This Dreadful War (April 13, 1865)

Earlier, George Meade had written home to his wife about her brother William “Willie” Sergeant, the colonel of the 210th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He had been wounded in the fighting at on March 31. In his History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Samuel Bates wrote, “On the 27th of March, the movement upon Gravelly Run commended, the Two Hundred and Tenth taking the advance, and during the fierce actions of the three days which succeeded, it was at the fore front, displaying a stubborn bravery, which was unsurpassed, and sustaining losses which unmistakably show the fiery struggle through which it was called to pass. Colonel Sergeant was mortally wounded while gallantly leading his command.” Meade had reported the wounding to his wife, but it appeared that young Sergeant was improving, but today Meade writes to his wife with the tragic news. Willie Sergeant is buried with the Meades and Sergeants at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Yesterday, as soon as I reached here, where there is a telegraph, I telegraphed to City Point to enquire about Willie, and received a reply from the medical officer in charge of the hospital that Willie had left the day before for Washington, doing well, the ball having been extracted. You can therefore imagine how shocked I was about midnight to get a despatch from Sandy Dallas, at Washington, stating Willie had died on the passage. I presume he must have died of hemorrhage, or some of those secondary causes that suddenly occur in gun-shot wounds. What a dreadful shock for his poor wife and your mother, and how it will mar the exultation of our recent victories!

Willie had established a high character for himself, and was doing so well that it seems hard he should be thus suddenly taken off. My God, what misery this dreadful war has produced, and how it comes home to the doors of almost every one!

I have written you fully, urging on you patience and resignation. Popular fame is at best but ephemeral, and so long as one has a clear conscience that he has done his duty, he can look, or at least should look, with indifference on the clamor of the vulgar.

I have received a very kind letter from Cortlandt Parker, and I enclose you one received to-day from Mr. Jay, of New York, so that I am not entirely without friends, though the few I have render them the more valuable. But, with or without friends, we ought to be happy so long as God spares our lives and blesses us with health, and our consciences are clear that we have done all we could. I trust we will soon have peace, and then I may be permitted to return to you and the children. This will compensate me for all I have gone through.

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. 272. 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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