Politicians and Newspaper Editors (April 18, 1865)

"Lincoln's body lying in state in the East room White house," a sketch by Alfred Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Lincoln’s body lying in state in the East room White house,” a sketch by Alfred Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In the aftermath of Lee’s surrender, George Meade tells his wife the little news he has heard. At least the New York Herald has some good things to say about him.

Day before yesterday I sent Captain Emory to Richmond to see after his relatives. I have to-day a telegram from him, stating he had reached Richmond and found our friends all well.

I have heard nothing from General Grant since he left here, and am in complete ignorance of what is going to be done with this army. I note what you say about public opinion in Philadelphia and New York, but if you saw the Herald of the 14th, you ought to be satisfied with what is there said of the feeling of the army towards me. [see below]. So long as the soldiers appreciate my services, I am indifferent to the opinion of politicians and newspaper editors.

I see the Radicals are down on Grant for the terms he granted Lee. This I expected, but I trust they are in a miserable minority, and that the country will sustain him.

I send you a copy of an order I published announcing the death of the President. It has been well received. I also enclose a letter from an anonymous friend, which was accompanied by an elegant pair of gauntlets.

The Order mentioned in last letter:

Head-quarters, Army Of The Potomac, April 16, 1865. General Orders, No. 15.

The Major General Commanding announces to the Army that official intelligence has been received of the death, by assassination, of the President of the United States. The President died at 7.22 on the morning of the 15th instant.

By this Army, this announcement will be received with profound sorrow, and deep horror and indignation. The President, by the active interest he ever took in the welfare of this Army, and by his presence in frequent visits, especially during the recent operations, had particularly endeared himself to both officers and soldiers, all of whom regarded him as a generous friend.

An honest man, a noble patriot, and sagacious statesman has fallen! No greater loss, at this particular moment, could have befallen our Country. Whilst we bow with submission to the unfathomable and inscrutable decrees of Divine Providence, let us earnestly pray that God, in His infinite mercy, will so order, that this terrible calamity shall not interfere with the prosperity and happiness of our beloved Country!

Geo. G. Meade,
Major General Commanding


(New York Herald, April 14, 1865)


The impression seems to have gotten out at the North that General Meade is not very popular with his army. This is a great mistake, and has been fully verified in the past two days. I never saw so much enthusiasm displayed for any man as was for him after the surrender of Lee’s army.

Our troops were drawn up on either side of the road and when General Meade rode through they seemed nearly crazed with joy. Cheer followed cheer, and hats were thrown up in the air with apparent disregard of where they should land or what became of them.

General Meade was equally excited. He seemed for the time to throw off his reserve and dignity and enter fully into the spirit of the occasion.

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. 273-4. Newspaper article from p. 350. Available via Google Books.

Boiling and Fuming (April 17, 1865)

Theodore Lyman

Theodore Lyman

On April 17, 1865, Theodore Lyman pens one more defense of his chief, but not without touching on Meade’s flaws—especially his legendary temper.

Sadly, this marks the end of Lyman’s letters. With Lee’s army defeated, Meade’s loyal aide-de-camp returned to Boston. He had served Meade well, and provided one of the best accounts of life with the Army of the Potomac ever written. He and Meade remained in contact. In July, the Lymans hosted the Meades for an extended stay in Boston. When Meade died in 1872, Lyman helped raise money to support the family he left behind. Elected to Congress in 1883, Lyman served only one term. By this time he was feeling a numbness in his extremities, a gradually worsening condition that eventually left Lyman bedridden. It sounds like a neurodegenerative disease of some sort—perhaps amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known today as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As one biographer wrote, “His brave spirit in this growing isolation, which at last withdrew him from the sight of almost all except his own family, surmounted all barriers. . . . When his hand could no longer hold the pen, he spoke through his tender amanuensis words full of the same high courage and cheerful humor which had been his charm in earlier life.”

He died in September 1897. “Theodore Lyman—man of science—soldier—and man of the world—touched life at many points,” wrote George Agassiz, who edited his letters for publication. “He could draw easily on his varied experience, from a well-trained and well-stored mind. This, added to good looks, charm, and good humor, a ready wit and great tact, made him a striking and telling personality, whether in the camp, a scientific meeting, or social gathering.” Something of Lyman’s personality will always survive as long as people can read his lively and vibrant writing, and I hope everyone who has read these posts has enjoyed Lyman’s company as much as I have.

The Cadwallader Lyman mentions is Sylvanus Cadwallader, who covered the latter portion of the war for the New York Herald. He was the reporter who claimed credit for lifting the press boycott of Meade following the Edward Crapsey/Crospey incident. In an account of his war experiences completed in 1896 but not published until 1955 (as Three Years with Grant), Cadwallader expressed a high opinion of Meade. “Unavoidable circumstances growing out of the emergencies of war, often made him the military ‘football’ of these days,” he wrote: “but sober second thought of the American people ought to have corrected, long before this, much injustice there done him. That he was a great soldier, is scarcely denied by any one. But Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Wilson, and even Logan became for a time popular idols, and made it difficult to give Gen. Meade the place in the list that his services deserved . . . .” Cadwallader even said he had never seen any instances of Meade’s temper.

How wicked we are in this world!—Now, when I should be only overflowing with joy and thankfulness at these great results, I keep finding myself boiling and fuming over the personal neglect of General Meade and the totally undeserved prominence given to Sheridan. Yet Meade is really of no more consequence in this vast question of all time, than a sailor, who pulls a good oar, compared with the Atlantic Ocean. The truth will stand out in sober history, even for him—in the future Motleys and Prescotts. The plain truth about Meade is, first, that he is an abrupt, harsh man, even to his own officers, when in active campaign; and secondly, that he, as a rule, will not even speak to any person connected with the press. They do not dare to address him. With other generals, how different: at Grant’s Headquarters there is a fellow named Cadwalader, a Herald man, and you see the Lieutenant-General’s Staff officers calling, “Oh, Cad; come here a minute!” That is the style! With two or three exceptions, Grant is surrounded by the most ordinary set of plebeians you ever saw. I think he has them on purpose (to avoid advice), for he is a man who does everything with a specific reason; he is eminently a wise man. He knows very well Meade’s precise capacity and strong points. For example, if Meade says a certain movement of troops should be made, Grant makes it, almost as a matter of course, because he is so wise as to know that there is one of Meade’s strong points.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 358-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Farewell (April 19, 1865)

Meade (sitting at left) and Lyman (standing in the rear at right) at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

Meade (sitting at left) and Lyman (standing in the rear at right) at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

Headquarters Army of Potomac
April 19, 1865

Lt.-Col. Theo. Lyman, A. D. C.

Colonel:—In parting with you after an association of over twenty months, during which time you have served on my Staff, I feel it due to you to express my high sense of the assistance I have received from you, and to bear testimony to the zeal, energy, and gallantry you have displayed in the discharge of your duties. Be assured I shall ever preserve the liveliest reminiscences of our intercourse, and wherever our separate fortunes may take us, I shall ever have a deep interest in your welfare and happiness, which, by the blessing of God, I trust may be long continued.

Most Truly Your Friend
Geo. G. Meade
Maj.-Genl. U.S.A.

Meade’s letter to Theodore Lyman is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 362. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Foul Deeds (April 16, 1865)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes to his wife about hearing of Lincoln’s assassination and consoles her about the death of her brother, Willie. Lewis Powell, one of John Wilkes Booth’s fellow conspirators, had attacked Secretary of State William Seward as part of the plot. Although badly wounded, Seward survived. The assistant secretary of state was Seward’s son, Frederick, who had also been wounded in Powell’s attack. He, too, survived.

I received to-day your letter of the 12th, giving an account of the Union League serenade, and of your having learned of the death of Willie. I am glad for your sake some notice has been taken of my services.

As to Willie, I have written to you how shocked I was to hear of his death. This will, of course, be a terrible blow to his poor wife and the dear children. Your mother also, at her time of life, will necessarily feel it deeply.

Yesterday we were shocked by the announcement of the assassination of the President, Secretary and Assistant Secretary of State. I cannot imagine the motives of the perpetrators of these foul deeds, or what they expect to gain. The whole affair is a mystery. Let us pray God to have mercy on our country and bring us through these trials.

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. 272-3. Available via Google Books.

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.

Exaggerated Praise (April 12, 1865)

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the official surrender ceremony for the Army of Northern Virginia, with Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in charge of overseeing the event. After George Gordon Meade’s letter from April 12, I will include Chamberlain’s account of the surrender ceremony. Meade doesn’t write about that—he is fuming with indignation over the way Philip Sheridan is being lionized, while his own role in recent events is being ignored.

Your indignation at the exaggerated praise given to certain officers, and the ignoring of others, is quite natural. Still, I do not see how this evil is to be remedied, so long as our people and press are constituted as they are now. I have the consciousness that I have fully performed my duty, and have done my full share of the brilliant work just completed; but if the press is determined to ignore this, and the people are determined, after four years’ experience of press lying, to believe what the newspapers say, I don’t see there is anything for us but to submit and be resigned. Grant I do not consider so criminal; it is partly ignorance and partly selfishness which prevents his being aware of the effects of his acts. With Sheridan it is not so. His determination to absorb the credit of everything done is so manifest as to have attracted the attention of the whole army, and the truth will in time be made known. His conduct towards me has been beneath contempt, and will most assuredly react against him in the minds of all just and fair-minded persons.

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Grant has left us on a visit to Richmond and Washington. My army is being assembled around this place, where I presume we will await events in North Carolina, and go to Danville, and farther South if it should be deemed necessary. The prevailing belief is that Johnston, on learning the destruction of Lee’s army, will either surrender or disband his. It is hardly probable he will attempt to face Sherman and us.

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. 271. Available via Google Books.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Here is Chamberlain’s account. It is tinged in a glow of romanticism—I suspect the reality was perhaps a little less steeped with glory and reconciliation—but it is a classic account. This is from the end of Oliver Norton’s Attack and Defense of Little Round Top.

How or why it came about, I do not know, but on the evening of the 10th of April I was summoned to headquarters, and informed that I was to command the parade which was to receive the formal surrender of the arms and colors of the rebel army the next morning. This was an order, and to be received and obeyed without question. One request only I ventured to make of my corps commander. It was that, considering this occasion, I might resume command of my old brigade, the Third, from which I had been transferred in June, 1864, with which I had served up to that time since my entrance into the service. My request was granted, and on that evening I yielded the command of my gallant First brigade, and went back to my veterans.

General Grant was a magnanimous man, great-minded and large-minded. He would have nothing done for show and no vain ceremony. He granted to officers the high privilege of retaining their swords, and all men who owned their horses were made welcome to keep them, as they would need them to plow their land. The rebels had begged to be spared the pain of actually laying down their arms and colors in the presence of our troops, and to be permitted to stack them in front of their own camps and march off, and let us go and pick them up after they had gone. But this would be to err too far on the side of mildness. So it was insisted that, while the surrendering army should be spared all that could humiliate their manhood, yet the insignia of the rebellion and the tokens of the power and will to hurt, lifted against the country’s honor and life, must be laid down in due military form in presence of a designated portion of our army.

This latter office fell to our lot. It gave us, no doubt, a grateful satisfaction and permitted a modest pride, but it was not accepted as a token that we surpassed our comrades in merit of any kind.

We formed our line of battle on the southern margin of the principal street in Appomattox Court House. Massachusetts on the right — her Thirty-second regiment, with all that was left to us of her Ninth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-second; then Maine — her Twentieth regiment, with the delivered remnant of her Second and her First Sharpshooters; Michigan next — her Sixteenth, with interminglings of her First and Fourth. On the left Pennsylvania’— her One Hundred and Fifty-fifth holding also filaments which bound us with the Sixty-second, Eightythird, Ninety-first, and One Hundred and Eighteenth, an immortal band, which held in it the soul of the famous “Light Brigade,” and of the stern old First division, Porter’s, which was nucleus of the Fifth corps, men among them who had fired the first shot at Yorktown, and others that had fired the last at Appomattox, and who thus bore upon their banners all the battles of that army.

By the courtesy of General Bartlett the First brigade, which I had so long commanded, and the Second, which had been with me in this last campaign, were sent to me and held part in the parade, being formed on another line across the street and facing us. These were, with the exception of the One Hundred and Ninety-eighth Pennsylvania, composed of New York regiments,— the One Hundred and Eighty-fifth, One Hundred and Eighty-seventh, One Hundred and Eighty-eighth, and One Hundred and Eighty-ninth,— which in severe service had made themselves veterans worthy the fellowship of those sterling old New York regiments that had fulfilled their time and fame. Names and figures, all of these, dear to every heart that had shared their eventful and glorious history.

As we stood there in the morning mist, straining our eyes toward that camp about to break up for the last march, a feeling came over our hearts which led us to make some appropriate recognition of this great, last meeting.

We could not content ourselves with simply standing in line and witnessing this crowning scene. So instructions were sent to the several commanders that at the given signals, as the head of each division of the surrendering column approached their right, they should in succession bring their men to ” attention ” and arms to the ” carry,” then resuming the “ordered arms ” and the ” parade rest.” And now we see the little shelter tents on the opposite slope melting away and carefully folded, being things which were needed by men as men and not as tokens of rebellion. Soon the gray masses are in motion — once more toward us — as in the days that were gone. A thrilling sight. First, Gordon, with the “Stonewall Corps “; then their First corps,— Longstreet’s,— no less familiar to us and to fame; then Anderson, with his new Fourth corps; and lastly, A. P. Hill’s corps, commanded now by Heth, since Hill had fallen at one of the river fights a few days before. On they come with careless, swinging route step, the column thick with battle Hags, disproportionate to their depleted numbers. As they come opposite our right our bugle sounds the signal, repeated along our line. Each organization comes to “Attention,” and thereupon takes up successively the “Carry.” The gallant General Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes, and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped, and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the “Carry.” All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor word nor motion of man, but awful stillness, as if it were the passing of the dead. Now and then a gust of wind would spring up from the south with strange greeting; our starry ensigns stiffen and fly out as if to welcome back the returning brothers. The ensigns of rebellion seem to shrink back and strain away from the fated farewell.

So a division at a time covers our front. They halt, face inward, some ten paces from us; carefully “dress” their lines, each captain as careful of his alignment as if at a dress parade. Then they fix bayonets, stack arms, then wearily remove their cartridge boxes and hang them on the pile; lastly, reluctantly, painfully, they furl their battlestained flags and lay them down; some, unable to restrain themselves, rushing from the ranks, clinging to them, kneeling over them and kissing them with burning tears. And then the Flag of the Union floats alone upon the field.

Then, stripped of every sign of the rebellion and token of its hate and will to hurt, they march off to give their word of honor never to lift arms against the old flag again, and are free to go where they will in the broad Republic.

Thus division after division passes, and it takes the whole day long to complete this deliverance. Twenty-seven thousand men paroled, one hundred and forty cannon and near that number of battle flags surrendered, but only about seventeen thousand stand of small arms. For sometimes a whole brigade, or what was left of it, had scarcely a score of arms to surrender, having thrown them away by roadside and riverside in weariness of flight or hopelessness of heart, or disdaining to carry them longer, only to be taken from them in token of a lost cause. After this it remained only to gather up what was serviceable of this material of war and to destroy the rest. Nothing was left which could be turned to use against the Union armies. The cartridge-boxes were emptied on the ground for the most part, burned, and after the troops had withdrawn, at the first dusk of evening, it was a weird and almost sad sight to see the running flame with frequent bursts of lurid explosion along the lines where the surrendering army had stood; then only bits of leather writhing in the gray ashes.

All was over. With the dawn of morning the hillsides were alive with men, in groups or singly, on foot or horse, making their way as by the instinct of an ant, each with his own little burden, each for his own little harbor or home.

And we were left alone and lonesome! The familiar forms that had long so firmly held our eyes, until they almost demanded the sight of them for their daily satisfaction, had vanished like a dream. The very reason of our existence seemed to have been taken away. And when on the morrow we took up our march again, though homeward, something was lacking in the spring and spice which had enlivened us through even the dreariest times. To be sure, the war was not over yet, but we felt that the distinctive work of the old Third brigade was over. We were soon to be mustered out; but never to be again as if the Third brigade had not become a part of our lives; a part of our souls. There were “thoughts that ran before and after,” memories of things that cannot be told, and new purposes of manly living and hopes of useful service yet, in visions of a broader citizenship and the career of an enfranchised country.

A Great Contempt for History (April 10, 1865)

Robert E. Lee, photographed in Richmond in April 1865 (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee, photographed in Richmond in April 1865 (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee has surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at a meeting with Grant in Wilmer McLean’s parlor at Appomattox Court House. George Meade, who had been with his army in the field, was not present at the meeting. On the next day, though, Meade comes face-to-face with Lee, with whom he had been tangling, in one way or another, since the Seven Days on the Peninsula in June and July 1862. (Grant, by comparison, had been fighting Lee only since May 1864). In this letter, Meade also mentions an encounter with Henry A. Wise, the former governor of Virginia and Meade’s brother-in-law (Wise had married a sister of Meade’s wife). Throughout the war, Meade had written to his wife with whatever news he was able to pick up about Wise and his family. There is a strong streak of bitterness in this letter, mainly over the way Meade has been shunted to the sidelines in the press accounts. The “certain individuals” he mentions are, no doubt, Sheridan and his followers.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman includes a great deal more detail about Meade’s encounters with Lee and Wise.

The telegram will have announced to you the surrender of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. This I consider virtually ends the war. I have been to-day in the rebel camp; saw Lee, Longstreet, and many others, among them Mr. Wise. They were all affable and cordial, and uniformly said that, if any conciliatory policy was extended to the South, peace would be at once made. Mr. Wise looked old and feeble, said he was very sick, and had not a mouthful to eat. I secured him the privilege of an ambulance to go home in, and on my return to camp immediately despatched George with an ambulance load of provisions to him. He enquired very affectionately after yourself, your mother and all the family.

The officers and men are to be paroled and allowed to go to their homes, where they all say they mean to stay. Lee’s army was reduced to a force of less than ten thousand effective armed men. We had at least fifty thousand around him, so that nothing but madness would have justified further resistance.

I have been quite sick, but I hope now, with a little rest and quiet, to get well again. I have had a malarious catarrh, which has given me a great deal of trouble. I have seen but few newspapers since this movement commenced, and I don’t want to see any more, for they are full of falsehood and of undue and exaggerated praise of certain individuals who take pains to be on the right side of the reporters. Don’t worry yourself about this; treat it with contempt. It cannot be remedied, and we should be resigned. I don’t believe the truth ever will be known, and I have a great contempt for History. Only let the war be finished, and I returned to you and the dear children, and I will be satisfied.

Our casualties have been quite insignificant in comparison with the results. I don’t believe in all the operations since we commenced on the 29th that we have lost as many men as we did on that unfortunate day, the 31st July, the day of the Petersburg mine.

Federal soldiers and some civilians pose for a photograph in front of the building that gave Appomattox Court House its name. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Federal soldiers and some civilians pose for a photograph in front of the building that gave Appomattox Court House its name. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Although this letter from Theodore Lyman is dated April 23, I think I will post it today because it describes the events of April 10, the day after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. William H.F. “Rooney” Lee, son of Robert, had been Lyman’s classmate at Harvard.

I think I must write you a letter, though it may get to you not much before the winter, to tell of the end of our campaign. Monday April 10 is a day worthy of description, because I saw the remains of our great opponent, the Army of Northern Virginia. The General proposed to ride through the Rebel lines to General Grant, who was at Appomattox Court House; and he took George and myself as aides; a great chance! for the rest were not allowed to go, no communication being permitted between the armies. At 10.30 we rode off, and, passing along the stage road, soon got to the picket line, where a row of our men were talking comfortably with an opposite row of theirs. There the General sent me ahead to see some general of theirs who might give us a guide through the lines. I rode a little beyond a wood, and came on several regiments, camped there. The arms were neatly stacked and the well-known battle-flags were planted by the arms. The men, looking tired and indifferent, were grouped here and there. I judged they had nothing to eat, for there was no cooking going on. A mounted officer was shown me as General Field, and to him I applied. He looked something like Captain Sleeper, but was extremely moody, though he at once said he would ride back himself to General Meade, by whom he was courteously received, which caused him to thaw out considerably. We rode about a mile and then turned off to General Lee’s Headquarters, which consisted in one fly with a camp-fire in front. I believe he had lost most of his baggage in some of the trains, though his establishment is at all times modest. He had ridden out, but, as we turned down the road again, we met him coming up, with three or four Staff officers. As he rode up General Meade took off his cap and said: “Good-morning, General.” Lee, however, did not recognize him, and, when he found who it was, said: “But what are you doing with all that grey in your beard?” To which Meade promptly replied: “You have to answer for most of it!” Lee is, as all agree, a stately-looking man; tall, erect and strongly built, with a full chest. His hair and closely trimmed beard, though thick, are now nearly white. He has a large and well-shaped head, with a brown, clear eye, of unusual depth. His face is sunburnt and rather florid. In manner he is exceedingly grave and dignified—this, I believe, he always has; but there was evidently added an extreme depression, which gave him the air of a man who kept up his pride to the last, but who was entirely overwhelmed. From his speech I judge he was inclined to wander in his thoughts. You would not have recognized a Confederate officer from his dress, which was a blue military overcoat, a high grey hat, and well-brushed riding boots.

As General Meade introduced his two aides, Lee put out his hand and saluted us with all the air of the oldest blood in the world. I did not think, when I left, in ’63, for Germantown, that I should ever shake the hand of Robert E. Lee, prisoner of war! He held a long conference with General Meade, while I stood over a fire, with his officers, in the rain. Colonel Marshall, one of his aides, was a very sensible and gentlemanly man, and seemed in good spirits. He told me that, at one time during the retreat, he got no sleep for seventy-two hours, the consequence of which was that his brain did not work at all, or worked all wrong. A quartermaster came up to him and asked by what route he should move his train: to which Marshall replied, in a lucid manner: “Tell the Captain that I should have sent that cane as a present to his baby; but I could not, because the baby turned out to be a girl instead of a boy!” We were talking there together, when there appeared a great oddity—an old man, with an angular, much-wrinkled face, and long, thick white hair, brushed a la Calhoun; a pair of silver spectacles and a high felt hat further set off the countenance, while the legs kept up their claim of eccentricity by encasing themselves in grey blankets, tied somewhat in a bandit fashion. The whole made up no less a person than Henry A. Wise, once Governor of the loyal state of Virginia, now Brigadier-General and prisoner of war. By his first wife he is Meade’s brother-in-law, and had been sent for to see him. I think he is punished already enough: old, sick, impoverished, a prisoner, with nothing to live for, not even his son, who was killed at Roanoke Island, he stood there in his old, wet, grey blanket, glad to accept at our hands a pittance of biscuit and coffee, to save him and his Staff from starvation! While they too talked, I asked General Lee after his son “Roonie,” who was about there somewhere. It was the “Last Ditch” indeed! He too is punished enough: living at this moment [April 23, when Lyman wrote this letter] at Richmond, on the food doled out to him by our government, he gets his ration just like the poorest negro in the place! We left Lee, and kept on through the sad remnants of an army that has its place in history. It would have looked a mighty host, if the ghosts of all its soldiers that now sleep between Gettysburg and Lynchburg could have stood there in the lines, beside the living.

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. 270-1. 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. 359-62. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

“The Army of Northern Virginia Has Surrendered!” (April 9, 1865)

Robert E. Lee surrendered in Wilmer McLean's parlor. Afterwards, souvenir-seeking Union soldiers nearly stripped McLean's house of furnishings. In an attempt to recoup his losses, McLean commissioned this fanciful print of the surrender. George Meade is one of the people who appear here, but were not present at the actual surrender. Click to enlarge (via Wikipedia).

Robert E. Lee surrendered in Wilmer McLean’s parlor at Appomattox Court House. Afterwards, souvenir-seeking Union soldiers nearly stripped McLean’s house of furnishings. In an attempt to recoup his losses, McLean commissioned this fanciful print of the event. Goerge Meade is one of the people who appear here, but were not present at the actual surrender. Click to enlarge (via Wikipedia).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virgina. While this did not end the American Civil War, it certainly indicated that the end of was near. Lee’s army was the most prominent one of the Confederacy, and once it left the field, the others were sure to follow.

Here’s how I wrote about the surrender, which took place at Wilmer McLean’s home in the village of Appomattox Court House, in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

“Lee, immaculately attired in his clean dress uniform, arrived first and waited in McLean’s parlor with Charles Marshall. Grant rode up later, wearing a private’s coat with his insignia pinned on. After some small talk about the Mexican War (Lee somewhat passive-aggressively told Grant that, try as he might, he hadn’t been able to remember a single feature of his), the two men got down to business. With a number of Union officers watching, including Sheridan, Ord, Custer, Porter, and Seth Williams, Grant wrote out a letter offering generous terms of surrender: parole for the soldiers upon their promise not to raise arms against the U.S. government until properly exchanged, with the officers keeping their sidearms, horses, and baggage. Lee pointed out that many of the men owned their own horses as well, so Grant said he would tell his men to allow any soldier who claimed ownership of a horse or mule to keep it. ‘This will have the best possible effect upon the men,’ said Lee. ‘It will be very gratifying, and will do much toward conciliating our people.’

Wilmer McLean's house, as it appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

Wilmer McLean’s house, as it appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

The reconstructed McLean house, as it appears today.

The reconstructed McLean house, as it appears today.

Alfred Waud depicted Lee as he rode away from the surrender meeting (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud depicted Lee as he rode away from the surrender meeting (Library of Congress).

“Col. Ely Parker of Grant’s staff, a full-blooded Seneca Indian, wrote out a clean copy of Grant’s letter, and Lee had a formal letter of acceptance drafted. Lee told Grant his men lacked rations; Grant said he would make arrangements to have some delivered. Sheridan provided the only note of discord when he stepped forward and asked Lee to give him back some letters he had sent that morning complaining of truce violations. Lee handed them over. Then Grant and Lee signed their letters of agreement. Lee requested that Grant send a messenger to Meade with word of the surrender.

“It was all over sometime around 4:00, and Lee bowed to the Union officers and left the house with Marshall. As Lee waited for his orderly to bring his horse, he stood on the steps and gazed sadly into the distance. ‘He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him,’ wrote Horace Porter. ‘All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present. Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.’”

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s account of the events he witnessed on this momentous day.

We all were up, according to habit, about daylight, with horses saddled, having staid near Stute’s house for the night. In reply to a summons from Grant, Lee has sent in a note to say that he would meet Grant at ten a.m. to confer on measures for peace. The Lieutenant-General answered that he had no authority in the premises and refused the interview; but repeated his offer to accept the army’s surrender on parole. Indeed, we suspected his affairs were from bad to worse, for last night we could hear, just at sunset, the distant cannon of Sheridan. He, with his cavalry, had made a forced march on Appomattox Station, where he encountered the head of the Rebel column (consisting, apparently, for the most part of artillery), charged furiously on it, and took twenty cannon and 1000 prisoners; and checked its progress for that night, during which time the 24th and 5th Corps, by strenuous marching, came up and formed line of battle quite across the Lynchburg road, west of Appomattox C.H. Betimes this morning, the enemy, thinking that nothing but cavalry was in their front, advanced to cut their way through, and were met by the artillery and musketry of two corps in position—(Ah! there goes a band playing “Dixie” in mockery. It is a real carnival!) This seems to have struck them with despair. Their only road blocked in front, and Humphreys’s skirmishers dogging their footsteps! Well, we laid the General in his ambulance (he has been sick during the whole week, though now much better) and at 6.30 a.m. the whole Staff was off, at a round trot—(90 miles have I trotted and galloped after that Lee, and worn holes in my pantaloons, before I could get him to surrender!). An hour after, we came on the 6th Corps streaming into the main road from the upper one. A little ahead of this we halted to talk with General Wright. At 10.30 came, one after the other, two negroes, who said that some of our troops entered Lynchburg yesterday; and that Lee was now cut off near Appomattox Court House. This gave us new wings! An aide-de-camp galloped on, to urge Humphreys to press the pursuit, and all waggons were ordered out of the road, that the 6th Corps might close in immediately on his rear. Away went the General again, full tilt, along the road crowded by the infantry, every man of whom was footing it, as if a lottery prize lay just ahead! A bugler trotted ahead, blowing to call the attention of the troops, while General Webb followed, crying, “Give way to the right! Give way to the right!” Thus we ingeniously worked our way, amid much pleasantry. “Fish for sale!” roared one doughboy. “Yes,” joined in a pithy comrade, “and a tarnation big one, too!” The comments on the General were endless. “That’s Meade.” “Yes, that’s him.” “Is he sick?” “I expect he is; he looks kinder wild!” “Guess the old man hain’t had much sleep lately.” The heavy artillery firing we had earlier heard, now had suddenly ceased, and there was a perfect stillness—a suspicious circumstance that gave us new hope. Somewhat before noon we got to General Humphreys, some five miles east of the Court House and at the very head of his men. He reported that he had just struck the enemy’s skirmish line, and was preparing to drive them back. At that moment an officer rode up and said the enemy were out with a white flag. “They shan’t stop me!” retorted the fiery H.; “receive the message but push on the skirmishers!” Back came the officer speedily, with a note. General Lee stated that General Ord had agreed to a suspension of hostilities, and he should ask for the same on this end of the line. “Hey! what!” cried General Meade, in his harsh, suspicious voice, “I have no sort of authority to grant such suspension. General Lee has already refused the terms of General Grant. Advance your skirmishers, Humphreys, and bring up your troops. We will pitch into them at once!” But lo! here comes now General Forsyth, who had ridden through the Rebel army, from General Sheridan (under a flag), and who now urged a brief suspension. “Well,” said the General, “in order that you may get back to Sheridan, I will wait till two o’clock, and then, if I get no communication from General Lee, I shall attack!” So back went Forsyth, with a variety of notes and despatches. We waited, not without excitement, for the appointed hour. Meantime, negroes came in and said the Rebel pickets had thrown down their muskets and gone leisurely to their main body; also that the Rebels were “done gone give up.” Presently, the General pulled out his watch and said: “Two o’clock—no answer—go forward.” But they had not advanced far, before we saw a Rebel and a Union officer coming in. They bore an order from General Grant to halt the troops. Major Wingate, of General Lee’s Staff, was a military-looking man, dressed in a handsome grey suit with gold lace, and a gold star upon the collar. He was courageous, but plainly mortified to the heart. “We had done better to have burnt our whole train three days ago”; he said bitterly. “In trying to save a train, we have lost an army!” And there he struck the pith of the thing. And so we continued to wait till about five, during which time General Humphreys amused us with presents of Confederate notes, of which we found a barrel full (!) in the Rebel waggons. It was a strange spectacle, to see the officers laughing and giving each other $500 notes of a government that has been considered as firmly established by our English friends!

About five came Major Pease. Headed by General Webb, we gave three cheers, and three more for General Meade. Then he mounted and rode through the 2d and 6th Corps. Such a scene followed as I can never see again. The soldiers rushed, perfectly crazy, to the roadside, and there crowding in dense masses, shouted, screamed, yelled, threw up their hats and hopped madly up and down! The batteries were run out and began firing, the bands played, the flags waved. The noise of the cheering was such that my very ears rang. And there was General Meade galloping about and waving his cap with the best of them! Poor old Robert Lee! His punishment is too heavy—to hear those cheers, and to remember what he once was! My little share of this work is done. God willing, before many weeks, or even days, I shall be at home, to campaign no more.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 355-8. 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.

A Visit to the Monitor

A depiction of the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862.

A depiction of the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862 (Library of Congress).

The first aspect of the Civil War that interested me as a kid was duel of the ironclads. I knew them as the Monitor and the Merrimac, although, like the Brontosaurus, the Merrimac turned out to have some nomenclature difficulties. The vessel from which the Confederates constructed their ironclad had been the Merrimack (which some people, including my younger self and George Gordon Meade, spelled as Merrimac). Its new incarnation—the Robocop version—bore the name CSS Virginia. That’s the correct nomenclature, but something embedded in my DNA that always makes me think of the Monitor and the Merrimac. (And I just read an article that said there may have been a Brontosaurus after all, and it wasn’t just a misidentified Apatosaurus. So there’s that.)

A gun from the CSS Virginia at the Mariners Museum. The damage at the muzzle was inflicted by the Monitor during the famous battle of the ironclads.

A gun from the CSS Virginia at the Mariners’ Museum. The damage at the muzzle was inflicted by the Monitor during the famous battle of the ironclads.

Duel of the Ironclads, with great illustrations by Fred Freeman.

My well-worn copy of Duel of the Ironclads, with its great illustrations by Fred Freeman.

There was something about this pivotal naval battle that captivated me. Along with my drawings of the starship Enterprise, the Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the robot from Lost in Space, when I was bored in class I often drew pictures of the battling ironclads . One of my inspirations was certainly Duel of the Ironclads, a Time-Life book with superb illustrations by Fred Freeman. I can’t remember when I got the book, but I spent many hours studying his paintings. I remember being awestruck back in the 1970s when I heard the news that the Monitor had been discovered on the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, and I was excited a little later when a National Geographic arrived, with a photo-mosaic showing the vessel’s wreckage on the sea bed, where it had lain since sinking in a terrible storm on December 30, 1862.

But I had never had the chance to visit the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. The museum has relics of the Monitor that have been raised from the sea, including the ship’s revolutionary turret and its big Dahlgren guns. I finally got the chance to stop by this past weekend, and it was worth the wait. It’s a cool museum—and I’m not just saying that because it was founded by a guy named Archer M. Huntington.

My wife and I pose on the deck of the life-size Monitor mockup.

My wife and I pose on the deck of the life-size Monitor mockup.

One of the Monitor's two guns, recovered from the ocean floor.

One of the Monitor’s two guns, recovered from the ocean floor.

I found it fascinating to actually see bits of the ship up close and personal. I saw the turret, the guns, and the ship’s engine and steam compressor in their tanks inside the conservation lab. The museum has all kinds of other artifacts recovered from the wreck, including the signal lantern the crew used on the night the Monitor sank, and all kinds of little items such as silverware and mustard bottles. In addition, there’s a life-size mockup of the turret as it looked on the seabed (complete with maritime encrustations), a cutaway turret showing its design, and a full-size mockup of the entire vessel that sits outside. There were also recreations of sections of the Monitor’s interior (it was much roomier than I would have though) and one of the forward portion of the Virginia.

It was a thrill to stand on the deck of the life-size Monitor mockup and imagine what it would have been like to stand on the real thing. Not in battle, of course. That would not have been fun at all.

What does this have to do with George Gordon Meade? Not much. But Meade did mention the Confederate ironclad in his letters to his wife (using the variant spelling of Merrimac). On March 11, 1862, after the Virginia had cut a swathe through the Union blockade fleet at Hampton roads, sinking the Cumberland and setting the Congress afire after she had run aground, Meade wrote, “We hear to-day of the disastrous naval conflict at Newport News. This is a very bad business, and shows the superior enterprise of our enemies. There is no reason we should not have had the Cumberland iron-clad, as the Merrimac has been prepared by them. The loss of two such vessels as the Cumberland and the Congress, two of our finest frigates, is a very serious blow, not only to our material interests, but to our pride and naval forces.”

The museum's mockup of the bow of the CSS Virginia.

The museum’s mockup of the bow of the CSS Virginia.

On April 13, more than a month after the epic battle between the two ironclads had ended in a draw, and the Virginia still lurked as a potential threat to the vessels supporting McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, Meade wrote, “As I understand, the difficulty is that, owing to the fear of the Merrimac, the gunboats cannot leave Fortress Monroe to ascend the York River and take their batteries in the rear. It is said, however, the Navy have a plan, by which they are confident they will sink the Merrimac, if she gives them a fair chance, in which I trust they may succeed.” Three days later he wrote, “It is evident we cannot advance on Richmond from the Rappahannock, because at that point the direct route leaves the railroad, and the roads across are impassable for artillery and wagons. It has been surmised that we are kept here because they are fearful the Merrimac may run the gauntlet at Fortress Monroe, in which case they could pen McClellan in on the peninsula, between the York and James Rivers, and then they could detach a force to threaten Washington.”

I'm standing inside the recreation of the Monitor turret as it would have appeared on the seabed, when it was upside down and encrusted with marine life.

I’m standing inside the recreation of the Monitor turret as it would have appeared on the seabed, when it was upside down and encrusted with marine life.

Finally, on April 25, Meade noted, “The papers say the Merrimac is ready to come out again; which I think is the best thing that can happen, as until the question of her supremacy is settled, we will be hampered at Yorktown. Let her be captured or sunk; when our gunboats will be free to operate on the James and York Rivers, taking the enemy’s works in flank and rear, which now we cannot do for fear of the Merrimac.”

In the end, the Confederates destroyed the Virginia in May rather than have her fall into Union hands. The Monitor went down before the year was over. These pioneering ironclads had short lives, but long-lasting effects on naval warfare.

The life-size cutaway of the turret, showing the bracing designer John Ericsson added after construction, and the revolving machinery.

The life-size cutaway of the turret, showing the bracing designer John Ericsson added after construction, and the revolving machinery.

Our Usual Little Picnic (April 8, 1865)

A Timothy O'Sullivan photo of the High Bridge (Library of Congress).

A Timothy O’Sullivan photo of the High Bridge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman recounts the penultimate day of the pursuit of Robert E. Lee. The General Williams who brought Grant’s message through the lines was Seth Williams, who had once served as Meade’s assistant adjutant general and is now on Grant’s staff. The much-liked Williams was a native of Augusta, Maine. Stute’s house, where Meade and Grant stayed on the night before Lee’s surrender, is also known as Clifton. It still stands today. Richard Ewell had been captured at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. He told his captors that Lee should surrender. The Washburne Lyman mentions is Col. Francis Washburne of the 4th MA Cavalry. His attempt to burn the High Bridge before the Confederates could cross it was unsuccessful.

Here’s a short excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, about what happened while Grant and Meade were sleeping at Clifton:

“Sometime after midnight the occupants of the house heard the soldiers outside on guard duty challenge an approaching rider, followed by the sounds of spurs and the rattling of a saber from someone on the porch. It was a messenger with a reply from Lee. ‘I received at a late hour your note of to-day,’ it read. ‘In mine of yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army; but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end.’ Lee was saying he would not meet to surrender his army, but he would like to hear Grant’s proposals.

“Grant replied to Lee, keeping the delicate negotiations alive. He said a meeting would do no good, as he had no authority to discuss the general subject of peace. ‘I will state, however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed.'”

We have been making our usual little picnic to-day—say nineteen miles—and have got about half-way between Burkeville Junction and Lynchburg. Did you ever see that Washburn, Colonel in Louis Cabot’s regiment, rather a well-looking young man? He was sent the day before yesterday, by Ord, from Burkeville Junction, with a small infantry and cavalry force, to destroy the Farmville bridges, to keep back the Rebels and head them off; but he found the enemy there before him; they attacked him, got him in the forks of two runs and killed or took most of his command, after a really desperate fight; Washburn getting a bullet through the cheeks and a sabre cut in the head. Then the Rebels crossed from Farmville to the other side and then they burnt the bridges in our faces. Last night was a white frost, as my toes, under the blankets, suggested to me in the morning. We left betimes, before six, to wit; for we had to get all the way back to High Bridge and then begin our march thence. After crossing the river beside the bridge (whereof the last three spans had been burnt by the enemy), we bore to the right, into the pine woods, then kept to the left, through a poor wood road, and emerged on the main road, about a mile east of the Piedmont coal mine, just as Humphreys’s rear guard were marching on. As they had supposed, the enemy had retreated during the night and now we looked forward to a day’s stern chase. At the coal mine we found General Humphreys, wearing much the expression of an irascible pointer, he having been out on several roads, ahead of his column, and getting down on his knees and peering at foot-tracks, through his spectacles, to determine by which the main body had retreated. Here we got a great excitement, on learning that, last night, General Williams had conveyed a note from Grant to Lee, demanding his surrender. That, furthermore, Lee had made a reply, and that now General Williams had just gone forward, with a flag, to send an answer. All this looked favorable and gave a new aspect to the whole question! The original idea of sending a note came from the language used by Ewell and his Staff, captured on the 6th. These officers had stated that their position was hopeless and that Lee might surrender, if summoned. The good Williams’s mission came near being fatal to the messenger of peace; for, as he got in sight of the rear Rebel videttes and was waving away, to attract their attention, they shot at him and wounded his orderly. However, he persevered, and, with a little care, got his note delivered.

We now trotted along what had been, years since, a fine stage road; but the present condition was not exactly favorable to waggons with delicate springs—the road at present being playfully variegated with boulders, three feet high, which had inconvenienced the Rebel trains, as many a burnt waggon testified. Toiling along past the trains in rear of the Second Corps, we were caught by General Grant, who was in high spirits, and addressed General Meade as “Old Fellow.” Both Staffs halted for the night at Stute’s house, and, as Grant’s waggons could not get up, we fed him and his officers and lent them blankets. Grant had one of his sick headaches, which are rare, but cause him fearful pain, such as almost overcomes even his iron stoicism. To show how really amiable he is, he let the officers drum on the family piano a long while before he even would hint he didn’t like it. Towards sundown we could hear rapid artillery from direction of Appomattox Station, which made us anxious; for we knew it was Sheridan, and could not know the result.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 353-5. 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.