“An Escaped Pig” (July 13, 1864)

This photograph of Horatio Wright was half of a stereographic image titled "General Wright, Commander of the "Bloody Sixth Corps" (Library of Congress).

This photograph of Horatio Wright was half of a stereographic image titled “General Wright, Commander of the “Bloody Sixth Corps” (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman provides another snapshot of the tedious life in front of Petersburg. It’s quite a contrast to the bustle and excitement around Washington, where General Horatio Wright and the VI Corps have gone to repel Jubal Early’s invasion. We can add Mr. Shaw, Winfield Scott Hancock’s English valet, the Lyman’s gallery of great characters.

I hear this evening that General Wright has been put in command of all forces to repel the invasion. But our attempt to bag the raiders may be somewhat like the domestic rural scene of surrounding an escaped pig in the vegetable garden. Don’t you know how half a dozen men will get in a circle about him, and then cautiously advance, with an expression of face between confidence and timidity? The piggie stands still in the midst, with a small and a treacherous eye. Suddenly, picking out the weakest man, he makes an unexpected rush between his legs, upsets him, and canters away midst an impotent shower of sticks! I suppose you think I take a very light view of things, but in reality I do not; only, after seeing so many fine men knocked over, this business of tearing up tracks and eating all the good wife’s fresh butter seems of lesser consequence. Another thing is, I hope it will do us good, sting us to the quick, and frighten us into a wholesome draft. You must remember that this sort of raiding has been a continual and every-day thing in the southern country, though to us it seems to be so awful.

The mail man who came down to-night says they are in a great tremble at Washington, while down here we are pleasantly building bowers against the sun, and telling stories to wile away the time. To these last our French Colonel contributes many, of the Midi, which, with the peculiar accent, are very laughable. To illustrate the egotistical ideas of the Marseillais, he told of a father who was showing to his son a brigade of Zouaves who had just come from Italy and were marching through the streets. “Mon enfant! Vois-tu ces Zouaves? Eh bien, ils sont tous-e des Marseillais. II y avait des Parisiens, mais on les a mis dans la musique!” You remember that long, hot street there they call the Canebiere. A certain citizen, who had just been to see Paris with its present improvements, returned much gratified. “Ah,” said he, “Paris est une bien jolie ville; si, ga avait une Canebiere, ca serait un petit Marseille.” As an offset to which we must have an anecdote of this region. Did I ever tell you of “Shaw,” the valet of Hancock (formerly of General French)? This genius is a regular specimen of the ne’er-do-weel, roving, jack-of-all-trades Englishman. I fancy from his manner that he has once been a head servant or butler in some crack British regiment. He has that intense and impressive manner, only to be got, even by Bulls, in years of drill. He is a perfect character, who no more picks up anything American, than a duck’s feathers soak water. He is full of low-voiced confidence. “Oh, indeed, sir! The General rides about a vast deal in the dust, sir. I do assure you, that to-day, when he got in, his undergarments and his hose were quite soiled, sir!”

“That fellow,” said Hancock, “is the most inquisitive and cool man I ever saw. Now I don’t mind so much his smoking all my cigars and drinking all my liquors—which he does—but I had a bundle of most private papers which I had hidden in the bottom of my trunk, and, the other day, I came into my tent and there was Mr. Shaw reading them! And, when I asked him what the devil he meant, he said: “Oh, General, I took the liberty of looking at them, and now I am so interested, I hope you will let me finish the rest!”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 190-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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.

Remembrance, Not Reverence

The Civil War has been over for almost 150 years and still the Confederate flag ignites controversy. The latest conflagration is taking place at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Originally just Washington University, it added the Lee in 1870 after the death of Robert E. Lee, who had served as its president since 1865. Lee is buried in the school’s Lee Chapel.

Recently some of the school’s African American students demanded, among other things, the removal of Confederate battle flags in the Lee Chapel. These were not original flags from the Civil War; they were replicas placed there after the originals had been removed because they were deteriorating. The university agreed to take the replica flags down. (You can read university president Richard Ruscio’s reasoned statement about the controversy here.)

The decision led to an eruption from those who decry “political correctness” and protest that the flags represent history and heritage. It’s not a position with which I agree. I share no sense of idolatry for Robert E. Lee, nor do I have any sympathy for the “Lost Cause.” I agree with what Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his memoirs about Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse,” wrote Grant. “I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”

I do not question the sincerity of those who advocate the display of Confederate flags (battle flags or otherwise), whether it’s in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, or elsewhere. Flag supporters often argue that they are on the side of “heritage, not hate.” I can understand their reasoning, without agreeing with it. Because I do think the Confederacy was, as Grant said, a bad cause. Not only did the men in the Confederate government seek to break up the United States (something anyone who claims to be a patriot should agree was a bad cause indeed) but they also did it because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.

Some people insist that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. I have argued with a few of them. I cannot understand how anyone could say that. As I write in my book, Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, “The South fought to preserve a culture that rested on a foundation of human bondage. Don’t take it from me—take it from the vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. In a famous speech he made in March 1861, less than a month before the attack on Fort Sumter ignited the Civil War, Stephens declared that slavery ‘was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.’ Furthermore, he added, the foundation of the Confederate government–its very cornerstone, in fact—‘rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.’ Claiming that slavery did not cause the Civil War is like clearing the iceberg of any responsibility for sinking the Titanic. That’s why I find it galling to see the Sons of Confederate Veterans contend that the South’s ‘motivating factor’ for war was ‘the preservation of liberty and freedom.’ Except, of course, for the approximately four million people of African descent whom the slave-holding states kept in bondage. It’s a stain that will forever sully the story of the Confederate States of America. There’s no escaping it.”

I had one Amazon reviewer criticize my book for taking the “revisionist” view that slavery led to the outbreak of the Civil War. Revisionist! The real revisionist history was the one that came after the war, when ex-Confederates began recasting the story so they could airbrush slavery out of the picture altogether, like a guilty man cleaning up a crime scene. Of course slavery played a role in the Civil War. Just read South Carolina’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” which the state issued in December 1860. South Carolina, as everyone should know, was the first state to secede from the Union. After citing its reasons for thinking it could secede, South Carolina explained its motivations. (I’m using the text posted by the Yale Law School, which you can find here.) Here’s one portion of the Declaration:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

The men who drafted this declaration did not have any hidden agenda. They did not think slavery was wrong—in fact, they believed it to be just, proper, and sanctified by the Bible. Slavery was the engine that drove their economy and they knew its eradication would have created great difficulties for the South. So South Carolina decided to leave the Union and, like dominoes, other states followed—and they cited slavery as a reason, too.

I can understand why some people refuse to acknowledge the fundamental role slavery played in the outbreak of the American Civil War. It’s the unpleasant truth at the heart of the Confederacy. It tarnishes the glory and blights the valor. It strips away what some like to remember as romantic, chivalric, and honorable aspects of the war. “States’ rights” is a much loftier cause. Of course, many men from the South fought bravely and well. No doubt many of them couldn’t have cared care less about slavery. They were fighting for their home states or out of loyalty to their friends and neighbors. But no matter what the motivations of individual soldiers were, the foundation upon which their cause rested was morally indefensible.

Slavery is, unfortunately, inextricably entwined with the heritage behind the Confederate flag. Is there any wonder why some people find public displays of the flag offensive? Is anyone really blind to the kind of heritage that many African Americans—though not only African Americans—see when they look at the Confederate flag, especially after the flag had been hijacked and used as a symbol by racist and hate groups? Confederate flags carry a lot of baggage with them, and sometimes the things denounced as “political correctness” are merely signs of people fumbling their way toward decency and respect.

I can also understand why some Southerners resent Yankees (like me) who seemingly use the issue of slavery to assert the moral superiority of our side. Slavery was a blight on the entire nation, north and south. Northern merchants and bankers grew rich on its proceeds. Northern ship captains brought captured slaves to North America. None of us can take any pride in its existence, but we can take a measure of pride that Americans did end slavery in our nation, even if it came at the cost of a long and bloody war. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

So if Washington and Lee University wants to take the Confederate flags down from the Lee Chapel, I am all for it. The original battle flags—not the replicas—will rotate through the Chapel’s museum exhibit, where they will serve as artifacts from history, not objects of veneration. I have nothing against display of Confederate flags in their proper context. I support remembrance. I am just against treating a Confederate flag as an object of reverence. We must remember—but we do not always have to revere.

Reflection (July 10, 1864)

The "thin, pale, Puritanic face" of David Bell Birney.

The “thin, pale, Puritanic face” of David Bell Birney.

July 10 finds Theodore Lyman in a philosophical mood as he wonders at the determination of the fighting men in the Army of Northern Virginia. He reflects the war-weariness that infected both armies by this point.

The Major Wooten to whom Lyman refers was the Confederate officer he met at Cold Harbor when delivering the flag of truce. Governor William Sprague (actually, former governor and at this point senator) is from Rhode Island. Lyman has mentioned him before. General Birney is David Bell Birney, who had provided damaging testimony against Meade for the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. He had commanded the II Corps while Winfield Scott Hancock was incapacitated by his Gettysburg wound.

It seems sometimes sort of lonely and hopeless, sitting here in the dust by Petersburg, and hearing nothing except now and then a cannon in the distance. Sometimes I feel like saying to the Rebels: “You’re a brave set of men, as ever were; and honest—the mass of you. Take what territory you have left and your nigs, and go and live with your own delusions.” But then, if I reflect, of course I see that such things won’t do. Instead of being exasperated at the Southerners by fighting against them, I have a great deal more respect for them than ever I had in peace-times. They appear to much more advantage after the discipline of war than when they had no particular idea of law and order. Of course I speak only of a certain body, the army of Northern Virginia; of the rest I know nothing. Also do I not speak of their acts elsewhere; but simply of the manner of warfare of our particular opponents. It is always well, you know, to speak of what you see, and not of what you hear through half a dozen irresponsible persons. There is no shadow of doubt that the body of the Southerners are as honestly, as earnestly and as religiously interested in this war as the body of the Northerners. Of course such sentiments in the North are met with a storm of “Oh! How can they be?”—“That is morally impossible”—“No one could really believe in such a cause!” Nevertheless there is the fact, and I cannot see what possible good can come from throwing a thin veil of mere outcries between ourselves and the sharp truth. I am not so witless as not to be able to tell in five minutes’ conversation with common men whether they are reasonably honest and sincere, or false and deceitful. I was much struck with something that Major Wooten said, when we were waiting together, by night, at Cool Arbor. After listening to the tremendous noise of cannon and musketry that suddenly had burst forth, he said: “There they are, firing away; and it is Sunday night, too.” The great thing that troubles me is, that it is not a gain to kill off these people—now under a delusion that amounts to a national insanity. They are a valuable people, capable of a heroism that is too rare to be lost.

William Sprague of Rhode Island (Library of Congress).

William Sprague of Rhode Island (Library of Congress).

It is a common saying round here that the war could be settled in half an hour if they would leave it to the two armies. But I fear the two armies would settle it rather for their own convenience and in the light of old enemies (who had beaten at each other till they had beaten in mutual respect) than on the high grounds on which alone such a decision could rest. And, on second thoughts, I do not think it might turn out so smoothly. Doubtless the treaty would make excellent progress the first ten minutes; but then would arise questions at which there would be hesitation, and, at the end of the half-hour, it is to be feared both parties would be back in their breastworks. General Meade is fond of saying that the whole could be settled by the exercise of common Christian charity; but (entirely sub rosa) I don’t know any thin old gentleman, with a hooked nose and cold blue eye, who, when he is wrathy, exercises less of Christian charity than my well-beloved Chief! I do not wish to be understood as giving a panegyric on the Secesh, but merely as stating useful facts. Little Governor Sprague appeared again. He was last with us at Spotsylvania. This time he came over with Birney, who, with his thin, pale, Puritanic face, is quite a contrast. Sprague has two rabbit teeth in front that make him look like a small boy. Birney looks rather downcast. You see he was ambitious to do well while he had temporary command of the Corps; but all went wrong. His great charge of nine brigades, on the 18th of June, was repulsed; and on the 22d the Corps had that direful affair in which the whole Corps was flanked, by nobody at all, so to speak. The more I think on that thing, the more extraordinary and disgraceful does it appear. At the same time, it is in the highest degree instructive as showing what a bold and well-informed enemy may do in thick woods, where nobody can see more than a company front. The Rebel official accounts show that Mahone, with some 6000 or 7000 men, marched in the face of two corps in line of battle, took 1600 prisoners, ten flags, and four guns, paralyzed both corps, held his position till nightfall, and retreated with a loss of not over 400 men! I was with the 6th Corps and never heard a musket from the 2d nor dreamed it was doing anything, till an aide came to say the line had been driven in. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 186-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Old Brute (July 7, 1864)

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade's funeral procession (Library of Congress).

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade’s funeral procession (Library of Congress).

Mrs. Meade sends a good report about Old Baldy, Meade’s horse. Meade sent Baldy back to Philadelphia back in April. “Mr. Ewell” is Gen. Richard Ewell (coincidentally, known to his men as “Old  Bald Head”). Jubal Early, who had marched north to attack Washington’s outer defenses, had belonged to Ewell’s corps.

I am glad to hear the good news about Baldy, as I am very much attached to the old brute.

Matters seem to be at a standstill for the present, and will continue so until the arrival of expected reinforcements. I see a tendency to despondency in some of the public journals. This arises from the folly of expecting one man to perform miracles, and then being depressed because unreasonable anticipations are not realized. Things have occurred very much as I expected. I had hoped for better success at the beginning, but after we failed to defeat Lee at the Wilderness, I took it for granted we should have to manoeuvre him into the fortifications of Richmond, and then lay siege to that place. I knew this, with the men we had, would be a formidable undertaking, requiring time and patience, and the final result depending very much upon the support we obtained from the Government and people in the way of reinforcements. I always knew the enemy would fight desperately, and would be skillfully handled. I still think, if the men are furnished promptly, that we shall eventually succeed in overcoming Lee’s army, and when that is done the Rebellion is over.

I presume you will all be excited again in Philadelphia at the appearance of the rebel army in Maryland and Pennsylvania. If it stirs the people up to turning out and volunteering, I shall thank Mr. Ewell very much, even if he does rob and steal some. The apathy of our people is our stumbling block. This move of Lee’s is an ingenious effort to get Grant to send troops from here, but I think he will be disappointed.

In the meantime, Theodore Lyman pays a visit to “that eccentric general,” Francis Barlow.

Francis C. Barlow (Library of Congress).

Francis C. Barlow (Library of Congress).

I paid a visit to Brigadier-General Barlow, who, as the day was hot, was lying in his tent, neatly attired in his shirt and drawers, and listening to his band, that was playing without. With a quaint hospitality he besought me to “take off my trousers and make myself at home”; which I did avail of no further than to sit down. He said his men were rested and he was ready for another assault! — which, if of real importance, he meant to lead himself; as he “wanted no more trifling.” His ideas of “trifling,” one may say, are peculiar. It would be ludicrous to hear a man talk so, who, as De Chanal says, “a la figure d’un gamin de Paris,” did I not know that he is one of the most daring men in the army. It would be hard to find a general officer to equal him and Joe Hayes—both my classmates and both Massachusetts men. Hayes now commands the Regulars. He could not have a higher compliment.

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. 210-11. 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, p. 186. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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.

A Real, Live Slave (July 5, 1864)

A group of ex-slaves freed by the advance of the Union armies. Such freed slaves became known as "contrabands of war" (Library of Congress).

A group of ex-slaves freed by the advance of the Union army. Such freed slaves became known as “contrabands of war” (Library of Congress).

As I have pointed out before, Theodore Lyman’s views on race and slavery were very much those of a nineteenth-century man. He was, it seems, gaining a grudging respect for the black fighting men but he appears little concerned about how the Civil War was ending the institution of slavery. For Lyman, African-Americans were strange and exotic creatures, the objects of amused and detached observation. A case in point is his letter of July 5, in which he encounters an elderly ex-slave. Lyman finds her entertaining without seeming to consider that being liberated from a long lifetime of working in bondage to a man who owned you might be cause for a good deal of chuckling. (“The two Frenchies” are the French observers who are visiting the Army of the Potomac.)

City Point was at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Ulysses S. Grant had established his headquarters here, on a bluff high above the Appomattox. The arrival of the Union Army’s transformed the once quiet spot into a scene of great bustling activity.

A photograph of City Point, taken on July 5, 1864 (Library of Congress).

A photograph of City Point, taken on July 5, 1864 (Library of Congress).

In his journal entry for July 5, Lyman mentions hearing a messenger enter Meade’s tent with a dispatch that night. “Very well, tell Wright to send a good division,” he heard Meade say. “I supposed it will be Ricketts.” Then Meade went back to sleep. The occasion was an emergency to the north. While still at Cold Harbor, Lee had dispatched Jubal Early, his “bad old man,” on a mission to redirect the Union’s attention toward its own backyard. Early had marched north down the Shenandoah Valley, brushing aside Union resistance, and entered Maryland, where he battled outnumbered Federal defenders outside Frederick near the Monocacy River. He continued on until he reached Washington’s outer defenses. This was precisely the scenario that Lincoln had long feared—that the Army of the Potomac would move so far south that it would leave the nation’s capital wide open to a Confederate attack.

Another view of City Point, also taken on July 5, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Another view of City Point, also taken on July 5, 1864 (Library of Congress).

I forgot to tell you that yesterday there appeared a waggon of the Sanitary Commission bearing a gift for the comfort of Headquarters. With it came the agent, Mr. Johnson, a dried-up Philadelphian, of a serious countenance. He brought some ice, mutton, canned fruit, etc., for the behoof of the suffering hossifers, and was received with sweet smiles. This morning we made up a quartette, the two Frenchies, Rosencrantz and myself, and made a journey to City Point, distant some twelve or thirteen miles. It was not unpleasant, though the sun was extremely hot; for we took back roads in the woods and escaped a good share of dust. Before getting to the City Point road, near Bailey’s, we stopped at one Epps’s house. Epps himself with family had been called on sudden business to Petersburg, about the time Smith moved up; but some of his nigs remained. Among others a venerable “Aunty,” of whom I asked her age. “Dunno,” replied the Venerable, “but I know I’se mighty old: got double gran’ children.” She then began to chuckle much, and said: “Massa allers made me work, ‘cause he was ugly; but since you uns is come, I don’t have to do nuphun. Oh! I’se powerful glad you uns is come. I didn’t know thar was so many folks in the whole world as I seen round here.” I told the old lady to use up everything she could find, and left her chuckling continuously and plainly impressed with the idea that I was a very pleasant gentleman. Guzman, meantime, looked on with irrepressible astonishment, having never before seen a real, live slave. At City Point I delivered some despatches at General Grant’s, and after went down and saw the Sanitary boats. They have three of them, large ones, moored permanently side by side, and full of all sorts of things, and especially a host of boxes, no two alike. The upper deck, to render it attractive, was ornamented with a pile of two or three hundred pairs of crutches. For myself I got some iced lemonade on board, and retired much refreshed and highly patriotic. One of the great sights down there is the huge army hospital, a whole plain, white with large tents. These are capable of receiving 7000 patients and have at present about 3000. All are under charge of my excellent classmate, Dr. Ned Dalton.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 182-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Hail, Columbia (July 4, 1864)

"Headquarters of Genl. Warren at Col. Avery's house-near Petersburg" by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress).

“Headquarters of Genl. Warren at Col. Avery’s house-near Petersburg” by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress).

Happy 4th of July! Most likely you are having a much better holiday than the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia enjoyed in their works outside Petersburg. It must have been interesting to celebrate the birth of your country even  as you were fighting to preserve it (or, in the case of the Confederates, break up that country and start a new one). Here Theodore Lyman provided an account of the day and the general conditions on the front.

Samuel Crawford, the former army surgeon who became indignant when soldiers called him "Old Pills" (Library of Congress).

Samuel Crawford, the former army surgeon who became indignant when soldiers called him “Old Pills” (Library of Congress).

Lyman also mentions some incidents involving Samuel Crawford, who commanded a division in the V Corps. Crawford had begun his Civil War career as a surgeon at Fort Sumter. Horace Porter told a story about Meade and an officer who must have been Crawford, although Porter merely identified him as “an officer serving in the Army of the Potomac who had formerly been a surgeon.” One day the officer arrived at Meade’s headquarters “in a high state of indignation.” As he had been riding over, some of the men had called him “Old Pills,” and he thought that was a great affront to his dignity. “I would like to have it stopped,” he said.

Meade put on his eyeglasses and glared through them at the complainer. “Well, what of that?” he demanded. “How can I prevent it? Why, I hear that, when I rode out the other day, some of the men called me a ‘damned old goggle-eyed snapping-turtle,’ and I can’t even stop that!” Now “Old Pills” and the “old goggle-eyed snapping-turtle” lie in the ground near each other at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, neighbors for eternity.

What shall I say of the Fourth? Our celebration could not well amount to much; the men have to stay too close in camp to do such things. The band came in the morning and serenaded, and there was saluting enough in the form of cannon and mortars from our right. This siege—if you choose to call it a siege—is a curious illustration of the customs of old soldiers. On the right—say from the Appomattox to a point opposite the Avery house—the lines are very close and more or less of siege operations are going on; so every finger, or cap, or point of a gun that shows above the works, is instantly shot at, in addition to which batteries and mortars are firing intermittently. Nothing could be more hostile! But pass to the division a little to the left of this, where our lines swing off from the enemy’s, and you have a quite reversed state of things. There is not a shot! Behold the picket men, no longer crouching closely in their holes, but standing up and walking about, with the enemy’s men, in like fashion, as near to them, in some places, as the length of the Brookline house. At one part, there was a brook between, and our pickets, or theirs, when they want water, hold up a canteen, and then coolly walk down to the neutral stream. All this truce is unofficial, but sacred, and is honorably observed. Also it is a matter of the rank and file. If an officer comes down, they get uneasy and often shout to him to go back, or they will shoot. The other day General Crawford calmly went down, took out an opera-glass and began staring. Very quickly a Reb was seen to write on a scrap of paper, roll it round a pebble and throw it over to our line. Thereon was writ this pithy bit of advice: “Tell the fellow with the spy-glass to clear out, or we shall have to shoot him.” Near this same spot occurred a ludicrous thing, which is true, though one would not believe it if seen in a paper. A Reb, either from greenness or by accident, fired his musket, whereupon our people dropped in their holes and were on the point of opening along the whole line, when the Rebs waved their hands and cried: “Don’t shoot; you’ll see how we’ll fix him!” Then they took the musket from the unfortunate grey-back, put a rail on his shoulder, and made him walk up and down for a great while in front of their rifle-pits! If they get orders to open, they call out, “Get into your holes, Yanks, we are ordered to fire”; and their first shots are aimed high, as a sort of warning. Their liberties go too far sometimes, as when two deliberately walked up to our breastwork to exchange papers; whereat General Crawford refused to allow them to return, saying very properly that the truce was not official, and that they had chosen to leave their own works and come over to ours, and that now they could carry back information of our position. They expected an attack on the 4th of July—I suppose as a grand melodramatic stroke on Grant’s part; but, instead thereof, the Maryland brigade brought up their band to the trenches and played “Hail Columbia”; upon which, to the surprise of everyone, a North Carolina regiment, lying opposite, rose as a man and gave three cheers! The news is not precisely cheery from Maryland. With the preparations on foot, we ought to bag a large part of the Rebels; but I have a sublime confidence that the movements of our troops will, as usual, be a day too late. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 181-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Anniversary (July 3, 1864)

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Here in the twenty-first century we are commemorating the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In this letter George Gordon Meade looks back after only one year has passed, takes some time to reflect, and feels a small sense of satisfaction. Earlier this year he had complained, “I supposed after awhile it will be discovered that I was not at Gettysburg at all.”

To-day is the anniversary of the last day’s fight at Gettysburg. As I reflect on that eventful period, and all that has elapsed since, I have reason to be satisfied with my course, and cause to be most thankful. The longer this war continues the more will Gettysburg and its results be appreciated. Colonel de Chenal, who is still with me, says he studied the battle, with maps at Pau, but had no idea that on its anniversary he should be the guest of the victorious commander. He says in Europe it was looked on as a great battle.

It is said Washington is very unhealthy, and that many of our wounded are dying there. It is strange; the health of the army never was better—we have no sickness at all. But if we are kept here, I presume, as the summer advances, we must expect considerable sickness.

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), p. 210. Available via Google Books.

A Visit to Ferrero (July 1, 1864)

Edward Ferrero sitting in front of his headquarters tent at Petersburg (Library of Congress).

Edward Ferrero sitting in front of his headquarters tent at Petersburg (Library of Congress).

Today marks the 151st anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gettysburg. One hundred and fifty years ago John Buford and his cavalry began delaying the advance of Henry Heth and his division of A.P Hill’s corps. Soon John Reynolds and the Army of the Potomac’s I Corps arrived, to the great relief of Buford and his men, but Reynolds soon fell dead with a bullet in the back of his neck. The great battle had begun.

Today at Gettysburg the Civil War Trust will hold a press conference to announce its acquisition of Robert E. Lee’s headquarters. The little stone building stands on the grounds of a Quality Inn and has a small museum inside. The Trust plans to tear down the hotel and the adjoining ABC brewpub, restore the headquarters to its 1863 appearance, and donate the land to the park. That’s big news for the battlefield.

My wife and I visited the battlefield last weekend. We parked at Devil’s Den and then took a long walk over to the Wheatfield, up by the Peach Orchard, down past the Trostle barn (which is undergoing restoration), and then down Sedgwick Avenue and back to Devil’s Den. The coolest thing about the walk happened as we walked down Crawford Avenue back to our car. A little bridge just past Samuel Crawford’s statue crosses Plum Run’s swampy residue there. As I peered down into the murky waters I spotted something I thought was a large boulder. Then I spied a pair of reptilian eyes staring back at me from just above the waterline. This was no boulder! The boulder turned out to be a huge snapping turtle! And, as everyone reading this must know, George Meade was known as “the old goggle-eyed snapping turtle.”

Now let’s jump back 150 years ago to a letter Theodore Lyman wrote on July 1, 1864. Be warned: It does represent his nineteenth-century views on race but there’s also the sense of a growing, if grudging, respect Lyman is feeling for the fighting abilities of the Union’s African-American soldiers.

Lyman is taking the visiting French officers to see the men of Edward Ferraro’s division. Ferrero had been born in Spain and, like his Italian father, became a dance instructor. He taught West Point cadets how to dance and when war broke out he joined the Union army. At Antietam Ferrero’s men, part of the IX Corps, helped force the passage over Burnside Bridge. In 1864 he was given command of a division of black soldiers. For many Union officers, commanding African-Americans was not something to be held in high esteem. His past as a dancing master also opened Ferrero to ridicule. As Lyman noted in his July 1 journal entry, “people laugh at him rather—perhaps too much.” (The General Carr Lyman mentions is Joseph Carr.)

Edward Ferrero (Library of Congress).

Edward Ferrero (Library of Congress).

Nothing very new to-day. I took advantage of the propinquity of the nigger division (which had come to fill part of the 6th Corps’ line, during its absence) to show the unbleached brethren to my Imperial commissioners. We rode first to General Ferrero’s Headquarters. This officer, as his name hints, is an Italian by birth, his papa being of Milan. He is quite a well-looking man, and, like unto General Carr, was a dancing-master before he took to soldiering. He speaks Italian and some French and sputtered along very successfully with the visitors. There was turned out for them a regiment of darks. The sun was intense and the sable gents looked like millers, being indeed quite obscured except when they stood perfectly still. They did remarkably well, and the French officers, who were inclined to look favorably on them beforehand, were in ecstasies over their performances.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 180. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.