Aftermath (June 4, 1864)

The assault at Cold Harbor on June 3 had been a disaster. In Grant’s initial message to Halleck, sent at 2:15 in the afternoon on June 3—when he must have known better—he wrote that the army’s loss was “not severe.” Later, he would come to regret having ordered the attack at Cold Harbor. According to Horace Porter, Grant’s officers soon learned not to bring up the battle in conversation.

Our men have, in many instances, been foolishly and wantonly sacrificed,” Emory Upton wrote bitterly to his sister. “Thousands of lives might have been spared by the exercise of a little skill; but, as it is, the courage of the poor men is expected to obviate all difficulties.”

There’s no doubt that the Union attack at Cold Harbor was a miserable failure. So was the Confederate attack on the third day at Gettysburg. James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Civil War historian, expressed bewilderment at how differently people remember the two failed attacks. At Cold Harbor, “Fifty thousand Union soldiers suffered seven thousand casualties, most of them in less than half an hour,” wrote McPherson in Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, “For this mistake, which he admitted, Grant has been branded a ‘butcher’ careless of lives of his men, and Cold Harbor has become a symbol of mule-headed futility.” McPherson points out that Lee’s army also suffered around seven thousand casualties on July 3. “Yet this attack is perceived as an example of great courage and honor. This contrast speaks volumes about the comparative image of Grant and Lee, North and South, Union and Confederacy.”

I doubt Meade perceived much glory in either attack. In fact, by this point he believed Grant’s relentless hammering at Lee had not worked and was becoming increasingly irritated by the way the general in chief eclipsed Meade’s role in the campaign. Some of that frustration appears in his letter of June 4.

I have only time to write you that we had a big battle yesterday, on the field of the old Gaines’s Mill battle-ground, with the positions of the contending forces reversed. The battle ended without any decided results, we repulsing all attacks of the enemy and they doing the same; losses estimated about equal on both sides; ours roughly estimated at seven thousand five hundred in all.

I had immediate and entire command on the field all day, the Lieutenant General honoring the field with his presence only about one hour in the middle of the day. The papers will, however, undoubtedly inform you of all his doings, and I will therefore confine myself to mine.

George, myself, and all your friends, are well and unhurt. The enemy, as usual, were strongly fortified, and we have pretty well entrenched ourselves. How long this game is to be played it is impossible to tell; but in the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces.

Baldy Smith’s corps has joined, and he is placed under my orders.

As usual, Lyman has a great deal more to add, whether commenting on the relationships among the generals or discussing the way various pieces of ordnance return to earth.

William F. "Baldy" Smith and his staff at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

William F. “Baldy” Smith and his staff at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

Although there was no battle to-day, both sides were as sensitive as Hotspur when he was “all smarting from my wounds being cold.” The slightest movement would provoke a volley, and any unusual stir would open a battery. This is characteristic of troops in a new position. When they have remained awhile, they begin to be more quiet, the skirmishers fire less and less, and finally cease entirely. The General took three or four of us and went on a sort of tour to his Generals; after a brief visit to General Hancock (who had a battery roaring away close to his Headquarters) and a few words with General Wright, we paid a long visit to “Baldy” Smith, whose tents were pitched between the Woody house and the line of battle. His tent was much better than General Meade’s and he displayed, for his benefit, a lunch with champagne, etc., that quite astonished us. Whether it was the lunch, or Baldy, or “Bully” Brooks (a General of that name), I do not know, but the Commander staid there several hours, talking and smoking.

Let me see, I left the party sitting, as it appeared to me, an unnecessarily long time at Baldy Smith’s. I say “unnecessarily,” first, because it was several hours, and General Meade had nothing to discuss of any moment; and, secondly, because a round-shot would, every now and then, crash through the neighboring trees, or go hoppity-hop along the open field on the edge of which the tents were. You ought to see them skip! It would be odd, if it were not so dangerous. When they have gone some distance and are going slower, you can see them very plainly, provided you are in front of, or behind them. They pass with a great whish, hit the ground, make a great hop, and so go skip, skip, skip, till they get exhausted, and then tumble —flouf— raising a puff of sand. That is the reason round-shot are more dangerous than conical, which strike perhaps once, vault into the air with a noise like a Catherine’s wheel, topple over and over, and drop without further trouble. … At last the General’s confab was broken up by the arrival of Burnside,* who, in Fredericksburg days, had a furious quarrel with Baldy and Brooks—or they with him. So they don’t speak now; and we enjoyed the military icicle in great perfection! All the day there was sharpshooting and cannonading along our front.

*”Burnside has a short, military jacket, and, with his bell-crowned felt hat, the brim turned down, presents an odd figure, the fat man!” —Lyman’s Journal.

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. 200-1. 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.148-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Advertisements

A Tender-hearted Man (May 27, 1864)

Theodore Lyman shows us two sides of General Meade. One is the hot-tempered snapping turtle, the other a man who would give a southern family his lunch and five dollars.

David A. Russell of the VI Corps, photographed when he was the colonel of the 7th Massachusetts (Library of Congress).

David A. Russell of the VI Corps, photographed when he was the colonel of the 7th Massachusetts (Library of Congress).

Last night Russell’s trusty division of the 6th Corps set out on a very long march, as our advanced guard in a flank movement to the Chickahominy. . . . This necessitated our early “getting out of that,” for we were on the bank of the river, and the Rebel skirmishers would be sure to follow right down with the first daylight to the opposite side. Indeed, a little while after we were gone they did come down and fired into the telegraph waggon, wounding the side of the same. By four we had taken our breakfast and were in the saddle. Wonderful how promptly all the servants pack the things and strike the tents when they expect to be shot at! We rode first to Burnside, into whom the General pitched for cutting the march of General Warren and not sending up the brigades to hold the fords; and B. rather proved that he was right and Warren wrong. I can tell you aquafortis is mild to the Major-General commanding when he gets put out; which is quite not at all unfrequently; but I have seen him in no such fits as in the falling back from Culpeper to Centreville. Here he can lean upon Grant more or less, though he does all the work; so much so that Grant’s Staff really do nothing, with the exception of two or three engineer officers. Then we passed by the gushing Hancock, who explained what he was going to do, in his usual flowing style. At Chesterfield Station we found two divisions of the 6th Corps massed, and just then beginning to march out. They were issuing rations, to each man his bit of beef and his “hard tack.” We got ahead of the infantry and kept on the way, sending some cavalry ahead in case of wandering Rebels. The road was strown with dead horses, worn out and shot by the cavalry, when they came this way from their raid. Really whenever I may see civilized parts again, it will seem strange to see no deceased chargers by the roadside. We made a halt to let the column get up, at a poor house by the way. There were a lot of little children who were crying, and the mother too, for that matter — a thin ill-dressed common-looking woman. They said they had been stripped of nearly everything by the cavalry and expected to starve. So the soft-hearted General, who thought of his own small children, gave them his lunch, and five dollars also; for he is a tender-hearted man. We kept on, through a very poor and sandy country, scantily watered; for this was the ridge and there was no water except springs. At 9.30 we dismounted again at an exceptionally good farm, where dwelt one Jeter, . . . who was of a mild and weak-minded turn. He said he was pleased to see such well-dressed gentlemen, and so well-mannered; for that some others, who had been there two days since, had been quite rude and were very dusty; whereby he referred to the cavalry, who, I fear, had helped themselves. . . . About one o’clock, having ridden some twenty-two miles in all, we stopped at the house of one Thompson and, that afternoon, camped near by, just close to Mangohick Church. . . . I discovered to-day that the Lieutenant-General has sick-headaches periodically — one now, for example, for which he put some chloroform on his head.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp.128-30. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

At Church (May 22, 1864)

Timothy O'Sullivan took those photograph of New Bethel Church on May 23, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Timothy O’Sullivan took those photograph of New Bethel Church on May 23, 1864. Burnside had departed earlier that morning. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman takes up his pen on a warm Sunday evening and writes home about the war. In his journal entry for today Lyman wrote, “Reviewing the progress of the campaign, Gen. Meade said to me at breakfast: ‘I am afraid the rebellion cannot be crushed this summer!'”

New Bethel Church today (Tom Huntington photo).

New Bethel Church today (Tom Huntington photo).

I don’t know when I have felt so peaceful — everything goes by contrast. We are camped, this lovely evening, in a great clover field, close to a large, old-fashioned house, built of bricks brought from England in ante-revolutionary times. The band is playing “Ever of Thee I’m Fondly Dreaming”—so true and appropriate—and I have just returned from a long talk with two ultra-Secessionist ladies who live in the house. Don’t be horrified! You would pity them to see them. One, an old lady, lost her only son at Antietam; the other, a comparatively young person, is plainly soon to augment the race of Rebels. Poor creature! Our cavalry raced through here yesterday and scared her almost to death. Her eyes were red with crying, and it was long before she fully appreciated the fact that General Meade would not order her to instant death. To-night she has two sentries over her property and is lost in surprise. Have I not thence obtained the following supplies: five eggs, a pitcher of milk, two loaves of corn bread, and a basket of lettuce—all of which I duly paid for. I feel well to-night on other accounts. If reports from the front speak true, we have made Lee let go his hold and fall back some miles. If true, it is a point gained and a respite from fighting. Hancock had got away down by Milford. Warren had crossed at Guinea Bridge and was marching to strike the telegraph road, on which the 6th Corps was already moving in his rear. The 9th Corps would cross at Guinea Bridge, last, and follow nearly after the 2d Corps. We started ourselves not before noon, and crossed the shaky little bridge over the Po-Ny (as I suppose it should be called), and so we kept on towards Madison’s Ordinary, crossing, a little before, the Ta, a nice, large, clear brook. An “Ordinary” in Virginia seems to be what we should call a fancy variety store, back in the country. Madison’s is a wooden building, just at cross-roads, and was all shut, barred, and deserted; and, strange to say, had not been broken open. On the grass were strewn a quantity of old orders, which people had sent by their negroes, to get—well, to get every conceivable thing. I saved one or two, as curiosities, wherein people ask for quarts of molasses, hymn-books, blue cotton, and Jaynes’s pills! The 5th Corps was passing along, as we stood there. After a while we went across the country, by a wood road, to the church you will see south of Mrs. Tyler’s. Close to Madison’s Ordinary was one of those breastworks by which this country is now intersected. A revival of the Roman castrum, with which the troops of both sides protect their exposed points every night. This particular one was made by the heavy artillery, whose greenness I have already spoken of. When they put it up the enemy threw some shells. Whereupon an officer rode back in all haste to General Hancock, and said: “General, our breastwork is only bullet-proof and the Rebels are shelling us!” “Killed anybody?” asked the calm commander. “Not yet, sir,” quoth the officer. “Well, you can tell them to take it comfortably. The Rebels often throw shells, and I am sure I cannot prevent them.” We passed, on the wood road, some of the finest oak woods I have seen; nothing could be finer than the foliage, for the size, fairness, and rich, polished green of the leaves. The soil, notwithstanding, is extremely sandy and peculiarly unfavorable to a good sod. At the church (do I call it Salem? I am too lazy to hunt after my map; no, it is New Bethel), the 9th Corps was marching past, and Burnside was sitting, like a comfortable abbot, in one of the pews, surrounded by his buckish Staff whose appearance is the reverse of clerical. Nothing can be queerer (rather touching, somehow or other) than to see half a dozen men, of unmistakable New York bon ton, arrayed in soldier clothes, midst this desolated country. I am glad to see that such men have the energy to be here. They are brave and willing, though, like your hub, their military education has been rather neglected.

And this leads me to remark that it is a crying mistake to think, as many do, that an aide is a sort of mounted messenger—an orderly in shoulder-straps. An aide should be a first-rate military man; and, at least, a man of more than average intelligence and education. It is very difficult, particularly in this kind of country, to deliver an order verbally, in a proper and intelligent way; then you must be able to report positions and relative directions, also roads, etc.; and in these matters you at once see how deficient some men are, and how others have a natural turn for them. To be a good officer requires a good man. Not one man in ten thousand is fit to command a brigade; he should be one who would be marked anywhere as a person (in that respect) of superior talent. Of good corps commanders I do not suppose there are ten in this country, after our three-years’ war. Of army commanders, two or three. When we had seen enough of the 9th Corps and had found out that Hancock had mistaken Birney’s line of battle (down by Milford) for that of the enemy,—whereat there was a laugh on the chivalric H.,—we departed for the Tyler house. In one of Burnside’s regiments are a lot of Indian sharpshooters, some full, some halfbreeds. They looked as if they would like to be out of the scrape, and I don’t blame them. . . .

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff at Cold Harbor, June 11 or 12, 1864. That's photographer Matthew Brady in the straw hat (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff at Cold Harbor, June 11 or 12, 1864. That’s photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat (Library of Congress).

Grant’s aide Horace Porter also wrote about his encounter with the Tylers and published it in his book Campaigning with Grant. It’s an interesting tale. I quote it (from pages 137-9 in Porter’s book).

Early in the afternoon General Grant decided to halt for a couple of hours, to be in easy communication with the troops that were following. He selected for the halt a plantation which was beautifully situated on high ground, commanding a charming view of the valley of the Mattapony. A very comfortable house stood not far from the road along which Burnside’s corps was marching. In making halts of this kind a house was usually selected, for the reason that good water was easily obtainable, and facilities were afforded for looking at maps and conducting correspondence. General Grant never entered any of the houses, as they were usually occupied by ladies, and he did not wish to appear to invade their dwellings; he generally sat on the porch. When we reached this plantation, the escort and the junior staff-officers lounged about the grounds in the shade of the trees, while General Grant, accompanied by two or three of us who were riding with him, dismounted, and ascended the steps of the porch. A very gentle and prepossessing-looking lady standing in the doorway was soon joined by an older woman. General Grant bowed courteously and said, “With your permission, I will spend a few hours here.” The younger lady replied very civilly, “Certainly, sir.” The older one exclaimed abruptly, “I do hope you will not let your soldiers ruin our place and carry away our property.” The general answered politely, “I will order a guard to keep the men out of your place, and see that you are amply protected”; and at once gave the necessary instructions. The ladies, seeing that the officer with whom they were conversing was evidently one of superior rank, became anxious to know who he was, and the older one stepped up to me, and in a whisper asked his name. Upon being told that he was General Grant, she seemed greatly surprised, and in a rather excited manner informed the other lady of the fact. The younger lady, whose name was Mrs. Tyler, said that she was the wife of a colonel in the Confederate army, who was serving with General Joe Johnston in the West; but she had not heard from him for some time, and she was very anxious to learn through General Grant what news he had from that quarter. The general said, “Sherman is advancing upon Rome, and ought to have reached that place by this time.” Thereupon the older lady, who proved to be the mother-in-law of the younger one, said very sharply: “General Sherman will never capture that place. I know all about that country, and you haven’t an army that will ever take it. We all know very well that Sherman is making no headway against General Johnston’s army.”

We could see that she was entertaining views which everywhere prevailed in the South. The authorities naturally put the best face upon matters, and the newspapers tried to buoy up the people with false hopes. It was not surprising that the inhabitants of the remote parts of the country were in ignorance of the true progress of the war. General Grant replied in a quiet way: “General Sherman is certainly advancing rapidly in that direction; and while I do not wish to be the communicator of news which may be unpleasant to you, I have every reason to believe that Rome is by this time in his possession.” The older lady then assumed a bantering tone, and became somewhat excited and defiant in her manner; and the younger one joined with her in scouting the idea that Rome could ever be taken. Just then a courier rode up with despatches from Washington containing a telegram from Sherman. General Grant glanced over it, and then read it to the staff. It announced that Sherman had just captured Rome. The ladies had caught the purport of the communication, although it was not intended that they should hear it. The wife burst into tears, and the mother-in-law was much affected by the news, which was of course sad tidings to both of them.

The mother then began to talk with great rapidity and with no little asperity, saying: “I came from Richmond not long ago, where I lived in a house on the James River which overlooks Belle Isle; and I had the satisfaction of looking down every day on the Yankee prisoners. I saw thousands and thousands of them, and before this campaign is over I want to see the whole of the Yankee army in Southern prisons.”

Just then Burnside rode into the yard, dismounted, and joined our party on the porch. He was a man of great gallantry and elegance of manner, and was always excessively polite to the gentler sex. He raised his hat, made a profound bow to the ladies, and, as he looked at his corps filing by on the road, said to the older one, who was standing near him, “I don’t suppose, madam, that you ever saw so many Yankee soldiers before.” She replied instantly: “Not at liberty, sir.” This was such a good shot that every one was greatly amused, and General Grant joined heartily in the laugh that followed at Burnside’s expense.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 118-21. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Wilderness, Day Two

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this drawing "Rebel advance through the smoke, and seizure of a part of the breastworks on Brock road. The logs had caught fire." It depicted fighing that took place later in the day on May 6. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this drawing “Rebel advance through the smoke, and seizure of a part of the breastworks on Brock road. The logs had caught fire.” It depicted fighing that took place later in the day on May 6. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Here’s another short excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. This one is about the start of the fighting on May 6, 1864, the second day of the bloody struggle in the Wilderness.  The book is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at quality bookstores.

Fighting resumed bright and early on May 6. Grant had wanted the army to move at 4:30 a.m., but Meade, thinking that was too early for the exhausted and disorganized men–and perhaps because he suspected Burnside and the IX Corps would be late as usual–suggested 6:00. Grant said he would delay things by half an hour. Near dawn Meade and Lyman rode out to the Germanna Plank Road to find Burnside, who was supposed to move his men into the gap between the forces on the plank road and the turnpike. Burnside was late, however, delayed in part because the roads were clogged with artillery. One of his aides arrived and told Meade that if the general authorized the clearing of the roads, he would go back and hurry Burnside along. “No, Sir, I have no command over General Burnside,” Meade replied. The IX Corps was not under his control–that was Grant’s responsibility.

Back at headquarters the general ordered Lyman to report on Hancock’s progress down by the Brock Road intersection. Lyman mounted his horse at around 5:00 in the morning. Already he could hear musket fire from skirmishers, followed by the loud, crashing volleys that meant major fighting had erupted.

He found Hancock in a good mood. “We are driving them, sir; tell General Meade we are driving them most beautifully,” he said. But Hancock’s mood darkened when Lyman informed him of Burnside’s delay. “Just what I expected,” Hancock snapped. “If we could attack now, we would smash A. P. Hill all to pieces!”

The Union forces were doing a pretty good job of it even without Burnside’s help. The situation was looking increasingly desperate for Lee’s army. But then, as a blood red sun rose higher in the sky, its light diffused by the smoke of battle, James Longstreet and the I Corps arrived, moving east down the Orange Plank Road toward the fighting.

A historical marker on the Wilderness battlefield driving tour details an incident that occurred as Longstreet’s men came up and prepared to counterattack. It took place near the Widow Tapp farm, where Lee had his headquarters. As the Texas Brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. John Gregg began to advance, Lee rode along with it, swept up in the excitement of battle. But Gregg’s men refused to let him risk his life with them. “Lee to the rear! Lee to the rear!” they yelled, some of them tugging on his bridle, until the general reluctantly turned back.

“Lee to the rear!” is a stirring story, even to a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee like me. It has entered the treasury of great Civil War tales. But as I read the story on the marker I think about Meade at Gettysburg on day two, sitting atop his horse on Cemetery Ridge, sword unsheathed, aides nervously arrayed behind him, with nothing between him and the advancing enemy. No markers recount that moment. No one after the war sought to add the patina of glory that would elevate the incident into legend. True, Meade lacked Lee’s charisma. He had been in command of his army for mere days at that point. His men hardly knew him. Yet it is also a great story and one that deserves to be told.

But perhaps Union soldiers felt less need to repeat such tales of glory. After all, Meade’s army had won the war. Lee’s veterans had to find solace in something other than victory.

Excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg by Tom Huntington, pp. 259-60. Copyright © 2013 by Stackpole Books.

General-in-Chief (April 13, 1864)

Meade's staff at the general's headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

Meade’s staff at the general’s headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

When it comes to Meade’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, so far, so good. Before getting to Meade’s letter, here is what Grant communicated to Meade regarding his plans, in an order written on April 9:

“For information and as instruction to govern your preparations for the coming campaign, the following is communicated confidentially for your own perusal alone.

“So far as practicable all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre. Banks has been instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile. This he is to do without reference to other movements. From the scattered condition of his command, however, he cannot possibly get it together to leave New Orleans before the 1st of May, if so soon. Sherman will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim. If successful he will secure the line from Chattanooga to Mobile with the aid of Banks.

“Sigel cannot spare troops from his army to reinforce either of the great armies, but he can aid them by moving directly to his front. This he has been directed to do, and is now making preparations for it. Two columns of his command will make south at the same time with the general move; one from Beverly, from ten to twelve thousand strong, under Major-General Ord; the other from Charleston, Va., principally cavalry, under Brig.-General Crook. The former of these will endeavor to reach the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, about south of Covington, and if found practicable will work eastward to Lynchburg and return to its base by way of the Shenandoah Valley, or join you. The other will strike at Saltville, Va., and come eastward to join Ord. The cavalry from Ord’s command will try to force a passage southward, if they are successful in reaching the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, to cut the main lines of the road connecting Richmond with all the South and South-west.

“Gillmore will join Butler with about 10,000 men from South Carolina. Butler can reduce his garrison so as to take 23,000 men into the field directly to his front. The force will be commanded by Maj.-General W. F. Smith. With Smith and Gillmore, Butler will seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours.

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.

“These advantages and objections I will talk over with you more fully than I can write them.

“Burnside with a force of probably 25,000 men will reinforce you. Immediately upon his arrival, which will be shortly after the 20th inst., I will give him the defence of the road from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station and to the front.

“There will be naval co-operation on the James River, and transports and ferries will be provided so that should Lee fall back into his intrenchments at Richmond, Butler’s force and yours will be a unit, or at least can be made to act as such. What I would direct then, is that you commence at once reducing baggage to the very lowest possible standard. Two wagons to a regiment of five hundred men is the greatest number that should be allowed, for all baggage, exclusive of subsistence stores and ordnance stores. One wagon to brigade and one to division headquarters is sufficient and about two to corps headquarters.

“Should by Lee’s right flank be our route, you will want to make arrangements for having supplies of all sorts promptly forwarded to White House on the Pamunkey. Your estimates for this contingency should be made at once. If not wanted there, there is every probability they will be wanted on the James River or elsewhere.

“If Lee’s left is turned, large provision will have to be made for ordnance stores. I would say not much short of five hundred rounds of infantry ammunition would do. By the other, half the amount would be sufficient.”

This is what Meade’s aide, Theodore Lyman, wrote about Grant on April 12: “Grant is a man of a good deal of rough dignity; rather taciturn; quick and decided in speech. He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it. I have much confidence in him.”

Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived, and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here. It is undoubtedly true he will go with it when it moves, and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operations, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present. Moreover, whilst I have no doubt he will give me all the credit I am entitled to, the press, and perhaps the public, will lose sight of me in him. Nevertheless he is so much more active than his predecessor, and agrees so well with me in his views, I cannot but be rejoiced at his arrival, because I believe success to be the more probable from the above facts. My position before, with inadequate means, no power myself to increase them, and no effort made by others to do so, placed me in a false position, causing me to be held responsible, when in fact I could do nothing. My duty is plain, to continue quietly to discharge my duties, heartily co-operating with him and under him.

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. 189. Available via Google Books.

Recruiting (August 19, 1863)

In this letter Meade mentions William “Baldy” Smith. They were apparently on good terms at this point but would have a falling out by the end of the war. After Fredericksburg Smith and William Franklin, who had commanded the Left Grand Division under Ambrose Burnside there, went to Washington to complain about Burnside’s leadership. Franklin was exiled out West. Smith would eventually follow. There he would earn the confidence of Ulysses S. Grant and when Grant came east to become general-in-chief in 1864 there was talk that Smith would get command of the Army of the Potomac. Instead he received command of the XVIII Corps in the Army of the James. Meade aide Theodore Lyman described Smith as “a short, quite portly man, with a light-brown imperial and shaggy mustache, a round, military head, and the look of a German officer, altogether.” He possessed “unusual powers of caustic criticism” and quarreled incessantly with his superior officers.

Lee finds it as hard to recruit his army as I do mine. I do not hear of any reinforcements of any consequence joining him. At the same time it is very difficult to obtain any minute or reliable intelligence of his movements.

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

I saw to-day a note from Baldy Smith, who is at Hagerstown, commanding four hundred men and a “secesh” hospital. He says he is afraid to make any stir, for fear they should serve him as they have Franklin, who is at Baton Rouge, commanding a division under Banks. This is pretty hard for Franklin, and I feel sorry for him.

I had a visit yesterday from a Mrs. Harris, a lady belonging to the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, who has been connected with the army for a long time, and who, every one says, does a great deal of good. She talked a great deal about Philadelphia, where she belongs, and where she was going on a visit, and said every one would be inquiring about me, so that she had to come and see me.

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.143-4. Available via Google Books.

Straight at Them (June 29, 1863)

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade was now in command of the Army of the Potomac. On June 29 he found time to write to his wife and inform her of this fact.

It has pleased Almighty God to place me in the trying position that for some time past we have been talking about. Yesterday morning, at 3 A. M., I was aroused from my sleep by an officer from Washington entering my tent, and after waking me up, saying he had come to give me trouble. At first I thought that it was either to relieve or arrest me, and promptly replied to him, that my conscience was clear, void of offense towards any man; I was prepared for his bad news. He then handed me a communication to read; which I found was an order relieving Hooker from the command and assigning me to it. As, dearest, you know how reluctant we both have been to see me placed in this position, and as it appears to be God’s will for some good purpose—at any rate, as a soldier, I had nothing to do but accept and exert my utmost abilities to command success. This, so help me God, I will do, and trusting to Him, who in his good pleasure has thought it proper to place me where I am, I shall pray for strength and power to get through with the task assigned me. I cannot write you all I would like. I am moving at once against Lee, whom I am in hopes Couch will at least check for a few days; if so, a battle will decide the fate of our country and our cause. Pray earnestly, pray for the success of my country, (for it is my success besides). Love to all. I will try and write often, but must depend on George.

The General Couch Meade mentions is Dairus Couch, the former commander of the XX Corps who had refused to serve any longer under Hooker following Chancellorsville. He now commanded the Department of the Susquehanna, based in Harrisburg.

It was also on this day that the governor of New Jersey, Joel Parker, took it upon himself to write to President Abraham Lincoln. He wrote, “The people of New Jersey are apprehensive that the invasion of the enemy may extend to her soil. We think that the enemy should be driving from Pennsylvania. There is now certainly great apathy under such fearful circumstances. That apathy should be removed. The people of New Jersey want McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac. If that cannot be done, then we ask that he may be put at the head of the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania troops now in Pennsylvania, defending these Middle States from invasion. If either appointment be made, the people would raise en masse.”

Needless to say, that did not happen. Lincoln replied the next day and assured the governor that Lee was not likely to reach New Jersey. “I beg you to be assured that no one out of my position can know so well as if he were in it the difficulties and involvements of replacing General McClellan in command, and this aside from any imputations upon him,” the president wrote. Still, rumors circulated within the army at Gettysburg that McClellan had resumed command.

Ambrose Burnside. He and Meade will work together later in the war (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside. He and Meade will work together later in the war (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside, one of Meade’s predecessors in command, took time to send him a message from Cincinnati, where he commanded the Department of the Ohio. He wrote, “I am sure you are quite equal to the position you are called to fill. You are regarded by all who know you as an honest, skillful, and unselfish officer, and a true, disinterested patriot. I will not congratulate you, because I know it is no subject of congratulation to assume such a responsibility at such a time, but I will earnestly pray for your success.”

During the day Meade moved the Army of the Potomac forward towards the enemy. By evening Meade has established his headquarters in Middleburg, Maryland, and he wrote again to Margaret.

We are marching as fast as we can to relieve Harrisburg, but have to keep a sharp lookout that the rebels don’t turn around us and get at Washington and Baltimore in our rear. They have a cavalry force in our rear, destroying railroads, etc., with the view of getting me to turn back; but I shall not do it. I am going straight at them, and will settle this thing one way or the other. The men are in good spirits; we have been reinforced so as to have equal numbers with the enemy, and with God’s blessing I hope to be successful. Good-by!

Meade’s letter 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. 11-12 and 13-14. Available via Google Books. Other correspondence from Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series One, Volume XXVII, Part 3, pp. 409 and 410.

Courtesy Call (March 30, 1863)

When Meade’s fellow generals passed through Philadelphia they often paid visits to Margaret Meade. Her husband always appreciated such courtesy and often mentioned the visits in his letters. Here he’s writing about William Franklin, the embattled former head of the VI Corps, who had become the target of a Congressional inquiry over his actions at Fredericksburg.

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

I am truly glad to hear Franklin called to see you. I am sure you will bear testimony to the respect and good feeling I have always expressed towards Franklin, and my earnest desire to avoid being drawn into the controversy between himself and Burnside. I think Franklin missed a great chance at Fredericksburg, and I rather infer from his letter that he thinks so now; but I have always said he was hampered by his orders and a want of information as to Burnside’s real views and plans. A great captain would have cast them aside and assumed responsibility. At the same time I must say that he knew and I know that if he had failed, then his going beyond his orders would prove utter ruin.

Deserters from the other side say the men are really suffering from the want of sufficient food, but that their spirit is undaunted, and that they are ready to fight. The morale of our army is better than it ever was, so you may look out for tough fighting next time.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 362. Available via Google Books.

The Plot Thickens (March 29, 1863)

Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

As March approaches its end Meade still finds himself entangled in the fallout from the Fredericksburg battle. Now he’s stuck in a war of words between William Franklin and Ambrose Burnside over the question of who would end up being cast as the fall guy for the December disaster. The Birney whom Meade mentions is David Bell Birney, with whom he exchanged some harsh words at Fredericksburg. Governor Curtin is Andrew Gregg Curtin, the governor of Pennsylvania. The Republican Curtin had been elected in 1860 and soon realized that war was inevitable. He had met with President Lincoln only four days before the attack on Ft. Sumter ushered in hostilities and after returning to Pennsylvania asked the legislature to help the state prepare for war. Curtin will later add to the tension between Meade and Joseph Hooker following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

I received yesterday your letter of the 26th. The same mail brought me a letter from Franklin. It is evident from Franklin’s letter that my surmise was correct, that he had taken it into his head that I had been talking to Burnside and furnishing him with data for the controversy. I don’t intend to quarrel with Franklin if I can help it, because I feel that in all this war he has shown more real regard for me and appreciation for me than any other man. I have never had any official relations with Franklin, till Fredericksburg, and I know that he has on numerous occasions referred to me as one who has not been advanced in proportion to his merits. Besides this feeling, selfish to be sure, my judgment is that Burnside is making a mistake in holding Franklin responsible for the disaster at Fredericksburg. Franklin may be chargeable with a want of energy, with failing, without reference to orders, to take advantage of a grand opportunity for distinction, with, in fact, not doing more than he was strictly required to do; but it is absurd to say he failed to obey, or in any way obstructed the prompt execution of his orders; that is, so far as I know them.

Burnside says he sent him orders about the middle of the day to attack with his whole force. Franklin, I understand, denies having received any such orders. Moreover, Baldy Smith, I hear, has sworn that a day or two before Franklin was relieved, Burnside told him (Baldy Smith) that he was going to give up the command of the army and urge the President to put Franklin in his place. This seems very inconsistent with his subsequent course, as there is no doubt Franklin’s command was taken away from him on the representations of Burnside. My position, with my friendly feelings for both, is not only peculiar but embarrassing.

We had some grand races day before yesterday, gotten up by Birney. I went over there and met Governor Curtin. He returned with me and inspected several of the Pennsylvania regiments in my command, making little speeches to each.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 361-2. Available via Google Books.

Investigations (March 17, 1863)

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

This letter from March 17, 1863, is fascinating. In it Meade discusses the political fallout from the debacle at Fredericksburg. Burnside, of course, is Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. Franklin is William Franklin. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had come in first in his West Point class of 1843. Like Meade he was an engineer and he had been in charge of constructing the new dome of the Capitol in Washington when war broke out. At Fredericksburg he had been in charge of the army’s left wing, which included Meade’s division. Franklin was angry with Burnside. He had been under the impression that Burnside wanted Franklin’s wing would make the main attack from below Fredericksburg and didn’t learn otherwise until the morning of the attack. Now both men were being investigated by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

The General Parke whom Meade mentions is John Parke. Wright is Horatio Wright, later to succeed John Sedgwick at the head of the VI Corps.

I returned to-day from Washington. I went up day before yesterday, the 15th, arriving in Washington about 7 P. M. I went to Willard’s, where, as usual, I saw a great many people. Finding Burnside was in the house, I sent up my name and was ushered into his room, where I found himself and Mrs. Burnside, the latter a very quiet, lady-like and exceedingly nice personage, quite pretty and rather younger than I expected to see. Burnside was very glad to see me, and we had a long talk. Among other things he read me a correspondence he had had with Franklin. Franklin had called his attention to the letter which appeared in the Times, said this was known to be written by Raymond, the editor, and it was generally believed his information was derived either from Burnside himself or some of his staff. Hence this letter was considered authority, and as it did him, Franklin, great injustice, he appealed to his, Burnside’s, magnanimity to correct the errors and give publicity to his correction. Burnside replied that he had not read the article till Franklin called his attention to it; that he was not responsible for it, nor was he aware that any of his staff had had any part in its production. Still, he was bound to say that in its facts it was true; that as to the inferences drawn from these facts, he had nothing to say about them and must refer him to Raymond, the reputed author. Several letters had passed, Franklin trying to get Burnside to (as he, Burnside, expressed it) whitewash him. This Burnside said he was not going to do; that Franklin must stand on his own merits and the facts of the case; that he had never made any accusation against him, except to say that the crossing of the river, being against his, Franklin’s, judgment, he thought Franklin had been wanting in a zealous and hearty co-operation with his plans. That about the time my attack failed, hearing from one of his, Burnside’s, staff officers, just from the field, that Franklin was not attacking with the force and vigor he ought to, he immediately despatched him an order “directing him to attack with his whole force if necessary,” which order he assumed the responsibility of not executing, and he must now take the consequences, if blame was attached to him for it.

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, "Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains." (Library of Congress.)

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, “Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains.” (Library of Congress.)

The next morning I went up to the Capitol, to the committee room, and found only the clerk present. He said the committee had been awaiting me some days; that Senators Chandler and Wade were the only two members present, and now down town; that he would hunt them up, and have them at the room by three o’clock, if I would return at that hour. At three I again presented myself to the committee, and found old Ben Wade, Senator from Ohio, awaiting me. He said the committee wished to examine me in regard to my attack at Fredericksburg. I told him I presumed such was the object in summoning me, and with this in view I had brought my official report, which I would read to him, and if he wanted any more information, I was prepared to give it. After hearing my report, he said it covered the whole ground, and he would only ask me one or two questions. First, was I aware that General Burnside, about the time of my attack, had ordered General Franklin to attack with his whole force? I answered, “At the time of the battle, No; indeed, I only learned this fact yesterday evening, from General Burnside himself.” Secondly, what, in my judgment, as a military man, would have been the effect if General Franklin had, when my attack was successful, advanced his whole line? I said I believed such a movement would have resulted in the driving back of the enemy’s right wing; though it would, without doubt, have produced a desperate and hard-contested fight; but when I reflected on the success that attended my attack, which was made with less than ten thousand men (supports and all), I could not resist the belief that the attack of fifty thousand men would have been followed by success. This was all he asked, and except the last question, the answer to which was a mere matter of opinion, I don’t think any one can take exception to my testimony. My conversations with Burnside and Wade satisfied me that Franklin was to be made responsible for the failure at Fredericksburg, and the committee is seeking all the testimony they can procure to substantiate this theory of theirs. Now, Franklin has, first, his orders, as received from Burnside, and then the fact that the execution of these orders was entrusted to Reynolds, for his defense. Before the committee, of course, he will not be heard, but after their report comes out, it will be incumbent on him to notice their statements and demand an investigation. I feel very sorry for Franklin, because I like him, and because he has always been consistently friendly to me.

After returning from the Capitol, I dined with General and Mrs. Burnside and Parke. Parke said he was about being left off the list of major generals, when Burnside’s opportune arrival saved him, Halleck giving as a reason that he had exercised no command since his appointment. Burnside, however, had his name sent in, and now he is going to supersede Baldy Smith and take command of the Ninth Corps, which is to accompany Burnside in his new command, to which he, Burnside, expects to be ordered in a few days.

The best piece of news I learned when in Washington was that the President was about issuing his proclamation putting in force the conscription law, and ordering immediately a draft of five hundred thousand men. Only let him do this, and enforce it and get the men, and the North is bound to carry the day.

I sometimes feel very nervous about my position, they are knocking over generals at such a rate. Among others, Wright, who was my beau ideal of a soldier, and whom I had picked out as the most rising man, has had his major-generalcy and his command both taken away from him, because he could not satisfy the extremists of Ohio (anti-slavery) and those of Kentucky (pro-slavery), but tried by a moderate course to steer between them.

Did I tell you the old Reserves had subscribed fifteen hundred dollars to present me with a sword, sash, belt, etc.? It is expected they will be ready about the close of the month, when I am to go, if possible, to their camp near Washington to receive them.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 358-61. Available via Google Books.