Dead Confederates

Tomb with a view. From the Seddon family plot at Hollywood Cemetery.

Tomb with a view. From the Seddon family plot at Hollywood Cemetery.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee, I am not partial to Confederate idolatry. Until the other day, I had never visited Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, where many notable rebels are buried. But with some time to fill before I spoke to the Richmond Civil War Round Table about Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, I decided to visit the dead.

I’m glad I did.

Hollywood is a classic nineteenth-century cemetery, laid out on a hilly terrain with some incredible views over the James River to Belle Island (once the site of a Civil War prison). It provides the final resting place for many Southern notables, including two U.S. presidents (James Monroe and John Tyler) and all the presidents of the Confederacy. (Admittedly, that’s only one guy.) There are also 22 Confederate generals and around 18,000 ordinary soldiers.

Jb Stuart's gravesite.

Jeb Stuart’s gravesite.

So, on a beautiful October afternoon, I parked my car by the entrance, grabbed my cemetery map, and began to explore. I stopped first at the gravesite of Jeb Stuart, mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern in 1864 after years spent bedeviling the Army of the Potomac with his cavalry. Jeb now lies beneath a tall obelisk atop one of the cemetery’s hills.

Meade's brother in law.

Meade’s brother-in-law.

My next stop was the grave of Henry A. Wise, the former governor of Virginia, and George Gordon Meade’s brother-in-law. (Wise’s first wife was the sister of Meade’s wife.) Throughout the war, Meade kept his wife up to date with information he had gleaned about Wise and his family, and he finally encountered his brother-in-law at Appomattox Court House. Wise now rests beneath a heavy slab, surrounded by other members of the Wise family.

James Monroe: Pardon our Appearance.

James Monroe: Pardon our Appearance.

Presidents Monroe and Tyler are buried adjacent to each other in Presidents’ Circle. Monroe’s tomb is undergoing some kind of restoration, and the sarcophagus inside its iron casing–which reminded me of an old-fashioned elevator–was covered with a blue blanket, as though someone had just conducted some kind of arcane ceremony. (Incidentally, it was Governor Wise who spearheaded the effort to get President Monroe reinterred here.) Tyler, who became the 10th U.S. president following the death of William Henry Harrison, headed a peace convention that tried to head off Civil War in 1861. Theodore Lyman, Meade’s aide, wrote about passing by Tyler’s Virginia birthplace at the Army of the Potomac made its way to the James River on the way to Petersburg in 1864. Lyman referred to Tyler as “him of the big nose and small political principles.” One of those traits, at least, is visible in the bust that adorns Tyler’s tomb.

The "accidental president."

The “accidental president.”

I found Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon in some prime real estate, a family plot with a sweeping view of the rocky waters of the James. Continuing on, I reached the grave of Jefferson Davis, the one and only president of the Confederate States of America. He lies beneath a statue of himself at the cemetery’s far reaches. Nearby is the statue of an angel that crouches over the grave of Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis, the “daughter of the Confederacy,” who was born during the Civil War. Just past Davis’s grave is the last resting place of Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. and a Virginia governor after the war.

Fitzhugh Lee (foreground) overlooking the Jefferson Davis family.

Fitzhugh Lee (foreground) overlooking the Jefferson Davis family.

Walking back to the entrance, I passed the graves of even more notables: John Pegram, killed at Hatcher’s Run in 1865; James Archer, captured during the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg; Douglass Southall Freeman, the biographer of Robert E. Lee.

Pickett, post-charge.

Pickett, post-charge.

I got back into my car and made the short drive over to the 90-foot stone pyramid that was erected here in 1869 as a memorial to the Confederate dead. It was designed by Charles Henry Dimmock, the same engineer who laid out the “Dimmock Line” of defensive fortifications around Petersburg. Just beyond, backed up against the cemetery fence, was the tomb of George Pickett, the general for whom the final, doomed charge at Gettysburg was named. His wife, Sallie, who did so much to burnish her husband’s reputation, lies nearby. Her stone provides this bit of detail: “Pen and Stage Name ‘LaSalle.’” Also nearby is a plot reserved for the dead of Gettysburg, many of whom, no doubt, fell during that futile attack against Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863.

The Gettysburg dead.

The Gettysburg dead.

Seeing the graves of all these dead Confederates, I thought about words from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, about Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly,” Grant wrote, “ and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

Fate? As George Pickett one supposedly said, "I think the Yankees had something to do with it."

Fate? As George Pickett once supposedly said, “I think the Yankees had something to do with it.”

I like historic cemeteries. They help drive home the point that the names we read in history books once belonged to real, flesh-and-blood people. Even though they have long since turned to dust.

The cemetery's pyramid.

The cemetery’s pyramid.

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Sheridan (May 16, 1864)

Philip Sheridan and Meade developed a cantankerous relationship (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan and Meade developed a cantankerous relationship (Library of Congress).

Meade mentions cavalry commander Philip Sheridan in his letter to his wife from May 16. In the battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, one of Sheridan’s men mortally wounded Jeb Stuart, a major blow to Lee’s army. Meade does not mention the unpleasant encounter he had had with Sheridan early in the morning on May 8 at a place called Todd’s Tavern. Meade had been angry that Sheridan’s men hadn’t cleared the road all the way to Spotsylvania. Sheridan, already chafing under Meade’s command, was incensed that Meade had felt it necessary to issue some orders directly to his cavalry. According to Horace Porter of Grant’s staff, Meade was in “a towering passion” while Sheridan was “equally fiery.” The two men argued and Sheridan said, “If I am permitted to cut loose from this army I’ll draw Stuart after me and whip him, too.” Meade reported Sheridan’s insubordination to Grant, and repeated what the cavalry commander had said about Stuart. “Did Sheridan say that?” replied Grant. “Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it.” Meade issued the orders, no doubt irritated that Grant was rewarding Sheridan for his insubordination to a superior officer. Sheridan did kill Stuart, but he also deprived the Army of the Potomac of the eyes and ears of his cavalry during a vital part of the Overland Campaign.

The weather still continues unfavorable for military operations, so, unless the enemy attack us, we shall probably remain quiet to-day. Our cavalry, under Sheridan, have been heard from. He was sent to get in the enemy’s rear, destroy their communications and supplies, fight their cavalry, and when his forage was exhausted, make his way to [Benjamin] Butler, on the James River. He reports having executed his orders, and it is said that J. E. B. Stuart was killed in the battle with Sheridan.

In his letter of May 16, Lyman resumes his account of the fighting in the Wilderness, especially the struggle around the Brock Road and the arrival of James Longstreet’s corps. Fortunately for the Union, Longstreet’s flank attack faltered when its commander was accidentally shot by his own troops. Lyman writes about the death of Henry Abbott, his Harvard friend and the commander of the 20th Massachusetts Earlier Abbot had commented on how Meade and Grant worked together. He thought the combination was “the next best thing to having a man of real genius at the head.” Meade was “a good combiner and maneuverer” and “unquestionably a clever man intellectually,” while Grant had “force” and “character” and wasn’t “afraid to take the responsibility to the utmost.”

I will continue the letter of this morning, describing our first day’s fight. I had got as far as the death of General Hays and the wounding of Carroll. This was between five and six o’clock. Hays commanded one brigade of Birney’s division. He was a strong-built, rough sort of man, with red hair, and a tawny, full beard; a braver man never went into action, and the wonder only is that he was not killed before, as he always rode at the very head of his men, shouting to them and waving his sword. Mott’s division behaved badly (as you observed, it broke and came back). This is a curious instance of a change of morale. It is Hooker’s old fighting division, but has since been under two commanders of little merit or force of character; then there was some discontent about re-enlistments and about the breaking up of the old 3d Corps, to which it had belonged; and the result has been that most of this once crack division has conducted itself most discreditably, this campaign. However, the fresh troops saved the day, and, at dark, we occupied our old line (the dotted one along the Brock road). . . .

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

It was long after dark when I rode back, and, with some difficulty, found our camp, now pitched in a dusty, ploughed field. The fight of this day had been an attack by parts of our three corps against the Corps of Ewell on our right, and of Hill on our left. The fight had swayed back and forth and ended in a drawn battle, both sides holding their lines. General Grant ordered the attack all along the line, the next morning at 4.30; but put it off to 5 o’clock on the representation that Burnside could not get up in time. He was ordered to get in position by daylight and to go in on Hill’s left flank, where you see a dotted line nearly parallel to the Parker’s Store road. We were all up right early on that Friday the 6th of May, you may depend. “Lyman,” said the General, “I want you to take some orderlies and go to General Hancock and report how things go there during the day.” It was after five when I mounted, and already the spattering fire showed that the skirmishers were pushing out; as I rode down the crossroad, two or three crashing volleys rang through the woods, and then the whole front was alive with musketry. I found General Hancock at the crossing of the plank: he was wreathed with smiles. “We are driving them, sir; tell General Meade we are driving them most beautifully. Birney has gone in and he is just cleaning them out be-auti-fully!” This was quite apparent from the distance of the receding firing and the absence of those infernal minie balls. “I am ordered to tell you, sir, that only one division of General Burnside is up, but that he will go in as soon as he can be put in position.” Hancock’s face changed. “I knew it!” he said vehemently. “Just what I expected. If he could attack now, we would smash A. P. Hill all to pieces!” And very true were his words. Meantime, some hundreds of prisoners were brought in; all from Hill’s troops. Presently, however, the firing seemed to wake again with renewed fury; and in a little while a soldier came up to me and said: “I was ordered to report that this prisoner here belongs to Longstreet’s Corps.” “Do you belong to Longstreet?” I hastened to ask. “Ya-as, sir,” said grey-back, and was marched to the rear. It was too true! Longstreet, coming in all haste from Orange Court House, had fallen desperately on our advance; but he had uphill work. Birney’s and Getty’s men held fast and fought with fury, a couple of guns were put in the plank road and began to fire solid shot over the heads of our men, adding their roar to the other din. The streams of wounded came faster and faster back; here a field officer, reeling in the saddle; and there another, hastily carried past on a stretcher. I stood at the crossing and assisted in turning back stragglers or those who sought to go back, under pretext of helping the wounded. To some who were in great pain I gave some opium, as they were carried past me.

It was about seven o’clock, I think, that Webb’s brigade marched along the Brock road, and, wheeling into the pike, advanced to the support of Birney. Among them was the 20th Massachusetts. Abbot smiled and waved his sword towards me, as he rode by, and I called out to him wishing him good luck; and so he went on to his death, as gallant a fellow as fell that day; a man who could ride into the fight with a smile on his face. Just before eight o’clock came one brigade of Stevenson’s division (Burnside’s Corps) which had been sent to strengthen Hancock; the other brigade came later and was put on our left, where we were continually paralyzed by reports that the enemy was coming up the Brock road to take us in the flank. This prevented proper mobility of our left, and, after all, they turned out to be a division of Rebel cavalry, who were defeated later in the day by our men. Stevenson’s brigade was now put in to relieve the advanced lines that had long been under fire, and all other fresh troops were marched to the front. But Longstreet knew full well (they know everything, those Rebels) that Burnside was coming up with two divisions, on his flank; and knew too that he was late, very late. If Hancock could first be paralyzed, the day was safe from defeat, which now impended. Gathering all his forces, of both corps, he charged furiously. At a little after eleven Mott’s left gave way. On the right the brigade of Stevenson, consisting of three raw Massachusetts regiments miscalled “Veterans,” broke, on being brought under a tremendous fire. . . .The musketry now drew nearer to us, stragglers began to come back, and, in a little while, a crowd of men emerged from the thicket in full retreat. They were not running, nor pale, nor scared, nor had they thrown away their guns; but were just in the condition described by the Prince de Joinville, after Gaines’s Mill. They had fought all they meant to fight for the present, and there was an end of it! If there is anything that will make your heart sink and take all the backbone out of you, it is to see men in this condition! I drew my sword and rode in among them, trying to stop them at a little rifle-pit that ran along the road. I would get one squad to stop, but, as I turned to another, the first would quietly walk off. There was a German color-bearer, a stupid, scared man (who gave him the colors, the Lord only knows!), who said, “Jeneral Stavenzon, he telled me for to carry ze colors up ze road.” To which I replied I would run him through the body if he didn’t plant them on the rifle-pit. And so he did, but I guess he didn’t stick. Meanwhile there was no danger at all; the enemy did not follow up — not he. He was busy swinging round to oppose Burnside, and was getting his men once more in order. At half-past one I rode to General Meade and reported the state of affairs. The Provost-General went out at once and stopped and organized the stragglers. At two o’clock Burnside, who had been marching and countermarching, did attack. He made some impression, but it was too late, and he had not enough force to follow on. About this time I returned to General Hancock.* His men were rallied along the road; but regiments and brigades were all mixed up; and we were obliged to listen to Burnside’s fighting without any advance on our part. In our front all was quiet; and I got permission to go back to the 2d Corps hospital and look up the body of Major Abbot. Two miles back, in an open farm surrounded by woods, they had pitched the hospital tents. I will not trouble you with what I saw there, as I passed among the dead and dying. Abbot lay on a stretcher, quietly breathing his last — his eyes were fixed and the ashen color of death was on his face. Near by lay his Colonel, Macy, shot in the foot. I raised Macy and helped him to the side of Abbot, and we stood there till he died. It was a pitiful spectacle, but a common one on that day. I left in haste, after arranging for sending the remains home, for the sudden sound of heavy firing told of some new attack. The Rebels (unquenchable fellows they are!), seeing that Burnside had halted, once more swung round and charged furiously on Hancock in his very rifle-pits. I rode at once to General Meade, to ask that Burnside might attack also. This he did, without further orders and with excellent effect. When I got back to the cross-road, I was told the enemy had broken through on the plank and cut us in two; this turned out an exaggeration. They did get into a small part of a rifle-pit but were immediately driven out leaving near sixty dead in the trench at the point.

*The book includes this footnote, taken from Lyman’s journal: “1.15 (about). Back to Hancock. He alone, in rear of Brock road; and there he asked me to sit down under the trees, as he was very tired indeed. All his Staff were away to set in order the troops. They had now constructed a tolerable rifle-pit extending along the Brock and to the head of the cross-road. He said that his troops were rallied but very tired and mixed up, and not in a condition to advance. He had given orders to have the utmost exertions put forth in putting regiments in order, but many of the field officers were killed and wounded, and it was hard. At 2 P.m. Burnside, after going almost to Parker’s Store and again back, made a short attack with loud musketry. Ventured to urge Hancock (who was very pleasant and talkative) to try and attack too; but he said with much regret that it would be to hazard too much, though there was nothing in his immediate front, which had been swept by Stevenson’s other brigade, which marched from left to right.”

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. 195-6. 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 92-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

And So It Begins (May 3, 1864)

Alexander Gardner called this photograph "Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe's deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army's Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner called this photograph “Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe’s deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army’s Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

We are now on the very eve of the Overland Campaign, a bloody, protracted slugging match between the Army of the Potomac under Meade (accompanied by Grant) and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At the start of the campaign Grant warned Meade that he did not intend to fight by “maneuvering for position.” Meade must have seen that as a critique of the army’s campaigns from the previous fall. He replied, “General Grant, you are opposed by a general of consummate ability, and you will find that you will have to maneuver for position.” Meade will be right. Throughout the Overland Campaign Grant will attempt to overwhelm the Confederates with direct assaults, and then order Meade’s army on wide, sweeping maneuvers in attempts to outflank Lee.

The letter from Lee that Meade mentions here is the one the Confederate general sent demanding to know the truth about Ulric Dahlgren’s orders for his ill-fated raid on Richmond. Papers found on his body indicated he intended to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and burn Richmond. Meade had denied that anyone had issued such orders. Pennie is Meade’s son Spencer.

I send herewith original letter recently received from General Lee, which you can give to Pennie, as it has General Lee’s autograph, and on the envelope an original endorsement by Jeb Stuart, the great reb. cavalry general.

I also enclose you a printed copy of an address issued to-day by me to the army. To-morrow we move. I hope and trust we will be successful, and so decidedly successful as to bring about a termination of this war. If hard fighting will do it, I am sure I can rely on my men. They are in fine condition and in most excellent spirits, and will do all that men can do to accomplish the object. The enemy have had time, I expect, to bring up all available reinforcements. This is all the better for us, if we succeed, as it will make the battle and victory more decisive. The telegraph will convey to you the first intelligence, though I shall endeavor to keep you posted. I beg of you to be calm and resigned, to place full trust in the mercy of our heavenly Father, who has up to this time so signally favored us, and the continuance of whose blessing we should earnestly pray for. Do not fret, but be cheerful, and go about and do just as if nothing was going on, and above all things don’t anticipate evil; it will come time enough. Give my love to all the dear children. I shall think a great deal of you and them, notwithstanding the excitement of my duties. I feel quiet and determined, satisfied I have ever striven to do my duty to the best of my ability, and believing that in time posterity will do justice to my career. Good-by! God bless and protect us all!

“Address” mentioned in last letter:

Head-quarters, Army Of The Potomac, May 4, 1864.

Soldiers!

Again you are called upon to advance on the enemies of your country. The time and the occasion are deemed opportune by your Commanding General to address you a few words of confidence and caution.

You have been re-organized, strengthened and fully equipped in every respect. You form a part of the several armies of your country, the whole under the direction of an able and distinguished General, who enjoys the confidence of the government, the people and the army. Your movement being in co-operation with others, it is of the utmost importance that no effort should be left unspared to make it successful.

Soldiers! the eyes of the whole country are looking with anxious hope to the blow you are about to strike in the most sacred cause that ever called men to arms.

Remember your homes, your wives and children, and bear in mind that the sooner your enemies are overcome, the sooner you will be returned to enjoy the benefits and blessings of peace. Bear with patience the hardships and sacrifices yon will be called upon to endure. Have confidence in your officers and in each other. Keep your ranks on the march and on the battlefield, and let each man earnestly implore God’s blessing and endeavor by his thoughts and actions to render himself worthy of the favor he seeks. With clear consciences and strong arms, actuated by a high sense of duty, fighting to preserve the Government and the institutions handed down to us by our forefathers—if true to ourselves—victory, under God’s blessing, must and will attend our efforts.

Geo. G. Meade,
Official: Major General Commanding

Here’s what Theodore Lyman wrote home on the same day. Lyman wrote detailed and fascinating letters home about the fighting during the Overland Campaign and I will post them here on the appropriate days.

At last the order of march, for to-morrow at 5 a.m.! Of it more when it is over — if I am here to write. Only spring waggons go for our little mess kits and baggage; other things go with the main train. May God bless the undertaking at last and give an end to this war! I have made all preparations for the campaign.

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. 192-4. 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. 84. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

An Army in Motion (October 19, 1863)

Brig. Gen. John Buford (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. John Buford (Library of Congress).

There’s no letter from Meade for October 19, but once again Theodore Lyman steps into the breach to provide a detailed account of the Army of the Potomac during what became known as the Bristoe Campaign. The “Rebel regiment of horse” he mentions was none other than Jeb Stuart, who had found himself trapped between two sections of Meade’s army late on October 13. He spent the night hidden in some woods a mere 400 yards from a division of the II Corps, opened up with his horse artillery in the morning, and then escaped.

Lyman also mentions one of the Union’s best cavalrymen, John Buford. When he first encountered Buford, Lyman described him as “a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny moustache and a little, triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots, and his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up he is a very soldierly looking man. He is of a good-natured disposition, but not to be trifled with.”

The attack on Warren’s rear that Lyman mentions is the Battle of Bristoe Station. “Poor Paul Revere” was the grandson of the famed midnight rider. He had been killed at Gettysburg. The 20th Massachusetts was also known as “the Harvard Regiment.”

Lyman also provides a good look at Meade and the general’s gunpowder disposition. Nothing ticked him off more than wagon trains blocking the army’s progress, as Lyman describes here.

The bracketed portion of the text is how it appears in Meade’s Headquarters.

It seems to me I had got to Sunday morning, the 11th, when we began to march back. We started from Headquarters and passed through Brandy Station, forded the Rappahannock, close to the railroad, and took up our camp near the railroad and about two miles from the river. . . . This move, though in the wrong direction, was, without question, a good one, as it bothered the enemy and caused them to hesitate. … In the morning we got off about ten (for the General does not mount till he has heard that the army is properly under way) and rode along the north side of the railroad, past the camp I first came to (H.Q. near Warrenton Junction), and so to Catlett’s Station, where we found the 1st Corps taking their noon rest; also their chief, General Newton, and General (Professor) Eustis, partaking from a big basket. A spy came in also, who gave such information as showed that the Rebels had made less rapid progress than we supposed. Going a mile or two on, we saw a spectacle such as few even of the old officers had ever beheld; namely, 2500 waggons, all parked on a great, open, prairie-like piece of ground, hundreds of acres in extent. I can compare it to nothing but the camp of Attila, where he retreated after the “Hun Schlacht,” which we saw at the Berlin Museum. They were here got together, to be sent off to the right, by Brentsville, to Fairfax Station, under escort of General Buford’s division. How these huge trains are moved over roads not fit for a light buggy, is a mystery known only to General Rufus Ingalls, who treats them as if they were so many perambulators on a smooth sidewalk! We turned off to a house, two miles from Catlett’s, and again pitched our movable houses, on a rocky bit of a field. . . .

At daylight next morning, every corps was in motion, tramping diligently in the direction of the heights of Centreville, via Manassas Junction. We of the Staff had hardly dressed, when there was a great cracking of carbines in the woods, not a mile off, and we discovered that a Rebel regiment of horse had coolly camped there during the night, and were now engaged with our cavalry, who soon drove them away. Pretty soon the sound of cannon, in the direction of Auburn, announced that the Rebels, marching down from Warrenton, had attacked General Warren’s rear. He, however, held them in check easily with one division, while the other two marched along, passing our Headquarters at 9.30 A.m. As they went on, I recognized the Massachusetts 20th, poor Paul Revere’s regiment. And so we jogged, General Meade (who has many a little streak of gunpowder in his disposition) continually bursting out against his great bugbear, the waggons; and sending me, at full gallop, after General Sykes, who was a hundred miles, or so, ahead, to tell him that the rear of his ambulance train was quite unprotected. . . . The 15th was employed in feeling the intentions of the enemy and resting the exhausted men. On the 16th came on a deluge of rain which spoiled our contemplated move next day. On the 18th, yesterday, we got some information of reliable character for the first time, viz: that they had torn up the railroad and were falling back on Warrenton. Before that there was every kind of report: that they were going up the Shenandoah Valley; marching on Washington, and falling back on Richmond; and they keep so covered by cavalry, that it is most difficult to probe them. Thus far in the move they have picked up about as many prisoners as we, say 700; but we have the five guns and two colors, they having none. To-day we all marched out at daylight, and are now hard after them, the General praying for a battle. Our cavalry has been heavily engaged this afternoon, and they may make a stand, or indeed, they may not. I think I was never so well and strong in my life. General Buford came in to-day, cold and tired and wet; “Oh!” said he to me, “do you know what I would do if I were a volunteer aide? I would just run home as fast as I could, and never come back again!” The General takes his hardships good-naturedly.

[The result of the manoeuvres brought the army toward Washington, which caused uneasiness and dissatisfaction at the Capitol. “At Centreville,” writes Lyman, “we had a set-to between Meade and Halleck. Meade had asked, by telegraph, for some advice, and stated that he was not sufficiently assured of the enemy’s position to risk an advance; so conflicting were the reports. Halleck, apparently after dinner, replied in substance, ‘Lee is plainly bullying you. If you can’t find him, I can’t. If you go and fight him, you will probably find him!’ General Meade, much offended, prepared a reply in some such words as these: ‘If you have any orders, I am ready to obey them; but I must insist on being spared the infliction of such truisms in guise of opinions as I have recently been favored with. If my course is not satisfactory, I ought to be and I desire to be relieved.’ He had written ‘bunsby opinions,’ and consulted me as to whether it would do; to which I replied that the joke was capital, but not in accordance with the etiquette of a commander-in-chief; so he substituted the other. Poor General Meade! Said he, ‘I used to think how nice it would be to be Commander-inChief; now, at this moment, I would sooner go, with a division, under the heaviest musketry fire, than hold my place!’“ Lee, finding that he could not outflank Meade, fell back, and Halleck apologized.]

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 33-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Have you read Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg yet? If not, you can buy it here!

Still in Aldie (June 23, 1863)

Artist Edwin Forbe titled this drawing, which he dated June 24, 1863, "Cavalry fight near Aldie, Va. During the march to Gettysburg; the Union Cavalry; commanded by Gen. Pleasonton, the Confederate by J.E.B. Stuart." (Library of Congress)

Artist Edwin Forbes titled this drawing, which he dated June 24, 1863, “Cavalry fight near Aldie, Va. During the march to Gettysburg; the Union Cavalry; commanded by Gen. Pleasonton, the Confederate by J.E.B. Stuart.” (Library of Congress)

On June 23 Meade and the V Corps remained at Aldie as Joseph Hooker attempted to determine the intentions of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The cavalry in the corps under Alfred Pleasonton had been tussling with the Confederate cavalry in continued attempts to chart the enemy’s movements. The Charles F. Mercer whom Meade mentions was a local lawyer, politician and U.S. Congressman. (Aldie was also the birthplace of Stonewall Jackson’s mother.) Meade was correct about the contrast between the area around Fredericksburg, picked clean by he contending armies, and the relative abundance to the north. In fact, this was one of the motivating factors behind Lee’s move into Pennsylvania, where he wanted to resupply his army  with the lush pickings north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Yesterday General Pleasanton drove the enemy’s cavalry across what is called the Loudoun Valley, or the valley formed by the South Mountain and Bull Run Mountains. He did not find any infantry in Loudoun Valley, and reports Lee’s army about Winchester, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and that A. P. Hill, whom we left at Fredericksburg, is coming up the valley to join Lee. When Hill joins Lee, he will have a large army, numerically much superior to ours, and he will then, I presume, develop his plans.

I have seen a paper now and then, and have been greatly amused at the evident fears of the good people of the North, and the utter want of proper spirit in the measures proposed to be taken. I did think at first that the rebels crossing the line would result in benefit to our cause, by arousing the people to a sense of the necessity of raising men to fill their armies to defend the frontier, and that the Government would take advantage of the excitement to insist on the execution of the enrollment bill; but when I see the President calling out six months’ men, and see the troops at Harrisburg refusing to be mustered in for fear they may be kept six months in service, I give up in despair. I hope it will turn out better, and we have been disappointed so many times when we had reason to look for success, it may be, now that we are preparing for a reverse, we may suddenly find ourselves in luck.

This is a beautiful country where I am now encamped. It is right on the Bull Run Mountains, which, though not very high, yet are sufficiently so to give effect to the scenery and purify the air. Charles F. Mercer lived in Aldie; President Monroe’s estate was here, and the mansion of the old Berkeley family, showing that in old times it was the abode of the aristocracy. It is a great contrast to the arid region around Fredericksburg that we left.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 387. Available via Google Books.

False Alarm? (June 8, 1863)

The cavalry push that Meade mentions in his letter of June 8 will result the next day in the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle on the North American continent. Although technically a victory for the Confederates, it was also a huge black eye for Rebel cavalry commander Jeb Stuart, who was surprised and embarrassed by the Union attack.

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)

I think for the present the storm has blown over. Both Lee and Hooker appear to be playing at cross-purposes. Hooker took it into his head that Lee was moving and made preparations accordingly. These preparations were construed by Lee into a movement on our part, etc. Sedgwick is still, I understand, across, below Fredericksburg, but is unmolested by the enemy. Pleasanton, with a large force of cavalry, will cross above to-day, and push his way towards Culpeper and Gordonsville, to see what they are doing in that direction.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 383. Available via Google Books