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.

Back to the Union (April 20, 1865)

Charles J. Faulkner (Library of Congress).

Charles J. Faulkner (Library of Congress).

With the military aspects of the war wrapping up, the difficult task of reconstruction begins. George Meade will be involved with that process in one way or another for pretty much the rest of his life. Here he writes home about Charles J. Faulkner. Before the war, Faulkner had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates, as U.S. Congressman, and as minister to France for President James Buchanan. He was arrested in 1861 for arranging to have arms sold to the Confederates. After he was exchanged, Faulkner joined the Confederate army and served for a time as one of Stonewall Jackson’s staffers.

I am glad you were so prompt in putting your house in mourning for the loss of the President, and I am also glad to see the press in Philadelphia take so much notice of you.

Lyman, much to my sorrow and regret, leaves me to-day, he considering the destruction of Lee’s army as justifying his return home. Lyman is such a good fellow, and has been so intimately connected personally with me, that I feel his separation as the loss of an old and valued friend.

I have had for the last two days as guest at my headquarters Mr. Charles J. Faulkner, late Minister to France. He is on his way to Richmond, to assist in bringing back Virginia to the Union. He acknowledges the Confederacy destroyed, is in favor of a convention of the people to rescind the ordinance of secession, abolish slavery, and ask to be received into the Union. This is in my judgment the best course to be pursued. Mr. Faulkner goes from here to Richmond. We also had yesterday the arrival of a Confederate officer from Danville, who reported the rumored surrender of Johnston, and the flight of Jeff. Davis to the region beyond the Mississippi, from whence I have no doubt he will go into Mexico, and thence to Europe.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 274. Available via Google Books.

“Unmistakable Evidences of Despondency” (November 13, 1864)

Confederate President Jefferson Davis (National Archives).

Confederate President Jefferson Davis (National Archives).

In his annual address to the Confederate Congress on November 7, 1864, President Jefferson Davis raised the troubling (for the South) question of arming slaves to aid in the war. He approached the subject delicately, suggesting that maybe 40,000 slaves could be used only as pioneers and engineers. “If the recommendation above made for the training of 40,000 negroes for the service indicated should meet your approval, it is certain that even this limited number, by their preparatory training in intermediate duties, would  form a more valuable reserve force, in case of urgency, than threefold their number  suddenly called from field labor, while a fresh levy could, to a certain extent, supply  their places in the special service for which they are now employed.” Meade was correct that this indicated a greater desperation on the part of the Confederacy. However, it wasn’t until March 1865 that the Confederate Congress approved the use of African-Americans as soldiers. By then it was too late.

See below for Theodore Lyman’s impression of the British visitor.

To-day I had a visit from a Colonel Coles, of the English Army, who is the Military Commandant of New Brunswick. He was quite a gentlemanly person. I took him around our lines and showed him all that was to be seen.

Grant has gone to-day to pay a visit to Admiral Porter, at Fortress Monroe, and as Butler is absent, this leaves me in command of all the forces operating against Richmond.

I suppose you have seen Mr. Davis’s Message to the Confederate Congress. Although a dignified and well-written document, to my mind it betrays unmistakable evidences of despondency. His proposition to arm and free forty thousand slaves, to make engineer soldiers, is most significant, for nothing but an acknowledged exhaustion of the white race could ever make him willing to free and arm the black race. The idea of limiting the number to forty thousand, and making them engineer soldiers, simply means that this is an experiment, the result of which is doubtful, and until the fidelity of the race is tested, it is better not to have too many. I think this is prudential on their part, for I cannot believe they will get the blacks to fight for them.

Gibbon was here to-day, the first time I have seen him since his return.

I judge from the tone of the Tribune, Washington Chronicle, and other Administration papers, that there is a disposition on the part of the successful party to be magnanimous and invite harmony among all the friends of the Union. I see it reported the President has declined McClellan’s resignation, and it is said is going to give him a command. I doubt the latter part, but think the former very probable. I have no means of hearing or knowing anything that is going on till it is made public. I never go to City Point, and Grant does not come here, so that I am not au courani des affaires.

In his letter today, George Meade mentioned the visit of Colonel Cole from the British Army, the latest European to show up and observe the Army of the Potomac. Meade doesn’t spend much time on the visit, so we must rely on Theodore Lyman for a more expansive (and typically comic) account. He also provides a snapshot of John Gibbon, who commanded a division in the II Corps.

We had a Lieutenant-Colonel C___, a Britisher, up for a visit; he is commander of the forces in that tropical climate of New Brunswick. In aspect Colonel C____ was not striking; he had done injustice to what good looks he had by a singularly shapeless suit of city clothing, which I judge must have been purchased ready made from a village tailor in New Brunswick. He had a sort of soft cloth hat, an overcoat of a grey-rhubarb tint and trousers which once might have had a pure color, but seemed to have become doubtful by hanging in the sun outside a shop. I don’t think the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel was much interested in matters military. Perhaps he had read out, perhaps he had no natural taste that way, or perhaps he felt cold and uncomfortable. At any rate he looked bored, and his only military remark did not indicate deep reflection. “This,” said I, “is what we call a corduroy road.” “Oh! ah! Indeed; yes, well, it’s very well now, you know, but what will you do when it comes wet weather?” I was too much overcome at this putting the cart before the horse, to inform him that the corduroy was built for no other purpose than for wet weather. After this I confined myself to considerations of the state of health of the Hon. Mr. Yorke (he who came back with us from Liverpool). He is under the command of the Colonel, it would appear, and afforded an innocent topic of conversation. Since then two other English officers have been entrusted to the fatherly care of Rosencrantz, and diligently shown round. When they got near the end, they said: “Now we are much pleased to find you are a foreigner, because we can frankly ask you, what you consider the general feeling towards the English in this country.” To which Rosie (who don’t like to miss a chance) replied: “Vell, I can tell you that, so far as I have observed, some Americans do just care nothing about you, and many others do say, that, when this war is over, they will immediately kick you very soon out from Canada!” When the horrified Bulls asked: “Aw, aw, aw; but why, why?” Rosie replied in the following highly explanatory style: “Be-cause they say you have made for the Rebs very many bullets.”

John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

General Gibbon dined with us and was largely impressed by our having oysters on the shell, which he pitched into with the fervor of a Baltimorean long separated from his favorites. Gibbon is by birth a Pennsylvanian, but lived, since boyhood, in North Carolina. When the Rebellion broke out, two of his brothers went into the Rebel service, but he remained loyal. One of his sisters was in the South but could not escape, and it was only the other day that they allowed her to come on board the flag-of-truce boat and come down the river to our lines, where her brother met her and took her North. He had sent word to his younger brother to meet him on the same occasion, but the young gentleman sent word, “It would not be agreeable”; which shows they are pretty bitter, some of them. Gibbon has an Inspector named Summerhayes, who is of the 20th Massachusetts, and who has got so used to being shot at, that he seems not to be able to do without it, and so gallops along the picket line to rouse the foe to pop at him. Which reminds me of what Grant said (either by accident or on purpose). He had come out, with a great crowd of civilians, to ride round the lines. Someone proposed to go out and visit the pickets. “No,” said Grant, innocently, “no; if I take a crowd of civilians, the enemy may fire and some of the soldiers might get hurt!”

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. 241-2. 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. 267-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Ignorance, Not Bliss (April 18, 1863)

In his letter of April 18 Meade complains about Joe Hooker’s tendency to keep his plans to himself. This is something that would increasingly bother Meade. Only three days before he took command of the Army of the Potomac, as Hooker was following Lee towards Pennsylvania, Meade wrote to his wife, “I hear nothing whatever from headquarters, and am as much in the dark as to proposed plans here on the ground as you are in Philadelphia. This is what Joe Hooker thinks profound sagacity—keeping his corps commanders, who are to execute his plans, in total ignorance of them until they are developed in the execution of orders.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade's commissions (National Archives).

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade’s commissions (National Archives).

On April 2 Richmond citizens had rioted over the lack of bread and Meade mentions Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s proclamation about food, issued on April 10. He asked the Southern people to switch production from cotton and tobacco to foodstuffs and fodder. “Let your fields be devoted exclusively to the production of corn, oats, beans, peas, and other food for man and beast,” asked Davis.

To-day is fine and beautiful, and if we only have a continuance of such weather, we shall soon be on the move. I suppose the sooner we get off the better. General Hooker seems to be very sanguine of success, but is remarkably reticent of his information and plans; I really know nothing of what he intends to do, or when or where he proposes doing anything. This secrecy I presume is advantageous, so far as it prevents the enemy’s becoming aware of our plans. At the same time it may be carried too far, and important plans may be frustrated by subordinates, from their ignorance of how much depended on their share of the work. This was the case at Fredericksburg. Franklin was not properly advised, that is to say, not fully advised, as to Burnside’s plan. I am sure if he had been so advised, his movements would have been different.

I suppose you have seen Jeff Davis’s proclamation on the subject of food. It undoubtedly is a confession of weakness, but we should be very careful how we allow ourselves to be led astray by it. Not a single exertion on our part should be relaxed, not a man less called out than before. We might as well make up our minds to the fact that our only hope of peace is in the complete overpowering of the military force of the South, and to do this we must have immense armies to outnumber them everywhere. I fear, however, that this plain dictate of common sense will never have its proper influence. Already I hear a talk of not enforcing the conscription law. Certainly no such efforts are being made to put the machinery of the law into motion as would indicate an early calling out of the drafted men. In the course of the next month and the one ensuing, all the two-year and nine-month men go out of service. Of the latter class there were called out three hundred thousand. How many are in service I don’t know. I do know, however, that this army loses in the next twenty days nearly twenty-five thousand men, and that I see no indication of their being replaced. Over eight thousand go out of my corps alone. These facts have been well-known at Washington for some time past, and pressed upon the attention of the authorities, and perhaps arrangements unknown to me have been made to meet the difficulty.

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), p. 366-7. Available via Google Books.