July 18, 1863

This photo of a pontoon bridge over the Potomac River was taken in October 1862, when George McClellan began his pursuit of Lee after Antietam (Library of Congress).

This photo of a pontoon bridge over the Potomac River was taken in October 1862, when George McClellan began his pursuit of Lee after Antietam (Library of Congress).

On July 18 Meade wrote another letter to his wife from Berlin, Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac.

I try to send you a few lines every chance I can get, but I find it very difficult to remember when I have written. I don’t think I told you that on my way here, three days ago, I stopped and called on Mrs. Lee (Miss Carroll that was), who lives about six miles from this place. Mrs. Lee received me with great cordiality, insisted on my dining with her and daughter, which I did, and had a very nice time, it being quite refreshing to be once more in the presence of ladies, surrounded with all the refinements and comforts of home. I wish, if you see any of the Jacksons and Bayards, you would say how gratified I was at the kind hospitality of Mrs. Lee and daughter, and what a nice girl I thought the latter was. The army is moving to-day over the same road I took last fall under McClellan. The Government insists on my pursuing and destroying Lee. The former I can do, but the latter will depend on him as much as on me, for if he keeps out of my way, I can’t destroy. Neither can I do so if he is reinforced and becomes my superior in numbers, which is by no means improbable, as I see by the papers it is reported a large portion of Bragg’s army has been sent to Virginia. The proper policy for the Government would have been to be contented with driving Lee out of Maryland, and not to have advanced till this army was largely reinforced and reorganized, and put on such a footing that its advance was sure to be successful. As, however, I am bound to obey explicit orders, the responsibility of the consequences must and should rest with those who give them. Another great trouble with me is the want of active and energetic subordinate officers, men upon whom I can depend and rely upon taking care of themselves and commands. The loss of Reynolds and Hancock is most serious; their places are not to be supplied. However, with God’s help, I will continue to do the best I can.

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. 135-6. Available via Google Books.

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Spurring (July 16, 1863)

The magazine that eventually published this Matthew Brady photograph of the Army of the Potomac's crossing at Berlin, Maryland (now Brunswick) called it "Leisurely Pursuit" (Library of Congress).

The magazine that eventually published this Matthew Brady photograph of the Army of the Potomac’s crossing at Berlin, Maryland (now Brunswick) called it “Leisurely Pursuit” (Library of Congress).

Meade was not in a good place when he wrote to his wife on July 16, 1863, from Berlin, Maryland. Lee had escaped and his superiors in Washington had made their displeasure felt. They did not, however, accept Meade’s offer to resign his position.

I wrote to you of the censure put on me by the President, through General Halleck, because I did not bag General Lee, and of the course I took on it. I don’t know whether I informed you of Halleck’s reply, that his telegram was not intended as a censure, but merely “to spur me on to an active pursuit,” which I consider more offensive than the original message; for no man who does his duty, and all that he can do, as I maintain I have done, needs spurring. It is only the laggards and those who fail to do all they can do who require spurring. They have refused to relieve me, but insist on my continuing to try to do what I know in advance it is impossible to do. My army (men and animals) is exhausted; it wants rest and reorganization; it has been greatly reduced and weakened by recent operations, and no reinforcements of any practical value have been sent. Yet, in the face of all these facts, well known to them, I am urged, pushed and spurred to attempting to pursue and destroy an army nearly equal to my own, falling back upon its resources and reinforcements, and increasing its morale daily. This has been the history of all my predecessors, and I clearly saw that in time their fate would be mine. This was the reason I was disinclined to take the command, and it is for this reason I would gladly give it up.

I consider the New York riots very formidable and significant. I have always expected the crisis of this revolution to turn on the attempt to execute the conscription act, and at present things look very unfavorable.

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. 135. Available via Google Books.