Proposed New Duties (May 18, 1865)

The Meade statue at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington photo).

The Meade statue at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington photo).

With this letter from George Gordon Meade, we come to the end of a road.

This is the final letter that appears in Meade’s Life & Letters. The remainder of volume II, which provides a summation of Meade’s post-war life, does include some excerpts from his correspondence, but the “letters” part of Meade’s story essentially ends here. From this point on, the general will spend much of his life back home in Philadelphia (interrupted by one long stay in Atlanta), so there will be no need to write to his wife.

With Meade’s and Theodore Lyman’s published correspondence at an end, this blog will slow down a bit. I will continue to post things—especially as we move through George Meade’s bicentennial year—but the posts won’t be as frequent as they have been in the past.

It’s been a lot of fun to follow Meade and Lyman through their war experiences. It’s also been quite an educational experience. I’ve learned a lot as I investigated the references Meade and Lyman made in their letters. It’s been a valuable project for me. I hope all of you who have accompanied me on this journey have found it to be as rewarding as I have. Thanks for reading.

I depended on the boys to tell you all the news. You will see by the papers that the great review is to come off next Tuesday. On that day, the Army of the Potomac, consisting of the cavalry, Ninth, Fifth and Second Corps, will, under my command, march through Washington and be reviewed by the President. To-day’s paper contains an announcement of the fact, in a telegram from Mr. Stanton to General Dix, which it is expected will bring the whole North to Washington.

I have heard nothing further about the proposed new duties, or about going to West Point. The order reducing the armies is published, and I suppose the reduction will take place immediately after the review, so that it will not be long before the question is settled.

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. 279-80. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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Junketings (March 16, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac is quite the tourist attraction in the days leading up to the final campaign of the war. Here, Meade describes yet another delegation, which included Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. In his journal, Theodore Lyman described Stanton as “short, dark, very thick set, very big-headed; a small, turned-up nose; a long, black beard, mixed with gray, and a somewhat goblin air.”.

To-day Mr. Stanton and lady, with a select party, among whom was the French Minister, visited the army and went the rounds, witnessing among other things a review of Warren’s Corps. Yesterday we had a party of Senators, with their families, so that we have had junketings almost every day for a week past.

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. 267. Available via Google Books.

A Party of Ladies and Gentlemen (March 8, 1865)

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it's from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it’s from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

When the army was not fighting, it was often entertaining visitors. Here, Meade writes about the efforts made for one party of civilians, which included the wife of General Grant, the niece of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and future Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley. It also included Mr. and Mrs. George Harding. Harding was a patent lawyer; his father had founded the Philadelphia Inquirer. Harding also occupies a footnote in presidential history as one of the many men who underestimated Abraham Lincoln. In 1855, Harding was one of the lawyers defending John H. Manny in a patent infringement suit brought by Cyrus McCormick over mechanical reapers. Feeling the legal team needed a local, Midwestern lawyer purely for reasons of appearance, they hired Abraham Lincoln sight unseen, but then refused to let him participate in the legal work. “Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here,” another lawyer on the team asked Harding; “he does not know any thing and can do you no good.” That other lawyer was Edwin Stanton. Although the legal team stayed at the same Cincinnati hotel during the trial, Harding said of Lincoln that neither he nor Stanton “ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him.” Lincoln was quite pained by this ill treatment at the hands of these elite Eastern lawyers.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the same outing.

George Harding (Library of Congress).

George Harding (Library of Congress).

Yesterday about 11 A. M.. Mr. and Mrs. George Harding, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, arrived at these headquarters. Mr. Harding had telegraphed me from City Point he was coming. I took them to see the camps and works, and turned out some of the troops for them to see. Then brought them back here and gave them a lunch, with some of Lyman’s champagne, and sent them back to City Point, quite delighted with their trip and all they saw. The day was a beautiful one and the roads in fine order. Mrs. Grant accompanied them and seemed as much pleased as the rest. I was glad to have it in my power to be civil to Mr. Harding, as some slight return for all he has done for me.

You will have heard of Sheridan’s success in the Valley, which I trust will be continued. We are now looking with interest for news from Sherman, and to know what force the enemy have been able to collect to confront him.

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman, as is his habit, provides a much more detailed account of the outing Meade mentions almost in passing. Thanks to David W. Lowe’s editing for his book Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, we can identify the people who Lyman’s previous editors kept anonymous, and make some corrections. For example, the Miss Stanton described below was actually the niece, not the daughter, of the secretary of war. In his journals, Lyman described Mrs. Grant as “very even and quiet, with a pleasant expression though she has a tremendous cast in one eye.” He noted that Miss Bradlee [sic] “was the best looking,” and made an observation that he probably felt was not appropriate for a letter to his wife: “[O]n the whole they were comeliest lot we have ever had.”

Yesterday, as I hinted in my last, we had a toot, of much duration. At ten A.m. the General got a telegraph (one of those charming City Point surprises) saying that a train was just then starting, holding a dozen of womenkind and a certain force of the male sex; that they would arrive in an hour or so, and that we would please rather to entertain them pretty well! We telegraphed to the 5th Corps to turn out some troops, and to General Wright, to say we were coming that way, and ordered out ambulances to go to the station, and turned out officers to go over also. Your hub, not without growls of a private sort, girded hisself with a sash and ordered the charger saddled. In due time they kim: Colonels Badeau and Babcock to guide them. As sort of chief of the honorable committee of reception, I took off my cap and was solemnly introduced to twelve distinct ladies, whose names I instantly forgot (ditto those of distinguished gentlemen accompanying), all except Mrs. General Grant, who was, of course, too well known to slip from memory. However, at the end of the day, I began to have a flickering and vague idea who some of them were. . . . Then Miss Stanton—of course I was brilliant about her. After I had more or less helped her over puddles and into ambulances for an hour or two, it occurred to me that the name of the Secretary of War was also Stanton. Then, after a period of rest, my mind roused itself to the brilliant hypothesis that this young lady might be the daughter of the Stanton who was Secretary of War. Once on this track, it did not take me over thirty minutes to satisfy myself that I actually had been rendering civilities to the offspring of him who holds the leash of the dogs of war! She is not a roarer, like her paternal, but very subdued and modest, and reminded me of the ci-devant Newport belle, Miss L C[lark]. . . . Likewise, may we here mention Bradlee père, a dried-up lawyer of New Jersey, after the fashion of the countenance of Professor Rogers. He was valiant and stuffed his trousers in his boots and clomb an exceeding tall horse, which so pleased another old party, Judge Woodruff, that he did likewise, and subsequently confessed to me that his last equestrian excursion was in 1834; from which I infer, that, at this present writing, Judge Woodruff’s legs are more or less totally useless to him as instruments of progression. He had a complement, his daughter, to whom I did not say much, as she had somebody, I forget who it was. Then we must mention, in a front place, the Lady Patroness, Mrs.H[arding], and the Noble Patron, Mr. H[arding]. These two seemed to take us all under their protection, and, so to speak, to run the machine. Mrs. was plump, fair, and getting towards forty. Mr. was of suitable age, stout, looked as if fond of good dinners, and apparently very tender on Mrs., for he continually smiled sweetly at her. Also he is a large legal gun and part proprietor of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Then there was a pale, no-account couple, Dr.and Mrs. G[rier]. The Doctor’s sister was Mrs. Smith, to whom Rosie attached himself with devotion that threatened the tranquillity of the absent S. All these, and more, were carted over to the Headquarters, where the General bowed them into his tent and cried out very actively: “Now Lyman, where are all my young men? I want all of them.” So I hunted all that were not already on hand, and they were introduced and were expected to make themselves as agreeable as possible. Without delay we were again en voyage (I, being sharp, got on a horse, which tended much to my physical comfort, prevented my conversation from being prematurely played out) and took the party to see the glories of the engineer camp and the chapel thereof; after which, to the model hospitals of the 6th Corps, of which Dr. [Silas Atherton]Holman is the Medical Director, who prides himself on doing everything without aid from the Sanitary, which he doubtless can do, when in winter quarters. It was like packing and unpacking so many boxes, to “aussteigen” and “einsteigen” all the females. We descended them, for the third time, at Fort Fisher, whence we showed them the Reb line and the big guns, and the signal tower of trestle work, 140 feet high. The next pilgrimage was a long one, as far as the 5th Corps Headquarters, on the left of the line. General Warren issued forth and welcomed the ladies to oranges, apples, grapes, crackers, cheese, ale, and cider, into the which the visitors walked with a vigor most commendable. By the time the males had made a considerable vacuum in the barrel of ale, Griffin’s division was ready for review, and thither we all went and found the gallant Humphreys, whom I carefully introduced to the prettiest young lady there, and expect to be remembered in his will for that same favor! A review of Crawford’s division followed, very beautiful, with the setting sun on the bayonets; and so home to an evening lunch, so to speak, whereat I opened my “pickles,” to the great delectation of both sexes. All this was dreamland novelty concentrated to the visitors, who departed with vehement thanks to us, well expressed by Mrs. Grant: “General Meade, I would far rather command an army, as you do, than live at City Point and have the position of Mr. Grant!” They were to have a dance that night on their boat at City Point, and politely and earnestly asked me to go down with them; but the point was not noticed by your loving hub.

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. 266. 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. 314-16. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Submission and Resignation (February 27, 1865)

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery.

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

George Meade had left the army for his home in Philadelphia on February 21, and arrived two days later. By then his oldest son, John Sergeant, was dead. He had died at 11 p.m. on the 21st of the tuberculosis he had been fighting for years. On the 26th, Meade received a telegram from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton calling him back out of fear that Robert E. Lee was stirring. Meade wrote this letter while still in Washington.

The mention of Winfield Scott Hancock is a reference to the general’s appointment as commander of the Department of West Virginia. He was replacing General George Crook, who had the misfortune of being captured while in bed by Confederate guerillas.

I take advantage of a delay, waiting to see the Secretary, to send you a few lines. I slept nearly all the journey, much to my surprise; but I was grateful it was so, as I feel in consequence much better than if I had lain awake all night.

Hardy Norris was very kind to me this morning, and accompanied me to the hotel, where we breakfasted, after which I came up here.

General Hancock left suddenly yesterday for Western Virginia. This has given rise to rumor of movements of Lee in that direction, but I have heard nothing reliable in this respect. I saw General Hooker this morning at breakfast. He was very affable and civil, and enquired particularly after you, expressing deep sympathy with us in our affliction. This feeling has been manifested by all whom I have met, including Senator Foster, Mr. Odell and others.

I hardly dare think of you in your lonely condition, surrounded by so many associations of our beloved boy. God have mercy on you and send you submission and resignation! No human reasoning can afford you or myself any consolation. Submission to God’s will, and the satisfaction arising from the consciousness that we did our duty by him, is all that is left us.

I shall leave here at 3 p.m., and will write to you on my arrival at my headquarters.

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. 264-5. Available via Google Books.

2015 Meade Symposium

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Armies. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence), George Meade, Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the armies in Washington. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence), George Meade, Secretary of the Navy Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

It’s safe to say that the 2015 Meade Symposium was a great success. There must have been at least 60 people present, despite severe cold and strong winds. The weather had been so bad, in fact, that one of the speakers, Ralph Peters, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia from his home in Virginia. Held in the beautiful conservatory building at West Laurel Hill Cemetery on Sunday, February 15, the symposium featured four speakers (myself included) who provided a cradle-to-grave summary of George Gordon Meade’s life. Dr. John Selby of Roanoke College spoke about Meade’s life up until the Civil War; Jerry McCormick picked up the story through the Battle of Chancellorsville; and Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, stood in for Col. Peters and covered the rest of the Civil War. I wrapped things up by talking about the last seven years of Meade’s life, which included incidents of murder, torture, armies of Irishmen, and the difficulties of Reconstruction.

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

If that weren’t enough, Jim Schmick of Civil War and More was there with a large selection of Civil War books for sale, and the Kearney Kommissary was on hand to provide a delicious lunch (plus wine and beer).

The conservatory provided an extremely picturesque setting for the day’s events, with large windows looking out over the cold and windswept cemetery. Just 200 yards away was the grave of Meade’s West Point classmate Herman Haupt, the Union’s railroad mastermind (and one of Meade’s critics). I wish I had the time to find his grave, as well as those of other notables buried there. One of those eternal residents is Francis Adams Donaldson, who journal of his experiences in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry provided the material for the book Inside the Army of the Potomac. I had used that book when I researched Searching for George Gordon Meade. It’s fascinating. Donaldson hated his commanding officer, so he contrived to get kicked out of the army, with the plan of visiting Abraham Lincoln in Washington and having the president give him an honorable discharge. It sounded like a far-fetched plan, but that is exactly what Donaldson did.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

Other celebrity residents include musicians Grover Washington, Jr., and Teddy Pendergrass. West Laurel Hill is a big, sprawling cemetery, with dozens of elaborate mausoleums, and I hope to go back on a warmer, greener day and explore.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade. The general watches me with trepidation.

As I said, this was a great event. It’s truly gratifying to see so many people with this kind of interest in history. And it wasn’t all seriousness, either. There were plenty of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. History should always be so much fun!

This is George Meade’s bicentennial year and I have a lot of talks scheduled. Next up are appearances before the round tables in Milwaukee and Chicago, and then talks at Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Later in the year I’m scheduled to speak in Richmond, at a Meade bicentennial event in Gettysburg, and at the Civil War Round Table at Philadelphia’s Union League in December. The year will end at the Meade 200th birthday commemoration at Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. Check out the event calendar for details.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

No Chance for Peace (February 13, 1865)

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar on February 15. Click here for more details.

The visit by the three Confederate peace commissioners has obviously failed to achieve any results. In George Meade’s opinion, another campaign appears inevitable. Spring approaches, and with it more fighting.

There is no chance for peace now. The South has determined to fight another campaign, and it is to be hoped the North will be equally united, and turn out men to fill up all our present armies and form others at the same time.

Grant returned from Washington to-day. He forgot to say anything about the court of inquiry, so I have to-day telegraphed Mr. Stanton, asking him to have the proceedings published.

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. 263. Available via Google Books.

The Vexed Question (December 4, 1864)

In this print, titled "Grant and his Generals," George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant's right (Library of Congress).

In this print, titled “Grant and his Generals,” George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant’s right (Library of Congress).

The “vexed question” of Meade’s promotion has been settled (although he will have to wait until February before the Senate gives its official seal of approval). In his notebook entry December 4, 1864, Theodore Lyman noted, “A telegraph came from [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton announcing to the General that he had been made a Major General in the regular army, to rank next to Sherman. Whereat he was right content.” Meade is now the country’s ’s fourth highest ranked officer, with only Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Halleck, and William T. Sherman ahead of him.

I send you a telegram from the Secretary and my reply, which will show you the vexed question is at last settled. Much of the gratification that ought justly to accompany such a reward has been destroyed by the manner of doing it; so that what might have been a graceful compliment became reduced to a simple act of justice. Well, let us be satisfied with this, and believe it was more a want of knowledge how to do such things than any unfriendly feeling which caused it.

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. 249. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

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.

The Case for Meade (November 16, 1864)

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. (Library of Congress).

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. This is the cover image for the 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar, which you can order through Lulu.com  (Library of Congress).

News of Philip Sheridan’s promotion spurs Theodore Lyman to write a stirring defense of General Meade. True, he overestimates Lee’s numbers at Gettysburg, but still. This is a fair statement of the case for General Meade, without taking anything away from Sheridan.

They have made Sheridan a Major-General in the Regular Army. I think he deserves it for that remarkable battle of Cedar Creek. Those of Opequon and of Fisher’s Hill were joyous occasions; but he ought to have won those, because his forces were probably at least as two to one, and his cavalry immeasurably superior; but this last battle was the thing that brought out his high merit. The language of the order is not to be commended, as it makes Sheridan a cat’s-paw to give McClellan an insulting hit. It is hard on Meade, and I think he feels it; during a long campaign, in many respects unprecedented in military history for its difficulties and its grandeur, he has handled an army, which has at times considerably exceeded 100,000 men; and that too under circumstances very trying to a man who has had a chief command; that is to say, obliged to take the orders and tactics of a superior, but made responsible for all the trying and difficult performance, which indeed is more than one half the game of war. I undertake to say that his handling of his troops, when a mistake would be the destruction of the entire plan, has been a wonder: without exaggeration, a wonder. His movements and those of Lee are only to be compared to two exquisite swordsmen, each perfectly instructed, and never erring a hair in attack or in defence. Of course, it is idle to tell such facts to people at large; they don’t understand, or care, or believe anything about it. It is true, the army has played what seems its destined role, to kill and to be killed without decisive actions, until both sides pause from mere exhaustion; but do people reflect what a tremendous effect all this has on the Rebels? that by wearing ourselves, we have worn them down, until they are turning every teamster into the ranks and (of all things) are talking of arming the negroes. Suppose there had been no army capable of clinging thus for months in a death-grapple, and still clinging and meaning to cling; what would have become of Sherman and his great work? The record of General Meade is a remarkably clear one. He has risen from a brigadier of volunteers to all the higher commands, by hard fighting and an experience that dates from the first days of McClellan. He has done better with the Army of the Potomac than McClellan, Pope, Burnside, or Hooker; and—I will add boldly and without disparagement to the Lieutenant-General—better than Grant! and you would agree with me did you know what power and what men Grant has had to command. Meade’s great virtue is, that he knows when to fight, and when not to fight. Taking up an army on the march, he fought and won the greatest battle of this war—Gettysburg—100,000 men against 110,000—a battle that saved Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia, and nobody knows what besides. He wouldn’t fight (assault) Lee at Williamsport, and immediately he was “timid, timid, timid!” Now look here: we assaulted at Spotsylvania, at Cool Arbor, at Petersburg, and were repulsed with perfect slaughter; after all that, if Lee had assaulted us in position what would, what would have become of him? Why, we would have used him up so, that he wouldn’t have known himself. Just turn this about and apply it to Gettysburg and reflect how “the people” are frequently semi-idiotic! He followed Lee to the Rappahannock and got orders to stop. In September he was to move and attack Lee on the Rapid Ann; the day before this move they took 20,000 men from him and sent West: it couldn’t be done to Grant. Then Lee marched on Centreville; Meade beat him and got there first; Lee wouldn’t fight and retreated (he also knows when not to fight). It was in just such a move that Pope was smashed all to pieces and driven into Washington. Then Meade forced the Rappahannock, and drove Lee in haste over the Rapid Ann. The Mine Run expedition followed; we did not go fast enough—that was unfortunate; but it would have been more unfortunate to have left 10,000 men on the slopes there. If Meade had lacked the great moral courage to say “retreat,” after having been called “timid” by the papers, and having been hounded on by Halleck and Stanton to “do something,” he would not only have got a disastrous defeat, but would have destroyed the plan of re-enlistments by which we obtained the very backbone of our army for this campaign. His “timidity” lies in this, that he will not try to build a house without enough of tools and timber. Lately, they have turned round, 180 degrees, and now call him “butcher”; but that does just as well—blow hot, blow cold. This is a fair statement. I don’t say he is Napoleon, Caesar and Alexander in one; only that he can handle 100,000 men and do it easy—a rare gift! Also, as Sherman and Sheridan, commanding the two other great armies, have been made regular Major-Generals, he too, who is doing his part, and has fought more than both of them put together, ought to have equal rank. General Grant, as far as I can hear, thinks everything of General Meade, and it is said will have him promoted like the others. I believe it will turn out that Sherman is our first military genius, while Sheridan is most remarkable as a “field fighter,” when the battle is actually engaged. Bless my soul! quelle lecture on my commanding General! Never mind, variety is the spice of life.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 270-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.