Birney and Sleeper (November 12, 1864)

Personnel of the 10th MA Battery (and a guest), taken in December 1863 at Brandy Station. Pictured (left to right)  are Capt. Samuel A. McClellan, Capt. J. Henry Sleeper, Capt. O'Neil W. Robinson, and artist  Alfred R. Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Personnel of the 10th MA Battery (and a guest), taken in December 1863 at Brandy Station. Capt. J. Henry Sleeper is second from left and artist/correspondent Alfred Waud is on the right. The other two men are Capt. Samuel A. McClellan (left) and Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman offers one of his finely observed letters today. We get his impressions of the late David Bell Birney and his account of a visit with Capt. Jacob Henry Sleeper of the 10th Massachusetts Battery. Sleeper was from Boston, where his father had been a founder of Boston University. His battery was attached to the II Corps. Sleeper had only recently returned to his unit after recovering from a wound he received at Reams Station, a battle in which his battery lost four guns.

The "thin, pale, Puritanic face" of David Bell Birney.

The “thin, pale, Puritanic face” of David Bell Birney.

We have the usual play of rumor about cabinets — everybody seems inclined to heave out Stanton: some to heave him up to the Supreme Court — some to heave him down to unknown depths of nothingness. Many would fain fancy Ben Butler in the chair of War, where he would be certain to make things spin either for good or for bad. How he will get on, across the James, I know not. He lost a strong man in Ord, wounded; and in Birney, dead, also: Birney was one who had many enemies, but, in my belief, we had few officers who could command 10,000 men as well as he. He was a pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness; only he would smile politely when you spoke to him. He was spare in person, with a thin face, light-blue eye, and sandy hair. As a General he took very good care of his Staff and saw they got due promotion. He was a man, too, who looked out for his own interests sharply and knew the mainsprings of military advancement. His unpopularity among some persons arose partly from his promotion, which, however, he deserved; and partly from his cold covert manner. I always felt safe when he had the division; it was always well put in and safely handled. The longer I am in the army, the more I see that great bodies of men take their whole tone from a few leaders, or even from one. I climbed on a horse and took a ride to visit Captain Sleeper, whose camp I easily recognized by its neat appearance. He always has things in a trig state about him. His own domicile was a small log cabin, with a neat brick chimney, very smooth-looking, but made in truth of only odd bits of brick, picked up at random and carefully fitted by a skilful Yank. The chimney-piece was of black walnut, made indeed from the leaf of an old table, discovered in the neighborhood. As to his tongs, a private, of prospective views, picked them up sometime last summer, and had carried them, ever since, in waggon! For arras he had artillery horse-blankets. The Sleeper is now more content, having his battery full, new sergeants appointed, and a prospect of officers. His only grief is that with three years’ service and many battles he is only a captain. You see Massachusetts has not her batteries in a regiment and can’t have field officers. So Sleeper’s only hope is a brevet.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 266-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Very British Visit (November 15, 1863)

Captain Henry J. Sleeper, whom Lyman mentions in his November 15 letter, sits at the right in this photograph showing members of the 10th Massachusetts Battery. This was taken in December 1863. The man on the left is not a battery member--he is artist Alfred Waud (Library of Congress).

Captain Henry J. Sleeper, whom Lyman mentions in his November 15 letter, sits at the right in this photograph showing members of the 10th Massachusetts Battery. This was taken in December 1863. The man on the left is not a battery member–he is artist Alfred Waud, who just a few weeks earlier had sketched the battery in action (Library of Congress).

Foreigners loved to visit the Army of the Potomac, and Theodore Lyman’s letters and journal entries are filled with accounts of people from overseas popping in for a look-see. The Sir Robert Peel he mentions is Britain’s former prime minister. The McClellan saddle is a saddle that George McClellan had designed. Sleeper, the artillery man Lyman mentions, is Captain Henry Sleeper, who served with the 10th Massachusetts Battery, not the 9th.

Yesterday the General made a start at six A.m. for Washington, taking with him Major Biddle, Captain Meade, and Captain Mitchell, and suppose he will perhaps get back to-morrow. A little before one o’clock came a telegraph that four officers of the “Ghords” were coming in the train, and that we were to send an officer, with ten men, also four led horses, to bring them up. So Major Barstow asked if I would go, whereat, there being nothing to do, I said I would. It is about eight miles to Bealton, the nearest place the railroad runs to, and, by making haste a little, we got there by two o’clock, and the train came a few minutes after. And there, sure enough, were four gents, much braided and striped, who were the parties in question: viz., Lieutenant-Colonel Earle, and Lord Castle Cuff (Grenadier Guards), Captain Peel and Captain Stephenson (Scotch Fusiliers). This was the best lot of Bulls I have seen for a long time. The nobile Lord is, I should say, about sixteen, and, with his cap off, is as perfect a specimen of a Pat as you ever saw; but he is manly, and not so green as many I have seen of double his age. Colonel Earle is extremely quiet and well mannered, and was down here in Burnside’s time. Captain Stephenson is in the beefy style, and Captain Peel (son of Sir Robert) is of the black order; but both have free use of their legs and tongues, a remarkable phenomenon in a Bull. We put them on horses, where they were well at home, except they would persist in trying to rise to the trot in a McClellan saddle, which is next to impossible. We had to cross the river, close to the railroad, where I showed them the work they took last Saturday; at which they remarked: “Oh! Ah! A nasty place, a very nasty place!” Then we rode to Headquarters, just in time to avoid a heavy rain, which continued much of the night. To-day we have lain quiet; but this evening we took them over to see Captain Sleeper, 9th Massachusetts Battery. The Colonel was very inquisitive about artillery, whereupon the enthusiastic Sleeper had a newly contrived shell, which was loaded, suddenly brought into the tent! The great improvement in the shell seemed to be that it was bound to go off, somehow; so that there was a marked nervousness about him of the Guards, as the Captain poked and twisted the projectile, to illustrate its manifold virtues! . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 48-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Alfred Waud drew Sleeper's Battery at work during the November 7 battle at Kelly's Ford, part of William French's diversionary attack during the Battle of Rappahannock Station (Library of Congress; click to enlarge).

Alfred Waud drew Sleeper’s Battery at work during the November 7 battle at Kelly’s Ford, part of William French’s diversionary attack during the Battle of Rappahannock Station (Library of Congress; click to enlarge).