The Return of Lyman (March 2, 1865)

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, "Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure" (Library of Congress).

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, “Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure” (Library of Congress).

After two months on leave back in Boston, Theodore Lyman finally returns to the Army of the Potomac. “Over two months at home!” he noted in his journal on February 27. “Now it seems hardly possible—about two weeks, that is the way it seems.” From this point on we will be hearing from Lyman as well as Meade. Lyman’s letters home are invariably entertaining and detailed, although he often composed them several days after the date they bear.

Meade’s comment about Gouverneur Warren is interesting, because he two generals had fallen out the previous summer, and Meade had even considered having Warren relieved.

Lyman has returned without waiting for my summons, he becoming nervous for fear some movement of Lee’s might precipitate matters before he could get notice, and if the army should move, it might be a difficult matter to join it.

I see by the papers Howard and Schofield have been made brigadier generals in the regular army. This I think injustice to General Warren, whom I recommended some time ago to General Grant for this position.

Meade’s Headquarters, the book of Lyman’s wartime letters, has this to say about Lyman’s absence and his return to the Army:

“As the Army of the Potomac was now settling down to winter quarters before Petersburg, Meade chaffingly remarked to Lyman one day toward the end of December: ‘I have a Christmas present for Mrs. Lyman—a certain worthless officer whom I shall send home to her.’ And that evening he gave him a 300-day leave, with the understanding that Lyman was to return with the opening of the active campaign in the spring.

“Toward the end of February, Lyman became restless, and fearing that operations might start in his absence, turned up at Headquarters on March 1. On going into dinner, he was kindly greeted by General Meade, who, poor man, although he had just come back from burying his son, managed to say playfully that he would have Lyman court-martialed for returning without orders.”

Here is Lyman’s letter from March 2.

It was raw yesterday, or chilly rather, without being cold, and to-day we are favored by a persistent northeast rain, such as we had a month later than this at Culpeper. The season, I should fancy, is earlier here than at Culpeper—very likely by two weeks or more. Indeed last night the toads were whistling in the bog-holes, as they do with us in the last of April; and Rosie had, on his mantel, a bud of narcissus, or some such flower, he had found in a swamp. You would not give us much credit for a chance to move, could you see the country; the ground everywhere saturated and rotten, and giving precarious tenure even to single horses, or waggons. I did not believe very earnestly that we should soon move, when I left, but only wanted to be within all chances. I do really doubt whether anything will be done before the 1st of April. I think the state of the country will hardly permit it to either party. When Sherman gets, say, in the latitude of Weldon, if he does so without check, he must, I think, strike the perfection of the mud zone; and must stick for a while; besides which he must establish a regular base, and, if he contemplates hard or protracted fighting, he must have a protected line for supplies. All these things take time, and take season also. Of course, it is not Lee’s policy to let go his hold hereabout, till the very last moment. He has gone south in person, to gather up all possible forces and put them in the best order for resistance he can. The impression here seems to be, that the combined forces against Sherman are not very strong in the sum total, and are, of course, not so good in quality as Lee’s own men. Then again, his very army, it is within bounds to say, never was so low in morale as now. During the twenty-eight days of February nearly 900 men deserted to the lines of this army alone, and a proportional number to those of the Army of the James. The remarkable point, also, is that these are old men—nearly all of them—and not the raw conscripts. In one day there came over 134 men, including also their non-commissioned officers, bringing their arms with them. Among the deserters have been four commissioned officers. During the time I have been with the army, I recall only two or three instances, besides these. Of course many more desert to the rear than to the enemy; so that I doubt not that Lee’s losses from this cause during February were something between a large brigade and a small division. General Meade, after reviewing Lee’s position and prospects, said: “I do not see what he is to do!”—which is a very strong speech for the cautious General. Well, as I have always said, he has the remaining chance, should everything work precisely to favor him, of falling with fury and with all available troops, on a part of Sherman’s army, or even on the whole of it, and dealing a stunning blow, whereby his evil day would be postponed; but how it could be averted seems to me inconceivable, save by a sort of miracle. If I am not mistaken, the forces now opposed to the Rebels in the east are at least as two to one. And again they have almost everything against them excepting the important advantage of interior lines.

Meantime all is very quiet with us. Last night I certainly heard not over half-a-dozen musket-shots, whereas in the autumn we had a real skirmish fire all the night through, not to speak of intermittent shelling. As I told you, Duane was on hand to welcome me. He looks very well and is better as to his eyes. Then Rosie—had he not, in my honor, caused constructed a new and very high hedge, or shelter, of pine branches, topped off with a tuft of cedar, and a triumphal arch of the same over the doorway! Within the tent were further improvements; andirons to wit (weak as to their legs, and frequently tumbling over on their sides at critical moments). Then a large Swedish flag, with the Union over my bed—a gift from some Scandinavian marines who visited the Headquarters, and upon whom Rosie quite ran himself aground in the matter of oysters, at the saloon over the way. Then, too, the middle tent-pole has been removed and the interior of the tent supported by a framework, a part of which takes the form of a shelf, running round the sides and very handy for any small articles. I must also give credit to that idiotic Frenchman, who waited at table, for having ingeniously burned down our mess tent, during my absence, whereby we now have a much improved hospital tent, very pleasant, and we have got rid of the idiot and have a quite intelligent nig, which actually keeps the spoons clean.

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. 265. 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. 304-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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