An Attack in the Times (July 17, 1864)

Once again, the press irritates General Meade. On July 6 he had issued an order banning two reporters from the army. “Mr. William Swinton, a duly registered correspondent with this army for the New York Times, and Mr. Kent, a correspondent for the New York Tribune, have, by direction of the lieutenant-general commanding the armies in the field, been ordered to leave the lines for having abused he privileges conferred upon them by forwarding for publication incorrect statements respecting the operations of the troops, and they have been warned not to return,” the order read. The attack in the Times to which Meade alludes read in part, “Gen. MEADE must have a very vague idea of the duties of a correspondent, and of the difficulties which attend their performance, if he requires perfect and exact accuracy in regard to all the details of army operations, as the condition of remaining within his lines. He has not always found it easy to be thus exact in his own official reports, even after he had taken weeks to compile and prepare them. Possibly he may, at some future day, condescend to specify the particular default which has led to Mr. SWINTON’s exclusion from the limits of his army,–though it is, after all, a matter of very little consequence. Judging from Gen. MEADE’s previous action in similar cases, and from the general temper he exhibits toward the press, Mr. SWINTON is quite as likely to have been excluded for being too accurate as for any other offence.” (You can read the full article here.) The Times attack does not mention that Swinton had been caught eavesdropping outside a tent while Grant and Meade conversed inside, and that he had tried to bribe a telegraph operator to give him some classified material.  

I had a visit to-day from General Grant, who was the first to tell me of the attack in the Times, based on my order expelling two correspondents. Grant expressed himself very much annoyed at the injustice done me, which he said was glaring, because my order distinctly states that it was by his direction these men were prohibited remaining with the army. He acknowledged there was an evident intention to hold me accountable for all that was condemned, and to praise him for all that was considered commendable.

As to these two correspondents, the facts are, that Grant sent me an order to send Swinton, of the Times, out of the lines of my army. Swinton was in Washington, and he was accordingly notified not to return. In regard to the other, Kent, of the Tribune, Hancock wrote me an official letter, enclosing the Tribune, and complaining of the misstatements of Kent. As Kent was a correspondent with General Butler’s command, and not under my jurisdiction, I simply forwarded Hancock’s letter to General Grant, asking that proper action should be taken in the case. He replied that, on reference to General Butler, it was found Kent had gone off, but that he, Grant, had prohibited his return. I therefore issued my order, stating these men were by General Grant’s directions excluded from the army, and directing, if they returned, they should be arrested and turned over to the Provost Marshal General. They might just as well attack General Patrick, the Provost Marshal, because he is ordered to execute the order, as to attack me, who merely gave publicity to General Grant’s order.

We are quite on the qui-vive to-night, from the reports of deserters, who say we are to be attacked to-morrow. Their story is that Johnston is so pressed by Sherman that if he is not reinforced, he will have to succumb, and that he cannot be reinforced until we are driven back. We consider this great news, and are most anxiously and impatiently awaiting the attack, feeling confident we can whip twice our numbers if they have the hardihood to attack us.

Franklin’s escape has delighted every one, and we all hope his luck has now turned.

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. 213-14. Available via Google Books.

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