Satisfied (November 25, 1864)

In his letter, Meade mentions the Dutch Gap Canal. Benjamin Butler had initiated the digging of the canal on the James River to bypass Confederate forts. It wasn't completed until after the war (Library of Congress).

In his letter, Meade mentions the Dutch Gap Canal. Benjamin Butler had initiated the digging of the canal on the James River to bypass Confederate forts. It wasn’t completed until after the war (Library of Congress).

Meade receives word of his promotion and pronounces himself satisfied. The Mr. Cropsey is the newspaper reporter whom Meade had drummed out of camp at Cold Harbor. It seems he has now irritated Hancock, whose time with the Army of the Potomac is almost over.

On my return from my visit to General Grant, I found your letter of the 23d inst. General Grant told me that, as soon as he spoke to the President, the President acknowledged the justice of his statements, and said he had hesitated when appointing Sheridan on the very ground of its seeming injustice to me, and he at once, at General Grant’s suggestion, ordered the Secretary to make out my appointment, to date from August 19th, the day of the capture of the Weldon Railroad, thus making me rank Sheridan and placing me fourth in rank in the regular army. Grant virtually acknowledged that my theory of Sheridan’s appointment was the correct one, and that without doubt, had the matter been suggested at the time, I would have been appointed a few days in advance.

As justice is thus finally done me, I am satisfied—indeed, I question, if left to me, whether I should have desired my appointment announced in the way Sheridan’s has been. At one tiling I am particularly gratified, and that is at this evidence of Grant’s truthfulness and sincerity. I am willing to admit, as he does himself, that his omissions have resulted unfavorably to me, but I am satisfied he is really and truly friendly to me. I like Grant, and always have done so, notwithstanding I saw certain elements in his character which were operating disadvantageously to me.

To-morrow I am going with General Grant to visit General Butler’s famous canal at Dutch Gap. Grant does not think Mr. Stanton will be removed, or that he desires the Chief-Justiceship.

He says Stanton is as staunch a friend of mine as ever, and that the President spoke most handsomely of me.

You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Mr. Cropsey has again gotten himself into trouble. I received to-day a letter from General Hancock, complaining of Mr. Cropsey’s account of our recent movement. I told General Hancock to put his complaints in the form of charges and I would have Mr. Cropsey tried by a commission, and abide by its decision.

Hancock leaves us to-morrow, he having a leave of absence, after which he will be assigned to recruiting duty. Humphreys takes his place. The change in my position has rendered it unnecessary to have an officer of Humphreys’s rank, as chief-of-staff. I deemed it due to him to suggest his name as Hancock’s successor.

Butler has finally succeeded in getting the colored troops with this army, replacing them with an equal number of white troops. He is going to organize a corps of colored troops, and expects to do very great things with 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. 247-8. Available via Google Books.

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Burgess’s Mill (October 27, 1864)

Armstrong's mills and rebel works on "Hatcher's Run, captured by the Second Corps, October 27, 1864 / sketched by C.H. Chapin," as it appeared in Harpers Weekly (Library of Congress).

“Armstrong’s mills and rebel works on Hatcher’s Run, captured by the Second Corps, October 27, 1864 / sketched by C.H. Chapin,” as it appeared in Harpers Weekly (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade doesn’t note it in his letter of October 27, but this movement of the Army of the Potomac and the fighting at Burgess’s Mill marked the end of active campaigning for 1864. Here’s how I describe the fighting in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Meade had another narrow escape later that month during the Battle of Burgess’s Mill on October 27. Once again Grant had Butler attack the Confederates north of the James, while Meade moved against the Confederate right in an attempt to capture the South Side Railroad. Hancock and the II Corps were to be the tip of the spear, supported by the V and IX Corps under Warren and Parke. Grant and Meade rode out to the front on the damp and dreary morning of October 27 to observe Hancock’s position. The II Corps faced the Confederate right near Hatcher’s Run at a spot called Burgess’s Mill on the Boydton Plank Road. The fighting here was brisk, and a shell exploded near Meade–so close that Horace Porter thought it must have killed him. But again Meade emerged unscathed. Grant also had a close brush with a bursting shell, and then his horse got one leg tangled in a fallen telegraph line. An aide had to carefully free the horse’s leg while Grant remained exposed to enemy fire.

By then it was apparent that the rebel entrenchments extended much farther to the west than anyone had anticipated, and Grant called off the attack. Hancock prepared to withdraw from his exposed position the next morning. The Confederates, as they often did, had different plans. Finding a weakness, William Mahone’s men made a stealthy passage through swamp and forest toward the Union right. Hancock had thought Samuel Crawford’s division was moving up to connect with him there; instead, the rebel forces swung around his flank and attacked. The Federals managed to recover from their surprise and force the Confederates back, but Hancock decided to withdraw his forces that night despite the rain and the darkness.

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

The Battle at Burgess’s Mill finished the active campaigning for 1864–and it marked the end of Winfield Scott Hancock’s time with the Army of the Potomac. He had been summoned back to Washington to raise a corps of veteran soldiers. The Petersburg Campaign had been one disappointment after another for Hancock, who seemingly had reached his own high-water mark at Gettysburg. One of his last actions was to make an official complaint to Meade about the reporting of Edward Crapsey, whom Meade had allowed to return to the army. Meade advised Hancock to write up charges and said he would have Crapsey tried by a commission.

I moved to-day with the greater portion of the Army of the Potomac, intending, if practicable, to make a lodgment on the Southside Railroad. We, however, found the enemy so strongly entrenched, and the character of the country was such, we were not able to accomplish reaching the road. We have had some quite sharp fighting, principally Hancock’s Corps on our side, in which we successfully resisted the attempts of the enemy to check our advance or dislodge us from positions taken. We shall, however, I think, be under the necessity of returning to our entrenched lines. General Grant has been on the field all day, sanctioning everything that was done. At one time both Grant and myself were under a heavy artillery fire, but luckily none of either of our large corteges were touched.

Theodore Lyman has been strangely quiet since his letter from October 17, but he finally breaks his silence today. Here’s his letter home about the day’s events. His pen will remain busy over the next few days.

I won’t write at length till I get a decent chance. I caught the greatest pelting with all sorts of artillery projectiles to-day, you ever saw, but no hurt therefrom. I could not help being amused, despite the uncomfortable situation, by the distinguished “queue” of gentlemen, behind a big oak! There was a civilian friend of Grant’s, and an aide-de-camp of General Barnard (a safe place to hold), and sundry other personages, all trying to giggle and all wishing themselves at City Point! As to yours truly, he wasn’t going to get behind trees, so long as old George G. stood out in front and took it. “Ah!” said Rosey, with the mild commendation of a master to a pupil: “oh! you did remember what I did say. I have look at you, and you did not doge!” It don’t do to dodge with Hancock’s Staff about; they would never forgive you. At length says the General: “This is pretty hot: it will kill some of our horses.” We came out on a big reconnaissance, which may be turned into a move or not, according to results. I rather fancy the enemy’s line is too long to be turned by what troops we have to dispose.

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. 237. 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. 250-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Beefsteak Raid (September 16, 1864)

"Cattle Raid" by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, "Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Cattle Raid” by Alfred Waud. The artist described it as, “Confederate cattle raid Sept. 16th 1864. Genl. Wade Hampden [sic] suddenly appeared at Coggins point in the rear of the army, on the James river, and carried off the entire beef supply, about 2500 head of cattle. The rebel soldiers were much inclined to joke with the pickets on the loss of their meat rations; the Union men, on the other hand, thanked them heartily for removing the tough remnants of herds that had been driven behind the army all summer and which were at once replaced by a fresh stock much fitter for the table.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In this letter George Meade comments on an event that we remember as the Beefsteak Raid, in which Confederate cavalryman Wade Hampton and a force of about 4,500 men md their way behind the Union lines and captured about 2,500 cattle. Union cavalry went in pursuit, but their numbers were too small to do much. It was a brilliant raid, and one that brought much needed supplies back to the Confederates.

“Mr. Cropsey” (or Crapsey) is the reporter that Meade had ordered run out of camp back at Cold Harbor. The fair Meade mentions, held that spring in New York, was another fair to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Enclosed is a receipt of Adams & Co.’s Express for a small box containing the beautiful pistol presented to me by the New York Metropolitan Fair, which I send home for safe-keeping.

Yesterday General Grant took his departure, and to-day my ill luck has brought a rebel cavalry raid, in which they dashed into our lines and succeeded in driving off about two thousand head of cattle that had been, contrary to my judgment, sent down the James River for grazing, to a point just inside our cavalry pickets, and where they were exposed at any moment to be run off, as they have been by a coup-de-main. Grant’s absence, and the usual friendly spirit of the press, will undoubtedly attribute this loss to my negligence, and I really had as much to do with it as you had, except that I had called attention to the danger of having the cattle there. The cattle were not under my control, or that of my commissary, but under a commissary serving on Grant’s staff.

I have this evening a letter from Mr. Cropsey, asking permission to return to the army. I do not altogether like its tone or spirit, but shall not take any other notice of it than to send him a pass.

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. 228. Available via Google Books.

Ignored (June 21, 1864)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

George Meade’s letter of June 21, 1864, includes one of his persistent complaints about being ignored, this time in the dispatches of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Meade craved affirmation, a need that seemed motivated by some basic insecurity. Of course, commander of the Army of the Potomac was a position that naturally bred a sense of insecurity—just ask George McClellan, Joe Hooker, or Ambrose Burnside. But Meade seemed to need some kind of official “vindication” and validation that he had performed well. Despite his repeated claims to his wife that he was “indifferent” to such things, he wanted an official seal of approval that always seemed to evade him. Perhaps Meade would have had more success in advancing his cause if he had more nakedly lusted for glory and aggressively sought fame. He was more than willing to carp about the situation in his letters to his wife, but his son and grandson edited most of those complaints out of the letters for publication. Publicly, though, Meade had an almost naïve–or perhaps idealistic is a better word–belief that true honors would come to those who deserved them. Of course, it didn’t help that the correspondents traveling with the army had agreed to leave Meade out of their reports in revenge for the Crapsey incident.

Meade mentions in passing President Lincoln’s visit to the army. Horace Porter, Grant’s aide, included a long account of the visit in his book, Campaigning with Grant. Lincoln was especially eager to see the black soldiers of the XVIII Corps who had taken a portion of the Petersburg defenses. “When we wanted every able-bodied man who could be spared to go to the front, and my opposers kept objecting to the negroes, I used to tell them that at such times it was just as well to be a little color-blind,” the president said. The black soldiers gave the president a rapturous reception, which affected him deeply. “The President rode with bared head; the tears had started to his eyes, and his voice was so broken by emotion that he could scarcely articulate the words of thanks and congratulation which he tried to speak to the humble and devoted men through whose ranks he rode,” wrote Porter.

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

In the evening the president relaxed with Grant and his staff and indulged himself in one of his favorite pastimes, telling humerous stories. “He did not tell a story merely for the sake of the anecdote, but to point a moral or to clench a fact,” Porter noted. “So far as our experience went, his anecdotes possessed the true geometric requisite of excellence: they were neither too broad nor too long. He seemed to recollect every incident in his experience and to weave it into material for his stories. One evening a sentinel whose post was near enough to enable him to catch most of the President’s remarks was heard to say, ‘Well, that man’s got a powerful memory and a mighty poor forgettery.’

“He seldom indulged even in a smile until he reached the climax of a humorous narration; then he joined heartily with the listeners in the laugh which followed. He usually sat on a low camp-chair, and wound his legs around each other as if in an effort to get them out of the way, and with his long arms he accompanied what he said with all sorts of odd gestures. An officer once made the remark that he would rather have a single photograph of one of Mr. Lincoln’s jokes than own the negative of any other man’s.

My last letter was written on the 17th, during the battle of Petersburg, which lasted off and on from 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 16th to dark of the 18th, day and night, during which time we drove the enemy more than a mile and a half, taking from them two strong lines of works, capturing over twenty guns, four colors and nearly seven hundred prisoners. In all this fighting and these operations I had exclusive command, Grant being all the time at City Point, and coming on the field for only half an hour on the 17th, and yet in Mr. Stanton’s official despatch he quotes General Grant’s account, and my name is not even mentioned. I cannot imagine why I am thus ignored.

I think I wrote you on the 17th that I was fighting Mr. Wise. Since then I have seen a Petersburg paper, announcing the wounding severely of George D. Wise, his nephew and aide, also of Peyton Wise, another nephew and aide-de-camp.

On the 18th we found the enemy had retired to an inner line, which I had reason to believe was not strongly fortified. I followed them and immediately attacked them with my whole force, but could not break through their lines. Our losses in the three-days’ fight under my command amount to nine thousand five hundred, killed, wounded and missing. As I did not have over sixty thousand men, this loss is severe, and shows how hard the fighting was.

Your accounts of the fair are quite amusing. Hancock and myself have much fun over the sword contest, and are both quite sorry to see we stand no chance for the five thousand dollar vase.

Mr. Lincoln honored the army with his presence this afternoon, and was so gracious as to say he had seen you in Philadelphia, etc., etc.

We have been very quiet for two days, having given up the idea of taking Petersburg by assault. Indeed, the army is exhausted with forty-nine days of continued marching and fighting, and absolutely requires rest to prevent its morale being impaired.

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. 205-6. Available via Google Books.

The Crapsey Incident (June 9, 1864)

This Thomas Nast illustration from Harper's Weekly salutes the correspondents in the field (Library of Congress).

This Thomas Nast illustration from Harper’s Weekly salutes the correspondents in the field (Library of Congress).

On June 2, 1864, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a short article that would have some big repercussions for George Gordon Meade’s reputation. This is what it said:

MEADE’S POSITION

He is as much the commander of the Army of the Potomac as he ever was. Grant plans and exercises a supervisory control over the army, but to Meade belongs everything of detail. He is entitled to great credit for the magnificent movements of the army since we left Brandy, for they have been dictated by him. In battle he puts troops in action and controls their movements; in a word, he commands the army. General Grant is here only because he deems the present campaign the vital one of the war, and wishes to decide on the spot all questions that would be referred to him as General-in-Chief.

History will record, but newspapers cannot, that on one eventful night during the present campaign Grant’s presence saved the army, and the nation too; not that General Meade was on the point to commit a blunder unwittingly, but his devotion to his country made him loth to risk her last army on what he deemed a chance. Grant assumed the responsibility and we are still

ON TO RICHMOND

Overall, not a bad notice for Meade. But he bristled at the implication that he had intended to retreat following the battle in the Wilderness.

The article was the work of one Edward Crapsey (often spelled Cropsey). As a correspondent for Cincinnati papers, he had reported on Grant’s successful Vicksburg Campaign and the fighting for Knoxville, Tennessee. By the time the Overland Campaign lurched into motion, he was reporting for the Inquirer. He had even been captured briefly by rebel cavalry near Rappahannock Station with two other reporters. The three newspapermen managed to escape when their captors got into a skirmish with some Union cavalrymen.

The accusation that Meade wanted to retreat stung, especially with the stories circulating in Washington that Meade had intended to retreat from Gettysburg, the sense that Grant had to be present to keep the Army of the Potomac fighting, and the feeling that the newspapers—as well as Grant and the politicians in Washington—were unwilling to give Meade his due. Meade also worried that the article could cause his soldiers to lose confidence in their commander. This story in a paper from his hometown proved to be the last straw. He decided to make an example of Crapsey. He ordered the reporter to be placed backward on a mule while wearing a sign around his neck that read, “Libeler of the press.” Thus humiliated, Crapsey was drummed out of camp to the tune of the “Rogue’s March.”

This was not a wise media strategy.

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Grant and Charles Dana both tried to reassure Meade that the authorities in Washington would not believe the accusation. Dana even telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton about it. Stanton wired back, “Please say to General Meade that the lying report alluded to in your telegram was not even for a moment believed by the President or myself. We have the most perfect confidence in him. He could not wish a more exalted estimation of his ability, his firmness, and every quality of a commanding general than is entertained for him.” By then, though, it was too late.Meade probably felt he should take the soothing words of politicians with a grain of salt—especially when he heard rumors that the real source for Crapsey’s story had been Congressman Eli Washburne, Grant’s political mentor, who had been traveling with the army. If Meade got evidence to prove that charge, he told Margaret, he planned to show the congressman “no quarter.” (The references to Washburne’s involvement were edited out of Meade’s letters when they were published.)

The newspaper reporters with the army reacted to Crapsey’s punishment with outrage. “Major Gen. Meade may have the physical courage which bulls & bull dogs have; but he is as leprous with moral cowardice as the brute that kicks a helpless cripple in the street, or beats his wife at home,” wrote Whitelaw Reid, the reporter who had written about Meade at Taneytown and Gettysburg.

Sylvanus Cadwallader, then with the Chicago Times, was something of a favorite with Grant—or at least Grant was canny enough to make Cadwallader feel as if he were a favorite. “Every newspaper reporter in the Army of the Potomac, and in Washington City, had first an implied, and afterward an expressed understanding, to ignore Gen. Meade in every possible way and manner,” Cadwallader reported. “The publishers shared their feelings to a considerable extent, and it was soon noticed that Gen. Meade’s name never appeared in any army correspondence if it could be omitted.” He became as forgotten, Cadwallader said, “as any dead hero of antiquity.”

However, the press had been overlooking Meade even before the incident with Crapsey. On June 5, three days before Crapsey’s humiliation, Charles Wainwright noted, “The newspaper correspondents speak of Grant doing this and that, hardly ever mentioning Meade’s name. Here we see nothing of General Grant; I hardly heard his name mentioned.”

I fully enter into all your feelings of annoyance at the manner in which I have been treated, but I do not see that I can do anything but bear patiently till it pleases God to let the truth be known and matters set right. I have noticed what you say about the Inquirer, but, as you observe, it is no worse than the other papers. Even Coppée, in the June number of his magazine, shows he, too, is demoralized, he having a flaming editorial notice of the wonderful genius of Grant.* Now, to tell the truth, the latter has greatly disappointed me, and since this campaign I really begin to think I am something of a general.

I don’t know whether you saw an article in the Inquirer of the 2d inst. on me, which the writer intended to be very complimentary. At the close of it he refers to an eventful occasion when Grant saved the life of the nation, when I desired to destroy it. I could not make out what in the world this meant; but fortunately I found the author, one Edward Cropsey, and having sent for him, he explained that he had heard that on the night of the second day’s battle of the Wilderness I had urged on General Grant the withdrawal of the army across the Rapidan, but Grant had firmly resisted all my intercessions, and thus the country was saved the disgrace of a retreat. I asked his authority; he said it was the talk of the camp. I told him it was a base and wicked lie, and that I would make an example of him, which should not only serve to deter others from committing like offenses, but would give publicity to his lie and the truth. I accordingly issued an order denouncing the falsehood, and ordering the offender to be paraded through the lines of the army with a placard bearing the inscription, “Libeler of the Press,” and then that he should be put beyond the lines and not allowed to return. This sentence was duly executed, much to the delight of the whole army, for the race of newspaper correspondents is universally despised by the soldiers.

General Grant happened to be present when I was making out the order, and fully approved of it, although he said he knew the offender, and that his family was a respectable one in Illinois. After the man had been turned out and the affair had become public, then I learned to my surprise that this malicious falsehood had been circulated all over the country.

We find Lee’s position again too strong for us, and will have to make another movement, the particulars of which I cannot disclose.

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. 202-3. The newspaper article is on p. 341. Available via Google Books.

*Henry Coppée edited the United States Service Magazine. Meade has mentioned him before. Here’s what Coppée had to say about Grant in his June issue. You can get an idea why Meade found this irritating:

Grant is a brave man; not only fearless in all necessary exposure of his person in battle, but cool, calculating, and clearly administrative in danger. A splendid horseman, and of great physical endurance, perhaps he is seen to best advantage on the field of battle directing the movements.

He is a true man; true in his aims, and in his adherence to them; true in speech and in act. He has no tortuous policy, no subterranean movements. He does not parade his thoughts, indeed, but he does not mean one thing and say another. He has no talking gift, and he cultivates silence, which, if speech be human, the philosopher has declared to be divine. He is no boaster, no temporizer, no dreamer; he builds no Arcadian castles. He is simply a straightforward actor; between his thoughts, words, and deeds there is an exact accordance; and very often the thought and deed dispense with words,—always, when possible.

He is a man of strong will and great mental endurance; not disheartened by disaster; always ready to repair and retrieve it. Vicksburg in especial demonstrated this. Repulsed at the north, he tried the cut-off. When that would not do, he landed on the south. Threatened by the rebel armies gathering in his rear, he besieged the town. Repulsed in his attempts to storm the works, he pushed forward the siege; and at length Vicksburg fell, because Grant adhered to his purpose.

He is a generous man; ready to give full credit to his coworkers and subordinates. He scorns to receive praise which is their due, and tells of the invaluable aid and co-operation of Sherman, McPherson, and others, with no stinted eulogium. With such a general, men can work; for such a chief they will do all in their power.

He is an unambitious man. This needs a word of explanation. Ambitious men seek, as the great end of their labors, self-exaltation. Grant has thus far worked for the good of the country. Each battle has been fought without ulterior view. If God sends honest fame as the reward, he does not disdain it; but it must be a sequel, not an aim. Heaven preserve him long from this “last infirmity of noble minds”! It ruins all it touches. It has already paralyzed some of our best men.

In a concluding word, he is a strong, iron, living, busy, honest, capable, self-sustained commander, who will plan wisely, fight terribly, follow up his victories, and leave the rest to Providence,—in whom, after all, must be our trust. He has large and varied talents. He has, what Guizot calls, “the genius of common sense,” and with that the power and determination to “go ahead;” which we have lacked more than any thing else in this war. As to his personal appearance, we can only refer our readers to the fine engraving which appears as a vignette to this number, with the remark that it is as much like him as an engraving can be.