Defending Meade (December 12, 1863)

Theodore Lyman defends his boss. As time passes it becomes more certain that Meade will remain in command of the Army of the Potomac. I do not know who he means by his reference to the “Hon. Kellogg,” but the quote Lyman credits to him does remind me of something from a letter Meade wrote back in December 20, 1862, just after the Battle of Fredericksburg.It is understood [General in Chief Henry] Halleck says: ‘This army shall go to Richmond, if it has to go on crutches,’ which (as over ten thousand cripples were made the other day) seems likely to occur before long.”

I still think, and more strongly than ever, that no change will be made in our chief command; and those who have been to Washington think the same. I am more and more struck, on reflection, with General Meade’s consistency and self-control in refusing to attack. His plan was a definite one; from fault of his inferiors it did not work fast enough to be a success; and he had firmness to say, the blow has simply failed and we shall only add disaster to failure by persisting. By this time the officers here know just about how well the Rebels fight, and what we have a reasonable expectation of taking, and what not. It should be remembered, also, as a fundamental fact, that this line is not approved as a line of operations, and never has been; but we are forced to work on it. Those who think that (according to the Hon. Kellogg) “it would be better to strew the road to Richmond with the dead bodies of our soldiers rather than that there should nothing be done!” may not be content; but those who believe it best to fight when you want to, and not when your enemy wants to, will say simply they are sorry nothing could be effected, but glad that there was no profitless slaughter of troops that cannot be replaced.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p 61. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Courtesy Call (March 30, 1863)

When Meade’s fellow generals passed through Philadelphia they often paid visits to Margaret Meade. Her husband always appreciated such courtesy and often mentioned the visits in his letters. Here he’s writing about William Franklin, the embattled former head of the VI Corps, who had become the target of a Congressional inquiry over his actions at Fredericksburg.

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

I am truly glad to hear Franklin called to see you. I am sure you will bear testimony to the respect and good feeling I have always expressed towards Franklin, and my earnest desire to avoid being drawn into the controversy between himself and Burnside. I think Franklin missed a great chance at Fredericksburg, and I rather infer from his letter that he thinks so now; but I have always said he was hampered by his orders and a want of information as to Burnside’s real views and plans. A great captain would have cast them aside and assumed responsibility. At the same time I must say that he knew and I know that if he had failed, then his going beyond his orders would prove utter ruin.

Deserters from the other side say the men are really suffering from the want of sufficient food, but that their spirit is undaunted, and that they are ready to fight. The morale of our army is better than it ever was, so you may look out for tough fighting next time.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 362. Available via Google Books.