Fussell’s Mill (August 16, 1864)

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

In their letters of August 16, both Meade and Lyman mention the fighting being done by Winfield Scott Hancock and the II and X Corps on the north bank of the James River. These references are to the second campaign of Deep Bottom and the battle known as Fussell’s Mill. Despite initial successes, the campaign was a failure. According to Francis Walker’s 1886 history of the II Corps, “Although it is freely confessed that the attack of the Second Corps near Fussell’s Mill was not made with the vigor fairly to be expected, nothing better could have resulted had the troops there displayed their pristine enterprise and resolution. The fact is, the expedition across the James had been undertaken upon erroneous information. General Grant believed that three divisions had been sent to reinforce Early. Only one, however (Kershaw’s), had actually gone. Field’s division of Longstreet’s corps had remained in the Deep Bottom and Bailey’s Creek intrenchments; Wilcox’s division of Hill’s corps was at Chapin’s Bluff, near at hand, ready to move down and reinforce Field; while Mahone’s division, also of Hill’s corps, with Hampton’s and W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry divisions, were, on the first intimation of Hancock’s movement, sent across the James to meet the impending attack.”

Walker continued, “General Grant had now ascertained that his information regarding the strength of the enemy had been erroneous; and he had therefore no thought of further pursuing the enterprise on the north bank of the James. Inasmuch, however, as he was now preparing a movement, with Warren’s corps, against the Weldon Railroad, on the extreme left, below Petersburg, he determined to retain Hancock’s troops in their position, threatening Richmond, a few days longer, to hold the enemy’s attention and occupy their forces.”

I am right glad the dear children are enjoying themselves. I wish I could be with you and them; but this is out of the question, and there is no use thinking about it. I have made up my mind to stick it out here, regardless of every consideration, except that of doing my duty at all hazards. They shall not say that any personal considerations caused me to turn my back upon the enemy.

Hancock has been fighting for two days across the James, and though he has met with success, yet he has not been able to break through the enemy’s lines, he finding them everywhere in strong force. His demonstration, however, has undoubtedly prevented the sending of reinforcements to Early, as we had reason to believe they designed doing. Hancock, with his usual luck, has captured some guns and colors.

Now for Lyman’s account of the events of the day. The assault he mentions is the Battle of the Crater. Lyman the Boston Brahmin looked down on those he considered to be below him, and that included Germans, Irish (“bog-trotters”) and blacks.

I have been well content to get your letter this afternoon. In regard to what you say for the troops for the assault, it is true that General Meade should have ordered in the best—and so he did. Express orders were given to put in the best troops and have the division generals lead them if necessary. General Meade made examinations in person of the enemy’s lines, and the orders drawn up by General Humphreys were more than usually elaborated. People have a vulgar belief that a General commanding a great army can, and ought to arrange in person every detail. This is not possible, nor is it desirable; the corps and division commanders would at once say: “Very well, if you have not enough confidence in me to let me carry on the ordinary business of my command, I ought to be relieved.” I see great discussion in the papers as to the conduct of the negroes. I say, as I always have, that you never, in the long run, can make negroes fight with success against white men. When the whole weight of history is on one side, you may be sure that side is the correct one. I told General Meade I had expressed myself strongly, at home, against the imported Dutchmen, to which he replied: “Yes, if they want to see us licked, they had better send along such fellers as those!” As I said before, the Pats will do: not so good as pure Yanks, but they will rush in and fight. There was a report at first that Colonel Macy of the 20th Massachusetts was mortally wounded, but I have since heard that it is not so. On Sunday, he had command of a brigade, and had his horse killed: he then came back, got another horse from Barlow and returned to the front. This horse either was shot or reared over with him, frightened by the firing, and crushed him badly. Let me see, I told you this before; never mind, you will be sure now to know it. Sometimes I get rather mixed because I write often a few words about a day, on the eve of the same, and then detail it more at length afterwards. The Rebels got well alarmed about Hancock and sent reinforcements, recalling troops that had started to help Early in the valley; an important point gained. Hancock had some hard fighting to-day, with considerable success, taking several hundred prisoners and driving the enemy. The Rebel General Chambliss was killed, and we found on him a valuable map containing the fortifications of Richmond. They also are said to have killed a General Gherrard; but I have an idea there is no such General in their service.* Perhaps he was a new appointment, or a colonel commanding a brigade. As to giving you an account of the engagement, it would be out of the question; as it is a perfect muddle to me. I only know that Gregg, with a cavalry division, went out on the Richmond road, to within six and one half miles of the city, and encountered a big crowd of infantry and had to come back. Barlow had to leave his division, sick, and go to friend Dalton, at City Point.

*It was Brig. Gen. Victor J. B. Girardey.

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. 222. 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. 214-16. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Parke (August 14, 1864)

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

With Burnside sent on what would turn out to be a permanent leave, Maj. Gen. John Parke takes command of the IX Corps. Like Meade, Parke was a Philadelphian and a West Point-trained engineer. Here’s what Theodore Lyman had to say about him on August 14, 1864.

. . . General Parke got back from his sick leave and took command of the 9th Corps. He is a very pleasant-looking man and liked apparently by everyone. He has been obliged twice to return to the North by reason of malarial attacks, which is a pity, as he acted usually as adviser to General Burnside and had an excellent effect on him. He cured himself twice of malarial fever by accidentally taking an overdose of medicine. The last time, he had been told to take one pill, containing something very strong; but made a mistake and took four. After which he was somewhat surprised to find his face making a great many involuntary grimaces, and his body feeling uncommonly uncomfortable. However, next day he was all well, and the doctor told him it was a good dose to take, provided it did not unfortunately happen to kill him. Captain Fay took out the cits to-day, in an ambulance, and showed them the lines. After which the youth Falls was seized with a noble ambition to ride on horseback in company of Captain Guzman. Being provided with a hard trotter, he came near tumbling off, at the first start, and was obliged to change horses and perform the rest of the journey at a mild pace.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 213-14. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Simple Matter of Justice (August 13, 1864)

George Gordon Meade confronts General Grant about the question of who should command the new military division, and remains baffled by his superior officer.

Grant was here yesterday to transact some business. I immediately asked him, how, after his promise to me, that if a military division was organized, I should be assigned to the command, he has placed my junior, Sheridan, there. He said Sheridan had not been assigned to the division, that no one was yet assigned to it, and that Sheridan had only been put in command of the troops in the field belonging to the different departments. I referred him to the order constituting the division, and assigning Sheridan temporarily to the command, and observed that temporarily I supposed meant as long as there was anything to do, or any object in holding the position. I further remarked that I regretted it had not been deemed a simple matter of justice to me to place me in this independent command. To which he made no remark. I really am not able to ascertain what are his real views. Sometimes I take the dark side, and think they are intentionally adverse to me, and at others I try to make myself believe that such is not his purpose. In confirmation of the last theory, I am of the opinion that he does not look and has not looked upon the movement in Maryland and the Valley in the important light it deserves, and that he considers it merely a raid which a display of force on our part will soon dissipate, when Sheridan and the troops will soon return here. But in this he is greatly mistaken. Already we have positive news that Lee has sent large reinforcements into the Valley, and there is no doubt it is his purpose to transfer the principal scene of operations there, if it can be accomplished. To-morrow we are going to make a move to test his strength here, and endeavor to make him recall his troops. Should this fail, we will be obliged to go up there and leave Richmond.

The weather continues intensely hot.

The court of inquiry was going on, but this move will stop it, and I fear it will never come to an end. I have given my testimony, which I will send you to preserve as my record in the case. I have insisted on Burnside’s being relieved. Grant has let him go on a leave, but he will never return whilst I am here.

"Dutch Gap Canal, the commencement of the work" (Library of Congress).

“Dutch Gap Canal, the commencement of the work” (Library of Congress).

In his letter of August 13, Theodore Lyman remains bemused by African American soldiers. Stephen Weld of the 56th Massachusetts had been captured during the Battle of the Crater.

… I rode over to make some enquiry about Colonel Weld, of Loring, at Burnside’s Headquarters. As I drew near, I heard the sound as of minstrelsy and playing on the psaltry and upon the harp; to wit, a brass band, tooting away at a great rate. This was an unaccustomed noise, for Burnside is commonly not musical, and I was speculating on the subject when, on entering the circle of tents, I beheld a collection of Generals — not only Burnside, but also Potter, Willcox, and Ferrero. Speaking of this last, did you hear what the negro straggler remarked, when arrested by the Provost-Guard near City Point, on the day of the assault, and asked what he was doing there. “Well, saar, I will displain myself. You see, fus’ I was subjoined to Ginral Burnside; an’ den I was disseminated to Ginral Pharo. We wus advancing up towards der front, an’ I, as it might be, loitered a little. Presently I see some of our boys a-runnin’ back. ‘Ho, ho,’ sez I, ‘run is your word, is it?’ So I jes separates myself from my gun and I re-tires to dis spot.”

Well, there was “Ginral Pharo” taking a drink, and an appearance was about as of packing. Whereat I presently discovered, through the joyous Captain Pell (who asked me tauntingly if he could “do anything for me at Newport”), that Burnside and his Staff were all going on a thirty-day leave, which will extend itself, I fancy, indefinitely, so far as this army goes. On my return I found two fat civilians and a lean one. Fat number one was Mr. Otto, Assistant Secretary of the Interior; Fat number two, a Professor Matile, a Swiss of Neufchatel, and friend of Agassiz (you perhaps remember the delicious wine of that place). The lean was Mr. Falls, what I should call Mr. Otto’s “striker,” that being the name of an officer’s servant or hanger-on. Mr. Falls was very chatty and interrogative, following every sentence by “Is it not?” So that finally I felt obliged always to reply, “No, it isn’t.” I scared him very much by tales of the immense distances that missiles flew, rather implying that he might look for a pretty brisk shower of them, about the time he got fairly asleep. Professor Matile was bright enough to be one of those who engaged in the brilliant scheme of Pourtales Steiger to seize the chateau of Neufchatel on behalf of the King of Prussia. Consequently he since has retired to this country and has now a position as examiner at the Patent Office. Mr. Otto was really encouraging to look at. He did not chew tobacco, or talk politics, or use bad grammar; but was well educated and spake French and German. General Butler, having a luminous idea to get above the Howlett house batteries by cutting a ship canal across Dutch Gap, has called for volunteers, at an increased rate of pay. Whereupon the Rebel rams come down and shell the extra-pay volunteers, with their big guns; and we hear the distant booming very distinctly. I think when Butler gets his canal cleverly through, he will find fresh batteries, ready to rake it, and plenty more above it, on the river. The Richmond papers make merry, and say it will increase their commerce.

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. 221-22. 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. 211-13. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Inside Petersburg (August 12, 1864)

Theodore Lyman writes about a curious incident of the war. War may be hell, but it does have its rules. Colonel Henry G. Thomas of Portland, Maine, commanded a brigade in Edward Ferrero’s IX Corps division. You can read his account of the situation Lyman describes here.

I did not yet mention that I had seen Colonel Thomas, who commands a negro brigade. A singular thing happened to him. He went out during the truce to superintend, and, when the truce was over, he undertook to return to the works, but took a wrong turn, passed inside the Rebel picket line, and was seized. He told them they had no right to take him, but they could not see it and marched him off. But he appealed to the commanding General who, after eighteen hours, ordered him set free. He was in and about Petersburg and told me the flower-patches were nicely cultivated in front of the houses, the canary birds were hung in cages before the doors, and everything looked as if the inhabitants meant to enjoy their property during their lives and hand it quietly down to their children. Little damage seemed to have been done by our shells, which I was glad to hear, for I hate this business of house-burning. Next time, I fancy the warlike Thomas will make no mistakes about turns.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 211. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

More Sheridan (August 11, 1864)

Theodore Lyman follows up on the Meade-Sheridan situation. It is safe to say that Meade did not like this situation at all.

Sheridan has been appointed to command all the upper Potomac forces, which is saying that he is to command all the troops to drive Early out of the Shenandoah Valley. He is a Major-General, and is an energetic and very brave officer. This command, however, is a very large one, larger than he ever before had. I have little doubt, that, for field-service, he is superior to any officer there. Things are cooking, and the Rebels will find they must fag away still, as well as we. I do not exactly know if Meade likes this appointment: you see they have taken one of his corps, added much of his cavalry and many other troops to it, and then given the command to his Chief of Cavalry, while he [Meade] is left, with a reduced force, at this somewhat negative Petersburg business. I rode out just at dark, and from an “elevated position,” as Smith would say, watched the flashes of the sharpshooters, and the fires of the camp.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 210-11. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Sheridan (August 10, 1864)

Philip Sheridan, the bane of Meade's existence (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan, the bane of Meade’s existence (Library of Congress).

The Phil Sheridan situation moves from the back to the front burner and Meade simmers with indignation.

The Washington papers of yesterday announce Sheridan being temporarily assigned to the military division which Grant told me was intended for me. Grant has been back two days, and has not vouchsafed one word in explanation, and I have avoided going to see him, from a sense of self-respect, and from the fear I should not be able to restrain the indignation I hold to be natural at the duplicity some one has practiced. In my last conversation with General Grant he distinctly told me that if a military division was organized I should have the command, and that it was designed to give Sheridan only the command of that part of the Army of the Potomac temporarily detached. This order is not consistent with that statement.

To-day I got through with my evidence before the court of inquiry. Burnside, in his cross-examination, through a lawyer, undertook to impeach my testimony, though he disclaimed any such intention; but I gave him as good as he sent. I hear he was about apologizing to me for his disrespectful despatch, and was then going to resign; but on returning from Grant’s headquarters, where he expressed this intention, he found my charges and letter, saying I had applied to have him relieved. I feel sorry for Burnside, because I really believe the man half the time don’t know what he is about, and is hardly responsible for his acts.

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. 220-21 Available via Google Books.

Sabotage! (August 9, 1864)

Alfred Waud depicted the explosion at City Point. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud depicted the explosion at City Point. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In their letters of August 9, both Meade and Theodore Lyman mention the explosion at the docks of City Point, not far from Grant’s headquarters. The war had completely transformed this formerly sleepy town at the confluence of the Appomattox and the James Rivers, about seven miles from Petersburg. Swarms of laborers began building docks, wharves, and warehouses, plus a hospital that could handle 6,000 patients. On August 9, 1864, a Confederate agent snuck an explosive aboard one of the ammunition barges at City Point. The resulting explosion killed 43 and injured 126 but did no major damage to the Union war effort.

It’s possible that Stanton’s opinion of Meade dated back to a letter Grant had written from Spotsylvania in May. “General Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations,” he had written to Stanton. “He and Sherman are the fittest officers for large commands I have come in contact with.”

I am delighted to see your letter is written in such good spirits, and am truly rejoiced to hear I have so many and such warm friends. The attempt to implicate me in the recent fiasco was truly ridiculous; still, the public must in time be influenced by these repeated and constant attacks, however untrue and unjustifiable they may be. Have you ever thought that since the first week after Gettysburg, now more than a year, I have never been alluded to in public journals except to abuse and villify me? And why this is I have never been able to imagine.

I had a letter to-night from Cortlandt Parker, who has recently seen George Harding. He says Harding told him he had recently seen Stanton, who is an enthusiastic admirer of Grant, and that Stanton observed that Grant had a most exalted opinion of me, and told him, Stanton, that when he first came East he thought Sherman was the first soldier in the country, but now he believed I was his equal, if not superior. I send you this for what it is worth. I certainly think Grant has a queer way of showing his appreciation. Grant has not until recently seen Stanton, since we crossed the Rapidan, so could not have told him this; but Dana may have conveyed this information.

There was an awful explosion to-day at City Point of a powder and ammunition vessel. It is said sixty were killed and one hundred and fifty wounded.

I have been engaged for two days giving my testimony before the court of inquiry that is investigating the Petersburg disaster. It will take them a long time to get through, and I fancy active operations will interrupt their proceedings till such time that the witnesses will be scattered. Grant has not yet acted on my application to have Burnside relieved. The weather continues awfully hot, but the army is in good health.

Aftermath of the explosion (Library of Congress).

Aftermath of the explosion (Library of Congress).

Lyman’s entry is, a usual, much more descriptive and adds a fine note about Ulysses S. Grant.

In the forenoon, as we were sitting in camp, we heard a noise, like a quick, distant clap of thunder, but sharper. We concluded it must be an explosion, from the sound, and in a few minutes came a telegraph from Grant, at City Point, saying that an ordnance barge had blown up, with considerable loss of life. I think the number of killed will not exceed thirty-five; and, of the wounded, perhaps eighty; at first they thought there were many more. The greater part of the injured were negroes employed as wharf-laborers. To return to the explosion: Rosy, Worth, Cavada, and Cadwalader were at Grant’s Headquarters, and they said it perfectly rained shells, shot, bullets, pieces of timber, and saddles (of these latter there was a barge load near by). Two dragoons were killed, close to them, and a twelve-pounder solid shot went smash into a mess-chest in the tent. The only man who, at the first shock, ran towards the scene of terror was Lieutenant-General Grant, which shows his kind of character very well. We dined very pleasantly with Dalton. You should see his town of tents, with regular streets—accommodation easy for 8000 patients. Everything as neat as a pin. Steam-engine to pump water from the river; every patient of the 4000 on a cot; the best of food for all; and the most entire cleanliness. When Dalton heard the explosion, he jumped on his feet, and, true to his instincts, cried out: “Harness the ambulances!”

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. 220. 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. 209-10. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Settled? (August 8, 1864)

Meade continues to speculate on whether or not Grant will assign him to a new command.

grant cropped

Meade croppedGrant has not yet returned from Washington. It is reported he has gone to Harper’s Ferry to see for himself how matters stand. This, and his not telegraphing for me, I think settle the question about my being transferred.

 

 

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. 219. Available via Google Books.

Walks on the Beach (August 6, 1863)

Meade indulges his sentimental side as he pines for a weekend at Cape May with his family, while he continues to wait to see if he will receive command of the new department in the Shenandoah Valley, an assignment that will never come through for him. It appears that this issue, more than any other, soured the relationship between him and Grant. Despite his avowals that he remained “indifferent” to the prospect, it’s apparent that Meade wanted the new assignment and was angered when he did not get it.

The court of inquiry he mentions is the one that will consider the crater debacle.

Samuel Wilkeson was indeed at Gettysburg, as a war correspondent for the New York Times. His son, 19-year-old Lt. Bayard Wilkeson, was there too, in command of battery G of the 4th U.S. Artillery. When a shell nearly tore off his leg, young Wilkeson finished the amputation with a pocket knife and then died. “Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly absorbing interest–the dead body of an oldest born son, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay,” wrote Wilkeson, in an article that appeared in the Times on July 6, 1863. (You can find the entire article here.)

Grant has not yet returned from Washington; no telegrams have been received from him since he left, so I presume the project of sending me to take command has fallen through. I feel quite easy and indifferent to what course they may think proper to take. My conscience is clear. I have done my duty to the best of my ability, and shall continue to do so, regardless of newspaper abuse, and without any effort at reply thereto.

A court of inquiry, at my request, has been appointed, with Hancock as President. The whole affair of the 30th will be ventilated.

I had to-day a visit from Mr. Sam. Wilkeson, one of the editors of the Tribune, and one of my most bitter villifiers last spring. This individual called to make the amende honorable—to say he had been deceived, and to express the most friendly feelings for me. As I had never seen him before, but once on the field of Gettysburg, and had never exchanged a word with him, or given him any cause of offense, I received his apologies as if nothing had ever taken place, and he left me quite pleased.

I hope the dear children will enjoy themselves at Cape May. I should be so happy if I could only be there with you, to indulge in those splendid sea baths and take our old walks on the beach. Well, let us keep up our spirits, have brave hearts, trust in God’s mercy and goodness, and believe that so long as we try to do our duty all will be well in time.

In the meantime, Theodore Lyman examines the Army of the Potomac’s soldiers, and finds them wanting.

I took a limited ride along our flank defences, where I discovered a patriotic sentry, sitting with his back to where the enemy might be supposed to come, and reading a novel! He belonged to the 7th Indiana. “What are your instructions?” say I. “Han’t got none,” replies the peruser of novels. “Then what are you here for?” “Well, I am a kind of an alarm sentinel,” said this literary militaire. “Call the corporal of the guard,” said I, feeling much disposed to laugh. The sentry looked about a little and then singling out a friend, called out: “Oh, Jim, why, won’t you just ask Jeremiah Miles to step this way?” After some delay, Jeremiah appeared. He was in a pleasing state of ignorance. Did not know the sentry’s instructions, did not know who the officer of the guard was, did not know much of anything. “Well,” said I, “now suppose you go and find the sergeant of the guard.” This he did with great alacrity. The sergeant, as became his office, knew more than the corporal. He was clear that the sentry should not read a book; also that his conduct in sitting down was eccentric; but, when it came to who was the officer of the guard, his naturally fine mind broke down. He knew the officer if he saw him, but could not remember his name. This he would say, the officer was a lieutenant. “Suppose you should try to find him,” suggested I. Of course that he could do; and soon the “Loo-tenant” appeared. To him I talked like a father; almost like a grandfather, in fact; showed him the man’s musket was rusty and that he was no good whatsoever. Loo-tenant had not much to say; indeed, so to speak, nothing; and I left him with a strong impression that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. It is not ludicrous, but sad, to see such soldiers in this Army of the Potomac, after three years of experience. The man could not have been better: tall, strong, respectful, and docile; but no one had ever taught him. It was a clear case of waste of fine material, left in all its crudity instead of being worked up. And this is the grand characteristic of this war—waste. We waste arms, clothing, ammunition, and subsistence; but, above all, men. We don’t make them go far enough, because we have no military or social caste to make officers from. Regiments that have been officered by gentlemen of education have invariably done well, like the 2d, 20th, and 24th Massachusetts, and the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Even the 44th and the 45th, nine-monthers, behaved with credit; though there was this drawback in them, that the privates were too familiar with the officers, having known them before. However, perfection does not exist anywhere, and we should be thankful for the manifold virtues our soldiers do pre-eminently possess. I see much to make me more contented in reading Napier, before referred to. After the taking of Badajos, the English allowed their own wounded to lie two days in the breach, without an attempt to carry them off. This is the nation that now gives us very good lectures on humanity. As to old Wellington, I suspect he was about as savage an old brute as would be easy to find.

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. 219. 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. 206-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Boating with the Beast (August 4, 1864)

Benjamin Butler, photographed at Bermuda Landing in late July or early August, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Benjamin Butler, photographed at Bermuda Landing in late July or early August, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman accompanies General Meade, staff members, and the French observers on a boat trip with General Butler. Butler was one of the war’s great characters. An influential Democratic politician from Massachusetts, he had voted 57 consecutive times to nominate Jefferson Davis for president at the Democratic convention in 1860. As one of Lincoln’s “political generals,” he had helped keep Baltimore pacified at the beginning of the war and later established a reputation as the (perhaps) corrupt and (certainly) hated administrator of New Orleans. Southerners called him “Beast” or “Spoons,” the latter nickname for his supposed tendency to steal everything he could, including silverware. Perhaps his greatest impact on the war took place when he was in command of Fort Monroe in Virginia and allowed escaped slaves to enter his lines as so-called “contrabands of war,” an early step towards Union policies to end slavery. He proved fairly inept as commander of the Army of the James but, as we saw earlier, Grant failed in his attempt to replace him with William F. “Baldy” Smith as field commander.

Detail of a sketch Alfred Waud made of Benjamin Butler (Library of Congress).

Detail of a sketch Alfred Waud made of Benjamin Butler. Perhaps this defensive posture could be considered “an attitude of fence” (Library of Congress).

This was quite a festal day for us. The General, accompanied by the Frenchies, Rosencrantz, Bache, Biddle and myself, paid a grand visit to Butler. Butler was in high feather. He is as proud of all his “fixin’s” as a farmer over a prime potato patch. We first got on the Greyhound, an elegant steamer (Butler believes in making himself comfortable), and proceeded down the Appomattox, past City Point, and then bore up the James, passing Bermuda Hundred, with its flotilla of schooners and steamers. . . . We had got a good bit above Bermuda Hundred and were paddling along bravely when we came in sight of two gunboats; that is, common steamers with some heavy guns on board. There are many in the river and they go up and down to keep it clear. As we drew near, I saw the men were at quarters and the guns run out. We passed between the first boat and the high wooded bank, when I beheld the gunboat captain dancing up and down on the paddle-box and roaring to us: “The left bank is lined with sh-a-a-rpshooters!” It would have edified you to have seen the swift dignity with which General Meade and his gallant Staff stepped from the open, upper deck to the shady seclusion of the cabin! Our skipper jingled “Stop her,” with his engine-room bell, and stop she did. Here was a chance for war-god Butler. “Hey? What? Sharpshooters? Pshaw! Fiddledeedee! Stop her! Who said stop her? Mr. DeRay, tell the Captain to go on, instantly!” And Butler danced out on the open deck and stood, like George II at Dettingen, in “an attitude of fence.” I, who looked for a brisk volley of musketry, fully expected to see him get a bullet in his extensive stomach. Meanwhile the Captain went on, and, as soon as we were clear, the naval party in the rear (or “astern,” we ought to say) let go one big gun, with a tremendous whang! and sent a projectile about the size of a flour barrel on shore, severely wounding a great many bushes and trees. The other gunboat went ahead of us and kept up a little marine combat, all on her own hook. Whether there really were sharpshooters, I know not: I only think, if there were, it would be difficult to say which party was the more scared. . . .

Finally we went on shore where our horses were waiting, for this is not over three and a half miles from the Appomattox, though it is fifteen or sixteen miles round by the river. From the top of the cliff we had a splendid view of the cultivated country towards Richmond. And so, after inspecting more of Benjamin’s apple-pie batteries, we went home.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 204-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.