“The Most Impartial Account” (December 3, 1864)

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 Meade likes an article on Gettysburg by Captain Charles Cornwallis Chesney that appeared in British Army and Navy Review. “The grand address of Mr. Everett” that he mentions is the talk that Edward Everett gave at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Everett prepared his epic oration with background material that Meade had asked Theodore Lyman to gather. (“Prepared, by order, a sort of résumé of Gen. Meade’s official report of the battle of Gettysburg, to be sent to Mr. Everett, who is to deliver an oration at the cemetery, to be made at that place,” Lyman had noted in his notebook entry for October 5, 1863.) Everett’s two-hour talk was overshadowed by the brief remarks of the speaker who followed him, President Abraham Lincoln.

I received the two volumes of the Army and Navy Review (British) and have read with great interest Captain Chesney’s critique of the battle of Gettysburg. It is decidedly the most impartial account of this battle that I have read, and I think does more justice to my acts and motives than any account by my countrymen, including the grand address of Mr. Everett. What has struck me with surprise is the intimate knowledge of many facts not made very public at the time, such as [Henry] Slocum’s hesitation about reinforcing [Oliver O.] Howard, [Daniel] Butterfield’s drawing up an order to withdraw, and other circumstances of a like nature. This familiarity with details evidences access to some source of information on our side, other than official reports or newspaper accounts. Captain Chesney’s facts are singularly accurate, though he has fallen into one or two errors. I was never alarmed about my small arm ammunition, and after Hancock’s repulsing the enemy on the 3d, I rode to the left, gave orders for an immediate advance, and used every exertion to have an attack made; but before the troops could be got ready, it became dark. There is no doubt the fatigue and other results of the three days’ fighting had produced its effect on the troops and their movements were not as prompt as they would otherwise have been. I have no doubt all his statements about Lee, and his having been overruled, are true. Lee never before or since has exhibited such audacity. I am glad this impartial account by a foreign military critic has been written.

One of the enjoyable things about Theodore Lyman’s letters is the way he casts light on day-to-day life in the Army of the Potomac. Here we learn a little bit about General Meade on pay-day. Lyman also writes about “contrabands,” escaped slaves who seek freedom with the Union army.

At the end of each month, General Meade sends up his pay-rolls, that is, a large printed sheet which each officer fills up, stating what the Government owes him, and saying that he hasn’t cheated Uncle Sam, and don’t owe him anything and is all right generally. The pay department keeps this as a receipt and returns your money for the past month. Lieutenant-Colonel Woodruff gets the General’s pay. One part he sends to Mrs. Meade and the rest he sends to the General, who, the moment that he gets it, sends violently for Mercier and John and everyone else to whom he is indebted, and pays them all, in hot haste, as if his last day were come. He is a thorough old soldier about money and regards greenbacks in a weak and helpless sort of way. “Once,” said he, “Mrs. Meade said it was my plain duty to go to market, as other gentlemen did: it would be so satisfactory and saving. I went the next morning. We had a famous dinner—oysters, terrapin, and lots of good things—the children were delighted; but, when I came to look, I found I had spent the week’s allowance in one day! I wasn’t allowed to go any more to market.” You would have laughed to see yesterday the crowd of contrabands that came in with Gregg. Usually, wherever they can, they cut and run, not showing that devotion to their masters described by the Southrons. It is sometimes rather remarkable the way they run off. Now in this lot (mostly women) there was all the way from a newly born baby to an old woman who, they told me, was over ninety, and who, from her looks, might very likely have been a hundred and fifty. The young women had their mistresses’ things on, if I know myself. There was one Christian Commission kuss who went whining about and saying: “Oh! you are free, free! Oh! thank God for it!” “Look here, my friend,” said I, “if you want to show your Christian feeling, go and tell your commission to get these people something to eat; they have had nothing since yesterday.” The pious party took this with an ill grace, but was fain to walk off “to see our agent,” who, I hope, made some good soup for them.

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. 248-9. 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. 287-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Advertisements

Before the Committee (April 2, 1864)

The United States Capitol Building in July 1863 (Library of Congress).

The United States Capitol Building in July 1863 (Library of Congress).

Meade continues to chew over his difficulties in Washington. For the letter he mentions (and Lincoln’s response), see the correspondence regarding Historicus. Pennie is his son Spencer.

I left Washington this morning, bidding dear Pennie good-bye at the hotel, which he was to leave half an hour after me. He has had a pretty pleasant time, and his visit has been a source of great happiness to me.

I enclose you a letter I addressed the Department, with an autograph reply from the President. I feel quite sure the President meant to be very kind and complimentary in paying me the distinguished honor of writing a reply in his own hand, and under this conviction I am bound to be satisfied. You will perceive, however, that the main point of my request is avoided, namely, my desire that the letter of Historicus should be submitted, with my letter, to General Sickles, and if he acknowledged or endorsed it, then I wished a court of inquiry, not otherwise. However, Mr. Stanton told me the true reason, which was that it was concluded submitting the letter to Sickles was only playing into his hands; that a court of inquiry, if called at my request, although it might exonerate me, yet it would not necessarily criminate him; and that, on the whole, it was deemed best not to take any action. [Daniel] Butterfield, I hear, was very bitter in his testimony, and made wonderful revelations. I went before the committee yesterday and replied only to his assertion that I instructed him to draw up an order to retreat. This I emphatically denied; also denied any knowledge of his having drawn up such an order; presented documentary evidence to show that, if I had any such idea, that my orders and despatches were contradictory, and referred to numerous officers who ought to have and would have known if I entertained any idea of the kind.

Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Michigan’s Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

I find I have three warm friends on the committee—[Moses] Odell of New York, [Daniel] Gooch of Massachusetts, and [Benjamin] Harding of Oregon. It is believed [Bnjamin] Wade, of Ohio, is favorably inclined. If either he or one of the others should prove so, it would make a majority in my favor. Old Zach Chandler is my bitterest foe and will show me no quarter. While going up to Washington I had a long and satisfactory talk with Grant, who has expressed himself and acted towards me in the most friendly manner. Among other things he said he heard Horace Greeley had been in Washington, demanding my removal, and that [George] Thomas be brought here. Grant said, if he saw Greeley he should tell him that when he wanted the advice of a political editor in selecting generals, he would call on him. The President, Secretary, indeed every one I met, were civil and affable to 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. 186-7. Available via Google Books.

A Strong Denial (April 1, 1864)

Daniel Butterfield has one of the most elaborate tombs in the Military Academy at West Point's cemetery. Unlike Meade, Butterfield did not go to school here (Tom Huntington photo).

Daniel Butterfield has one of the most elaborate tombs in the Military Academy at West Point’s cemetery. Unlike Meade, Butterfield did not go to school here (Tom Huntington photo).

Meade’s troubles in Washington continue, as he testifies before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War about Daniel Butterfield’s accusations that Meade had asked him to prepare orders for the retreat of the army from Gettysburg. While Meade was willing to admit he may have asked Butterfield to familiarize himself with the local roads in case a retreat became necessary, he strongly denied that he had anything else in mind. He vehemently refuted Butterfield’s implications that he had planned to retreat from Gettysburg. “I utterly deny, under the full solemnity and sanctity of my oath, and in the firm conviction that the day will come when the secrets of all men shall be made known—I utterly deny every having intended or thought, for one instant, to withdraw that army, unless the military contingencies which the future should develop during the course of the day might render it a matter of necessity that the army should be withdrawn,” he said.

I came up yesterday with Grant, am going to-day before the committee to answer Dan Butterfield’s falsehoods. Shall return tomorrow. I am all right, and every one is most civil to me. I will write more fully on my return.

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. 186. Available via Google Books.

Father and Son (March 29, 1864)

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

George Meade continues to enjoy his time with son Spencer.

Of the officers he mentions in this letter, George Sykes will head west to take command of the Department of Kansas. John Newton, whom Meade had assigned to command of the I Corps over Abner Doubleday at Gettysburg, will command a division in William Sherman’s army. William French’s days of combat are over; he will serve as an administrator for the rest of the war. Why Meade fought to retain him after French’s failures at Mine Run is a bit of a mystery. Alfred Pleasonton will also head west to command cavalry in the Department of the Missouri.

In Washington, Daniel Buttefield spreads the story that Meade planned to retreat from Gettysburg.

Spencer and the Whipple boys continue to enjoy themselves. Yesterday was a fine day, and they rode over with me to Hancock’s, some five miles. We then rode to Culpeper Court House, five miles, where I met General Grant, just from Washington. After which we returned to headquarters, a distance of six miles, making in all sixteen miles for the day’s riding. En route the boys ascended Pony Mountain, a hill of some five hundred feet elevation, near Culpeper, on which we have a signal station and a fine telescope, and from whence you have a good view of the country, the rebel lines, camps, etc. At night Pennie was pretty well fatigued. But this morning he was up bright and early, and started with me, before eight o’clock, to go to Culpeper, where General Grant reviewed two divisions of infantry, and one of cavalry. It commenced to rain, however, during the review, which curtailed the ceremonies, and after spending an hour with Grant, we returned home in the rain. I borrowed an India rubber poncho for Pennie, so that he came back dry, but on the way his horse, and Willie Whipple’s, became excited and started off with them at full speed. The boys, however, kept their seats beautifully till George and an orderly headed off the horses and stopped them.

Grant continues very affable and quite confidential. He laughs at the statement in the papers of his remarks about balls, etc., and says he will be happy to attend any innocent amusement we may get up, he including among these horse races, of which he is very fond.

I join with you in the regret expressed at the relief of Sykes. I tried very hard to retain Sykes, Newton, and even French, as division commanders, but without avail. I had very hard work to retain Sedgwick. As to Pleasanton, his being relieved was entirely the work of Grant and Stanton.

I hear Butterfield has been swearing terribly against me. I shall go up day after to-morrow to meet his charges.

It is storming now violently.

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. 185. Available via Google Books.

Reorganizing (March 24, 1865)

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps).

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps). Now French and Sykes are out and Warren has command of the V Corps (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

I have been very busy to-day. The much-talked-of order for reorganizing the Army of the Potomac has at last appeared. Sykes, French and Newton are relieved. Sedgwick, Hancock and Warren command the three corps. This evening an order has arrived relieving General Pleasanton, which, although I did not originate it, yet was, I presume, brought about by my telling the Secretary that the opposition I had hitherto made to his removal I no longer should make. As the Secretary has been desirous of relieving him ever since I have had command, and I have been objecting, he has taken the first chance to remove him as soon as my objections were withdrawn.

Grant arrived to-day. I met him at the depot near my headquarters and accompanied him to Culpeper, where I spent several hours and returned. He was as affable as ever, and seems not at all disposed to interfere with my army in any details.

I hear Butterfield is in Washington, and is going to swear that I told him to prepare an order to retreat, and from what Gibbon writes me, it is evident he did prepare such an order; but I trust by the concurrent testimony of every other officer on the field, the documentary evidence in the shape of orders at different periods of the day, and my own sworn statement, to prove that the preparation of this order was not authorized by me, and that it was due to Butterfield’s own fears. I understand the Secretary is very indignant at his coming to Washington, and has ordered him back to his post.

Get the last number of the Spirit of the Times, in which there is a scathing article on Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Schofield and myself, and lauding, as usual, Joe Hooker.

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. 182-3. Available via Google Books.

Butterfield (March 20, 1864)

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib" (Library of Congress).

Daniel Butterfield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib” (Library of Congress).

No one can deny that George Meade had a knack for making enemies. One of them was Daniel Butterfield. Back in 1862 Ambrose Burnside appointed Butterfield to command the V Corps. Meade pointed out that he outranked Butterfield and the position should have been his. Burnside agreed, and Meade took over from Butterfield. He thought he and Butterfield smoothed things over afterwards, but apparently not. Joe Hooker later appointed Butterfield his chief of staff. “I believe Hooker is a good soldier,” Meade wrote to his wife back then; “the danger he runs is of subjecting himself to bad influences, such as Dan Butterfield and Dan Sickles, who, being intellectually more clever than Hooker, and leading him to believe they are very influential, will obtain an injurious ascendancy over him and insensibly affect his conduct.” Once Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac he tried to find someone to replace Butterfield as chief of staff, but he could not find anyone willing to take the job. When John Sedgwick heard that Butterfield would keep his position, the VI Corps commander “looked solemn and said he regretted it, that he knew Butterfield well, that he was a bold bad man and that Meade would live to regret it.” Sedgwick was right. When the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War began investigating Meade and Gettysburg, Butterfield, who had been sent west, traveled to Washington without leave to provide damaging testimony. He said that on July 2 Meade had told him to prepare an order directing the Army of the Potomac to retreat from the battlefield, a charge Meade vehemently denied.

I have received a letter from [John] Gibbon which has worried me a great deal. It is now evident that Butterfield, either intentionally or otherwise, misconstrued something that I said to him on the 2d of July into instructions to prepare an order to withdraw the army. To-be-sure, this order was never issued; it is also certain I never intended it to be prepared, much less issued. Nevertheless, the fact that he did prepare it, and, as he will swear, was ordered to do so, notwithstanding it was never issued, will operate against me, as people disposed to find fault will say I was all the time anticipating defeat, and hampered accordingly. God knows my conscience is clear that I never for a moment thought of retreating, although I presume I held in view the contingency that the enemy might compel me so to do, and I may have told Butterfield to familiarize himself with the roads, etc., so that if it became necessary we would be prepared to do it promptly and in good order. Out of this he has manufactured the lie that I intended at the time to do so. The falsehoods that have been uttered against me, and the evidence of a regular conspiracy which has been organizing almost since the date of the battle, make me heartsick. I believe now that Butterfield commenced deliberately, from the time I assumed command, to treasure up incidents, remarks and papers to pervert and distort in the future to my injury. How otherwise to account for his having a copy of this pretended order? Not only is no such order or paper found among the records of the Adjutant General’s Office, but the clerks and others have no recollection of any order.

It is hard that I am to suffer from the malice of such men as Sickles and Butterfield.

Grant is expected here next Wednesday. He spoke very fairly when here last, and from all I can hear of what he has said of me to others, I ought to be satisfied, as I understand he expressed every confidence in me, and said no change would be made in the command, as far as he was concerned. Still, he undoubtedly will have the power, and will exercise it, of bringing here such a force as will effect results that hitherto I have been unable to effect, and this will by the ignorant public be set down to his superior merit and quoted against me. However, I shall do my duty to the best of my ability, and trust to Providence.

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. 181-2. Available via Google Books.*

Credit (December 28, 1863)

Once again George Meade complains about the press. This is not the first time he singled out the coverage from the Spirit of the Times, a New York weekly published by George Wilkes. (For another example, see this entry.)

This is Meade’s last letter from 1863. In three days he will celebrate his 48th birthday (and also his wedding anniversary). That event will be commemorated once again this year at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery by General Meade Society of Philadelphia. I encourage all readers of this blog to attend! It is a fun event and a good way to salute the victor of Gettysburg (and I don’t mean Joe Hooker).

I was very sorry I could not be at home to spend Christmas with you and the children, but was glad to let George go. I spent a very quiet day in camp, attending to the business of re-enlisting the veteran volunteers, to which I had to give much personal attention, as I had let [Seth] Williams, [Andrew] Humphreys, and many others, go to Washington to spend the day.

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day's fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day’s fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Yesterday General [Winfield Scott] Hancock arrived. He has been with me all the time since his arrival, and we have had a long talk. He says it was undoubtedly intended at first to relieve me, and it was, as I surmised, intimated to him that he would be placed in command. Such was his impression till the day before he came down, when, on reporting to Halleck, he was told the design was abandoned, and that he could go down to his old corps. Hancock further says that Halleck declares he saved me; that they were going to relieve me at once on the receipt of the intelligence that I had returned; but that he, Halleck, said, “No, an officer who gained the battle of Gettysburg is entitled to more consideration. Let us wait and hear what General Meade has to say, and if his report is not satisfactory, then we can act advisedly.” This was agreed to, and the unanimous opinion of all returning officers, together with my report, changed the whole aspect of the case. I must say I am gratified some little consideration was extended towards me and that justice was finally awarded.

I understand there is a bitter article in Wilkes’s Spirit of the Times, asserting that Hooker planned the campaign of Gettysburg, and that Butterfield wrote all the orders for the movements, in accordance with Hooker’s plans. I furthermore hear that General Sickles asserts that Hancock selected the position, and that he (Sickles), with his corps, did all the fighting at Gettysburg. So, I presume, before long it will be clearly proved that my presence on the field was rather an injury than otherwise.

The President has written me that he desires to see me upon the subject of executing deserters; so, as soon as I can get time, I shall have to go up to Washington.

The article that raised Meade’s ire, originally run in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 26, 1863)

BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG—HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE

General Halleck, in his report of the operations of our armies in the field during the past year, in commenting upon the Battle of Gettysburg, says: “To General Meade belonged the honor of a well-earned victory, in one of the greatest and best fought battles of the war.”

As a public journalist, we cannot allow such a record to be made in the face of the well-known history of the battle of Gettysburg, now made classic by the eloquence of Everett, and in view of the important part the gallant Hooker and his chief of staff performed preliminary to, and during the battle, without entering our solemn protest against it. And in doing this, we do not mean to detract in the slightest degree from the reputation and honor of General Meade.

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

It is a matter of history that the army of the Potomac was never in finer drill, or better discipline, or more thoroughly in “fighting trim” than it was when it fought at Gettysburg. So much to the credit of General Hooker.

It is a matter of history that when the advance column of the rebel army was within a day’s march of the capital of Pennsylvania, and the main body of the rebel army was in Maryland, following the advances, Lee, supposing that he had out-generaled Hooker, and made sure of Baltimore and Washington, was startled to find Hooker across the Potomac and right on his flank. So much to the credit of the latter.

It is a matter of history that when General Hooker was about to direct some of the troops in the field (on Maryland Heights) under his command to prepare for a blow upon Lee’s flank, before the latter could contract his lines, which would have resulted in cutting the rebel army in two, Hooker’s plans were interrupted by the general-in-chief, and at his (Hooker’s) own request, feeling justly indignant at the treatment he had received, he was relieved. General Lee, in his report to Jeff Davis, acknowledges he was outflanked and outgeneraled by Hooker. So much to the credit of the latter.

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib."

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib.”

It is a matter of history that when General Butterfield made out his line of marches in Maryland, he was directed by Hooker to keep well to the right in order to cover Baltimore, intending thereby to force Lee to fight at Gettysburg or thereabouts. So much to the credit of Hooker.

It is a matter of history that Hooker had formed a general plan of battle: that his Chief of Staff had that plan; that Gen. Meade knew it; that, as Hooker’s successor, Meade had not only the benefit of Hooker’s plans and necessarily acted upon them, but he also had Hooker’s Chief of Staff (Gen. Butterfield) by his side constantly, and, if General Hooker dislikes to acknowledge the facts briefly cited above in his report, it does not detract any the less from the gentlemanly and soldierlike conduct of Gen. Meade, who, immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, in a personal letter to Gen. Butterfield, acknowledged his great indebtedness to that officer for his valuable aid, without which, he stated, he could not have succeeded. Gen. Butterfield knew all of Hooker’s plans, and was instructed by the latter to communicate them freely to Gen. Meade, and we happen to know that Gen. Meade received them, acted upon them, and, after the battle, like a true gentleman, acknowledged his gratitude. So much to the credit of Gen. Hooker.

It is not a matter of history, but it is a matter of the plainest common sense, that neither Gen. Meade or any other military chieftain living could have taken the Army of the Potomac, and in so short a time have it well enough “in hand” to hurl it successfully against such a witty, well organized, and well led host, without aid from his immediate predecessor.

Gen. Meade can ask for no higher honor than that which he acquired by winning such a victory over the best disciplined army the rebels have in the field, in a series of battles which commenced only about forty-eight hours after he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, even upon the plans of another!

Mr. Everett, in his oration at Gettysburg, did not fail to do Gen. Hooker justice; nor did Gen. Lee, the leader of the crestfallen and defeated rebel army. We regret the more, therefore, that the General-in-Chief of the army of the United States, in making up an official report, which is now a part of the history of the present war, and to whom the country looks for a faithful chronicler of passing military events, should have omitted to do so, especially in view of the signal service Gen. Hooker has recently rendered by his dashing and daring exploits in the mountain fastnesses of the west, astonishing, even the peerless Grant, who promptly awarded to “Fighting Joe” and his brave troops the credit so justly due to him and them. Honor to whom it is due.

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. 164-5. Available via Google Books.

To Taneytown (June 30, 1863)

On June 30, 1863, Meade moved north from Middleburg, Maryland, to Taneytown, where he established his headquarters at the Shunk farm. Officers of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, who had served in Meade’s brigade, division and corps, arrived there to congratulate him on his new position. “We found him in close conference with Generals Reynolds, Hancock, Sedgwick and others,” recalled Samuel Jackson. “He seemed delighted in welcoming us back to the army. Thanked us for our congratulations, but said that he did not know whether he was a subject of congratulation or commiseration. He appeared anxious and showed that he fully realized the responsibility of his position. He said however that he had all confidence in the bravery of the officers and men of the army and felt assured that we would achieve a glorious victory in the coming conflict.”

From Taneytown Meade sent out orders, via his chief of staff Daniel Butterfield or his assistant adjutant general Seth Williams, to his corps commanders. One order went to John Reynolds, giving him command of the army’s left wing, comprising the I, III and XI Corps. Another circular read:

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

The Commanding General has received information that the enemy are advancing, probably in strong force, on Gettysburg. It is the intention to hold this army pretty nearly in the position it now occupies, until the plans of the enemy shall have been more fully developed.

Three corps, 1st, 3d and llth, are under the command of Major General Reynolds, in the vicinity of Emmettsburg, the 3d Corps being ordered up to that point. The 12th Corps is at Littlestown. General Gregg’s division of cavalry is believed to be now engaged with the cavalry of the enemy, near Hanover Junction.

Corps commanders will hold their commands in readiness at a moment’s notice, and upon receiving orders, to march against the enemy. Their trains (ammunition trains excepted) must be parked in the rear of the place of concentration. Ammunition wagons and ambulances will alone be permitted to accompany the troops. The men must be provided with three-days’ rations in haversacks, and with sixty rounds of ammunition in the boxes and upon the person.

Corps commanders will avail themselves of all the time at their disposal to familiarize themselves with the roads communicating with the different corps.

Another circular, requesting that the corps commanders communicate to their troops how important the upcoming battle would be, ended with this chilling note: “Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldiers who fails in his duty at this hour.”

Sometime during the day Meade wrote home. He said:

All is going on well. I think I have relieved Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and that Lee has now come to the conclusion that he must attend to other matters. I continue well, but much oppressed with a sense of responsibility and the magnitude of the great interests entrusted to me. Of course, in time I will become accustomed to this. Love, blessings and kisses to all. Pray for me and beseech our heavenly Father to permit me to be an instrument to save my country and advance a just cause.

It was June 30, 1863.

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. 15-18. Available via Google Books.

Museum Pieces

Last week I visited the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg to talk to CEO Wayne Motts and his staff about the upcoming book launch of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. (It will take place February 16, 2013, at the museum. Go here for full details.) After the meeting Wayne took me into another room, excited at the chance to show me some Meade-related items the museum will include in its new exhibit about the year 1863, which opened on January 17. tomorrow He had a bunch of items laid out on a table. Among them was a copy of the order Meade issued on June 30, 1863—two days after he received command of the Army of the Potomac and only one day before the fighting began at Gettysburg. It ended with this chilling note: “Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour.”

There was also a copy of Meade’s General Orders No. 68. Issued over the name of assistant adjutant-general Seth Williams (like me, a native of Augusta, Maine) on July 4, 1863, it was a congratulatory message to his army and, innocuous as it might appear on the surface, it damaged Meade’s relationship with President Abraham Lincoln. The offending passage was this one: “Our task is not yet accomplished, and the commanding general looks to the army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.” When Lincoln saw that he exclaimed, “Great God! Is that all?” He complained to another listener, “Will our Generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil!”

A third item that will go on display is Meade’s own copy of a government-issued

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib."

Daniel Butterfield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib.”

booklet that listed all the army’s officers and their seniority. Meade’s signature is on the cover of the little blue publication. No doubt most of the army’s officers kept their own copies handy, because, in general, advancement in rank depended on seniority. Before the war the pace of advancement could be glacially slow as officers waited for those above them to die or retire. Even during the war ambitious officers—and Meade was certainly ambitious—kept a close eye on who got promoted and who had seniority. For example, when Ambrose Burnside promoted Daniel Butterfield to command of the V Corps shortly before the Battle of Fredericksburg, Meade was acutely aware that he had seniority over Butterfield yet still remained in command of only a division. After wrestling a bit with the best way to handle the matter, he decided to bring it up with Burnside. On November 23, 1862, he rode over to Burnside’s headquarters. Here’s what I write in Searching for Meade:

I have come to pick a crow with you,” he said as playfully as he could. Then he explained his feelings about Butterfield getting command of the V Corps. Burnside acted surprised. He said that he had no idea Meade ranked Butterfield and certainly had meant no disrespect. His intention was for Butterfield to command the corps only temporarily, perhaps until someone senior to both men—John Sedgwick, perhaps—could take over. Meade pronounced himself satisfied and rode back to his tent.

(On December 23, the debacle at Fredericksburg over, Burnside told Meade he was giving him command of the V Corps.)

 That left Meade with some tricky diplomatic work not only with Butterfield but also with Joe Hooker. Butterfield was a Hooker crony, and the V Corps belonged to Hooker’s Grand Division. Meade heard rumors that Hooker was not happy with the change of commanders. Nonetheless, the news called for a celebration. Meade obtained some champagne and invited his fellow generals, including Franklin, Reynolds, and William F. “Baldy” Smith, to share it with him. “Whereupon it was unanimously agreed that Congress ought to establish the grade of lieutenant general, and that they would all unite in having me made one, provided I would treat with such good wine,” Meade reported.

On the day before Christmas Meade rode to Hooker’s tent to officially report for duty. He found Hooker with Butterfield. After what must have been an awkward few minutes, Butterfield excused himself.

“I told Burnside, when he informed me of his intention, that there was no officer in the army I would prefer to you, were the corps without a commander and the question of selection open,” Hooker told Meade, “but Butterfield having been placed there and having discharged the duties to my satisfaction, particularly through the late battle, I deemed myself authorized to ask that he might be retained.” Hooker said it was nothing personal, and then he signed the order relieving Butterfield and giving Meade command.

Butterfield invited his successor to a Christmas dinner the next day, a handsome entertainment shared by all the brigade and division commanders. After everyone else had left, Meade remained behind to talk with Butterfield. He understood his feelings, Meade told him. “Poor Butterfield then opened his heart,” said Meade. Burnside had promised him that command of the V Corps was permanent, Butterfield complained. Meade sympathized but pointed out that the original injustice had been done when Butterfield was promoted over him. When he said good night to Butterfield, Meade felt that the situation was “definitely and satisfactorily settled.” He would have further unpleasant dealings with Butterfield in the future.