General Webb (March 3, 1865)

Alexander Webb, Meade's chief of staff (Library of Congress).

Alexander Webb, Meade’s chief of staff (Library of Congress).

When Andrew Humphreys received command of the II Corps, he was replaced by Alexander Webb as Meade’s chief of staff. Webb had been a hero at Gettysburg when, nearly in command of the Philadelphia Brigade in John Gibbon’s division of the II Corps, he had played a pivotal role in repulsing Pickett’s Charge. He later received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle. Prior to that he had served as chief of staff for the V Corps when Meade had commanded that unit.

In his letter of March 3, Theodore Lyman describes yet another foreign visitor to the Army of the Potomac, this time a captain from Romania. Those who believe that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a work of non-fiction might find Captain Botiano to be especially intriguing, and wonder if he wasn’t traveling from Transylvania under an alias.

Our evanescent Chief-of-Staff, General Webb, has gone to Washington for a day or two, to see his wife. He insisted, before he went, that the Rebs were not going to evacuate Petersburg at present, on any account. “Ah!” said General Meade, “Webb is an anti-evacuationist, because he wants to go to see his wife, and so wants to prove there isn’t going to be any move at present.” General Webb is a good piece of luck, as successor to General Humphreys. He is very jolly and pleasant, while, at the same time, he is a thorough soldier, wide-awake, quick and attentive to detail. In fact, I believe him much better for the place than Gen. H. from the very circumstance that he was such a very superior man, that General Meade would take him as a confidential adviser, whereas the General does much better without any adviser at all. My only objection to General Webb is that he continually has a way of suddenly laughing in a convulsive manner, by drawing in his breath, instead of letting it out —the which goes to my bones.

It is not too much to say that yesterday was a day without striking events, as it was characterized by a more or less steady rain, from the rising to the going down of the sun. I wrote you a letter, I entertained the chronic Duane, and I entertained — oh, I forgot to tell you about him. I entertained the officer from Roumania, the one whom General Meade could not make out because he had no map of Europe. This Roumania, as I have ascertained by diligent study, is what we call Wallachia and Moldavia, and is a patch of territory lying north of the Danube, and running from its mouth, on the Black Sea, to the northwest, into the Carpathian mountains. As to the Roumanians themselves, they have the misfortune to be tremendously protected by everybody. Imprimis, they pay to the Porte an “honorary tribute” of 600,000 crowns, in return for which his word is pledged to protect them against all comers, which is a good joke, seeing he can’t protect himself against any comer at all! Then the Emperor Nap considers them “une nation Latine,” and so he is to protect them. Then the British protect them for fear the Russians should invade Turkey on that side. Then the Russians protect them because they want their land as a high road to Constantinople; and finally, the Austrians and Italians protect them, just to keep in the mode. Meanwhile the Roumanians seem to dislike all their kind friends, but still keep smiling and bowing round at them, hoping these protectors will one day get into a shindy, when they, the protected, propose to discontinue the honorary tribute, grab Bulgaria from the Turks, Bessarabia from the Russians, the Banat and part of Transylvania from the Austrians, and make a grand pan-Roumanian empire, with no protectors at all. All of which we shall know when they do it. Captain Botiano (that’s his name) informed me that his countrymen were descended from Roman colonists, led thither by Trajan. To judge from the gallant Cappy, as a specimen, the colonists must have intermarried considerably with various Gentiles; for his face denotes a combination of Greek, Italian, and Turk, with a dash of Tartar and a strain of some other barbarian, whose features are to me not familiar. On the whole, I felt like saying to him: “Oh, fiddle! don’t come humbugging round here. Just put on a turban, and stick five silver-mounted pistols and seven oriental daggers in your cashmere sash, and look like yourself!” For you must know he has received his education in the French army, and now appears trussed in a modern uniform, a cross between a British Grenadier Guard and a Prussian Chasseur. He talks good French and is sufficiently intelligent, and apparently well educated. We aired our Gallic for a long time together and discussed many mighty topics. He, of course, like all those who have the French way of thinking, was mildly horrified at the want of central power in this country and thought the political power delegated to the states was highly dangerous. They ought only to have power to look out for the bien publique. All of which was edifying to me, as coming from a descendant of a colonist of Trajan.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 307-9. 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.

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