The Most Cruel and Humiliating Indignity (April 23, 1865)

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. "Old Brains" (Library of Congress).

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. “Old Brains” (Library of Congress).

Meade continues his complaints about being placed under Henry Halleck, the new commander of the division to which the Army of the Potomac reports. He has finally decided that he can’t look to Grant for advancement. For Meade, though, the ultimate blow will come in 1869, after Grant becomes president and promotes Philip Sheridan to the rank of lieutenant general, over Meade. “The blow has been struck and our worst fears realized,” Meade will write to his wife on March 6, 1869, when he hears that news.

I like Meade’s comments about Theodore Lyman.

An order came yesterday constituting Virginia into the Military Division of the James, assigning Major General Halleck to the command, and putting myself and the Army of the Potomac under him.

This is the most cruel and humiliating indignity that has been put upon me. (It is General Grant’s work, and done by him with a full knowledge of my services and the consideration due to them, all of which have been ignored by him to suit his convenience). The order is a perfectly legitimate one, and to which, as a soldier, I have no right to make any objection, General Halleck being my senior in the regular army. I understand, however, the whole affair. After the assassination of the President, General Grant, who had previously determined to return here, made up his mind to remain in Washington. He wished to find a place for Halleck. His first order assigned Halleck to the command of the Department of Virginia, in [Edward] Ord’s place, sending Ord to South Carolina. I presume Halleck demurred at this, as a position not equal to what he was entitled. At Halleck’s remonstrance, and to render acceptable his removal from Washington, this order was rescinded, and the order issued making the Military Division of the James, and putting both Ord and myself under him. I feel quite confident that, if I had been in Washington and my remonstrances could have been heard, I either would have frustrated this plan, or have been provided for in some way more consistent with my past services, but les les absens ont toujours tort was fully illustrated in this instance, and there is nothing left me but the submission which a good soldier should always show to the legitimate orders of his superiors. I, however, now give up Grant.

I am glad Lyman called to see you. He is an honest man and a true friend. He has a healthy mental organization, which induces him to look on all matters in the most favorable light.

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. 275-6. Available via Google Books.

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The Rebellion Has Gone Up (April 2, 1865)

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches before Petersburg (Library of Congress).

A dead Confederate soldier in the trenches before Petersburg (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman gives an account of the events of April 2, when the Union forces finally broke through the Confederate lines around Petersburg (on ground that is now part of Pamplin Historical Park). A note indicates that Lyman really wrote this very detailed account on April 13. A note by the editor says that the only thing Lyman actually wrote home to his wife on April 2 was this:

Headquarters Army Of The Potomac
Sunday, April 2, 1865 11 P.M.

My Dear Mimi:


Theodore Lyman Lt.-col. & Vol. A.D.C.

Nevertheless, this is a wonderfully detailed recounting of the great events that spelled the doom of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lyman does a great job of communicating the confusion and excitement of the day’s events.

The “old house” where Lyman spotted Grant writing orders amid the scattered papers of the rebels who had been posted there is the Banks House, another part of Pamplin Historical Park.

Last night was a busy one and a noisy. Some battery or other was playing the whole time, and, now and then, they would all wake up at once; while the skirmishers kept rushing at each other and firing, sometimes almost by volleys. All of which did good, because it wore out the enemy and made them uncertain where the main attack might come. At a quarter past four in the morning, Wright, having massed his three divisions in columns of attack, near Fort Fisher, just before daylight charged their works, burst through four lines of abattis, and poured a perfect torrent of men over the parapet. He then swept to the right and left, bearing down all the attempts of the enemy’s reserves to check him; a part also of his force went straight forward, crossed the Boydton plank and tore up the track of the South Side Railroad. The assault was, in reality, the death-blow to Lee’s army. His centre was thus destroyed, his left wing driven into the interior line of Petersburg, and his right taken in flank and left quite isolated. At the same moment Parke attacked the powerful works in his front, somewhat to the right of the Jerusalem plank road, and carried the strong outer line, with three batteries, containing twelve guns; but the fire was so hot from the inner line that his men could get no further, but continued to hold on, with great obstinacy, for the rest of the day, while the Rebels made desperate sorties to dislodge them. In this attack General Potter received a wound which still keeps him in an extremely critical condition. You may well believe that the musketry, which had spattered pretty well during the night, now broke out with redoubled noise in all directions.

Under the excitement of getting at my valise and having some fresh paper, I am moved to write you some more about the great Sunday, which I so irreverently broke off I was saying that the musketry broke out pretty freely from all quarters. Do you understand the position of the troops? Here is a rough diagram. On the right Parke, from the river to west of the Jerusalem road; then Wright and Ord, stretching to Hatcher’s Run; then Humphreys, forming the left wing. To the left and rear were Sheridan and Griffin, making a detached left wing. Humphreys’ left rested somewhat west of the Boydton plank. Ord and Humphreys were now crowding in their skirmishers, trying for openings in the slashings to put in a column. Ord tried to carry the line, but could not get through; but the 2d division of the 2d Corps got a chance for a rush, and, about 7.30 in the morning, stormed a Rebel fort, taking four guns and several hundred Rebels; in this attack the 19th and 20th Massachusetts were very prominent. About nine o’clock the General rode off towards the left, from our Headquarters near the crossing of the Vaughan road, over Hatcher’s Run. He overtook and consulted a moment with Grant, and then continued along our old line of battle, with no “intelligent orderly” except myself. So that is the way I came to be Chief-of-Staff, Aide-de-camp, Adjutant-General, and all else; for presently the Chief took to giving orders at a great rate, and I had to get out my “manifold writer” and go at it. I ordered Benham to rush up from City Point and reinforce Parke, and I managed to send something to pretty much everybody, so as to keep them brisk and lively. In fact, I completely went ahead of the fly that helped the coach up the hill by bearing down on the spokes of the wheels!

The Banks house as it appears today.

The Banks House as it appears today.

And now came the notice that the enemy were going at the double-quick towards their own right, having abandoned the whole of Ord’s front and some of Humphreys’. We were not quite sure whether they might not contemplate an attack in mass on Humphreys’ left, and so this part of our line was pushed forward with caution while Humphreys’ right was more rapidly advanced. We met sundry squads of prisoners coming across the fields, among them a forlorn band, with their instruments. “Did you not see that band?” said Rosie to me that evening, in great glee. “Ah! I did see them. I did them ask for to play Yan — kay Doodle; but they vould not!” About 9 o’clock we got to General Humphreys on the Boydton plank road, by Mrs. Rainie’s. It was now definitely known that the enemy had given up his whole line in this front and was retreating northwesterly, towards Sutherland’s Station. He was reported, however, as forming line of battle a mile or two beyond us. Immediately Miles’s division marched up the Claiborne road, while Mott, followed by Hays (2d division, 2d Corps), took the Boydton plank. Still more to our left, the cavalry and the 5th Corps were moving also in a northerly direction. Meanwhile, Wright had faced his Corps about and was marching down the Boydton plank, that is to say towards the 2d Corps, which was going up; on his left was the 24th Corps, which had formed there by Grant’s orders; so you will see, by the map, that the jaws of the pincers were coming together, and the enemy hastened to slip from between them! As soon as Wright found that this part of the field was swept, he again faced about, as did the 24th Corps (now forming his right), and marched directly up the Boydton plank to the inner line of Petersburg defences, rested his left on the river, swung the 24th round to join Parke, on the right, and voila the city invested on east, south, and west. I am afraid this double manoeuvre will rather confuse you, so here are two diagrams, with the corps numbered, in their first and second positions. By eleven o’clock the General had got all his troops in motion and properly placed, and the Staff had come from the camp. We all started up the plank road, straight towards the town. It was a strange sensation, to ride briskly past the great oak, near Arnold’s Mill, where we got so awfully cannonaded at the first Hatcher’s Run; then on till we came to the earthwork, on this side of the Run, whence came the shot that killed Charlie Mills; then across the Run itself, passing their line with its abattis and heavy parapet, and so up the road, on the other side, marked by deep ruts of the Rebel supply-trains. As we got to the top of the rise, we struck the open country that surrounds the town, for several miles, and here the road was full of troops, who, catching sight of the General trotting briskly by, began to cheer and wave their caps enthusiastically! This continued all along the column, each regiment taking it up in turn. It was a goodly ride, I can tell you! Presently we spied General Grant, seated on the porch of an old house, by the wayside, and there we too halted. It seemed a deserted building and had been occupied by a Rebel ordnance sergeant, whose papers and returns were lying about in admirable confusion. A moral man was this sergeant, and had left behind a diary, in one page of which he lamented the vice and profanity of his fellow soldiers. He was not, however, cleanly, but quite untidy in his domestic arrangements. From this spot we had an admirable view of our own works, as the Rebels had, for months, been used to look at them. There was that tall signal tower, over against us, and the bastions of Fort Fisher, and here, near at hand, the Rebel line, with its huts and its defenders sorely beleagured over there in the inner lines, against which our batteries were even now playing; and presently Gibbon assaults these two outlying redoubts, and takes them after a fierce fight, losing heavily. In one was a Rebel captain, who told his men to surrender to nobody. He himself fought to the last, and was killed with the butt end of a musket, and most of his command were slain in the work. But we carried the works: neither ditches nor abattis could keep our men out that day! You may be sure Miles had not been idle all this time. Following up the Claiborne road, he came on the enemy at Sutherland’s Station, entrenched and holding on to cover the escape of their train. Though quite without support, he attacked them fiercely, and, at the second or third charge, stormed their breastwork, routed them and took three guns and near 1000 prisoners. With this gallant feat the day ended, gloriously, as it had begun. We went into camp at the Wall house and all preparations were made to cross the river next morning and completely shut in the town.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 334-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Medal Ceremony (March 11, 1865)

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).

There will be time for fighting before the month is up, but for now the Army of the Potomac is functioning more like a social club—at least at the headquarters level. In today’s letter, Theodore Lyman details another such occasion, this time to give General Grant a medal for his capture of Vicksburg in 1863.  (David W. Lowe reports that the medal is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.) “Daddy” Washburn[e] is Grant’s political patron, Illinois congressman Eli Washburne. He had been with Grant at the start of the Overland Campaign—and Meade suspected that it had been Washburne who told reporter Edward Crapsey that Meade had wanted to retreat after the first day in the Wilderness. Lyman’s Harvard friend, Henry Abbott, had been mortally wounded in the Wildnerness while in command of the 20th Massachusetts.

From Grant we got a despatch that he would come up, with some ladies and gentlemen, to see our left and to review a few troops. The General rode down to the terminus of the railroad (which is not very far from Hatcher’s Run), and soon after came the train, with Grant and his party. Among them was our old friend Daddy Washburn, the same who came to the Rapid Ann, last May, to behold Grant swallow Lee at a mouthful, and—didn’t see it! Two divisions of the 2d Corps were turned out under the eye of the redoubtable Humphreys. They made a fine appearance, marching past; but I could have cried to see the Massachusetts 20th with only a hundred muskets or so, and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis, whom I used to see at Culpeper with a lieutenant’s shoulderstraps. How changed from last spring, when they passed in review with full ranks, and led by Abbot! . . .

That evening we were invited to City Point, to see a medal given to General Grant. This medal had been voted by Congress in honor of him and his soldiers, after the battle and capture of Vicksburg. And you now see the rationale of the Hon. Washburn’s presence. He was to present it. The Corps commanders with a few aides, and some division commanders, were all the General took with him in the special train. We arrived about 8.30 p.m. and at 9 the ceremony began, in the upper saloon of the steamer Martyn, lying at the wharf. The solemnities were these: General Grant stood on one side of a small table, with an expression as if about to courageously have a large tooth out. On the other stood Washburn, with what seemed an ornamental cigar-box. Whereupon W., with few words, remarked that the Congress of the United States of Amerikay had resolved to present him a medal, and a copy of their resolutions engrossed on parchment. “General” (unrolling a scroll), “this is the copy of the resolutions, and I now hand it to you.” (Grant looked at the parchment, as much as to say, “That seems all right,” rolled it up, in a practical manner, and put it on the table.) “This, General” (opening the ornamental cigar-box, taking out a wooden bonbonniere and opening that), “is the medal, which I also hand to you, together with an autograph letter from President Lincoln.” The “all-right” expression repeated itself on Grant’s face, as he put down the bonbonniere beside the scroll. Then he looked very fixedly at Mr. Washburn and slowly drew a sheet of paper from his pocket. Everyone was hushed, and there then burst forth the following florid eloquence: “Sir! I accept the medal. I shall take an early opportunity of writing a proper reply to the President. I shall publish an order, containing these resolutions, to the troops that were under my command before Vicksburg.” As he stopped, Major Pell drew a long breath and said: “I thought we were sure of a speech this time, but now we never shall get one out of him.” The medal was of gold, three pounds in weight; on one side a bad likeness of Grant; on the reverse a goddess, in an impossible position, who, as General Meade remarked, “seemed to keep a general furnishing shop of guns and sabres.” “What is the meaning of the allegory?” he enquired of the Lieutenant-General. “I don’t know,” replied Grant, with entire simplicity, “I don’t know, but I am going to learn, so as to be able to explain it to people!” Then the distinguished militaries crowded round to gaze. Major-General Ord, who can’t get over his Irish blood, said: “I believe, sir, you are the first man who medalled with his battalion.” To which Grant, not taking the point in the faintest degree, replied gravely: “I don’t know but I was.” There was a heavy crowd of Hectors, I can tell you. Generals Meade, Warren, Wright, Parke, Humphreys, Ord, Gibbon, Ayres, Griffin, Rawlins, Ingalls, etc., etc. Very few ladies. After this a moderate collation, and so home to bed.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 318-20. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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A Pleasant Journey (February 28, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes home to his grieving wife once he has returned to the army after a short stop in Washington. The generals he mentions are Edward Ord, who had replaced Benjamin Butler in command of the Army of the James, and Frank Wheaton, who had a division in the VI Corps. The Secretary is Edwin Stanton.

After writing to you yesterday I saw the Secretary, who was as usual very kind. He apologized for ordering me away when he did, and said he had forgotten dear Sergeant’s sickness, and some telegrams coming from Ord he did not like, he thought, in Grant’s absence, I had better be there. He wanted me to stay in Washington over night, but I declined, when he directed a special steamer to be got ready to take me at seven in the evening. From the Department I went to the Capitol, where I saw Mr. Cowan and Judge Harris. They both said they would see that the same number of copies of the proceedings of the court of inquiry were ordered to be printed as had been ordered of the committee’s report.

I had a pleasant journey, there being no one on board but General Wheaton and myself. We reached City Point at 1 p.m. to-day. I spent two hours with General Grant, reaching my headquarters about half-past four this afternoon.

I find we have not been attacked, and Petersburg has not been evacuated, although I should judge there had been a stampede ever since I left, and that both contingencies had been expected. It has been raining, I am told, nearly all the time I have been absent, and the roads are in an awful condition.

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. 265. Available via Google Books.

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A Grand Movement (September 29, 1864)

"Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works"by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

“Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works”by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman’ wrote this letter on October 3, but it covers the events of September 29. I thought I’d post it today.

The night of my arrival, curiously enough, was the eve of a grand movement. [ “The move now proposed consisted of an advance both on the right and the left flanks. On the right, towards Richmond, taking the north side of the river; on the left towards the Boydton plank road and southside rail. The strategic object was two-fold: first, to effect threatening lodgments as near as possible to these points, gaining whatever we could by the way; and, secondly, to prevent Lee from reinforcing Early.” — Lyman’s Journal. ] I never miss, you see. Rosey [aide-de-camp Frederick Rosencrantz]drew me aside with an air of mystery and told me that the whole army was ordered to be packed and ready at four the next morning, all prepared to march at a moment’s notice. Headquarters contented itself by getting up about half-past five, which was plenty early enough, as turned out. We rode down to General Hancock’s about 9.30. He was camped not far from us, or had been, for now his tents were struck and packed, and there lay the familiar forms of Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan and Major Mitchell, on some boards, trying to make up for their loss of sleep. The cheery Hancock was awake and lively. We here were near the point of the railroad, which excited General Meade’s indignation by its exposure. Now they have partly sunk it and partly built a bank, on the enemy’s side, so that it is covered from fire. Here we got news that Ord and Birney had crossed the James, the first near Dutch Gap, the other near Deep Bottom, and advanced towards Richmond. Birney went up the Newmarket road, took a line of works, and joined Ord, who took a strong line, with a fort, on Chapin’s farm, which is before Chapin’s bluff, which again is opposite Fort Darling. We got sixteen guns, including three of heavy calibre, also some prisoners. General Ord was shot in the thick of the leg, above the knee. There was another line, on the crest beyond, which I do not think we attacked at all. We went down then to the Jones house, where were Parke’s Headquarters, and talked with him. I saw there Charlie Mills, now on his Staff. Finally, at 1.30 we got to Globe Tavern where was the astute Warren. Everything was “set,” as he would say, for an advance by Griffin’s and Ayres’s divisions, while Willcox’s and Potter’s divisions of the 9th Corps were massed at the Gurley house, ready to support. General Gregg made an advance west of Reams’ station, and was heavily attacked about 5 p.m., but repulsed them. Their artillery blew up one of his caissons and we could see the cloud of smoke suddenly rise above the trees. This was all for that day in the way of fighting.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 232-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Mere Canards (July 23, 1864)

General E.O.C. Ord. His soldiers called him "Old Alphabet." Meade had served with him early in the war (Library of Congress).

General E.O.C. Ord. Thanks to the profusion of initials, his soldiers called him “Old Alphabet.” Meade had served with him early in the war (Library of Congress).

The peace movement Meade mentions in this letter is the one undertaken by newspaper publisher Horace Greely, in which he met with Confederate commissioners at the Canadian border. Greeley, often a thorn in Lincoln’s side, ended up being outmaneuvered by the president, who made sure the conditions Greeley offered for talks required  restoration of the Union and an end to slavery, conditions he knew the Confederates would not accept.

It’s true that Meade professed great friendship for Winfield Scott Hancock. It’s also probably true that he never had a quarrel with the recently departed William F. “Baldy” Smith, but there was certainly no longer any friendship there. Earlier Meade had said he and Smith were “avowed antagonists.” David Birney, formerly a division commander in the II Corps under Hancock, was no friend, either, although Meade did admire his fighting abilities.

The stories you hear about me, some of which have reached camp, are mere canards, I have never had any quarrel with either General Hancock or Smith. Hancock is an honest man, and as he always professes the warmest friendship for me, I never doubt his statements; and I am sure I have for him the most friendly feeling and the highest appreciation of his talents. I am perfectly willing at any time to turn over to him the Army of the Potomac, and wish him joy of his promotion.

We have been very quiet since I last wrote; there are signs of approaching activity. The army is getting to be quite satisfied with its rest, and ready to try it again.

It would appear from the news from Niagara Falls that the question of peace has been in a measure mooted. The army would hail an honorable peace with delight, and I do believe, if the question was left to those who do the fighting, an honorable peace would be made in a few hours.

Ord has been placed in Smith’s place in command of the Eighteenth Corps, and General Birney has been assigned to the Tenth Corps, largely composed of colored troops.

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. 215. Available via Google Books.