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.