Rows (August 3, 1864)

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Meade’s “row” with Burnside stems from the Battle of the Crater and will lead to Burnside’s departure from the army. Meade also had an ongoing row with Philip Sheridan, dating back to at least their peppery encounter at Todd’s Tavern back in May.

Meade and Sheridan were both ambitious men but they showed it in different ways. In his book Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, historian Eric Wittenberg wrote, “Lying was just a part of his aggressive plan for advancing his own self-interest. He regularly lied to cover his mistakes at all costs. He seems to have been a congenital liar, and his perfidy often exposed him to public ridicule and criticism. Sheridan did not care. He lied anyway.” On this front Meade was clearly outmatched. But it did his cause no good to declare he was “indifferent” about Grant’s decision. Perhaps it would have helped if he had been upfront about his ambitions, although it is pretty obvious that Grant preferred the nakedly ambitious Sheridan. It appears that on this topic, at least, Grant was being less than completely honest with Meade.

I am in the midst of my row with Burnside. Our recent miserable failure will require an investigation, and authority has been asked of the President to appoint a court of inquiry. In the meantime I have preferred charges against Burnside, and asked he be relieved from duty with this army.

Yesterday, on General Grant’s return from Old Point, General Sheridan was ordered to Washington, to command that portion of the Army of the Potomac now detached for the defense of Maryland and the Capital. I at once went to Grant and told him, as he had thought proper to communicate to me that he had nominated me for a command in Washington, I demanded to know the reason I had not been accepted. He said the President expressed every willingness to have me, but not knowing my wishes on the subject, he feared my removal from the command of the Army of the Potomac might be misunderstood by the public and be construed into a disapprobation of my course, but if I desired the transfer, he would be very glad to have it made. General Grant said it was then concluded I should be sent, if any more troops should be detached; in the meantime, Sheridan was sent to command Wright’s Corps and the division of cavalry already sent. I am a little doubtful about this matter. I believe Grant is honest and would not deceive me, but I think there is something more than is acknowledged. However, as I am indifferent about the position, I am content, so long as finding any fault with me is disclaimed. Hancock, whose name was also mentioned, is quite put out, and thinks some political chicanery at the bottom of it, and that they are afraid in Washington to give us a chance to do anything that others cannot swallow up. I, however, am more charitable; at any rate, I intend to look on the affair in the most favorable light, particularly as I have got my hands full with the Burnside imbroglio, and must remain here to see to it.

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. 218-9. Available via Google Books.

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