Junketings (March 16, 1865)

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac is quite the tourist attraction in the days leading up to the final campaign of the war. Here, Meade describes yet another delegation, which included Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war. In his journal, Theodore Lyman described Stanton as “short, dark, very thick set, very big-headed; a small, turned-up nose; a long, black beard, mixed with gray, and a somewhat goblin air.”.

To-day Mr. Stanton and lady, with a select party, among whom was the French Minister, visited the army and went the rounds, witnessing among other things a review of Warren’s Corps. Yesterday we had a party of Senators, with their families, so that we have had junketings almost every day for a week past.

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. 267. Available via Google Books.

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A Party of Ladies and Gentlemen (March 8, 1865)

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it's from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

This photo is identified only as a view from a signal tower at Petersburg. Perhaps it’s from the tower at Fort Fisher that Lyman mentions in his letter of March 8. It appears to have been taken after the line had been abandoned because the fort appears deserted and all the tent roofs of the cabins have been removed. Click to enlarge and see details (Library of Congress).

When the army was not fighting, it was often entertaining visitors. Here, Meade writes about the efforts made for one party of civilians, which included the wife of General Grant, the niece of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and future Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley. It also included Mr. and Mrs. George Harding. Harding was a patent lawyer; his father had founded the Philadelphia Inquirer. Harding also occupies a footnote in presidential history as one of the many men who underestimated Abraham Lincoln. In 1855, Harding was one of the lawyers defending John H. Manny in a patent infringement suit brought by Cyrus McCormick over mechanical reapers. Feeling the legal team needed a local, Midwestern lawyer purely for reasons of appearance, they hired Abraham Lincoln sight unseen, but then refused to let him participate in the legal work. “Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here,” another lawyer on the team asked Harding; “he does not know any thing and can do you no good.” That other lawyer was Edwin Stanton. Although the legal team stayed at the same Cincinnati hotel during the trial, Harding said of Lincoln that neither he nor Stanton “ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him.” Lincoln was quite pained by this ill treatment at the hands of these elite Eastern lawyers.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the same outing.

George Harding (Library of Congress).

George Harding (Library of Congress).

Yesterday about 11 A. M.. Mr. and Mrs. George Harding, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, arrived at these headquarters. Mr. Harding had telegraphed me from City Point he was coming. I took them to see the camps and works, and turned out some of the troops for them to see. Then brought them back here and gave them a lunch, with some of Lyman’s champagne, and sent them back to City Point, quite delighted with their trip and all they saw. The day was a beautiful one and the roads in fine order. Mrs. Grant accompanied them and seemed as much pleased as the rest. I was glad to have it in my power to be civil to Mr. Harding, as some slight return for all he has done for me.

You will have heard of Sheridan’s success in the Valley, which I trust will be continued. We are now looking with interest for news from Sherman, and to know what force the enemy have been able to collect to confront him.

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Julia Grant, in a photo taken after the war (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman, as is his habit, provides a much more detailed account of the outing Meade mentions almost in passing. Thanks to David W. Lowe’s editing for his book Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, we can identify the people who Lyman’s previous editors kept anonymous, and make some corrections. For example, the Miss Stanton described below was actually the niece, not the daughter, of the secretary of war. In his journals, Lyman described Mrs. Grant as “very even and quiet, with a pleasant expression though she has a tremendous cast in one eye.” He noted that Miss Bradlee [sic] “was the best looking,” and made an observation that he probably felt was not appropriate for a letter to his wife: “[O]n the whole they were comeliest lot we have ever had.”

Yesterday, as I hinted in my last, we had a toot, of much duration. At ten A.m. the General got a telegraph (one of those charming City Point surprises) saying that a train was just then starting, holding a dozen of womenkind and a certain force of the male sex; that they would arrive in an hour or so, and that we would please rather to entertain them pretty well! We telegraphed to the 5th Corps to turn out some troops, and to General Wright, to say we were coming that way, and ordered out ambulances to go to the station, and turned out officers to go over also. Your hub, not without growls of a private sort, girded hisself with a sash and ordered the charger saddled. In due time they kim: Colonels Badeau and Babcock to guide them. As sort of chief of the honorable committee of reception, I took off my cap and was solemnly introduced to twelve distinct ladies, whose names I instantly forgot (ditto those of distinguished gentlemen accompanying), all except Mrs. General Grant, who was, of course, too well known to slip from memory. However, at the end of the day, I began to have a flickering and vague idea who some of them were. . . . Then Miss Stanton—of course I was brilliant about her. After I had more or less helped her over puddles and into ambulances for an hour or two, it occurred to me that the name of the Secretary of War was also Stanton. Then, after a period of rest, my mind roused itself to the brilliant hypothesis that this young lady might be the daughter of the Stanton who was Secretary of War. Once on this track, it did not take me over thirty minutes to satisfy myself that I actually had been rendering civilities to the offspring of him who holds the leash of the dogs of war! She is not a roarer, like her paternal, but very subdued and modest, and reminded me of the ci-devant Newport belle, Miss L C[lark]. . . . Likewise, may we here mention Bradlee père, a dried-up lawyer of New Jersey, after the fashion of the countenance of Professor Rogers. He was valiant and stuffed his trousers in his boots and clomb an exceeding tall horse, which so pleased another old party, Judge Woodruff, that he did likewise, and subsequently confessed to me that his last equestrian excursion was in 1834; from which I infer, that, at this present writing, Judge Woodruff’s legs are more or less totally useless to him as instruments of progression. He had a complement, his daughter, to whom I did not say much, as she had somebody, I forget who it was. Then we must mention, in a front place, the Lady Patroness, Mrs.H[arding], and the Noble Patron, Mr. H[arding]. These two seemed to take us all under their protection, and, so to speak, to run the machine. Mrs. was plump, fair, and getting towards forty. Mr. was of suitable age, stout, looked as if fond of good dinners, and apparently very tender on Mrs., for he continually smiled sweetly at her. Also he is a large legal gun and part proprietor of the Philadelphia Enquirer. Then there was a pale, no-account couple, Dr.and Mrs. G[rier]. The Doctor’s sister was Mrs. Smith, to whom Rosie attached himself with devotion that threatened the tranquillity of the absent S. All these, and more, were carted over to the Headquarters, where the General bowed them into his tent and cried out very actively: “Now Lyman, where are all my young men? I want all of them.” So I hunted all that were not already on hand, and they were introduced and were expected to make themselves as agreeable as possible. Without delay we were again en voyage (I, being sharp, got on a horse, which tended much to my physical comfort, prevented my conversation from being prematurely played out) and took the party to see the glories of the engineer camp and the chapel thereof; after which, to the model hospitals of the 6th Corps, of which Dr. [Silas Atherton]Holman is the Medical Director, who prides himself on doing everything without aid from the Sanitary, which he doubtless can do, when in winter quarters. It was like packing and unpacking so many boxes, to “aussteigen” and “einsteigen” all the females. We descended them, for the third time, at Fort Fisher, whence we showed them the Reb line and the big guns, and the signal tower of trestle work, 140 feet high. The next pilgrimage was a long one, as far as the 5th Corps Headquarters, on the left of the line. General Warren issued forth and welcomed the ladies to oranges, apples, grapes, crackers, cheese, ale, and cider, into the which the visitors walked with a vigor most commendable. By the time the males had made a considerable vacuum in the barrel of ale, Griffin’s division was ready for review, and thither we all went and found the gallant Humphreys, whom I carefully introduced to the prettiest young lady there, and expect to be remembered in his will for that same favor! A review of Crawford’s division followed, very beautiful, with the setting sun on the bayonets; and so home to an evening lunch, so to speak, whereat I opened my “pickles,” to the great delectation of both sexes. All this was dreamland novelty concentrated to the visitors, who departed with vehement thanks to us, well expressed by Mrs. Grant: “General Meade, I would far rather command an army, as you do, than live at City Point and have the position of Mr. Grant!” They were to have a dance that night on their boat at City Point, and politely and earnestly asked me to go down with them; but the point was not noticed by your loving hub.

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. 266. 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. 314-16. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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The Return of Lyman (March 2, 1865)

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, "Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure" (Library of Congress).

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, “Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure” (Library of Congress).

After two months on leave back in Boston, Theodore Lyman finally returns to the Army of the Potomac. “Over two months at home!” he noted in his journal on February 27. “Now it seems hardly possible—about two weeks, that is the way it seems.” From this point on we will be hearing from Lyman as well as Meade. Lyman’s letters home are invariably entertaining and detailed, although he often composed them several days after the date they bear.

Meade’s comment about Gouverneur Warren is interesting, because he two generals had fallen out the previous summer, and Meade had even considered having Warren relieved.

Lyman has returned without waiting for my summons, he becoming nervous for fear some movement of Lee’s might precipitate matters before he could get notice, and if the army should move, it might be a difficult matter to join it.

I see by the papers Howard and Schofield have been made brigadier generals in the regular army. This I think injustice to General Warren, whom I recommended some time ago to General Grant for this position.

Meade’s Headquarters, the book of Lyman’s wartime letters, has this to say about Lyman’s absence and his return to the Army:

“As the Army of the Potomac was now settling down to winter quarters before Petersburg, Meade chaffingly remarked to Lyman one day toward the end of December: ‘I have a Christmas present for Mrs. Lyman—a certain worthless officer whom I shall send home to her.’ And that evening he gave him a 300-day leave, with the understanding that Lyman was to return with the opening of the active campaign in the spring.

“Toward the end of February, Lyman became restless, and fearing that operations might start in his absence, turned up at Headquarters on March 1. On going into dinner, he was kindly greeted by General Meade, who, poor man, although he had just come back from burying his son, managed to say playfully that he would have Lyman court-martialed for returning without orders.”

Here is Lyman’s letter from March 2.

It was raw yesterday, or chilly rather, without being cold, and to-day we are favored by a persistent northeast rain, such as we had a month later than this at Culpeper. The season, I should fancy, is earlier here than at Culpeper—very likely by two weeks or more. Indeed last night the toads were whistling in the bog-holes, as they do with us in the last of April; and Rosie had, on his mantel, a bud of narcissus, or some such flower, he had found in a swamp. You would not give us much credit for a chance to move, could you see the country; the ground everywhere saturated and rotten, and giving precarious tenure even to single horses, or waggons. I did not believe very earnestly that we should soon move, when I left, but only wanted to be within all chances. I do really doubt whether anything will be done before the 1st of April. I think the state of the country will hardly permit it to either party. When Sherman gets, say, in the latitude of Weldon, if he does so without check, he must, I think, strike the perfection of the mud zone; and must stick for a while; besides which he must establish a regular base, and, if he contemplates hard or protracted fighting, he must have a protected line for supplies. All these things take time, and take season also. Of course, it is not Lee’s policy to let go his hold hereabout, till the very last moment. He has gone south in person, to gather up all possible forces and put them in the best order for resistance he can. The impression here seems to be, that the combined forces against Sherman are not very strong in the sum total, and are, of course, not so good in quality as Lee’s own men. Then again, his very army, it is within bounds to say, never was so low in morale as now. During the twenty-eight days of February nearly 900 men deserted to the lines of this army alone, and a proportional number to those of the Army of the James. The remarkable point, also, is that these are old men—nearly all of them—and not the raw conscripts. In one day there came over 134 men, including also their non-commissioned officers, bringing their arms with them. Among the deserters have been four commissioned officers. During the time I have been with the army, I recall only two or three instances, besides these. Of course many more desert to the rear than to the enemy; so that I doubt not that Lee’s losses from this cause during February were something between a large brigade and a small division. General Meade, after reviewing Lee’s position and prospects, said: “I do not see what he is to do!”—which is a very strong speech for the cautious General. Well, as I have always said, he has the remaining chance, should everything work precisely to favor him, of falling with fury and with all available troops, on a part of Sherman’s army, or even on the whole of it, and dealing a stunning blow, whereby his evil day would be postponed; but how it could be averted seems to me inconceivable, save by a sort of miracle. If I am not mistaken, the forces now opposed to the Rebels in the east are at least as two to one. And again they have almost everything against them excepting the important advantage of interior lines.

Meantime all is very quiet with us. Last night I certainly heard not over half-a-dozen musket-shots, whereas in the autumn we had a real skirmish fire all the night through, not to speak of intermittent shelling. As I told you, Duane was on hand to welcome me. He looks very well and is better as to his eyes. Then Rosie—had he not, in my honor, caused constructed a new and very high hedge, or shelter, of pine branches, topped off with a tuft of cedar, and a triumphal arch of the same over the doorway! Within the tent were further improvements; andirons to wit (weak as to their legs, and frequently tumbling over on their sides at critical moments). Then a large Swedish flag, with the Union over my bed—a gift from some Scandinavian marines who visited the Headquarters, and upon whom Rosie quite ran himself aground in the matter of oysters, at the saloon over the way. Then, too, the middle tent-pole has been removed and the interior of the tent supported by a framework, a part of which takes the form of a shelf, running round the sides and very handy for any small articles. I must also give credit to that idiotic Frenchman, who waited at table, for having ingeniously burned down our mess tent, during my absence, whereby we now have a much improved hospital tent, very pleasant, and we have got rid of the idiot and have a quite intelligent nig, which actually keeps the spoons clean.

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. 265. 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. 304-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Hatcher’s Run (February 7, 1865)

Alfred Waud sketched the fighting on February 7. On the back, he wrote, "The 1st Div 5th Corps charging some temporary breastworks of logs piled against trees on the morning of Tuesday 7th Feb. Thick pine woods. The ground smooth and covered with fine leaves. A.R.W. Near Hatchers Run." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud made this sketch of the fighting on February 7. On the back, he wrote, “The 1st Div 5th Corps charging some temporary breastworks of logs piled against trees on the morning of Tuesday 7th Feb. Thick pine woods. The ground smooth and covered with fine leaves. A.R.W. Near Hatchers Run.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes home about the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, yet another attempt to force Robert E. Lee to extend his lines around Petersburg to the breaking point. The operation began on February 5, with cavalry moving out in advance of the V Corps (Gouverneur Warren commanding) and the II (under Andrew A. Humphreys). Although not able to sever the Boydton Plank Road, an important Confederate supply line, the Union offensive did weaken the rebel defenses. “Although no man could tell what the next two months would bring forth, yet it was evident that the end was near for the capture of Petersburg,” wrote William Henry Powell in his 1896 history of the V Corps. “The continued extension of the Union lines to the left was very threatening to the only remaining railroad line of communication of the Confederate army directly with the South, and General Grant feared, from indications, that General Lee would abandon his Petersburg and Richmond intrenchments and endeavor to unite with Johnston’s army, then in front of Sherman, before he (Grant) was quite ready for the pursuit, Sheridan still being in the Shenandoah Valley. In preparing, therefore, for a contemplated pursuit, General Sheridan was summoned to Petersburg with his command.”

I have not written you for several days, owing to being very much occupied with military operations. Day before yesterday to prove war existed, whatever might be the discussions about peace, I moved a portion of my army out to the left. The first day the enemy attacked Humphreys, who handsomely repulsed him. The next day (yesterday) Warren attacked the enemy, and after being successful all day, he was towards evening checked and finally compelled to retrace his steps in great disorder. This morning, notwithstanding it was storming violently, Warren went at them again, and succeeded in recovering most of the ground occupied and lost yesterday. The result on the whole has been favorable to our side, and we have extended our lines some three miles to the left. The losses have not been so great as in many previous engagements, and I hear of but few officers killed or severely wounded.

I have been in the saddle each day from early in the morning till near midnight, and was too much exhausted to write.

Colonel Lyman sent me a box, which he said contained books and pickles. I find, on opening it, that there are about a dozen nice books and a box of champagne; so you can tell dear Sergeant he is not the only one that gets good things.

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. 261. Available via Google Books.

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Dissipated by Facts (December 16, 1864)

Edwin Forbes sketched the arrival in a Union cap at Rappahannock Station of newspapers from Washington. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Edwin Forbes sketched the arrival of newspapers from Washington in a Union camp at Rappahannock Station . Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

George Meade never had any love for the press or Congress. Here he advises his wife about both institutions.

I received this evening your letter of the 14th inst., having received day before yesterday the one dated the 12th. I am sorry the good public should have been disappointed in the result of Warren’s expedition, but the facts are, as I stated them, he accomplished all that he went for, namely, the destruction of some eighteen miles of the Weldon Railroad.

This passion of believing newspaper and club strategy will I suppose never be eradicated from the American public mind, notwithstanding the experience of four years in which they have from day to day seen its plans and hopes and fears dissipated by facts.

I don’t anticipate either Grant or his campaign will be attacked in Congress. In the first place he has too many friends; in the next place, Congress having legislated him into his present position, he can only be removed by their act, and that would be stultifying themselves.

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. 252. 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.

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A High Festival (December 10, 1864)

"Destruction of Water Ta[nk]s & Engines & engine houses for pumping water into them at Jarrets Station" by Alfred Waud depicts action from December 8 on the Weldon Railroad. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Destruction of Water Ta[nk]s & Engines & engine houses for pumping water into them at Jarrets Station” by Alfred Waud depicts action from December 8 on the Weldon Railroad. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman continues his account of the expedition across Hatcher’s Run to threaten the Boydton Plank Road. And he discusses other things as well. Duane is James C. Duane, the army’s chief engineer; William Riddle is another member of Meade’s staff. Riddle, a Philadelphian, had once served as an aide to Maj. Gen. John Reynolds and had been with that ill-fated general when a bullet struck him down during the first day at Gettysburg. In his letter Lyman leaves out one thing about Riddle’s going away party that he mentions in his notebooks, namely that aide Frederick Rosenkrantz got so disgracefully drunk “it brought the matter next morning to a crisis.” Rosenkrantz promised to mend his ways.

Lyman also writes about Gouverneur Warren’s expedition to destroy the Weldon Railroad. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in command of a brigade in the V Corps, wrote home to his sister about the same expedition and the mutual retaliation it sparked. “Our stragglers fared hard when caught by the enemy’s scouts & guerrillas,” he wrote. “In fact they were murdered—their throats cut from ear to ear. . . . In retaliation our men on the return burnt almost every house on the road. This was a hard night.” Concluded Chamberlain, “It was a sad business.”

[Brig. Gen. Nelson] Miles, with the troops which had been sent to reinforce him, maintained a threatening attitude near Hatcher’s Run till afternoon, when he was ordered to withdraw again to our lines. The enemy undertook to follow up a little, but the rear guard faced about and drove them away.—There was I seized with a fearful sleepy fit last night and went to bed; thus missing a letter home to you. However, I have not before missed one in a very long time; and, if I followed Duane’s advice, I should miss much oftener. “Lyman,” says this ancient campaigner, “you are foolish to write so much. Now I write only once a week, so my letters are valued. You write every day, and probably Mrs. Lyman puts them in her pocket and pays no attention to them.” Ah! I was speaking of Miles, and had got him with all his forces, and put him inside the works, all right. We had to pay farewell respects to Riddle, for his resignation has been accepted and he goes to-morrow. For a long time he has been in miserable health and, in warm weather, is seldom well enough for hard duty. He has been twice wounded, at Antietam and on the Peninsula, and was taken prisoner, but got away from Libby and arrived, after many hardships, within our lines. He is a very good officer and quite a superior person, whom we shall miss on our Staff. The kind-hearted Woolsey invited us all to take oysters in his honor (for you must know that there is a log house where one may have a “fancy roast,” “plain stew,” or “one fried,” just across the road). We gathered in the greatest force, for oysters attracted, even if Riddle didn’t, and had a high festival. We had songs, whereof I sang several, with large applause. “You don’t drink,” said Duane, “but it don’t make any difference, because you look as if you had been drinking, and that’s all that is necessary.”

Before I finish this day I must go back to tell of the beginning and progress of the Weldon road expedition. Last Wednesday, General Warren, with his own Corps, Mott’s division of the 2d Corps, and nearly the whole of Gregg’s division of cavalry, started in the morning and marched down the Jerusalem plank road, striking across to the Nottoway River, at Freeman’s Bridge, a distance of from fifteen to seventeen miles. There a pontoon bridge was thrown and the whole command got over before daybreak the next morning, the advance getting that night to Sussex Court House. Meantime the enemy, getting [wind] of the move, sent off A. P. Hill’s Corps, that evening, twelve hours after Warren. Hill went to Dinwiddie Court House, but what became of him thereafter, I have not yet learned. Their place in the lines was taken, I presume, by some of Early’s men, who were nearly all come down from the valley and are helping Lee now. On Thursday Warren continued his march and struck the Weldon road, a little south of the Nottoway, in the afternoon, and immediately went to destroying the track and burning the river bridge. The work went on systematically: the line being halted on the road, the men stacked arms, and went at the track. Sleepers were torn up, and these, with fence-rails, made great bonfires, on which the rails were laid. Soon the iron would wax red-hot, when the weight of the ends would bend the rails. Some of the men, however, were so enthusiastic as to take rails and twist them round trees, which could be done while the ends were cool and the middle hot. As soon as a brigade had finished its work, it marched down to a new piece, passing the other men who were destroying; and so they kept on till midnight, when they had got to Jarrott’s station and there halted. Next day, Friday, the column kept on, as before, the cavalry preceding them, who, when they arrived at Meherrin Bridge, found strong earthworks on the opposite side and some ten guns, which immediately opened on them. . . . This night was a very severe one, with its high wind and snow, sleet and rain; but it was rendered tolerable by the big fires that the soldiers lighted to heat rails with. General Warren did not deem proper to cross the Meherrin, as it would take a day to flank the Rebels’ works, and he started with but six days’ provisions. Next day, Saturday to wit, he began his return march and the head of the column got as far as Sussex C.H. On this march the people of the country had the bad judgment to “bushwhack” our troops: that is, to kill any stragglers or small parties they could catch. This is against the rules of war. I will not say it is surprising, because the stragglers of an army always steal and plunder and exasperate the people. Colonel Sergeant told me he himself saw five of our men shot and stripped nearly naked. The troops were so enraged by such cases, that they fired every house on their march, and, what made them worse, they found a great amount of apple-brandy in the country, a liquor that readily intoxicates. The superior officers destroyed a great deal of it, but the men got some and many were drunk. The people make this brandy on account of its great price. It sells for $1500 a barrel. Colonel Wainwright told me he found two tithing-bills in one house, one a year old, the other recent; in the old one wheat was valued at $10 a bushel, in the recent, at $40, showing that it has quadrupled in price within a year. It was on this day that a cavalry reconnaissance that pushed out on the Vaughan road reported heavy artillery firing in the direction of Jarrott’s station. This made Grant so uneasy that he directed aid to be sent Warren. Accordingly Potter, with 9000 men, marched that night, and arrived next morning at five a.m. at the Nottoway, at Freeman’s Bridge. A wretched march indeed! in slush and mud and a damp cold; but his men followed on very well and arrived with little straggling, which surprised me.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 293-6. 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.

Drown all Englishmen (December 8, 1864)

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren (Library of Congress).

Lyman must entertain yet another foreign visitor to the Army of the Potomac. The editors of his letters disguised his name in the published version but David W. Lowe, in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, has no such compunctions: it is Satterthwaite. In his notebook Lyman compares him to a barrel of apples, not potatoes. You can add Englishman to the list of people (Irish, German, and African-Americans among them) for whom Lyman has little patience. I guess you can add stragglers to the list as well.

In the meantime, Gouverneur K. Warren leads an expedition to destroy more of the Weldon Railroad.

There came down an elephant of a young Englishman, who, if there be brains in his skull, they are so well concealed that nobody has found them hereabout. To entertain him is like rolling a barrel of potatoes up a steep hill. Nevertheless, he is a Lieutenant of Engineers. I should think he might construct an earthwork in, say, a century. I fancy he has played out all his intellect in trying to spell and pronounce his own name which is the euphonious one of S-tt-rthw__t; you will find it gives you a cramp in your tongue to pronounce it. Query—would it not be for the best interests of the human race to drown all Englishmen? Gibbon’s division of the 2d Corps got in a towering passion, because, having erected log huts just a little way outside the line of parapet, they were ordered to pull them all down and come inside, for of course these huts would give cover to an attacking enemy. This was what I call a stupid thing all round. Stupid in the infantry commanders to allow it; stupid in the inspectors not to see it; stupid in the artillerists and engineers not to stop it—in fact, stupid all round. Gibbon came over and pitched into [Chief Engineer James C.] Duane, who received the attack with stolidity; so Gibbon thought he would get good-natured. At evening I had the greatest sight at a lot of stragglers that ever I did. It is always customary, when possible, to sweep the path of a column and gather up all stragglers, but I never before had a chance to see the leavings of a large force, marching by a single road. When Warren got to the Nottaway, he took up his pontoons behind him, so that the laggards, who were toddling leisurely behind, as well as those who really had no intention of catching up till their rations were out, were all caught on the north side. General Warren sent back about 100 cavalry to sweep the whole road and bring the men back to the lines: and after dark, they arrived, looking, in the dusk, like a large brigade. Schuyler, the Provost-Marshal, put them in ranks, had them sorted and counted, and there proved to be 856! Their way was not made soft to them. They were marched three miles more, making twenty in all, and were then put out on picket in a right frosty night. This seems a large number, and it is more than it ought to be, a great deal; but, in reality it only made four and a half men out of every 100 in Warren’s force. That they were able to go on is proved by the fact that they were able to come back, though some did limp merrily, and others were so stiff that, when once down, they could scarcely get up. A force of a few hundred cavalry was sent in the afternoon down the Vaughan road to reconnoitre, and see if they could see that any troops were moving against our rear, or against Warren. They got at dusk to Hatcher’s Run, where the opposite bank was held by the enemy in a breastwork; and, after losing half a dozen men, our cavalry came back.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 291-2. 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.

A Well-Conducted Fizzle (October 28, 1864)

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via CivilWarTalk.com).

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via CivilWarTalk.com).

In his letter of October 28, Theodore Lyman describes the frustrating experiences of the fighting at Burgess’s Mill and captures the sense of confusion that ruled the battlefield. The fighting had been done by the II, V, and IX Corps under Winfield Scott Hancock, Gouverneur Warren, and Charles Parke, with cavalry commanded by David McMurtrie Gregg. Charles Woolsey, whose escape from capture Lyman describes, served as an aide to Seth Williams, the army’s assistant adjutant-general.

Where do you think I am? Why, right by my dear chimney! All camped just where we were! I called our movement a grand reconnaissance in force; it would be more fair to call it an “attempt,” whose success depended on the enemy not having certain advantages of position. But they were found to have these advantages, and so here we are back again, nobody having fought much but Hancock, who had a most mixed-up and really severe action, on the extreme left, in which the Rebels got rather the worst of it; but Grant ordered Hancock to withdraw during the night, or early in the morning, by which he was compelled to leave some of his wounded in a house on the field. Warren would fain fight it out there, for the name of the thing; but that would have been bad strategy, though I do confess that (albeit not a fire-eater) I would sooner have seen it through the next day, by reinforcing the left. This, however, is a mere matter of sentiment; certainly I don’t set up my wisdom. As the Mine was to be termed an ill-conducted fizzle, so this attempt may be called a well-conducted fizzle. The Rebs are good engineers and had thrown up dirt scientifically, I can tell you. We got a pretty good handful of prisoners; I dare say 800 or so, and lost, including stragglers, I fancy as many, though they say we did not. The killed and wounded about equal; perhaps the enemy lost rather more than we; but the honors of the left lie with the enemy, for we abandoned the field in the night. To-day we marched back scientifically (we are hard to beat on a retreat I can tell you). The 9th and 5th Corps withdrew by successive lines of battle, one behind the other, and alternately marching to the rear, the front line passing through that behind. A very handsome manoeuvre; and the enemy, with relief, said good riddance. I do not feel anywise down in spirits, for we gave blow for blow, and came back when we saw the positions would not admit of the plan proposed. There was no blunder or disaster, but it was soldier-like. The General kept a good temper throughout, so that it was quite pleasant all round.

[In writing some days later, Lyman thus describes the country over which this engagement was fought:] The tract marked “dense wood” on my map beggars description. It is a wood, with a tangled, thick undergrowth that almost stops the passage of a man. The rest of the country is also much wooded, but wherever you see a house, there is a farm of greater or less size. [After a more detailed description of the fighting, he continues:] Mott’s men give way, the Rebels yell and their batteries open a cross-fire, and the enemy the other side of the run make as if to attack the 2d division in front. But the valiant Egan faces his line to the rear and charges the flank of the Rebels rushing from the woods; they are in turn smashed up and run back again, and a grand mixed-up fight takes place, in the midst of which Hampton’s cavalry falls furiously upon Gregg, who falls furiously upon him, and won’t budge an inch. The most singular things happened here; for, as the woods were full of broken bands of both parties, everybody captured everybody else, and was in turn captured! A good many parties of Rebels, carrying our prisoners to the rear, took wrong direction and fell into the open maw of Crawford. Lieutenant Woolsey, General Williams’s aide, in such an affair, showed a valor little to be looked for in so mild a youth. He was going along a wood road and came directly upon twelve Rebel cavalry; all cried “Halt! surrender!” to him, and two fired their carbines at him; Woolsey snapped his pistol at them, when one seized him round the waist; whereat W. hit him a back-handed blow on the bridge of his nose, put in the spurs, and actually broke away from the whole of them! When I asked him why he didn’t give up, he replied in a simple manner: “Why, I thought my mother would be much distressed if I was taken prisoner, so I thought it would perhaps be better not to surrender.” General Williams was in the greatest state of chuckle over his aide’s conduct, and kept asking unwary persons: “Do you know how Mr. Woolsey escaped from guerillas?” and, being answered “No,” would say:”Why, thus!” at the same time giving the unwary one a punch in the stomach, with his elbow. Then Major Roebling rode into a Rebel line of battle and had his orderly killed in his escape; Major Bingham was captured, but scared his guard so by telling him he was within our lines, that the man took to the bushes and left him. Lieutenant Dresser rode into the midst of a Rebel brigade, thinking they were prisoners. “Where is the Provost Guard?” asked D., who luckily had a gray rubber coat on. “Hain’t got none.” “What troops are these?” “Fourth Alabama.” “Oh, all right,” says Dresser, with presence of mind, and rides off, very slow at first, and very fast as soon as out of sight! The best feat was that of Major Mitchell (he always does perform feats). He rode into the woods, saw 200 Rebel infantry who had got lost, and were drawn up in line; came back, got a regiment, went out again and gobbled them all up. . . .

[The letter finishes with a lively description of some curious visitors to Headquarters.]

I had got safely to the Peeble house and was watching the columns as they marched in. I was still watching when suddenly there appeared a new comico-military procession: to wit, a venerable Brigadier, of a diluted visage, followed by two or three officers, and by two beings calculated to astonish the uninitiated. The first was simply gorgeous, not of dubious character, but evidently an officer of one of those theatrical French indigene regiments. He was tightly done up in a black jacket, all over which five hundred yards of fine black braid had gone into spasmodic convulsions; then black trousers with a wide scarlet stripe, morocco knee-boots, and a light blue kepi. To complete his costume, a row of medals stretched from his central buttonhole to the point of his shoulder! The second stranger was utterly incomprehensible. He had on a pair of red, military trousers, a red fez with a blue tassel, and a black dresscoat! In order to mark this simple costume, he had, with admirable taste, suspended a small stiletto from the lower buttonhole of his waistcoat. The kepi was presented as Chef-de-bataillon de Boissac; the fez as Vicomte de Montbarthe. Upon which, to myself within myself said I: strike out the “de” and Boissac is correct; strike out “Vicomte” and substitute “Corporal” and we shall be pretty near Mr. Fez. He was one of the vulgarest of vulgar Frenchmen, and a fool into the bargain. De Boissac was a type, and I fancy the real thing; a regular, chatty, boastful, conceited, bright little Gaul, who had been in China, the Crimea, Italy, Japan, and Africa, and had worn the hair off his little bullet head with serving in various climes. “I was promoted to be Chef-de-bataillon,” said kepi (just as if I had asked anything about it), “for having planted the flag, alone, on the rampart! My comrades cry to me, ‘Descend! descend!’ I reply, ‘Non! j’y suis!’“ “And I,” chimed in fez, “received the cross for repelling, with forty men, four hundred Austrians: wounded twice in the leg, I lay on the field and the Emperor himself pinned the cross on my breast!” I could not help thinking what a pity it was that the wounds had not been higher up, whereby the Emperor would have been saved the expense of a cross, and I the trouble of listening to his stories. These two brave bucks were travelling on their good looks, having got down, the Lord knows how, with no letters to anybody; yet they dined with General Meade, and passed the night in camp; passed another night at General Davies’, and, the last I heard of them, were pledging General Hancock in the national whiskey! … I omitted to mention a third ornament to military life, a gent with eagles on his shoulders, who, on enquiry, turned out to be a brother militia man, and a great credit to the service, as he perilled his life daily, in the state of New York, as General Sanford’s aide (commanding state militia), and now was visiting the army to see that justice was done to deserving non-commissioned officers in the way of promotion. Et puis?—thought T. L. Yes, that was to electioneer the regiments in favor of the Republican candidate for governor, in case of whose election, he, Colonel D , was to be Quartermaster-General! He had not only cheek enough for this, but enough to spare to come and stay all night at Headquarters, and take his meals there, without the breath of an invitation!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 251-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Election Season (October 7, 1864)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

In this letter Meade mentions the upcoming presidential election, which pitted President Abraham Lincoln against George McClellan, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac.

I was afraid you would be uneasy at not hearing from me during our recent operations, but my headquarters were some five or six miles from the scene of action, and it was always at midnight when I got back, tired out with the day’s work, and had to start early in the morning, so that I really did not have time to write.

I see the papers announce my narrow escape. It was a pretty close shave, as I have written you. You need not worry yourself; I am not going to commit the folly of foolish and unnecessary exposure. But there are times when it is my duty and it is proper I should take my chances. Let us hope Providence will always be as merciful and protecting as in this instance; for I take it, it was only God’s will that saved my leg and perhaps my life.

The enemy have allowed us to retain the ground acquired by our recent movement, and seem to be busy fortifying against another advance. We have been reinforced, but not to the extent imagined by the sanguine public; neither is Richmond so near its fall as you tell me people believe. However, these absurd alternations of exaggerated anticipations of successes and reverses seem to be chronic with our people, and no amount of experience will ever cure them of the folly.

I note all you say of politics, but in the army we take but little interest except earnestly to wish the election was over, as we see, until it is, nothing else will be thought of and no proper thought given to the war. It is generally believed here that McClellan has very little chance. I think he is very unfortunate in his friends and backers.

I see the Chronicle announces me as a supporter of Mr. Lincoln, and is pleased to class me among the ill-treated generals who have been driven into the opposition. Well, the one has as much authority for his assertion as the other, neither having anything on which to base his remarks.

Grant has gone to Washington, leaving Butler in command. To-day the enemy made a demonstration on Butler, and I thought we were going to have a grand time, but it passed off.

Theodore Lyman also wrote home on October 7. We have encountered Brig. Gen. Henry Washington Benham before. Channing Clapp was a classmate of Lyman’s at Harvard. Samuel Crawford, in temporary command of the V Corps in Gouverneur Warren’s absence, had been a surgeon at Fort Sumter. The Pennsylvania-born Crawford took command of Meade’s old division, the Pennsylvania Reserves, just before Gettysburg. Today he and Meade are neighbors in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Brig. Gen. Henry Benham (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. Henry Benham (Library of Congress).

There is a certain General Benham, who commands the engineers at City Point, and was up about laying out some works. Channing Clapp is on his Staff. You ought to see this “Ginral.” He has the face and figure of Mr. Briggs and wears continually the expression of Mr. B. when his horse sat down at the band of music. When he had got through all the explanations, which were sufficient to have laid out a permanent work of the first class, the Meade rose with weariness, and eased his spirit by riding out and looking at my new camp-ground, and inspecting those everlasting redoubts. Now that the camp is arranged, the Meade is dubious about moving: that’s like him! When we got to the extreme left, he thought he would go out and take a peek at the picket line. First there was a little bunch of cavalry. They were of a jocose turn; they had found an old pair of wheels whereon they had mounted a keg, making a very good cannon, which pointed, in a threatening manner, down the road. Its ensemble was completed by a figure, closely resembling those that defend cornfields, and which was keeping steady guard with a small pole. A hundred yards beyond was the picket reserve, behind a barricade. Then, beyond, a couple of hundred yards more, the sentries, each standing and looking sharply to the front. The one in the road was a half-breed Indian, though he looked more like a Neapolitan. He had that taciturnity that clings to the last drop of blood. “Are you a picket here?” asked the General. “Yes.” “Is there anyone on your right and left?” “No.” “You are an Indian, are you not?” “Part.” All of which the red warrior delivered, without turning his gaze from the vista before him. Beyond this gentleman was a post of two cavalry videttes. From this place we could get a very good view of one of the Rebel lines of earthworks; but there seemed very few men behind it. I could only notice one or two. And so we rode back again past the perils of the keg cannon. General Warren has a short leave, and General Crawford commands the Corps, to the indignation, I presume, of old cocks like Griffin and Ayres; for C. was doctor in Fort Sumter, and thus got a star, and thus is an old brigadier, and thus ranks the regulars G. and A. General Grant was on a flying visit to Washington to-day. I like to have him down here: first, he gives a general balance and steadiness; then, what is most important, he can order—just order what groceries he pleases, and no questions asked behind the counter!

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. 232-3. 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. 241-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.