Brevets (December 6, 1864)

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. An engineer like Meade, he was also criticized for being cautious and methodical (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. An engineer like Meade, he was also criticized for being cautious and methodical (Library of Congress).

Today both George Meade and Theodore Lyman write home about brevets, and Lyman provides a full explanation of these honorary promotions. Meade also mentions his anxiety about Maj. Gen. George Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland. Thomas, a Virginian, had thrown in his lot with the Union at the start of the war and earned the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga” at that 1863 battle. When William T. Sherman left Atlanta on his march to the sea, Thomas headed north to deal with John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee. Meade was not the only general to worry if “old Thomas” would come out all right; Grant was prepared to relieve him of command if he did not attack Hood. In the end, the methodical Thomas nearly annihilated Hood’s army at the battles of Franklin and Nashville.

To-night my commission, or rather letter of appointment, as major general in the regular army, to date from August 18th, 1864, has arrived. George has also received the appointment of major, by brevet, for gallantry and meritorious conduct on the campaign. Jim Biddle is also made lieutenant colonel, by brevet, for the same reasons. These appointments do not give them any increase of pay, but are an acknowledgment of the performance of their duty, and as such are much valued. I think I have reason to be proud that all my recommendations, amounting to two hundred, have been approved.

To-morrow I send off an expedition under Warren, which I trust will result in something decisive, as we are all anxious to have matters on a more settled basis than they now are before the winter.

I feel some anxiety about Thomas in Tennessee. I think I wrote you some time ago, when I first heard of Sherman’s movement, that its success would depend on Thomas’s capacity to cope with Hood. I think it was expected Sherman’s movement would draw Hood back to Georgia, but I anticipated just what he appears to be doing—a bold push for Kentucky, which, if he succeeds in, will far outbalance any success Sherman may have in going from Atlanta to the sea coast. Sherman took with him the largest part of his army, when he did not expect to meet any organized opposition, leaving Thomas with the lesser force to confront and oppose Hood, with the whole of his organized forces. I trust old Thomas will come out all right, but the news is calculated to create anxiety.

This letter of Lyman’s contains one of my favorite passages about Meade, when the general, in rare good humor, laughs and jokes with his staff as they receive their brevet promotions.

There arrived Captain Alden, with 253 brevets, of all grades, for the Army of the Potomac. Do you know what a brevet is, and the force thereof? A brevet commission gives the dignity, but not always the pay or the authority, of the rank it confers. If, for example, a colonel is breveted general, he may wear the stars and may rank as general on courts-martial, but, unless he be specially assigned by the President, he has only the command of a colonel, just as before. A colonel brevetted general in the regular army draws the pay of a general when assigned to duty by the President; but a brevet in the volunteers can under no circumstances bring additional pay. Brevets, like other appointments by the President, must be confirmed by the Senate before they become permanent. At any rate, however, they last from the time of appointment to the time of their rejection by the Senate. The object of brevets is to pay compliments to meritorious officers without overburdening the army with officers of high rank.

As aforesaid, there came a grist of these papers in all grades, from 1st lieutenant up to major-general. All the Headquarters’ Staff, with few exceptions, were brevetted one grade, in consequence of which I should not wonder if the Senate rejected the whole bundle! Barstow is Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel; Biddle, ditto; Duane has two brevets, which brings him to a full Colonel, and will give him a colonel’s pay, if he can be assigned, as they are in the regular army. We are all very melancholy over General Williams, who, though one of the most deserving officers in the whole army, could not be brevetted because that would make him rank the Adjutant-General of the whole army, Brigadier-General Thomas. They were not so careful to except Barnard, whom they formerly made a Major-General though his chief, Delafield, was only a Brigadier. It is to be considered, however, that Major-General Barnard had found leisure from his military duties to publish a criticism on the Peninsular Campaign, or, in other words, a campaign document against McClellan, which is a circumstance that alters cases. I should say, that the statement that General Meade was only a Brevet MajorGeneral in the regular service was a mistake naturally arising from the confusion with the other letters of appointment. .. .

General Grant was at the Headquarters for about an hour. He brought with him Captain de Marivault, a French naval officer and a very gentlemanly man. I took him as far as Fort Wadsworth, and showed him it and the neighboring line. He has had great chances of seeing this war, as he was at New Orleans, and, later, Admiral Dahlgren allowed him to go into Charleston, where he even went about in the city. Oh! I forgot to mention, in particular, that Rosencrantz is brevetted a Major, at which he is much pleased. There followed much merriment in the camp over shoulder-straps, those who had been promoted giving theirs to the next grade below. Majors’ straps were scarcest and were in great demand. The General was in high spirits (as he might well be, with a letter of appointment in his pocket) and stood in front of his tent, joking with his aides, a very rare performance with him. “Now here’s Lyman,” said he, looking like Mephistopheles in good humor, “he has no brevet, but I am going to write to the Governor of Massachusetts to make him a Field Marshal.” Whereat he rubbed the side of his long nose, as he always does when he laughs.

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. 249-50. 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. 289-91. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Political Imbroglio (November 11, 1864)

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

George Meade continues to worry about his oldest son, who is slowly dying in Philadelphia. He also follows up on the ballot controversy he wrote about on the previous day. Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman goes into greater—and more comic—detail about the election scandal and other incidents of camp life.

I note all you write of dear Sergeant, and of his condition. It is hard for me to know that he continues so sick, and that I cannot be with you to assist in taking care of him and in trying to keep up his courage and spirits. I never doubted Sergeant’s firmness of purpose and moral courage. He had too often exhibited these qualities in the highest degree. I fully sympathize with you in your anxiety, but can only urge you to watch him closely. I am glad Mr. Keith goes to see him; the intercourse of good and liberal men and women cannot but be beneficial, and I consider Mr. Keith one of the best of men.

The Secretary of War relieved me of my political imbroglio by ordering me to send the persons arrested to Washington. From all I could understand of the matter, these people are innocent of any wrong intended; it is known no wrong was actually perpetrated. Still, when they were charged by others with intent to commit fraud, I was compelled, under the orders of the Department and my own sense of duty, to hold them in arrest until the matter could be investigated.

Mr. Johnny Reb has been moving about to-day, as if he had taken it into his head to do something. I am sure I would be very grateful to Lee if he would try his hand at the offensive for awhile.

To-day’s papers say Sherman has burned Atlanta and moved on Charleston. This is a bold move, the success of which will depend on Thomas’s ability to keep Hood out of Kentucky and Ohio.

Theodore Lyman (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman (Library of Congress).

In his letter, Lyman waxes philosophical, puts a comic spin on the ballot incident, and describes a contretemps in the headquarters kitchen.

The McClellan procession might have spared their tapers, as he has gone up, poor Mac, a victim to his friends! His has been a career manque, and a hard time he has had, and low he has fallen. The men who stood, as green soldiers, with him in front of Yorktown, where are they? Many thousands lie in the barren land of the Peninsula and the valley of Virginia; thousands more in the highlands of Maryland and Pennsylvania and in the valley of the Shenandoah. Many are mustered out—their time expired—or sick, or crippled. The small remnant are sifted, like fine gold, through this army, non-commissioned officers, or even full officers. What an experience it is for an infantry soldier! To have carried a musket, blanket, and haversack to the Peninsula, and to the gates of Richmond, then back again to the second Bull Run; up to Antietam in Maryland; down again to Fredericksburg; after the enemy again to the Rappahannock; and at last, the great campaign, like all others concentrated in six months, from the Rapid Ann to Petersburg! All this alone on foot, in three long years, at all seasons and all hours, in every kind of weather, carrying always a heavy load, and expecting to fight at any moment; seeing so many men shot in each fight—the great regiment dwindling to a battalion—the battalion to a company—the company to a platoon. Then the new men coming down; they shot off also. Till at last the infantry-man, who left Boston thinking he was going straight to Richmond, via Washington, sits down before Petersburg and patiently makes his daily pot of coffee, a callous old soldier, who has seen too many horrors to mind either good or bad. It is a limited view of a great war, but, for that very reason, full of detail and interest.

Of course we might have known that this pack of political “commissioners” could not get down here without a shindy of some sort. The point they brought up was fraudulent votes. A long-haired personage, fat and vulgar-looking, one of that class that invariably have objectionable finger-nails, came puffing over to General Meade’s tent, with all the air of a boy who had discovered a mare’s nest. He introduced himself as a Mr. Somebody from Philadelphia, and proceeded to gasp out that a gentleman had been told by an officer, that he had heard from somebody else that a Democratic Commissioner had been distributing votes, professedly Republican, but with names misspelled so as to be worthless. “I don’t see any proof,” said the laconic Meade. “Give me proof, and I’ll arrest him.” And off puffed Mr. Somebody to get proof, evidently thinking the Commanding General must be a Copperhead not to jump at the chance of arresting a Democrat. The result was that a Staff officer was sent, and investigation held, and telegraphs dispatched here and there, while the Somebody puffed about, like a porpoise in shallow water! Finally, four or five people were arrested to answer charges. This seemed to please Stanton mightily, who telegraphed to put ‘em in close arrest; and, next morning, lo! a lieutenant-colonel sent, with a guard of infantry, by a special boat from Washington, to conduct these malefactors to the capital—very much like personages, convicted of high treason, being conveyed to the Tower. Were I a lieutenant-colonel, I should feel cheap to be ordered to convey a parcel of scrubby politicians under arrest! But that is the work that Washington soldiers may expect to spend their lives in. General Meade, I fancy, looked with high contempt on the two factions. “That Somebody only does it,” he said, “to appear efficient and get an office. As to X____, he said he thought it a trying thing for a gentleman to be under close arrest; and I wanted to tell him it wasn’t so disgraceful as to have been drunk every night, which was his case!” That’s the last I have heard of the culprits, who, with their accusers, have all cleared out, like a flock of crows, and we are once again left to our well-loved ragamuffins, in dirty blouses and spotted sky-blue trousers.

The day was further marked by an emeute in the culinary department. I would have you to know that we have had a nigger boy, to wait on table, an extraordinary youth, of muscular proportions and of an aspect between a drill sergeant, an undertaker and a clergyman—solemn, military and mildly religious. It would, however, appear, that beneath this serious and very black exterior worked a turbulent soul. The diminutive Monsieur Mercier, our chef, had repeatedly informed me that “le petit” (the unbleached brother is about a head taller than Mercier) was extremely indolent and had a marked antipathy to washing dishes—an observation which interested me little, as my observation went to show that the washing of dishes by camp-followers tended rather to dirty than to cleanse the platter, and that the manifest destiny of the plate military was to grow dirtier and dirtier, till it at last got broken. However, Anderson was reproved for not washing his crockery, and replied with rude words. On being reproved again, he proposed to smite Mercier, remarking, he “would as soon knock down a white man as a nigger.”

At this juncture the majestic Biddle interfered and endeavored to awe the crowd; but the crowd would not be awed, so Biddle put Anderson at the pleasant occupation of walking post with a log on his shoulder. Upon being liberated from this penalty, he charged upon Mercier, giving him the dire alternative of “Pay me mer wages, or I’ll smash yer crockery!” This being disorderly, I allowed him to cool his passions till next morning in the guardhouse, when he was paid off.

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. 240-1. 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. 262-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Petty Tyranny (October 17, 1864)

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman grumbles about what he sees as political favoritism and retribution within the Army of the Potomac. Colonel Collis was Charles Collis, who had commanded the 114th Pennsylvania, the zouave regiment that served as Meade’s headquarters guard. McMahon is Martin T. McMahon, whose brother James had, indeed, fallen at Cold Harbor (which Lyman insists on calling Cool Arbor). His other brother, John, died of wounds he received while in command of the 164th New York. The problem with Lyman’s story about Martin being dismissed from the army for his pro-McClellan talk, though, is that McMahon was not mustered out until February 1866. There’s an interesting article about the McMahon brothers here.

In his next letter Meade will mention the dignitaries who graced the army with their presence, but the general will not be nearly as amusing in his descriptions as Lyman. I particularly like Lyman’s remark that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton “looks like his photographs, only more so.” The Fessenden with the “Palmer leg” (an artificial limb that included a knee joint) was Francis,  the son of Maine senator William P. Fessenden, who had replaced Salmon Chase as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury. Young Fessenden had lost the leg while commanding a brigade under Nathaniel Banks during the Red River Campaign. Once again Lyman provides an anecdote about hapless aide James C. Biddle.

It is indeed not difficult to get material for a grumble, if one will but look about in this world. You see I can’t be enthusiastic about such a government as Lincoln’s, when I see, under my nose, the petty tyranny and persecution they practise against subordinate officers. Now there is Colonel Collis, a petty, scheming political officer; he sends letters to newspapers and despatches to Mr. Stanton about the enthusiasm for Lincoln in the army, etc., etc. Nothing is said to him; that is all right; he has an opinion, as he ought to have. But there is Lieutenant-Colonel McMahon, lately Adjutant-General of the 6th Corps, an excellent soldier, whose brother fell at the head of a charge at Cool Arbor, and who himself had been in all the battles: he is a McClellan man, as was natural in one of General Sedgwick’s Staff. He talks very openly and strongly about his side, as he has a right to do. What is the consequence? He is, without any warning, mustered out of the service! That is to say, a soldier who don’t agree with the Administration must be got rid of; it is nothing in his favor that he has exposed his life in twenty different actions. You would scarcely credit the number of such cases as this, cases of petty spite, fitting rather to a bad-tempered child than to a great and dignified cabinet minister. They suffer chances of victory to pass, rather than take voters from states. They send down three brevets of brigadiers, only one of which has been recommended by General Meade; and all three are men from the much dreaded and uncertain state of Pennsylvania. Don’t think I am a grumbler; all this wickedness and smallness and selfishness is a part of humanity, and to be expected; but don’t ask me to be enthusiastic for such people. There were a parcel of them down here to-day; bah! the sight of them is enough!

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

As we sat at breakfast there came a despatch saying that Hon. Secretary Stanton, with a long tail, might be looked for, per rail, very presently. It is an historical fact that General Meade expressed his gratification at this deep honor, in the following terms: “The devil! I shan’t have time to smoke my cigar.” Immediately I got on my double-barreled coat, with a sash withal, and a pair of white cotton gloves; but there was plenty of time to smoke a cigar, for they didn’t get along for an hour or two, and then the greatest posse of large bugs! First, on horseback, Generals Grant, Meigs (Quartermaster-General), Barnard, Eaton (Commissary-General), Barnes (Surgeon-General), Fessenden (with a Palmer leg). Then, in ambulances, Fessenden’s papa, the Secretary of the Treasury, a sharp, keen, quiet-looking man; Hon. Secretary Stanton, who looks like his photographs, only more so; Hon. Sim. Draper and Mr. Barney, twin New York politicians. The former had a very large, long nose, and a very round and abrupt waistcoat, so that he resembled a good-natured pelican, just after a surfeit of sprats. General Meade received them with his usual high ceremony. He walked out of his tent, with his hands in his pockets, said, “Hullo, how are you?” and removed one hand, for the purpose of extending it to Grant, who lighted down from his horse, put his hands in his pockets, and sat down on a camp chair. The pelican came up and bobbed at the Meade, as did his friend. We carted them all to see Fort Wadsworth, where Rosencrantz swears that Mr. Stanton, on being informed that there was only a picket line between him and the enemy, pulled out his watch and said they really must be going back! which indeed they did. When the train started with its precious freight of military and diplomatic jewels, General Meade accompanied it, with Biddle, Mason and Rosencrantz. It would appear that they encountered, at City Point, Admiral Porter with Mrs. P. and another lady, who came, on their return, as far as Hancock’s Headquarters. The hospitable H. did thereat cause supper to be set forth, for it was now dark, and the General, with much talk and good humor, took root there; for he is death to hold on, when he gets talking and in company he likes. At nine o’clock came the galliant Generale, with his aides, whereof Rosencrantz and Mason were bursting to tell something good; whereas Biddle had a foolish and deprecatory air. It immediately was related, midst loud shouts, how, at City Point Grant had given General Meade a bunch of cigars to beguile the way of himself, Admiral Porter, and some other guests going to the front. The Chief handed them to Biddle, asking him to take charge of them for the present. Now B. has few equals in the power of turning things end for end; and so he at once and clearly understood that he [was] made a sort of almoner of tobacco, and proceeded to distribute the cigars in the most liberal manner, to everybody who would either smoke or pocket them! The Staff and bystanders asked no questions, but puffed away at Grant’s prime Havanas. Arrived at Hancock’s and supper done, the General said to Porter: “I think now is the moment to enjoy those good cigars!” Out comes “Shaw,” the faithful servitor. “Oh, if you please, Major, the Gen’ral sends his compliments, sir: and would like that bunch of cigars, sir.” Biddle immediately assumed the attitude indicated in the accompanying drawing! and the curtain dropped. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 247-50. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Poor Biddle (October 6, 1864)

Once more, Meade’s aide James C. Biddle, provides some laughs at the expense of his dignity. Fortunately the laughs came unaccompanied by wounds. In this letter, Theodore Lyman also notes the arrival of more international visitors. In his journal (edited by David. W. Lowe and published in 2007 as Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman), he adds a few more observations of Lord Mahon and Captain Hayter. “The former rather a soft subject, with a feeble aquiline nose. The latter rather dull, apparently, and good natured, with a certain air like Peel–both in the guards.”

Poor Biddle! I always begin his name with “poor.” He was detailed to examine the trenches occupied by the 2d Corps, and see that the pickets were properly arranged. This part of the works is much exposed to fire in many parts, being near the enemy; so that you have to stoop a good deal of the way. What did Biddle do but ride out by a road to the works, on horseback! In consequence of which the whole skirmish line opened on him, and he returned, after his inspection, quite gasping with excitement. As he was not hit, it was very funny. If there is a wrong road, he’s sure to take it. Lord Mahon (son of the Earl of Stanhope, who presided at that literary dinner I went to at London) and Captain Hayter, both of the Guards, were down here — Spoons rather, especially the nobil Lord.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 241. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Wonderful Escape (October 3, 1864)

Joseph Bartlett (Library of Congress).

Joseph Bartlett (Library of Congress).

George Meade tells his wife about his narrow escape from an artillery shell. Theodore Lyman mentioned this incident in his letter from yesterday. The generals who shared Meade’s brush with death are Andrew Humphreys, Charles Griffin, and Joseph Bartlett. I would like to know what happened to the shell. Perhaps it’s in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

I have not been able to write you for several days, as I have been so absorbed in our recent movements, which I believe are now successful. These consisted in a movement by Butler on the north side of the James, in the hope of surprising the enemy, and possibly getting into Richmond. The enemy was surprised, and part of his third line of defenses taken from him and is still held by us. As Lee was obliged to detach heavily to meet Butler’s movement, it was thought probable I might, by extending to the left, get into Petersburg. I did extend my lines some two and a half miles, had quite a brisk affair with the enemy, but did not succeed in taking Petersburg. Of course, extending both flanks in this way, we had to weaken our centre, and this is the danger of this kind of movement; but Lee appears so determined to be prudent and cautious. He confines himself strictly to the defensive, and lets slip the chances for a coup we offer him.

On the second day, whilst I was on horseback on the field, talking to Generals Griffin and Bartlett, surrounded by my staff and escort, a shell fell in our midst, grazing Humphreys’s horse, grazing and striking my left leg, just below the knee, passing between Griffin and Bartlett, and embedding itself in the ground in the centre of a group of officers, covering them all with earth, but without exploding or injuring a soul. A more wonderful escape I never saw. At first I thought my leg was gone, as I felt and heard the blow plainly, but it only rubbed the leather of my riding-boot, without even bruising the skin. Afterwards Colonel Lyman had the shell dug up, and is going to preserve it. How would you like to have me back minus a leg and on crutches?

I have seen your brother Willie several times. He seems in good spirits and quite pleased at being assigned to the Army of the Potomac instead of Butler’s army. I had no place on my staff for your friend Captain Wister, but General Humphreys will take him for the present, as two of his aides have just left him, their times being out, though they intend trying to get new commissions to rejoin him. George is quite well. He was in the crowd when the shell dropped among us.

The two officers Lyman describes in this letter—Lt. Col. Charles G. Loring and Maj. Philip M. Lydig—had both been aides to General Burnside but had been sent on leave after the crater debacle. Here Lyman offers some more insights into Meade’s style of command, especially the way he liked to keep his officers on edge. Poor James C. Biddle often served as the butt of the staff’s humor.

Yesterday afternoon arrived Lieutenant-Colonel Loring and Major L_____ . The former looks in better health and immediately set to work on the duties of his office, as Inspector-General, under the easy rule of General Parke, who succeeds the rule of Burnside the Fat. L_____, always fancy, comes in much store clothes, a new shell jacket, double-breasted, and a pair of cerulean riding tights with a broad gold band, into which, according to report, he must be assisted by two strong men. Also his sabre newly burnished, and the names of the battles engraved on it, with other new and elegant touches. He was the young gentleman, you know, of whom the Reb paper said it was unworthy an honest officer to clasp the hand dipped in the gore of their brethren, even though cased in a glove of delicate kid! This was a quiet day, wherein we lay still and made ourselves comfortable. The “comfortable” meant, with many of the officers, lying abed till the classic hour of Richard and Robin; for the General, these last days, has been getting up and riding out at fitful and uncertain hours. I think, when he feels anxious and responsible himself, that he likes to keep others a little on the stretch also. So he would give no orders overnight, but suddenly hop up in the morning and begin to call for breakfast, orderlies, aides, horses, etc. I am sharp, and, at the first sound he makes, I am up and speedily dressed; whereas the others get caught and have to leave suddenly. Biddle is the funniest. There he was, trotting along, the other morning, talking away, like a spinster who had lost her lap dog. “Well, I do think it is too bad! The General never tells anyone when he is going out, and here I am with no breakfast—no breakfast at all!” And here B. opened his fingers and disclosed one boiled egg! To think of a Major on the General Staff riding after his General, with the reins in one hand and a boiled egg in the other!

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. 231-2. 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. 239-40. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Leaves (August 28, 1864)

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade (Library of Congress).

After today we won’t be hearing from George Meade for a little while. Our loss is the general’s gain, for, despite what he says in the last line of this letter, he does receive permission to go home on leave. He departs camp on September 1 and reaches Philadelphia two days later. He will begin his return trip on September 7, with a stop in Washington, D.C.

The court of inquiry to which he refers is the one regarding the Battle of the Crater.

I received this evening yours of the 26th. In it you acknowledge the receipt, per Mr. England, of my testimony before the court of inquiry. The sittings of the court have been interrupted by our recent movements, but to-morrow they are to be resumed, and I trust they will push matters to a close and come to some conclusion before they are again interrupted.

I have written you of the fighting that has been going on for a week past. It has been quiet for the last two days. The enemy having left us in undisturbed possession of the railroad so long, our position is strengthened to such a degree he could not now drive us away. This is a great point gained, and we are satisfied with its accomplishment, notwithstanding it entailed heavy losses on us, particularly in prisoners. Poor young Grossman belonged to the regulars, and was killed in the first day’s fight on the railroad. I understand he was shot in the head, being unconscious from the moment of receiving his wound till he expired, which occurred soon after. I believe he had not joined very long, and I was not aware of his being here. I sympathize most sincerely with his afflicted parents, but this is one of those dispensations that are almost daily taking place here.

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

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

I understand General Grant has been to Fortress Monroe and returned to-day with his wife and children. He has one little girl, and either two or three boys. He seems very much attached to his children, and his wife is said to possess a great deal of good sense, and to have exercised a most salutary effect over him. I do not know why she has given up St. Louis, her native place, but Grant told me the other day he intended to keep his family in Philadelphia for the next few years, probably for the education of his children.

I think we shall be quiet for some time, unless the enemy attacks, which I hardly think probable. Butler is away now, but when he returns I shall make an effort to get off for a few days, to have a peep at you and the children; but don’t rely too much on my coming.

Theodore Lyman’s letter of August 27 is also the last we shall hear from him for a while. As the book of his letters explains, “The next day Lyman was surprised to have Meade say to him. ‘I think I must order you home to get me some cigars, mine are nearly out!’ But, as the former remarked, ‘It’s hard to surprise a man out of going home, after a five months’ campaign.’

“General [Seth] Williams gravely prepared a fifteen-day leave, and the aides tendered their congratulations. Lyman was bound for Richmond on secret service! So the Staff persuaded the inquisitive [James] Biddle, who talked about it all over camp, and got very mad when undeceived. He recovered, however, when tendered a cocktail as a peace offering.

“Lyman’s visit to the North proved longer than he expected. For, shortly after his arrival in Beverly, where Mrs. Lyman was passing the summer, he had an attack of malaria which kept him in bed for some time. According to the doctors, ‘The northern air, with the late cool change, had brought to the surface the malaria in the system.’ Consequently, he was not able to rejoin the army until the end of September.

“Meanwhile, the gloom was lifting, that had settled on the North after the failure to take Petersburg. For Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, and Sheridan’s victories over Early in the Shenandoah, had somewhat changed the situation, although the Army of the Potomac still lay before Petersburg, where it hovered for many weary months.”

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. 225-26. Available via Google Books.

The Great Peppery (June 24, 1864)

We begin our accounts of June 24, 1864, with General Meade’s report home to his wife. It is a very clear-eyed letter, explaining the pressures the army has been operating under and what the commanding general feels will be necessary for the Union to obtain victory. And victory is Meade’s goal here.

Following the general’s letter is one from Theodore Lyman as he examines the behavior of “the Great Peppery.” Lyman, for the most part, maintains a positive view of Both men write about the army’s need for more men.his boss but he is not unwilling to write about his various personal shortcomings, especially the legendary temper.

Both men write about the army’s need for more men.

In his book of Lyman’s journals, David W. Lowe identifies the two Frenchmen as Lt. Col. François De Chanal and Capt. Pierre Guzman, sent by Napoleon III as observers.

Our operations here for the last few days, though not so heavy as prior to the 18th, have still been very active. We have been extending our lines around Petersburg, and have encountered considerable opposition from the enemy, which has somewhat checked the rapidity of our progress.

I am sorry to see the feeling you report as existing with certain persons. Despondency is never going to get us through this war, and although this army has not accomplished all that ignorant people anticipated, it has really done more than could reasonably have been counted on. Our losses, it is true, have been large, but not larger than is incidental to operations of the character of ours, being offensive, and conducted on so grand a scale, with such numbers. Fifty days’ constant marching and fighting has undoubtedly had its influence on the army, and its condition is not what it was when we first crossed the Rapidan.

On the 18th I assaulted several times the enemy’s positions, deliberately, and with the expectation of carrying them, because I had positive information the enemy had not occupied them more than twelve hours, and that no digging had been done on the lines prior to their occupation. Nevertheless, I failed, and met with serious loss, principally owing to the moral condition of the army; for I am satisfied, had these assaults been made on the 5th and 6th of May, we should have succeeded with half the loss we met.

Another inconvenience we suffer from is in the loss of superior and other officers. Hancock’s Corps has lost twenty brigade commanders, and the rest of the army is similarly situated. We cannot replace the officers lost with experienced men, and there is no time for reorganization or careful selection. At the same time you must remember the enemy labors under like disadvantages. I conversed with some prisoners yesterday, who said they were completely exhausted, having had no rest or sleep for days, and being compelled to be all the time marching. I said to one of them, “Well, we will treat you well,” and he replied, “Oh, sir, you cannot treat us worse than we are treated on the other side.” In flags of truce, and on all occasions that we meet the rebel officers, they always begin conversation by asking when the war is going to be over, and expressing themselves as most heartily tired and anxious for peace. I believe these two armies would fraternize and make peace in an hour, if the matter rested with them; not on terms to suit politicians on either side, but such as the world at large would acknowledge as honorable, and which would be satisfactory to the mass of people on both sides. But while I ardently desire peace, and think a settlement not impracticable, I am opposed to any cessation of our efforts so long as the war has to be continued, and I regret to see symptoms of a discontent which, if persisted in, must paralyze our cause. Again, it is impossible for me personally to avoid my share of the odium, if any is to be cast on this army. I complain, and I think justly, that the press and the Government despatches fail to acknowledge my services, but I cannot reasonably do this, and expect to be shielded from complaints, if any are made of the operations.

You know I have never shut my eyes to the obstacles we have to encounter, and have always appreciated the difficulties to be overcome. The campaign, thus far, has been pretty much what I expected; if anything, rather greater obstacles than I anticipated. I still believe, with the liberal supply of men and means which our superior resources ought to furnish, we will win in the long run; but it is a question of tenacity and nerve, and it won’t do to look behind, or to calculate the cost in blood and treasure; if we do we are lost and our enemies succeed. You may remember I told the good people of Philadelphia, that what we wanted was men, fighting men; that the war could only be closed by desperate and bloody fighting; and the sooner the people realize this, and give evidence of their appreciation by coming forward to fight, the better.

I am well and seem to improve on hard work. I have had only three hours’ sleep for several nights past.

Here’s Lyman’s report, also from June 24. It provides some more close up views of “the Great Peppery” in action:

James C. Biddle, one of Meade's aides. He came from a good Philadelphia family but, as David W. Lowe notes in his book of Lyman's journals, "He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor" (Library of Congress).

James C. Biddle, one of Meade’s aides. He came from a good Philadelphia family but, as David W. Lowe notes in his book of Lyman’s journals, “He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor” (Library of Congress).

It is praise not to be pitched into by the Great Peppery: and he is very kind to me. To be sure, I watch him, as one would a big trout on a small hook, and those who don’t, catch volleys at all hours! Poor [James] Biddle, for instance, an excellent, bettyish sort of man, with no fragment of tact, when the General is full of anxiety for something that is not going right, is sure to come in, in his stuttering way, with “Ah, aw, hem, aw, General, they are going to pitch camp in a very sandy, bad place, sir; you will not be at all comfortable, and there is a nice grassy—” “Major Biddle!!!”—and then follows the volley. Sometimes it is very effective to contradict the General, provided you stick to it and are successful. I came in last night, feeling cross and not at all caring for commanders of armies or other great ones of this earth. “Well, Lyman, you’re back, are you?” “Yes, sir: I reported that the enemy were moving along our rear, but they got no further than—” “Rear! not at all! they were moving along the front.” “No, sir, they were not, they were moving along our rear.” “What do you mean by that? There is Russell, and there is Ricketts, and here is Wheaton; now of course that’s your front.” “Russell isn’t in such a position, sir, nor Wheaton either. They face so (dabs with a pencil), so that is our rear and can’t be anything else.” Whereupon the good chief graciously said no more. I do not know that he ever said anything pleasant about me except the day after the Wilderness battles, when I heard Hancock say that “Colonel Lyman had been useful to him, the day before.” To which the General replied: “Yes, Lyman is a clear-headed man.” I have heard him volunteer several favorable things about Captain Sanders; also he has remarked that Old Rosey (my tent-mate) [Frederick Rosenkrantz] was good at finding roads; and that is pretty much all of his praises, whereof no man is more sparing. By the way, old Rosey has his commission as captain. One thing I do not like—it is serious—and that is, that three years of bitter experience have failed to show our home people that, to an army on active campaign (or rather furious campaign), there must be supplied a constant stream of fresh men—by thousands. What do we see? Everyone trying to persuade himself that his town has furnished its “quota.” But where are they? We have large armies, but nothing compared with the paper statements. No! The few produced by drafts in good part run away; so too many of the “volunteers”—miserable fellows bought with money. None are shot—that is unmerciful—but the Powers that Be will let brave, high-toned men, who scorn to shirk their duty, be torn with canister and swept away with musketry, and that is inevitable.

This morning appeared General Grant with two French officers, who since have taken up their quarters with us and mess with us. They are two artillery officers, the elder a Colonel de Chanal, the other a Captain Guzman, both sent as a commission to observe the progress of the campaign. The Colonel is a perfect specimen of an old Frenchman, who has spent most of his life in provincial garrisons, in the study of all sorts of things, from antiquities down to rifled projectiles. He has those extraordinary, nervous legs, which only middle-aged Frenchmen can get, and is full of various anecdotes. Many years he has lived in Toulouse. The other is young and little and looks like a black-eyed and much astonished grasshopper. He is very bright, speaks several languages, and was on the Chinese expedition. General Grant staid some time in council, and took dinner with us. I was amused at him, for, the day being warm, he began taking off his coat before he got to the tent; and by the time he had said, “How are you, Meade?” he was in his shirt-sleeves, in which state he remained till dinner-time. He attempted no foreign conversation with the Gauls, simply observing; “If I could have turned the class the other end to, I should have graduated at West Point, very high in French”!

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. 206-8. 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, p. 176-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Party of Ladies (January 29, 1864)

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

The business of war wasn’t always hell; there was frivolity, too, especially in winter camp. In this letter Theodore Lyman details some of the less-serious side of life in the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys, of course, is Meade’s chief of staff, Andrew Humphreys.

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

If you saw the style of officers’ wives that come here, I am sure you would wish to stay away. Quelle experience had I yesterday! I was nearly bored to death, and was two hours and a half late for my dinner. Oh, list to my harrowing tale. I was in my tent, with my coat off, neatly mending my maps with a little paste, when Captain [Adolphus] Cavada poked in his head (he was gorgeous in a new frockcoat). “Colonel,” said he, “General Humphreys desires that you will come and help entertain some ladies!” I held up my pasty hands in horror, and said,”What!” “Ladies!” quoth Cavada with a grin; “ a surprise party on horseback, thirteen ladies and about thirty officers.” There was no moyen; I washed my hands, put on the double-breaster, added a cravat, and proceeded, with a sweet smile, to the tent, whence came a sound of revelry and champagne corks. Such a set of feminine humans I have not seen often; it was Lowell factories broken loose and gone mad. They were all gotten up in some sort of long thing, to ride in. One had got a lot of orange tape and trimmed her jacket in the dragoon style; another had the badge of the Third Corps pinned all askew in her hat; a third had a major’s knot worked in tarnished lace on her sleeve; while a fourth had garnitured her chest by a cape of grey squirrel-skin. And there was General Humphreys, very red in the face, smiling like a basket of chips, and hopping round with a champagne bottle, with all the spring of a boy of sixteen. He spied me at once, and introduced me to a Mrs. M , who once married somebody who treated her very badly and afterwards fortunately went up; so Mrs. M seemed determined to make up lost time and be jolly in her liberty. She was quite bright; also quite warm and red in the face, with hard riding and, probably, champagne. Then they said they would go over to General [John] Sedgwick’s, and General Humphreys asked if I would not go, too, which invitation it was not the thing to refuse; so I climbed on my horse, with the malicious consolation that it would be fun to see poor, modest Uncle John with such a load!

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John" (Library of Congress).

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John” (Library of Congress).

But Uncle John, though blushing and overcome, evidently did not choose to be put upon; so, with great politeness, he offered them sherry, with naught to eat and no champagne. Then nothing would do but go to Headquarters of the 3d Corps, whither, to my horror, the gallant Humphreys would gang likewise. Talk about cavalry raids to break down horses! If you want to do that, put a parcel of women on them and set them going across the country. Such a Liitzow’s wild hunt hath not been seen since the day of the respected L. himself! Finally one lady’s horse ran away, and off went the brick, Humphreys, like a shot, to stop her. Seeing her going into a pine tree, he drove his horse between the tree and her; but, in so doing, encountered a hidden branch, which slapped the brisk old gent out of his saddle, like a shuttlecock! The Chief-of-Staff was up in a second, laughing at his mishap; while I galloped up, in serious alarm at his accident. To make short a long story, the persistent H. tagged after those womenfolk (and I tagged after him) first to Corps Headquarters, then to General Carr’s Headquarters, and finally to General Morris’s Headquarters, by which time it was dark! I was the only one that knew the nearest way home (we were four miles away) and didn’t I lead the eminent soldier through runs and mud-holes, the which he do hate!

To-day we have had a tremendous excitement: a detail of 250 men to “police” the camp, under charge of [James C.] Biddle, just appointed Camp Commandant. They have been sweeping, cutting down stumps, burning brush, and, in general, making the worst-looking camp in the army neat and respectable.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 65-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Winter Leaves (December 10, 1863)

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

It appears that campaigning is over for the winter and attention turns to more mundane things: leaves and winter quarters. Theodore Lyman takes the pulse of the army and reports on the speculation about Meade’s replacement. Major Biddle is James C. Biddle of Meade’s staff. In Meade’s Army: the Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, editor David Lowe reports that Biddle “came from a distinguished military family but did not always meet expectations. He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor.”

All the officers are inclined to be petulant and touchy, for they think that winter quarters are coming and are all stretching out for “leaves,” which they know only a part can get. Major Biddle becomes quite irate over the subject. “Now there is General Webb has a ten-day leave,” says B. petulantly; “every corps is to give one general a ten-day leave. I don’t want any little ten-day leave; I want a decent leave; a sixty-day leave. I have been two years and a half in this army, and never had but seven days’ leave, except once when I was sick; and it isn’t any fun to be sick. If we are going into winter quarters, one third of this army can do what is necessary, just as well as the whole; and they might as well be liberal to us. It is too bad! really too bad!” Such discoveries of patriotic services as the officers now make, to back up their applications, are miraculous. They have all been in service since the First Bull Run (the Genesis of the Potomac Army); they have all been wounded six times; they have never been absent a single day; their wives are very sick; their mothers are not expected to live; and they can easily bring back fifty volunteers with them, to fill up their regiment! All of which General [Seth] Williams receives with the blandest smile, as if he had never before heard of so strong a case, and promises to refer it to General Meade, which indeed he does. Meanwhile the rattling of axes is heard on all sides, and villages of little log huts, with canvas roofs, spring into existence in a single night. General [Rufus] Ingalls asked if the troops could have permission to build huts: to which the Major-General commanding replied, with charming non-committal. “Build huts; certainly; why not? They can move from huts as well as from tents, can’t they?” I observe the papers continue to discuss the succession of the General. He himself thinks he will be relieved, but I doubt it. If for no other reason, because it is hard to find anyone for the post. General Sedgwick would, I think, refuse; General Warren is very young, and is, besides, under a cloud about his movement on our left. General Sickles, people would say, is too much of a Bowery boy. Generals French, Newton, and Sykes are out of the question. General Humphreys has no influence strong enough to put him up. Any subordinate general would have to be of great note to be lifted thus high; there is no such one. I think they would not try a western general, after Pope’s experience. The only one I can think of is Hancock, for a long while laid up by his Gettysburg wound, and not yet in the field. He belongs in this army, is popular, and has an excellent name. The New York Herald insists on General Pleasonton, which is an original idea. I heard of an officer who asserted that he had seen the order putting him in command; a rather unlikely assertion.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p 61. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google
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