Quite a Stampede (October 2, 1864)

Lyman’s letters jump back and forth in time a bit. In this letter from October 2 he writes some more about his journey back to the army. The U.S. Christian Commission had been established in 1861 and continued its efforts until the end of the war. Lyman wrote down his impressions of the events from October 2 four days later, but I have included that account with today’s letter. General Meade will tell his wife about his narrow escape from the shell in his letter tomorrow.

. . . The Washington boat was much in the style of the other — rather worse and more crowded, people and freight similar. There were more Christian Commissioners, who were joined by those who had come with me. The funniest people you ever saw! Their great and overshadowing anxiety was dinner; that was the thing. Accordingly they had deputed the youngest—a divinity student, and supposed to be a terribly sharp fellow—to lie in wait at sundry times and secure tickets for the meal. “I have arranged it all with the steward; we shall sit together,” said this foxy one. Long before the hour, they all went down and stood against the door, like the queue at a French theatre. One of them came up, a little after, wiping his mouth; and asked me with surprising suddenness, if I “was on the side of the Lord.” They were mostly Methodists, and of course very pious. One of the soldiers on the lower deck, suddenly cried out: “Oh, H____!” upon which a Christian Commissioner said: “Mr. Smith, did you think to bring a bundle of the tracts on swearing?” I told him I hoped he had brought a good many, and of several kinds, as there was a wide field in the army. All of which reminds me of an anecdote. A group of these gentlemen, going on foot and with their carpet-bags towards the front, were addressed by a veteran with “Hullo! got any lemons to sell?” “No, my friend, we belong to the army of the Lord.” Veteran, with deep scorn: “Oh, ye—es; stragglers! stragglers!” I respect these Christian Commissioners, though they are somewhat silly often. Some of them had come all the way from Wisconsin. I arrived in camp somewhat after dark and was tenderly welcomed by all, from the General down. Barstow and Humphreys were highly pleased with their gifts. To-day a curious thing occurred. While I was away, looking for a place for the new camp, General Meade rode out with the Staff. There came a conical shell, which shaved a patch of hair off the tail of General Humphrey’s horse, scraped the leg of General Meade’s boot, passed between General Ricketts and Griffin who were standing within a foot of each other, and buried itself in the ground, covering several officers with sand and dirt. Four Generals just escaping by a turn of the head, so to speak! I got this shell and shall send it home as a great curiosity.

Lyman wrote this description of the events of October 2 on October 6. In his journal entry he describes a bit more about the scare the confederates gave “Abou Ben Butler.” “Butler has a stampede on–he sent one of his theatrical despatches saying he had a rebel deserter, an officer whom he had ‘put on his life,’ to give a correct account, and who made out pretty much all Lee’s people were over there, sworn to crush Gen. B ‘if it took every man they had!'”

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Abou Ben Butler had quite a stampede last night. Having got so far away from home, he conceived that the whole southern host was massed to crush him, and communicated the same with much eloquence, by the instrumentality of the magnetic telegraph; whereat Major-General Humphreys, Chief-of-Staff, had the brutality to laugh! We made our usual peregrination to Globe Tavern, where we got about 10 o’clock. Here General Meade sent me to look for a new camp, first enquiring if I felt well enough for that arduous service, as he looks on me as a tender convalescent! It was a tedious business getting a spot; for the whole country was either occupied, or was very dirty from old camps. At quarter to eleven, as I was poking about, I heard firing to the left, pretty sharp for a few minutes, and supposed there might be quite a fight; but it died away, shortly, except the cannon, which were not frequent. I got to the front about one, and met General Meade at the Peeble house. He had been to the Pegram house and it was near there he had such a narrow escape from a shell. I told them that, had I been there, I should have been the odd man that would have been hit; for they all said that the Staff could not well have been arranged again so that there would have been room for a three-inch shot to pass without hitting somebody. The cause of the firing was, that the whole line advanced, except the right division, and established a front position at the Pegram house. . . .

The engineers were trotting round briskly, you may depend, ordering a redoubt here and a battery there, all intent on fencing in our new property. Luckily, the soil is very light and easy to dig, for our earthworks have now to be measured by miles. Not only must the front be protected, but the exposed flank and the rear. With what men we have, we do a great deal. Since we left Culpeper, I have not seen the troops look so healthy. If we could work a little more backbone into that 9th Corps, it would help wonderfully; but they started green and that is no way to ripen men. Many faults there have been also in the command. The men are in good spirits, I think, and well conditioned for the prosecution of the campaign. The evening of Sunday we went to our new camp, having lived nearly three months in the old one. It seemed quite like leaving home; for you get used to your little canvas house, pitched in a particular spot. The new camp is well enough placed, but in a region of evil savors. There is a timber bridge near by, and, every waggon that went over it, the General would jump and say, “By Jove, there is heavy musketry!” Gradually he learned the difference of sound and settled down quietly. The weather has been very warm the last day or two.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 231-2 and 237-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: