Its Usual Malice (February 11, 1865)

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

A Meade bronze at the Union League. I am assuming this is the work of Franklin Simmons.

Once again, George Meade takes issue with the press, this time over an account of the fighting known today as the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. He would have been well advised, I think, to have avoided reading newspapers altogether.

The Willie to whom Meade refers is his wife’s brother. He will not survive the war.

I assume the sculptor Meade mentions is Franklin Simmons. Born in Maine, Simmons sculpted the equestrian statue of Gen. John A. Logan that stands in the circle in Washington, D.C., that bears the general’s name. He was also commissioned to do a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and met with the president about it on the day before Lincoln’s assassination. His bronze medallion of Meade (as well as those of other generals) is in the Union League in Philadelphia. There’s more about Simmons here.

I see the Tribune, with its usual malice, charges the recent movement as a failure, and puts the blame on me. I told Grant, before the movement was made, it would be misunderstood and called a failure. But he promised to telegraph to Washington what we intended to do, thinking by this to avoid this misapprehension. His telegram, if he sent one, was never published, nor has any of his or my telegrams to him about the affair been made public. Now, the facts of the case are that I accomplished a great deal more than was designed, and though the Fifth Corps at one time was forced back, yet we repulsed the enemy the day before, had been driving him all that day, and the next day drove him into his works, and on the whole the success was with us. It is rather hard under these circumstances to be abused; but I suppose I must make up my mind to be abused by this set, never mind what happens,

Willie’s regiment was in the thickest of the fight and suffered severely, but I believe behaved very well.

There is now here an artist in bronze, of the name of Simmons, who is sculpturing a life-size head of me, of which he intends casting a medallion in bronze. His work is pronounced excellent, and he promises to present you a copy, so you will have your Meade art gallery increased. Grant is still away.

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. 262-3. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar on February 15. Click here for more details.

Advertisements

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.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar on February 15. Click here for more details.

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.

A Severe Skirmish (December 9, 1864)

Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles commanded a division of the II Corps (Lilbrary of Congress).

Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles commanded a division of the II Corps (Lilbrary of Congress).

Theodore Lyman continues his account of the Army of the Potomac’s movement across Hatcher’s Run toward the Boydton Plank Road. Nelson Miles, only 24 and already wounded four times, had replaced the ailing Francis Barlow as commander of the 1st Division of the II Corps. Nelson will remain in the army following the war, retiring as general in chief in 1903.

Miles’s division of the 2d Corps was sent to aid the cavalry in forcing Hatcher’s Run. They marched out early and found several regiments holding the crossing; a severe skirmish followed; our poor men went into the icy water up to their armpits and drove off the Rebels, though not without some loss to us. I know the cavalry Lieutenant, whom I saw bringing in all those stragglers last night, was killed there. Then Miles built a bridge and sent over the cavalry, which went as far as within sight of the Boydton plank, where they found the enemy in their works. They captured a Rebel mail-carrier and from him learned that A. P. Hill was yesterday at Dinwiddie. General Meade had to read all the letters, of course, and said there was one poor lover who promised to marry his sweetheart when the war was over, but “how could he support her now, on $12 a month?” We sent out another body of infantry and our own “red-legs” and the engineers, to support Miles, who we thought would be attacked. They all spent the night midst a wretched snow, sleet and rain, and raw wind.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 292-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.