And So It Begins (May 3, 1864)

Alexander Gardner called this photograph "Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe's deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army's Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner called this photograph “Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe’s deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army’s Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

We are now on the very eve of the Overland Campaign, a bloody, protracted slugging match between the Army of the Potomac under Meade (accompanied by Grant) and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At the start of the campaign Grant warned Meade that he did not intend to fight by “maneuvering for position.” Meade must have seen that as a critique of the army’s campaigns from the previous fall. He replied, “General Grant, you are opposed by a general of consummate ability, and you will find that you will have to maneuver for position.” Meade will be right. Throughout the Overland Campaign Grant will attempt to overwhelm the Confederates with direct assaults, and then order Meade’s army on wide, sweeping maneuvers in attempts to outflank Lee.

The letter from Lee that Meade mentions here is the one the Confederate general sent demanding to know the truth about Ulric Dahlgren’s orders for his ill-fated raid on Richmond. Papers found on his body indicated he intended to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and burn Richmond. Meade had denied that anyone had issued such orders. Pennie is Meade’s son Spencer.

I send herewith original letter recently received from General Lee, which you can give to Pennie, as it has General Lee’s autograph, and on the envelope an original endorsement by Jeb Stuart, the great reb. cavalry general.

I also enclose you a printed copy of an address issued to-day by me to the army. To-morrow we move. I hope and trust we will be successful, and so decidedly successful as to bring about a termination of this war. If hard fighting will do it, I am sure I can rely on my men. They are in fine condition and in most excellent spirits, and will do all that men can do to accomplish the object. The enemy have had time, I expect, to bring up all available reinforcements. This is all the better for us, if we succeed, as it will make the battle and victory more decisive. The telegraph will convey to you the first intelligence, though I shall endeavor to keep you posted. I beg of you to be calm and resigned, to place full trust in the mercy of our heavenly Father, who has up to this time so signally favored us, and the continuance of whose blessing we should earnestly pray for. Do not fret, but be cheerful, and go about and do just as if nothing was going on, and above all things don’t anticipate evil; it will come time enough. Give my love to all the dear children. I shall think a great deal of you and them, notwithstanding the excitement of my duties. I feel quiet and determined, satisfied I have ever striven to do my duty to the best of my ability, and believing that in time posterity will do justice to my career. Good-by! God bless and protect us all!

“Address” mentioned in last letter:

Head-quarters, Army Of The Potomac, May 4, 1864.

Soldiers!

Again you are called upon to advance on the enemies of your country. The time and the occasion are deemed opportune by your Commanding General to address you a few words of confidence and caution.

You have been re-organized, strengthened and fully equipped in every respect. You form a part of the several armies of your country, the whole under the direction of an able and distinguished General, who enjoys the confidence of the government, the people and the army. Your movement being in co-operation with others, it is of the utmost importance that no effort should be left unspared to make it successful.

Soldiers! the eyes of the whole country are looking with anxious hope to the blow you are about to strike in the most sacred cause that ever called men to arms.

Remember your homes, your wives and children, and bear in mind that the sooner your enemies are overcome, the sooner you will be returned to enjoy the benefits and blessings of peace. Bear with patience the hardships and sacrifices yon will be called upon to endure. Have confidence in your officers and in each other. Keep your ranks on the march and on the battlefield, and let each man earnestly implore God’s blessing and endeavor by his thoughts and actions to render himself worthy of the favor he seeks. With clear consciences and strong arms, actuated by a high sense of duty, fighting to preserve the Government and the institutions handed down to us by our forefathers—if true to ourselves—victory, under God’s blessing, must and will attend our efforts.

Geo. G. Meade,
Official: Major General Commanding

Here’s what Theodore Lyman wrote home on the same day. Lyman wrote detailed and fascinating letters home about the fighting during the Overland Campaign and I will post them here on the appropriate days.

At last the order of march, for to-morrow at 5 a.m.! Of it more when it is over — if I am here to write. Only spring waggons go for our little mess kits and baggage; other things go with the main train. May God bless the undertaking at last and give an end to this war! I have made all preparations for the campaign.

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. 192-4. 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. 84. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Leap Year (February 29, 1864)

Alexander Gardner took this photograph at Fairfax Court House in June 1863, just before the start of the Gettysburg Campaign. He called it "Studying the Art of War." Ulric Dahlgren is the man standing. The man in the center is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, in the United States to observer. He will later become famous for the airships he develops. At the far right is Lt. Rosencranz, who will later serve on Meade's staff. Theodore Lyman mentions him often in his writings. To read Gardner's extensive caption for this photo, see below (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner took this photograph at Fairfax Court House in June 1863, just before the start of the Gettysburg Campaign. He called it “Studying the Art of War.” Ulric Dahlgren is the man standing. The man crouching  in the center is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, in the United States to observe the war. He will become known for the airships he later develops. Reclining is Joseph Dickinson. At the far right is Lt. Frederick Rosencrantz, who will later serve on Meade’s staff. Theodore Lyman mentions him often in his writings. Benjamin Ludlow, at left, was another Meade staffer. To read Gardner’s extensive caption for this photo, see below (Library of Congress).

1864 was a leap year, hence this letter from February 29. It is Meade’s last letter from February. March will be an eventful month, marking the arrival of Ulysses S. Grant, the investigations by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, and the fallout from the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid on Richmond. As the last paragraph of Meade’s letter points out, March will also bring Ulysses S. Grant, the new general-in-chief of the Union armies, a post held until now by Henry Halleck.

Yesterday Mr. Dorr, from Christ Church, preached for us, and afterwards dined and spent the evening with me. During the evening one of the escaped prisoners from Libby prison, who had made his way from Richmond right through the main body of Lee’s army and into our lines, came to see me, and Mr. Dorr seemed very much interested in the narrative of his adventures. He returned home this morning, delighted with his visit to the army and all he had seen. He has a son who is a captain in Chapman Biddle’s regiment, the One Hundred and Twenty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Ulric Dahlgren, in a close-up from Gardner's photograph (Library of Congress).

Ulric Dahlgren, in a close-up from Gardner’s photograph (Library of Congress).

My cavalry expedition for Richmond got off last night, and at 2 a.m., the last I heard from them, they were getting on famously, not having met any one or being, as far as they could tell, discovered by the enemy. I trust they will be successful; it will be the greatest feat of the war, if they do succeed, and will immortalize them all. Young Dahlgren, with his one leg, went along with them. The weather from having been most favorable, now that the expedition has gone, begins to look suspicious, and to-night we have a little rain.

I see Congress has passed the Lieutenant General bill. This will make Grant Commander-in-Chief; what will become of Halleck I can’t tell, and possibly when Grant is responsible for all military operations, he may want some one else whom he knows better in command of this army.

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. 168. Available via Google Books.

This is what Gardner wrote about “Studying the Art of War,” in a caption that appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War:

A group at the headquarters, near Fairfax Court-House, taken in June, 1863. Thoughtful and erect, the most prominent figure is Colonel Ulric Dahigren, then a Captain on the Staff of General Meade. Handsome, chivalric, one of the bravest of the brave, his character was fitly compared to that of the good knight, the Chevalier Bayard, and like him, he was truly “sans peur et sans reproche.” So noble a man, that of all the heroes who have perished for the nation, his loss is the hardest to realize. The story of his short but brilliant career has been written by abler hands, and is now a “household word.” Of its closing scenes, the writer narrowly escaped being a witness, having been invited to accompany the Colonel on that ill-starred expedition by which his life was sacrificed. Just recovering from the loss of his leg, and suffering acutely from any physical exertion, his active spirit could not be controlled, when he thought of his brothers in arms pining under the cruelties of Libby and Belle Isle. No ruthless raid was his, but a Christian effort to help the despairing Union Prisoners. None, who knew him, need be told how false was the document, claimed to have been found upon his person. General Meade, suspecting his inability to undergo the fatigues of an expedition in the inclement weather of February, was disinclined to give him permission; but Dahlgren, determined on his purpose, mounted his horse, and proceeding to a review of the Second Corps, rode so fearlessly over the fields, and under his frank smile, so well hid all traces of bodily suffering, that the General reluctantly permitted him to depart. After the review, when he came over (for the retirement it offered) to the writer’s tent, it was too evident how fearful had been the effort of his will.

The officer upon the ground, wearing a straw hat, is Lieutenant-Colonel [Joseph] Dickinson, Assistant Adjutant General to General Hooker a position he held from the time that General first commanded a brigade, until the battle of Gettysburg. In that action the Colonel was hit in the arm with a link of a chain, thrown with other misiles from a rebel shell. On the recovery of his wound he retired from the service, The gentleman in foreign uniform is Count Zeppelin, of the Prussian army, then on a visit to this country. On the left is the figure of Major [Benjamin] Ludlow, since better known as the General in Command of the Colored Brigade, which excavated, under a continual and heavy fire, the canal on the James, called Dutch Gap. The perils of that undertaking he faithfully shared, from first to last, doing much, by his cheerful bearing and example, to support his troops in their perilous work. The last of the group is Lieutenant (since Lieutenant Colonel) Rosencranz, a Swedish officer, on leave of absence, and occupying successively the position of Personal Aid upon the Staff of Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade. A very reliable soldier, and one of the best Aids on the Staff, his genial disposition, unfailing amiability, and keen appreciation of humor, made him acceptable everywhere. He was probably as well known as any officer in the field.