And So It Begins (May 3, 1864)

Alexander Gardner called this photograph "Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe's deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army's Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner called this photograph “Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe’s deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army’s Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

We are now on the very eve of the Overland Campaign, a bloody, protracted slugging match between the Army of the Potomac under Meade (accompanied by Grant) and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At the start of the campaign Grant warned Meade that he did not intend to fight by “maneuvering for position.” Meade must have seen that as a critique of the army’s campaigns from the previous fall. He replied, “General Grant, you are opposed by a general of consummate ability, and you will find that you will have to maneuver for position.” Meade will be right. Throughout the Overland Campaign Grant will attempt to overwhelm the Confederates with direct assaults, and then order Meade’s army on wide, sweeping maneuvers in attempts to outflank Lee.

The letter from Lee that Meade mentions here is the one the Confederate general sent demanding to know the truth about Ulric Dahlgren’s orders for his ill-fated raid on Richmond. Papers found on his body indicated he intended to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and burn Richmond. Meade had denied that anyone had issued such orders. Pennie is Meade’s son Spencer.

I send herewith original letter recently received from General Lee, which you can give to Pennie, as it has General Lee’s autograph, and on the envelope an original endorsement by Jeb Stuart, the great reb. cavalry general.

I also enclose you a printed copy of an address issued to-day by me to the army. To-morrow we move. I hope and trust we will be successful, and so decidedly successful as to bring about a termination of this war. If hard fighting will do it, I am sure I can rely on my men. They are in fine condition and in most excellent spirits, and will do all that men can do to accomplish the object. The enemy have had time, I expect, to bring up all available reinforcements. This is all the better for us, if we succeed, as it will make the battle and victory more decisive. The telegraph will convey to you the first intelligence, though I shall endeavor to keep you posted. I beg of you to be calm and resigned, to place full trust in the mercy of our heavenly Father, who has up to this time so signally favored us, and the continuance of whose blessing we should earnestly pray for. Do not fret, but be cheerful, and go about and do just as if nothing was going on, and above all things don’t anticipate evil; it will come time enough. Give my love to all the dear children. I shall think a great deal of you and them, notwithstanding the excitement of my duties. I feel quiet and determined, satisfied I have ever striven to do my duty to the best of my ability, and believing that in time posterity will do justice to my career. Good-by! God bless and protect us all!

“Address” mentioned in last letter:

Head-quarters, Army Of The Potomac, May 4, 1864.


Again you are called upon to advance on the enemies of your country. The time and the occasion are deemed opportune by your Commanding General to address you a few words of confidence and caution.

You have been re-organized, strengthened and fully equipped in every respect. You form a part of the several armies of your country, the whole under the direction of an able and distinguished General, who enjoys the confidence of the government, the people and the army. Your movement being in co-operation with others, it is of the utmost importance that no effort should be left unspared to make it successful.

Soldiers! the eyes of the whole country are looking with anxious hope to the blow you are about to strike in the most sacred cause that ever called men to arms.

Remember your homes, your wives and children, and bear in mind that the sooner your enemies are overcome, the sooner you will be returned to enjoy the benefits and blessings of peace. Bear with patience the hardships and sacrifices yon will be called upon to endure. Have confidence in your officers and in each other. Keep your ranks on the march and on the battlefield, and let each man earnestly implore God’s blessing and endeavor by his thoughts and actions to render himself worthy of the favor he seeks. With clear consciences and strong arms, actuated by a high sense of duty, fighting to preserve the Government and the institutions handed down to us by our forefathers—if true to ourselves—victory, under God’s blessing, must and will attend our efforts.

Geo. G. Meade,
Official: Major General Commanding

Here’s what Theodore Lyman wrote home on the same day. Lyman wrote detailed and fascinating letters home about the fighting during the Overland Campaign and I will post them here on the appropriate days.

At last the order of march, for to-morrow at 5 a.m.! Of it more when it is over — if I am here to write. Only spring waggons go for our little mess kits and baggage; other things go with the main train. May God bless the undertaking at last and give an end to this war! I have made all preparations for the campaign.

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. 192-4. 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. 84. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.