Report on the Mine (February 9, 1865)

Ambrose Burnside. The Battle of the Crater provided a good reason to get him out of the Army of the Potomac once and for all (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside. The Battle of the Crater provided a good reason to get him out of the Army of the Potomac once and for all (Library of Congress).

General Meade writes home about the report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War’s on the Battle of the Crater (a.k.a. the Mine). Meade was obviously no fan of the committee, which had come after him in the spring of 1864. In his book Over Lincoln’s Shoulder, historian Bruce Tap questioned the committee’s value, especially in its criticisms of Meade. “Other than contributing to the destruction of Meade’s reputation for generations to come, little was accomplished by the committee’s investigation except for reinforcing the hostility that army officers felt toward their civilian overseers.” Grant’s telegram supports Meade’s contention that the committee report was intended to support Ambrose Burnside. And once again he defends Grant when his wife questions the general-in-chief’s trustworthiness.

Meade also mentions the failure of the Confederate peace commissioners to strike any agreement with Lincoln, and stresses the need for a “vigorous prosecution of the war.”

The Beckham whose obituary Meade sends to his wife was Robert F. Beckham. As a lieutenant before the war, Beckham had served under Meade on a survey of Lake Huron. He joined the rebels when war broke out. J.L. Kirby Smith, not to be confused with Edmund Kirby Smith, the Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, also served under Meade on the survey.

I note you have seen the report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, about the Mine. You have done Grant injustice; he did not testify against me; but the committee has distorted his testimony, my own, and that of every one who told the truth, in order to sustain their censure. When you see all the testimony you will find their verdict is not sustained. Immediately on the appearance of this report Grant sent me a despatch, a copy of which I enclose, and from it you will see what he thinks of the course of the committee, and of Burnside’s testimony. (see below). I replied to him that, after the acknowledgment of my services by the President, the Secretary and himself, and the endorsement of the Senate, as shown by the large vote in my favor, I thought I could stand the action of the committee, and I felt confident that when the facts and the truth were laid before the public, the report of the committee would prove a more miserable failure than the explosion of the Mine. I, however, asked him to exert his influence to have published the proceedings of the court of inquiry. He has gone to Washington, and I am in hopes he will have this done; I think Burnside has used himself up.

Richmond papers of the 7th, have a message from Davis and the report of the commissioners, from which it appears they required recognition as an independent power, precedent to any negotiations. Of course this was out of the question, and I think Mr. Lincoln’s course ought to meet the approval of all true patriots.

We cannot and ought not ever to acknowledge the Confederacy or its independence, and I am surprised they took the trouble to send men into our lines with any such ideas. This conference ought to unite the North to a vigorous prosecution of the war; and the people, if they do not volunteer, should submit cheerfully to the draft. In the same paper, which I send you, is an obituary notice of Beckham, who, it appears, was killed in one of Thomas’s fights at Columbia, in Tennessee, he being colonel and chief of artillery to S. D. Lee’s Corps. Poor fellow, he and Kirby Smith have both been sacrificed!


Grant to Meade:
Feb. 9, 10 a.m.

The Committee on the Conduct of the War have published the result of their investigation of the Mine explosion. Their opinions are not sustained by knowledge of the facts nor by my evidence nor yours either do I suppose. Gen. Burnside’s evidence apparently has been their guide and to draw it mildly he has forgotten some of the facts. I think in justification to yourself who seem to be the only party censured, Genl. Burnside should be brought before a Court Martial and let the proceedings of the Court go before the public along with the report of the Congressional Committee.

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. 261-2 and p. 344. Available via Google Books.

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