“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 WAR IN VIRGINIA

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.

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  1. The Fiendish and Malicious Attack (October 25, 1864) | Searching for GEORGE GORDON MEADE

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