Brevets (December 6, 1864)

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. An engineer like Meade, he was also criticized for being cautious and methodical (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. An engineer like Meade, he was also criticized for being cautious and methodical (Library of Congress).

Today both George Meade and Theodore Lyman write home about brevets, and Lyman provides a full explanation of these honorary promotions. Meade also mentions his anxiety about Maj. Gen. George Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland. Thomas, a Virginian, had thrown in his lot with the Union at the start of the war and earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga” at that 1863 battle. When William T. Sherman left Atlanta on his march to the sea, Thomas headed north to deal with John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee. Meade was not the only general to worry if “old Thomas” would come out all right; Grant was prepared to relieve him of command if he did not attack Hood. In the end, the methodical Thomas nearly annihilated Hood’s army at the battles of Franklin and Nashville.

To-night my commission, or rather letter of appointment, as major general in the regular army, to date from August 18th, 1864, has arrived. George has also received the appointment of major, by brevet, for gallantry and meritorious conduct on the campaign. Jim Biddle is also made lieutenant colonel, by brevet, for the same reasons. These appointments do not give them any increase of pay, but are an acknowledgment of the performance of their duty, and as such are much valued. I think I have reason to be proud that all my recommendations, amounting to two hundred, have been approved.

To-morrow I send off an expedition under Warren, which I trust will result in something decisive, as we are all anxious to have matters on a more settled basis than they now are before the winter.

I feel some anxiety about Thomas in Tennessee. I think I wrote you some time ago, when I first heard of Sherman’s movement, that its success would depend on Thomas’s capacity to cope with Hood. I think it was expected Sherman’s movement would draw Hood back to Georgia, but I anticipated just what he appears to be doing—a bold push for Kentucky, which, if he succeeds in, will far outbalance any success Sherman may have in going from Atlanta to the sea coast. Sherman took with him the largest part of his army, when he did not expect to meet any organized opposition, leaving Thomas with the lesser force to confront and oppose Hood, with the whole of his organized forces. I trust old Thomas will come out all right, but the news is calculated to create anxiety.

This letter of Lyman’s contains one of my favorite passages about Meade, when the general, in rare good humor, laughs and jokes with his staff as they receive their brevet promotions.

There arrived Captain Alden, with 253 brevets, of all grades, for the Army of the Potomac. Do you know what a brevet is, and the force thereof? A brevet commission gives the dignity, but not always the pay or the authority, of the rank it confers. If, for example, a colonel is breveted general, he may wear the stars and may rank as general on courts-martial, but, unless he be specially assigned by the President, he has only the command of a colonel, just as before. A colonel brevetted general in the regular army draws the pay of a general when assigned to duty by the President; but a brevet in the volunteers can under no circumstances bring additional pay. Brevets, like other appointments by the President, must be confirmed by the Senate before they become permanent. At any rate, however, they last from the time of appointment to the time of their rejection by the Senate. The object of brevets is to pay compliments to meritorious officers without overburdening the army with officers of high rank.

As aforesaid, there came a grist of these papers in all grades, from 1st lieutenant up to major-general. All the Headquarters’ Staff, with few exceptions, were brevetted one grade, in consequence of which I should not wonder if the Senate rejected the whole bundle! Barstow is Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel; Biddle, ditto; Duane has two brevets, which brings him to a full Colonel, and will give him a colonel’s pay, if he can be assigned, as they are in the regular army. We are all very melancholy over General Williams, who, though one of the most deserving officers in the whole army, could not be brevetted because that would make him rank the Adjutant-General of the whole army, Brigadier-General Thomas. They were not so careful to except Barnard, whom they formerly made a Major-General though his chief, Delafield, was only a Brigadier. It is to be considered, however, that Major-General Barnard had found leisure from his military duties to publish a criticism on the Peninsular Campaign, or, in other words, a campaign document against McClellan, which is a circumstance that alters cases. I should say, that the statement that General Meade was only a Brevet MajorGeneral in the regular service was a mistake naturally arising from the confusion with the other letters of appointment. .. .

General Grant was at the Headquarters for about an hour. He brought with him Captain de Marivault, a French naval officer and a very gentlemanly man. I took him as far as Fort Wadsworth, and showed him it and the neighboring line. He has had great chances of seeing this war, as he was at New Orleans, and, later, Admiral Dahlgren allowed him to go into Charleston, where he even went about in the city. Oh! I forgot to mention, in particular, that Rosencrantz is brevetted a Major, at which he is much pleased. There followed much merriment in the camp over shoulder-straps, those who had been promoted giving theirs to the next grade below. Majors’ straps were scarcest and were in great demand. The General was in high spirits (as he might well be, with a letter of appointment in his pocket) and stood in front of his tent, joking with his aides, a very rare performance with him. “Now here’s Lyman,” said he, looking like Mephistopheles in good humor, “he has no brevet, but I am going to write to the Governor of Massachusetts to make him a Field Marshal.” Whereat he rubbed the side of his long nose, as he always does when he laughs.

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. 249-50. 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. 289-91. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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All’s Well! (November 19, 1864)

Theodore Lyman gives us a taste of life in camp. Even when nothing happens, he finds a way to make it amusing.

The rain continued, being cold, by way of variety, and from the northeast; whereby it happened that we got no mail. Be-cause what? as small Co says. Well, because the captain of that gallant ship went and ran her aground somewhere on a shoal which they told me the name of—whereat I was no wiser. The result to us was disastrous; when I say to us, I mean our mess; for the chef, Mercier, (no relation of French minister) was on board with many good eatables for us, but in the confusion, the knavish soldiery, who were on board as passengers, did break the boxes and did eat much and destroy and waste more. “Aussi,” said little Mercier, “they broke many bottles; but,” he continued, with the air of a good man, whom a higher power had protected, “that made no difference, for they belonged to other people!” In the night we were favored with quite a disturbance. The officer of the guard, who had possibly been storing his mind from some mediaeval book on the ordering of warders in a walled town, suddenly conceived an idea that it was proper for the sentries to call the hours. So we were waked from the prima quies by loud nasal and otherwise discordant cries of: “Post number eight! Half-past twelve! All’s well!” etc., etc. The factionaries evidently considered it a good joke, and, as they had to keep awake, determined no one else should sleep; and so roared often and loud. Some of the officers, hastily roused, fancied the camp was on fire; others conceived the sentinels were inebriated; others that Mosby was in the camp; and others again, like myself, didn’t think anything about it, but growled and dropped off again to sleep. “What was that howling?” said the testy General, at breakfast. “Yes, what did the confounded fools mean?” added the pacific Humphreys. But the most indignant personage was Rosencrantz. “I do svear!” he exclaimed, “this whole night have I not a single vink slept. It is not enough that those sentry fellows should tell us vat time it is, but they must also be screaming to me a long speech besides! Vat do I care vat time it is; and if all is vell, vy can they not keep it to themselves, and not be howling it in my ears and vaking me up? This is the most fool tings I have seen!” You may be sure that was the first and last of the warders.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 276-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Nobody Hurt (November 17, 1864)

Meade's aide Frederick Rosenkrantz, in a detail from Alexander Gardner's photo "Studying the Art of War" (Library of Congress).

Meade’s aide Frederick Rosenkrantz, in a detail from Alexander Gardner’s photo “Studying the Art of War.” About Rosenkrantz, Gardner wrote, “A very reliable soldier, and one of the best Aids on the Staff, his genial disposition, unfailing amiability, and keen appreciation of humor, made him acceptable everywhere. He was probably as well known as any officer in the field.” (Library of Congress).

George Meade writers to his oldest son, who is slowly dying of tuberculosis back in Philadelphia. He covers some of the same topics he had written about to his wife previously. “Owen Meredith” was the pen name for Robert Bulwer-Lytton, an English author who also served as the Viceroy of India. He was the son of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the man for whom the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, for the best bad writing, is named. “Lucille” was one of the younger Bulwer-Lytton’s most popular poems.

Theodore Lyman also wrote home about the story of Meade aide Frederick Rosenkrantz and the British visitors.

Well, the election is over, and nobody hurt. In the army it passed off very quietly, Mr. Lincoln receiving two votes to McClellan’s one. This result was fully anticipated by me—indeed, McClellan’s vote was larger than I expected.

The election being over, it is now to be hoped the earnest attention and best energies of the Government and people will be devoted to raising and sending men enough so to swell our armies that our onward movement will be irresistible, and the Confederacy convinced that further resistance is useless. There are significant signs that our enemies are beginning to feel the exhaustion and effects of a three years’ war. Among these the most important is the proposition of Mr. Davis to arm forty thousand slaves, who are to receive their freedom as a boon for faithful services. They are to be employed, it is ingeniously said, as engineer troops, and to act as a reserve to be called on in an emergency. This is a plausible disguise, to sound the temper of the Southern people on the question of arming and freeing the slaves. Nothing but the conviction of the necessity of this measure could ever have justified its enunciation. It has produced the most violent discussions pro and con in the Southern journals, and bids fair to be as great a firebrand with them as it has been with us. My own judgment is it will be abandoned, for although the number as yet is fixed at forty thousand, as a test, to see if the negroes can be relied on and will fight, I believe that the experiment will prove that the arming the slaves is more dangerous to the Confederacy than to us. I have no doubt that many will be faithful to their masters, but the great body will, after being armed, desert to us or go back to their homes. Now, in view of the position the South has always taken on this subject the change of ground can only be attributed to desperation, and a conviction that the war in its present gigantic proportions cannot much longer be carried on by the whites at the South. Should this theory be correct, the end cannot be far distant, when we have such armies in the field, as we ought to and I hope soon will have.

I have recently picked up a story in verse by Owen Meredith, called “Lucille.” I don’t suppose you are well enough to read a great deal. The story is quite interesting, and told with much pathos, though I don’t think the poetry very superior.

We have recently had an influx of John Bulls in the form of officers and others. You would have been delighted to see the admirable display of whiskers, fine clothes, etc. An amusing incident occurred with Rosencrantz, who was showing a couple of them our lines. On finding him a foreigner, they were delighted and said, now you can tell us what the American officers really think of us. “Veil,” said Rosey, “they no like you, they say,’ven this war be over they vill take Canada.'” “God bless me, you don’t say so,” they exclaimed, and did not ask Rosey any more questions of this nature. Approaching a part of the lines, where it was dangerous from sharpshooters, Rosey said they had better not go, but they pooh-poohed him, and he started on. Pretty soon the balls began to fly pretty thick and close, when they changed their mind, expostulated, and finally begged Rosey to turn back, but he had his dander up and replied, “No, ve vill go on, ve vill go on,” and go on he did, and return, fortunately without any one being hit.

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. 242-3. Available via Google Books.

Petty Tyranny (October 17, 1864)

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman grumbles about what he sees as political favoritism and retribution within the Army of the Potomac. Colonel Collis was Charles Collis, who had commanded the 114th Pennsylvania, the zouave regiment that served as Meade’s headquarters guard. McMahon is Martin T. McMahon, whose brother James had, indeed, fallen at Cold Harbor (which Lyman insists on calling Cool Arbor). His other brother, John, died of wounds he received while in command of the 164th New York. The problem with Lyman’s story about Martin being dismissed from the army for his pro-McClellan talk, though, is that McMahon was not mustered out until February 1866. There’s an interesting article about the McMahon brothers here.

In his next letter Meade will mention the dignitaries who graced the army with their presence, but the general will not be nearly as amusing in his descriptions as Lyman. I particularly like Lyman’s remark that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton “looks like his photographs, only more so.” The Fessenden with the “Palmer leg” (an artificial limb that included a knee joint) was Francis,  the son of Maine senator William P. Fessenden, who had replaced Salmon Chase as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury. Young Fessenden had lost the leg while commanding a brigade under Nathaniel Banks during the Red River Campaign. Once again Lyman provides an anecdote about hapless aide James C. Biddle.

It is indeed not difficult to get material for a grumble, if one will but look about in this world. You see I can’t be enthusiastic about such a government as Lincoln’s, when I see, under my nose, the petty tyranny and persecution they practise against subordinate officers. Now there is Colonel Collis, a petty, scheming political officer; he sends letters to newspapers and despatches to Mr. Stanton about the enthusiasm for Lincoln in the army, etc., etc. Nothing is said to him; that is all right; he has an opinion, as he ought to have. But there is Lieutenant-Colonel McMahon, lately Adjutant-General of the 6th Corps, an excellent soldier, whose brother fell at the head of a charge at Cool Arbor, and who himself had been in all the battles: he is a McClellan man, as was natural in one of General Sedgwick’s Staff. He talks very openly and strongly about his side, as he has a right to do. What is the consequence? He is, without any warning, mustered out of the service! That is to say, a soldier who don’t agree with the Administration must be got rid of; it is nothing in his favor that he has exposed his life in twenty different actions. You would scarcely credit the number of such cases as this, cases of petty spite, fitting rather to a bad-tempered child than to a great and dignified cabinet minister. They suffer chances of victory to pass, rather than take voters from states. They send down three brevets of brigadiers, only one of which has been recommended by General Meade; and all three are men from the much dreaded and uncertain state of Pennsylvania. Don’t think I am a grumbler; all this wickedness and smallness and selfishness is a part of humanity, and to be expected; but don’t ask me to be enthusiastic for such people. There were a parcel of them down here to-day; bah! the sight of them is enough!

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

As we sat at breakfast there came a despatch saying that Hon. Secretary Stanton, with a long tail, might be looked for, per rail, very presently. It is an historical fact that General Meade expressed his gratification at this deep honor, in the following terms: “The devil! I shan’t have time to smoke my cigar.” Immediately I got on my double-barreled coat, with a sash withal, and a pair of white cotton gloves; but there was plenty of time to smoke a cigar, for they didn’t get along for an hour or two, and then the greatest posse of large bugs! First, on horseback, Generals Grant, Meigs (Quartermaster-General), Barnard, Eaton (Commissary-General), Barnes (Surgeon-General), Fessenden (with a Palmer leg). Then, in ambulances, Fessenden’s papa, the Secretary of the Treasury, a sharp, keen, quiet-looking man; Hon. Secretary Stanton, who looks like his photographs, only more so; Hon. Sim. Draper and Mr. Barney, twin New York politicians. The former had a very large, long nose, and a very round and abrupt waistcoat, so that he resembled a good-natured pelican, just after a surfeit of sprats. General Meade received them with his usual high ceremony. He walked out of his tent, with his hands in his pockets, said, “Hullo, how are you?” and removed one hand, for the purpose of extending it to Grant, who lighted down from his horse, put his hands in his pockets, and sat down on a camp chair. The pelican came up and bobbed at the Meade, as did his friend. We carted them all to see Fort Wadsworth, where Rosencrantz swears that Mr. Stanton, on being informed that there was only a picket line between him and the enemy, pulled out his watch and said they really must be going back! which indeed they did. When the train started with its precious freight of military and diplomatic jewels, General Meade accompanied it, with Biddle, Mason and Rosencrantz. It would appear that they encountered, at City Point, Admiral Porter with Mrs. P. and another lady, who came, on their return, as far as Hancock’s Headquarters. The hospitable H. did thereat cause supper to be set forth, for it was now dark, and the General, with much talk and good humor, took root there; for he is death to hold on, when he gets talking and in company he likes. At nine o’clock came the galliant Generale, with his aides, whereof Rosencrantz and Mason were bursting to tell something good; whereas Biddle had a foolish and deprecatory air. It immediately was related, midst loud shouts, how, at City Point Grant had given General Meade a bunch of cigars to beguile the way of himself, Admiral Porter, and some other guests going to the front. The Chief handed them to Biddle, asking him to take charge of them for the present. Now B. has few equals in the power of turning things end for end; and so he at once and clearly understood that he [was] made a sort of almoner of tobacco, and proceeded to distribute the cigars in the most liberal manner, to everybody who would either smoke or pocket them! The Staff and bystanders asked no questions, but puffed away at Grant’s prime Havanas. Arrived at Hancock’s and supper done, the General said to Porter: “I think now is the moment to enjoy those good cigars!” Out comes “Shaw,” the faithful servitor. “Oh, if you please, Major, the Gen’ral sends his compliments, sir: and would like that bunch of cigars, sir.” Biddle immediately assumed the attitude indicated in the accompanying drawing! and the curtain dropped. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 247-50. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Visit to Butler (July 22, 1864)

Alfred Waud sketched the activity at Point of Rocks near Benjamin Butler's headquarters (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud sketched the activity at Point of Rocks near Benjamin Butler’s headquarters (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman, French observer Francois De Chanal and Meade aide Frederick “Rosie” Rosenkrantz pay a visit to Benjamin Butler. The general gives them a hint about one of his great schemes of the war, his idea of reducing Confederate fortifications by exploding barges stuffed with gunpowder next to them. Butler will try this out in December against Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and, as De Chanal predicts, it will prove a miserable failure. But while it does no damage to the Confederates, the barge will blow up Butler’s military career. By the time of the Fort Fisher fiasco, the presidential election will be over and Grant will have a free hand to remove this politically connected general from the Army of the James.

Of course, even as Lyman visits Butler and the Army of the James, the Army of the Potomac is preparing its own big explosion, one that will also damage some military careers.

I had one of the most amusing excursions that I have had during the campaign—really quite a picnic. Colonel de Chanal, Rosy, and myself made the party. The distance to Butler’s Headquarters, whither we were bound, is about eight miles, and the road all the way was either through the woods or shaded by trees, and the dust had not yet had time to show its head after the rain. It was a new part of the country to me and very interesting. We struck the Appomattox at the Point of Rocks, where the river appears double by reason of a long, swampy island in the middle. The width, between the two steep, high, gravelly banks, cannot be less than 350 yards. Here is a pontoon bridge, and, near each end of it, on the top of the bank, a fort for its defence. Below it, too, lies a gunboat. Crossing this, we soon came to the Great Ben’s, who received us very hospitably, and exhibited a torpedo and a variety of new projectiles, the virtues of which in the destruction of the human race I explained in pure Gallic to the Colonel. During dinner he said to me: “They spoiled a good mechanic when they made me a lawyer, and a good lawyer when they made me general.” He delivered a long exposition (which I translated) on the virtues of a huge powder-boat, which he would explode between Moultrie and Sumter, by clockwork, and not only flatten both forts, but Charleston into the bargain! De Chanal replied (citing examples) that no such result would follow and that the effect would be limited to a very small radius. “No effect!” cried B., suddenly bursting into French, “mais pourquoi non?” “Ah,” said De C, with his sharp French eye, “mais pourquoi si?” . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 193-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Great Peppery (June 24, 1864)

We begin our accounts of June 24, 1864, with General Meade’s report home to his wife. It is a very clear-eyed letter, explaining the pressures the army has been operating under and what the commanding general feels will be necessary for the Union to obtain victory. And victory is Meade’s goal here.

Following the general’s letter is one from Theodore Lyman as he examines the behavior of “the Great Peppery.” Lyman, for the most part, maintains a positive view of Both men write about the army’s need for more men.his boss but he is not unwilling to write about his various personal shortcomings, especially the legendary temper.

Both men write about the army’s need for more men.

In his book of Lyman’s journals, David W. Lowe identifies the two Frenchmen as Lt. Col. François De Chanal and Capt. Pierre Guzman, sent by Napoleon III as observers.

Our operations here for the last few days, though not so heavy as prior to the 18th, have still been very active. We have been extending our lines around Petersburg, and have encountered considerable opposition from the enemy, which has somewhat checked the rapidity of our progress.

I am sorry to see the feeling you report as existing with certain persons. Despondency is never going to get us through this war, and although this army has not accomplished all that ignorant people anticipated, it has really done more than could reasonably have been counted on. Our losses, it is true, have been large, but not larger than is incidental to operations of the character of ours, being offensive, and conducted on so grand a scale, with such numbers. Fifty days’ constant marching and fighting has undoubtedly had its influence on the army, and its condition is not what it was when we first crossed the Rapidan.

On the 18th I assaulted several times the enemy’s positions, deliberately, and with the expectation of carrying them, because I had positive information the enemy had not occupied them more than twelve hours, and that no digging had been done on the lines prior to their occupation. Nevertheless, I failed, and met with serious loss, principally owing to the moral condition of the army; for I am satisfied, had these assaults been made on the 5th and 6th of May, we should have succeeded with half the loss we met.

Another inconvenience we suffer from is in the loss of superior and other officers. Hancock’s Corps has lost twenty brigade commanders, and the rest of the army is similarly situated. We cannot replace the officers lost with experienced men, and there is no time for reorganization or careful selection. At the same time you must remember the enemy labors under like disadvantages. I conversed with some prisoners yesterday, who said they were completely exhausted, having had no rest or sleep for days, and being compelled to be all the time marching. I said to one of them, “Well, we will treat you well,” and he replied, “Oh, sir, you cannot treat us worse than we are treated on the other side.” In flags of truce, and on all occasions that we meet the rebel officers, they always begin conversation by asking when the war is going to be over, and expressing themselves as most heartily tired and anxious for peace. I believe these two armies would fraternize and make peace in an hour, if the matter rested with them; not on terms to suit politicians on either side, but such as the world at large would acknowledge as honorable, and which would be satisfactory to the mass of people on both sides. But while I ardently desire peace, and think a settlement not impracticable, I am opposed to any cessation of our efforts so long as the war has to be continued, and I regret to see symptoms of a discontent which, if persisted in, must paralyze our cause. Again, it is impossible for me personally to avoid my share of the odium, if any is to be cast on this army. I complain, and I think justly, that the press and the Government despatches fail to acknowledge my services, but I cannot reasonably do this, and expect to be shielded from complaints, if any are made of the operations.

You know I have never shut my eyes to the obstacles we have to encounter, and have always appreciated the difficulties to be overcome. The campaign, thus far, has been pretty much what I expected; if anything, rather greater obstacles than I anticipated. I still believe, with the liberal supply of men and means which our superior resources ought to furnish, we will win in the long run; but it is a question of tenacity and nerve, and it won’t do to look behind, or to calculate the cost in blood and treasure; if we do we are lost and our enemies succeed. You may remember I told the good people of Philadelphia, that what we wanted was men, fighting men; that the war could only be closed by desperate and bloody fighting; and the sooner the people realize this, and give evidence of their appreciation by coming forward to fight, the better.

I am well and seem to improve on hard work. I have had only three hours’ sleep for several nights past.

Here’s Lyman’s report, also from June 24. It provides some more close up views of “the Great Peppery” in action:

James C. Biddle, one of Meade's aides. He came from a good Philadelphia family but, as David W. Lowe notes in his book of Lyman's journals, "He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor" (Library of Congress).

James C. Biddle, one of Meade’s aides. He came from a good Philadelphia family but, as David W. Lowe notes in his book of Lyman’s journals, “He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor” (Library of Congress).

It is praise not to be pitched into by the Great Peppery: and he is very kind to me. To be sure, I watch him, as one would a big trout on a small hook, and those who don’t, catch volleys at all hours! Poor [James] Biddle, for instance, an excellent, bettyish sort of man, with no fragment of tact, when the General is full of anxiety for something that is not going right, is sure to come in, in his stuttering way, with “Ah, aw, hem, aw, General, they are going to pitch camp in a very sandy, bad place, sir; you will not be at all comfortable, and there is a nice grassy—” “Major Biddle!!!”—and then follows the volley. Sometimes it is very effective to contradict the General, provided you stick to it and are successful. I came in last night, feeling cross and not at all caring for commanders of armies or other great ones of this earth. “Well, Lyman, you’re back, are you?” “Yes, sir: I reported that the enemy were moving along our rear, but they got no further than—” “Rear! not at all! they were moving along the front.” “No, sir, they were not, they were moving along our rear.” “What do you mean by that? There is Russell, and there is Ricketts, and here is Wheaton; now of course that’s your front.” “Russell isn’t in such a position, sir, nor Wheaton either. They face so (dabs with a pencil), so that is our rear and can’t be anything else.” Whereupon the good chief graciously said no more. I do not know that he ever said anything pleasant about me except the day after the Wilderness battles, when I heard Hancock say that “Colonel Lyman had been useful to him, the day before.” To which the General replied: “Yes, Lyman is a clear-headed man.” I have heard him volunteer several favorable things about Captain Sanders; also he has remarked that Old Rosey (my tent-mate) [Frederick Rosenkrantz] was good at finding roads; and that is pretty much all of his praises, whereof no man is more sparing. By the way, old Rosey has his commission as captain. One thing I do not like—it is serious—and that is, that three years of bitter experience have failed to show our home people that, to an army on active campaign (or rather furious campaign), there must be supplied a constant stream of fresh men—by thousands. What do we see? Everyone trying to persuade himself that his town has furnished its “quota.” But where are they? We have large armies, but nothing compared with the paper statements. No! The few produced by drafts in good part run away; so too many of the “volunteers”—miserable fellows bought with money. None are shot—that is unmerciful—but the Powers that Be will let brave, high-toned men, who scorn to shirk their duty, be torn with canister and swept away with musketry, and that is inevitable.

This morning appeared General Grant with two French officers, who since have taken up their quarters with us and mess with us. They are two artillery officers, the elder a Colonel de Chanal, the other a Captain Guzman, both sent as a commission to observe the progress of the campaign. The Colonel is a perfect specimen of an old Frenchman, who has spent most of his life in provincial garrisons, in the study of all sorts of things, from antiquities down to rifled projectiles. He has those extraordinary, nervous legs, which only middle-aged Frenchmen can get, and is full of various anecdotes. Many years he has lived in Toulouse. The other is young and little and looks like a black-eyed and much astonished grasshopper. He is very bright, speaks several languages, and was on the Chinese expedition. General Grant staid some time in council, and took dinner with us. I was amused at him, for, the day being warm, he began taking off his coat before he got to the tent; and by the time he had said, “How are you, Meade?” he was in his shirt-sleeves, in which state he remained till dinner-time. He attempted no foreign conversation with the Gauls, simply observing; “If I could have turned the class the other end to, I should have graduated at West Point, very high in French”!

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. 206-8. 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. 176-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.