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.

A Visit to Pamplin Historical Park (and Beyond)


A view from the aptly named High Bridge.

Rather than posting a Meade or Lyman letter from 150 years ago, here’s a dispatch from the present day.

Some time ago I received an email from A. Wilson Greene, the executive director of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier outside Petersburg, Virginia. Pamplin Park is a great facility. It has a wonderful museum but also has acres of land that contain original Civil War entrenchments—and includes the spot where the Union VI Corps finally broke through the Confederate lines on April 2, 1865. I had interviewed Will and explored Pamplin Park when I was working on Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, and included an account of the visit in the book.

A view of the Appomattox River from High Bridge.

A view of the Appomattox River from High Bridge.

Will got in touch to ask me if I would participate in a tour and symposium based around the events of April 1865. Of course I said yes, even though the prospect was a little intimidating. I would be part of a program that included top-notch Civil War scholars—Bill Marvel, who has written a bunch of books, including his new biography of Edwin Stanton; J. Tracy Power, author of the acclaimed book Lee’s Miserables; Elizabeth Varon, who is getting raves for her new book on Appomattox; William Cooper, an authority on Jefferson Davis (and, as it turned out, Will Greene’s former professor), and Will himself, who has written extensively about Petersburg and the Civil War. It was even more intimidated when I learned that the symposium had sold out, and I would be speaking to an audience of some 90 people who all knew a thing or two about the Civil War.

Well, it was a great experience. I wasn’t able to arrive until Friday, April 3 (meaning I missed the pre-dawn walk to the breakthrough point on April 2, 150 years ago exactly after the attack occurred), and the bus tour to Sailor’s Creek, but I did tag along for the April 4 tour. It was a long and eventful day, starting with a drive to the High Bridge outside Farmville, the site of fighting on April 7. The Confederates had used the breathtaking railroad bridge (2,400 feet long) to cross the Appomattox River, and then tried to burn the span behind them. They only partially succeeded, and Union troops were able to seize the wagon bridge that ran below the train tracks and continue their pursuit. Today the current bridge is part of a rail trail administered by the Virginia State Park system. The bridge reopened a few years ago as a pedestrian walkway (it was still being worked on when I visited while working on the book, so I had not been able to see it). You can now hike across the bridge and peer down at the brick pilings from the original Civil War structure. People with a fear of heights might think twice about making the crossing. In fact, one woman in our group asked me to walk directly in front of her so she should stare at my back and ignore the precipitous drops on either side of the bridge.

Ranger Bob Flippen explains the fighting around the High Bridge.

Ranger Bob Flippen explains the fighting around the High Bridge.

Ranger Bob Flippen provided a running commentary about the fighting that took place here, and also an interesting story about local men back in the 1960s who found a huge cache of Civil War ammunition buried in one of the Civil War forts that guarded the approaches.

Will Greene and the president of the Appomattox 1865 Foundation explain the fighting at Appomattox Station.

Will Greene and the president of the Appomattox 1865 Foundation explain the fighting at Appomattox Station.

After lunch in Farmville, the tour continued west. We stopped to visit the site of the fighting that took place at Appomattox Station. The Civil War Trust has saved this land and the Appomattox 1865 Foundation/Friends of Appomattox Court House will open it to the public just in time for the 150th anniversary. We then visited the little village that provided the setting for Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9. We entered Appomattox Court House along the remains of the original road that Confederate General John B. Gordon and his men used when they marched in to formally surrender on April 12. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring afternoon as we followed in Gordon’s footsteps, so it was difficult to share the sense of gloom and despair his men must have felt at the time.

A ceremony at the Confederate cemetery outside Appomattox Court House.

A ceremony at the Confederate cemetery outside Appomattox Court House.

That night I did a talk about George Gordon Meade and Ulysses S. Grant, and the next afternoon I participated in a panel discussion with all the other speakers. In that company, I felt a little outgunned, but I think I acquitted myself honorably.

The memorial arch at Blandford Cemetery.

The memorial arch at Blandford Cemetery.

The Mahone mausoleum at Blandford Cemetery.

The Mahone mausoleum at Blandford Cemetery.

After the symposium ended, my wife and I bolted to see just a few places in Petersburg. I wanted to visit Blandford Cemetery, the spot Meade had designated as the objective point for the troops moving forward after the explosion of the Mine back in July 1864. They never reached here. General William Mahone, whose mausoleum stands in the cemetery today, formed his men in the cemetery to counterattack the Union troops. The cemetery provides the burial places of many other Confederate soldiers, as well as veterans of the War of 1812 and actor and Petersburg native Joseph Cotton (who starred in one of my favorite movies, The Third Man).

The marker at Rives Salient.

The marker at Rives Salient.

Our last stop in Petersburg was at the marker erected to mark the spot where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was nearly killed during attacks on June 18, 1864. It’s nice that Chamberlain has a marker, but it’s a pity that it stands in a parking lot, all traces of the battlefield paved over and turned into commercial space. Time marches on.

It was a tremendous experience and I thank Will Greene and the staff of Pamplin Historical Park for making it happen, and for all the participants in the symposium their interest and enthusiasm, and for helping keep history alive.

Nice to see: Searching for George Gordon Meade is available at Appomattox Court House!

Nice to see: Searching for George Gordon Meade is available at Appomattox Court House!

No Rest for the Wicked (April 6, 1865)

A view of Amelia Courthouse today. Lee was delayed here while he waited for his army to concentrate and for rations that never arrived.

A view of Amelia Court House today. Lee was delayed here while he waited for his army to concentrate and for rations that never arrived.

The Union armies’ struggle with the Army of Northern Virginia has turned into a race. Lee’s exhausted forces trace a westward course across the Virginia countryside, shedding men, equipment, and horses like a comet burning up in the atmosphere. Theodore Lyman continues his observations of what it was like to be among the pursuers, as Sheridan’s cavalry nips at Lee’s heels, and the infantry plunges ahead in attempt to place the killing blow. And, as far as Lyman (and Meade) are concerned, Sheridan is eager to grab for all the glory.

Lyman remained so incensed about Sheridan’s credit grab at Sailor’s Creek that a month later he wrote a letter to the Boston Advertiser about it. It was Wright who attacked, he said, “and he was under the immediate orders of General Meade, and had nothing whatever to do with General Sheridan, whose entire command numbered not over 7000 mounted men, while the Second and Sixth Corps had together not less than 25,000 men actually in the fight.”

We are pelting after Old Lee as hard as the poor doughboys’ legs can go. I estimate our prisoners at 16,000, with lots of guns and colors. At six a.m. the three infantry corps advanced in line of battle, on Amelia Court House; 2d on the left; 5th in the centre; and 6th on the right. Sheridan’s cavalry, meantime, struck off to the left, to head off their waggon-trains in the direction of the Appomattox River. We did not know just then, you perceive, in what precise direction the enemy was moving. Following the railroad directly towards Amelia C.H., General Meade received distinct intelligence, at nine o’clock, that the enemy was moving on Deatonsville, intending probably to cross the Appomattox at High Bridge. Instantly General Meade gave orders for the 6th Corps to face about and move by the left flank and seek roads in the direction of High Bridge, with the idea of supporting the cavalry in their attempt to head off the enemy; the 2d Corps were turned into the left-hand road nearest Jetersville, and directed to push on and strike the enemy wherever they could. At nine we got to the left-hand road lying some way beyond Jetersville, and here the 5th Corps was turned in, with orders to follow the road through Paineville and attack whatever they found. These prompt dispositions ensured the grand success of the day, which the newspapers have gracefully handed over to General Sheridan! Here I may as well say that Lee was trying to escape with his large artillery and waggon trains. At first he thought to move directly along the railroad, through Burkeville, to Danville. Cut off by the 5th Corps and the cavalry, he now was trying to march “cross lots” and get to the Danville road, somewhere below us. . . . At ten, we got back to Jetersville, a collection of half-a-dozen houses with a country church. From the second story of a house I witnessed a most curious spectacle—a fight, four miles off in a straight line! At that point was a bare ridge, a little above Deatonsville, and there, with my good glass, I could see a single man very well. It was just like a play of marionettes! and the surrounding woods made side scenes to this stage. At first, I saw only the Rebel train, moving along the ridge towards Deatonsville, in all haste: there now goes a pigmy ambulance drawn by mouse-like horses, at a trot. Here come more ambulances and many waggons from the woods, and disappear, in a continuous procession, over the ridge. Suddenly—boom! boom! and the distant smoke of Humphreys’ batteries curls above the pine trees. At this stimulus the Lilliputian procession redoubles its speed (I am on the point of crying “bravo!” at this brilliant stroke of the gentleman who is pulling the wires). But now enter from the woods, in some confusion, a good number of Rebel cavalry; they form on the crest—but, boom! boom! go the cannon, and they disappear. Ah! here come the infantry! Now for a fight! Yes, a line of battle in retreat, and covering the rear. There are mounted officers; they gallop about, waving their tiny swords. Halt! The infantry form a good line on the crest; you can’t scare them. What are they carrying? Spears? No, rails; that’s what it is, rails for to revet a breastwork. They scramble about like ants. You had better hurry up, Yanks, if you want to carry that crest! (The stage manager informs me the Yanks are hurrying and the next act will be—Enter Duke Humphrey, in haste.) Hullo! There come six fleet mice dragging something, followed by more: yes, a battery. They unlimber: a pause: Flash!—(count twenty-two seconds by Captain Barrows’s watch) then, bang!—flash! flash! bang! bang! There come in their skirmishers! running for their lives; certainly the Yanks are in those woods. Now they turn their guns more to the left; they are getting flanked. Their officers gallop wildly. You seem to hear them shout, “Change front to the rear!” anyhow they do so, at a double-quick. Then one volley of musketry, and they are gone, guns and all! The next moment our skirmishers go swarming up the hill; up goes a battery, and down goes the curtain.

Alfred Waud titled this sketch "The Last of Ewell's Corps." It depicted an incident at the Battle of Sailor's Creek. On the back, Waud wrote, "This was quite an effective incident in its way. The soldiers silhoutted [sic] against the western sky with their muskets thrown butt upwards in token of surrender, as our troops closed in beyond a wagon train which was captured, and burning debris probably other wagons in the gathering gloom." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud titled this sketch “The Last of Ewell’s Corps.” It depicted an incident at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. On the back, Waud wrote, “This was quite an effective incident in its way. The soldiers silhoutted [sic] against the western sky with their muskets thrown butt upwards in token of surrender, as our troops closed in beyond a wagon train which was captured, and burning debris probably other wagons in the gathering gloom.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

There is no rest for the wicked. All day long the peppery Humphreys, glaring through those spectacles, presses hotly in their rear; the active Sheridan is felling trees across their front; on their right is the Appomattox, impassible; and now, as the afternoon closes, here comes the inevitable Wright, grimly on their left flank, at Sailor’s Creek. The 6th Corps charges; they can’t be stopped—result, five Rebel generals; 8600 prisoners, 14 cannon; the Rebel rear-guard annihilated! As we get to our camp, beyond Deatonsville, there comes a Staff officer with a despatch. “I attacked with two divisions of the 6th Corps. I captured many thousand prisoners, etc., etc. P. H. Sheridan.” “Oh,” said Meade, “so General Wright wasn’t there.” “Oh, yes!” cried the Staff officer, as if speaking of some worthy man who had commanded a battalion, “Oh, yes, General Wright was there.” Meade turned on his heel without a word, and Cavalry Sheridan’s despatch proceeded — to the newspapers!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 348-51. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Those Cavalry Bucks (April 5, 1865)

Philip Sheridan with (left to right) Col. James Forsyth, Wesley Merritt, Thomas C. Devin and George Custer (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan with (left to right) Col. James Forsyth, Wesley Merritt, Thomas C. Devin and George Custer (Library of Congress).

Meade did not like Philip Sheridan—a feeling shared by Theodore Lyman, as this letter of Lyman’s about the events of April 5 demonstrates. A year earlier Meade and Sheridan had clashed over the cavalry’s failure to clear the Brock Road south of the Wilderness to Spotsylvania. Now Meade felt that Sheridan was too eager to grab after all the military glory he could get—even if it came at the expense of the Army of the Potomac. Here Lyman portrays Sheridan and his cavalry in a very critical light as the army continues its pursuit of Lee’s army.

Last night, at 9.30, came a note from Sheridan, dated at Jetersville, saying that he was there, entrenched, with the 5th Corps and a part of the cavalry; that the whole Rebel army was in his front trying to get off its trains; that he expected to be attacked, but, if the remaining infantry could be hurried up, there was a chance of taking the whole of the enemy. Although the 2d Corps had only gone into bivouac at eight in the morning, and had no rations at that moment, General Meade issued orders for them to move at one at night and push on for Jetersville, followed by the 6th Corps, which lay just behind. The distance was fifteen or sixteen miles. I was sleeping on the floor, in the same room with the General, to look out for him in case he needed anything; for he had a distressing cough and a high fever, but would not give in, for he has a tremendous nervous system that holds him up through everything. General Webb was worn out with want of sleep, so I was up most of the night, writing and copying and receiving the despatches. The General talked a great deal and was very excited in his thoughts, though his head was perfectly clear. General Humphreys had slept, I don’t know when—but there he was, as sturdy as ever, issuing orders for the advance, with his eyes wide open, as much as to say; “Sleep—don’t mention it!” At one in the morning, sure enough, he moved; but had not got a mile, when, behold the whole of Merritt’s division of cavalry, filing in from a side road, and completely closing the way! That’s the way with those cavalry bucks: they bother and howl about infantry not being up to support them, and they are precisely the people who always are blocking up the way; it was so at Todd’s Tavern, and here again, a year after. They are arrant boasters, and, to hear Sheridan’s Staff talk, you would suppose his ten thousand mounted carbineers had crushed the entire Rebellion. Whereas they are immediately cleaned out, the moment they strike a good force of foot-men, and then they cry wolf merrily. The plain truth is, they are useful and energetic fellows, but commit the error of thinking they can do everything and that no one else does do anything. Well, Humphreys could not stir a step till seven next morning, but, meantime, his men got rest by the roadside and his rations were, with incredible exertions, gotten up to him, over fearful roads. At about nine o’clock we put the General in his four-horse waggon, wherein he can lie down, and followed the column, first along the main Namozine road, and then, striking off to the right, across the fields to Jetersville. At ten, we got word that the enemy were still near Amelia Court House, and the infantry were continually ordered to press on, the General stirring up the halting brigades, as he rode past. Some four miles this side of Childer’s house (where Sheridan was) we came upon General Humphreys, at a large house of one Perkinson. Near by were several hundred Rebel prisoners, looking pretty gaunt, for we had nothing to give, and but little food for our own troops. I think that we have been obliged to give mule meat to some of our prisoners, during this campaign, to keep them alive till they could get to supplies; and some of our own men have gone very hungry, because, in the haste of pursuit, they marched straight away from the waggons. … At 1.30 we found General Sheridan at the house, which was perhaps a mile south of Jetersville. Along the front was the 5th Corps, strongly entrenched, while the cavalry covered the flanks. A little before three, Sheridan rode off to the left, to help in Davies whom the enemy’s infantry was trying to cut off. Before this, at two, the head of the 2d Corps was up and the troops went rapidly into position; for, a couple of hours later, Mr. Sheridan (and still more his officers) had a stampede that Lee was coming on top of us. For once in my life I will say I knew better than that, and laughed the cavalry Staff to scorn; for I was dead certain it was only a demonstration, to protect their trains and find our strength. In truth they never came even in sight of our infantry pickets. Though he was not fit for the saddle, General Meade insisted on riding out beyond the lines to talk with Sheridan. He treated him very handsomely and did not avail of his rank to take command over his cavalry, but merely resumed the 5th Corps—a generosity that General Sheridan has hardly reciprocated!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 345-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Hard March (April 4, 1865)

Theodore Lyman continues his narrative of the last days of the war—or, at least, the war against the Army of Northern Virginia.

We had camped last night round about Sutherland’s Station, as I told you. The fields there were covered with waggons that had parked ready to follow the army. Here too was the scene of Miles’s fight of the 2d, and the Rebel breastworks, with scattered ammunition and dead artillery horses, still marked the spot. Grant had camped there, too, and had confirmed the rumor that Richmond was in our hands; also had stated that Sheridan, in his pursuit towards Amelia Court House, reported much abandoned property by the way, and the capture of prisoners and guns. Everybody was in great spirits, especially the 6th Corps, which cheered Meade vociferously, wherever he showed himself. It would take too much time to tell all the queer remarks that were made; but I was amused at two boys in Petersburg, one of whom was telling the officers, rather officially, that he was not a Rebel at all. “Oh!” said the other sturdily, “you’ve changed your tune since yesterday, and I can lick you, whatever you are!”

This morning the whole army was fairly marching in pursuit. … It was a hard march, for two poor roads are not half enough for a great army and its waggon trains, and yet we took nothing on wheels but the absolute essentials for three or four days. We were up at four o’clock, to be ready for an early start; all the roads were well blocked with waggons toiling slowly towards the front. Riding ahead, we came upon General Wright, halted near a place called Mt. Pleasant Church. The bands were playing and the troops were cheering for the fall of Richmond, which, as the jocose Barnard (Captain on Wheaton’s Staff) said, “Would knock gold, so that it wouldn’t be worth more than seventy-five cents on the dollar!” Suddenly we heard renewed cheers, while the band played “Hail to the Chief.” We looked up the road, and, seeing a body of cavalry, supposed the Lieutenant-General was coming. But lo! as they drew nearer, we recognized the features of Colonel Mike Walsh (erst a sergeant of cavalry), who, with an admirable Irish impudence, was acknowledging the shouts of the crowd that mistook him for Grant!

We continued our ride. This country, from Gravelly Run up, is no longer the flat sand of Petersburg, but like Culpeper, undulating, with quartz and sandstone, and a red soil. About five we halted at Mrs. Jones’s, a little east of Deep Creek, and prepared to go supperless to bed on the floor or on the grass, for our waggons were hopelessly in the rear. General Humphreys was across the Run, whither General Meade went, and came back with him at dusk. The General was very sick; he had been poorly since Friday night, and now was seized with a chill, followed by a violent fever, which excited him greatly, though it did not impair the clearness of his head. Good Humphreys got us something to eat and so we all took to our hoped-for rest.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 341-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Petersburg at Last (April 3, 1865)

A view of Petersburg, taken shortly after the Confederates abandoned it (Library of Congress).

A view of Petersburg, taken shortly after the Confederates abandoned it (Library of Congress).

George Meade and Theodore Lyman write letters home about the great events following the breakthrough of Lee’s lines and the Confederate abandonment of Petersburg and Richmond. The end of the war is in sight. In his letter, Lyman writes a wonderful account of the visit he and the general made to Petersburg, so long denied to them. The Wallace house he mentions still stands. Shortly after he and Meade left there, President Lincoln arrived and met Grant. As I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, “Abraham Lincoln arrived, accompanied by his young son Tad, Adm. David Porter, and a few others. His escort through the lines was his son Robert, who served on Grant’s staff, and he was riding Grant’s favorite horse, Cincinnati. The president dismounted and greeted the general in chief with joy. ‘I doubt whether Mr. Lincoln ever experienced a happier moment in his life,’ wrote Horace Porter. Wallace, who had known Lincoln before the war, invited Grant and the president inside but they preferred to sit on the porch where Grant could smoke a cigar. Lincoln sat on a rocking chair Wallace brought out for him, his long legs dangling over the edge of the porch. The two men stayed there for about ninety minutes, hoping to receive word about the fall of Richmond.”

The Wallace House in Petersburg, where Grant and Lincoln met on April 2, 1865.

The Wallace House in Petersburg, where Grant and Lincoln met on April 2, 1865.

“Lincoln said he suspected Grant might have been planning to order Sherman up from the south to pitch in against Lee. Grant said he had considered that but ‘had a feeling that it would be better to let Lee’s old antagonists give his army the final blow, and finish up the job.’ Grant added, ‘I have always felt confident that our troops here were amply able to handle Lee.’ He and Lincoln then talked a little about postwar concerns. Finally, Grant could wait no longer. He mounted up and rode off to rejoin the army. Lincoln looked around Petersburg a little before returning to City Point.”

The telegraph will have conveyed to you, long before this reaches you, the joyful intelligence that Petersburg and Richmond have fallen, and that Lee, broken and dispirited, has retreated towards Lynchburg and Danville. We have had three glorious days, the fighting not so severe as much we have done before, but in the results. We are now moving after Lee, and if we are successful in striking him another blow before he can rally his troops, I think the Confederacy will be at an end.

George is quite well, having left his uncle at City Point, where it was deemed advisable he should stop for awhile. Willie was doing very well, and is not considered in any danger.

Markoe Bache arrived this morning just in time to march into Petersburg with us.

The strong demonstration we made on Lee’s right caused him so to attenuate his lines that, notwithstanding their strength, we broke through his left, and poured in such a force that he had to fly to save himself. He was fortunate in keeping us out of the town till dark, which enabled him to get over the Appomattox what remained of his army. The last estimate of our prisoners amounted to fifteen thousand, and deserters and stragglers are being picked up by the thousands. Let us hope the war will soon be over.

Lyman, of course, provides a much more detailed account, including a lively description of Petersburg. He also mentions the death of Confederate General A.P. Hill, who was, as Lyman says, shot by some Yankee stragglers. A small stone monument near Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg commemorates the event.

We began our day early, for, about light, I heard Duane say, outside my tent: “They have evacuated Petersburg.” Sure enough, they were gone, across the river, and, at that very moment, their troops at Richmond, and all along the river, with their artillery and trains, were marching in all haste, hoping to join each other and get to Burkeville Junction, en route for Danville. How they succeeded will be seen in the sequel. General Meade, to my great satisfaction, said he would ride in and take a look at the place we so long had seen the steeples of. Passing a series of heavy entrenchments and redoubts, we entered the place about eight in the morning. The outskirts are very poor, consisting chiefly of the houses of negroes, who collected, with broad grins, to gaze on the triumphant Yanks; while here and there a squalid family of poor whites would lower at us from broken windows, with an air of lazy dislike. The main part of the town resembles Salem, very much, plus the southern shiftlessness and minus the Yankee thrift. Even in this we may except Market Street, where dwell the haute noblesse, and where there are just square brick houses and gardens about them, as you see in Salem, all very well kept and with nice trees. Near the river, here large enough to carry large steamers, the same closely built business streets, the lower parts of which had suffered severely from our shells; here and there an entire building had been burnt, and everywhere you saw corners knocked off, and shops with all the glass shattered by a shell exploding within.

A Timothy O'Sullivan photograph of Blandford Church, in the cemetery that Meade and Lyman visited on April 2 (Library of Congress).

A Timothy O’Sullivan photograph of Blandford Church, in the cemetery that Meade and Lyman visited on April 2 (Library of Congress).

We then returned a little and took a road up the hill towards the famous cemetery ridge. Petersburg, you must understand, lies in a hollow, at the foot of a sort of bluff. In fact, this country, is a dead, sandy level, but the watercourses have cut trenches in it, more or less deep according to their volume of water. Thus the Appomattox is in a deep trench, while the tributary “runs” that come in are in more shallow trenches; so that the country near the banks looks hilly; when, however, you get on top of these bluffs, you find yourself on a plain, which is more or less worn by water-courses into a succession of rolls. Therefore, from our lines you could only see the spires, because the town was in a gully. The road we took was very steep and was no less than the Jerusalem plank, whose other end I was so familiar with. Turning to the left, on top of the crest, we passed a large cemetery, with an old ruined chapel, and, descending a little, we stood on the famous scene of the “Mine.” It was this cemetery that our infantry should have gained that day. Thence the town is commanded. How changed these entrenchments! Not a soul was there, and the few abandoned tents and cannon gave an additional air of solitude. Upon these parapets, whence the rifle-men have shot at each other, for nine long months, in heat and cold, by day and by night, you might now stand with impunity and overlook miles of deserted breastworks and covered ways! It was a sight only to be appreciated by those who have known the depression of waiting through summer, autumn and winter for so goodly an event! Returning through the town, we stopped at the handsome house of Mr. Wallace, where was Grant and his Staff, and where we learned the death of Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill, who was killed by one of our stragglers whom he tried to capture. Crowds of nigs came about us to sell Confederate money, for which they would take anything we chose to give. At noon we left the town, and, going on the river road, camped that night near Sutherland’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), p. 269. 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. 339-41. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Rebellion Has Gone Up (April 2, 1865)

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches before Petersburg (Library of Congress).

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches before Petersburg (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman gives an account of the events of April 2, when the Union forces finally broke through the Confederate lines around Petersburg (on ground that is now part of Pamplin Historical Park). A note indicates that Lyman really wrote this very detailed account on April 13. A note by the editor says that the only thing Lyman actually wrote home to his wife on April 2 was this:

Headquarters Army Of The Potomac
Sunday, April 2, 1865 11 P.M.

My Dear Mimi:


Theodore Lyman Lt.-col. & Vol. A.D.C.

Nevertheless, this is a wonderfully detailed recounting of the great events that spelled the doom of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lyman does a great job of communicating the confusion and excitement of the day’s events.

The “old house” where Lyman spotted Grant writing orders amid the scattered papers of the rebels who had been posted there is the Banks House, another part of Pamplin Historical Park.

Last night was a busy one and a noisy. Some battery or other was playing the whole time, and, now and then, they would all wake up at once; while the skirmishers kept rushing at each other and firing, sometimes almost by volleys. All of which did good, because it wore out the enemy and made them uncertain where the main attack might come. At a quarter past four in the morning, Wright, having massed his three divisions in columns of attack, near Fort Fisher, just before daylight charged their works, burst through four lines of abattis, and poured a perfect torrent of men over the parapet. He then swept to the right and left, bearing down all the attempts of the enemy’s reserves to check him; a part also of his force went straight forward, crossed the Boydton plank and tore up the track of the South Side Railroad. The assault was, in reality, the death-blow to Lee’s army. His centre was thus destroyed, his left wing driven into the interior line of Petersburg, and his right taken in flank and left quite isolated. At the same moment Parke attacked the powerful works in his front, somewhat to the right of the Jerusalem plank road, and carried the strong outer line, with three batteries, containing twelve guns; but the fire was so hot from the inner line that his men could get no further, but continued to hold on, with great obstinacy, for the rest of the day, while the Rebels made desperate sorties to dislodge them. In this attack General Potter received a wound which still keeps him in an extremely critical condition. You may well believe that the musketry, which had spattered pretty well during the night, now broke out with redoubled noise in all directions.

Under the excitement of getting at my valise and having some fresh paper, I am moved to write you some more about the great Sunday, which I so irreverently broke off I was saying that the musketry broke out pretty freely from all quarters. Do you understand the position of the troops? Here is a rough diagram. On the right Parke, from the river to west of the Jerusalem road; then Wright and Ord, stretching to Hatcher’s Run; then Humphreys, forming the left wing. To the left and rear were Sheridan and Griffin, making a detached left wing. Humphreys’ left rested somewhat west of the Boydton plank. Ord and Humphreys were now crowding in their skirmishers, trying for openings in the slashings to put in a column. Ord tried to carry the line, but could not get through; but the 2d division of the 2d Corps got a chance for a rush, and, about 7.30 in the morning, stormed a Rebel fort, taking four guns and several hundred Rebels; in this attack the 19th and 20th Massachusetts were very prominent. About nine o’clock the General rode off towards the left, from our Headquarters near the crossing of the Vaughan road, over Hatcher’s Run. He overtook and consulted a moment with Grant, and then continued along our old line of battle, with no “intelligent orderly” except myself. So that is the way I came to be Chief-of-Staff, Aide-de-camp, Adjutant-General, and all else; for presently the Chief took to giving orders at a great rate, and I had to get out my “manifold writer” and go at it. I ordered Benham to rush up from City Point and reinforce Parke, and I managed to send something to pretty much everybody, so as to keep them brisk and lively. In fact, I completely went ahead of the fly that helped the coach up the hill by bearing down on the spokes of the wheels!

The Banks house as it appears today.

The Banks House as it appears today.

And now came the notice that the enemy were going at the double-quick towards their own right, having abandoned the whole of Ord’s front and some of Humphreys’. We were not quite sure whether they might not contemplate an attack in mass on Humphreys’ left, and so this part of our line was pushed forward with caution while Humphreys’ right was more rapidly advanced. We met sundry squads of prisoners coming across the fields, among them a forlorn band, with their instruments. “Did you not see that band?” said Rosie to me that evening, in great glee. “Ah! I did see them. I did them ask for to play Yan — kay Doodle; but they vould not!” About 9 o’clock we got to General Humphreys on the Boydton plank road, by Mrs. Rainie’s. It was now definitely known that the enemy had given up his whole line in this front and was retreating northwesterly, towards Sutherland’s Station. He was reported, however, as forming line of battle a mile or two beyond us. Immediately Miles’s division marched up the Claiborne road, while Mott, followed by Hays (2d division, 2d Corps), took the Boydton plank. Still more to our left, the cavalry and the 5th Corps were moving also in a northerly direction. Meanwhile, Wright had faced his Corps about and was marching down the Boydton plank, that is to say towards the 2d Corps, which was going up; on his left was the 24th Corps, which had formed there by Grant’s orders; so you will see, by the map, that the jaws of the pincers were coming together, and the enemy hastened to slip from between them! As soon as Wright found that this part of the field was swept, he again faced about, as did the 24th Corps (now forming his right), and marched directly up the Boydton plank to the inner line of Petersburg defences, rested his left on the river, swung the 24th round to join Parke, on the right, and voila the city invested on east, south, and west. I am afraid this double manoeuvre will rather confuse you, so here are two diagrams, with the corps numbered, in their first and second positions. By eleven o’clock the General had got all his troops in motion and properly placed, and the Staff had come from the camp. We all started up the plank road, straight towards the town. It was a strange sensation, to ride briskly past the great oak, near Arnold’s Mill, where we got so awfully cannonaded at the first Hatcher’s Run; then on till we came to the earthwork, on this side of the Run, whence came the shot that killed Charlie Mills; then across the Run itself, passing their line with its abattis and heavy parapet, and so up the road, on the other side, marked by deep ruts of the Rebel supply-trains. As we got to the top of the rise, we struck the open country that surrounds the town, for several miles, and here the road was full of troops, who, catching sight of the General trotting briskly by, began to cheer and wave their caps enthusiastically! This continued all along the column, each regiment taking it up in turn. It was a goodly ride, I can tell you! Presently we spied General Grant, seated on the porch of an old house, by the wayside, and there we too halted. It seemed a deserted building and had been occupied by a Rebel ordnance sergeant, whose papers and returns were lying about in admirable confusion. A moral man was this sergeant, and had left behind a diary, in one page of which he lamented the vice and profanity of his fellow soldiers. He was not, however, cleanly, but quite untidy in his domestic arrangements. From this spot we had an admirable view of our own works, as the Rebels had, for months, been used to look at them. There was that tall signal tower, over against us, and the bastions of Fort Fisher, and here, near at hand, the Rebel line, with its huts and its defenders sorely beleagured over there in the inner lines, against which our batteries were even now playing; and presently Gibbon assaults these two outlying redoubts, and takes them after a fierce fight, losing heavily. In one was a Rebel captain, who told his men to surrender to nobody. He himself fought to the last, and was killed with the butt end of a musket, and most of his command were slain in the work. But we carried the works: neither ditches nor abattis could keep our men out that day! You may be sure Miles had not been idle all this time. Following up the Claiborne road, he came on the enemy at Sutherland’s Station, entrenched and holding on to cover the escape of their train. Though quite without support, he attacked them fiercely, and, at the second or third charge, stormed their breastwork, routed them and took three guns and near 1000 prisoners. With this gallant feat the day ended, gloriously, as it had begun. We went into camp at the Wall house and all preparations were made to cross the river next morning and completely shut in the town.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 334-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Five Forks (April 1, 1865)

A print depicts Sheridan's attack at Five Forks. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A print depicts Sheridan’s attack at Five Forks. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes a short note to his wife on April 1. He mentions that her brother, Willie, had been injured in the fighting for the White Oak Road, but underestimates the severity of the wound. Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the fighting, including the battle of Five Forks, where Philip Sheridan relieved the V Corps’ Gouverneur Warren of command. Here’s how I describe the events of April 1 in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren (Library of Congress).

Grant had ordered a movement to get around Lee’s right, with Sheridan’s cavalry moving to Dinwiddie Court House, south of Five Forks, and operating in conjunction with the V Corps. Sheridan and Warren didn’t get along, apparently ever since Warren had complained about Sheridan’s cavalry blocking his way en route to Spotsylvania Court House the previous spring. The relationship did not improve after one of Warren’s divisions had to extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31. Sheridan did not like to admit he needed help from anyone, much less a cautious Army of the Potomac engineer like Warren.

Admittedly, Warren possessed a natural talent for irritating generals. Meade had reached the end of his patience with his onetime protégé. Grant, too, had tired of Warren’s quirks and, like Meade, had discovered a “defect” in Warren’s character: “He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” Grant told Sheridan he was free to relieve Warren and replace him if he felt it was necessary, thus sowing the seeds for Warren’s downfall.

PortraitSheridan wanted to attack the Confederate lines around Five Forks at noon on April 1. He fumed and fretted when Warren wasn’t ready until 4:00. . . . Warren finally put his three divisions into motion, heading north toward the White Oak Road, but Sheridan had misinformed him about the enemy’s position. Two divisions veered left to correct their advance, but Samuel Crawford’s men kept marching straight ahead and missed the Confederate lines altogether. Warren rode off to find Crawford and get him back on track.

A soldier in the 20th Maine recalled the excitement as the other two divisions swept over the enemy’s lines at the Angle, a spot where the rebel defenses bent back on themselves. “Sheridan went dashing past us, wild with the excitement of victory, shouting, as he swung his clenched hand through the air, ‘Smash ’em! Smash ’em! We have a record to make before the sun goes down; we must have the Southside road.’”

In the meantime Warren found Crawford’s men and got them heading the right way. In what turned out to be a great stroke of luck, their errant march had put them in a perfect position to attack the rebel flank and rear. Warren led the soldiers over the barricades and had his horse shot out from under him. “General Warren caught the corps flag from the hand of the man who carried it, and dashed across this field, leading on a column of soldiers he had hastily formed for the charge,” the same soldier recalled. “It was the most gallant deed of the whole day’s battle, and the whole rebel line was now in our possession.”

The Battle of Five Forks marked the beginning of the end for Lee’s army—it was “the Waterloo of the Confederacy.” The rebels had suffered a severe blow. Now that the Union army could move forward and sever the South Side Railroad, Petersburg and Richmond were doomed. Warren and the V Corps had delivered the blow that ensured the victory. Yet Sheridan, still livid over what he perceived as Warren’s inexcusable slowness–and probably unwilling to share any credit for the victory—decided that Warren had not participated in the fighting at all. He ordered Charles Griffin to take over the V Corps and sent a note to Warren relieving him of command.

Warren was stunned. He rode to Sheridan and asked him to reconsider. “I don’t reconsider my decisions!” Sheridan barked. “Obey the order!”

Meade received word of the victory at Five Forks by telegram–but nothing about Warren. He sent a message to Grant. “I am truly delighted with the news from Sheridan,” he said. “What part did Warren take? I take it for granted he was engaged.”

“The Fifth Corps was in and did splendidly,” Grant replied, “but Sheridan had to relieve Warren on the field after the fight began.”

The word of Warren’s relief hit his subordinates like a thunderbolt. “I was astonished at this news and could not imagine what the trouble was,” said Charles Wainwright. “The only thing that occurred to me was that Warren might have got into one of his ugly fits and said what he ought not to.” Wainwright used his journal to vent about Warren’s ill temper, but he didn’t agree with Sheridan’s decision. “To me his removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears wrong and very cruel,” he wrote.

We have been moving and fighting the last three days, and I have not gone to bed till after one and two in the morning, and then up at five. We have had considerable fighting with the enemy out of his works, into which we have invariably driven him; but when there he is too strong for us, and the farther we go round to our left, we still find a formidable entrenched line. I think, however, we will this time reach the Southside Railroad, and if we do so, I should not be surprised if Lee evacuated his Petersburg lines and withdrew north of the Appomattox. Should he remain in them, he will have to stretch out so far that we may find a chance to pierce him.

Your brother Willie was wounded yesterday, not dangerously, as I telegraphed you. He left this morning, and I sent George to accompany him to City Point, and if necessary to Philadelphia. Jim Biddle arrived yesterday.

Now Lyman describes the Battle of Five Forks.

You will see the April Fool was on the Rebels; for they did not know that, the night before, we had sent down an entire corps of infantry (the 5th) to aid the worsted Sheridan. Their infantry had contented itself with retiring from Sheridan’s front, half-way to the White Oak road, and going into camp with a precautionary breastwork in their front. As they lay there, resting, Warren struck them in the flank and swung round, even into their rear, while the cavalry charged their front. After a brief but determined resistance, the enemy broke and fled in wild confusion; 4000 and over were captured and a large part of the rest hopelessly scattered in the woods. Thus our movement, which had begun in simple advantage, now grew to brilliant success, and was destined to culminate, within twenty-four hours, in complete victory.

We were up pretty early, as usual, and at 6.30 A.m. were already at Grant’s Headquarters. These were close to Dabney’s Mill, now marked only by a huge pile of sawdust — a veteran battle-ground, marked by two considerable actions and many minor skirmishes. Indeed that whole tract is a network of picket-pits and hasty breastworks. After visiting Humphreys, on the Quaker road, we returned to the Lieutenant-General’s, and here it was that a note from Sheridan told that he was driving the enemy. Grant folded the slip of paper, and, looking at Meade, said, very quietly: “Very well, then I want Wright and Parke to assault to-morrow morning at four o’clock.” These dozen words settled the fate of Petersburg and of Richmond! It was midnight when General Warren suddenly came into our camp, followed by only one Staff officer. I got him something to eat, but was surprised to see no look of gratification at his victory to-day. Poor man! he had been relieved from command of his Corps. I don’t know the details, but I have told you of the difficulties he has had with the General, from his tendency to substitute his own judgment for that of his commanding officer. It seems that Grant was much moved against him by this. The General had nothing to do with it. I am sorry, for I like Warren.

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. 268-9. 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. 332-4. 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.

White Oak Road (March 31, 1865)

Theodore Lyman describes the fighting along the White Oak Road on March 31. The little battlefield today is another of the Civil War Trust’s success stories and includes some trails that wind through the woods on both sides of the road, with markers among the trees that explain the action. Lee rode out here to supervise the fighting, knowing that the White Oak Road was an important supply line for his army. The rebels smashed into the Federal flank, forcing back the divisions of Romeyn Ayres and Samuel Crawford, but the Union soldiers counterattacked and pushed the rebels back to their earthworks. With the White Oak Road in Union hands, the Confederates off to the west around an intersection called Five Forks were now separated from the rest of the army. Charlie Mills had served with the 56th Massachusetts and on the staffs of several generals. The Abbott to whom Lyman refers is Henry Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts, killed in the Wilderness.

076The rain held up about ten a.m. and the sun once more shone. By this time our lines, running east and west, had been moved due north, till they rested their right on Hatcher’s Run, north of the Crow house, and their left on the Boydton plank, near the entrance of the Quaker road. For this purpose Ayres’s and Crawford’s divisions were pushed forward and Griffin held in reserve. We rode out, towards the left (our Headquarters were near the Vaughan road close to Gravelly Run), stopping some time to consult with Grant. About 10.30 we heard a brief fusillade on the right of our line (a demonstration to divert our attention), followed by heavy musketry towards the White Oak road. As we came to Warren’s old Headquarters, high up on the Quaker road, I could see something had gone wrong. A cavalry officer galloped up and said: “I must have more men to stop these stragglers! the road is full of them.” And indeed there were those infernal drummers, and pack-mules, and not a few armed men, training sulkily to the rear. I required no one to tell me what that meant. The enemy had tried on Griffin, two days since, without success, but this time they had repeated the game on Ayres and Crawford, with a different result. As these two divisions were moving through the thick woods, they were suddenly charged, broken, and driven back towards the Boydton plank road; but some batteries being brought to their aid, the men were rallied behind a branch of Gravelly Run. Griffin took up a rear line, to ensure the position. General Meade at once ordered Miles to go in, to the right of the 5th Corps, and Griffin to advance likewise. The General rode out in person to give Humphreys the necessary orders about Miles’s division, and found him at Mrs. Rainie’s, at the junction of the Quaker road and the plank. There was a wide open in front, and I could see, not far off, the great tree where we got such an awful shelling, at the first Hatcher’s Run fight. Miles was in the open, forming his troops for the attack. Just then the enemy opened a battery on us, with solid shot, several of which came ricocheting round us. I recollect I turned just then and saw Charlie Mills sitting on horseback, near General Humphreys. He nodded and smiled at me. Immediately after, General Meade rode to a rising ground a couple of hundred yards from the house, while General Humphreys went a short distance to the front, in the field. Almost at that instant a round shot passed through Humphreys’ Staff and struck Mills in the side, and he fell dead from his horse. He was indeed an excellent and spirited young man and beloved by us all. . . . When I rode that evening to the hospital, and saw the poor boy lying there on the ground, it made me think of Abbot, a year ago. It is the same thing over and over again. And strange too, this seeing a young man in full flush of robust health, and the next moment nothing that we can make out but the broken machine that the soul once put in motion. Yet this is better than that end in which the faculties, once brilliant, gradually fade, month after month.

About noon, Miles and Griffin went in, with sharp firing, drove the enemy back, and made a lodgment on the White Oak road. Meantime, Sheridan, after all sorts of mud toils, got north of Dinwiddie, where he was attacked by a heavy force of infantry and cavalry and forced back nearly to that place. Not to forgo our advantage on the northwest, we immediately sent the whole 5th Corps by night to Dinwiddie to report to General Sheridan and attack the enemy next morning — a hard march after the two days’-fighting in the storm!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 330-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Deeds of Yesterday (March 30, 1865)

Charles Griffin. Like Meade, he had an explosive temper (Library of Congress).

Charles Griffin commanded a division in the V Corps. Like Meade, he had an explosive temper (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman recounts the events of March 29 in more detail.

I take advantage of a rainy morning to draw you a map and start a letter, to explain and recount the deeds of yesterday. . . . The day before, a part of the Army of the James had crossed to us, from Bermuda Hundred, and, under the sure conduct of Rosie, had relieved the 2d Corps in their part of the line. At daylight the 5th Corps moved from our extreme left, crossed the stream at the Perkins house and marched along the stage road. Somewhat later the 2d Corps crossed directly by the Vaughan road and marched down it as far as Gravelly Run, then faced to the right and formed from east to west. It was like to the ruins of Carthage to behold those chimneys, which, since October last, have been our comfort at Headquarters, now left lonely and desolate, deprived of their tents, which seemed to weep, as they were ruthlessly torn down and thrown into waggons. At 7.30 A.m. we all got on the chargers and wended toward the left. The fancy huts of the 2d Corps were all roofless, and their Headquarters were occupied by General Gibbon, of the other side of the river. The 1st division was crossing the Hatcher’s Run bridge, as we got to it, the two others being already over. Near Gravelly Run we came on the sturdy Humphreys, who was gleaming through his spectacles with a fun-ahead sort of expression and presently rode away to get his men “straightened out,” as Pleasonton used to say. Bye-and-bye he came jogging back, to say his Corps was now in position, running from near Hatcher’s Run, on the right, to near Quaker Road Church on the left. Whereupon we rode off to see General Warren, who had arrived at the Junction of the Vaughan and Quaker roads. As soon as we got there, Griffin’s division was sent up the Quaker road, to join the left of Humphreys’, and to be followed by most of the rest of the Corps. … At 1.30 P.m. we went up the Quaker road to see General Griffin, being somewhat delayed by Gravelly Run, a brook too deep for fording and whereof the little bridge had been broken by the Rebs. The country is much more variegated over here. There are some rocks and high ground, and the runs are quite picturesque, with steep banks. One pretty sight was a deserted farmhouse quite surrounded by peach trees, loaded with blossoms. In the distance it seemed covered with pink clouds. After starting Griffin’s line forward, we rode along the line of battle of Miles (who had the left of the 2d Corps), where we found General Humphreys. The right of his line had sent out a party which took possession of Dabney’s Mill, driving out a few Rebels. The whole force from one end to another was ordered to go forward at once, Griffin being, from the nature of the ground, somewhat in advance. All went on without anything more than scattered skirmishing till near five P.m., when Griffin was struck by a part, or the whole, of two Rebel divisions. But G. is a rough man to handle, and, after a sharp fight, drove them back and followed them up, taking a hundred prisoners. Our losses were some 400 altogether in this affair. Of the enemy we buried 126; so that their total loss, including prisoners, must be, say, 800. The Griffin was in great spirits at this affair and vowed he could drive the enemy wherever he found them. Their object in attacking us was to delay our advance, and to get time to man their works. As soon as Warren got up the rest of his Corps, he pushed on the attack, but John had got enough and had fallen back to his parapets, and thus the day ended. Riding back to the Vaughan road, we found General Grant, who had come up with his Staff, and who camped near us last night, 29th. …

[To-day] nothing to note, but that there was a steady and drenching rain the whole livelong day, which reduced these sandy, clayey roads to a pudding or porridge, as the case might be. The chief Quartermaster told me it was the worst day for moving trains he ever had had in all his experience. A train of 600 waggons, with the aid of 1000 engineer troops, was fifty-six hours in going five miles!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 328-30. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.