Great Excitement and Idle Talk (July 15, 1864)

Jubal Early’s raid to the outskirts of Washington continues to create excitement. In his letter of July 15, Meade also mentions the latest in what will become a series of meetings with Ulysses S. Grant regarding his future with the Army of the Potomac. In his letter of July 12 Meade had written about rumors that Meade was going to be replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac by Winfield Scott Hancock. From this point on Meade and Grant will have what must have been increasingly uncomfortable conversations about Meade’s status with the army.

General William Franklin. An engineer like Meade, Franklin had been overseeing construction of the U.S. Capitol's new dome when war broke out  (Library of Congress).

General William Franklin. An engineer like Meade, Franklin had been overseeing construction of the U.S. Capitol’s new dome when war broke out (Library of Congress).

In this letter Meade also mentions General William Franklin. At the Battle of Fredericksburg Franklin had commanded the Left Grand Division of Ambrose Burnside’s army, in which Meade commanded his division of the Pennsylvania Reserves. After the battle Franklin had criticized Burnside, who had him removed from the army and sent west. Franklin’s bad luck continued when he was wounded during the Red River campaign under General Nathaniel Banks. Bad luck followed him back east, too. In this letter Meade refers to an incident in which Confederate partisans under Harry Gilmore attacked Franklin’s train during a raid into Maryland and captured the general. The rumors Meade hears of Franklin’s escape will turn out  to be true

I suppose you are in a great state of excitement on account of the rebel invasion. I wrote you in my last that I thought it was a serious affair, and subsequent developments prove it to be so. Day before yesterday I went down to City Point to see General Grant, having heard a rumor that I was to be sent to Washington. I found Grant quite serious, but calm. He seemed to think that with the Sixth Corps from this army, and the Nineteenth from Louisiana, there would be troops enough, with Hunter’s, Couch’s and Augur’s commands, not only to defeat the rebels, but to bag them. He said he had not contemplated sending me to Washington, but if another corps had to go, he would send me with it. I do not think the position a desirable one, as the difficulty will be to get the various commands together and harmonize such conflicting elements. If, however, I am ordered, I will do the best I can. I think Grant should either have gone himself or sent me earlier. He has given the supreme command to Wright, who is an excellent officer. I expect that after the rebels find Washington too strong for them, and they have done all the plundering they can, they will quietly slip across the Potomac and rush down here to reinforce Lee, who will then try to throw himself on us before our troops can get back.

I spoke to Grant about the report that I was to be relieved, and he said he had never heard a word of it, and did not believe there was any foundation for it, as he would most certainly have been consulted. I have therefore dismissed the matter as some idle talk from some person with whom the wish was father to the thought.

Lee has not sent away any of his army, and is doubtless disappointed that his diversion has not produced a greater weakening of Grant’s army. He confidently expected to transfer the seat of war to Maryland, and thought his menace of Washington would induce the Government to order Grant back there with his army.

I was very sorry to hear of Franklin’s capture, for his health is not good, owing to a wound he received in Louisiana, and I fear, if they send him to Charleston, his health may give way under the confinement in that climate, or be permanently injured.

Whilst I was writing we have a telegram reporting the withdrawal of the enemy across the Potomac, Wright in pursuit. Just as I expected. It also states there is a rumor that Franklin has made his escape, which I earnestly hope may prove true.

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. 212-13. Available via Google Books.

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