Caldwell’s Division

0906141030It’s been a while since we’ve heard from George Meade, who has been back in Philadelphia on leave. But never fear—his letters resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, I spent yesterday on the Gettysburg battlefield, where I took a three-hour tour that covered the July 2 attack of Caldwell’s division through the Wheatfield. The tour was organized by Randy Drais of and conducted by licensed battlefield guide Steve Slaughter. I heard about the tour through Facebook and decided it sounded like a great way to spend a Saturday. I was right about that.


The tour begins at the 148th PA monument.

We met at the 148th PA monument off Ayres Avenue and got going at 10:00. I guess there were about 20 people there for the tour, which cost us $17. It was a warm and steamy September morning, with the threat of thunderstorms later in the day. I was just pleased to be spending the day on the battlefield.

Slaughter proved to be an engaging and informed guide. He explained how Meade had ordered II Corps commander Winfield Scott Hancock to send a division to this part of the battlefield. Slaughter pointed out that Meade wanted it to support the V Corps—not Dan Sickles’ over-extended III Corps—which is interesting. However, since the V Corps was supporting the III, I guess you can still say that this was part of Meade’s promise that afternoon to Sickles that he would send whatever he could to help the III Corps, which he knew was in serious trouble because of Sickles’s ill-advised advance.

John c. Caldwell

John C. Caldwell

The best thing about tours like this is they give you a spatial sense of the battlefield that even the best maps can’t provide. (Slaughter advised us several times that it’s often best to take maps with a grain of salt, anyway, and he proved his point by having us make some corrections on one of the maps included in the packet we all received.) Slaughter explained how John Caldwell’s First Division of the II Corps was on that corps’ left on Cemetery Ridge, hence the obvious candidate to move toward the Wheatfield. It consisted of four divisions—the First under Edward E. Cross, the Second (the Irish Brigade) under Patrick Kelly, the third under Samuel K. Zook, and the Fourth, commanded by John R. Brooke. Over the tour’s three hours, Slaughter adroitly explained the movements of these four brigades and also their occasional entanglements with elements of the III and the V Corps. Seeing exactly where these soldiers moved and fought really helped me put the pieces together of the complex and bloody puzzle of the fighting here that day.

We hiked back and forth, down the Wheatfield Road, back up and through the Wheatfield itself, and on to the monuments along Brooke Avenue that mark the furthest advance of Brooke’s brigade. While at this advanced position, Randy Drais took us down into the woods behind Brooke Avenue to show us Brooke’s rock, upon which the brigade commander supposedly stood when he made a speech to rally his men. The rock has an X, barely visible, which, it is said, Brooke himself carved into the boulder on a post-war visit to indicate that this was the very rock that served as his platform.

The X on Brooke's Rock.

The X on Brooke’s Rock.

At the end of the day on July 2, 1863, the surging Confederates pushed the bloodied remains of Caldwell’s division back to the base of Little Round Top and the fighting ended for the day. Slaughter talked about the charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves, the V Corps division commanded by Samuel Crawford, but took some air out of the story by pointing out that most of the Confederates had pulled back by the time the Reserves moved forward. (Slaughter doesn’t much appreciate V Corps commander George Sykes, whom he said spent most of the day behind Little Round Top where people had trouble finding him. For what it’s worth, Sykes and Sickles are the only Union corps commanders at Gettysburg who don’t have statues on the battlefield.)

Steve Slaughter explains things at the monument to Wilson's battery (Battery D, 1st NY Light artillery).

Steve Slaughter explains things at the monument to Wilson’s battery (Battery D, 1st NY Light artillery).

Back at Ayres Avenue we all received tickets for a drawing and I won, choosing for my prize a copy of Bradley Gottfried’s book Brigades of Gettysburg. I even sold a copy of my Meade book to one of the attendees (who earlier had told me he though Meade was a poor general. Maybe he will change his mind after he reads the book).

As I said, it was a terrific way to spend a Saturday.

Now here’s the weird part. A few weeks ago a volunteer for the Gettysburg Foundation informed me that I had left a couple of monuments out of my Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments. I had found the one to Colonel George Willard of the 125th New York (in a thicket west of the Pennsylvania State Monument). I had not located the one to Captain Henry Fuller, of Co. F, 64th New York Infantry. The 64th belonged to Brooke’s brigade. Fuller was wounded in the leg as his regiment charged through the Wheatfield and he later received a second wound in the back that proved mortal. I knew the monument was somewhere above the old trolley bed that runs below Brooke Avenue, but there were no paths leading to it and the thick overgrowth made it very hard to locate. After the tour I set out to find it.

It was a frustrating search. I was crashing through the woods above the trolley line, pushing my way through bushes and spider webs, when I thought I spotted a figure ahead of me through the trees. He appeared to be wearing a Union uniform. I had seen a reenactor up by the 148th PA monument when we started the tour, so I figured it was him. He seemed to be waving me on, so I pushed through the thick undergrowth in his direction but lost sight of him as I was dodging branches. When I reached the spot where I thought he had been, I found the Fuller monument. The mysterious figure, however, was nowhere to be found! He had vanished—even though there was no way anyone could have crashed his way through the trees away from me without my noticing him.

Back at home I found a photograph of Fuller and nearly fell off my chair when I realized he was the spitting image of the figure I had seen in the woods!

Oh, c’mon! Did anyone really believe that story? Seriously? Well, sorry. I was messing with you. I agree with Sherlock Holmes on this one. “The world is big enough for us,” he told Dr. Watson. “No ghosts need apply.” Truth be told, I didn’t find the Fuller monument yesterday. I will try again once in the fall.

There are plenty of ghosts at Gettysburg, but they’re all in our imaginations. They emerge as we walk the fields where so many fought and died. That’s ghost enough for me.

The Return of Lyman (March 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman, George G. Meade’s observant aide, has been on leave in Boston, depriving us of his accounts of life in the Army of the Potomac for much of March 1864. He returns to find a transformed army, with several of its top generals transferred elsewhere.

The heavy artillery regiments he mentions will receive a baptism in blood soon enough.

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

I am pretty well, I thank you, and not so blue as when I came back the other time, perhaps because the generals are here and it is not so utterly triste. However, I am fain to say I draw invidious comparisons between it and home, mais that helps nothing. There have been marvellous changes within these three weeks. Generals Sykes, Newton, French, and Pleasonton are ordered off. I do feel sorry for Sykes, an excellent soldier, always sure to do his duty, and with this army for a long time. I fear they displaced him at Washington because they disliked his rough manners. General Pleasonton was always very civil to me and I am sorry therefore to see him go. I have not yet got it clearly in my head how the corps have been shifted about, but I suppose I shall in a few days. . . .

The latest joke is the heavy sell that has been practised on some regiments of “Heavy Artillery,” which had reenlisted and had been sent home to recruit. Now these gentry, having always been in fortifications, took it for granted they should there continue; consequently the patriotic rush of recruits (getting a big bounty) was most gratifying; one regiment swelled to 1900; another to 2200, etc., etc. Bon! Then they returned to the forts round Washington, with the slight difference that the cars kept on, till they got to Brandy Station; and now these mammoth legions are enjoying the best of air under shelter tents! A favorite salutation now is, “How are you, Heavy Artillery?” For Chief of Cavalry we are to have a General Sheridan, from the West. He is, I believe, on his way. If he is an able officer, he will find no difficulty in pushing along this arm, several degrees. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 80-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Father and Son (March 29, 1864)

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

George Meade continues to enjoy his time with son Spencer.

Of the officers he mentions in this letter, George Sykes will head west to take command of the Department of Kansas. John Newton, whom Meade had assigned to command of the I Corps over Abner Doubleday at Gettysburg, will command a division in William Sherman’s army. William French’s days of combat are over; he will serve as an administrator for the rest of the war. Why Meade fought to retain him after French’s failures at Mine Run is a bit of a mystery. Alfred Pleasonton will also head west to command cavalry in the Department of the Missouri.

In Washington, Daniel Buttefield spreads the story that Meade planned to retreat from Gettysburg.

Spencer and the Whipple boys continue to enjoy themselves. Yesterday was a fine day, and they rode over with me to Hancock’s, some five miles. We then rode to Culpeper Court House, five miles, where I met General Grant, just from Washington. After which we returned to headquarters, a distance of six miles, making in all sixteen miles for the day’s riding. En route the boys ascended Pony Mountain, a hill of some five hundred feet elevation, near Culpeper, on which we have a signal station and a fine telescope, and from whence you have a good view of the country, the rebel lines, camps, etc. At night Pennie was pretty well fatigued. But this morning he was up bright and early, and started with me, before eight o’clock, to go to Culpeper, where General Grant reviewed two divisions of infantry, and one of cavalry. It commenced to rain, however, during the review, which curtailed the ceremonies, and after spending an hour with Grant, we returned home in the rain. I borrowed an India rubber poncho for Pennie, so that he came back dry, but on the way his horse, and Willie Whipple’s, became excited and started off with them at full speed. The boys, however, kept their seats beautifully till George and an orderly headed off the horses and stopped them.

Grant continues very affable and quite confidential. He laughs at the statement in the papers of his remarks about balls, etc., and says he will be happy to attend any innocent amusement we may get up, he including among these horse races, of which he is very fond.

I join with you in the regret expressed at the relief of Sykes. I tried very hard to retain Sykes, Newton, and even French, as division commanders, but without avail. I had very hard work to retain Sedgwick. As to Pleasanton, his being relieved was entirely the work of Grant and Stanton.

I hear Butterfield has been swearing terribly against me. I shall go up day after to-morrow to meet his charges.

It is storming now violently.

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), p. 185. Available via Google Books.

Reorganizing (March 24, 1865)

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps).

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps). Now French and Sykes are out and Warren has command of the V Corps (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

I have been very busy to-day. The much-talked-of order for reorganizing the Army of the Potomac has at last appeared. Sykes, French and Newton are relieved. Sedgwick, Hancock and Warren command the three corps. This evening an order has arrived relieving General Pleasanton, which, although I did not originate it, yet was, I presume, brought about by my telling the Secretary that the opposition I had hitherto made to his removal I no longer should make. As the Secretary has been desirous of relieving him ever since I have had command, and I have been objecting, he has taken the first chance to remove him as soon as my objections were withdrawn.

Grant arrived to-day. I met him at the depot near my headquarters and accompanied him to Culpeper, where I spent several hours and returned. He was as affable as ever, and seems not at all disposed to interfere with my army in any details.

I hear Butterfield is in Washington, and is going to swear that I told him to prepare an order to retreat, and from what Gibbon writes me, it is evident he did prepare such an order; but I trust by the concurrent testimony of every other officer on the field, the documentary evidence in the shape of orders at different periods of the day, and my own sworn statement, to prove that the preparation of this order was not authorized by me, and that it was due to Butterfield’s own fears. I understand the Secretary is very indignant at his coming to Washington, and has ordered him back to his post.

Get the last number of the Spirit of the Times, in which there is a scathing article on Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Schofield and myself, and lauding, as usual, Joe Hooker.

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. 182-3. Available via Google Books.

Dinner Party (February 12, 1864)

Winter camp could be muddy, cold, damp, uncomfortable and boring, but it sometimes offered compensations, at least for officers. Here Theodore Lyman describes one example. He and Joseph Hayes had attended Harvard together. Hayes started the war with the 18th Massachusetts. Later, Hayes will be wounded in the head in the Wilderness and captured in the fighting for the Weldon Railroad during the Petersburg campaign.

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

In this epistle I shall describe to you the whirl of fashion, the galaxy of female beauty, the grouping of manly grace. Behold, I have plunged into the wild dissipation of a military dinner-party. The day before yesterday, there appeared a mysterious orderly, with a missive from Colonel Hayes (my classmate) saying that he should next day entertain a select circle at dinner at five of the clock, and wouldn’t I come and stay over night. To which I returned answer that I should give myself that pleasure. The gallant Colonel, who commands the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, has his Headquarters on the north side of the river, about half a mile from Rappahannock station. At 4 P.m. I was ready, very lovely to look on, with full tog and sash, neatly finished by white cotton gloves and my thick laced shoes. With great slowness did I wend on my sable mare, for fear of splashing myself in a run or a puddle. On the other side of the pontoon bridge I fell in with Lieutenant Appleton wending the same way — he splashed his trousers in Tin Pot Run, poor boy! The quarters were not far, and were elegantly surrounded by a hedge of evergreen, and with a triumphal arch from which did float the Brigade flag. Friend Hayes has an elegant log hut, papered with real wall-paper, and having the roof ornamented with a large garrison flag. The fireplace presented a beautiful arch, which puzzled me a good deal, till I found it was made by taking an old iron cog-wheel, found at the mill on the river, and cutting the same in two. Already the punctual General Sykes, Commander of the Corps, was there, with Mrs. S., a very nice lady, in quite a blue silk dress. . . . Also several other officers’ wives, of sundry ages, and in various dresses. Then we marched in and took our seats, I near the head and between Mrs. Lieutenant Snyder and Mrs. Dr. Holbrook. Next on the left was General Bartlett, in high boots and brass spurs. There must have been some twenty-four persons, in all. The table ran the length of two hospital tents, ingeniously floored with spare boards from the pontoon-train and ornamented with flags and greens. The chandeliers were ingeniously composed of bayonets, and all was very military. Oyster soup had we; fish, biled mutting, roast beef, roast turkey, pies, and nuts and raisins; while the band did play outside. General Sykes, usually exceeding stern, became very gracious and deigned to laugh, when one of his captains said: “He was the mildest-mannered man that ever cut a throat or scuttled ship.”

After dinner, songs were encouraged, and General Sykes told two of his Staff, if they didn’t sing immediately, he would send them home at once! I sang two comic songs, with immense success, and all was festive. I passed the night there, and took breakfast this morning, when Albert came down with the horses. Joe Hayes is a singular instance of a man falling into his right notch. In college he was not good at his studies at all; but, as an officer, he is remarkable, and has a reputation all through the Corps. Though only a colonel, he was entrusted, at Mine Run, with bringing off the picket line, consisting of 4000 men, which he did admirably. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 71-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Payne’s Farm (November 27, 1863)

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this sketch "Rebel earthworks commanding the passage at Germanna ford, abandoned on the approach of Meade's army" (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this sketch “Rebel earthworks commanding the passage at Germanna ford, abandoned on the approach of Meade’s army” (Library of Congress). Click to enlarge.

In his letter of November 27, Theodore Lyman details the beginning of Meade’s Mine Run campaign. It was an inauspicious start, marked by delays and disappointments. Here’s how I described the situation in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Meade planned to cross his army at various fords along the Rapidan below Lee’s right and make a flanking attack instead of risking a frontal assault against his strong entrenchments. The III Corps would cross at Jacob’s Ford, with the VI Corps following, and then make its way through various woods roads to a place called Robertson’s Tavern. The roads the army had to follow were narrow and winding, as they still are today. The II Corps would cross at Germanna Ford, while the I and V Corps would use Culpeper Mine Ford. Cavalry would guard the flanks. “The plan promised brilliant success,” said chief of staff Andrew Humphreys; “to insure it required prompt, vigorous action, and intelligent compliance with the programme on the part of the corps and other commanders.”

 Therein lay the proverbial rub. Meade wanted his army to rumble into motion on November 24, but heavy rainfall delayed the movement until the twenty-sixth. Then [William] French and the III Corps were two hours late in reaching their ford. Two pontoon bridges turned out to be too short, forcing the engineers to do some time-consuming improvisation, and the banks on the opposite side of the river were steep and difficult to climb. Like many best-laid plans, Meade’s attempt to flank Lee began to unravel. Things slipped further and further behind schedule, giving the Confederates time to react to the Federals’ threatening move.

A native of Eastport, Maine, Henry Prince commanded a division of William French's III Corps (Library of Congress).

A native of Eastport, Maine, Henry Prince commanded a division of William French’s III Corps (Library of Congress).

[Gouverneur K.] Warren and the II Corps reached Robertson’s Tavern on November 27 and began “a brisk little contest” with the rebels there. But French’s III Corps was nowhere to be found. That’s because once the commander of French’s lead division, Brig. Gen. Henry Prince, managed to cross the river, he sat at a crossroads for a couple hours while he tried to determine which road to take; a historical marker stands at this crossroads now.

After driving around here I can understand how the generals became confused. I spend a lot of time stopped at crossroads myself as I peer at my directions and try to figure out which way to go. The stakes, though, were considerably higher for French and Prince. Around 11:30 headquarters finally received a message from French. He said he was waiting for Warren—who was already at Robertson’s Tavern skirmishing with the enemy. Steam must have been shooting out of Meade’s ears at this point. But before French could join Warren, he stumbled into battle on the land of a man named Payne.

The Battle of Payne’s Farm was the only serious fighting of the Mine Run Campaign—although I’m sure the skirmishers and other soldiers who had been killed and wounded in other actions would have said their fights had been serious enough. The Confederates here were commanded by Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, also known as “Clubby.” The thirty-two thousand men of the III Corp greatly outnumbered Johnson and his fifty-three hundred troops, but the Confederates fought stubbornly enough to delay French even longer.

Humphreys later complained that French’s tardiness and the holdup at Payne’s Farm essentially paralyzed the entire operation. By the time the army was in a position to attack on the twenty-eighth, Lee had moved his army to a strong position behind Mine Run, a line “crowned with intrenchments for infantry and artillery, strengthened by abates,” said Humphreys. Any frontal assault appeared doomed, but Warren thought he could shift his forces and, reinforced by a division of the VI Corps, attack Lee’s weak right flank. Meade later gave him two additional divisions from the III Corps. While the V and VI Corps made a diversionary attack on the enemy’s left, Warren would make the main attack on its right.

Here we are, camped south of the Rapid Ann, and I find a leisure moment to write you a letter, or rather to begin one. My last formal note, I believe, informed you we were to move “to-morrow” (26th). And, sure enough, yesterday we kept our Thanksgiving by marching, horse, foot, and artillery, as hard as we could paddle towards Germanna Ford.

Lyman mapThe above rough map, with the other I sent when I wrote ;at Centreville, will sufficiently explain our moves. From Rapid Ann Station to Morton’s Ford, the Rebels have a strong line of entrenchments, but, beyond that, it is practicable to force a crossing, because the north bank commands the south. Our forces were encamped in a sort of semi-circle, of which one end rested on Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock, and the other (at the north) on a tributary of the same river; the centre being about at Brandy Station. . . . The artillery officers had placed two masked batteries, ready to open on the south bank. On the other side of the river there were extensive breastworks, which, however, seemed not occupied. Nevertheless, we could not tell that the woods were not full of them. As the main resistance might be offered here, it was necessary that all the corps should force the passage at the same time, if possible. It so happened that General French was much delayed by heavy roads and other causes, so we had to wait till past twelve before throwing the pontoons. When this was done, there was no opposition whatsoever; but the engineers were stupid enough not to have enough boats, and this made more delay. However, about two P.m. the troops and artillery began to cross, one division having already forded. The solemn and punctual Sykes crossed below, at twelve. But the 3d and 6th, being very large, did not all get over till night, and their artillery, by reason of bad roads, had to come over by Germanna Bridge, and was not over till five the next morning. We (Headquarters) camped on the north bank of the river, near the reserve artillery. It was a magnificent night, but cold. The trains came in after dark, and we had quite a time in finding tents and bedding. Everything is comparative: when I got my tent pitched, my roll of bedding in position, and a little end of a candle lighted, I felt as comfortable as if I came home to a nicely furnished house, with a good fire burning and the tea-table just set! I was up this morning a good deal before daylight. The moon shone very bright and the hoar frost glittered on the tents. … At an early hour the Staff crossed, passing on the steep bank crowds of ambulances and waggons, which of course made the General very mad. . . . Do you know the scrub oak woods above Hammond’s Pond, a sort of growth that is hard for even a single man to force his way through for any great distance? That is the growth of most of this country, minus the stones, and plus a great many ‘‘runs” and clay holes, where, in bad weather, vehicles sink to their axles. Along this region there are only two or three roads that can be counted on. These are the turnpike, the plank road south of it, and the plank road that runs from Germanna Ford. There are many narrow roads, winding and little known, that in good weather may serve for the slow passage of columns (though they are mere farmers’ or woodcutters’ thoroughfares); but a day’s rain will render them impassable for waggons and artillery. This whole region (which includes the field of Chancellorsville, a little to the east) is known as the “Wilderness.” Over much of it there is no chance to deploy troops, scarcely skirmishers, and no place for artillery. . . .

Somewhere about 10.30 we got to the turnpike and halted, say a mile before Robertson’s Tavern; where the 2d Corps had arrived and found the enemy in front; about eleven they had heavy skirmishing and drove the enemy back, getting also a few prisoners. They then formed line of battle and waited news from French on the right, and Sykes on the left, coming on the plank road. The day was raw and we stood near the road, over some fires we had built, waiting for news of French, to form a junction and attack at once; for Warren alone formed a weak centre and could not risk an engagement. Officer after officer was despatched to him, piloted by niggers who said they knew the country. The indefatigable Ludlow went in the opposite direction, and reported Sykes coming along all right. . . . At 12.30 we heard cannon on our extreme right, which seemed to announce French; still no authentic news, and the precious minutes fled rapidly. At last, late in the afternoon, came authentic despatches that General French’s advance had had a heavy fight with the Rebels, in force, and had driven them from the field; but had thus been greatly delayed, and besides had found no roads, or bad roads, and could not effect a junction that evening. And so there was Sedgwick’s Corps jammed up in the woods behind, and kept back also! So we pitched camp and waited for morning.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 51-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Don’t forget: Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg makes a superb Christmas present for the Civil War enthusiast on your list! You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Visiting (September 6, 1863)

There is no letter from General Meade on September 6, but Theodore Lyman does write home. He documents a visit to Maj. Gen. George Sykes, who had replaced Meade as the head of the V Corps when Meade received command of the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys is Andrew Humphreys, now serving as Meade’s chief of staff.

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

I promised to tell you how I invited General Meade to go with me and see General Sykes. If I didn’t know anything, I looked like a Commander-in-Chief, for I had the best horse and the best accoutrements, and as for clothes, General Meade was nowhere; besides which, he had no sword, while I had. The cavalry escort reminded me exactly of the Guides that go with the little Prince along the rue de Rivoli. No two of them had caps alike, none had their jackets buttoned; all were covered with half an inch of dust, and all eschewed straps to their pantaloons. Nevertheless, had the Rebs appeared, I should have preferred these informal cavaliers to the Guides. Each man had a sabre with a rusty scabbard, and a revolver hung at his belt. They all ride well, and would be handsome horsemen, if “got up.”

General Humphreys, with his usual bland smile, appeared on a small gray, which was of a contrary and rearing disposition; but the General remarked, with the air of an injured man, that he had had three valuable horses killed under him in battle, and now he should only get cheap ones. General Meade, whose saddle-flap was ornamented with a bullet-hole within an inch of his leg, was mounted on a small bay. And so we jingled off; sometimes in the road, sometimes in the open fields, sometimes in the woods and sometimes through creeks and mudholes. The Chief rides in a most aggravating way, neither at a walk nor a gallop, but at a sort of amble, which bumps you and makes you very uncomfortable. … In due season we got to the 5th Corps Headquarters, near the Rappahannock, which is a very narrow affair at this point, and not over four feet deep on the shallowest fords. General Sykes looks a little like the photograph of General Lyon and has a very thick head of hair, which stands up like Traddles’s. He is a mild, steady man, and very polite, like all the officers I have seen down here. Indeed, a more courteous set of men it would be hard to find. I have yet to meet a single gruffy one. They are of all sorts, some well educated, others highly Bowery, but all entirely civil. . . . The astute Sykes talked some time with the Chief, and then we rode to the Headquarters of General [John] Newton, who commands the 1st Corps, hard by. This chieftain had a very gorgeous tent, erected for the express accommodation of Mrs. Newton, who, however, was soon driven forth by the general order excluding all ladies from the lines; and the tent was all that remained to remind one of her presence. General Newton also has a thick head of hair, and is a tall and finely built man and “light complected.” He was in great glee over a tệte-de-pont he had erected, and hoped to decoy some unfortunate Rebels to within range of it. He produced a huge variety of liquids which I had to refuse. The drinks I have refused will be a burden on my conscience in time to come. They come from all sides and in great variety, even champagne! . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 8-9.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

In Transit (February 26, 1863)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

Although it seems churlish to resent Meade’s opportunity to obtain leave and spend some time with his family in Philadelphia, we do regret the absence of any correspondence with his wife during that period. The gap finally ends on February 26 when Meade wrote home to detail his travails attempting to return to his command. He wrote this letter from the Bureau of Topographical Engineers in Washington, D.C.

The Cram he mentions is Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother-in-law. When Theodore Lyman met him in 1864 he said, “Cram is a queer man–never saw one exactly like him. He has a jerky, theatrical style that made me at first suppose he had had a toddy or two.” Sykes is Maj. Gen. George Sykes, who commanded a division of Meade’s V Corps . As I describe him in the book, “Sykes was yet another West Point graduate, a Delaware native who had been fighting since First Bull Run. He looked like a cartoon general, with a big beard that jutted out in front of his chin and a firm, determined nose like the prow of a ship.” His photo (right) will give you an idea of what I mean. When Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac Sykes replaced him at the head of the V Corps.

The train never reached this place until ten o’clock, instead of six-thirty as due. In consequence I missed the boat. As there is none till to-morrow morning at 8 A. M., thus detaining me here all day. This is annoying, because I wished to set the example of a prompt and punctual return within the time allowed me, whereas now I shall be one day behind time, and this is the more disagreeable because there is a report in town that the enemy’s cavalry have appeared in force this side of the Rappahannock. This is only a raid, as they cannot possibly be so foolish as to attempt any advance this side of the river, at this season of the year. The first person I met at the hotel was Cram, and I am going to dine with him to-day. I next met Sykes, who is up here on a court-martial. I am now writing a few lines to give you the news, am going to see Mrs. Turnbull and then shall dine with Cram.

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. 355. Available via Google Books.