and collect supplies, and when our troops leave the places they are now guarding, and attempt the offensive, that before they can concentrate, the rebs will fall upon some portion and whip them in detail. I consider the situation as critical; not that I believe the enemy can effect anything permanent, but I fear they will so embarrass and check our operations as to paralyze our efforts and prolong the period when we can collect enough troops here to do the work before us.

Hancock told me to-day he had been confidentially informed it was intended to remove me from command, and that he was to be my successor. He would not give me his authority, but said it was reliable. He did not know the grounds on which this action was to be based. This seemed to me so preposterous that I could not help laughing, but Hancock assured me it was undoubtedly in agitation, and thought I ought to be warned. He said, from what he could gather, he thought that Grant opposed it, but that he would be overruled. Hancock thought I would not be relieved entirely, but would be ordered somewhere, perhaps to Pennsylvania. Now, as my conscience is clear that I have done my duty to the best of my ability since this campaign commenced, and as I feel I have been unjustly treated, and have not had the credit I was and am entitled to, I shall not worry myself about any such outrage as being relieved without cause. I mention all this confidentially to you, simply as a preparation for the coming event, should it take place.

There have been recently with the army several Senators and Representatives; among others, Chandler and Wilkinson of Minnesota. The latter individual was at General Crawford’s. He was very severe on me, showing he still retained the animus that dictated his attack on me in the Senate last winter.

Theodore Lyman, too, writes about Winfield Scott Hancock. I wonder if the conversation he witnesses was the same one that Meade describes?

I sent off a detail of fifty men at daylight to prepare the ground for the new camp, and at eight o’clock, the waggons moved off with all our worldly effects, and the Staff remained under the shade of the abandoned gourbis [An Algerine word for a bower over a tent].We live very much after the way of Arabs, when you think of it — nomadic, staying sometimes a day, sometimes a month in a place, and then leaving it, with all the bowers and wells that cost so much pains. Afterwards most of the officers went to the new camp, while the General, with two or three of us, went down the road, towards the Williams house. There was an odd group at Hancock’s temporary Headquarters, by a little half-torn-to-pieces house, on whose walls some fellow had inscribed “the Straggler’s Rest.” Hancock lay, at full length, in a covered waggon, which had been placed under a weeping willow, one of the few green objects midst the desert of dust. He was attired in a white shirt and blue flannel pantaloons, quite enough for the intensely hot day. He lies down as much as he can, to give his wounded leg rest. General Meade mounted on the front seat, put his feet on the foot-board and lighted a cigar; and we all knew he was fixed for an hour at least. When he gets down with Hancock they talk, and talk, and talk, being great friends. Hancock is a very great and vehement talker but always says something worth hearing. Under the ruined porch was [Francis] Barlow, in his costume d ‘ete — checked shirt and old blue trousers, with a huge sabre, which he says he likes, because when he hits a straggler he wants to hurt him. He immediately began to pump the Captain Guzman, for he never neglects a chance to get information. After we had been well fried and dusted, General Meade rose to go, but I budged not, for I knew he would sit down again. He always rises twice or three times before he finally leaves Hancock. By the time we got to camp, it was all ready and looked quite neat.

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), pp. 211-12. 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. 189-90. 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: