A Man of Character and Honor (August 24, 1864)

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Meade receives what he perceives as a figurative slap in the face when he hear that William T. Sherman, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Phil Sheridan have all received promotions, while his own promised advancement to major general in the Regular Army remains stalled. He fumes about the slight and once again confronts Grant, as you can read in his letter of August 24.

I see you have heard of the promotion of Sherman, Hancock and Sheridan, and noted the absence of my name. I cannot tell you how I felt when I first heard this, but I determined to keep quiet till I could obtain some explanation from General Grant. To-day was the first time I have seen him since I learned the intelligence. On my asking him the reason of my name being omitted when those recommended at the same time had been appointed, he answered it was his act; that he had asked for the immediate appointment of the others, but had not asked for mine; and the reason he had not asked for mine was, that if Sherman and myself had been appointed on the same day, I would rank him, and he wished Sherman to rank me. That neither his opinion nor that of the President and Secretary had changed with regard to me; that it was still a settled thing that I was to have the vacancy; and that he proposed to have me appointed, when I should be assigned to the command of the Middle Division, which he said he would have done before now, but for the peculiar position Sheridan was placed in, having to fall back, and if superseded now, it would be construed into a disapproval of his course, which was not the case. Of course to all this I had nothing to say. My object was to ascertain whether any fault was found with me, or whether any change of opinion had taken place since the last time he had assured me I was to be appointed when the others were. As he had disclaimed any such reasons, I did not care to know why I had been left out. I never expected, nor did I much care about, the appointment except to prove to the ignorant public that they had been imposed upon by a lying press. Nothing more was said upon the subject. The whole substance of the explanation was that he desired to advance his favorites, Sherman and Sheridan. I was left out because it would interfere with Sherman’s rank to have me in, and Hancock was brought in because he could not appoint Sheridan before Hancock, not having recommended him when he did Hancock. Of course I could say nothing to this explanation. It would not do for me to claim promotion or express dissatisfaction at not receiving it. I had the right to ask why, after telling me I had been recommended, and would be appointed, I found I was not, but when the above explanation was made, however unjust I may have deemed such reasoning to be, I could take no notice of it, and could not with propriety complain. It is the same old story, an inability to appreciate the sensitiveness of a man of character and honor. Grant really thinks he is one of my best friends, and can’t conceive why I should complain of a little delay in giving me what he tells me I am certainly to have. It is rather hard to have denied me the vindication which the Government might give to my course, by conferring a promotion that I have the most positive evidence it, the Government, has acknowledged I merited and should have. However, I suppose this, like all else, must be borne with patience.

We have had some pretty hard fighting to secure our lodgment on the Weldon Railroad. Grant and Warren are the heroes of the affair. I must confess I do not envy either of them their laurels, although in the Weldon Railroad affair Grant was sixteen miles away, and knew nothing but what was reported to him by myself. We lost a good many men in killed and wounded, but principally in prisoners. Our army is becoming much weakened by these repeated losses, and our only hope is that the enemy suffers proportionately. Their papers acknowledge in their last affairs a loss of five general officers.

Theodore Lyman, in the meantime, takes a look at Meade’s record. When he says “those men are on the ground” I assume he means “in.”

What you say of Meade’s want of success is, as a fact, true; but what I don’t understand is, that the successes are Grant’s but the failures Meade’s. In point of reality the whole is Grant’s: he directs all, and his subordinates are only responsible as executive officers having more or less important functions. There have been cases where they might be said to act alone; for instance, the assault of the 18th of June, though under a general permission from Grant, was strictly an operation of Meade. He felt badly about that failure, “Because,” said he, “I should have taken Petersburg. I had reason to calculate on success. The enemy had no defences but what they had thrown up in a few hours; and I had 60,000 men to their 25,000.” All of which was true and the result showed the difference of morale. The men who stormed the Rappahannock redoubts in November ‘63 would have walked over the breastworks and driven Beauregard into the Appomattox; but those men are on the ground between here and the Rapid Ann, or fill the hospitals in the North. Put a man in a hole and a good battery on a hill behind him, and he will beat off three times his number, even if he is not a very good soldier.

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. 223-24. 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. 224. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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