The Beefsteak Raid (September 16, 1864)

"Cattle Raid" by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, "Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Cattle Raid” by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, “Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In this letter George Meade comments on an event that we remember as the Beefsteak Raid, in which Confederate cavalryman Wade Hampton and a force of about 4,500 men md their way behind the Union lines and captured about 2,500 cattle. Union cavalry went in pursuit, but their numbers were too small to do much. It was a brilliant raid, and one that brought much needed supplies back to the Confederates.

“Mr. Cropsey” (or Crapsey) is the reporter that Meade had ordered run out of camp back at Cold Harbor. The fair Meade mentions, held that spring in New York, was another fair to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Enclosed is a receipt of Adams & Co.’s Express for a small box containing the beautiful pistol presented to me by the New York Metropolitan Fair, which I send home for safe-keeping.

Yesterday General Grant took his departure, and to-day my ill luck has brought a rebel cavalry raid, in which they dashed into our lines and succeeded in driving off about two thousand head of cattle that had been, contrary to my judgment, sent down the James River for grazing, to a point just inside our cavalry pickets, and where they were exposed at any moment to be run off, as they have been by a coup-de-main. Grant’s absence, and the usual friendly spirit of the press, will undoubtedly attribute this loss to my negligence, and I really had as much to do with it as you had, except that I had called attention to the danger of having the cattle there. The cattle were not under my control, or that of my commissary, but under a commissary serving on Grant’s staff.

I have this evening a letter from Mr. Cropsey, asking permission to return to the army. I do not altogether like its tone or spirit, but shall not take any other notice of it than to send him a pass.

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. 228. Available via Google Books.

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