Good News from Tennessee (December 18, 1864)

George Meade writes a somewhat gossipy letter to his wife on December 18. Among its items are Meade’s impressons of General George Thomas, who had just thrashed John Bell Hood at the battles of Franklin and Nashville. He also reports on new activity by th Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which has started to investigate the debacle of the Crater, and the latest news of Benjamin Butler, who has departed on his ill-fated attack on Fort Fisher.

I am glad you saw Major Smith and liked him. I found him very intelligent and amiable. I gave him a letter to Oliver Hopkinson, as he wanted to see some duck-shooting; but I believe he found some one in Baltimore who put him in the way of having some sport. I knew that Captain Chesney was the instructor of engineering at the Military College of Woolwich, but was not aware that his service had been confined to this duty.

We have all been greatly delighted at the good news from Tennessee. Thomas is very much liked by all who know him, and things at one time looked unfavorable for him, it appearing as if he was giving Hood too much time; but it now turns out Old Thom, as we call him, knew what he was about, and has turned the tables completely. Don’t you remember, when we were at West Point, meeting his wife, who was at the hotel? He was then in Texas, and she was expecting him home. She was a tall good-natured woman, and was quite civil to us.

I don’t believe the bill to cut off the heads of generals will either pass the Senate or be approved by the President. By-the-by, I see the Senate, on motion of Mr. Anthony, of Rhode Island, has directed the Committee on the Conduct of the War to enquire into the Mine fiasco on the 30th of July, and that Burnside has already been summoned to testify. This is a most ill advised step on the part of Burnside and his friends, and can only result in making public the incompetency of that officer. I would, of course, rather not have to appear again before this committee, because they are prejudiced and biased against me, and their examinations are not conducted with fairness. Still, I shall not shrink from the contest.

Grant is still in Washington, though expected back to-morrow. The change of affairs in Tennessee will render his presence there unnecessary.

An expedition sailed the other day from Fortress Monroe, composed of the fleet and a detachment of troops. Grant took these from Butler’s army, intending Weitzel should command them; but much to every one’s astonishment, Butler insisted on going, and did go, with the expedition.

Mrs. Lyman has sent me a Christmas present of a box of nice cigars.

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. 252-3. Available via Google Books.

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The Evils of War (December 11, 1864)

George Meade weighs in on Gouverneur Warren’s expedition to tear up the Weldon Railroad. Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman fills in some of the details.

Five days ago I sent Warren, with a large force, to destroy the Weldon Railroad, which the enemy continue to use up to a certain point. It was expected Lee would send a force after him, and that we should have some sharp fighting, but to-day Warren is returning, having, undisturbed, effectually destroyed some twenty miles of the road. During Warren’s absence we have had a violent storm and the poor men have suffered a great deal, but this is one of the evils of war and must be borne.

Lyman adds to Meade’s dutiful account and provides a quick overview of Union concerns around the country. General Potter is Robert Potter, who commanded a division in the IX Corps. In his letter yesterday, Lyman mentioned that Potter had been sent to support Warren.

Gen. Robert Potter.(Library of Congress).

Gen. Robert Potter.(Library of Congress).

Weather as before—only a little more so. I suppose they have a good deal such in England. If so, don’t want to live there. Pretty times for half the army, off and on, to be marching and reconnoitring and expeditionizing about the country, as if it were picnic season! And still stranger is it to be sitting quiet in my tent when so many people are running round loose. Our affairs are rather mixed up, you see. So are those of everybody. Sherman has disappeared in Georgia and nobody knows what awful strategy he contemplates. Not so Hood: he is poking about in a manner I don’t at all like: jamming Thomas up in Nashville, and now I fancy he is just marching round the city and into Kentucky. That won’t do! Old Lee don’t let us march round towns unless he chooses, or has at least a hard fight for it. However, I can’t think Hood can do severe damage with so powerful an army as that of Thomas in his neighborhood. Well, we will hope for a big thing, of some sort, somewhere, for there are a number of irons, small and great, in the fire, and as much activity prevails as if we were not near the real winter. One thing I am sure of, that, what with expeditions little and big, threatenings and reconnaissances, the Rebels must be kept in quite an active state of simmer. Poor General Potter! He had a frightful night march and was doubtless buoyed up by the feeling that he had a separate command and could distinguish himself if there was a fight, and slam in on Hill’s left flank, and win a great name for himself. What then was his disgust to see, about noon, the head of Warren’s column trudging peaceably back, on the other side of the river! There were two decent-sized armies staring at each other, across the stream, each wondering what the other meant by being there; and both wondering why so many men were concentrated against nobody. General Potter philosophically shrugged his shoulders, gave the word to face about, and put his best leg forward for home, where he arrived a little after dark. It was a terrible night for a bivouac, with an intensely piercing cold wind and everything frozen up. Warren crossed the river and spent the night on this side of it.

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. 250. 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. 296-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

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.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

Before the Committee (April 2, 1864)

The United States Capitol Building in July 1863 (Library of Congress).

The United States Capitol Building in July 1863 (Library of Congress).

Meade continues to chew over his difficulties in Washington. For the letter he mentions (and Lincoln’s response), see the correspondence regarding Historicus. Pennie is his son Spencer.

I left Washington this morning, bidding dear Pennie good-bye at the hotel, which he was to leave half an hour after me. He has had a pretty pleasant time, and his visit has been a source of great happiness to me.

I enclose you a letter I addressed the Department, with an autograph reply from the President. I feel quite sure the President meant to be very kind and complimentary in paying me the distinguished honor of writing a reply in his own hand, and under this conviction I am bound to be satisfied. You will perceive, however, that the main point of my request is avoided, namely, my desire that the letter of Historicus should be submitted, with my letter, to General Sickles, and if he acknowledged or endorsed it, then I wished a court of inquiry, not otherwise. However, Mr. Stanton told me the true reason, which was that it was concluded submitting the letter to Sickles was only playing into his hands; that a court of inquiry, if called at my request, although it might exonerate me, yet it would not necessarily criminate him; and that, on the whole, it was deemed best not to take any action. [Daniel] Butterfield, I hear, was very bitter in his testimony, and made wonderful revelations. I went before the committee yesterday and replied only to his assertion that I instructed him to draw up an order to retreat. This I emphatically denied; also denied any knowledge of his having drawn up such an order; presented documentary evidence to show that, if I had any such idea, that my orders and despatches were contradictory, and referred to numerous officers who ought to have and would have known if I entertained any idea of the kind.

Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

Michigan’s Senator Zachariah Chandler. (National Archives.)

I find I have three warm friends on the committee—[Moses] Odell of New York, [Daniel] Gooch of Massachusetts, and [Benjamin] Harding of Oregon. It is believed [Bnjamin] Wade, of Ohio, is favorably inclined. If either he or one of the others should prove so, it would make a majority in my favor. Old Zach Chandler is my bitterest foe and will show me no quarter. While going up to Washington I had a long and satisfactory talk with Grant, who has expressed himself and acted towards me in the most friendly manner. Among other things he said he heard Horace Greeley had been in Washington, demanding my removal, and that [George] Thomas be brought here. Grant said, if he saw Greeley he should tell him that when he wanted the advice of a political editor in selecting generals, he would call on him. The President, Secretary, indeed every one I met, were civil and affable to me.

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. 186-7. Available via Google Books.

Continuing Silence (December 11, 1863)

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon. Prior to Ulysses S. Grant's promotion to general-in-chief, Birney had supported efforts to get Joe Hooker returned to command of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Two officers Meade mentions in his December 11 letter appear in this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864. Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon. Prior to Ulysses S. Grant’s promotion to general-in-chief, Birney had supported efforts to get Joe Hooker returned to command of the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Time passes and still Meade hears nothing from Washington after his failed Mine Run Campaign. As he frets, Meade speculates about potential successors. Joe Hooker, of course, was his predecessor as commander of the Army of the Potomac and there was a movement afoot to have Fighting Joe return to command. Thomas is George Thomas, who had received the nickname of “The Rock of Chickamauga” after his stand at that September battle helped prevent the complete rout of William Rosecrans’ army. Gibbon is John Gibbon, who commanded a division of the II Corps (and at times the entire II Corps) at Gettysburg. Winfield Scott Hancock had been the II Corps commander when not in charge of other corps as well as his own. Like Gibbon, he had been wounded on the third day at Gettysburg.

I have not heard a word from Washington, but from what I see in the papers, and what I hear from officers returning from Washington, I take it my supersedure is decided upon, and the only question is who is to succeed me. I understand the President and Secretary Chase are very anxious to bring Hooker back; but Halleck and Stanton will undoubtedly oppose this. A compromise may perhaps be made by bringing Thomas here, and giving Hooker Thomas’s army.

I have very kind letters from Gibbon and Hancock, both hoping I will not be relieved, and each saying they had not lost a particle of confidence in me. Many officers in the army have expressed the same feeling, and I really believe the voice of the army will sustain me. This, though, goes for nothing in Washington. I will not go to Washington to be snubbed by these people; they may relieve me, but I will preserve my dignity.

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. 160-1. Available via Google Books.