Dust (July 6, 1864)

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade's brother (Library of Congress).

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade’s brother (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman goes into more detail about the moves to halt Jubal Early before he can attack Washington, D.C., an incident to which Lyman referred in his journal on July 5. He mentions Brigadier General James Ricketts, who had experienced an interesting war, to say the least. Ricketts began it as a battery commander and was wounded and captured at First Bull Run. He commanded a division in the I Corps at Antietam. When corps commander Joe Hooker was wounded and turned command over to Meade, Meade believed it was a mistake and tried to hand the command to Ricketts, who outranked him. (But it was Meade, not Ricketts, whom Hooker wanted in command). Ricketts was related to Meade by marriage—his sister had married Meade’s brother Robert.

Sent to Maryland, Ricketts’ division fought with General Lew Wallace (later the author of Ben-Hur) at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland, which delayed Early long enough for Horatio Wright nd the rest of the VI Corps to reach Washington’s defenses. The General Tyler to whom Lyman refers must be Erastus B. Tyler, who was in command of Baltimore’s defenses and went to Wallace’s aid. I cannot find any reference to his history with Meade’s chief of staff, Andrew A. Humphreys.

We have no rain here — never expect any; air hazy with a faint dust, finer than twice volted flour, which settles on everything — but that won’t kill anybody. So Ewell is (or was — don’t know his whereabouts at this precise moment) at Harper’s Ferry. We knew he was poking up there somewhere. As to the A. of P., it is sitting here, trying to get some fresh cabbages, not very successfully, so far — the last issue, I am told, furnished one small one to every fifteen men. Old Uncle Lee is “in posish,” as General Williams would say, and seems to remark: “Here I am; I have sent off Ewell; now why don’t you come on?” I suppose you think I speak flippantly of what the French call the “situation”; but one gets so desperate that it is no use to be serious. Last night, after I had got to bed, I heard the officer of the day go with a despatch into the General’s tent and wake him up. Presently the General said: “Very well, tell General Wright to send a good division. I suppose it will be Ricketts’s.” And he turned over and went asleep again. Not so Ricketts, who was speedily waked up and told to march to City Point, thence to take steamers for Washington, or rather for Baltimore. We do not appreciate now, how much time, and labor, and disappointment, and reorganization, and turning out bad officers, have to be done, before an army can be got in such condition that a division of several thousand men may be suddenly waked at midnight and, within an hour or so, be on the march, each man with his arms and ammunition ready, and his rations in his haversack. Now, nobody thinks of it. General Meade says, “Send Ricketts”; and turns over and goes to sleep. General Ricketts says, “Wake the Staff and saddle the horses.” By the time this is done, he has written some little slips of paper, and away gallop the officers to the brigade commanders, who wake the regimental, who wake the company, who wake the non-commissioned, who wake the privates. And each particular private, uttering his particular oath, rises with a groan, rolls up his shelter-tent, if he has one, straps on his blanket, if he has not long since thrown it away, and is ready for the word “Fall in!” When General Ricketts is informed that all are ready, he says: “Very well, let the column move”—or something of that sort. There is a great shouting of “By the right flank, forward!” and off goes Ricketts, at the head of his troops, bound for City Point; and also bound, I much regret to say, for the Monocacy, where I fancy his poor men stood up and did all the fighting. From what I hear, I judge we had there about 10,000, of whom a good part were next to worthless. The Rebs had, I think, some 12,000, all good troops. This General Wallace is said by officers here to be no general at all, though brave; and General Tyler is the man whom General Humphreys had tried for cowardice, or some misbehavior in the presence of the enemy; and who has, in consequence, an undying hate for the Chief-of-Staff. I remember thinking to myself, as I went to sleep—“division—why don’t they send a corps and make a sure thing?” Behold my military forethought!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 184-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Chronic Troubles (June 23, 1864)

Horatio Wright took command of the VI Corps following the death of John Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

Horatio Wright took command of the VI Corps following the death of John Sedgwick (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman spends some time with Horatio Wright and the VI Corps, and is not impressed.

All were up at an early hour and ready for an advance, which had been ordered. On the right, towards the Gregory house, we were already against them, and I suppose my friend there, Major Crow, had seen us under more hostile circumstances. . . . By 4.30 General Meade started for General Wright’s Headquarters at the Williams house, where he ordered me to stay, when he left at seven. . . . I rode about with General Wright, who visited his line, which was not straight or facing properly. That’s a chronic trouble in lines in the woods. Indeed there are several chronic troubles. The divisions have lost connection; they cannot cover the ground designated, their wing is in the air, their skirmish line has lost its direction, etc., etc. Then General Meade gets mad with the delay. The commanders say they do as well as they can, etc. Well, Ricketts ran one way and Russell another; and then the 2d Corps—how did that run? and were the skirmishers so placed as to face ours? and what would General Birney do about it? How long was the line? could it advance in a given direction, and, if so, how? All of which is natural with a good many thousand men in position in a dense wood, which nobody knows much about. All this while the men went to sleep or made coffee; profoundly indifferent to the perplexities of their generals; that was what generals were paid for. When General Wright had looked a great deal at his line, and a great deal more at his pocket compass, he rode forth on the left to look at the pickets, who were taking life easy like other privates. They had put up sun-shades with shelter-tents and branches, and were taking the heat coolly. …

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade's brother (Library of Congress).

James B. Ricketts. The former artilleryman commanded a division in the VI Corps. His sister had married Meade’s brother (Library of Congress).

About this time a Vermont captain (bless his soul!) went and actually did something saucy and audacious. With eighty sharpshooters he pushed out boldly, drove in a lot of cavalry, and went a mile and a quarter to the railroad, which he held, and came back in person to report, bringing a piece of the telegraph wire. . . . Some time in the morning, I don’t exactly know when, the signal officers reported a large force, say two divisions, marching out from the town, along the railroad, whereof we heard more anon. At noon there still had been no advance, and General Wright went to General Birney to arrange one. There was General Meade, not much content with the whole affair. They all pow-wowed a while, and so we rode back again, through the dreary woods, through which fires had run. It was after two when we returned. Now then—at last—all together—skirmishers forward! And away they go, steadily. Oh, yes! but Rebs are not people who let you sit about all the day and do just as you like; remember that always, if nothing else. There are shots away out by the railroad—so faint that you can scarce hear them. In comes a warm sharpshooter: “They are advancing rapidly and have driven the working party from the railroad.” Here come the two divisions, therefore, or whatever they are. “Stop the advance,” orders General Wright. “General Wheaton, strengthen that skirmish line and tell them to hold on.” The remainder of Wheaton’s division is formed on the flank, and begins making a breastwork; more troops are sent for. The fire of the skirmishers now draws nearer and gets distinct; but, when the reinforcement arrives, they make a stout stand, and hold them. . . . All the while the telegraph is going: “Don’t let ’em dance round you, pitch into them!” suggests General Meade (not in those exact words). “Don’t know about that—very easy to say—will see about it,” replies the cautious W.; etc., etc. Pretty soon the cavalry comes piling in across the Aiken oat-field; they don’t hold too long, you may be certain. This exposes the flank of the picket line, which continues to shoot valiantly. In a little while more, a division officer of the day gallops in and says they have broken his skirmishers and are advancing in line of battle. But the Rebels did not try an approach through the open oat-field: bullets would be too thick there; so they pushed through the woods in our rear. I could hear them whooping and ki-yi-ing, in their peculiar way. I felt uncomfortable, I assure you. It was now towards sunset. Our position was right in the end of the loop, where we should get every bullet from two sides, in event of an attack. General [Lewis] Grant, of the Vermont Brigade, walked up and said, in his quiet way: “Do you propose to keep your Headquarters here?” “Why not?” says Ricketts. “Because, when the volleys begin, nothing can live here.” To which Ricketts replied, “Ah?” as if someone had remarked it was a charming evening, or the like. I felt very like addressing similar arguments to General Wright, but pride stood in the way, and I would have let a good many volleys come before I would have given my valuable advice. A column of attack was now formed by us, during which the enemy pushed in their skirmishers and the bullets began to slash among the trees most spitefully; for they were close to; whereat Wright (sensible man!) vouchsafed to move on one side some seventy yards, where we only got accidental shots. And what do you think? It was too dark now for us to attack, and the Rebs did not—and so, domino, after all my tremendous description! Worse than a newspaper isn’t it? I was quite enraged to be so scared for no grand result.*

*“I look on June 22d and 23d as the two most discreditable days to this army that I ever saw! There was everywhere, high and low, feebleness, confusion, poor judgment. The only person who kept his plans and judgment clear was General Meade, himself. On this particular occasion Wright showed himself totally unfit to command a corps.”—Lyman’s Journal.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 173-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.