Quite a Serious Disaster (June 30, 1864)

"Destruction of Genl. Lees lines of Communication in Virginia by Genl. Wilson" by Alfred Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Destruction of Genl. Lees lines of Communication in Virginia by Genl. Wilson” by Alfred Waud. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In his letter of June 30, Meade refers to the cavalry raid undertaken by James H. Wilson, August v. Kautz, and their 3,000 men against the railroad lines leading into Petersburg. The cavalry set out on June 22 and managed to tear up some track before being caught far behind enemy lines by cavalry under Wade Hampton and infantry commanded by William Mahone. The Union cavalry had to fight its way back to its own lines and suffered serious casualties.

James H. Wilson (Library of Congress).

James H. Wilson (Library of Congress).

I am sorry to tell you we have had quite a serious disaster. A whole division of cavalry, which was sent about a week ago to destroy the roads out of Petersburg, after accomplishing their work, were met on their return by three divisions of the enemy’s cavalry, supported by infantry, and after an honorable struggle were overpowered and dispersed. A large number have gotten in, but the greater portion are as yet missing, and I fear are in the hands of the enemy. I feel justified in telling you, though it is in the strictest confidence, that the sending this command was against my judgment, as I anticipated just this result, and I desired to wait till we could concentrate our cavalry before making an attempt to cut the enemy’s communications, but I was overruled. Now the result is, that our cavalry is no longer superior in numbers to the enemy, and, what is worse, has lost its prestige.

These ups and downs in war are to be expected, and perhaps are intended to prevent over-exultation and its consequences.

I cannot imagine where the report originated that this army was to be withdrawn, or on what grounds it was predicted. Such an act would be suicidal and could only result in the triumph of the enemy. No one here has ever dreamed of such a thing, though there may be different opinions as to the precise period when Richmond will fall.

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. 209-10. Available via Google Books.