Quite a Sensation in the Army (March 4, 1865)

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A view of a portion of the Union defenses in front of Petersburg. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The affair of the “Mine” continues to reverberate, as both George Meade and Theodore Lyman comment on an account of the action, also known as the Battle of the Crater, that appeared in the Washington Chronicle. Meade also mentions that the 114th Pennsylvania (a.k.a. the “red legs” are no longer serving as the headquarters guard.

To-day’s Chronicle has part of the opinion of the court of inquiry, which I suppose will be published in the Philadelphia papers. It has made quite a sensation in the army, as it censures Burnside, Willcox, Ferrero and a Colonel Bliss. But few persons understand the allusion in the last sentence.

Senator Harris told me that, after I was confirmed, he received a letter from Burnside, saying he was glad of it, and that I deserved it. I told Senator Harris I had no personal feeling against Burnside, and no desire to injure him.

Deserters still continue to come in, there being seventy-five yesterday, forty with arms. There are, however, no indications of an immediate evacuation either of Petersburg or Richmond, and the great fight may yet be fought out in this vicinity. There is nothing new in the camp, except you may tell George the Third Infantry has reported, and is doing guard duty at headquarters in place of the “red legs.”

Lyman takes a ride along the front.

Yesterday the rain gave over partly, and so, in the afternoon, Rosie and I mounted and rode forth to see the new line to the left. The mare knew me and greeted me, in her characteristic way, by trying to kick and bite me. I felt quite funny and odd at being once more on horseback, but had a fine time, for the mare was in great spirits and danced and hopped in a festive manner. Rosie was very proud to show me all the last battle-ground, and to explain the new roads; for he has a high opinion of his ability to find roads, at which, indeed, he is very capable. So we jogged along, sometimes in danger of sticking in the mud, and again, finding a sandy ridge where we could canter a little. This last addition, which goes to Hatcher’s Run, makes our line of tremendous extent; perhaps a continuous parapet of eighteen miles! The Rebs are obliged to draw out proportionately, which is a hard task for them. As we rode along the corduroy we met sixteen deserters from the enemy, coming in under guard, of whom about a dozen had their muskets, a sight I never saw before! They bring them in, all loaded, and we pay them so much for each weapon. The new line is a very handsome one, with a tremendous sweep of artillery and small arms. To eke out this short letter I enclose the report of the Court of Enquiry on the “Mine.” You see it gives fits to Burnside, Ledlie, Ferrero, and Willcox, while the last paragraph, though very obscure, is intended, I fancy, as a small snub on General Meade.

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. 266. 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. 309-10. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Excellent Spirits (February 22, 1864)

For those who can’t get past the image of George Gordon Meade as “the old goggle-eyed snapping turtle,” the idea of the general cracking jokes and telling stories may come as a surprise. But such accounts provide the joy of reading Theodore Lyman’s accounts of his life with the Army of the Potomac and the detailed portraits of Meade and the other generals he encounters. Here he talks about not only Meade but also chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, another general with a temper (and an admirable command of profanity).

In this letter Lyman touches on the question of African-Americans serving in the army. Lyman was not in favor of it. Later in the spring he will write, “Can we not fight our own battles, without calling on these humble hewers of wood and drawers of water, to be bayoneted by the unsparing Southerners?” The idea that these may also be the black man’s battles did not seem to cross his mind. Ironically, one of Lyman’s Harvard friends had been Robert Gould Shaw, who will die commanding the black troops of the 54th Massachusetts.

The Mr. Kennedy of the Census Bureau was Joseph C.G. Kennedy, who served as the bureau’s head from 1853-1855 and again from 1860-1865. According to the bureau’s website, “Joseph Kennedy was a major innovator in census taking; specializing schedules to cover specific demographic areas and centralizing data processing to improve control and efficiency.”

A tale of two tempers: Meade and Humphreys (Library of Congress).

A tale of two tempers: Meade and Humphreys (Library of Congress).

General Meade is in excellent spirits and cracks a great many jokes and tells stories. You can’t tell how different he is when he has no movement on his mind, for then he is like a firework, always going bang at someone, and nobody ever knows who is going to catch it next, but all stand in a semi-terrified state. There is something sardonic in his natural disposition, which is an excellent thing in a commander; it makes people skip round so. General Humphreys is quite the contrary. He is most easy to get on with, for everybody; but, practically, he is just as hard as the Commander, for he has a tremendous temper, a great idea of military duty, and is very particular. When he does get wrathy, he sets his teeth and lets go a torrent of adjectives that must rather astonish those not used to little outbursts. There came down with the General (who returned yesterday from Washington) a Mr. Kennedy, Chief of the Census Bureau, a very intelligent man, full of figures. He can tell you how many people have pug noses in Newton Centre, and any other little thing you want. There was a bill passed in the House of Reps to raise 100,000 negro troops, from the free colored men of the North. When the bill came before the Senate, Mr. Kennedy sent in word that there were less than 50,000 colored men who were free and capable of bearing arms in the whole North, which rather squelched the bill! He says that the free negroes South increase hardly at all; while those in the North even decrease; but the slaves increase more than any other class. So I think it will be best to free the whole lot of them and then they will sort of fade out.

There are perfect shoals of womenkind now in the army — a good many, of course, in Culpeper, where they can live in houses. The rest of them must live a sort of Bedouin life. The only one I have seen of late is Mrs. Captain Commissary Coxe, for behold we had a service al fresco, near General Patrick’s tent. There was Mr. Rockwell as clergyman, quite a good preacher, and very ready to speak, nevertheless not too long in his remarks. I marched over with a camp-stool very solemnly. There were quite a collection of officers from the Headquarters, also a company of cavalry, which was marched down dismounted and stood meekly near by; for this cavalry belongs to General Patrick, and the General is pious, and so his men have to be meek and lowly. Likewise came some of the red-legs, or Zouaves, or 114th Pennsylvania, who finally had an air of men who had gone to a theatre and did not take an interest in the play. There too were some ladies, who were accommodated with a tent open in front, so as to allow them to see and hear. The band of the Zouaves sang the hymns and were quite musical. .. . To-night is a great ball of the 2d Corps. The General has gone to it; also General Humphreys. None of the Staff were invited, save George Meade, to the huge indignation of the said Staff and my great amusement.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 73-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Zouaves (January 6, 1864)

The 114th PA band, photographed at army headquarters, Brandy Station, in the spring of 1864 (Library of Congress).

The 114th PA band, photographed at army headquarters, Brandy Station, in the spring of 1864 (Library of Congress).

Charles Collis, taken at Petersburg in 1864 (Library of Congress).

Charles Collis, taken at Petersburg in 1864 (Library of Congress).

George Meade wrote this brief note to his son John Sergeant on January 6, 1864. The “Zu-Zu” regiment to which he refers is the 114th Pennsylvania, also known as the Collis Zouaves after its former commander, Charles Collis. The 144th PA had been assigned as the army’s headquarters guard. The regiment had adopted the bright Zouave uniforms inspired French and Algerian soldiers. Before the war the most famous zouave unit was a crack drill outfit raised by Elmer Ellsworth, later killed in Alexandria, Virginia, when he removed the Confederate flag atop a hotel there and was shot to death by the owner.

Born in Ireland, Charles Collis had been wounded at Chancellorsville and did not fight at Gettysburg but he returned there after the war and built a house that he called Red Patch, after the III Corps’ insignia. The house still stands on Confederate Avenue and recently became a bed and breakfast. Collis is buried in the National Cemetery and has a monument there.

We have now at headquarters Collis’s “Zu-Zu” Regiment, commanded by one of the Bowens, Collis being in command of a brigade in the Third Corps. They have a fine band, one of the best in the army.

A good many of the old volunteers have re-enlisted—more than I expected—and if Congress allows the bounty hitherto paid, many more will re-enlist.

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. 165. Available via Google Books.