152 Years Later

A marker indicates the spot where Hancock fell at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 (Photo by Tom Huntington).

A marker indicates the spot where Hancock fell at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 (Photo by Tom Huntington).

Steve Weatherbee as Meade (Tom Huntington photo).

Steve Weatherbee as Meade (Tom Huntington photo).

I met my fourth George Gordon Meade yesterday.

I know Andy Waskie, of course, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia. Waskie often portrays Meade at talks and living history events. He was out of the country during the 2013 anniversary commemorations, so Jerry McCormick—who usually portrays Gen. Andrew Humphreys—stood in for him as Meade at Gettysburg with the Confederation of Union Generals. I talked to Bob Creed at a Gettysburg reenactment when I was working on Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. And today I met Steve Weatherbee, who portrays Meade for the Civil War Heritage Foundation. That doesn’t come close to matching the profusion of Robert E. Lees you will find at Civil War events, but it’s a beginning.

I talked with Weatherbee while we waited for advancing Confederates at the stone wall at Gettysburg’s Bloody Angle. The Angle was considerably less bloody today, and the crowd gathered here 152 years after the Union soldiers along this line repulsed Lee’s attack—Pickett’s Charge—was considerably smaller than it had been in 2013, when some 47,000 people showed up for the 150th anniversary.

Over the past couple days I had watched several of the Gettysburg Battlewalks on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, which made me realize I must get down to Gettysburg myself on July 3. So I packed a lunch and set out. It was a fine, pleasant day for a visit, with a light cloud cover blocking the July sun, and a cool breeze blowing through. My goal was to take the 10:00 walk, which covered Winfield Scott Hancock at Gettysburg. A large crowd gathered at the white Abraham Brian farm buildings. As we waited, I overhead some people talking favorably about George Meade. I pointed out the Meade Society cap I was wearing, and we agreed that the general had never really received his due.

Ranger Matt Atkinson talks about Hancock at the Copse of Trees (tom Huntington photo).

Ranger Matt Atkinson talks about Hancock at the Copse of Trees (Tom Huntington photo).

Park ranger Matt Atkinson led the Hancock walk, and he added a distinctive Southern flavor to it. At the start, he admitted that he didn’t often do Union-themed talks, and that he had grown up in the South looking up to Confederate heroes as a boy. Still, he told us that Hancock was one of his favorite generals, and that he was “a natural-born leader.” From the Brian buildings, we moved south down Cemetery Ridge. We made a stop at the monument that marks the spot where Confederate General Lewis Armistead fell on July 3 1863. Armistead and Hancock had been friends before the war—a friendship portrayed as a full-blown bromance in the book Killer Angels and the movie Gettysburg. We finished across the road from the monument that marks the spot where Hancock fell, taken down by a bullet that went through the pommel of his saddle and into his thigh. Atkinson provided a fairly graphic account of Hancock’s wound and the various attempts to remove the musket ball. Maybe that’s what led to our only casualty of the morning, when a woman went faint and had to be helped to the ground (and later to an air conditioned park vehicle).

Alonzo Cushing's belt at the National Civil War Museum (Beth Ann Huntington photo).

Alonzo Cushing’s belt at the National Civil War Museum (Beth Ann Huntington photo).

After the talk, I whiled away some time reading the new book by Jim Hessler and Wayne Motts, Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History. My wife and I had attended the book launch event the previous Sunday at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, where Wayne serves as CEO. Jim and Wayne both spoke, and the two of them, plus cartographer Steven Stanley, signed copies of the book afterwards. Wayne had also put out a collection of artifacts related to Pickett’s Charge, including the belt worn by Alonzo Cushing, the Union artillerist who had been cut down at his guns as Armistead approached them. Cushing was just recently awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

One of two Lewis Armisteads at Gettysburg on July 3. The real George Pickett never got this far (Tom Huntington photo).

One of two Lewis Armisteads at Gettysburg on July 3. The real George Pickett never got this far (Tom Huntington photo).

Back at Gettysburg, I walked over to the Angle to wait for the Confederates with Weatherbee and other reenactors. I spotted only one Robert E. Lee, but two Armisteads.

It seemed to me that the day felt politically charged in the wake of the debate over the Confederate flag sparked by the church shootings in Charleston. (“Keep flying it,” I heard one woman remark to a Confederate reenactor as he passed her with a Rebel flag.) I’ve written about the flag issue elsewhere. I have no problems with Confederate flags in a historical context. I do have issues with it in a political context, whether it’s being flown at a statehouse or in the back of a pickup truck.

Anyone who has read Searching for George Gordon Meade knows that I have little patience for Lost Cause rhetoric. Here’s one thing I wrote:

During the war and in the years since, Lee has been lionized. Entire bookshelves groan beneath the weight of the volumes dedicated to him. He has come to symbolize a glorious “lost cause,” a world of “cavaliers and cotton fields,” as Gone with the Wind put it. In this view of the Civil War, the noble, freedom-loving South fought a valiant but doomed battle against the institutionalized and bureaucratic forces of the North. The Southern generals, men like Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, tend to be remembered as glamorous and noble warriors. The generals in the North come across more like CEOs of major corporations, faceless and colorless. Except perhaps for Ulysses S. Grant, who gained a reputation as a “butcher” willing to exchange his soldiers’ lives for victory. Who wants to cheer for those guys, especially today, when public distrust of the federal government seems to have reached an all-time high? No, it’s much cooler to cheer for the rebels.

Modern rebels at Gettysburg, 152 years later (Tom Huntington photo).

Modern rebels at Gettysburg, 152 years later (Tom Huntington photo).

Yet there’s one thing that tarnishes this glamorous view of the rebellious South, an elephant in the room that many try to ignore. And that is slavery. The South fought to preserve a culture that rested on a foundation of human bondage. Don’t take it from me–take it from the vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. In a famous speech he made in March 1861, less than a month before the attack on Fort Sumter ignited the Civil War, Stephens declared that slavery “was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” Furthermore, he added, the foundation of the Confederate government—its very cornerstone, in fact—“rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Claiming that slavery did not cause the Civil War is like clearing the iceberg of any responsibility for sinking the Titanic. That’s why I find it galling to see the Sons of Confederate Veterans contend that the South’s “motivating factor” for war was “the preservation of liberty and freedom.” Except, of course, for the approximately four million people of African descent whom the slave-holding states kept in bondage. It’s a stain that will forever sully the story of the Confederate States of America. There’s no escaping it.

The recent discussions have dragged the unsavory side of Confederate banners into the light, which is a good thing. People forget that South Carolina started flying the stars and bars over its state capitol in 1962, not to salute the courage of Confederate soldiers, but to symbolize its resistance to civil rights. “Heritage not hate,” is what flag supporters tell us the banners symbolize. But that’s not quite right. “Heritage AND hate,” would be a more accurate motto.

So I sensed that subtext percolating beneath the day’s events at Gettysburg. The present has a way of forcing its way into these things, photo bombing history.

Hands across the wall (Tom Huntington photo).

Hands across the wall (Tom Huntington photo).

After watching Union and Confederate reenactors grasp hands across the stone wall, I headed up to the Meade statue for the start of a short “real time” talk about Alexander Webb and the Philadelphia Brigade, led by ranger Emma Murphy. By the walk’s end we were down at the Copse of Trees by the monument to the 69th Pennsylvania. She read us excerpts from Lt. Frank Haskell’s account of the battle and the final repulse of the Confederates on July 3, 1863. “The line springs,” Haskell had written; “the crest of the solid ground, with a great roar, heaves forward its maddened load,–men, arms, smoke, fire, a fighting mass; it rolls to the wall; flash meets flash; the wall is crossed; a moment ensues of thrusts, yells, blows, shots, an undistinguished conflict, followed by a shout universal, that makes the welkin ring again; and the last and bloodiest fight of the great battle of Gettysburg is ended and won.”

As far as I’m concerned, the right side won at Gettysburg. But as all the debate about the Confederate flag has shown us, in some people are still fighting the Civil War.

“The Most Impartial Account” (December 3, 1864)

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

This Currier & Ives print from 1863 depicts a very heroic version of the victor of Gettysburg (Library of Congress).

George Meade likes an article on Gettysburg by Captain Charles Cornwallis Chesney that appeared in British Army and Navy Review. “The grand address of Mr. Everett” that he mentions is the talk that Edward Everett gave at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Everett prepared his epic oration with background material that Meade had asked Theodore Lyman to gather. (“Prepared, by order, a sort of résumé of Gen. Meade’s official report of the battle of Gettysburg, to be sent to Mr. Everett, who is to deliver an oration at the cemetery, to be made at that place,” Lyman had noted in his notebook entry for October 5, 1863.) Everett’s two-hour talk was overshadowed by the brief remarks of the speaker who followed him, President Abraham Lincoln.

I received the two volumes of the Army and Navy Review (British) and have read with great interest Captain Chesney’s critique of the battle of Gettysburg. It is decidedly the most impartial account of this battle that I have read, and I think does more justice to my acts and motives than any account by my countrymen, including the grand address of Mr. Everett. What has struck me with surprise is the intimate knowledge of many facts not made very public at the time, such as [Henry] Slocum’s hesitation about reinforcing [Oliver O.] Howard, [Daniel] Butterfield’s drawing up an order to withdraw, and other circumstances of a like nature. This familiarity with details evidences access to some source of information on our side, other than official reports or newspaper accounts. Captain Chesney’s facts are singularly accurate, though he has fallen into one or two errors. I was never alarmed about my small arm ammunition, and after Hancock’s repulsing the enemy on the 3d, I rode to the left, gave orders for an immediate advance, and used every exertion to have an attack made; but before the troops could be got ready, it became dark. There is no doubt the fatigue and other results of the three days’ fighting had produced its effect on the troops and their movements were not as prompt as they would otherwise have been. I have no doubt all his statements about Lee, and his having been overruled, are true. Lee never before or since has exhibited such audacity. I am glad this impartial account by a foreign military critic has been written.

One of the enjoyable things about Theodore Lyman’s letters is the way he casts light on day-to-day life in the Army of the Potomac. Here we learn a little bit about General Meade on pay-day. Lyman also writes about “contrabands,” escaped slaves who seek freedom with the Union army.

At the end of each month, General Meade sends up his pay-rolls, that is, a large printed sheet which each officer fills up, stating what the Government owes him, and saying that he hasn’t cheated Uncle Sam, and don’t owe him anything and is all right generally. The pay department keeps this as a receipt and returns your money for the past month. Lieutenant-Colonel Woodruff gets the General’s pay. One part he sends to Mrs. Meade and the rest he sends to the General, who, the moment that he gets it, sends violently for Mercier and John and everyone else to whom he is indebted, and pays them all, in hot haste, as if his last day were come. He is a thorough old soldier about money and regards greenbacks in a weak and helpless sort of way. “Once,” said he, “Mrs. Meade said it was my plain duty to go to market, as other gentlemen did: it would be so satisfactory and saving. I went the next morning. We had a famous dinner—oysters, terrapin, and lots of good things—the children were delighted; but, when I came to look, I found I had spent the week’s allowance in one day! I wasn’t allowed to go any more to market.” You would have laughed to see yesterday the crowd of contrabands that came in with Gregg. Usually, wherever they can, they cut and run, not showing that devotion to their masters described by the Southrons. It is sometimes rather remarkable the way they run off. Now in this lot (mostly women) there was all the way from a newly born baby to an old woman who, they told me, was over ninety, and who, from her looks, might very likely have been a hundred and fifty. The young women had their mistresses’ things on, if I know myself. There was one Christian Commission kuss who went whining about and saying: “Oh! you are free, free! Oh! thank God for it!” “Look here, my friend,” said I, “if you want to show your Christian feeling, go and tell your commission to get these people something to eat; they have had nothing since yesterday.” The pious party took this with an ill grace, but was fain to walk off “to see our agent,” who, I hope, made some good soup for them.

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. 248-9. 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. 287-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Reason to be Grateful (October 13, 2014)

The Meade statue at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington photo).

The Meade statue at Gettysburg (Tom Huntington photo).

General George Meade often complained about how other generals received their promotions before he did, or that the press ignored his accomplishments as commander of the Army of the Potomac. In Washington he had had to suffer the humiliating attacks on his record from the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. As he once wrote to his wife, “I supposed after awhile it will be discovered I was not at Gettysburg at all.” With all that in mind, his letter of October 13 is remarkably even-handed. Of course, having a child dying back home no doubt helped put things in perspective.

I undoubtedly do not occupy the position I did just after the battle of Gettysburg, and no one will retain any such position in this country, unless he continues to be successful; but when you compare my position with my numerous predecessors, McClellan, Pope, McDowell, Burnside, Hooker, Rosecrans, Banks, Sigel and many others, I think you will admit that my retaining command, and the hold I have at present, is even more creditable than the exaggerated laudation immediately succeeding Gettysburg. Recollect, also, that most persistent efforts have been made by influential men, politicians and generals, to destroy me, without success; and I think you will find reason to be grateful and satisfied, even though you should desire to see more justice done. I don’t mean to say I have not been badly treated, but I do mean to say I might have been much worse treated, and that my present status is not without advantages, and does not justify my being discontented.

I am very much distressed to hear that Sergeant does not seem well enough to bear a sea voyage, and still hope the fine weather of the fall will enable him to gather strength.

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. 234. Available via Google Books.

Anniversary (July 3, 1864)

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Here in the twenty-first century we are commemorating the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In this letter George Gordon Meade looks back after only one year has passed, takes some time to reflect, and feels a small sense of satisfaction. Earlier this year he had complained, “I supposed after awhile it will be discovered that I was not at Gettysburg at all.”

To-day is the anniversary of the last day’s fight at Gettysburg. As I reflect on that eventful period, and all that has elapsed since, I have reason to be satisfied with my course, and cause to be most thankful. The longer this war continues the more will Gettysburg and its results be appreciated. Colonel de Chenal, who is still with me, says he studied the battle, with maps at Pau, but had no idea that on its anniversary he should be the guest of the victorious commander. He says in Europe it was looked on as a great battle.

It is said Washington is very unhealthy, and that many of our wounded are dying there. It is strange; the health of the army never was better—we have no sickness at all. But if we are kept here, I presume, as the summer advances, we must expect considerable sickness.

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. 210. Available via Google Books.

A Prudent General (March 15, 1864)

Meade was often very revealing in his letters to Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother-in law. Here he discusses his recent tribulations with Congress, and provides a pretty good sense of his immediate future and his place in history: “I expect to retain my place, but I am anxious about my reputation.”

I received your note in due course of mail, but was so busy at the time I could not reply. It was hardly necessary for you to write that you would do anything in my defense, because I shall always fully count on you in this way. I was glad to have your sympathy, because I am free to confess the suddenness of this attack, its injurious combination of several interests against me, that really have no particular cause of complaint, has in reality astounded me and for awhile I was embarrassed what to do. I believe now, however, I have produced a reaction in my behalf, simply by exposing the character and motives of my assailants. I feared the Committee on the Conduct of the War was against me, and that their examination would be ex-parte; to which their organization, the absence of myself or counsel, the ignorance I am under of what is testified against me, all combine to give great power for injury, if abused. Fortunately my friend Mr. Odell is on this committee, and although hitherto a great friend of my principal adversary, he is most indignant at the course pursued, and has entered heart and soul into the determination to see justice done. Now this is all I ask, a thorough investigation of the whole matter and the bringing out the truth.

The ingenuity of my enemies, in the theory of their attack, is worthy of admiration. They acknowledge the battle of Gettysburg as one of the greatest victories the world has ever seen; but they expect to prove that it was fought in opposition to all the plans I had formed; that I was all the time expecting disaster and issuing orders to retreat; in fine, that had I not been there, great as was the battle, it would have been far greater. Now, although I can tear away all this flimsy framework of argument in this operation, I shall have to expose that as a prudent general, whilst my orders were always looking to fighting, I did at times, in discussions, councils, preparatory orders, etc., hold in view the contingency of a reverse and endeavor to be prepared for it. This is the sum and substance of my offense, and I regret to say that, among a certain class of my fellow-countrymen, this will be an offense and indicative of what they call too much caution, and being paralyzed by contingent reverses, proving that I did not have the dash and blundering audacity of others.

My enemies consist of certain politicians who wish me removed to restore Hooker; then of certain subordinates, whose military reputations are involved in the destruction of mine; finally, a class of vultures who in Hooker’s day preyed upon the army, and who sigh for a return of those glorious days. I expect to retain my place, but I am anxious about my reputation.

A very good article has been sent to me in the new paper in your city called the Round Table. [See below.] I wish, if you know the editors, you would, in my name, thank them for their generous interposition in my behalf. I am of the opinion that the characters and motives of my assailants have been of immense benefit, in staying public judgment before I could reply. I should like to see that article republished over the country, also one from the Times, which was no more personal, but discussed temperately the destruction of all subordination and discipline in an army where the inferior generals were spies and critics of their commanding general.

I think my testimony will pull the lion’s skin off of some of my disguised foes, and that they will perhaps, before the thing is over, repent they ever meddled with it. Already the liars have disclaimed any intention to attack me, and in evidence produce the article in the Herald signed Historicus, which you have doubtless read, and which is filled with false and perverted statements, which have astonished even myself, and those around me, who have great respect for the capacity, adroitness and skill in this respect of my opponents.

Give my love to Kate, and tell her I shall come out of this last battle of Gettysburg with flying colors.

Here’s the Round Table article that Meade mentions:


This question is now absorbing the attention of the authorities at Washington, and soon will be, if it is not already, decided. The fatality that has attached to every commander of the brave Army of the Potomac has affixed itself to General Meade. The movement against him, at first only whispered among a few discontented subordinates in the army, has at last reached the capital, and has attained the dignity—if dignity it be—of an open opposition. The main movers appear to be General Daniel E’ Sickles and the new Committee on the Conduct of the War. It is urged that General Meade is too slow; that but for the dash of some of his division commanders the victory at Gettysburg would have been a cowardly retreat; that he erred in not following up Lee immediately after that battle; and that since that time he has let slip more than one opportunity of adding new laurels to those of which the Army of the Potomac cherish an honorable pride. Such, in brief, are the charges against General Meade.

It is well known that, in his report of the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade indirectly censured General Sickles for advancing farther than he had authority to do by virtue of his orders, and so not only subjected his corps to severe loss, but rendered the extrication of it from the difficulty in which it was thereby involved no easy task. Whether General Sickles intentionally disobeyed or unintentionally misinterpreted his orders, was not distinctly stated. But one thing is certain, that the fact that General Sickles lost a leg in the engagement saved him from removal from the army. We honor General Sickles for the devotion to the cause of his country; we honor him for the untiring energy and personal bravery he has displayed in its defense; and when the war shall be ended and the roll of honor made out, we shall not be the last to claim for General Sickles no mean place on it. But we cannot blink the fact that General Sickles is quite as much a politician as a soldier. We know that he has accomplished more by personal address, adroitness, and cunning management of newspaper correspondents, than by actual display of military ability. * * * He is not a man to forget a fancied slight or to lose an opportunity of resenting it. In view of this, we are at no loss to account for his hostility to General Meade. As to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, the less that is said of it the better. So much for General Meade’s accusers.

Concerning General Meade, we presume no one will deny that he is a high-minded gentleman and a thorough soldier. All his dispatches and reports show that he has the instincts of a gentleman; and since he has been in the command of the Army of the Potomac he has won one great battle, has obtained several smaller successes, and has suffered no great disaster. As regards the battle of Gettysburg, the fate of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and perhaps of the nation itself, depended upon him, and with this in mind he had no business to take any risks. We see now how a pursuit of Lee immediately after the battle might have proved advantageous; but General Meade could not feel sure of it then, and under the circumstances he ought not to have undertaken the pursuit unless he was certain of its proving successful.

As a strategist and a tactician, General Meade has displayed no ordinary military ability. His disposition of his troops at Gettysburg has yet to be questioned, while the various movements he has planned since then, though not ending in the results which were hoped for, have stamped him as an able general. His retreat in the valley of the Shenandoah, when outflanked by Lee, was more than redeemed by the fact that he captured a number of rebel prisoners, which is, we believe, the only instance in the war in which a retreating force not only saved itself, but captured no small portion of its pursuers. Indeed, the rebels acknowledge this. The retreat from Mine Run, though it was to be regretted, reflected but little on General Meade, for his plan of the movement was proved to have been good, despite the failure in its execution.

Besides, the present is not a time for the removal of a general in command of so important an army, unless his faults be much greater than any that can be proved of General Meade. The spring campaign is about to open—who is better fitted to lead the Army of the Potomac than he who led it to victory at Gettysburg, and has since kept its honor bright? We have changed commanders too often; with the exception of General Meade, each change has been for the worse. We tried Burnside, Pope, Hooker, and found each of them wanting. There was no victory between those of Antietam and Gettysburg. It is due to the general who won the latter that he should have a chance to share the honors of the triumphs which we hope are awaiting our armies in the coming campaign. This is no time for experiments. And so long as we have got a good commander—one, too, who has proved himself such—we should stand by him; certainly we should not remove him to gratify the pique of any man or any set of men. General Grant was given a fair trial after the disaster at Belmont and Shiloh. Shall not as much be granted to General Meade, who as yet has met with no disaster?

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. 178-80. The Round Table article appears on pp. 321-3. Available via Google Books.

Reading Material (October 7, 1863)

The article in Blackwood’s Magazine to which Meade refers in this letter to his son, John Sergeant, was written by Arthur Fremantle, a British officer who was present at Gettysburg with Lee’s army. You can read the entire article here.

I have read the article in Blackwood, which is tolerably fair for a “secesh” Englishman. The general officer referred to as being cheered was your humble servant, and I was at that time riding down the line to the left, for the purpose of ordering an attack; but it was so late and the distance to the enemy’s line so great, that by the time the troops were in motion the day was at an end.

Lee’s report has just been published. Considering all things, it is pretty fair, in some places a little too much of what the lawyers call the suppressio veri. Still, I am willing to leave to history the fact, which he plainly admits, that after the battle of Gettysburg he had to retreat continuously till he reached the south bank of the Rappahannock, from whence he had started to destroy my army and accomplish other valuable results.

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. 153. Available via Google Books.

Gifts (September 11, 1863)

Meade and Theodore Lyman both wrote home on September 11 and I include both letters. All was quiet on the eastern theater’s front. Regarding the cigars Meade received, Ulysses S. Grant, too, also began receiving shipments of cigars from admirers following his victories in the west and his attempt to smoke as many of them as possible quite likely led to the cancer that killed him.

Everything remains quiet and in status quo. Humphreys has gone to Philadelphia for a few days to see his wife, who is in the country, and will call to see you, and give you the latest news from camp. I wrote you in my last, of being the recipient of a bouquet from Wisconsin; but since then I have been honored with two very valuable presents. The first is a handsome scarf pin of gold and enamel. It is accompanied with a very flattering note stating it was made in England, and brought over by the donor to be presented in the name of himself and wife, as a tribute of admiration for my great services in saving the country. The note is signed W. H. Schenley, and I think the writer is a Captain Schenley, of the British navy, who many years since married Miss Croghan, of Pittsburgh. Captain Schenley says he intends visiting the army and making my acquaintance.

The second present is five hundred most delicious Havana cigars, sent to me by a Mr. Motley, of New York, whom I accidentally met at the sword presentation to General Sedgwick, and to whom I must have been particularly civil, or in some way made a great impression on him, to induce him to send me five hundred cigars. So you see there is some compensation for the misery we have to suffer.

Here’s Lyman’s letter:

The last two days have been most unusually quiet. I read a little in military books, write a few letters, look over the newspapers a little, talk to the Staff officers, and go to bed early. The conversation of the officers is extremely entertaining, as most of them have been in a good many battles. They say that General Meade is an extremely cool man. At Gettysburg he was in a little wooden house, when the hot fire began. The shells flew very thick and close, and his Staff, who were outside, got under the lee of the house and sat down on the grass. As they sat there, out came General Meade, who, seeing them under such a slender protection against cannon-balls, began to laugh, and said: “That now reminds me of a feller at the Battle of Buena Vista, who, having got behind a wagon, during a severe cannonade, was there found by General Taylor. ‘Wall Gin’ral,’ said he, looking rather sheepish, ‘this ain’t much protection, but it kinder feels as it was.'” As a point to the Chief’s anecdote, a spherical case came through the house at that instant, exploded in their circle and wounded Colonel Dickinson. . . .

The Lydia Leister house at Gettysburg, which Meade used as his headquarters during the battle. Notice the dead horses in the road. Lyman relates a story about Meade here on July 3, 1863 (Library of Congress).

The Lydia Leister house at Gettysburg, which Meade used as his headquarters during the battle. Notice the dead horses in the road. Lyman relates a story about Meade here on July 3, 1863 (Library of Congress).

I walked over and saw the Provost prisoners, the other evening. If you want to see degraded human nature, there was the chance. There was a bough covering, about forty feet square, guarded by sentries, and under it were grouped some fifty of the most miserable and depraved human beings I ever saw—deserters, stray Rebel soldiers, “bushwhackers” and camp-followers. They sleep on the bare ground with such covering as they may have, and get a ration of pork and biscuit every day. This is only a sort of temporary guardhouse, where they are put as they come in. War is a hard thing. This country, just here, was once all fenced in and planted; now there isn’t a rail left and the land is either covered with dried weeds or is turned into a dusty plain by the innumerable trains of horses, mules and waggons.

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. 147-8. 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. 12-13.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Back to South Mountain (July 10, 1863)

July 10, 1863, found Meade still in pursuit of the Confederate army. He wrote to his wife from the Mountain House, in South Mountain’s Turner’s Gap. (The building is still there on Alt. Rt. 40 and today operates as the South Mountain Inn.)

I have been so busy I could not write. You must depend on George for letters.

Lee has not crossed and does not intend to cross the river, and I expect in a few days, if not sooner, again to hazard the fortune of war. I know so well that this is a fortune and that accidents, etc., turn the tide of victory, that, until the question is settled, I cannot but be very anxious. If it should please God again to give success to our efforts, then I could be more tranquil. I also see that my success at Gettysburg has deluded the people and the Government with the idea that I must always be victorious, that Lee is demoralized and disorganized, etc., and other delusions which will not only be dissipated by any reverse that I should meet with, but would react in proportion against me. I have already had a very decided correspondence with General Halleck upon this point, he pushing me on, and I informing him I was advancing as fast as I could. The firm stand I took had the result to induce General Halleck to tell me to act according to my judgment. I am of opinion that Lee is in a strong position and determined to fight before he crosses the river. I believe if he had been able to cross when he first fell back, that he would have done so; but his bridges being destroyed, he has been compelled to make a stand, and will of course make a desperate one. The army is in fine spirits, and if I can only manage to keep them together, and not be required to attack a position too strong, I think there is a chance for me. However, it is all in God’s hands. I make but little account of myself, and think only of the country.

The telegram I sent you was because I could not write, and I thought it would make you easy to know we were well. George,1 I suppose, has written you what a narrow escape he had. I never knew of it till last night. His horse was struck with a piece of shell, killing him, and coming so near George as to carry away a part of the back of his saddle. This was on the 3d, just after we had repulsed the last assault, when I rode up to the front, and George was the only officer with me.

Meade and Halleck also kept communicating.

Meade to Halleck, July 10, 1863, 1 P. M.

MeadeThe information received to-day indicates that the enemy occupy positions extending from the Potomac, near Falling Water, through Downsville to Funkstown and to the northeast of Hagerstown, Ewell’s Corps being to the northeast of Hagerstown, Longstreet’s at Funkstown and A. P. Hill’s on their right. These positions they are said to be intrenching.

I am advancing on a line perpendicular to the line from Hagerstown to Williamsport, and the Army will this evening occupy a position extending from the Boonsboro and Hagerstown road, at a point one mile beyond Beaver Creek, to Bakersville, near the Potomac. Our cavalry advance this morning drove the enemy’s cavalry, on the Boonsboro pike, to within a mile of Funkstown, when the enemy deployed a large force and opened a fire from heavy guns (20-pounders).

I shall advance cautiously on the same line to-morrow until I can develop more fully the enemy’s position and force, upon which my future operations will depend.

General Smith is still at Waynesboro; a dispatch was received from him at that place, this morning. Instructions similar to those of yesterday were sent to him.

Halleck to Meade: July 10, 9 P. M.

halleckI think it will be best for you to postpone a general battle till you can concentrate all your forces and get up your reserve and reinforcements. I will push on the troops as fast as they arrive. It would be well to have staff officers at the Monocacy to direct the troops arriving where to go and see that they are properly fitted out. They should join you by forced marches. Beware of partial combats, bring up and hurl upon the enemy all your forces, good and bad.

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. 133-4 and 311. Available via Google Books.


Detail of the Soldiers National Monument at Gettysburg's National Cemetery (Tom Huntington).

Detail of the Soldiers National Monument at Gettysburg’s National Cemetery (Tom Huntington).

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg’s third and final day. The fighting here in 1863 had been fierce and bloody, with something like 8,000 dead from both sides. Most of the fallen were initially buried near where they died. Many of the Union troops were eventually laid to rest in the new National Cemetery, site of President Lincoln’s address on November 19, 1863. General Meade was invited to the cemetery dedication but had business with General Lee in Virginia at the time. On July 1, 1869, he returned to Gettysburg to speak at the dedication ceremonies for the Soldiers’ National Monument in the National Cemetery. It was, for its time, a short speech so I have posted the entire address here. Especially interesting are Meade’s remarks about the Confederate dead at Gettysburg.

My fellow citizens, ladies and gentlemen,

Six years ago I stood upon this ground under circumstances very different from those which now surround us. These beautiful hills and valleys, teeming with luxuriant crops, these happy faces around me, are widely different from the tumultuous roar of war and the terrible scenes enacted at that time. Four years ago I stood here, by invitation of some honorable gentlemen who have brought me here this time, and laid the corner-stone of the Monument which we are brought here to-day to dedicate; and now, for the third time, I appear before you at the request of the managers of the Monument Association, to render my assistance, humble as it is, in paying respect to the memory of the brave men who fell here, by dedicating this Monument to them; and at the request of these gentlemen I am about to make to you a few, a very few remarks which are incident to this occasion and suggested by it. When I look around and see, as I now see, so many brave men who were by my side in that memorable battle, among them his Excellency the present Governor of Pennsylvania, General Geary, and others who were with me at that time; when I look back and think upon the noble spirits who then fought so well, and now sleep that sleep that knows no waking—gallant Reynolds, my bosom friend, as well as my right hand officer; brave Vincent, and Zook, and Weed, and others, far more in number than I have time of words to mention,—my feelings are those of mingled sadness and joy,—sadness, my friends, to think that there ever was an occasion when such men should be arrayed in battle, as they were here; that we should ever have been called upon, as we were upon this held, to defend the flag of our country and Government, which had been handed down to us from our forefathers. It is sad to think of the mourning and desolation which prostrated our whole land, North and South; it is sad to contemplate the vast destruction of life which we here wrought in obedience to our highest duty. I am filled with sadness to think of the host of mourning widows and orphans left throughout the land by that deadly struggle. Such thoughts necessarily crowd upon us. At the same time I give thanks to the Almighty, who directed the event, and who selected me as an humble instrument, with those then around me upon this field, to obtain that decisive victory which turned the tide of that great war, and settled for ever the trust in this country of the great principles of personal liberty and constitutional freedom. I feel grateful, too, that our fellow-countrymen have been moved to such respect and honor as we are now paying to the memory of those men who, in the discharge of their duty, laid down their lives, proving, by the highest sacrifice man can render, their devotion to the cause they were defending. Gratitude to those present to-day, who, by their presence, contribute to render the high honor justly due to the fallen brave.

There is one subject, my friends, which I will mention now and on this spot, while my attention is being called to it, and on which I trust my feeble voice will have some influence. When I contemplate this field, I see here and there the marks of hastily dug trenches in which repose the dead against whom we fought. They are the work of my brothers in arms the day after the battle. Above them a bit of plank indicates simply that these remains of the fallen were hurriedly laid there by soldiers who met them in battle. Why should we not collect them in some suitable place! I do not ask that a monument be erected over them; I do not ask that we should in any way endorse their cause or their conduct, or entertain other than feelings of condemnation for their course: but they are dead! They have gone before their Maker to be judged. In all civilized countries it is the usage to bury the dead with decency and respect, and even to fallen enemies respectful burial is accorded in death. I earnestly hope that this suggestion may have some influence throughout our broad land, for this is only one of a hundred crowded battle fields. Some persons may be designated by the Government to collect these neglected bones and bury them without commemorating monuments, simply indicating that below sleep misguided men who fell in battle for a cause over which we triumphed.

I shall delay you no longer, for you are about to listen to one of the most eloquent men in this country. My purpose was simply to comply with the kind invitation given me to speak meet words of praise for the dead heroes sleeping around, and to aid in the solemnities of this occasion. I thank you for your attention, and will now unveil the statue.

From The Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg: With the Proceedings at its Consecration, at the Laying of the Corner-stone of the Monument, and at its Dedication by John Russell Bartlett (Printed by the Providence Press Co. for the Board of Commissioners of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, 1874). Available via Google Books.

A Quick Note (July 3, 1863)

Meades HQJuly 3, 1863, was the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American continent. It climaxed with the Confederate attack we now remember as Pickett’s Charge. Before that happened, General Meade found time to write a quick note to his wife.

All well and going on well with the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking and we completely repulsing them; both Armies shattered. To-day at it again, with what result remains to be seen. Army in fine spirits and every one determined to do or die. George and myself well. Reynolds killed the first day. No other of your friends or acquaintances hurt.

Meade’s letter 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. 103. Available via Google Books.