Regards from Sheboygan (September 8, 1863)

Maj. Gen. William French, commander of the III Corps, poses with his staff outside Culpeper sometime in September 1863. French stands in the group's center, looking slightly to his right. Click on the image to see a larger version (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. William French, commander of the III Corps, poses with his staff outside Culpeper sometime in September 1863. French stands near the group’s center, looking slightly to his right. Click on the image to see a larger version (Library of Congress).

Meade’s letter from September 8, 1863, is fairly short and unexceptional. On the next day, however, Theodore Lyman wrote a letter home that proves much more informative. I include them both here, Meade’s first. The General French he refers to is William French, who had taken over the III Corps following the wounding if Daniel Sickles at Gettysburg.

I reviewed the Third Corps, commanded by General French. The day was pretty hot, and I had to ride six miles to the review and back the same distance. I received recently a very handsome bouquet from two ladies in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; I send you the note accompanying it. Likewise a curious letter written by a rebel refugee in Canada. I am in receipt of such curious documents all the time.

Lyman goes into much more detail about the review and other aspects of life with the Army of the Potomac. (Mause Headrigg, whom he mentions at the end, is a character from Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality.)

In my last I forwarded a landscape with Headquarters of the 3d Corps in the verdant background. In this, I will describe the Review, at which, as the Gauls say, “I assisted.” . . . Everybody got himself up in all available splendor. Those that had scarfs put them on, and those that had none, tried to make up in the shine of their boots and newness of their coats. General Meade burst forth in the glory of a new saddle-cloth, which the expressman had, in the nick of time, brought fresh from Washington. As for myself, did I not put on the Brimmer scarf, and white gloves, and patent-leather boots; whereby, shining like a lily of the field, was I not promoted to ride immediately behind the Chief, thereby happily avoiding the dust? Heure militaire, we all mounted, the escort presented arms, and the cavalcade jogged off, en route for the parade ground, six miles distant. The road lay through pine woods, and barren fields, and all sorts of places like most roads hereabouts, and the cloud of dust we raised must have been extremely pleasant to the escort in the rear! At length we got in sight of a big U. S. flag, and, immediately after, beheld a long slope of clear ground, quite black with the lines of infantry, while long artillery trains were moving across the fields to get into position. It looked very handsome and warlike, and the muskets, which had received an extra burnish, were flashing away at a great rate. The procession rode up to the house and dismounted midst great cries of “Orderly!” to come and hold their horses. Then advanced convenient Contrabands and dusted us down; which improved our aspect not a little. After which the Corps Commander, General French, came forth, with proper greetings. He looks precisely like one of those plethoric French colonels, who are so stout, and who look so red in the face, that one would suppose some one had tied a cord tightly round their necks. Mounted on a large and fine horse, his whole aspect was martial, not to say fierce. In a few minutes we again got on, and moved towards the field; whereupon there arose a great and dis tant shouting of “Bat-tal-ion! Shoulder! Her-r-rms!” and the long lines suddenly became very straight and stiff, and up went the muskets to a shoulder. We rode down the front and up the rear of each line (of which there were three, each of a division with the artillery on the left flank) amid a tremendous rolling of drums and presenting of arms and dropping flags; the bands playing “Hail to the Chief.” Miss Sturgis’s mare behaved very nicely and galloped along with her neck arched, minding nothing except the flags, and those not much. Even the cannon did not disturb her behaviour. . . .

After the artillery had in like manner been reviewed, the General took a station by a little flag, and then all three divisions marched past, followed by the artillery. It was a somewhat sad sight to look at these veterans, with their travel-stained uniforms and their battered canteens; many of the regiments had no more than 200 men, and their flags were so tattered that you could barely read such names as Fair Oaks, and Williamsburg, where so many of the missing 800 now lie. The men looked spare and brown and in good health; and also as if they would then and there fight French Zouaves or anybody else you chose to bring on. . . . Some divisions at Gettysburg marched thirty-six miles in one day; and then fought for two days after that, with scarcely anything to eat or to drink. Among the troops were the 11th and 16th Massachusetts regiments and the 10th battery, and certainly none of the soldiers looked better. . . . The artillery looked even more serviceable than the infantry; and, independent of the large number of guns, was well horsed and well manned. As a rule I am much pleased with the aspect of our officers, high and low. They are cleanly and have a firm, quiet bearing. You can often pick out those who have been through the thick of it, by their subdued and steady look. The dress of the soldiers is highly practical, more so even than the French. The knapsack is baggy and of a poor pattern, however. It is curious how everything has, by sheer hard service and necessity, been brought down to the lowest point of weight and complication. A dragoon tucks his trousers inside his boots, buckles on a belt, from which hang a sabre and revolver, gets on a horse with a McClellan saddle and curb bridle, and there he is, ready to ride fifty miles in one day and fight on top of it. . . . After the Review the generals were entertained in a bower, with champagne and other delicacies, while we of the Staff meekly had big sandwiches and buckets of punch. I tried a sandwich, but found it rather salt eating, and so confined myself to iced water, wherein I got ahead of winebibbers who arrived at home very cross and hot. The General, who is very moderate in his conviviality, soon broke up the meeting, and, amidst a most terrible clicking of spurs and rattling of sabres, we all mounted, and so home by a short cut which one of General French’s aides was kind enough to show us, and which entailed a considerable amount of rough riding; so that, with Mause Headrigg, I had occasion to remark, “By the help of the Lord I have luppen a ditch!”

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. 147. 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. 9-12. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.