Very Much Demoralized (April 22, 1865)

Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck. He had a talent for irritating his subordinates (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck. He had a talent for irritating his subordinates (Library of Congress).

Henry A. Cram, Mrs. Meade’s brother-in-law, often served as the general’s sounding board. Here, Meade’s letter to Cram touches on a variety of topics, including the assignment of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck to Richmond. Meade and Halleck did not get along. Back in the fall of 1863, when “Old Brains” had yet to be supplanted by Grant as the army’s general-in-chief, Meade had been so irked by telegram’s from Washington that he sent a message to Halleck that read, ““If you have any orders to give me I am prepared to receive and obey them. But I insist on being spared the infliction of such truisms in the guise of opinions as you have recently honored me with, particularly as they were not asked for.” Not exactly the basis for a healthy working relationship. Meade will vent more about Halleck in tomorrow’s letter to Mrs. Meade.

I shall be most delighted to pay Katharine and yourself a visit in Irving Place, but the prospect of such felicity does not seem very near.

I am at present very much demoralized by a recent order which places me and my army under the command of General Halleck, who has been transferred from Washington to Richmond. In order to make General Halleck’s removal from Washington acceptable to him, and appear necessary to the public, the services of myself and army are ignored, and this indignity put upon us; and this by Grant, who wrote the letter he did last winter, and who professes the warmest friendship. All this entre nous.

We of the army have done our work; the military power of the Rebellion is shattered. It remains for statesmen, if we have any, to bring the people of the South back to their allegiance and into the Union. How and when this will be accomplished, no one can tell. In the meantime, I presume our armies will have to occupy the Southern States. I am myself for conciliation, as the policy most likely to effect a speedy reunion. If we are going to punish treason, as perhaps strict justice would demand, we shall have to shed almost as much blood as has already been poured out in this terrible war. These are points, however, for others to adjust.

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. 274-5. Available via Google Books.

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Sad Facts (December 11 and 12, 1864)

A marker at Fort Lee outside Petersburg indicates the location of Meade's headquarters during the campaign (Tom Huntington photo).

A marker at Fort Lee outside Petersburg indicates the location of Meade’s headquarters during the campaign (Tom Huntington photo).

I neglected to post this letter yesterday. George Meade wrote it on December 11, 1864, to Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother in law. Meade often wrote at length to Cram about the greater issues of the war and they cast good insight on his way of thinking. Lyman’s letter from 150 years ago today follows.

I fear you good people confine your efforts to suppress the Rebellion too much to speechifying, voting, and other very safe and easy modes of showing firm determination never to yield; but the essential element to success, namely, turning out to fight, don’t seem to be so popular. You will have to stop filling quotas without adding to your armies before you can expect to finish the war. Do you know that the last loud call for five hundred thousand men has produced just one hundred and twenty thousand? Of these only about sixty thousand were sent to the field, and the share of my army, one of the largest in the field, was not over fifteen thousand; and of this number the greater part were worthless foreigners, who are daily deserting to the enemy. These are sad facts. I remember you were struck last winter with my telling the Councils of Philadelphia that this army, of whose fighting qualities there seemed to be a doubt, had lost, from official records, from April, 1862, to December, 1863, one hundred thousand, killed and wounded. I have now an official document before me in manuscript, being my report of the campaign from the Rapidan to the 1st of November, and it has a list of casualties showing the enormous number of ninety thousand men, killed, wounded and missing. All this is strictly confidential, as I would be condemned for telling the truth; but when people talk to me of ending the war, I must tell them what war is and its requirements; because you can then see how much prospect there is of finishing it, by forming your own judgment of the adaptation of the means to the end. No, my good friend, this war is not going to be ended till we destroy the armies of the Confederation; and in executing this work we shall have to expend yet millions of treasure and vast numbers of lives. Nothing is gained by postponing the exigencies which must be met. The people must make up their minds not only that the war shall be carried on, they must not only subscribe and cheerfully pay money to any extent, but they must themselves turn out, shoulder their muskets and come to the army, determined to fight the thing out. When I see that spirit, the men coming, and doing the fighting, then I will begin to guess when the war will be closed. Undoubtedly, the South is becoming exhausted; its calmly discussing the expediency of freeing and arming the slaves is positive evidence of its exhaustion and desperation; but unless we take advantage of this by increasing our armies and striking telling blows, it can prolong such a contest as we are now carrying on indefinitely.

I thank you for your kind congratulations on my appointment as major general in the regular army. If confirmed by the Senate, it places me fourth in rank in the army—Grant, Halleck and Sherman only being my seniors. Putting me ahead of Sheridan, from the popular position that officer now holds, may create opposition in the Senate; but it is well known my appointment was recommended by the lieutenant general, commanding, approved and determined on by the President, when Sheridan was my subordinate, commanding my cavalry, and before he had an opportunity of distinguishing himself, as he has since done. No injustice, therefore, has been done him, though when his appointment was announced in the theatrical manner it was, and mine not made, I felt called on to ask an explanation, which resulted in a disavowal to do me injustice, and the appointing me with a date which caused me to rank, as it was originally intended I should. So that, what ought to have been an acceptable compliment, became eventually a simple act of justice due to my remonstrance. Still, I ought to be and am satisfied and gratified, because I think it quite probable we are both of us placed far beyond our merits. I am afraid you will tire of so much personality and think I am greatly demoralized.

In his letter of December 12, Theodore Lyman provides an example of the Meade wit, which tended to be on the cutting side. Here his joke masks criticism of Grant. The raid to which Lyman refers is Warren’s expedition to destroy the Weldon Railroad.

Clear and cold we have had it this day, blowy this morning but still in the evening. Last night it blew in a tremendous manner. My tent flapped in a way that reminded one of being at sea, and my chimney, for the first time got mad and actually smoked. My only consolation was that the General’s smoked a great deal worse. He made quite a bon-mot at breakfast, despite the smoke: “Grant says the Confederates, in their endeavors to get men, have robbed the cradle and the grave; if that is the case, I must say their ghosts and babies fight very well!” I did not fail to ride out and see the raiders come in. The head of the column arrived about noon, or an hour before. I was much amused by a battery, the first thing that I met; one of the drivers was deeply intent on getting his pair of horses over a bad bridge, but, midst all his anxiety and pains on this head, he did not fail to keep tight hold of a very old rush-bottomed chair, which he carefully held in one hand! How far he had brought it or what he meant to do with it, I know not, but his face wore an expression which said: “You may take my life but you can’t have this very old rush-bottomed chair which I have been at much pains to steal.” Then came the infantry, with a good deal of weary straggling, and looking pretty cold, poor fellows; then another battery spattered with mud; then a drove of beef cattle, in the midst of which marched cows, calves, and steers that never more will graze on Rebel farms. Finally a posse of stragglers and ambulances and waggons, all putting the best speed on to get to a camping-place. I pitied the poor bucks who, for six days, had endured every fatigue and hardship.

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. 250-2. 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. 297-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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The Best Man the War Has Yet Produced (November 24, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant and his horse, Cincinnati. Click to enlarge  (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant and his horse, Cincinnati. Click to enlarge
(Library of Congress).

Anyone interested in the relationship between George Meade and Ulysses S. Grant should find this letter fascinating. In it, Meade writes to his brother-in-law, Henry A. Cram of New York, and analyzes his standing with the general in chief. Although irritated by the promotions of Sherman and (especially) Sheridan, Meade does not hold a grudge against Grant, believing he just doesn’t worry about such things. He also notes the fault in Grant that will later plague him as president: that he has a “a simple and guileless disposition, which is apt to put him, unknown to himself, under the influence of those who should not influence him, and desire to do so only for their own purposes.” All in all, this is a remarkably fair minded letter.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman describes Thanksgiving with the Army of the Potomac.

I thank you most gratefully for your opinion that Time and History will do me justice, but I very much fear your kind feeling has caused the wish to be father to the thought. No man in this country will be appreciated who does not dazzle his fellow-citizens with continued brilliant success. Fortunately I knew so much of the fickleness and unreasonableness of public opinion, that when I was elevated to my present position I was prepared for the reaction and my fall; indeed, considering all things, I consider myself very fortunate in having retained my position so long as I have. However, I don’t want to inflict a letter of complaints on you. I have done and shall continue to do my duty to the best of my ability, and try to be contented under whatever it may please God to have happen to me. Adopting the philosophy of the Irishman who, when going into battle, said he would consider himself “kilt”; if he was, it would be no more than he expected; if he got through safe, it would be clear gain. So, expecting nothing, all acts of justice and kindness that fall to my lot I shall consider so much gain.

I am sorry to hear what you say of Grant, but it is in accordance with my theory and experience. Public expectation in his case, as in Sherman’s, having been wrought up to a false and unreasonable pitch, expecting impossibilities and miracles, visits on them the failure to do what only public imagination renders practicable. Both these men at one time were down. Sherman was pronounced crazy, and Grant was at one time deprived of command; and now, should success by any accident attend the efforts of either, their stars will be more in the ascendant than ever.

Grant is not a mighty genius, but he is a good soldier, of great force of character, honest and upright, of pure purposes, I think, without political aspirations, certainly not influenced by them. His prominent quality is unflinching tenacity of purpose, which blinds him to opposition and obstacles—certainly a great quality in a commander, when controlled by judgment, but a dangerous one otherwise. Grant is not without his faults and weaknesses. Among these is a want of sensibility, an almost too confident and sanguine disposition, and particularly a simple and guileless disposition, which is apt to put him, unknown to himself, under the influence of those who should not influence him, and desire to do so only for their own purposes. Take him all in all, he is, in my judgment, the best man the war has yet produced. When I say this, I refer more particularly to those I have come in contact with, and do not include Sherman, about whom I know nothing but what I see in the papers. I like Grant, and our relations have been very friendly. He has always in words expressed himself most kindly towards me, and I believe does feel so; but his acts, from causes alluded to above, have not been so; but I acquit him of any actual intention of injustice. His coming here has resulted virtually in setting me aside, almost as effectually as if I had been relieved. To be sure, I saw this plainly before he came. He did not see it then, and he don’t see it now; there is the difference between us. I over-sensitive, and he deficient in sensibility. There are many things in Grant that call for my warmest admiration, and but few that I feel called on to condemn. He has been greatly over-rated; but I should be really sorry to see him, through a reaction, under-estimated. Let all this be confidential between us. Grant will make use of me or any one else to carry out his views, but he will always do justice to others, though he may often be slow in doing so, and let slip opportunities presenting themselves, because he does not see they are opportunities. Early in the campaign he recommended me strongly for appointment as major general in the regular army, recommending Sherman at the same time. Yet he has not only had Sherman made, but has now permitted them to make Sheridan, who was not dreamed of at the time I was recommended. Still he did not appreciate that this was injustice to me; but when I called his attention to it, and explained how I thought it was unjust, he readily and frankly acknowledged I was right.

I am very glad to hear you propose to visit camp this winter. Unless we are much stronger than we are now, I see no prospect of taking Richmond. It is a pure question of numbers, requiring on our part great superiority, and even then it is not going to be a very easy task. If the good people will only turn out and fight with the unanimity they have voted to do so, we will soon bring the war to a close. There is no doubt the last dependence of the South is a divided North. The election has not dissipated this hope; but swelling our armies, promptly and cheerfully, with the bone and sinew of the country (not miserable foreigners and substitutes), who come to fight, and not for money, this, when it happens, will, in conjunction with hard fighting, open the eyes of the South and bring it to terms, if anything will.

In 1864, Thanksgiving meant turkey. Theodore Lyman writes home about the holiday.

This was Thanksgiving, which is sloppy and snowy and haily with us, as a general thing, but here was sunny and pleasant. All day the waggons were distributing turkeys to the patriots, of whom I believe all got some, sooner or later. Flint, having seen that his squadron had their poultry, called a sergeant and asked him how much it made to each man. “Well,” said the sergeant, “it makes about a quarter of a turkey, a piece of pie, and four apples.” “Oh!” said Flint, “quite a meal.” “Yes,” said the sergeant dubiously, “yes, a small meal; I could eat half a turkey myself!” The turkeys were ready cooked and were a great treat to our ragamuffins. I took a ride in some woody spots within the lines, and it was pleasant, in the warm hollows, to hear the wee birds twittering and warbling, visitors from a northern climate, that have left you some weeks ago. Then there was a pileated woodpecker (not known with us), a great fowl, as big as a crow; black, with white feathers in his wings, an ivory beak and a gay scarlet cockade. He thought himself of great account, and pompously hopped up and round the trunks of trees, making a loud, chattering noise, which quite drowned the wee birds, like a roaring man in a choir. The pompous old thing was very much scared when I approached, and flew away, but soon began his noise on a distant tree.

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. 245-7. 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. 278-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Friendly and Confidential (April 26, 1864)

Meade’s friends head home. The Overland Campaign approaches.

I have had a very satisfactory time with Cram, and am sorry he and Cadwalader are going back. I have sent by Mr. Cadwalader, who will stop in Philadelphia and give it to you, a copy of my testimony before the committee. You must keep this private and sacred. If anything should happen to me, you will have the means of showing to the world what my defense was.

My relations with Grant continue friendly and confidential, and I see no disposition on his part to take advantage of his position.

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. 191-2. Available via Google Books.

Old Baldy Goes Home (April 24, 1864)

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade's funeral procession (Library of Congress).

Old Baldy, in a photo taken after the war. The horse survived his master and marched, riderless, in Meade’s funeral procession (Library of Congress).

The spring campaign is about to begin, and Meade decides to part with an old campaigner. It’s time for Old Baldy, Meade’s long-suffering horse, to head to retirement. Baldy suffered his first wound during First Bull Run, when Gen. David Hunter owned him. Meade bought Baldy from the quartermaster for $150 in 1861. His aides learned to dislike Baldy because the horse moved at an awkward pace somewhere between a walk and a run, making it difficult to keep pace, but Meade thought him a loyal and steadfast mount.

Baldy received a second wound at Second Bull Run; at Antietam he was so badly injured that Meade gave him up for dead. Baldy suffered his final wound during the second day at Gettysburg. He carried the Confederate bullet he received there inside him for the rest of his life. “I did not think he could live, but the old fellow has such a wonderful tenacity of life that I am in hopes he will,” Meade wrote to his wife back in Philadelphia.

On November 11, 1872, Baldy marched, riderless, in Meade’s funeral procession. The horse lived for another ten years, until the ailing steed was put down at the ripe old age of 30 on December 16, 1882. That Christmas Day two Union veterans received permission to remove his head and have it mounted. They attached the relic to a wooden plaque outlining Baldy’s war record and presented it to the George Meade Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in Philadelphia.

A pin from Old Baldy's "grand unveiling."

A pin from Old Baldy’s “grand unveiling.”

I have a soft spot for the horse, which Meade referred to as “the old brute.” I first became acquainted with the General Meade Society of Philadelphia when my wife and I attended the “grand unveiling” of Old Baldy’s head at the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library. The museum had just won a custody battle to get the head back into its collections and a bunch of people showed up to celebrate. It was a fun day and my wife got her picture, gazing respectfully at Old Baldy, in the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day.

In this letter Meade mentions Cram, who was Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother-in-law. John Cadwalader was another Philadelphia resident and later a U.S. District Court judge. Like many others, Meade is still trying to get an accurate impression of Ulysses S. Grant. Zachary Taylor was the general under whom Meade served in Mexico and comparing Grant to him was high praise indeed.

Cram and John Cadwalader arrived yesterday afternoon. To-day Cram went to church with me, where we heard an excellent sermon from a Mr. Adams, a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman from New York. After church I drove Cram and Cadwalader to Culpeper, where we paid a visit to General Grant. After coming away, I plainly saw Cram was disappointed. Grant is not a striking man, is very reticent, has never mixed with the world, and has but little manner, indeed is somewhat ill at ease in the presence of strangers; hence a first impression is never favorable. His early education was undoubtedly very slight; in fact, I fancy his West Point course was pretty much all the education he ever had, as since his graduation I don’t believe he has read or studied any. At the same time, he has natural qualities of a high order, and is a man whom, the more you see and know him, the better you like him. He puts me in mind of old Taylor, and sometimes I fancy he models himself on old Zac.

Old Baldy as he appears at his current home in Philadelphia.

Old Baldy as he appears at his current home in Philadelphia.

Yesterday I sent my orderly with old Baldy to Philadelphia. He will never be fit again for hard service, and I thought he was entitled to better care than could be given to him on the march.

I have just had a visit from a very intelligent young Englishman, named Stanley, a son of Lord Stanley, of Alderney. He is no relative, I believe, to the Earl of Derby, though his father is in the Ministry as Secretary for the Colonies. He is quite young (only twenty-four) but highly educated, very smart and clever, and full of information. He brought me a letter from Mr. Seward, and spent a day with us seeing the army sights.

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. 191. 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:

OUGHT GENERAL MEADE TO BE REMOVED?

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.

In Transit (February 26, 1863)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

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

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

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

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 355. Available via Google Books.