A Severe Bilous Catarrh (April 7, 1865)

The High Bridge outside Farmville. It was quite an engineering marvel indeed. Some of the original brick columns still stand (Library of Congress).

The High Bridge outside Farmville. It was quite an engineering marvel indeed. Some of the original brick columns still stand (Library of Congress).

A “bilous catarrah.” That’s what Meade tells his wife he’s been suffering from. But what exactly is that? Flue? An outbreak of malaria? Whatever it was, Meade was seriously ill during the pursuit of Lee. The “Mr. Wise” to whom he refers is his brother-in-law (because he had married a sister of Mrs. Meade) and former governor of Virginia, Henry Wise.

Though late at night, I seize the time to send you a few lines. I don’t know when I last heard or wrote to you, for besides the battles and marches of the last ten days, I have been nearly all the time quite under the weather with a severe bilious catarrh, taking an intermittent form. Thanks to my powerful constitution, and the good care of my attending physician, together with the excitement of the scenes I have passed through, I have managed not to give up, but to be on hand each day. It is impossible for me to give you a detailed account of all our operations; suffice it to say, they have been brilliantly successful, beyond the most reasonable expectations. Richmond is ours, and Lee’s army flying before us, shattered and demoralized. Yesterday we took over ten thousand prisoners and five generals, among them Lieutenant General Ewell, and Custis Lee, Charley Turnbull’s friend. I hear these officers virtually admit the contest over, and say they believe Lee is prepared to surrender, or at least to disband his army.

We are now at Farmville, on the Appomattox, Lee having started for Danville; but we cut him off and forced him back towards Lynchburg. I am happy to tell you that I have reliable intelligence from Confederate officers that neither Mr. Wise nor his sons are dead.

George is quite well, and has, with Lyman and Dr. McParlin, taken good care of me. Major Smyth joined us just as we were moving, and has had a grand opportunity to see everything.

Meanwhile, Theodore Lyman takes pen in hand to describe in detail the events during the pursuit of Lee. The Battle of Sailor’s Creek, a disastrous defeat for Lee, had happened the day before. April 7 had seen fighting at the High Bridge outside Farmville. Union soldiers had tried to destroy it to keep the Confederates from crossing, but failed. Then the Confederates tried to destroy it to keep the Union men from following. Although they destroyed some spans of the railroad bridge, the wagon bridge remained intact.

The country about Deatonsville (a cluster of half-adozen brick farmhouses) is a great improvement, full of hills, not high but steep, with a nice brook in every hollow; the air begins too to sniff of the distant mountains, one or two of whose outlying spurs may hence be seen. We started from camp about eight in the morning, and, on the ridge, just beyond Sailor’s Run, we came on the 5th Corps, moving from right to left, in rear of the 2d and 6th Corps, and taking the road towards Prince Edward Court House. Sailor’s Run is a considerable brook in the bottom of a deep, precipitous hollow, where the Rebel train, closely followed by Humphreys, had come to a hopeless deadlock. The road thither, for several miles, showed that their animals were giving out. The way was completely strewed with tents, ammunition, officers’ baggage, and, above all, little Dutch ovens — such a riches of little Dutch ovens never was seen! I suppose they bake hoe-cakes in them. You saw them lying about, with their little legs kicked up in the air, in a piteous manner! But, when we got to the Run, there was a complete mess! Waggons, ambulances, cannon filled the hollow near the bridge! The hillside was white with Adjutant-General’s papers scattered from several waggons of that department; here and there lay a wounded Rebel, while everywhere lay broken boxes, trunks, ammunition-cases and barrels. It was strange to see the marks on the waggons, denoting the various brigades, once so redoubtable! At 10.30 the 2d Corps, after some firing, crossed the Appomattox, at High Bridge, where we too arrived at eleven. Nothing can more surprise one than a sudden view of this great viaduct, in a country like Virginia, where public works are almost unknown. It is a railway bridge, nearly 2500 feet long, over the valley of the Appomattox, and is supported by great brick piers, of which the central ones are about 140 feet high. The river itself is very narrow, perhaps seventy-five feet wide, but it runs in a fertile valley, a mile in width, part of which is subject to overflow. At either end the Rebels had powerful earthworks (on which they were still laboring the day before). In these they abandoned eighteen pieces of artillery, and, in one, they blew up the magazine, which made a sad scene of rubbish. . . .

At four P.m. we heard heavy firing across the river from Humphreys, who had gone towards the Lynchburg stage road and had there struck the whole of Lee’s army, entrenched and covering his trains. Nothing daunted, he crowded close up and attempted to assault one point with a brigade, but was repulsed with heavy loss. A despatch was sent in haste to Wright, to push on to Farmville, cross the river and attack the enemy in rear; but, when he got there, behold the 24th Corps before, the bridges burnt and everything at a standstill. A division of cavalry forded and attacked, but the Rebel infantry sent them to the right-about in short order. And so we got to camp at nine P.m., at Rice’s Station.

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. 269-70. 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. 351-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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