A Medal Ceremony (March 11, 1865)

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

There will be time for fighting before the month is up, but for now the Army of the Potomac is functioning more like a social club—at least at the headquarters level. In today’s letter, Theodore Lyman details another such occasion, this time to give General Grant a medal for his capture of Vicksburg in 1863.  (David W. Lowe reports that the medal is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.) “Daddy” Washburn[e] is Grant’s political patron, Illinois congressman Eli Washburne. He had been with Grant at the start of the Overland Campaign—and Meade suspected that it had been Washburne who told reporter Edward Crapsey that Meade had wanted to retreat after the first day in the Wilderness. Lyman’s Harvard friend, Henry Abbott, had been mortally wounded in the Wildnerness while in command of the 20th Massachusetts.

From Grant we got a despatch that he would come up, with some ladies and gentlemen, to see our left and to review a few troops. The General rode down to the terminus of the railroad (which is not very far from Hatcher’s Run), and soon after came the train, with Grant and his party. Among them was our old friend Daddy Washburn, the same who came to the Rapid Ann, last May, to behold Grant swallow Lee at a mouthful, and—didn’t see it! Two divisions of the 2d Corps were turned out under the eye of the redoubtable Humphreys. They made a fine appearance, marching past; but I could have cried to see the Massachusetts 20th with only a hundred muskets or so, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis, whom I used to see at Culpeper with a lieutenant’s shoulderstraps. How changed from last spring, when they passed in review with full ranks, and led by Abbot! . . .

That evening we were invited to City Point, to see a medal given to General Grant. This medal had been voted by Congress in honor of him and his soldiers, after the battle and capture of Vicksburg. And you now see the rationale of the Hon. Washburn’s presence. He was to present it. The Corps commanders with a few aides, and some division commanders, were all the General took with him in the special train. We arrived about 8.30 p.m. and at 9 the ceremony began, in the upper saloon of the steamer Martyn, lying at the wharf. The solemnities were these: General Grant stood on one side of a small table, with an expression as if about to courageously have a large tooth out. On the other stood Washburn, with what seemed an ornamental cigar-box. Whereupon W., with few words, remarked that the Congress of the United States of Amerikay had resolved to present him a medal, and a copy of their resolutions engrossed on parchment. “General” (unrolling a scroll), “this is the copy of the resolutions, and I now hand it to you.” (Grant looked at the parchment, as much as to say, “That seems all right,” rolled it up, in a practical manner, and put it on the table.) “This, General” (opening the ornamental cigar-box, taking out a wooden bonbonniere and opening that), “is the medal, which I also hand to you, together with an autograph letter from President Lincoln.” The “all-right” expression repeated itself on Grant’s face, as he put down the bonbonniere beside the scroll. Then he looked very fixedly at Mr. Washburn and slowly drew a sheet of paper from his pocket. Everyone was hushed, and there then burst forth the following florid eloquence: “Sir! I accept the medal. I shall take an early opportunity of writing a proper reply to the President. I shall publish an order, containing these resolutions, to the troops that were under my command before Vicksburg.” As he stopped, Major Pell drew a long breath and said: “I thought we were sure of a speech this time, but now we never shall get one out of him.” The medal was of gold, three pounds in weight; on one side a bad likeness of Grant; on the reverse a goddess, in an impossible position, who, as General Meade remarked, “seemed to keep a general furnishing shop of guns and sabres.” “What is the meaning of the allegory?” he enquired of the Lieutenant-General. “I don’t know,” replied Grant, with entire simplicity, “I don’t know, but I am going to learn, so as to be able to explain it to people!” Then the distinguished militaries crowded round to gaze. Major-General Ord, who can’t get over his Irish blood, said: “I believe, sir, you are the first man who medalled with his battalion.” To which Grant, not taking the point in the faintest degree, replied gravely: “I don’t know but I was.” There was a heavy crowd of Hectors, I can tell you. Generals Meade, Warren, Wright, Parke, Humphreys, Ord, Gibbon, Ayres, Griffin, Rawlins, Ingalls, etc., etc. Very few ladies. After this a moderate collation, and so home to bed.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 318-20. 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.

Matinee Musicale (March 10, 1865)

Another view of the very photogenic Poplar Grove Church, with the headquarters of the 50th New York Engineers next to it. Some of the engineers are visible in the photo. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Another view of the very photogenic Poplar Grove Church, with the headquarters of the 50th New York Engineers next to it. Some of the engineers are visible in the photo. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman returns to the Poplar Grove Church for another entertainment. War isn’t always hell, apparently. Perhaps someone can explain why the wife of Alexander Webb (Meade’s chief of staff) refers to her husband as Andrew.

What think you we did yesterday? We had a “Matinee Musicale,” at the Chapel of the 50th New York Engineers. Nothing but high-toned amusements, now-a-day, you will perceive. In truth I was very glad to go to it, as good music always gives me pleasure. The band was the noted one of the New Jersey brigade, and consisted of over thirty pieces. But the great feature was Captain Halsted, aide-de-camp to General Wright, in capacity of Max Maretzek, Carl Bergmann, Muzio, or any other musical director you please. It appears that the Captain is a fine musician, and that his ears are straight, though his eyes are not. There was a large assemblage of the fashion and nobility of the environs of Petersburg, though most of the first families of Virginia were unavoidably detained in the city. We had a batch of ladies, who, by the way, seem suddenly to have gone mad on visiting this army. No petticoat is allowed to stay within our lines, but they run up from City Point and return in the afternoon. Poor little Mrs. Webb accompanied the General to our monkish encampment and tried, in a winning way, to hint to General Meade that she ought to remain a day or two; but the Chief, though of a tender disposition towards the opposite sex, hath a god higher than a hooped skirt, to wit, orders, and his hooked nose became as a polite bit of flint unto any such propositions. And so, poor little Mrs. Webb, aforesaid, had to bid her Andrew adieu. The batch of ladies above mentioned were to me unknown! I was told, however, there was a daughter of Simon Cameron, a great speck in money, to whom Crawford was very devoted. Then there was Miss Something of Kentucky, who was a perfect flying battery, and melted the hearts of the swains in thim parts; particularly the heart of Lieutenant Wm. Worth, our companion-in-arms, to whom she gave a ring, before either was quite sure of the other’s name! In fact, I think her parents must have given her a three-week vacation and a porte-monnaie and said: “Go! Get a husband; or give place to Maria Jane, your next younger sister.” The gallant Humphreys gave us a review of Miles’s division, on top of the concert; whereat General Meade, followed by a bespattered crowd of generals, Staff officers and orderlies, galloped wildly down the line, to my great amusement, as the black mare could take care of herself, but some of the more heavy-legged went perilously floundering in mud-holes and soft sands.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 317-18. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Party of Ladies and Gentlemen (March 8, 1865)

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it's from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it’s from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

When the army was not fighting, it was often entertaining visitors. Here, Meade writes about the efforts made for one party of civilians, which included the wife of General Grant, the niece of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and future Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley. It also included Mr. and Mrs. George Harding. Harding was a patent lawyer; his father had founded the Philadelphia Inquirer. Harding also occupies a footnote in presidential history as one of the many men who underestimated Abraham Lincoln. In 1855, Harding was one of the lawyers defending John H. Manny in a patent infringement suit brought by Cyrus McCormick over mechanical reapers. Feeling the legal team needed a local, Midwestern lawyer purely for reasons of appearance, they hired Abraham Lincoln sight unseen, but then refused to let him participate in the legal work. “Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here,” another lawyer on the team asked Harding; “he does not know any thing and can do you no good.” That other lawyer was Edwin Stanton. Although the legal team stayed at the same Cincinnati hotel during the trial, Harding said of Lincoln that neither he nor Stanton “ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him.” Lincoln was quite pained by this ill treatment at the hands of these elite Eastern lawyers.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the same outing.

George Harding (Library of Congress).

George Harding (Library of Congress).

Yesterday about 11 A. M.. Mr. and Mrs. George Harding, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, arrived at these headquarters. Mr. Harding had telegraphed me from City Point he was coming. I took them to see the camps and works, and turned out some of the troops for them to see. Then brought them back here and gave them a lunch, with some of Lyman’s champagne, and sent them back to City Point, quite delighted with their trip and all they saw. The day was a beautiful one and the roads in fine order. Mrs. Grant accompanied them and seemed as much pleased as the rest. I was glad to have it in my power to be civil to Mr. Harding, as some slight return for all he has done for me.

You will have heard of Sheridan’s success in the Valley, which I trust will be continued. We are now looking with interest for news from Sherman, and to know what force the enemy have been able to collect to confront him.

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman, as is his habit, provides a much more detailed account of the outing Meade mentions almost in passing. Thanks to David W. Lowe’s editing for his book Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, we can identify the people who Lyman’s previous editors kept anonymous, and make some corrections. For example, the Miss Stanton described below was actually the niece, not the daughter, of the secretary of war. In his journals, Lyman described Mrs. Grant as “very even and quiet, with a pleasant expression though she has a tremendous cast in one eye.” He noted that Miss Bradlee [sic] “was the best looking,” and made an observation that he probably felt was not appropriate for a letter to his wife: “[O]n the whole they were comeliest lot we have ever had.”

Yesterday, as I hinted in my last, we had a toot, of much duration. At ten A.m. the General got a telegraph (one of those charming City Point surprises) saying that a train was just then starting, holding a dozen of womenkind and a certain force of the male sex; that they would arrive in an hour or so, and that we would please rather to entertain them pretty well! We telegraphed to the 5th Corps to turn out some troops, and to General Wright, to say we were coming that way, and ordered out ambulances to go to the station, and turned out officers to go over also. Your hub, not without growls of a private sort, girded hisself with a sash and ordered the charger saddled. In due time they kim: Colonels Badeau and Babcock to guide them. As sort of chief of the honorable committee of reception, I took off my cap and was solemnly introduced to twelve distinct ladies, whose names I instantly forgot (ditto those of distinguished gentlemen accompanying), all except Mrs. General Grant, who was, of course, too well known to slip from memory. However, at the end of the day, I began to have a flickering and vague idea who some of them were. . . . Then Miss Stanton—of course I was brilliant about her. After I had more or less helped her over puddles and into ambulances for an hour or two, it occurred to me that the name of the Secretary of War was also Stanton. Then, after a period of rest, my mind roused itself to the brilliant hypothesis that this young lady might be the daughter of the Stanton who was Secretary of War. Once on this track, it did not take me over thirty minutes to satisfy myself that I actually had been rendering civilities to the offspring of him who holds the leash of the dogs of war! She is not a roarer, like her paternal, but very subdued and modest, and reminded me of the ci-devant Newport belle, Miss L C[lark]. . . . Likewise, may we here mention Bradlee père, a dried-up lawyer of New Jersey, after the fashion of the countenance of Professor Rogers. He was valiant and stuffed his trousers in his boots and clomb an exceeding tall horse, which so pleased another old party, Judge Woodruff, that he did likewise, and subsequently confessed to me that his last equestrian excursion was in 1834; from which I infer, that, at this present writing, Judge Woodruff’s legs are more or less totally useless to him as instruments of progression. He had a complement, his daughter, to whom I did not say much, as she had somebody, I forget who it was. Then we must mention, in a front place, the Lady Patroness, Mrs.H[arding], and the Noble Patron, Mr. H[arding]. These two seemed to take us all under their protection, and, so to speak, to run the machine. Mrs. was plump, fair, and getting towards forty. Mr. was of suitable age, stout, looked as if fond of good dinners, and apparently very tender on Mrs., for he continually smiled sweetly at her. Also he is a large legal gun and part proprietor of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Then there was a pale, no-account couple, Dr.and Mrs. G[rier]. The Doctor’s sister was Mrs. Smith, to whom Rosie attached himself with devotion that threatened the tranquillity of the absent S. All these, and more, were carted over to the Headquarters, where the General bowed them into his tent and cried out very actively: “Now Lyman, where are all my young men? I want all of them.” So I hunted all that were not already on hand, and they were introduced and were expected to make themselves as agreeable as possible. Without delay we were again en voyage (I, being sharp, got on a horse, which tended much to my physical comfort, prevented my conversation from being prematurely played out) and took the party to see the glories of the engineer camp and the chapel thereof; after which, to the model hospitals of the 6th Corps, of which Dr. [Silas Atherton]Holman is the Medical Director, who prides himself on doing everything without aid from the Sanitary, which he doubtless can do, when in winter quarters. It was like packing and unpacking so many boxes, to “aussteigen” and “einsteigen” all the females. We descended them, for the third time, at Fort Fisher, whence we showed them the Reb line and the big guns, and the signal tower of trestle work, 140 feet high. The next pilgrimage was a long one, as far as the 5th Corps Headquarters, on the left of the line. General Warren issued forth and welcomed the ladies to oranges, apples, grapes, crackers, cheese, ale, and cider, into the which the visitors walked with a vigor most commendable. By the time the males had made a considerable vacuum in the barrel of ale, Griffin’s division was ready for review, and thither we all went and found the gallant Humphreys, whom I carefully introduced to the prettiest young lady there, and expect to be remembered in his will for that same favor! A review of Crawford’s division followed, very beautiful, with the setting sun on the bayonets; and so home to an evening lunch, so to speak, whereat I opened my “pickles,” to the great delectation of both sexes. All this was dreamland novelty concentrated to the visitors, who departed with vehement thanks to us, well expressed by Mrs. Grant: “General Meade, I would far rather command an army, as you do, than live at City Point and have the position of Mr. Grant!” They were to have a dance that night on their boat at City Point, and politely and earnestly asked me to go down with them; but the point was not noticed by your loving hub.

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. 266. 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. 314-16. 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.

Anecdotes (March 6, 1865)

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

In his letter today, Theodore Lyman tells some amusing stories about Generals Crawford and Grant. Samuel Crawford was one of Meade’s fellow Pennsylvanians. A military surgeon, he had been at Fort Sumter when it was attacked and eventually rose to command of a division in the V Corps. In his book Campaigning with Grant, Horace Porter tells a story of a general who must be Crawford, but whom Porter identified only as “an officer serving in the Army of the Potomac who had formerly been a surgeon.” One day the officer arrived at Meade’s headquarters “in a high state of indignation.” As he had been riding over, some of the men had called him “Old Pills,” and he thought that was a great affront to his dignity. “I would like to have it stopped,” he said.

Meade put on his eyeglasses and glared through them at the complainer. “Well, what of that?” he demanded. “How can I prevent it? Why, I hear that, when I rode out the other day, some of the men called me a ‘damned old goggle-eyed snapping-turtle,’ and I can’t even stop that!”  Like Meade, Crawford is buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

I think I must relate to you a small story which they have as a joke against Major-General Crawford. As the story will indicate, the Major-General has some reputation for possessing a decided admiration of the looks and figure of his own self. There came to the army a young artist, who was under a certain monied person. The young artist was to make models for bronze medallions, and the monied person was to sell the same and take the profits, if any. He proposed to model the commander of the army, and each of the corps commanders, and General Webb, but no one else. As the artist was modelling away at General Webb, he asked: “Isn’t General Crawford rather an odd man?” “What makes you ask that?” says the Chief-of Staff?” “Why, he waked me up in the middle of the night, and asked what I could make a statuette of him for! I told him $400 and he said he thought he would have it done!” Webb, who is a cruel wag, said naught, but, the next time he met C, asked him if he had seen the young sculptor who had come down. “Seen him!” quoth C. “My dear fellow, he has done nothing but follow me round, boring me to sit for a statuette!”

General Hunt was telling me an anecdote of Grant, which occurred during the Mexican War and which illustrates what men may look for in the way of fame. It was towards the last of the fighting, at the time when our troops took by assault the works immediately round the City of Mexico. Grant was regimental quartermaster of the regiment commanded by Colonel Garland; and, it appears, at the attack on the Campo Santo, he, with about a dozen men, got round the enemy’s flank and was first in the work. Somewhat after, he came to the then Lieutenant Hunt and said: “Didn’t you see me go first into that work the other day?” “Why, no,” said Hunt, “it so happened I did not see you, though I don’t doubt you were in first.” “Well,” replied Grant, “I was in first, and here Colonel Garland has made no mention of me! The war is nearly done; so there goes the last chance I ever shall have of military distinction!” The next time, but one, that Hunt saw him, was at Culpeper, just after he was made Lieutenant-General. “Well, sir!” cried our Chief-of-Artillery, “I am glad to find you with some chance yet left for military distinction!”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 312-13. 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.

Minstrel Show (March 5, 1865)

A Timothy Gardiner photograph of the Poplar Grove Church (Library of Congress).

A Timothy Gardiner photograph of the Poplar Grove Church (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman is a great source for details about the day-to-day life in the Army of the Potomac. His letter of March 5, 1865, is a prime example. He describes a ride along the lines and he attends a minstrel show at the Poplar Grove Church, constructed by the 50th New York Engineers under the command of Ira Spaulding.

Lyman mentions two resignations. One is Jacob Henry Sleeper, a fellow Bostonian who had commanded the 10th Massachusetts Battery. He had been wounded in the army at Reams’ Station. The other resignation was Maj. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg, who led a division of the cavalry. Greg, cousin to Pennsylvania’s governor, was a capable commander who had stopped Jeb Stuart on July 3 at Gettysburg. The reasons for his resignation still remain something of a mystery, although he may have resented the way Philip Sheridan had been promoted over him.

David McMurtrie Gregg (Library of Congress).

David McMurtrie Gregg (Library of Congress).

. . . Well, the rain held up and some blue sky began to show, and I mounted on what I shall have to call my Anne of Cleves—for, in the choice words of that first of gentlemen, Henry VIII, she is “a great Flanders mare”—and rode forth for a little exercise. Verily I conceived we should rester en route, sich was the mud in one or two places! She would keep going deeper and deeper, and I would strive to pick out a harder path and would by no means succeed. Nevertheless, I made out to find some terra firma, at last, and, by holding to the ridges got a very fair ride after all. I found not much new out there, towards the Jerusalem plank: some cavalry camped about, as usual, and a new railroad branch going to supply them, and called Gregg’s branch. Gregg, by the way, has resigned. He is a loss to the service, and has commanded a cavalry division very successfully for a long time. I don’t know why he went out, since he is a regular officer. Some say it is a pretty wife, which is likely, seeing the same had worked in that style with others. Then there is Major Sleeper, resigned too. He has served long and well, and been wounded; so I say, what a pity that he should not stick to the end. It is human nature to expect a full performance of duty, when once a man has done decidedly well. These branch railroads are like mushrooms, and go shooting out at the shortest notice. The distinguished Botiano was entirely taken down by the performances of this sort. Just at the time of our new extension to the left, he went for a few days to Washington. When he got back, he was whisked over five miles of new railroad, including a number of bridges! This upset him wholly, and it was hard to make him believe that there hadn’t been an old line there before. Now where do you suppose I went last night? Why, to the theatre! Certainly, in my private carriage to the theatre; that is to say, on horseback, for may high powers forfend me from an ambulance over corduroys and these mud-holes! Rather would I die a rather swifter death. To explain, you must understand that good Colonel Spaulding commands a regiment of engineers, a fine command of some 1800 men. As they are nearly all mechanics, they are very handy at building and have erected, among other things, a large building, which is a church on Sundays, and a theatre on secular occasions. Thither the goodly Flint rode with me. On the outside was about half the regiment, each man armed with a three-legged stool, and all waiting to march into the theatre. We found the edifice quite a rustic gem. Everything, except the nails, is furnished by the surrounding woods and made by the men themselves. The building has the form of a short cross and is all of rustic work; the walls and floors of hewn slabs and the roof covered with shingles nailed on beams, made with the bark on. What corresponds to the left-side aisle was railed off for officers only, while the rest was cram-full of men. The illumination of the hall was furnished by a rustic chandelier, that of the stage by army lanterns, and by candles, whose rays were elegantly reflected by tin plates bought from the sutler. The entertainment was to be “minstrels”; and, to be sure, in walked an excellent counterpart of Morris, Pell, and Trowbridge, who immediately began an excellent overture, in which the tambourine gentleman, in particular, was most brilliant and quite convulsed the assembled engineers. The performances were, indeed, most creditable, and there was not a word of any sort of coarseness throughout. A grand speech on the state of the country, by a brother in a pair of gunny-bag trousers, was quite a gem. He had an umbrella, of extraordinary pattern, with which he emphasized his periods by huge whacks on the table. I think the jokes were as ingeniously ridiculous as could be got up, and that, you know, is the great thing in minstrels. Brudder Bones came a little of the professional by asking his friend: “What can yer play on dat banjo?” “Anyting,” says the unwary friend. “Well, den, play a game o’ billiards!” “Can’t play no billiards! kin play a tune,” cries the indignant friend. “Well den, if yer kin play a tune, jis play a pon-toon!” All to the inextinguishable delight of the engineers. After the play the good Colonel, who is one of the salt of the earth, insisted on my taking pigs’ feet as a supper.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 310-12. 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.

Quite a Sensation in the Army (March 4, 1865)

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The affair of the “Mine” continues to reverberate, as both George Meade and Theodore Lyman comment on an account of the action, also known as the Battle of the Crater, that appeared in the Washington Chronicle. Meade also mentions that the 114th Pennsylvania (a.k.a. the “red legs” are no longer serving as the headquarters guard.

To-day’s Chronicle has part of the opinion of the court of inquiry, which I suppose will be published in the Philadelphia papers. It has made quite a sensation in the army, as it censures Burnside, Willcox, Ferrero and a Colonel Bliss. But few persons understand the allusion in the last sentence.

Senator Harris told me that, after I was confirmed, he received a letter from Burnside, saying he was glad of it, and that I deserved it. I told Senator Harris I had no personal feeling against Burnside, and no desire to injure him.

Deserters still continue to come in, there being seventy-five yesterday, forty with arms. There are, however, no indications of an immediate evacuation either of Petersburg or Richmond, and the great fight may yet be fought out in this vicinity. There is nothing new in the camp, except you may tell George the Third Infantry has reported, and is doing guard duty at headquarters in place of the “red legs.”

Lyman takes a ride along the front.

Yesterday the rain gave over partly, and so, in the afternoon, Rosie and I mounted and rode forth to see the new line to the left. The mare knew me and greeted me, in her characteristic way, by trying to kick and bite me. I felt quite funny and odd at being once more on horseback, but had a fine time, for the mare was in great spirits and danced and hopped in a festive manner. Rosie was very proud to show me all the last battle-ground, and to explain the new roads; for he has a high opinion of his ability to find roads, at which, indeed, he is very capable. So we jogged along, sometimes in danger of sticking in the mud, and again, finding a sandy ridge where we could canter a little. This last addition, which goes to Hatcher’s Run, makes our line of tremendous extent; perhaps a continuous parapet of eighteen miles! The Rebs are obliged to draw out proportionately, which is a hard task for them. As we rode along the corduroy we met sixteen deserters from the enemy, coming in under guard, of whom about a dozen had their muskets, a sight I never saw before! They bring them in, all loaded, and we pay them so much for each weapon. The new line is a very handsome one, with a tremendous sweep of artillery and small arms. To eke out this short letter I enclose the report of the Court of Enquiry on the “Mine.” You see it gives fits to Burnside, Ledlie, Ferrero, and Willcox, while the last paragraph, though very obscure, is intended, I fancy, as a small snub on General Meade.

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. 266. 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. 309-10. 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.

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.

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.