Reassurances (October 31, 1864)

Henry Wise, the former governor of Virginia and George Meade's brother-in-law (Library of Congress).

Henry Wise, the former governor of Virginia and George Meade’s brother-in-law (Library of Congress).

Read Meade’s letters to his wife and you’ll get the impression that Mrs. Meade did not have a very good opinion of Ulysses S. Grant. While Meade himself had doubts about Grant’s opinion of his generalship, he often felt the need to reassure his wife of Grant’s good will. Part of the problem, as he points out in today’s letter, is Grant did not worry about public opinion the way Meade did.

Today Meade once again mentions his connection with the Wise family. Henry A. Wise, the former governor of Virginia, had married Margaretta Meade’s sister Sarah. (Sarah died in 1850.) Tully Wise was Henry Wise’s cousin; Peyton was Tully’s son. Meade often forwarded t his wife information he learned about the Wise family.

I have reason to believe you are in error in imputing any sympathy on the part of Grant with my detractors. It is true he has not exerted himself to silence or contradict them, but this arises from a very different cause. Grant is very phlegmatic, and holds in great contempt newspaper criticism, and thinks, as long as a man is sustained by his own conscience, his superiors, and the Government, that it is not worth his while to trouble himself about the newspapers. At the same time, he has always expressed himself in the manner in which he did in the telegram I sent you. Differently constituted, with more sensitiveness in his nature, I don’t doubt he would before now have taken some action, either in his official despatches, or in some other way given publicity to such opinions of my services as would set at rest these idle stories.

In our recent move we captured Peyton Wise, Lieutenant Colonel Forty-sixth Virginia Infantry. You may remember him as Mrs. Tully Wise’s bright boy, when we were first married. I did not see him, as he was taken to City Point before I knew of his capture, but I sent word to General Patrick, the Provost Marshal, to treat him as well as possible and furnish him with a little money. He wrote me a letter full of thanks, and expressing a great deal of very proper feeling. I understood if our men had gotten a little further into the enemy’s works, they would have captured General Wise, as he was not far from the place where Peyton was taken.

Grant has required me to make some kind of a report of the campaign, and I shall be very busy for some time.

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. 238-9. Available via Google Books.

Homework (October 30, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant gives General Meade an assignment, as reported by Theodore Lyman.

“Grant says I must write a report of the whole campaign,” says the General, in the discontented voice of a schoolboy who has been set a long exercise. “I can’t write a report of the whole campaign. I don’t remember anything about some of it. I ‘m all mixed up about the Tolopotomoy and the Pamunkey and the what-do-you-call-’em Creek.” Hence it came that I was requested to give him some extracts from my valuable archives, and I since have written a lot of notes for him, extending from May 4th to August 28th. He is very quick with his pen, is the General, and possesses a remarkable power of compressing a narrative and still making it clear and telling.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 256. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Tender Adieu (October 29, 1864)

General Meade continues to stew over the article in Henry Ward Beecher’s Independent, which said that Ulysses s. Grant desired to get rid of him. One gets the sense that Meade was less angry at the paper and more concerned that it might have hit on the truth about Grant’s feelings. It’s possible that Meade was more jittery than usual because of the impending presidential election. Lincoln had waited until after an election season to relieve George McClellan, and perhaps Meade worried the same thing was going to happen to him.

I had a conversation with Grant in reference to my letter about Beecher’s article, and told him I did not care about his despatches, but desired he would furnish me a few lines for publication, that would set at rest, as far as he was concerned, the wicked and malicious falsehoods which that article contained. This he said he would most cheerfully give me. At the same time I told him that, whilst I did not doubt the good feeling of the President and Secretary for me, yet I was satisfied of the existence of a bitter hostility towards me on the part of certain supporters of the President, and I did not desire to embarrass Mr. Lincoln, nor did I wish to retain command by mere sufferance; and that, unless some measures were taken to satisfy the public and silence the persistent clamor against me, I should prefer being relieved; that I was becoming disheartened, and my usefulness and influence with the army were being impaired. In all successful operations I was ignored, and the moment anything went wrong I was held wholly responsible, and rather than continue in this way, I would prefer retiring, and desired him to say this to the President.

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

Yesterday Theodore Lyman wrote about the arrival of two Frenchman who came to observe the Army of the Potomac. Such visitors were not a rarity, but the demands required of a gracious host could make them a nuisance. Here Lyman explains how he contrived to get rid of them. It makes sense that the visitors would want to visit General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand, for he was a countryman of theirs. De Trobriand had been born into wealth and privilege in France in 1816, married an American heiress, and moved to New York City in 1847. He volunteered for the army when war broke out and proved to be a capable officer, commanding a brigade in the III Corps at Gettysburg. At this point he commanded a brigade in Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps.

After the war de Trobriand wrote Quatre ans a l’armeé du Potomac. He had this to say about Hancock, whose tenure with the Army of the Potomac ended after the Battle of Burgess’s Mill: “General Hancock is one of the handsomest men in the United States army. He is tall in stature, robust in figure, with movements of easy dignity. His head, shaded by thick hair of a light chestnut color, strikes one favorably from the first by the regularity of his features and the engaging expression which is habitual to him. His manners are generally very polite. His voice is pleasant, and his speech as agreeable as his looks. Such is Hancock in repose. In action he is entirely different. Dignity gives way to activity; his features become animated, his voice loud, his eyes are on fire, his blood kindles, and his bearing is that of a man carried away by passion, —the character of his bravery. It is this, I think, which renders him much less fit for an independent command than to act under orders. We will see in the course of our narrative that, after having distinguished himself above all others at the head of a division or an army corps, he was much less fortunate in independent operations which were intrusted to him. Brilliant in the second rank, he did not shine so brightly when occupying the first. Was it a question of execution? he was admirable. If it was necessary to plan and direct, he was no longer equal to the occasion. This is often the case amongst soldiers.”

Having been seized with a powerful suspicion that the valiant Frenchmen would fain squat, to speak in Western phrase, at our Headquarters, I applied my entire mind to shipping them; for, as a travelled man, it was a matter of pride not to be put upon by a brace of such chaps. So I lay [in] wait till they said they would like to see General de Trobriand, and then I hastened to place them on horseback and give an orderly as a guide and tenderly shake hands with them, grieving I should not have the delight of seeing them again! There was a look about their intelligent countenances that seemed to say: “Ah, you are not so soft as we thought,” as they bid me a tender adieu.

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. 237-8. 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. 256. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Well-Conducted Fizzle (October 28, 1864)

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via

In his letter of October 28, Theodore Lyman describes the frustrating experiences of the fighting at Burgess’s Mill and captures the sense of confusion that ruled the battlefield. The fighting had been done by the II, V, and IX Corps under Winfield Scott Hancock, Gouverneur Warren, and Charles Parke, with cavalry commanded by David McMurtrie Gregg. Charles Woolsey, whose escape from capture Lyman describes, served as an aide to Seth Williams, the army’s assistant adjutant-general.

Where do you think I am? Why, right by my dear chimney! All camped just where we were! I called our movement a grand reconnaissance in force; it would be more fair to call it an “attempt,” whose success depended on the enemy not having certain advantages of position. But they were found to have these advantages, and so here we are back again, nobody having fought much but Hancock, who had a most mixed-up and really severe action, on the extreme left, in which the Rebels got rather the worst of it; but Grant ordered Hancock to withdraw during the night, or early in the morning, by which he was compelled to leave some of his wounded in a house on the field. Warren would fain fight it out there, for the name of the thing; but that would have been bad strategy, though I do confess that (albeit not a fire-eater) I would sooner have seen it through the next day, by reinforcing the left. This, however, is a mere matter of sentiment; certainly I don’t set up my wisdom. As the Mine was to be termed an ill-conducted fizzle, so this attempt may be called a well-conducted fizzle. The Rebs are good engineers and had thrown up dirt scientifically, I can tell you. We got a pretty good handful of prisoners; I dare say 800 or so, and lost, including stragglers, I fancy as many, though they say we did not. The killed and wounded about equal; perhaps the enemy lost rather more than we; but the honors of the left lie with the enemy, for we abandoned the field in the night. To-day we marched back scientifically (we are hard to beat on a retreat I can tell you). The 9th and 5th Corps withdrew by successive lines of battle, one behind the other, and alternately marching to the rear, the front line passing through that behind. A very handsome manoeuvre; and the enemy, with relief, said good riddance. I do not feel anywise down in spirits, for we gave blow for blow, and came back when we saw the positions would not admit of the plan proposed. There was no blunder or disaster, but it was soldier-like. The General kept a good temper throughout, so that it was quite pleasant all round.

[In writing some days later, Lyman thus describes the country over which this engagement was fought:] The tract marked “dense wood” on my map beggars description. It is a wood, with a tangled, thick undergrowth that almost stops the passage of a man. The rest of the country is also much wooded, but wherever you see a house, there is a farm of greater or less size. [After a more detailed description of the fighting, he continues:] Mott’s men give way, the Rebels yell and their batteries open a cross-fire, and the enemy the other side of the run make as if to attack the 2d division in front. But the valiant Egan faces his line to the rear and charges the flank of the Rebels rushing from the woods; they are in turn smashed up and run back again, and a grand mixed-up fight takes place, in the midst of which Hampton’s cavalry falls furiously upon Gregg, who falls furiously upon him, and won’t budge an inch. The most singular things happened here; for, as the woods were full of broken bands of both parties, everybody captured everybody else, and was in turn captured! A good many parties of Rebels, carrying our prisoners to the rear, took wrong direction and fell into the open maw of Crawford. Lieutenant Woolsey, General Williams’s aide, in such an affair, showed a valor little to be looked for in so mild a youth. He was going along a wood road and came directly upon twelve Rebel cavalry; all cried “Halt! surrender!” to him, and two fired their carbines at him; Woolsey snapped his pistol at them, when one seized him round the waist; whereat W. hit him a back-handed blow on the bridge of his nose, put in the spurs, and actually broke away from the whole of them! When I asked him why he didn’t give up, he replied in a simple manner: “Why, I thought my mother would be much distressed if I was taken prisoner, so I thought it would perhaps be better not to surrender.” General Williams was in the greatest state of chuckle over his aide’s conduct, and kept asking unwary persons: “Do you know how Mr. Woolsey escaped from guerillas?” and, being answered “No,” would say:”Why, thus!” at the same time giving the unwary one a punch in the stomach, with his elbow. Then Major Roebling rode into a Rebel line of battle and had his orderly killed in his escape; Major Bingham was captured, but scared his guard so by telling him he was within our lines, that the man took to the bushes and left him. Lieutenant Dresser rode into the midst of a Rebel brigade, thinking they were prisoners. “Where is the Provost Guard?” asked D., who luckily had a gray rubber coat on. “Hain’t got none.” “What troops are these?” “Fourth Alabama.” “Oh, all right,” says Dresser, with presence of mind, and rides off, very slow at first, and very fast as soon as out of sight! The best feat was that of Major Mitchell (he always does perform feats). He rode into the woods, saw 200 Rebel infantry who had got lost, and were drawn up in line; came back, got a regiment, went out again and gobbled them all up. . . .

[The letter finishes with a lively description of some curious visitors to Headquarters.]

I had got safely to the Peeble house and was watching the columns as they marched in. I was still watching when suddenly there appeared a new comico-military procession: to wit, a venerable Brigadier, of a diluted visage, followed by two or three officers, and by two beings calculated to astonish the uninitiated. The first was simply gorgeous, not of dubious character, but evidently an officer of one of those theatrical French indigene regiments. He was tightly done up in a black jacket, all over which five hundred yards of fine black braid had gone into spasmodic convulsions; then black trousers with a wide scarlet stripe, morocco knee-boots, and a light blue kepi. To complete his costume, a row of medals stretched from his central buttonhole to the point of his shoulder! The second stranger was utterly incomprehensible. He had on a pair of red, military trousers, a red fez with a blue tassel, and a black dresscoat! In order to mark this simple costume, he had, with admirable taste, suspended a small stiletto from the lower buttonhole of his waistcoat. The kepi was presented as Chef-de-bataillon de Boissac; the fez as Vicomte de Montbarthe. Upon which, to myself within myself said I: strike out the “de” and Boissac is correct; strike out “Vicomte” and substitute “Corporal” and we shall be pretty near Mr. Fez. He was one of the vulgarest of vulgar Frenchmen, and a fool into the bargain. De Boissac was a type, and I fancy the real thing; a regular, chatty, boastful, conceited, bright little Gaul, who had been in China, the Crimea, Italy, Japan, and Africa, and had worn the hair off his little bullet head with serving in various climes. “I was promoted to be Chef-de-bataillon,” said kepi (just as if I had asked anything about it), “for having planted the flag, alone, on the rampart! My comrades cry to me, ‘Descend! descend!’ I reply, ‘Non! j’y suis!’“ “And I,” chimed in fez, “received the cross for repelling, with forty men, four hundred Austrians: wounded twice in the leg, I lay on the field and the Emperor himself pinned the cross on my breast!” I could not help thinking what a pity it was that the wounds had not been higher up, whereby the Emperor would have been saved the expense of a cross, and I the trouble of listening to his stories. These two brave bucks were travelling on their good looks, having got down, the Lord knows how, with no letters to anybody; yet they dined with General Meade, and passed the night in camp; passed another night at General Davies’, and, the last I heard of them, were pledging General Hancock in the national whiskey! … I omitted to mention a third ornament to military life, a gent with eagles on his shoulders, who, on enquiry, turned out to be a brother militia man, and a great credit to the service, as he perilled his life daily, in the state of New York, as General Sanford’s aide (commanding state militia), and now was visiting the army to see that justice was done to deserving non-commissioned officers in the way of promotion. Et puis?—thought T. L. Yes, that was to electioneer the regiments in favor of the Republican candidate for governor, in case of whose election, he, Colonel D , was to be Quartermaster-General! He had not only cheek enough for this, but enough to spare to come and stay all night at Headquarters, and take his meals there, without the breath of an invitation!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 251-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Burgess’s Mill (October 27, 1864)

Armstrong's mills and rebel works on "Hatcher's Run, captured by the Second Corps, October 27, 1864 / sketched by C.H. Chapin," as it appeared in Harpers Weekly (Library of Congress).

“Armstrong’s mills and rebel works on Hatcher’s Run, captured by the Second Corps, October 27, 1864 / sketched by C.H. Chapin,” as it appeared in Harpers Weekly (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade doesn’t note it in his letter of October 27, but this movement of the Army of the Potomac and the fighting at Burgess’s Mill marked the end of active campaigning for 1864. Here’s how I describe the fighting in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Meade had another narrow escape later that month during the Battle of Burgess’s Mill on October 27. Once again Grant had Butler attack the Confederates north of the James, while Meade moved against the Confederate right in an attempt to capture the South Side Railroad. Hancock and the II Corps were to be the tip of the spear, supported by the V and IX Corps under Warren and Parke. Grant and Meade rode out to the front on the damp and dreary morning of October 27 to observe Hancock’s position. The II Corps faced the Confederate right near Hatcher’s Run at a spot called Burgess’s Mill on the Boydton Plank Road. The fighting here was brisk, and a shell exploded near Meade–so close that Horace Porter thought it must have killed him. But again Meade emerged unscathed. Grant also had a close brush with a bursting shell, and then his horse got one leg tangled in a fallen telegraph line. An aide had to carefully free the horse’s leg while Grant remained exposed to enemy fire.

By then it was apparent that the rebel entrenchments extended much farther to the west than anyone had anticipated, and Grant called off the attack. Hancock prepared to withdraw from his exposed position the next morning. The Confederates, as they often did, had different plans. Finding a weakness, William Mahone’s men made a stealthy passage through swamp and forest toward the Union right. Hancock had thought Samuel Crawford’s division was moving up to connect with him there; instead, the rebel forces swung around his flank and attacked. The Federals managed to recover from their surprise and force the Confederates back, but Hancock decided to withdraw his forces that night despite the rain and the darkness.

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

The Battle at Burgess’s Mill finished the active campaigning for 1864–and it marked the end of Winfield Scott Hancock’s time with the Army of the Potomac. He had been summoned back to Washington to raise a corps of veteran soldiers. The Petersburg Campaign had been one disappointment after another for Hancock, who seemingly had reached his own high-water mark at Gettysburg. One of his last actions was to make an official complaint to Meade about the reporting of Edward Crapsey, whom Meade had allowed to return to the army. Meade advised Hancock to write up charges and said he would have Crapsey tried by a commission.

I moved to-day with the greater portion of the Army of the Potomac, intending, if practicable, to make a lodgment on the Southside Railroad. We, however, found the enemy so strongly entrenched, and the character of the country was such, we were not able to accomplish reaching the road. We have had some quite sharp fighting, principally Hancock’s Corps on our side, in which we successfully resisted the attempts of the enemy to check our advance or dislodge us from positions taken. We shall, however, I think, be under the necessity of returning to our entrenched lines. General Grant has been on the field all day, sanctioning everything that was done. At one time both Grant and myself were under a heavy artillery fire, but luckily none of either of our large corteges were touched.

Theodore Lyman has been strangely quiet since his letter from October 17, but he finally breaks his silence today. Here’s his letter home about the day’s events. His pen will remain busy over the next few days.

I won’t write at length till I get a decent chance. I caught the greatest pelting with all sorts of artillery projectiles to-day, you ever saw, but no hurt therefrom. I could not help being amused, despite the uncomfortable situation, by the distinguished “queue” of gentlemen, behind a big oak! There was a civilian friend of Grant’s, and an aide-de-camp of General Barnard (a safe place to hold), and sundry other personages, all trying to giggle and all wishing themselves at City Point! As to yours truly, he wasn’t going to get behind trees, so long as old George G. stood out in front and took it. “Ah!” said Rosey, with the mild commendation of a master to a pupil: “oh! you did remember what I did say. I have look at you, and you did not doge!” It don’t do to dodge with Hancock’s Staff about; they would never forgive you. At length says the General: “This is pretty hot: it will kill some of our horses.” We came out on a big reconnaissance, which may be turned into a move or not, according to results. I rather fancy the enemy’s line is too long to be turned by what troops we have to dispose.

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. 237. 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. 250-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Fiendish and Malicious Attack (October 25, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

A couple of days ago George Meade was telling his wife that he found an article about him in the New York  Independent to be “amusing” and probably not worth noticing. Maybe he really felt that way initially. In any event, it really did bother him, mainly because it questioned his standing in the eyes of Ulysses S. Grant. What did Grant think of him? It was a question that never ceased to trouble Meade, and one that Grant never quite answered to Meade’s satisfaction.

When I last wrote I told you of the fiendish and malicious attack on me in the New York Independent, Henry Ward Beecher’s paper. I enclose you the article. I also send you a correspondence I have had with General Grant upon the subject, to whom I appealed for something that would set at rest these idle and malicious reports, based on the presumption I had failed to support him and that he was anxious to get rid of me. His reply, you will perceive, which was made by telegraph, while it expresses sympathy for the injustice acknowledged to be done me, proposes to furnish me with copies of the despatches he has written in which my name has been mentioned.

The number and character of these despatches I am ignorant of; nor do I know whether I would be authorized to publish General Grant’s official despatches; but I shall await their receipt before taking any further action. This matter has worried me more than such attacks usually do, because I see no chance for the truth being made public, as it should be. However, I will not make any further comments, but leave these papers to speak for themselves. I wish you to preserve them with the other papers relating to my services.

Telegram from Grant mentioned in last letter:

Grant to Meade:

City Point, Oct. 24, 1864.

Your note by the hand of Lieut. Dunn is received. I have felt as much pained as you at the constant stabs made at you by a portion of the public press. I know nothing better to give you to use in answer to these charges than copies of every dispatch sent to Washington by me in which your name is used.

These will show at least that I have never expressed dissatisfaction at any portion of your services.

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. 236-7. Available via Google Books.

“Unmilitary Slovenliness” (October 23, 1864)

Henry Ward Beecher (Library of Congress).

Henry Ward Beecher (Library of Congress).

Is it any wonder that George Meade hated the press? Once again he’s attacked by a newspaper, and once again feigns indifference. The preacher Henry Ward Beecher, who served as editor of the Independent, was a prominent antislavery crusader. His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin had done much to stir up antislavery passions before the war.

I have seen to-day for the first time a most virulent attack on me in Henry Ward Beecher’s paper, the Independent. The piece has been in camp, I find, for several days, and many officers have been talking about it, but purposely refrained from letting me see it. I heard of it accidentally this afternoon at Grant’s headquarters, where I was on business. I cannot imagine who is the instigator of this violent assault. The idea that I hang on Grant, like the Old Man of the Sea, and am retained in command in spite of that officer’s desire to be rid of me solely on the ground of “fancied political necessity,” is most amusing. I had not seen the article when I was with Grant, or I should have called his attention to it. After all, it is probably not worth while to notice it.

This is the article Meade mentioned:

(New York Independent, October 13, 1864)


The military news of the week covers a wide field. Dispatches of considerable interest have been received from the James River, from the Shenandoah Valley, from Georgia, from Kentucky, and from Missouri. The operations in all quarters are important, but the public attention, as usual, is concentrated upon Virginia, and the movements near Richmond have again attracted that regard which the brilliancy of Sheridan’s victories for the moment diverted to the Shenandoah.

We are obliged to reverse the opinion of last week as to the operations of the Army of the Potomac under Gen. Meade, southwest of Petersburg. The twofold movement which Gen. Grant planned, and which ought to have been even a more complete success than we had reckoned it, now turns out to have failed from lack of generalship on the left wing. North of the James, Gen. Butler carried out his part of the programme promptly and thoroughly. South of it “somebody blundered”—Gen. Meade, to wit: and the Army of the Potomac, which he is still permitted to command, instead of carrying the Southside railroad, as was expected, gave up its great opportunity to the clumsiness of its leader. The old, old blunder was once more repeated. The Executive Officer of that army could not control its maneuvers. The Ninth Corps, proverbially tardy, was far behind when the Fifth, under Warren, had reached its appointed ground, and between the two occurred that fatal gap, into which the enemy again struck with all his force, rolled up an exposed division, captured a brigade or two, and then hurried off with his prizes. The advance was arrested, the whole movement interrupted, the safety of an army imperiled, the plans of the campaign frustrated—and all because one general, whose incompetence, indecision, half-heartedness in the war have again and again been demonstrated, is still unaccountably to hamper and hamstring the purposes of the lieutenant-general. Let us chasten our impatient hope of victory so long as Gen. Meade retains his hold on the gallant Army of the Potomac; but let us tell the truth of him.

He is the general who at Gettysburg bore off the laurels which belonged to Howard and to Hancock; who at Williamsport suffered a beaten army to escape him; who, when holding the line of the Rapidan, fled before Lee without a battle to the gates of the capital; who at Mine Run drew back in dismay from a conflict which he had invited and which his army longed to convert into triumph; who, in the campaign from the Rapidan to the James under Grant, annulled the genius of his chief by his own executive incapacity; who lost the prize of Petersburg by martinet delay on the south bank of the James; who lost it again in succeeding contests by tactical incompetence; who lost it again by inconceivable follies of military administration when the mine was exploded; who insulted his corps commanders and his army by attributing to them that inability to co-operate with each other which was traceable solely to the unmilitary slovenliness of their general; who, in a word, holds his place by virtue of no personal qualification, but in deference to a presumed, fictitious, perverted, political necessity, and who hangs upon the neck of Gen. Grant like an Old Man of the Sea whom he longs to be rid of, and whom he retains solely in deference to the weak complaisance of his constitutional Commander-in-Chief. Be other voices muzzled, if they must be, ours, at least, shall speak out on this question of enforced military subservience to political, to partisan, to personal requisitions. We, at least, if no other, may declare in the name of a wronged, baffled, indignant army, that its nominal commander is unfit, or unwilling, or incapable to lead it to victory, and we ask that Grant’s hands may be strengthened by the removal of Meade.

The dispatches of Gen. Butler, wholly confirmed by one from Gen. Grant, show that he has maintained the line heretofore gained on the north of the James. Lee assaulted in force on Friday last, and carried a picket defended only by cavalry, but was utterly repulsed and driven off with heavy loss in attempting to recover the position held by Butler’s infantry. The loss on our side was one-eighth that of the enemy, and the gain to us was greater than can be numerically stated; for the assault proves two things. First, that the line Butler has occupied is a severe loss to the enemy; and, second, that, although Lee is forced to assume the offensive with his attenuated army in order to regain this line, he cannot carry the coveted position. Butler is within four miles of Richmond. We privately hear the rebel works which he now holds described as more formidable than any before taken from them; and they are held in an iron grasp!

The truth is, Grant presses with irresistible steadiness toward the rebel capital. Richmond is undergoing a relentless siege. Attacks from our side and sallies from theirs meet with varying fortune, but the advance, the pressure, the average of advantage is wholly with Gen. Grant, and he has never once relinquished a foot of ground gained, nor even for a moment halted in his movement for the final capture of Richmond. And to-day he is nearer than ever to his goal; to-morrow he will have taken still another step.

We must add one word, to say that Gen. Sheridan has won another fight in the Shenandoah. He fell back from Harrisonburg to Strasburg, and, as the enemy’s cavalry under Rosser followed, Sheridan improved the opportunity to show that he had not forgotten his experience as a cavalry leader. He attacked Rosser, and drove him pell mell up the valley for 26 miles, with loss of 11 guns and 330 prisoners. “I thought I would delay one day to settle this new cavalry general,” says Phil. Sheridan.

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. 236. Newspaper article from pp. 341-3. . Available via Google Books.

Cedar Creek (October 22, 1864)

"Sheridan's Ride," a sketch by Alfred Waud, depicted Sheridan's timely return for the Battle of Cedar Creek (Library of Congress).

“Sheridan’s Ride,” a sketch by Alfred Waud, depicted Sheridan’s timely return for the Battle of Cedar Creek (Library of Congress).

Today Meade writes about Philip Sheridan’s October 19 victory at Cedar Creek. He was mistaken about James Longstreet’s involvement, though. It was Jubal Early that Sheridan faced, not Lee’s “Old War Horse.” Sheridan’s forces, including the VI Corps under Horatio Wright, had plucked a victory out of apparent defeat after a surprise attack by General John B. Gordon had forced the Federals back in some disorder. Sheridan, who had been in Washington, arrived in time to rally his troops, a scene that has since become a bit of Civil War iconography.

Since I wrote to you we have received the news of Sheridan’s last victory—this time over Longstreet, and with an army that had been surprised and driven in disorder for four miles. This certainly is very remarkable, and if not modified by any later intelligence, will prove one of the greatest feats of the war, and place Sheridan in a position that it will be difficult for any other general to approach. We are now anxiously waiting to hear of his having followed up his success and taken Gordonsville, when he can destroy the railroad from Lynchburg to Richmond, which runs through Gordonsville, and is called the Virginia Central Road. If he does this, he will aid our operations here most materially, because, until that road is destroyed, we cannot compel the evacuation of Richmond, even if we succeed in seizing or breaking the Southside and the Danville Roads. I suppose, in a short time, a movement will be made to get on the Southside Road and complete the investment of Petersburg, from the Appomattox, below to above the town.

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. 235. Available via Google Books.

The Death of Birney (October 19, 1864)

The "thin, pale, Puritanic face" of David Bell Birney.

The “thin, pale, Puritanic face” of David Bell Birney.

George Meade and David Bell Birney had never been friendly. It was a mutual dislike that dated back at least to Fredericksburg, when Meade sent messages asking Birney to send men to support his division, which had pierced Stonewall Jackson’s line. Birney refused, and in a face-to-face meeting on the battlefield, Meade’s language had been strong enough to “almost make the stones creep,” in the words on one bystander. Birney didn’t care for Meade., either. In a letter he wrote on October 28, 1863, Birney said that Meade, when commanding a brigade and a division, “was always badly beaten, troops flying in disorder and has no confidence in Soldiers of the volunteers.” Birney had castigated a number of his fellow generals in the same letter. George Sykes, he said, “was a disagreeable conceited selfish unpopular fellow”; John Newton was “a captain engineer with but little executive capacity, fond of whiskey, and will never distinguish himself although a pet of Meade.” William French, he said, “is drunk every afternoon, lately screeching drunk, jealous of every one in his command” and “hated by the corps.” Andrew Humphreys “is what we call an old granny, a charming, clever gentleman, fussy and [unclear] to troops.” Meade was perfectly aware that Birney had tried to get him replaced with either Joe Hooker or Daniel Sickles, as detailed here. So is it any wonder that when Birney died of typhoid on October 18 that Meade had said in a letter home to his wife that he had not liked Birney personally? (That remark, however, was edited out of the letter when it was printed in Meade’s Life and Letters.)

I am very glad you went to see Mrs. Birney. The telegraph to-day announces her husband’s decease. This has shocked every one here, for no one had any idea he was so ill. General Birney is undoubtedly a loss to the army. He was a very good soldier, and very energetic in the performance of his duties. During the last campaign he had quite distinguished himself. I feel greatly for his poor wife, who is thus so suddenly deprived of her husband and protector. When he left here he was said to be threatened with a serious attack, but it was hoped change of air and being at home would keep it off. He must have been much more sick than persons generally, or he himself, were aware of, because he was very reluctant to leave.

To-day I had a visit from the Rev. Dr. Pyne, of Washington, who has come to the army to visit a poor creature, a Frenchman, who deserted the service and then re-enlisted to get the large bounties. He was sentenced to be shot, but at the earnest solicitation of Dr. Pyne, and of his representations, I remitted the sentence to imprisonment at the Dry Tortugas.

I saw General Grant to-day, and we had a laugh over the ridiculous canard of my being relieved. He then told me he was asked in Washington if it was true, it being reported at the same time that he had resigned. These foolish reports were doubtless gotten up for political purposes and to affect the elections.

To-day Robert Meade [Meade’s nephew] went down the river in the flag-of-truce boat, having been exchanged. I saw a young navy officer who was captured at the same time and exchanged with Robert. He said Robert was well, but thin, as he had felt his captivity a good deal. His mother will be delighted to have him once more at home.

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. 235. Available via Google Books.

Visiting the Front (October 18, 1864)

"Admiral Porter and General Meade" (Library of Congress).

“Admiral Porter and General Meade” (Library of Congress).

Today George Meade notes the visitation from Washington, which Theodore Lyman wrote about more colorfully in yesterday’s letter. The admiral is David Dixon Porter, shown in a photograph above with Meade. I had believed this photo to be some sort of early composite, based on the way the background has clearly been cut away, but it appears genuine. An alternate version appears in volume six of the Photographic History of the Civil War.

The visitors would have traveled with Meade along the United States Military Railroad, a triumph of engineering that ran behind Union lines all the way from City Point, eventually extending 21 miles. The army used it to ship food, supplies and soldiers forward to the front and send the wounded back. Grant’s aide Horace Porter was struck by the way the line went up hills and down dales throughout its length. “Its undulations were so striking that a train moving along it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard,” he said. The stations were named after generals, including one that bore Meade’s name.

Yesterday General Grant came up in the morning with the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, the Collector of New York, Mr. Hooper, member of Congress from Boston, together with several military dignitaries. They spent a short time at my headquarters, from whence I took them to see a part of the lines, after which they returned to City Point, I accompanying them. At City Point I met Admiral Porter and Captain Frailey, each with his wife. As these ladies desired greatly to go to the front and see some rebels, I persuaded their husbands to return with me, and we stopped the cars near Hancock’s headquarters, inspected our line and the rebel works, and then went to Hancock’s headquarters, who got us up a comfortable supper, and after dark shelled the enemy’s lines. They seemed greatly delighted, and returned about 10 p. m. to City Point. Mr. Stanton was, as he always is, most kind and civil to me.

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. 234-5. Available via Google Books.