Too Darned Hot (June 25, 1864)

Both Meade and Lyman mention the hot, dry weather that made the Petersburg front miserable for both armies. In addition, Meade mentions the Crapsey or Cropsey affair and how it has helped erase his presence in the newspapers. The wound of Hancock’s he mentions is the one the general received on the third day at Gettysburg. David Bell Birney has been in command of the II Corps while Hancock recovers. Gibbon is John Gibbon, one of Hancock’s division commanders.

Francis Markoe Bache, Meade's nephew (Library of Congress).

Francis Markoe Bache, Meade’s nephew (Library of Congress).

Francis Markoe Bache was Meade’s nephew and had joined his uncle’s staff from the 16th U.S. Infantry. When Lyman first met him, he called Bache “a remarkably empty-headed and ill-bred young man.” The two aides did not speak to each other for several months, until Bache finally apologized for his rudeness. General Meade had served under Bache’s father—who had married one of his sister’s—building lighthouses before the war.

We have had for ten days past most intensely hot weather, and in consequence have desisted from carrying on any more active operations than were absolutely necessary. Grant being at City Point, some eight miles distant, I see but little of him. He paid me a visit of an hour or two day before yesterday.

I received a few days ago a very kind letter from Cortlandt Parker, expressing much consideration for me in my present position, and saying it was well known how much of the work I was doing, and how little of the credit I was getting. Among other matters he alluded to the Cropsey affair, and said he was at George Harding’s when his brother came in with the news. Both the Hardings, he said, were quite excited, George the less so of the two; and Cortlandt thought he convinced him I was right, and advised me to write to him to endeavor to smooth it over. This I do not see how I can very well do, because I got Markoe Bache to write to him when the affair occurred, and to send him Cropsey’s confession, which he made, hoping by its publication in the Inquirer to get off. I asked Markoe to tell Mr. Harding that, as I could not let Cropsey off, he was at liberty to do as he pleased about the letter, though in my judgment the cause of truth and justice demanded its publication. The letter was never published, and the public are to this day ignorant of the real character of Cropsey’s offense.

Hancock’s wound discharged a big piece of bone the other day, and since then he has rapidly improved, and expects in a day or two to return to duty. In the meantime Birney has done very well.

Gibbon, whom I suppose you know I have finally succeeded in getting promoted, has been under the weather, but was about to-day.

And now Lyman, who remains busy serving as tour guide for the army’s two French guests.

I can only say that I have “sweltered” to-day—that is the word; not only has it been remarkably broiling, but this region is so beclouded with dust and smoke of burning forests, and so unrelieved by any green grass, or water, that the heat is doubled. We have had no drop of rain for twenty days, and but a stray shower for over a month. It is hardly necessary to say that neither army is what it was: the loss of a large proportion of the best officers, the nervous prostration of the men, the immense destruction of life, all tend to injure the morale and discipline and skill of both parties. As to the next step, I do not know; Grant is as calm and as apparently sure as ever. I have got from the region of fighting now, to the realm of lying idle, and it will not be so easy to fill a daily sheet. General Meade asked me to show the Gauls somewhat about; so I clapped them on their two horses, which they had from General Grant, and took them by easy stages to General Wright near by. The good General was comfortably in the woods. I say comfortably, because everything is relative. I mean he had his tents pitched and had iced water, two important elements. He speaks no French—De Chanal no English—so they smiled sweetly at each other. Old D. C. ought to be ashamed of himself. He married an American wife, but, like a true Gaul, utterly refused to learn a word of English. It is ever a part of a Frenchman’s religion to speak no language but his own. Little grasshopper Guzman chirped away and made up for two. Then Colonel Kent rode out with us, as a matter of politeness (for I knew that part of the line as well as he), and we showed them how our men made breastworks of rails, logs, and earth; how they lived and cooked; and all sorts of things. After which I took them out towards the picket line and showed them the country, and a tract of dense, young pines, through which our men advanced in double lines—a feat which I can never understand, but which is performed nevertheless. By this time, both distinguished foreigners being powdered a la marquise, I took them home, only showing them, before coming in, one more thing, only too characteristic of our war—the peculiar graves of our soldiers, marked each by a piece of cracker-box, with the man’s name in pencil, or hastily cut with a knife. I recollect sitting on the high bank of the Rapid Ann, at Germanna Ford, and watching the 5th and 6th Corps as they marched up from the pontoon bridges; and I remember thinking how strange it would be if each man who was destined to fall in the campaign had some large badge on! There would have been Generals Sedgwick, Wadsworth, and Rice, and what crowds of subordinate officers and of privates, all marching gaily along, unconscious, happily, of their fate.

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. 208-9. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 178-80. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.