White Oak Road (March 31, 1865)

Theodore Lyman describes the fighting along the White Oak Road on March 31. The little battlefield today is another of the Civil War Trust’s success stories and includes some trails that wind through the woods on both sides of the road, with markers among the trees that explain the action. Lee rode out here to supervise the fighting, knowing that the White Oak Road was an important supply line for his army. The rebels smashed into the Federal flank, forcing back the divisions of Romeyn Ayres and Samuel Crawford, but the Union soldiers counterattacked and pushed the rebels back to their earthworks. With the White Oak Road in Union hands, the Confederates off to the west around an intersection called Five Forks were now separated from the rest of the army. Charlie Mills had served with the 56th Massachusetts and on the staffs of several generals. The Abbott to whom Lyman refers is Henry Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts, killed in the Wilderness.

076The rain held up about ten a.m. and the sun once more shone. By this time our lines, running east and west, had been moved due north, till they rested their right on Hatcher’s Run, north of the Crow house, and their left on the Boydton plank, near the entrance of the Quaker road. For this purpose Ayres’s and Crawford’s divisions were pushed forward and Griffin held in reserve. We rode out, towards the left (our Headquarters were near the Vaughan road close to Gravelly Run), stopping some time to consult with Grant. About 10.30 we heard a brief fusillade on the right of our line (a demonstration to divert our attention), followed by heavy musketry towards the White Oak road. As we came to Warren’s old Headquarters, high up on the Quaker road, I could see something had gone wrong. A cavalry officer galloped up and said: “I must have more men to stop these stragglers! the road is full of them.” And indeed there were those infernal drummers, and pack-mules, and not a few armed men, training sulkily to the rear. I required no one to tell me what that meant. The enemy had tried on Griffin, two days since, without success, but this time they had repeated the game on Ayres and Crawford, with a different result. As these two divisions were moving through the thick woods, they were suddenly charged, broken, and driven back towards the Boydton plank road; but some batteries being brought to their aid, the men were rallied behind a branch of Gravelly Run. Griffin took up a rear line, to ensure the position. General Meade at once ordered Miles to go in, to the right of the 5th Corps, and Griffin to advance likewise. The General rode out in person to give Humphreys the necessary orders about Miles’s division, and found him at Mrs. Rainie’s, at the junction of the Quaker road and the plank. There was a wide open in front, and I could see, not far off, the great tree where we got such an awful shelling, at the first Hatcher’s Run fight. Miles was in the open, forming his troops for the attack. Just then the enemy opened a battery on us, with solid shot, several of which came ricocheting round us. I recollect I turned just then and saw Charlie Mills sitting on horseback, near General Humphreys. He nodded and smiled at me. Immediately after, General Meade rode to a rising ground a couple of hundred yards from the house, while General Humphreys went a short distance to the front, in the field. Almost at that instant a round shot passed through Humphreys’ Staff and struck Mills in the side, and he fell dead from his horse. He was indeed an excellent and spirited young man and beloved by us all. . . . When I rode that evening to the hospital, and saw the poor boy lying there on the ground, it made me think of Abbot, a year ago. It is the same thing over and over again. And strange too, this seeing a young man in full flush of robust health, and the next moment nothing that we can make out but the broken machine that the soul once put in motion. Yet this is better than that end in which the faculties, once brilliant, gradually fade, month after month.

About noon, Miles and Griffin went in, with sharp firing, drove the enemy back, and made a lodgment on the White Oak road. Meantime, Sheridan, after all sorts of mud toils, got north of Dinwiddie, where he was attacked by a heavy force of infantry and cavalry and forced back nearly to that place. Not to forgo our advantage on the northwest, we immediately sent the whole 5th Corps by night to Dinwiddie to report to General Sheridan and attack the enemy next morning — a hard march after the two days’-fighting in the storm!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 330-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Deeds of Yesterday (March 30, 1865)

Charles Griffin. Like Meade, he had an explosive temper (Library of Congress).

Charles Griffin commanded a division in the V Corps. Like Meade, he had an explosive temper (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman recounts the events of March 29 in more detail.

I take advantage of a rainy morning to draw you a map and start a letter, to explain and recount the deeds of yesterday. . . . The day before, a part of the Army of the James had crossed to us, from Bermuda Hundred, and, under the sure conduct of Rosie, had relieved the 2d Corps in their part of the line. At daylight the 5th Corps moved from our extreme left, crossed the stream at the Perkins house and marched along the stage road. Somewhat later the 2d Corps crossed directly by the Vaughan road and marched down it as far as Gravelly Run, then faced to the right and formed from east to west. It was like to the ruins of Carthage to behold those chimneys, which, since October last, have been our comfort at Headquarters, now left lonely and desolate, deprived of their tents, which seemed to weep, as they were ruthlessly torn down and thrown into waggons. At 7.30 A.m. we all got on the chargers and wended toward the left. The fancy huts of the 2d Corps were all roofless, and their Headquarters were occupied by General Gibbon, of the other side of the river. The 1st division was crossing the Hatcher’s Run bridge, as we got to it, the two others being already over. Near Gravelly Run we came on the sturdy Humphreys, who was gleaming through his spectacles with a fun-ahead sort of expression and presently rode away to get his men “straightened out,” as Pleasonton used to say. Bye-and-bye he came jogging back, to say his Corps was now in position, running from near Hatcher’s Run, on the right, to near Quaker Road Church on the left. Whereupon we rode off to see General Warren, who had arrived at the Junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads. As soon as we got there, Griffin’s division was sent up the Quaker road, to join the left of Humphreys’, and to be followed by most of the rest of the Corps. … At 1.30 P.m. we went up the Quaker road to see General Griffin, being somewhat delayed by Gravelly Run, a brook too deep for fording and whereof the little bridge had been broken by the Rebs. The country is much more variegated over here. There are some rocks and high ground, and the runs are quite picturesque, with steep banks. One pretty sight was a deserted farmhouse quite surrounded by peach trees, loaded with blossoms. In the distance it seemed covered with pink clouds. After starting Griffin’s line forward, we rode along the line of battle of Miles (who had the left of the 2d Corps), where we found General Humphreys. The right of his line had sent out a party which took possession of Dabney’s Mill, driving out a few Rebels. The whole force from one end to another was ordered to go forward at once, Griffin being, from the nature of the ground, somewhat in advance. All went on without anything more than scattered skirmishing till near five P.m., when Griffin was struck by a part, or the whole, of two Rebel divisions. But G. is a rough man to handle, and, after a sharp fight, drove them back and followed them up, taking a hundred prisoners. Our losses were some 400 altogether in this affair. Of the enemy we buried 126; so that their total loss, including prisoners, must be, say, 800. The Griffin was in great spirits at this affair and vowed he could drive the enemy wherever he found them. Their object in attacking us was to delay our advance, and to get time to man their works. As soon as Warren got up the rest of his Corps, he pushed on the attack, but John had got enough and had fallen back to his parapets, and thus the day ended. Riding back to the Vaughan road, we found General Grant, who had come up with his Staff, and who camped near us last night, 29th. …

[To-day] nothing to note, but that there was a steady and drenching rain the whole livelong day, which reduced these sandy, clayey roads to a pudding or porridge, as the case might be. The chief Quartermaster told me it was the worst day for moving trains he ever had had in all his experience. A train of 600 waggons, with the aid of 1000 engineer troops, was fifty-six hours in going five miles!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 328-30. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Sherman (March 29, 1865)

And so it begins. The V Corps moved out early in the morning of March 29, heading west to stretch Lee’s already thin line to the breaking point. Fighting broke out when the men of Joshua Chamberlain’s 3rd Brigade men encountered Confederates entrenched along the Quaker Road. Among the defenders were the command of Henry Wise—former Virginia governor and Meade’s brother-in-law.. Splashing through the cold waters of Gravelly Run, the two regiments of Chamberlain’s brigade assaulted the enemy defenses. “The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot,” Chamberlain recalled.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman writes home about an encounter with William T. Sherman, who had come north to meet with Grant.

To-day we have made a movement to our left, and I am to-night in new headquarters, having abandoned the pleasant quarters you were in.

The enemy attacked Griffin’s Division about 5 p.m., but were handsomely repulsed. I regret, however, to announce the death of Dr. McEwen’s son, who fell in this affair. I have telegraphed Jim Biddle to announce this event to the doctor, for whom I feel deeply.

Theodore Lyman takes a break from the campaign to write home and includes an account from the day before, when he had seen a herd of generals at City Point.

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

This has been a day of manoeuvre and not much fighting. To-morrow may see something more serious. It seems like old times to be once more writing on my knee and sitting in a tent without a board floor. I prefer it; there is novelty in seeing a new bit of country. Yesterday we had an interesting trip to City Point. General Meade said to me, to my great surprise: “I am going down to-morrow to see Sherman!” Which, as I supposed Sherman to be at that moment somewhere near Goldsboro’, seemed a rather preposterous idea! At an early hour we got to Grant’s Headquarters and found le monde not yet up. Soon, however, they began to peer out of their log houses and General Meade marched in to visit the great Mogul. As I was looking in that direction, there suddenly issued from the house a tall figure who jerked himself forward, pulled suddenly up, and regarded the landscape with an inquisitive and very wrinkled expression. This was the redoubtable Sherman himself. He is a very remarkable-looking man, such as could not be grown out of America—the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom. He is tall, spare, and sinewy, with a very long neck, and a big head at the end of the same. The said big head is a most unusual combination. I mean that, when a man is spare, with a high forehead, he usually has a contracted back to his head; but Sherman has a swelling “fighting” back to his head, and all his features express determination, particularly the mouth, which is wide and straight, with lips that shut tightly together. He is a very homely man, with a regular nest of wrinkles in his face, which play and twist as he eagerly talks on each subject; but his expression is pleasant and kindly. But he believes in hard war. I heard him say: “Columbia! — pretty much all burned; and burned good!” There too was “little Phil Sheridan,” scarce five feet high, with his sun-browned face and sailor air. I saw Sherman, Grant, Meade, and Sheridan, all together. A thing to speak of in after years!

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. 268. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 326-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Packing (March 28, 1865)

The Army of the Potomac prepares for its spring offensive against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Theodore Lyman reports.

You must let me off with a few lines to-night, because I have some little packing yet to do and would like a good modicum of slumber; for to-morrow we are up and moving betimes in light order. I do not look for any grand action from this (taking the liberty of guessing where I am in the dark). I fancy a heavy infantry force will move to our left and rear, to mask and protect a great movement of cavalry with Sheridan at its head, directed at the South Side R. R. and other communications; all of which the enemy must be fully aware of; but I don’t think he can have one half our force in cavalry. The amount of fighting will depend on the moves of the enemy; but I do not ever expect to see more than one such field-day as we used to have in the ever memorable campaign of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania— perhaps not even one. Meantime I will not recklessly run against bullets. It isn’t my style; not exactly. Yesterday I rode about with the General, who confabbed with Wright, Warren, and the gay Humphreys. The latter is confirmed as the commander of the 2d Corps, at which we are glad, for he was only its commander ad interim before.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 326. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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The President (March 26, 1865)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee’s attack on Fort Stedman interrupted the visit by Mrs. Meade and the Meade children. Meade was with his family on the steamer Thomas Collyer at City Point when word of the attack arrived. “Meade was greatly nettled by the fact that he was absent from his command at such a time, and was pacing up and down with great strides, and dictating orders to his chief of staff, General Webb, who was with him, in tones which showed very forcibly the intensity of his feelings,” recalled Horace Porter, Grant’s aide-de-camp. President Lincoln had come down to visit Grant. The next day, when word arrived that the Confederate attack had been repulsed, he accepted Grant’s offer to visit the Petersburg front.

Following Meade’s letter to his wife is Theodore Lyman’s letter from the same day. He has some interesting observations about the president.

Your visit seems so like a dream I can hardly realize you have been here.

The orderly who took Meta McCall’s saddle down says he arrived just in time to put it on board, so I presume you started soon after

12 M. To-day is a fine day, without wind, and I trust you will have a pleasant journey up the Potomac and get safe home.

After I arrived here, the President and party came about 1 p.m. We reviewed Crawford’s Division, and then rode to the front line and saw the firing on Wright’s front, at the fort where you were, where a pretty sharp fight was going on. Indeed, Humphreys and Wright were fighting till eight o’clock, with very good results, taking over one thousand prisoners from the enemy, and inflicting heavy losses in killed and wounded. The day turned out to be a very successful one, we punishing the enemy severely, taking nearly three thousand prisoners and ten battle flags, besides the morale of frustrating and defeating his plans.

Mrs. Lincoln spoke very handsomely of you and referred in feeling terms to our sad bereavement. The President also spoke of you, and expressed regret that your visit should have been so abruptly terminated. I suppose Mrs. Hopkinson and yourself will have great fun in recalling the incidents of your trip. Altogether, your expedition was very successful, and I am very glad you came.

I expect we shall have stirring times before long. The fighting yesterday proved the enemy has still some spirit left in him, and Lee, having once begun, is likely to try his hand again; and if he don’t, I suppose we shall have to take the matter in hand.

Here is Lyman’s letter. His impressions of Lincoln certainly come filtered through his own Boston snobbery, yet overall it’s a favorable portrait. Lyman does not include his impressions of Mrs. Meade in his letters, but he did in his journals. “Mrs. Meade has a pleasant and still good looking face, for her age, and very fine hair,” he wrote. “She has a little of the languid, half southern way, and is wanting in force, somewhat.”

My letter of yesterday only gave a part of the day’s work. Our train went briskly up to the front and stopped not far from the little rustic chapel you saw; for there was General Parke with his Staff, waiting to receive the General and report the morning’s work. . . . Brevet Brigadier McLaughlen got taken in trying to maintain his line—a good officer. He was the one who had been five days in Boston and told me he was so tired that he thought he should go right back. A certain Major Miller was captured and sent, with a guard of four men, a little to the rear. They sat in a bomb-proof for protection and Miller did so describe the glories of Yankeedom to his captors, that, when we retook the work, they all deserted and came over with him! Then we kept on and got out at our own domus, where General Meade (it being then about 11.30 a.m.)telegraphed sundry orders to his generals; wherefrom resulted, at 12.15, the greatest bang, bang, whang, from good Duke Humphrey, who, spectacles on nose, rushed violently at the entrenched skirmish line of the enemy and captured the same, with the double view of making a reconnaissance and a diversion, and furthermore of showing the Johns that we were not going to be pitched into without hitting back.

Then there was a lull, filled by the arrival of a long grey procession of some 1500 prisoners from the 9th Corps. Really these men possess a capacity for looking “rough” beyond any people I ever saw, except the townsmen of Signor Fra Diavolo. They grew rougher and rougher. These looked brown and athletic, but had the most matted hair, tangled beards, and slouched hats, and the most astounding carpets, horse-sheets and transmogrified shelter-tents for blankets, that you ever imagined. One grim gentleman, of forbidding aspect, had tempered his ferocity by a black, broad-brimmed straw hat, such as country ministers sometimes wear—a head-dress which, as Whittier remarked, “rather forced the season!” Singularly enough, the train just then came up and the President and General Grant, followed by a small party, rode over to the Headquarters. “I have just now a despatch from General Parke to show you,” said General Meade. “Ah,” quoth the ready Abraham, pointing to the parade-ground of the Provost-Marshal, “there is the best despatch you can show me from General Parke!” The President is, I think, the ugliest man I ever put my eyes on; there is also an expression of plebeian vulgarity in his face that is offensive (you recognize the recounter of coarse stories). On the other hand, he has the look of sense and wonderful shrewdness, while the heavy eyelids give him a mark almost of genius. He strikes me, too, as a very honest and kindly man; and, with all his vulgarity, I see no trace of low passions in his face. On the whole, he is such a mixture of all sorts, as only America brings forth. He is as much like a highly intellectual and benevolent Satyr as anything I can think of. I never wish to see him again, but, as humanity runs, I am well content to have him at the head of affairs. . . . After which digression I will remark that the President (who looks very fairly on a horse) reviewed the 3d division, 5th Corps, which had marched up there to support the line, and were turned into a review. As the Chief Magistrate rode down the ranks, plucking off his hat gracefully by the hinder part of the brim, the troops cheered quite loudly. Scarcely was the review done when, by way of salute, all those guns you saw by Fort Fisher opened with shells on the enemy’s picket line, which you could see, entrenched, from where you stood. Part of the 6th Corps then advanced and, after a sharp fight, which lasted, with heavy skirmishing, till sunset, drove off the Rebels and occupied their position, driving them towards their main line. At four and at seven P.m. the enemy charged furiously on Humphreys, to recover their picket line, but were repulsed with great loss; our men never behaved better. Both Wright and Humphreys took several hundred prisoners, swelling the total for the day to 2700, more than we have had since the noted 12th of May. Our total loss is from 1800 to 2000; while that of the enemy must be from 4000 to 5000 plus a great discouragement. Isn’t it funny for you to think of the polite Humphreys riding round in an ambulance with you Friday, and, the next day, smashing fiercely about in a fight?

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. 267-8. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 323-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Fort Stedman (March 25, 1864)

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The campaigning season begins, and Robert E. Lee striking the first blow with a dawn attack on Fort Stedman. Early in the morning on March 25, a group of rebels pretending to be deserters approached in the darkness and subdued the Union picket line. Behind them streamed some ten thousand men under the command of Gen. John B. Gordon. The rebels charged across the fields and overwhelmed Stedman’s defenders. Then they turned left and right and captured the batteries on each side. A counterattack by the IX Corps soon turned the tide, and as the Confederates retreated, the Union guns turned the fields into “a place of fearful slaughter,” recalled one soldier. “My mind sickens at the memory of it—a real tragedy in war—for the victims had ceased fighting, and were now struggling between imprisonment on the one hand, and death or home on the other.”

In this letter from March 25, Theodore Lyman describes the fighting. He will resume his narrative tomorrow.

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

We may indeed call this a many-sided field-day: a breakfast with a pleasure party, an assault and a recapture of an entrenched line, a review by the President of a division of infantry, and sharp fighting at sundry points of a front of eighteen miles! If that is not a mixed affair, I would like to know what is? It has been a lucky day, for us; and the 9th Corps, after patient waiting for eight months, have played the game of the “Mine” against their antagonists. The official despatches will give you the main facts very well, but I can add some particulars. About daylight, the enemy having massed three divisions and a part of a fourth, made a sudden rush and carried Fort Stedman and about half a mile of line commanded by it. The garrisons of the forts on either side stood firm, however, and repelled a severe attack with much injury to the enemy. Meantime, General Parke had ordered that the works should be retaken, if it cost every man in the Corps; and all the scattered regiments immediately at hand were put in and checked a further advance, until General Hartranft (I’m not sure about the spelling of his name) brought up the 3d division, which had been camped in reserve. He personally led in one brigade of it, with conspicuous gallantry, retook the whole portion lost, and captured, at one swoop, 1800 Rebels. It was just the “Mine,” turned the other way: they got caught in there and could not get out. Their loss also in killed and wounded must have been severe, not only from musketry, but also from canister, which was thrown into a ravine by which they retreated. Upwards of a hundred Rebel dead lay in and round Fort Stedman alone. Our own losses in the 9th Corps will be somewhat over 800, half of whom may be reckoned prisoners, taken in the first surprise. I should guess the loss of their opponents as not less than 2600.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 322-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Holy Patrick (March 18, 1865)

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade's St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade’s St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

What unit is better fitted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than the Irish Brigade? Theodore Lyman describes the festivities.

This morning I sent you a telegraph, which may be rather late, I fear, though I sent it at the earliest chance. It was to ask you to pay a day’s visit here, and see the army, as a curiosity. Mrs. Meade is coming with a party in a special boat from Washington. . . .

You probably are aware that yesterday was the nativity of the Holy Patrick, in whose honor the Irish Brigade, of the 2d Corps, got up a grand race, with a printed programme and every luxury. The weather, which had been most evil the night before, unexpectedly cleared up and the day was fine, exceedingly. We found the course laid out near the Cummings house, in rear of what you remember as the noted Peeble house. There was a judge’s stand, flaunting with trefoil flags, and a band beside the same, which had been accommodated with a couple of waggons, in lieu of orchestra. Then there were plenty of guards (there need be no lack of such) and a tent wherein were displayed plates of sandwiches. Alas! This was the weak point, the bitter drop in the Irish festa. The brigade, with an Irish generosity, had ordered a fine collation, but the steamer, bad luck to her, had gone and run herself aground somewhere, and poor Paddy was left to eat his feast the day after the fair. Nevertheless, we didn’t allow such things to stand in the way, and the races proceeded under the august auspices of General Humphreys, who didn’t look exactly like a turfman, and had a mild look of amusement, as he read out: “Captain Brady’s grey mare.”—Captain Brady bows. “Captain—, Hey? What is that name? I can’t read the writing.” “Murphy,” suggests General Miles. “Oh, dear me, of course, yes; Captain Murphy’s bay gelding.” “No! red,” suggests Miles. “Ah, yes, to be sure—red.” “Here,” says the long-expectant Murphy. Then a bugler blows at a great rate and the horses are brought to the line; the bugler blows at a great rate some more, and away they go. There were a good many different races, some of which were rather tiresome, by reason of the long waiting and the fact that none of the horses were really racers, but only swift officers’ steeds, which were not enough trained to go round regularly, but often would balk at the hurdles and refuse to go round at all. Wherefrom we had tragic consequences: for one, scared by the crowd and by the brush hurdle, bolted violently and knocked down a soldier; and Colonel von Schack, in another race, had his horse, which had overleaped, fall on him heavily. . . . Everything was extremely quiet and orderly, and no tipsy people about. . . .

[Mrs. Meade, with a large party, including Mrs. Lyman, arrived at City Point on the evening of March 22. The next two days were spent in visiting the front, and in excursions on the river. On the morning of the 25th, it was found that the Confederates had made an unexpected attack. The visitors were shipped back to Washington, and their hosts made for the front.]

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 321-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Junketings (March 16, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac is quite the tourist attraction in the days leading up to the final campaign of the war. Here, Meade describes yet another delegation, which included Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. In his journal, Theodore Lyman described Stanton as “short, dark, very thick set, very big-headed; a small, turned-up nose; a long, black beard, mixed with gray, and a somewhat goblin air.”.

To-day Mr. Stanton and lady, with a select party, among whom was the French Minister, visited the army and went the rounds, witnessing among other things a review of Warren’s Corps. Yesterday we had a party of Senators, with their families, so that we have had junketings almost every day for a week past.

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. 267. Available via Google Books.

The Mine, Again (March 13, 1865)

Artist Alfred Waud’s description of his drawing: Explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg July 30th 1864. The spires in the distance mark the location of the city; along the crest, in front of them are the defensive works, it was an angle of these that was blown up, with its guns & defenders. The explosion was the signal for the simultaneous opening of the artillery and musketry of the Union lines. The pickets are seen running in from their pits & shelters on the front, to the outer line of attack. In the middle distance, are the magnificent 8 & 10 inch Mortar batteries, built and commanded by Col. Abbott. Nearer is a line of abandoned rifle pits, and in the foreground is the covered way, a sunken road for communication with the siege works and the conveyance of supplies and ammunition to the forts. The chief Engineer of the A. of P. is standing upon the embankment watching progress throw [sic] a field glass (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud’s description of his drawing: Explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg July 30th 1864. The spires in the distance mark the location of the city; along the crest, in front of them are the defensive works, it was an angle of these that was blown up, with its guns & defenders. The explosion was the signal for the simultaneous opening of the artillery and musketry of the Union lines. The pickets are seen running in from their pits & shelters on the front, to the outer line of attack. In the middle distance, are the magnificent 8 & 10 inch Mortar batteries, built and commanded by Col. Abbott. Nearer is a line of abandoned rifle pits, and in the foreground is the covered way, a sunken road for communication with the siege works and the conveyance of supplies and ammunition to the forts. The chief Engineer of the A. of P. is standing upon the embankment watching progress throw [sic] a field glass (Library of Congress).

Back in Philadelphia, Margaretta Meade is stiff grieving over the death of her eldest son, John Sergeant, the previous month. The general suggests she come and visit the army. He also writes home yet again about the official inquiry in the disastrous Battle of the Crater. The report from the Army and Navy Journal that he mentions appears after Theodore Lyman’s letter from today. Meade’s mention of Wade Hampton and Judson Kilpatrick is a reference to the North Carolina Battle of Monroe’s Crossing, also known as “Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle.” Surprised by the Confederate cavalry, Kilpatrick had fled in his nightshirt, barely escaping capture. Kilpatrick had earlier served in the Army of the Potomac and led the disastrous raid on Richmond in February 1864.

I wish you would think favorably of my proposition to take a trip to the army. I think it would arouse you and distract your mind.

You do not do justice quite to the court of inquiry. The finding is a complete vindication of my part in the operation. I enclose a slip from the Army and Navy Journal, which gives in full the “Finding of the Court,” the papers having only published that portion in which individual officers are censured by name. On reading this you will see the court states that, had my orders been carried out, success was certain, and that failure was due to the neglect of my orders by Major General Burnside and others. It is true the court might have amplified this much more than it did, and not ignored altogether Burnside’s extraordinary course, in the withdrawal of his command, which was the cause of our great loss. The Richmond papers say Hampton has whipped Kilpatrick, and we have a despatch from Sheridan reporting the occupation of Charlottesville and destruction of the James River Canal.

Both Meade and Lyman mention Sheridan’s successful efforts in their May 13 letters. Neither man cared personally for the Sheridan (especially Meade) but both were willing to acknowledge his successes.

We have a long telegram from Sheridan, dated Columbia (a small place on the James, between Lynchburg and Richmond). His raid has been a complete surprise. After defeating Early utterly at Waynesboro’, he met with no further opposition, but entered Charlottesville and destroyed the rail and bridges; then struck south and got to the James, where he destroyed all destructible parts of the Lynchburg canal, and continued the work as he marched down the river. If you will look at the map, you will see how important it is to break these routes, for they leave only the road via Burkeville Junction open to their great base, Lynchburg. The canal was especially important for transportation of supplies,s just as the Erie Canal is so essential tomarket the grain of the West. . . .

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE, FINDINGS OF THE COURT OF INQUIRY IN THE INVESTIGATION OF THE PETERSBURG MINE EXPLOSION, MENTIONED IN LETTER OF MARCH 13, 1865.
(Army and Navy Journal, of March 11, 1865)
THE PETERSBURGH EXPLOSION Decision Of The Court Of Inquiry Into The Cause Of Its Failure

The following is the finding and opinion of the court ordered to investigate the circumstances attending the failure of the explosion of the mine before Petersburgh:—

Finding

After mature deliberation of the testimony adduced, the court find the following facts and circumstances attending the unsuccessful assault on the 30th July:

Ambrose Burnside. (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside. (Library of Congress).

The mine, quite an important feature in the attack, was commenced by Major General Burnside, soon after the occupation of his present lines, without any directions obtained from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. Although its location—and in this the engineers of the army concur—was not considered by Major General Meade a proper one, it being commanded from both flanks and reverse, the continuance of the work was sanctioned.

It was not the intention of the Lieutenant General Commanding, or of the Major General commanding the Army of the Potomac, it is believed, to use the mine in the operations against Petersburgh, until it became known that the enemy had withdrawn a large part of his forces to the north side of the James River, when it was thought advantage might be taken of it as an assault. All the Union troops sent north of the James had been recalled in time to participate in the assault, so that the whole of the forces operating in front of Petersburgh were disposable.

The mine was ordered to be exploded at 3.30 a.m., but owing to a defective fuse, it did not take place till 4.45.

The detailed order or plan of operations issued by Major General Meade is in accordance with General Grant’s instructions, and was seen and approved by the latter previous to its publication. (It is marked K in the appendix of the report of the Court of Inquiry.)

It is the concurrent testimony that had the order been carried out, success would have attended the attack. Also it is in evidence that General Meade met General Burnside and three of his division commanders the day before the assault, and impressed upon them that the operation was to be one of time; that unless prompt advantage were taken of the explosion of the mine to gain the crest, it would be impossible to get it, or the troops to remain outside of their lines.

That order directed that General Burnside should “form his troops (the Ninth corps) for assaulting,” and that General Ord commanding the Eighteenth corps, and General Warren commanding the Fifth corps, should support the assault on the right and left respectively.

Brig. Gen. James Ledlie (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. James Ledlie (Library of Congress).

Major General Burnside’s order (No. 60 Appendix) directed Brigadier General Ledlie’s division, immediately on the explosion of the mine, to be moved forward and crown the crest known as Cemetery Hill. Brigadier General Wilcox was to move his division forward as soon as possible after General Ledlie’s bearing off to the left, and Brigadier General Potter was to move his (colored) division next, and pass over the same ground that General Ledlie did.

Five minutes after the explosion of the mine, General Ledlie’s division went forward, and it was followed by those of Generals Wilcox and Potter, though it is in evidence that the latter did not move in the prescribed order, and that they were not formed in a manner to do the duty assigned them.

General Ledlie’s division, instead of complying with the order, halted in the crater made by the explosion of the mine, and remained there about an hour, when Major General Meade received the first intimation of the fact through a dispatch from Lieutenant Colonel Loring, Assistant Inspector General of the Ninth corps, intended for General Burnside, in which he expressed the fear that the men could not be induced to advance.

The crater was on the enemy’s line of works, and was fifty to sixty yards long, twenty yards wide and twenty to twenty five feet deep. It was about five hundred yards from the cemetery crest.

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero.  (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero. (Library of Congress).

General Burnside was then (5.40 A. M.) ordered to push forward to the crest all his own troops, and to call on General Ord to move forward his troops at once. It is in evidence that when the order was communicated to General Ferrero, commanding the colored division, he said he could not put in his troops until the troops already in front should be moved out of the way. They did go forward, however, after some delay, but only to be driven back, and in their flight to rush impetuously against other troops, destroying their formation and producing disorder.

At 6.10 a.m., inquiry being made of General Burnside if it would be an advantage for Warren’s supporting force to go in at once on the left, the answer was, “there is scarcely room for it in our immediate front.” The importance of the utmost promptness and the securing of the crest at once, at all hazards, were urged upon him at 6.50 a.m.

At 7.20 a.m. General Burnside reported to General Meade that he was doing all in his power to push forward the troops and, if possible, carry the crest, and also that the main body of General Potter’s division was beyond the crater. It does not appear in evidence, however, that they ever got any considerable distance, not exceeding two hundred yards, beyond the crater, toward the crest, whence they were driven back immediately. This was also the fate of the few colored troops who got over the enemy’s line for a moment.

At 9 o’clock a.m., General Burnside reported many of the Ninth and Eighteenth corps were retiring before the enemy, and then was the time to put in the Fifth corps. It having just been reported, however, by two staff officers (not General Burnside’s) that the attack on the right of the mine had been repulsed, and that none of the Union troops were beyond the line of the crater, the commanding General thought differently; and the Lieutenant-General concurring, General Burnside was directed, at 9.10 a.m., to withdraw to his own entrenchments immediately or at a later period, but not to hold the enemy’s line any longer than was required to withdraw safely his men. This order brought General Burnside to General Meade’s headquarters, where he remonstrated against it, saying by nightfall he could carry the crest. No other officer who was present, and who has testified before the court, concurred in this opinion. The troops in the crater were then ordered to retire; but before it could be effected they were driven out with great loss at 2 a.m. These troops, however, were making preparations to retire, and but for that would probably not have been driven out at that time.

The Fifth corps did not participate at all in the assault, and General Ord’s command only partially, because the condition of affairs at no time admitted of their co-operation, as was contemplated by the plan of assault.

The causes of failure are:

  1. The injudicious formation of the troops in going forward, the movement being mainly by flank instead of extended front. General Meade’s order indicated that columns of assault should be employed to take Cemetery Hill, and that proper passages should be prepared for those columns. It is the opinion of the court that there were no proper columns of assault. The troops should have been formed in the open ground in front of the point of attack, parallel to the line of the enemy’s works. The evidence shows that one or more columns might have passed over at and to the left of the crater without any previous preparation of the ground.
  2. The halting of the troops in the crater instead of going forward to the crest, when there was no fire of any consequence from the enemy.
  3. No proper employment of engineer officers and working parties, and of materials and tools for their use in the Ninth corps.
  4. That some parts of the assaulting columns were not properly led.
  5. That want of a competent common head at the scene of assault, to direct affairs as concurrence should demand.

Had not failure ensued from the above causes and the crest been gained, the success might have been jeopardized by the failure to have prepared in season proper and adequate debouches through the Ninth corps lines for troops, and especially for field artillery, as ordered by Major General Meade.

The reasons why the attack ought to have been successful are:

  1. The evident surprise of the enemy at the time of the explosion of the mine, and for some time after.
  2. The comparatively small force in the enemy’s works.
  3. The ineffective fire of the enemy’s artillery and musketry, there being scarcely any for about thirty minutes after the explosion, and our artillery being just the reverse as to time and power.
  4. The fact that some of our troops were able to get two hundred yards beyond the crater toward the crest, but could not remain there or proceed farther for want of supports, or because they were not properly formed or led.

Opinion

The court having given a brief narrative of the assault, and “ the facts and circumstances attending it,” it remains to report, that the following named officers engaged therein, appear from the evidence to be “answerable for the want of success” which should have resulted:

  1. Major General A. E. Burnside, United States Volunteers, he having failed to obey the orders of the commanding General.
  2. In not giving such formation to his assaulting column as to insure a reasonable prospect of success.
  3. In not preparing his parapets and abatis for the passage of the columns of the assault.
  4. In not employing engineer officers who reported to him to lead the assaulting columns with working parties, and not causing to be provided proper materials necessary for covering the crest when the assaulting columns should arrive there.
  5. In neglecting to execute Major General Meade’s orders respecting the prompt advance of General Ledlie’s troops from the crater to the crest, or in default of accomplishing that, not causing those troops to fall back and give place to other troops more willing and equal to the task, instead of delaying until the opportunity passed away, thus affording the enemy time to recover from his surprise, concentrate his fire, and bring his troops to operate against the Union troops assembled uselessly in the crater.

Notwithstanding the failure to comply with orders, and to apply proper military principles, ascribed to General Burnside, the court is satisfied that he believed the measures taken by him would insure success.

  1. Brigadier General J. H. Ledlie, United States Volunteers, he having failed to push forward his division promptly according to orders, and thereby blocking up the avenue which was designed for the passage of troops ordered to follow and support him in the assault. It is in evidence that no commander reported to General Burnside that his troops could not be got forward, which the court regards as a neglect of duty on the part of General Ledlie, inasmuch as a timely report of the misbehavior might have enabled General Burnside, commanding the assault, to have made other arrangements for prosecuting it, before it became too late. Instead of being with his division during this difficulty in the crater, and by his personal efforts endeavoring to lead his troops forward, he was most of his time in a bomb-proof ten rods in rear of the main line of the Ninth corps, where it was impossible for him to see anything of the movements of troops that were going on.

III. Brigadier General Edward Ferrero, United States Volunteers—

  1. For not having all his troops found ready for the attack at the prescribed time.
  2. Not going forward with them to the attack.
  3. Being in a bomb-proof habitually, where he could not see the operations of his troops, showing by his own order issued while there, that he did not know the position of two brigades of his division, or whether they had taken Cemetery Hill or not.
  4. Colonel Z. R. Bliss, Seventh Rhode Island Volunteers, commanding first brigade, Second division, Ninth corps:—

In this, that he remained behind with the only regiment of his brigade which did not go forward according to orders, and occupied a position where he could not properly command a brigade, which formed a portion of an assaulting column, and where he could not see what was going on.

  1. Brigadier General O. B. Wilcox, United States Volunteers:— The court are not satisfied that General Wilcox’s division made efforts commensurate with the occasion, to carry out General Burnside’s order to advance to Cemetery Hill, and they think that more energy might have been exercised by Brigadier General Wilcox to cause his troops to go forward to that point.

Without intending to convey the impression that there was any disinclination on the part of the commanders of the supports to heartily co-operate in the attack on the 30th day of July, the court express their opinion that explicit orders should have been given assigning one officer to the command of all the troops intended to engage in the assault when the commanding General was not present to witness the operations.

Winfield S. Hancock, Major General United States Volunteers, President of Court.
Edward Schriver,
Inspector General U. S. A., Judge Advocate. The court then adjourned sine die.
Winfield S. Hancock, Major General United States Volunteers, President of Court.
Edward Schriver, Inspector General, U. S. A., Judge Advocate.

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. 267. Newspaper account from pp. 345-9. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 320-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Medal Ceremony II (March 12, 1865)

Now it’s Meade’s turn to report on Grant’s medal, but with much less detail than Theodore Lyman treated us with yesterday. You can see the actual gold medal here.

Yesterday General Grant with a small party came out here and I had a review for them. In the evening General Grant was presented at City Point with the gold medal voted him by Congress, and I went to City Point to the presentation. To-day Pendleton Watmough and young Parker (Cortlandt’s nephew), both of whom command gunboats in the James, came to see me, and I took them around the lines. Your brother Willie came in whilst they were here, looking very well and in good spirits. We are quiet and nothing going on.

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. 266-7. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.