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.

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.

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 President (March 26, 1865)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee’s attack on Fort Stedman interrupted the visit by Mrs. Meade and the Meade children. Meade was with his family on the steamer Thomas Collyer at City Point when word of the attack arrived. “Meade was greatly nettled by the fact that he was absent from his command at such a time, and was pacing up and down with great strides, and dictating orders to his chief of staff, General Webb, who was with him, in tones which showed very forcibly the intensity of his feelings,” recalled Horace Porter, Grant’s aide-de-camp. President Lincoln had come down to visit Grant. The next day, when word arrived that the Confederate attack had been repulsed, he accepted Grant’s offer to visit the Petersburg front.

Following Meade’s letter to his wife is Theodore Lyman’s letter from the same day. He has some interesting observations about the president.

Your visit seems so like a dream I can hardly realize you have been here.

The orderly who took Meta McCall’s saddle down says he arrived just in time to put it on board, so I presume you started soon after

12 M. To-day is a fine day, without wind, and I trust you will have a pleasant journey up the Potomac and get safe home.

After I arrived here, the President and party came about 1 p.m. We reviewed Crawford’s Division, and then rode to the front line and saw the firing on Wright’s front, at the fort where you were, where a pretty sharp fight was going on. Indeed, Humphreys and Wright were fighting till eight o’clock, with very good results, taking over one thousand prisoners from the enemy, and inflicting heavy losses in killed and wounded. The day turned out to be a very successful one, we punishing the enemy severely, taking nearly three thousand prisoners and ten battle flags, besides the morale of frustrating and defeating his plans.

Mrs. Lincoln spoke very handsomely of you and referred in feeling terms to our sad bereavement. The President also spoke of you, and expressed regret that your visit should have been so abruptly terminated. I suppose Mrs. Hopkinson and yourself will have great fun in recalling the incidents of your trip. Altogether, your expedition was very successful, and I am very glad you came.

I expect we shall have stirring times before long. The fighting yesterday proved the enemy has still some spirit left in him, and Lee, having once begun, is likely to try his hand again; and if he don’t, I suppose we shall have to take the matter in hand.

Here is Lyman’s letter. His impressions of Lincoln certainly come filtered through his own Boston snobbery, yet overall it’s a favorable portrait. Lyman does not include his impressions of Mrs. Meade in his letters, but he did in his journals. “Mrs. Meade has a pleasant and still good looking face, for her age, and very fine hair,” he wrote. “She has a little of the languid, half southern way, and is wanting in force, somewhat.”

My letter of yesterday only gave a part of the day’s work. Our train went briskly up to the front and stopped not far from the little rustic chapel you saw; for there was General Parke with his Staff, waiting to receive the General and report the morning’s work. . . . Brevet Brigadier McLaughlen got taken in trying to maintain his line—a good officer. He was the one who had been five days in Boston and told me he was so tired that he thought he should go right back. A certain Major Miller was captured and sent, with a guard of four men, a little to the rear. They sat in a bomb-proof for protection and Miller did so describe the glories of Yankeedom to his captors, that, when we retook the work, they all deserted and came over with him! Then we kept on and got out at our own domus, where General Meade (it being then about 11.30 a.m.)telegraphed sundry orders to his generals; wherefrom resulted, at 12.15, the greatest bang, bang, whang, from good Duke Humphrey, who, spectacles on nose, rushed violently at the entrenched skirmish line of the enemy and captured the same, with the double view of making a reconnaissance and a diversion, and furthermore of showing the Johns that we were not going to be pitched into without hitting back.

Then there was a lull, filled by the arrival of a long grey procession of some 1500 prisoners from the 9th Corps. Really these men possess a capacity for looking “rough” beyond any people I ever saw, except the townsmen of Signor Fra Diavolo. They grew rougher and rougher. These looked brown and athletic, but had the most matted hair, tangled beards, and slouched hats, and the most astounding carpets, horse-sheets and transmogrified shelter-tents for blankets, that you ever imagined. One grim gentleman, of forbidding aspect, had tempered his ferocity by a black, broad-brimmed straw hat, such as country ministers sometimes wear—a head-dress which, as Whittier remarked, “rather forced the season!” Singularly enough, the train just then came up and the President and General Grant, followed by a small party, rode over to the Headquarters. “I have just now a despatch from General Parke to show you,” said General Meade. “Ah,” quoth the ready Abraham, pointing to the parade-ground of the Provost-Marshal, “there is the best despatch you can show me from General Parke!” The President is, I think, the ugliest man I ever put my eyes on; there is also an expression of plebeian vulgarity in his face that is offensive (you recognize the recounter of coarse stories). On the other hand, he has the look of sense and wonderful shrewdness, while the heavy eyelids give him a mark almost of genius. He strikes me, too, as a very honest and kindly man; and, with all his vulgarity, I see no trace of low passions in his face. On the whole, he is such a mixture of all sorts, as only America brings forth. He is as much like a highly intellectual and benevolent Satyr as anything I can think of. I never wish to see him again, but, as humanity runs, I am well content to have him at the head of affairs. . . . After which digression I will remark that the President (who looks very fairly on a horse) reviewed the 3d division, 5th Corps, which had marched up there to support the line, and were turned into a review. As the Chief Magistrate rode down the ranks, plucking off his hat gracefully by the hinder part of the brim, the troops cheered quite loudly. Scarcely was the review done when, by way of salute, all those guns you saw by Fort Fisher opened with shells on the enemy’s picket line, which you could see, entrenched, from where you stood. Part of the 6th Corps then advanced and, after a sharp fight, which lasted, with heavy skirmishing, till sunset, drove off the Rebels and occupied their position, driving them towards their main line. At four and at seven P.m. the enemy charged furiously on Humphreys, to recover their picket line, but were repulsed with great loss; our men never behaved better. Both Wright and Humphreys took several hundred prisoners, swelling the total for the day to 2700, more than we have had since the noted 12th of May. Our total loss is from 1800 to 2000; while that of the enemy must be from 4000 to 5000 plus a great discouragement. Isn’t it funny for you to think of the polite Humphreys riding round in an ambulance with you Friday, and, the next day, smashing fiercely about in a fight?

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. 267-8. 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. 323-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Its Usual Malice (February 11, 1865)

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

Once again, George Meade takes issue with the press, this time over an account of the fighting known today as the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. He would have been well advised, I think, to have avoided reading newspapers altogether.

The Willie to whom Meade refers is his wife’s brother. He will not survive the war.

I assume the sculptor Meade mentions is Franklin Simmons. Born in Maine, Simmons sculpted the equestrian statue of Gen. John A. Logan that stands in the circle in Washington, D.C., that bears the general’s name. He was also commissioned to do a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and met with the president about it on the day before Lincoln’s assassination. His bronze medallion of Meade (as well as those of other generals) is in the Union League in Philadelphia. There’s more about Simmons here.

I see the Tribune, with its usual malice, charges the recent movement as a failure, and puts the blame on me. I told Grant, before the movement was made, it would be misunderstood and called a failure. But he promised to telegraph to Washington what we intended to do, thinking by this to avoid this misapprehension. His telegram, if he sent one, was never published, nor has any of his or my telegrams to him about the affair been made public. Now, the facts of the case are that I accomplished a great deal more than was designed, and though the Fifth Corps at one time was forced back, yet we repulsed the enemy the day before, had been driving him all that day, and the next day drove him into his works, and on the whole the success was with us. It is rather hard under these circumstances to be abused; but I suppose I must make up my mind to be abused by this set, never mind what happens,

Willie’s regiment was in the thickest of the fight and suffered severely, but I believe behaved very well.

There is now here an artist in bronze, of the name of Simmons, who is sculpturing a life-size head of me, of which he intends casting a medallion in bronze. His work is pronounced excellent, and he promises to present you a copy, so you will have your Meade art gallery increased. Grant is still away.

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. 262-3. Available via Google Books.

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Three Distinguished Gentlemen (February 1, 1865)

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy (Library of Congress).

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy (Library of Congress).

George Meade has just returned to the army after a short leave in Philadelphia His letter back home from February 1 is a very interesting one. In it, he tells his wife about his encounter with three peace commissioners sent by the Confederacy to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. The commissioners were Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president; assistant secretary of war John A. Campbell; and Robert M. T. Hunter, a Confederate senator. Their mission ended in failure because Lincoln stuck to his position that the requirements for peace included reunification of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

Clearly, Meade feels that he should not have spent time talking with the commissioners. I have even read an interview with one historian who says Meade’s actions here were treasonous. I can’t agree with that assessment at all. In his conversations with the rebels, Meade said nothing contrary to Lincoln’s stand that the only want to end the war was for the seceded states to return to the Union and for slavery to end, nor did he offer suggestions for ways in which the commissioners could circumvent Lincoln or suggest negotiating tactics. I think the charge of treason is ludicrous. Perhaps Meade transgressed the bounds of propriety, but he was not doing anything to undermine Lincoln, or to provide “aid and comfort to the enemy.”

In anyone went outside the boundaries, it was Grant. He knew that Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were both wary of meeting with the commissioners, whose instructions including making peace between the “two countries.” “At this point Grant, who was increasingly eager to finish off the war and who was not attuned to the niceties of diplomatic negotiations, intervened,” wrote Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald. “He persuaded the commissioners to delete from their instructions the reference to two separate countries and wired to Washington that he hoped Lincoln would meet with them.”

After Meade’s letter, I include Grant’s view of the delegation.

I reached City Point at twelve o’clock last night, having had a very comfortable journey via Annapolis. We found a good deal of ice in the Chesapeake Bay and considerable in the James River; but to-day has been so mild and pleasant I think the ice will disappear.

From all I can gather, the Secretary’s telegram must have been based on something Ord sent to Washington; for Grant did not return till Monday night, and in ignorance of Mr. Stanton’s telegram, sent me one himself, yesterday morning.

I found on my arrival, last night, that three distinguished gentlemen, Mr. Alexander Stephens (Vice President of the Confederacy), Mr. R. M. T. Hunter (formerly United States Senator from Virginia), and Mr. Campbell, of Alabama (formerly Judge United States Supreme Court), were in our lines, having been passed in by General Grant, on their expressing a wish to go to Washington. After Grant had admitted them, he received a telegram from Washington directing they be retained outside our lines until a messenger despatched from Washington could arrive. They are now awaiting this messenger. They do not profess to be accredited commissioners, but state they are informal agents, desiring to visit the President and ascertain if any measures are practicable for the termination of the war. I called this morning, with General Grant, on them, and remained after General Grant left, and talked very freely with them. I told them very plainly what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace, namely, the complete restoration of the Union and such a settlement of the slavery question as should be final, removing it forever as a subject of strife. Mr. Stephens suggested that, if we could stop fighting, the matter might be discussed. I told him promptly that was entirely out of the question; that we could not stop fighting unless it was for good, and that he might be assured any proposals based on a suspension of hostilities would not be received. Mr. Stephens then said they did not consider the slavery question as so formidable a difficulty, but they feared the difficulty would be to obtain such modification of the old Constitution as would protect the States, in case of other questions arising to produce strife. I said if you mean to propose a reorganization and change in our Government, I don’t think you will meet with any success. We are satisfied with our Constitution, and you seem to be, since yours is identically ours, excepting the protection you give to slavery. Mr. Hunter then asked me what we proposed to do with the slaves after freeing them, as it was well known they would not work unless compelled. I replied this was undoubtedly a grave question, but not insurmountable; that they must have labor, and the negroes must have support; between the two necessities I thought some system could be devised accommodating both interests, which would not be so obnoxious as slavery. They then said they thought it a pity this matter could not be left to the generals on each side, and taken out of the hands of politicians. I answered I had no doubt a settlement would be more speedily attained in this way, but I feared there was no chance for this.

We then conversed on general topics. Judge Campbell asked after your family, and Mr. Hunter spoke of Mr. Wise, and said he had brought two letters with him, one of which I herewith enclose.

I judge from my conversation that there is not much chance of peace; I fear we will split on the questions of an armistice and State rights. Still, I hope Mr. Lincoln will receive them and listen to all they have to say, for if it can be shown that their terms are impracticable, the country will be united for the further prosecution of the war. At the same time the selection of three most conservative of Southern men indicates most clearly to my mind an anxiety on the part of Mr. Davis to settle matters if possible. All this I have written you must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I said.

I do most earnestly pray something may result from this movement. When they came within our lines our men cheered loudly, and the soldiers on both sides cried out lustily, “Peace! peace!” This was intended as a compliment, and I believe was so taken by them.

I am sorry I could not stay longer with you, but I don’t believe I should have had any satisfaction, as every report brought in would have a recall telegram.

Here are Grant’s recollections of the peace commission, taken from his memoirs (Vol. II, pp 420-3, available via Google Books):

On the last of January, 1865, peace commissioners from the so-called Confederate States presented themselves on our lines around Petersburg, and were immediately conducted to my headquarters at City Point. They proved to be Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, Judge Campbell, Assistant-Secretary of War, and R. M. T. Hunter, formerly United States Senator and then a member of the Confederate Senate.

It was about dark when they reached my headquarters, and I at once conducted them to the steamer Mary Martin, a Hudson River boat which was very comfortably fitted up for the use of passengers. I at once communicated by telegraph with Washington and informed the Secretary of War and the President of the arrival of these commissioners and that their object was to negotiate terms of peace between the United States and, as they termed it, the Confederate Government. I was instructed to retain them at City Point, until the President, or some one whom he would designate, should come to meet them. They remained several days as guests on board the boat. I saw them quite frequently, though I have no recollection of having had any conversation whatever with them on the subject of their mission. It was something I had nothing to do with, and I therefore did not wish to express any views on the subject. For my own part I never had admitted, and never was ready to admit, that they were the representatives of a government. There had been too great a waste of blood and treasure to concede anything of the kind. As long as they remained there, however, our relations were pleasant and I found them all very agreeable gentlemen. I directed the captain to furnish them with the best the boat afforded, and to administer to their comfort in every way possible. No guard was placed over them and no restriction was put upon their movements; nor was there any pledge asked that they would not abuse the privileges extended to them. They were permitted to leave the boat when they felt like it, and did so, coming up on the bank and visiting me at my headquarters.

I had never met either of these gentlemen before the war, but knew them well by reputation and through their public services, and I had been a particular admirer of Mr. Stephens. I had always supposed that he was a very small man, but when I saw him in the dusk of the evening I was very much surprised to find so large a man as he seemed to be. When he got down on to the boat I found that he was wearing a coarse gray woollen overcoat, a manufacture that had been introduced into the South during the rebellion. The cloth was thicker than anything of the kind I had ever seen, even in Canada. The overcoat extended nearly to his feet, and was so large that it gave him the appearance of being an average-sized man. He took this off when he reached the cabin of the boat, and I was struck with the apparent change in size, in the coat and out of it.

After a few days, about the 2d of February, I received a dispatch from Washington, directing me to send the commissioners to Hampton Roads to meet the President and a member of the cabinet. Mr. Lincoln met them there and had an interview of short duration. It was not a great while after they met that the President visited me at City Point. He spoke of his having met the commissioners, and said he had told them that there would be no use in entering into any negotiations unless they would recognize, first: that the Union as a whole must be forever preserved, and second: that slavery must be abolished. If they were willing to concede these two points, then he was ready to enter into negotiations and was almost willing to hand them a blank sheet of paper with his signature attached for them to fill in the terms upon which they were willing to live with us in the Union and be one people. He always showed a generous and kindly spirit toward the Southern people, and I never heard him abuse an enemy. Some of the cruel things said about President Lincoln, particularly in the North, used to pierce him to the heart; but never in my presence did he evince a revengeful disposition—and I saw a great deal of him at City Point, for he seemed glad to get away from the cares and anxieties of the capital. Right here I might relate an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln. It was on the occasion of his visit to me just after he had talked with the peace commissioners at Hampton Roads. After a little conversation, he asked me if I had seen that overcoat of Stephens’s. I replied that I had. “Well,” said he, “did you see him take it off?” I said yes. “Well,” said he, “didn’t you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that ever you did see?” Long afterwards I told this story to the Confederate General J. B. Gordon, at the time a member of the Senate. He repeated it to Stephens, and, as I heard afterwards, Stephens laughed immoderately at the simile of Mr. Lincoln.

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. 258-60. Available via Google Books.

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Tolerably Able (November 10, 1864)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

The editor of Theodore Lyman’s letters. George R. Agassiz, thought the entry for November 10, 1864, was so unusual it required a bit of a disclaimer. “Some parts of the following letter make curious reading now,” he wrote. “They are, however, interesting, not merely as an individual opinion at that time, but as reflecting the contemporary sentiments of a large body of intelligent men.” I assume Agassiz felt compelled to add his note because of Lyman’s qualified praise for Lincoln. Today Lincoln is lionized as one of America’s greatest presidents, comparable only to Washington. During the Civil War, however, Lincoln had yet to acquire his veneer of greatness. For many, calling him “tolerably able,” as Lyman does in this letter, was giving him more credit than he was due. Lyman and Meade were both politically conservative and would have had doubts about Lincoln. Lyman’s conservatism explains his condescending reference to Theodore Parker, a noted transcendentalist and abolitionist. Parker’s grandfather had led the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington. In this letter Lyman also notes an incident of “acoustic shadow,” in which atmospheric conditions mask the sounds of battle.

They have been singularly niggardly to us about election returns; but we have reliable intelligence to-night that Lincoln is re-elected, the coarse, honest, good-natured, tolerably able man! It is very well as it is; for the certainty of pushing this war to its righteous end must now swallow up all other considerations. I am still more content that there has been a powerful opposition to him, even from respectable men, an opposition strong enough to carry several states. This will caution him, or better, his party, to proceed cautiously and to make no fanatical experiments, such as we too often have seen, but to proceed firmly, and according to rule and law. Lincoln has some men of ability about him—pre-eminent, Mr. Seward, whom the ultras have thrown over, but whom I think the strong man of the cabinet. Mr. Fessenden is said to be a very superior person, and his face is certainly a bright one, very. There is another important advantage in keeping on as we are: the machine is in running order and it is always a drawback to change midst a season of public trial. And again we have done with Lincoln what the Rebels have successfully done with their generals, let him learn from his own misfortunes and mistakes; not a bad school for a sensible man. So you see, I am inclined to make the best of what I deem is the best, albeit not very good. . . .

Have you read an article from Fraser, in Littells, called “Concord Transcendentalists.” It is a singular production, rather entertaining some of it, and interspersed with the weakest, sweetened warm milk and water. The place where it says that Theodore Parker hid two slaves in his study, and nightly sat writing at the door of it, with several pistols and the gun that had belonged to his grandfather, would be a funny passage at any time, but, written so gravely in these war days, it is quite irresistible! If you see any number, in future, containing the tale of Tony Butler, you might send it to me, though it is no great matter. I have read a number or two, the last chapter being in this very number where the Transcends flourish. Which reminds me of what a West Point professor said, according to the solemn Duane. He was hearing a recitation in philosophy, and would fain illustrate how the body might slowly change, yet the individual remain the same. “Now,”said he,” if I have a knife and lose a blade and get it replaced, it is still the same knife.” “Well,” said a stupid-looking cadet, “and suppose you lose the other blades, one after another, and get them replaced, is it the same knife?” “Certainly,” replied the Professor. “And suppose the handle should get rather ricketty and you replaced that?” “Yes, it would be the same knife.” “Well, now,” cried the stupid one, suddenly brightening up amazingly, “suppose you took the old handle, and found the old blades, and put ‘em all together, what would you call that, hey?” Poor Major Duane! he can’t do much but talk and tell stories, for he is quite miserably yet and is not fit for duty, though he is improving. . . .

Last night, with a mild south wind, we had a singular example of the stopping of sound. Our batteries near the plank road, some three miles off, may usually be heard with perfect distinctness; not only the guns, but the explosion of the shells; and the replies of the Rebels also. At night we can see the shells going over, by the burning fuse, that looks like a flying spark. The deception is very singular in the dark, for, though the shell may be passing at the rate of 1200 feet a second, in the distance the fuse seems to go slowly and in a stately curve. This is because 1200 feet looks very small, three miles away, and the eye gets an idea of rapidity by the space travelled over in a given time. Well, last night, they opened a somewhat brisk discharge of mortar shells from both sides; but though we could see them go through the sky and burst below, not the faintest sound reached the ear! At other times these same guns will sound quite close to us. I could cite many such contrasts.

I rode forth with good Duke Humphrey, to see the dress-parade in the 9th Corps. That and the 5th, not being in the immediate presence of the enemy, have a good chance for drill. The 9th Corps, in particular, have gone into the evolutions to an alarming extent, an exercise which, like Wistar’s balsam of wild cherry, can’t do harm and may do good. Around General Parke’s Headquarters there is a chronic beating of drums and fifing of fifes and playing of bands. We sat some time and watched the drilling; it was quite fun to see them double-quicking here, and marching there, and turning up in unexpected positions. At last the gallant Colonel McLaughlen, after many intricate manoeuvres, charged and took a sutler’s tent, and the brigade was then marched to its quarters. As we returned, there was a nig brigade, having its dress parade in fine style. They looked extremely well and marched in good style. The band was a great feature. There was a man with the bass drum (the same I believe that so amused De Chanal) who felt a ruat-coelum-fiat-big-drum sentiment in his deepest heart! No man ever felt more that the success of great things lay in the whacking of that sheepskin with vigor and precision! Te-de-bung, de-de-bung, bung, bung! could be heard, far and near. . . . The nigs are getting quite brisk at their evolutions. If their intellects don’t work, the officers occasionally refresh them by applying the flats of their swords to their skins. There was a Swede here, who had passed General Casey’s board for a negro commission. He was greatly enraged by a remark of the distinguished Casey, who asked him what Gustavus Adolphus did, meaning what great improvements he introduced in the art of war. To which the furriner replied: “He was commander-in-chief of the Swedish army.” “Oh, pooh!” said Casey, “that’s nothing!” Which the Swede interpreted to mean that Gustavus was small potatoes, or that the Swedish army was so. Really, most foreign officers among us are but scapegraces from abroad. The other day the Belgian Minister Sanford sent a letter asking for promotion for private Guatineau, whose pa had rendered us great service by writing in the French press. The matter being referred to his commander, the reply was: “This man deserted to the enemy from the picket line.”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 259-62. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Lincoln Wins! (November 9, 1864)

President Abraham LIncoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham LIncoln (Library of Congress).

Meade comments on the election, in which Abraham Lincoln handily beat George McClellan. The Army of the Potomac voted solidly for Lincoln. In the case of suspected voter fraud he describes, Meade had one Jeremiah McKibbin arrested for supposedly distributing incorrect ballots in the hopes of disqualifying Republican votes. This is what Meade reported to Edwin Stanton (as it appears in the Official Records):Yesterday I was informed by Mr. Bonham, Republican agent of the State of Pennsylvania, that altered poll-books had distributed in this army by Mr. Jeremiah McKibbin, Democratic agent of the State of Pennsylvania. I immediately directed the commanding officers of Pennsylvania regiments to put the soldiers and others on their guard, and ordered the provost-marshal to detain Mr. McKibbin for examination. During the day two individuals, named Miles and Carrigan, Democratic agents, were arrested in the Second Corps, charged with circulating these altered poll-books. The alterations consist in the improper spelling of names, and in the tally lists the omission of a name. I have placed the whole matter in the hands of the judge-advocate of this army, with directions to investigate the affair and report whether any fraud has been committed or was intended, and whether the evidence justified the detention and trial of the person above named. There is, however, great difficulty in settling these important questions from the ignorance in this army, particularly on my part, not only of the machinery of elections, but of the laws of Pennsylvania and their bearing on the case in point. In this point of view I desire the instruction of the department, and would respectfully suggest whether justice to all parties would not best be subserved by turning these persons, with all the evidence, over to the authorities of the State of Pennsylvania to have tried by the courts of that State the questions that may arise, or whether I shall send these individuals to the Department at Washington, to be third by the military commission now sitting in Washington and trying analogous cases relating to New York soldiers. This proposition in not made with a view to avoid any duty which properly devolves on me, but with an earnest desire to have a proper and through investigation made, which, under the circumstances, I fear cannot be made by a commission organized in this army.”

A McClellan campaign pin (Library of Congress).

A McClellan campaign pin (Library of Congress).

The election passed off very quietly yesterday. About nineteen thousand votes, of which thirteen thousand five hundred were for Lincoln, and five thousand five hundred for McClellan, giving Lincoln a majority in this army of about eight thousand votes. Of these, three thousand five hundred were the majority of the Pennsylvania soldiers. During the day, much to my horror, one of the Republican agents reported the distribution of spurious or altered poll books, and charged certain Democratic agents as the parties guilty of the act. I had no other course to pursue than to arrest the parties complained against, until an investigation could be had. To-day we have been examining the matter, and there appears to be no doubt that poll books were brought here and distributed, having names of Republican electors misspelled and some omitted. The Democrats declare it is only a typographical error, and does not vitiate the use of the books, whereas the Republicans charge that it is a grave and studied effort to cheat the soldiers of their vote. In this dilemma I have applied to the Secretary of War, and asked for authority to send the parties either to Pennsylvania, to be tried by the courts there, or to Washington, to be disposed of by the Department and Doubleday’s Commission, now trying the New York agent. This affair has bothered me very much. All these people are citizens of Philadelphia, and are said to be respectable. I had, however, but one course to pursue, and was compelled to notice the complaints presented to me. We have no news from the elections outside of the army, except that they passed off quietly with you and in New York; in the latter place, doubtless, owing to the presence and order of Major General Butler. Well, the election is over, with the result I expected, and now I hope no time will be lost in regulating the army.

I trust, now the election is over, measures will be taken to raise men to fill our ranks, and no time should be lost, as I don’t think we can count on more than a month of good weather. To-be-sure, we can and doubtless will stay here all winter; and being so near each other, may manage to keep fighting on. But I don’t think any operations involving any movement can be had after the beginning of December.

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. 239-40. Available via Google Books.

A Tender Adieu (October 29, 1864)

General Meade continues to stew over the article in Henry Ward Beecher’s Independent, which said that Ulysses s. Grant desired to get rid of him. One gets the sense that Meade was less angry at the paper and more concerned that it might have hit on the truth about Grant’s feelings. It’s possible that Meade was more jittery than usual because of the impending presidential election. Lincoln had waited until after an election season to relieve George McClellan, and perhaps Meade worried the same thing was going to happen to him.

I had a conversation with Grant in reference to my letter about Beecher’s article, and told him I did not care about his despatches, but desired he would furnish me a few lines for publication, that would set at rest, as far as he was concerned, the wicked and malicious falsehoods which that article contained. This he said he would most cheerfully give me. At the same time I told him that, whilst I did not doubt the good feeling of the President and Secretary for me, yet I was satisfied of the existence of a bitter hostility towards me on the part of certain supporters of the President, and I did not desire to embarrass Mr. Lincoln, nor did I wish to retain command by mere sufferance; and that, unless some measures were taken to satisfy the public and silence the persistent clamor against me, I should prefer being relieved; that I was becoming disheartened, and my usefulness and influence with the army were being impaired. In all successful operations I was ignored, and the moment anything went wrong I was held wholly responsible, and rather than continue in this way, I would prefer retiring, and desired him to say this to the President.

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

Yesterday Theodore Lyman wrote about the arrival of two Frenchman who came to observe the Army of the Potomac. Such visitors were not a rarity, but the demands required of a gracious host could make them a nuisance. Here Lyman explains how he contrived to get rid of them. It makes sense that the visitors would want to visit General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand, for he was a countryman of theirs. De Trobriand had been born into wealth and privilege in France in 1816, married an American heiress, and moved to New York City in 1847. He volunteered for the army when war broke out and proved to be a capable officer, commanding a brigade in the III Corps at Gettysburg. At this point he commanded a brigade in Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps.

After the war de Trobriand wrote Quatre ans a l’armeé du Potomac. He had this to say about Hancock, whose tenure with the Army of the Potomac ended after the Battle of Burgess’s Mill: “General Hancock is one of the handsomest men in the United States army. He is tall in stature, robust in figure, with movements of easy dignity. His head, shaded by thick hair of a light chestnut color, strikes one favorably from the first by the regularity of his features and the engaging expression which is habitual to him. His manners are generally very polite. His voice is pleasant, and his speech as agreeable as his looks. Such is Hancock in repose. In action he is entirely different. Dignity gives way to activity; his features become animated, his voice loud, his eyes are on fire, his blood kindles, and his bearing is that of a man carried away by passion, —the character of his bravery. It is this, I think, which renders him much less fit for an independent command than to act under orders. We will see in the course of our narrative that, after having distinguished himself above all others at the head of a division or an army corps, he was much less fortunate in independent operations which were intrusted to him. Brilliant in the second rank, he did not shine so brightly when occupying the first. Was it a question of execution? he was admirable. If it was necessary to plan and direct, he was no longer equal to the occasion. This is often the case amongst soldiers.”

Having been seized with a powerful suspicion that the valiant Frenchmen would fain squat, to speak in Western phrase, at our Headquarters, I applied my entire mind to shipping them; for, as a travelled man, it was a matter of pride not to be put upon by a brace of such chaps. So I lay [in] wait till they said they would like to see General de Trobriand, and then I hastened to place them on horseback and give an orderly as a guide and tenderly shake hands with them, grieving I should not have the delight of seeing them again! There was a look about their intelligent countenances that seemed to say: “Ah, you are not so soft as we thought,” as they bid me a tender adieu.

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. 237-8. 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, p. 256. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Ride Along the Works (October 14, 1864)

Meade and John Parke appear together in a photo taken in June 1865. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Meade and John Parke appear together in a photo taken in June 1865. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In his letter of October 14, Theodore Lyman paints a picture of General Meade in generally good humor. We also get a sense of Meade the engineer. John Parke, who accompanied Meade on his ride along the lines, is the commander of the IX Corps. In his journal Lyman mentioned that they rode down to Fort Stevenson and that “the country is hardly to be recognized, so much timber has been felled and slashed.”

Although George McClellan, President Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the upcoming election, was the much beloved former commander of the Army of the Potomac, his old soldiers did not favor him. The main reason for that was the Democratic Party’s peace plank, which implied the war had been a failure. McClellan disagreed with the plank but it damaged his candidacy nonetheless. . “Yes, it was cruel in General McClellan to ask us to vote that our campaigns had all been failures, and that our comrades had all died in vain,” wrote Theodore Gerrish of the 20th Maine. “And yet there were those who supposed that our love for him would cause us to do it.”

How shall I vote? I don’t know that I shall be given the chance; but, if I am, I shall vote for the blue-blooded Abraham. It was with a feeling of depression that I heard the first rumors that the Dems had carried Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; and when the truth came out, I felt glad. This proves to me that I look on the Mac party with misgiving. The soldiers’ vote is an unexpected one; they are said to show five to one for the Administration, which tells me that they identify it with the support of the war; for the troops in their private thoughts make the thrashing of the Rebs a matter of pride, as well as of patriotism.

I venture to say that at no time during the war have the Rebel papers talked so desperately; they speak of the next month settling the question, and of arming the negroes. If they do this latter, the slavery candle will burn at both ends. I have no idea that the next month will settle it, though, of course, there is a chance for important movements during the autumn, as at other seasons of good weather. We must keep at them—that is the only way; no let up, no armistice. They perfectly hate what we are doing now, going a couple of miles and fortifying, then going two more and fortifying again; then making a sudden rush, taking a position and a lot of cannon, and again fortifying that. All these moves being a part of what we may call a throttling plan. Their struggles, though often apparently successful, do them thus far no good. They flank us on the Weldon railroad and brush off 2000 prisoners: no use! we hold the road. They flank us again at the Pegram house, and capture 1000 more: no use; we hold the Pegram position and add it to former acquisitions. Then they flank Butler and get eight of his guns; but they have to go back, and Benjamin remains in what General Halleck terms a “threatening attitude.” . . . Yesterday, Loring, whom I saw over at General Parke’s Headquarters, was speaking of the quaint ways of talking among soldiers. Their lines are at peace out there, and the soldiers don’t fire; notwithstanding, some sharpshooters, with telescopic rifles, are posted here and there. As he rode along, he met two of these gentry coming with faces as of men who had labored in a good cause, without profit. “Hullo!” said L., “did you get good places out in front?” “Yes, fust-rate places: but no shooting, no shooting!” General Meade rode to Parke’s on account of a statement from a deserter, that the enemy would attack our left. “If they do” quoth the General, proud of his engineering skill, “if they do, they’ll get into a nice hornet’s nest.” It is funny to see two engineers, like Meade and Parke, ride along works and pleasantly discuss them. In their enthusiasm, they always personify redoubts as far as to give them eyes, and speak of their “looking” in sundry directions, meaning thereby that they can fire there. “Here is a nice swallow-tail lunette,” says Parke as if introducing a pate de foie gras; “these two faces, you see, look down the two roads of approach, and here is a face that looks into that ravine: nothing could live in that ravine, nothing!” This last he emphasizes, as if the presence of life in the ravine aforesaid was a thing in the highest degree sinful, and this redoubt was virtuously bent on preserving the public morality. “Yes,” replies Father Meade, “that seems all right; now you want to slash out, about 300 yards further, and get a good field of fire so that the enemy’s sharpshooters can’t annoy your gunners.” The use of the word “annoy” is another military eccentricity. When half the men are killed or wounded by the enemy’s riflemen, an officer will ride pleasantly in to the chief of artillery, and state that the battery is a good deal “annoyed” by sharpshooters, giving to the novice the impression that the sharpshooters complained of have been using provoking and impertinent language to the battery. To-day I was the sole companion of the General on his exercise ride, on which occasions, instead of riding behind him, I ride beside him, but keep as it were a little back of his horse’s head. When we approach any body of troops, I fall entirely to the rear — strong on etiquette we are! For two or three days he has been in the best of humors and sits in the evening by the camp-fire before my tent, talking familiarly with all the aides; a rare thing with him. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 245-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.