On to Richmond (May 1, 1865)

A Currier & Ives print fro 1862 depicts Henry Halleck in a heroic pose (Library of Congress).

A Currier & Ives print fro 1862 depicts Henry Halleck in a heroic pose (Library of Congress).

The Army of the Potomac prepares to move north. George Meade wrote this letter from the Virginia town of Burkeville. No doubt Meade felt a degree of schadenfreude at the short life of the Military Division of the James (which will actually exist until June). He had complained bitterly when Henry Halleck took command of the division and relocated from Washington to Richmond, putting “Old Brains” directly over Meade. In August, Halleck will receive command of the Military Division of the Pacific and depart for San Francisco.

We are under marching orders for Alexandria, via Richmond, so the grand military division of the James, including the Army of the Potomac, has just existed about one week. I presume this army is ordered to Alexandria, as a preliminary measure to its disbandment.

I shall leave here to-morrow for Richmond, and after spending a day or two there, putting the army en route for Alexandria, shall proceed to that point, which I expect to reach before the middle of the month. I will write you from Richmond.

George and myself are both well, and greatly delighted with the idea of getting so near home as Washington, with the hope that, whatever turns up, I shall be able to spend a little time at home.

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. 277. Available via Google Books.

The Most Cruel and Humiliating Indignity (April 23, 1865)

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. "Old Brains" (Library of Congress).

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. “Old Brains” (Library of Congress).

Meade continues his complaints about being placed under Henry Halleck, the new commander of the division to which the Army of the Potomac reports. He has finally decided that he can’t look to Grant for advancement. For Meade, though, the ultimate blow will come in 1869, after Grant becomes president and promotes Philip Sheridan to the rank of lieutenant general, over Meade. “The blow has been struck and our worst fears realized,” Meade will write to his wife on March 6, 1869, when he hears that news.

I like Meade’s comments about Theodore Lyman.

An order came yesterday constituting Virginia into the Military Division of the James, assigning Major General Halleck to the command, and putting myself and the Army of the Potomac under him.

This is the most cruel and humiliating indignity that has been put upon me. (It is General Grant’s work, and done by him with a full knowledge of my services and the consideration due to them, all of which have been ignored by him to suit his convenience). The order is a perfectly legitimate one, and to which, as a soldier, I have no right to make any objection, General Halleck being my senior in the regular army. I understand, however, the whole affair. After the assassination of the President, General Grant, who had previously determined to return here, made up his mind to remain in Washington. He wished to find a place for Halleck. His first order assigned Halleck to the command of the Department of Virginia, in [Edward] Ord’s place, sending Ord to South Carolina. I presume Halleck demurred at this, as a position not equal to what he was entitled. At Halleck’s remonstrance, and to render acceptable his removal from Washington, this order was rescinded, and the order issued making the Military Division of the James, and putting both Ord and myself under him. I feel quite confident that, if I had been in Washington and my remonstrances could have been heard, I either would have frustrated this plan, or have been provided for in some way more consistent with my past services, but les les absens ont toujours tort was fully illustrated in this instance, and there is nothing left me but the submission which a good soldier should always show to the legitimate orders of his superiors. I, however, now give up Grant.

I am glad Lyman called to see you. He is an honest man and a true friend. He has a healthy mental organization, which induces him to look on all matters in the most favorable light.

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. 275-6. Available via Google Books.

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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.

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 Vexed Question (December 4, 1864)

In this print, titled "Grant and his Generals," George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant's right (Library of Congress).

In this print, titled “Grant and his Generals,” George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant’s right (Library of Congress).

The “vexed question” of Meade’s promotion has been settled (although he will have to wait until February before the Senate gives its official seal of approval). In his notebook entry December 4, 1864, Theodore Lyman noted, “A telegraph came from [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton announcing to the General that he had been made a Major General in the regular army, to rank next to Sherman. Whereat he was right content.” Meade is now the country’s ’s fourth highest ranked officer, with only Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Halleck, and William T. Sherman ahead of him.

I send you a telegram from the Secretary and my reply, which will show you the vexed question is at last settled. Much of the gratification that ought justly to accompany such a reward has been destroyed by the manner of doing it; so that what might have been a graceful compliment became reduced to a simple act of justice. Well, let us be satisfied with this, and believe it was more a want of knowledge how to do such things than any unfriendly feeling which caused 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. 249. Available via Google Books.

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The Case for Meade (November 16, 1864)

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. (Library of Congress).

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. This is the cover image for the 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar, which you can order through Lulu.com  (Library of Congress).

News of Philip Sheridan’s promotion spurs Theodore Lyman to write a stirring defense of General Meade. True, he overestimates Lee’s numbers at Gettysburg, but still. This is a fair statement of the case for General Meade, without taking anything away from Sheridan.

They have made Sheridan a Major-General in the Regular Army. I think he deserves it for that remarkable battle of Cedar Creek. Those of Opequon and of Fisher’s Hill were joyous occasions; but he ought to have won those, because his forces were probably at least as two to one, and his cavalry immeasurably superior; but this last battle was the thing that brought out his high merit. The language of the order is not to be commended, as it makes Sheridan a cat’s-paw to give McClellan an insulting hit. It is hard on Meade, and I think he feels it; during a long campaign, in many respects unprecedented in military history for its difficulties and its grandeur, he has handled an army, which has at times considerably exceeded 100,000 men; and that too under circumstances very trying to a man who has had a chief command; that is to say, obliged to take the orders and tactics of a superior, but made responsible for all the trying and difficult performance, which indeed is more than one half the game of war. I undertake to say that his handling of his troops, when a mistake would be the destruction of the entire plan, has been a wonder: without exaggeration, a wonder. His movements and those of Lee are only to be compared to two exquisite swordsmen, each perfectly instructed, and never erring a hair in attack or in defence. Of course, it is idle to tell such facts to people at large; they don’t understand, or care, or believe anything about it. It is true, the army has played what seems its destined role, to kill and to be killed without decisive actions, until both sides pause from mere exhaustion; but do people reflect what a tremendous effect all this has on the Rebels? that by wearing ourselves, we have worn them down, until they are turning every teamster into the ranks and (of all things) are talking of arming the negroes. Suppose there had been no army capable of clinging thus for months in a death-grapple, and still clinging and meaning to cling; what would have become of Sherman and his great work? The record of General Meade is a remarkably clear one. He has risen from a brigadier of volunteers to all the higher commands, by hard fighting and an experience that dates from the first days of McClellan. He has done better with the Army of the Potomac than McClellan, Pope, Burnside, or Hooker; and—I will add boldly and without disparagement to the Lieutenant-General—better than Grant! and you would agree with me did you know what power and what men Grant has had to command. Meade’s great virtue is, that he knows when to fight, and when not to fight. Taking up an army on the march, he fought and won the greatest battle of this war—Gettysburg—100,000 men against 110,000—a battle that saved Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia, and nobody knows what besides. He wouldn’t fight (assault) Lee at Williamsport, and immediately he was “timid, timid, timid!” Now look here: we assaulted at Spotsylvania, at Cool Arbor, at Petersburg, and were repulsed with perfect slaughter; after all that, if Lee had assaulted us in position what would, what would have become of him? Why, we would have used him up so, that he wouldn’t have known himself. Just turn this about and apply it to Gettysburg and reflect how “the people” are frequently semi-idiotic! He followed Lee to the Rappahannock and got orders to stop. In September he was to move and attack Lee on the Rapid Ann; the day before this move they took 20,000 men from him and sent West: it couldn’t be done to Grant. Then Lee marched on Centreville; Meade beat him and got there first; Lee wouldn’t fight and retreated (he also knows when not to fight). It was in just such a move that Pope was smashed all to pieces and driven into Washington. Then Meade forced the Rappahannock, and drove Lee in haste over the Rapid Ann. The Mine Run expedition followed; we did not go fast enough—that was unfortunate; but it would have been more unfortunate to have left 10,000 men on the slopes there. If Meade had lacked the great moral courage to say “retreat,” after having been called “timid” by the papers, and having been hounded on by Halleck and Stanton to “do something,” he would not only have got a disastrous defeat, but would have destroyed the plan of re-enlistments by which we obtained the very backbone of our army for this campaign. His “timidity” lies in this, that he will not try to build a house without enough of tools and timber. Lately, they have turned round, 180 degrees, and now call him “butcher”; but that does just as well—blow hot, blow cold. This is a fair statement. I don’t say he is Napoleon, Caesar and Alexander in one; only that he can handle 100,000 men and do it easy—a rare gift! Also, as Sherman and Sheridan, commanding the two other great armies, have been made regular Major-Generals, he too, who is doing his part, and has fought more than both of them put together, ought to have equal rank. General Grant, as far as I can hear, thinks everything of General Meade, and it is said will have him promoted like the others. I believe it will turn out that Sherman is our first military genius, while Sheridan is most remarkable as a “field fighter,” when the battle is actually engaged. Bless my soul! quelle lecture on my commanding General! Never mind, variety is the spice of life.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 270-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Last of Baldy Smith (July 20, 1864)

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

On July 20 both George Meade and Theodore Lyman note the departure of William F. “Baldy” Smith from the Army of the James. Smith, who had commanded the XVIII Corps, and Meade had once been friends but became “avowed antagonists” as time passed. Smith was adept at sowing friction. Over at the Army of the James, Smith, Ulysses S. Grant, and Army of the James commander Benjamin Butler became involved in a struggle for power. Grant longed to rid himself of Butler, a general who was much more skilled at politics than war. He contrived to have Smith take control of the Army of the James’s field operations while Butler remained behind the lines in a strictly administrative role. Butler would have none of it. When the dust settled, Butler remained firmly in charge while Grant had sent Smith to New York. Smith later claimed that Butler gained the upper hand by blackmailing Grant over his drinking. The more likely scenario was that with the presidential election looming, the administration realized that this was no time to turn the politically connected General Butler into an enemy.

For Smith’s explanation of the affair, see below. He printed the letter he wrote to Vermont’s Senator Solomon Foote in his book From Chattanooga to Petersburg Under Generals Grant and Butler: A Contribution to the History of the War, and a Personal Vindication (Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1893). It’s quite an interesting account and does a good amount of score settling.

I am a good deal amused at your fear that I will become entangled with politicians. You may make your mind easy on that point, as, with the exception of what you write, I have never heard a word breathed on the subject. I rather fancy I should be considered too independent and too intractable for the purposes of any of these gentlemen.

Much excitement was created to-day by the announcement that General W. F. Smith, who returned last evening from his sick leave, was this morning relieved from his command of the Eighteenth Corps and ordered to New York. It was only the other day he was assigned by the President to this command, and Butler sent to Fortress Monroe. It appears now the tables are turned—Butler remains and Smith goes.

We have had a little rain, which has added greatly to our comfort and allayed somewhat the dust which has been such an annoyance. We are waiting the return of the Sixth Corps, sent to relieve Washington, after which I suppose we shall begin anew.

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s take on things. If anyone was born to serve Lyman as an object for description, it was Ben Butler.

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Our camp was this morning taken by assault by a cavalcade which turned out to be Major-General Ben F. Butler and a portion of his Staff. He is the strangest sight on a horse you ever saw: it is hard to keep your eyes off him. With his head set immediately on a stout shapeless body, his very squinting eyes, and a set of legs and arms that look as if made for somebody else, and hastily glued to him by mistake, he presents a combination of Victor Emmanuel, Aesop, and Richard III, which is very confusing to the mind. Add to this a horse with a kind of rapid, ambling trot that shakes about the arms, legs, etc., till you don’t feel quite sure whether it is a centaur, or what it is, and you have a picture of this celebrated General. Celebrated he surely is, and a man of untiring industry and activity. Woe to those who stand up against him in the way of diplomacy! Let the history of “Baldy” Smith be a warning to all such. It is an instructive one, and according to camp rumor, runs thus. It was said that Smith, relying on his reputation with Grant, had great ideas of shelving Butler, and Fame even reported that he had ideas also of giving Meade a tilt overboard. So what do we see but an order stating that Major-General Smith was to command the “forces of the field” of the Department, while Major-General Butler would continue to command the Department, with his “Headquarters at Fortress Monroe.” Next day everybody says: “So, Butler has gone.” Not exactly. Butler was still there, precisely as before. “As long as I command the Department, I command its troops; therefore, Headquarters where I please. I please here.” Off goes Smith to Washington, mysteriously. Down pounces Butler on City Point. Long confab with General Grant. Back comes Smith comfortably and is confronted by an order to “proceed at once to New York and await further orders!” Thus did Smith the Bald try the Macchiavelli against Butler the cross-eyed, and got floored at the first round! “Why did he do so?” asked Butler, with the easy air of a strong man. “I had no military ambition; he might have had all that. I have more important things in view!” Speaking of Butler’s visit, he had sent him an aide without consulting him, and Benjamin thought it a good chance to hit Halleck over the aide’s head. “Aide-de-camp, sir! Ordered on my Staff, sir! I’m sure I do not know what you are to do. I have really nothing for you. All the positions are filled. Now there is General Halleck, what has he to do? At a moment when every true man is laboring to his utmost, when the days ought to be forty hours long, General Halleck is translating French books at nine cents a page; and, sir, if you should put those nine cents in a box and shake them up, you would form a clear idea of General Halleck’s soul!”

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. 214-15. 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. 192-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Now it’s time to give William F. “Baldy” Smith time for his defense. He does go down swinging in this letter to Senator Foote. (The correctionto the date was provided by Smith himself in his book).

Ulysses S. Grant. Questions about his drinking are still debated today  (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant. Questions about his drinking are still debated today (Library of Congress).

I am extremely anxious that my friends in my native state should not think that the reason of General Grant’s relieving me from duty was brought about by any misconduct of mine, and therefore, I write to put you in possession of such facts in the case as I am aware of, and think will throw light upon the subject. About the very last of June, or the first of July, Generals Grant and Butler came to my headquarters, and shortly after their arrival General Grant turned to General Butler, and said: “That drink of whiskey I took has done me good.” And then, directly afterwards, asked me for a drink. My servant opened a bottle for him, and he drank of it, when the bottle was corked and put away.

I was aware at this time that General Grant had within six months pledged himself to drink nothing intoxicating, but did not feel it would better matters to decline to give it upon his request in General Butler’s presence.

After the lapse of an hour or less, the general asked for another drink, which he took. Shortly after, his voice showed plainly that the liquor had affected him, and after a little time he left. I went to see him upon his horse, and as soon as I returned to my tent I said to a staff officer of mine who had witnessed his departure, “General Grant has gone away drunk. General Butler has seen it, and will never fail to use the weapon which has been put into his hands.” Two or three days after that I applied for a leave of absence for the benefit of my health, and General Grant sent word to me not to go, if it were possible to stay, and I replied in a private note warranted by our former relations, a copy of which note I will send you in a few days. The next day, the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Dana, came to tell me that he had been sent by General Grant to say what it becomes necessary to repeat in view of subsequent events, to wit: That he, General G., had written a letter the day before, to ask that General Butler might be relieved from that department, July 2, and I placed in command of it, giving as a reason that he could not trust General Butler with the command of troops in the movements about to be made, and saying also, that, next to General Sherman, he had more confidence in my ability than in that of any general in the field. The order from Washington, dated July 7, sent General Butler to Fortress Monroe, and placed me in command of the troops then under him; and General Grant said he would make the changes necessary to give me the troops in the field belonging to that department. I had only asked that I should not be commanded in battle by a man that could not give an order on the field, and I had recommended General Franklin or General Wright for the command of the department. I was at the headquarters of General Grant on Sunday, July 10 [actually, July 9] and there saw General B., but had no conversation with him. After General B. had left, I had a confidential conversation with General Grant about changes he was going to make. In this connection it is proper to state that our personal relations were of the most friendly character. He had listened to and acted upon suggestions made by me upon more than one important occasion. I then thought, and still think (whatever General Butler’s letter writers may say to the contrary), that he knew that any suggestion I might make for his consideration would be dictated solely by an intense desire to put down this rebellion, and not from any considerations personal to myself, and that no personal friendships had stood in the way of what I considered my duty with regard to military management, a course not likely to be pursued by a man ambitious of advancement. In this confidential conversation with General Grant, I tried to show him the blunders of the late campaign of the Army of the Potomac and the terrible waste of life that had resulted from what I had considered a want of generalship in its present commander. Among other instances, I referred to the fearful slaughter at Cold Harbor, on the 3d of June. General Grant went into the discussion, defending General Meade stoutly, but finally acknowledged, to use his own words, “that there had been a butchery at Cold Harbor, but that he had said nothing about it because it could do no good.” Not a word was said as to my right to criticise General Meade then, and I left without a suspicion that General Grant had taken it in any other way than it was meant, and I do not think he did misunderstand me.

On my return from a short leave of absence on the 19th of July, General Grant sent for me to report to him, and then told me that he “ could not relieve General Butler,” and that as I had so severely criticised General Meade, he had determined to relieve me from the command of the 18th Corps and order me to New York City to await orders. The next morning the general gave some other reasons, such as an article in the “Tribune” reflecting on General Hancock, which I had nothing in the world to do with, and two letters, which I had written before the campaign began, to two of General Grant’s most devoted friends, urging upon them to try and prevent him from making the campaign he had just made. These letters, sent to General Grant’s nearest friends and intended for his eye, necessarily sprang from an earnest desire to serve the man upon whom the country had been depending, and these warnings ought to have been my highest justification in his opinion, and indeed would have been, but that it had become necessary to make out a case against me. All these matters, moreover, were known to the general before he asked that I might be put in command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and therefore they formed no excuse for relieving me from the command I held.

I also submit to you that if it had been proven to him that I was unfitted for the command I then held, that that in nowise changed the case with reference to General Butler and his incompetency, and did not furnish a reason why he should not go where the President had ordered him at the request of General Grant; and that as General Grant did, immediately after an interview with General Butler, suspend the order and announce his intention of relieving me from duty there, other reasons must be sought, different from any assigned, for this sudden change of views and action. Since I have been in New York, I have heard from two different sources (one being from General Grant’s headquarters and one a staff officer of a general on intimate official relations with General Butler), that General Butler went to General Grant and threatened to expose his intoxication, if the order was not revoked. I also learned that General Butler had threatened to make public something that would prevent the President’s re-election. General Grant told me (when I asked him about General Butler’s threat of crushing me), that he had heard that General Butler had made some threat with reference to the Chicago convention, which he (Butler) said, he “had in his breeches pocket,” but General Grant was not clear in expressing what the threat was. I refer to this simply because I feel convinced that the change was not made for any of the reasons that have been assigned; and whether General Butler has threatened General Grant with his opposition to Mr. Lincoln at the coming election, or has appealed to any political aspirations which General Grant may entertain, I do not know; but one thing is certain, I was not guilty of any acts of insubordination between my appointment and my suspension, for I was absent all those days on leave of absence from General Grant. I only hope that this long story will not tire you, and that it will convince you that I have done nothing to deserve a loss of the confidence which was reposed in me.

Yours very truly, Wm. F. Smith, Major-General.

P. S. I have not referred to the state of things existing at headquarters when I left, and to the fact that General Grant was then in the habit of getting liquor in a surreptitious manner, because it was not relevant to my case; but if you think, at any time, the matter may be of importance to the country, I will give it to you. Should you wish to write to me, please address, care of S. E. Lyon, Jauncy Court, 39 Wall Street, New York.

 

18 Miles from Richmond (May 29, 1864)

Just a short note from George Meade today. It is cautiously optimistic. General Grant was feeling even more confident. On May 26 he had written to Henry Halleck, ““Lee’s army is really whipped. The prisoners we now take show it, and the action of his army shows it unmistakably. A battle with them outside of intrenchments cannot be had. Our men feel that they have gained the morale over the enemy and attack with confidence. I may be mistaken, but I feel that our success over Lee’s army is already insured.”

We have crossed the Pamunkey, and are now within eighteen miles of Richmond. Lee has fallen back from the North Anna, and is somewhere between us and Richmond. We shall move forward to-day to feel for him. We are getting on very well, and I am in hopes will continue to manoeuvre till we compel Lee to retire into the defense of Richmond, when the grand decisive fight will come off, which I trust will bring the war to a close, and that it will be victory for us.

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. 199. Available via Google Books.

Butler (February 5, 1864)

Another letter from Theodore Lyman, while Meade remains ill in Philadelphia. In this missive Lyman mentions Major General Benjamin Butler, who commanded the Army of the James. Butler was one of the Union’s political generals, promoted not because of military experience but because of his political influence. He had aroused Southern ire for his heavy-handed military rule in New Orleans (where he earned the nickname of “Spoons” for allegedly looting the town. Southerners also called him “Beast” Butler.) During Grant’s spring  campaign, the cockeyed Butler and his army were supposed to form one part of Grant’s multipronged campaign against the Confederacy. Instead, Butler had gotten his army bottled up at Bermuda Hundred with his back against the James River, where it remained, impotent and useless until it was too late for them to do any good. Here Lyman describes a plan by Butler and the opinions about it expressed by the non-political generals of the Army of the Potomac.

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

General [Andrew] Humphreys sent for me and showed me a cipher correspondence between Butler and [Henry] Halleck, and Halleck and [John] Sedgwick. B. telegraphed that large reinforcements had been sent from the Rapid Ann to North Carolina, and that he wished a demonstration to “draw their forces from Richmond.” S. replied that, with the exception of some two or three brigades, nobody had been sent to that place from the army in our front. B. then said he was going to move on Richmond, or something of the sort, and would like a demonstration not later than Saturday (to-morrow). S. said it was too short a time to make any great show and that it would spoil our chances for a surprise on their works, in future. H. then telegraphed to do, at any rate, what we could. So [Judson] Kilpatrick has been sent to their right via Mine Ford, and [Wesley] Merritt is to threaten Barnett’s Ford; and to threaten Raccoon Ford, while the 2d will make a stronger demonstration at Morton’s Ford. Old Sedgwick and General Humphreys are cross at the whole thing, looking on it as childish.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 68. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Credit (December 28, 1863)

Once again George Meade complains about the press. This is not the first time he singled out the coverage from the Spirit of the Times, a New York weekly published by George Wilkes. (For another example, see this entry.)

This is Meade’s last letter from 1863. In three days he will celebrate his 48th birthday (and also his wedding anniversary). That event will be commemorated once again this year at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery by General Meade Society of Philadelphia. I encourage all readers of this blog to attend! It is a fun event and a good way to salute the victor of Gettysburg (and I don’t mean Joe Hooker).

I was very sorry I could not be at home to spend Christmas with you and the children, but was glad to let George go. I spent a very quiet day in camp, attending to the business of re-enlisting the veteran volunteers, to which I had to give much personal attention, as I had let [Seth] Williams, [Andrew] Humphreys, and many others, go to Washington to spend the day.

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day's fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day’s fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Yesterday General [Winfield Scott] Hancock arrived. He has been with me all the time since his arrival, and we have had a long talk. He says it was undoubtedly intended at first to relieve me, and it was, as I surmised, intimated to him that he would be placed in command. Such was his impression till the day before he came down, when, on reporting to Halleck, he was told the design was abandoned, and that he could go down to his old corps. Hancock further says that Halleck declares he saved me; that they were going to relieve me at once on the receipt of the intelligence that I had returned; but that he, Halleck, said, “No, an officer who gained the battle of Gettysburg is entitled to more consideration. Let us wait and hear what General Meade has to say, and if his report is not satisfactory, then we can act advisedly.” This was agreed to, and the unanimous opinion of all returning officers, together with my report, changed the whole aspect of the case. I must say I am gratified some little consideration was extended towards me and that justice was finally awarded.

I understand there is a bitter article in Wilkes’s Spirit of the Times, asserting that Hooker planned the campaign of Gettysburg, and that Butterfield wrote all the orders for the movements, in accordance with Hooker’s plans. I furthermore hear that General Sickles asserts that Hancock selected the position, and that he (Sickles), with his corps, did all the fighting at Gettysburg. So, I presume, before long it will be clearly proved that my presence on the field was rather an injury than otherwise.

The President has written me that he desires to see me upon the subject of executing deserters; so, as soon as I can get time, I shall have to go up to Washington.

The article that raised Meade’s ire, originally run in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 26, 1863)

BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG—HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE

General Halleck, in his report of the operations of our armies in the field during the past year, in commenting upon the Battle of Gettysburg, says: “To General Meade belonged the honor of a well-earned victory, in one of the greatest and best fought battles of the war.”

As a public journalist, we cannot allow such a record to be made in the face of the well-known history of the battle of Gettysburg, now made classic by the eloquence of Everett, and in view of the important part the gallant Hooker and his chief of staff performed preliminary to, and during the battle, without entering our solemn protest against it. And in doing this, we do not mean to detract in the slightest degree from the reputation and honor of General Meade.

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

It is a matter of history that the army of the Potomac was never in finer drill, or better discipline, or more thoroughly in “fighting trim” than it was when it fought at Gettysburg. So much to the credit of General Hooker.

It is a matter of history that when the advance column of the rebel army was within a day’s march of the capital of Pennsylvania, and the main body of the rebel army was in Maryland, following the advances, Lee, supposing that he had out-generaled Hooker, and made sure of Baltimore and Washington, was startled to find Hooker across the Potomac and right on his flank. So much to the credit of the latter.

It is a matter of history that when General Hooker was about to direct some of the troops in the field (on Maryland Heights) under his command to prepare for a blow upon Lee’s flank, before the latter could contract his lines, which would have resulted in cutting the rebel army in two, Hooker’s plans were interrupted by the general-in-chief, and at his (Hooker’s) own request, feeling justly indignant at the treatment he had received, he was relieved. General Lee, in his report to Jeff Davis, acknowledges he was outflanked and outgeneraled by Hooker. So much to the credit of the latter.

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib."

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib.”

It is a matter of history that when General Butterfield made out his line of marches in Maryland, he was directed by Hooker to keep well to the right in order to cover Baltimore, intending thereby to force Lee to fight at Gettysburg or thereabouts. So much to the credit of Hooker.

It is a matter of history that Hooker had formed a general plan of battle: that his Chief of Staff had that plan; that Gen. Meade knew it; that, as Hooker’s successor, Meade had not only the benefit of Hooker’s plans and necessarily acted upon them, but he also had Hooker’s Chief of Staff (Gen. Butterfield) by his side constantly, and, if General Hooker dislikes to acknowledge the facts briefly cited above in his report, it does not detract any the less from the gentlemanly and soldierlike conduct of Gen. Meade, who, immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, in a personal letter to Gen. Butterfield, acknowledged his great indebtedness to that officer for his valuable aid, without which, he stated, he could not have succeeded. Gen. Butterfield knew all of Hooker’s plans, and was instructed by the latter to communicate them freely to Gen. Meade, and we happen to know that Gen. Meade received them, acted upon them, and, after the battle, like a true gentleman, acknowledged his gratitude. So much to the credit of Gen. Hooker.

It is not a matter of history, but it is a matter of the plainest common sense, that neither Gen. Meade or any other military chieftain living could have taken the Army of the Potomac, and in so short a time have it well enough “in hand” to hurl it successfully against such a witty, well organized, and well led host, without aid from his immediate predecessor.

Gen. Meade can ask for no higher honor than that which he acquired by winning such a victory over the best disciplined army the rebels have in the field, in a series of battles which commenced only about forty-eight hours after he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, even upon the plans of another!

Mr. Everett, in his oration at Gettysburg, did not fail to do Gen. Hooker justice; nor did Gen. Lee, the leader of the crestfallen and defeated rebel army. We regret the more, therefore, that the General-in-Chief of the army of the United States, in making up an official report, which is now a part of the history of the present war, and to whom the country looks for a faithful chronicler of passing military events, should have omitted to do so, especially in view of the signal service Gen. Hooker has recently rendered by his dashing and daring exploits in the mountain fastnesses of the west, astonishing, even the peerless Grant, who promptly awarded to “Fighting Joe” and his brave troops the credit so justly due to him and them. Honor to whom it is due.

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. 164-5. Available via Google Books.