The Great Soldier of the Army of the Potomac (October 10, 1864)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

Andrew Humphreys has been serving as Gen. Meade’s chief of staff since shortly after Gettysburg. Here’s a quote from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg: “Humphreys was from Philadelphia. An engineer like Meade, he had graduated from West Point four years before him. He had served on McClellan’s staff and later commanded a division at Antietam and during the bloody battle for Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. As a division commander in the III Corps at Gettysburg he had held the right of Sickles’s advanced position. ‘He was a small, bow-legged man, with chopped-off, iron gray moustache; and when he lifted his army hat you saw a rather low forehead, and a shock of iron-gray hair,’ a staff member recalled. ‘His blue-gray dauntless eyes threw into his stern face the coldness of hammered steel.’ Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, who would get to know Humphreys during the Virginia Campaign of 1864, considered him to be ‘the great soldier of the Army of the Potomac.’ ‘He was a very interesting figure,” Dana wrote. ‘He used to ride about in a black felt hat, the brim of which was turned down all around, making him look like a Quaker. He was very pleasant to deal with, unless you were fighting against him, and then he was not so pleasant. He was one of the loudest swearers that I ever knew.’ Although Humphreys desired a corps command, he consented to become Meade’s chief of staff, Dana believed, out of pure patriotism. Later in the war he would get the corps command he wanted so badly.” In his letter of October 10, Theodore Lyman writes a bit about Humphreys.

General Humphreys deserted us to-night, for a brief leave—no, of course I mean he went early this morning, having taken his breakfast before us. The good General is fond of sitting awhile and talking after meals. He discourses sometimes on the art military and said it was “a godlike occupation”! “Ah,” he said, “war is a very bad thing in the sequel, but before and during a battle it is a fine thing!” (Note by T.L. — l don’t see it.) The Commander has been death on riding round lately on his jog-trotter, to inspect and mouse over works. He is mighty smart at such things, and if a line is run fifty feet out of position, he sees it like a flash. It is very creditable to our engineers, that, though a part of our works were laid out after dark, no corrections have been made in the general position. I had the honor to follow George about, as he rode round the country. In the camps, one sees the modes of punishment adopted. One ingenious Colonel had erected a horizontal bar, about a dozen feet from the ground, and supported at each end by a post. On this elevated perch he causes malefactors to sit all the day long, to their great discomfort and repentance. In the 9th Corps, they had put some barrels on the breastworks, and, on these high pedestals, made the men stand. They had run away in the fight and had great placards of “Coward” on them. A pretty severe punishment if they had any shame left. This is a grubby little letter, for my tent has been invaded by various silly, chattering, idle officers.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 243. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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1 Comment

  1. Todd Berkoff

     /  November 18, 2014

    No doubt a brave man and competent combat officer and administrator, but one should read “Red Tape and Pigeon-hold Generals” about General Humphreys. It was the first whistleblower-type book to come from the Civil War. It was written in 1864 by the colonel of one of the regiments that Humphreys commanded in 1861-1862 and accused Humphreys of being a drunk and for taking some perverse satisfaction in punishing the men for petty infractions. A fascinating read!


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