Photo Sessions (June 1864)

Writing in his journal on June 11, Theodore Lyman noted, “In the leisure of these last few days we have had the apparition of Brady, who photographed the General & whole staff.” Photographer Mathew Brady and his men were very busy around June 11 and 12, 1864. Before the Army of the Potomac embarked on its ambitious flanking movement down to the James River, Brady set out to photograph various Union generals, from Ulysses S. Grant on down. He managed to get Grant, Meade, Hancock (II Corps), Wright (VI Corps), Burnside (IX Corps), and “Baldy” Smith (XVIII Corps) but had to wait to arrange a session with Gouverneur Warren (V Corps). Below are the photographs the Brady team took that day. The illustrated papers of the day used photographs as the basis for their engravings, and I’ve posted some examples of those here as well. (All images from the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge any image).


An iconic image of Ulysses S. Grant in front of his headquarters tent at Cold Harbor.


Grant along, with photographer Brady appearing at the edges. This appears to be half of a stereo image.

Grant along, with photographer Brady appearing at the edges.


Grant and his staff.

Grant and his staff.


Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana.


George Meade at Cold Harbor.

George Meade at Cold Harbor.


General Meade and his staff. Provost Marshall Marsena Patrick (the man with the white beard seated next to Andrew Humphreys) had grumbled in a letter, "I doubt it will [prove] a good picture," but Meade was delighted, thinking it "the best picture I ever saw; each face being so distinct."

General Meade and his staff. Provost Marshall Marsena Patrick (the man with the white beard seated next to Andrew Humphreys) had grumbled in a letter, “I doubt it will [prove] a good picture,” but Meade was delighted, thinking it “the best picture I ever saw; each face being so distinct.” Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls stands to the right of Meade. Theodore Lyman is in the rear behind Ingalls, looking to the side with his hat at a jaunty angle.

The image of Meade and his staff as translated into a Harper's engraving.

The image of Meade and his staff as translated into a Harper’s engraving.


Winfield Scott Hancock and staff.

Winfield Scott Hancock of the II Corps with his staff and division commanders.


The above image as it appeared in Harper's.

The above image as it appeared in Harper’s.


VIC Corps commander Horatio Wright and staff.

VI Corps commander Horatio Wright and staff.


IX Corps commander Ambrose Burnside and staff.

IX Corps commander Ambrose Burnside and staff.


The above image in Harper's.

The above image in Harper’s.


Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff members at Cold Harbor, 1864. That's photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat.

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff members at Cold Harbor, 1864. That’s photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat.


William F. "Baldy" Smith of the XVIII Corps and his staff.

William F. “Baldy” Smith of the XVIII Corps and his staff.

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.

A Change in Command (January 26, 1863)


Alfred Waud’s impression of the Army of the Potomac near Falmouth, Virginia, in January 1863 (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside.

Ambrose Burnside (Library of Congress).

Continuing the series of George Gordon Meade’s letters, posted here 150 years to the day after he wrote them. These were interesting times for the Army of the Potomac. Burnside’s “Mud March” had come to an ignominious conclusion and Ambrose Burnside’s days in command of the army seemed numbered. Meade wrote not one but two letters to his wife on January 26, 1863, to fill her in on what was happening.

We are much excited by rumors of what is going to be done. It is generally believed Burnside is in Washington, though when you go to see him, as I did yesterday, you are informed he is out riding.

This war will never be terminated until one side or the other has been well whipped, and this result cannot be brought about except by fighting. Hence, although I like fighting as little as any man, yet if it has to be done, and I don’t see how it can be avoided, I am of Shakespeare’s opinion, “if it were done, then ‘t were well it were done quickly.”

I send you three letters which I think you will be interested in reading, and which you may as well keep as mementoes of the war. The first is from Levi Richards, a private in the Pennsylvania Reserves, who was detailed as a teamster and drove my wagon while I was connected with the Reserves. His letter is spontaneous, he having nothing, as he says, to gain by it, as we are now separated, but it is gratifying to me as an evidence of the opinion entertained of me by the soldiers of my command. [For text of the letter, see below.]  The second is from Surgeon Pineo, one of the most accomplished officers of his department, who was under me, while I had command of the First Corps, as medical director. He asked me to recommend him for promotion, which I did, and his letter in reply shows what some officers think of me. The other is from Hon. William Wilkins, formerly judge in Pennsylvania, Senator and Secretary of War. He desires a favor for his grandson, but he is pleased to say I am powerful and in favor, hence his letter indicates in some measure public opinion in regard to me. I send them because, knowing how much you think of me, I know it will gratify you to know that others have a favorable opinion. This may be vanity, but I deem it pardonable in writing to one’s wife.

George [Meade’s son] gave me my spectacles, and the glasses suit exactly, and are truly welcome, for a day or two before we moved, I was on horseback, when a sudden puff of wind carried away the only pair of spectacles I had, and for a few minutes I was in despair, until fortunately my orderly found them. Now I am provided against such accidents.

(Meade wrote his second letter at 9:00 that night.)

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

I wrote you a long letter to-day, little thinking while I was quietly employed writing to you what momentous events were going on immediately around me. After writing to you, I went out to ride for exercise, and on my return at 6 P. M., found an order awaiting me, announcing Major General Hooker as in command of the Army of the Potomac and Major General Meade in command of the Centre Grand Division. I then learned for the first time that this news arrived this morning (Burnside having brought it down from Washington last night), and that he, Burnside, and all his staff had gone off this morning, and that Generals Sumner and Franklin had both been relieved and ordered to Washington. You can readily imagine my surprise at all this, although some such step had been talked about for some time back. As to my commanding a grand division, I consider it a mere temporary arrangement, as either some one of more rank will be sent, or, what is more likely, the grand division organization broken up altogether, as it was purely an invention of Burnside’s, and has not, I think, been considered a good one. You will, doubtless, be anxious to know what I think of these changes. With all my respect, and I may almost say affection, for Burnside—for he has been most kind and considerate towards me—I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that he was not equal to the command of so large an army. He had some very positive qualifications, such as determination and nerve, but he wanted knowledge and judgment, and was deficient in that enlarged mental capacity which is essential in a commander. Another drawback was a very general opinion among officers and men, brought about by his own assertions, that the command was too much for him. This greatly weakened his position. As to Hooker, you know my opinion of him, frequently expressed. I believe my opinion is more favorable than any other of the old regular officers, most of whom are decided in their hostility to him. I believe Hooker is a good soldier; the danger he runs is of subjecting himself to bad influences, such as Dan Butterfield and Dan Sickles, who, being intellectually more clever than Hooker, and leading him to believe they are very influential, will obtain an injurious ascendancy over him and insensibly affect his conduct. I may, however, in this be wrong; time will prove.

Here is an excerpt from the letter Meade mentions, written on January 9. The original is in the Meade papers.

To relieve my mind of things that I wish to make known to you I will take this opportunity. As I am a Private Soldier in the P.R. and as one sildier will express himself to another more readily than to an officer, I think I can tell you the feeling of this division. Towards you since the battle of the Peninsula I have never heard but two men that had anything to say against you and one of them was an officer. They all as a division loved you as a commander. They all appeared glad to hear of your Promotion but parted with you with Regret. Although strict they all told the same tale and that was that officers and men were used alike.

And as for myself I consider you have used me as a father would use his son although strict yet no more so than I think it Requires to make good soldiers and now am satisfied if a man does his duty with you it is all is required as I have been with you for almost one year . . . .

Meade’s letters taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 349-351. Available via Google Books.