Poor Ba-ba (December 5, 1864)

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock has gone from the Army of the Potomac, but he is not forgotten. Here Theodore Lyman relates a story about Hancock, who had a legendary mastery of profanity.

The weather continues very fine and really warm of days, though the nights are provocative of blankets—weather, law! that isn’t very interesting, is it? My head has indeed been singularly empty for letter-writing; when a man talks about weather to his own wife he must be pretty hard up. I heard a characteristic anecdote of Hancock which made me laugh, as I knew his ways. It appears that he had issued stringent orders against plundering, despite which the troops had fallen on a large flock of sheep and were making short work of them. Away went Hancock, followed by the inevitable Morgan, Mitchell, and Parker. Very soon all these three were sent spinning off at tangents, after distant delinquents, and the General went frothing along alone. Presently he catches sight of four men pursuing a poor sheep, bayonet in hand, and off he goes, full tilt, to arrest them; but, before he can get in, poor ba-ba is down and still. “You blank blank all-sortsof-bad-things,” roars Hancock, “how dare you? How dare you kill that sheep?” “Please, General, we didn’t kill it,” cried the terrified soldiers. “What! Didn’t kill it! You liars! You infernal, desperate liars! I saw you kill it, with my own eyes; and there it lies dead!”—when—the sheep hopped up and ran away.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 288-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

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