Engineers (August 23, 1864)

George Cullum

General George Washington Cullum (Library of Congress).

James C. Duane, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, took a liking to Theodore Lyman and liked to spend time with him. Here he shares a story with Lyman about another army engineer, General George Cullum. The fort in question is Fort Trumbull, today a Connecticut state park. Cullum, who grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, served as the superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1864-1866. He later married Henry Halleck’s widow. Lyman also provides a quick glimpse of Meade in full “Great Peppery” mode. In his journal, Lyman wrote that Meade “was in a mood to ‘rake’ people.” He also noted that Butler’s assistant adjutant general, who was supposed to send coffee through enemy lines to prisoners Joseph Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick, never sent it and did not return Lyman’s money! In addition, the journal entry mentioned Winfield Scott Hancock and the II Corps preparing to march to Reams Station, some inadvertently ominous foreshadowing.

Major Duane, who visits me much of evenings, because he can’t use his eyes, told me a story of Captain Cullum (now General Cullum) that I thought eminently Cullumish. Cullum was building a small fort at New London and was visited by a country editor, whom he received with high state and gave a lecture on the principles of fortification, after showing the small work on which he was engaged. He took as an example a large bastioned fort, and showed how it could be breached in forty days; and how the defenders would then make an interior line and drive out the stormers when they got inside the first. The editor, taking all this as applicable to the New London work, went home and published a tremendous leader, in which he said that the talented Captain Cullum was erecting the largest bastion fort in the world; that it would take you forty days to get inside it, and, when you were inside, you were worse off than you were before! The General rode along a new line we had been making, principally the work of the nigs, who are very faithful at making a breastwork and slashing the timber in front. A colonel or two got well pitched into for not having their men with their belts on and ready for action. I do believe our soldiers would sooner run the risk of getting shot twice a day, than take any little precaution. To-day I performed an act of military charity, by sending, per flag-of-truce boat, some coffee and sugar to Joe Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 223-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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