Very Bad Spirits (July 29, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant and his staff at City Point (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant and his staff at City Point (Library of Congress).

Intrigue and rumors continue to plague the Army of the Potomac. The Franklin that Grant wanted to command the new department is William Franklin, whose career had never really recovered after his maneuverings against Ambrose Burnside following Fredericksburg. The other refugees from the Army Meade mentions are Oliver O. Howard and Joe Hooker.

The upcoming attack that Meade mentions is the debacle we remember as the Battle of the Crater.

Your letters of the 24th and 27th arrived this evening. They are written in very bad spirits, and I am tempted to scold you for indulging in such. I want you to recover your original elasticity of spirits which characterized you in the early days of our married life, when you were always sure something was going to turn up. You must now try to look on the bright side and hope for the best. I think we have a great deal to be thankful for, and things might be much worse.

I had a visit yesterday from our old friend the Rev. Mr. Neill. He was very complimentary to me, and promised to call and see you on his return to Philadelphia. He was here as agent of the Christian Commission.

Yesterday I went to see General Grant at City Point. He said he wanted an officer to go to Washington to take command of the Department of West Virginia, Susquehanna, Baltimore and Washington. That not wishing to take any one from the field, he had suggested Franklin, but they had declined to have Franklin. He then suggested my name, to which he had received no reply, but a message from the President asking him to meet him at Fortress Monroe. I made no reply to Grant, except to say I was ready to obey any order that might be given me. So far as having an independent command, which the Army of the Potomac is not, I would like this change very well; but in other respects, to have to manage Couch, Hunter, Wallace and Augur, and to be managed by the President, Secretary and Halleck, will be a pretty trying position that no man in his senses could desire. I am quite indifferent how it turns out. I think the President will urge the appointment of Halleck; but Grant will not agree to this if he can help it.

Grant told me Sherman has assigned Howard to McPherson’s command. This had disgusted Joe Hooker, who had asked to be and had been relieved. To-morrow we make an attack on Petersburg. I am not sanguine of success, but hope for the best.

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. 216-17 Available via Google Books.

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Credit (December 28, 1863)

Once again George Meade complains about the press. This is not the first time he singled out the coverage from the Spirit of the Times, a New York weekly published by George Wilkes. (For another example, see this entry.)

This is Meade’s last letter from 1863. In three days he will celebrate his 48th birthday (and also his wedding anniversary). That event will be commemorated once again this year at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery by General Meade Society of Philadelphia. I encourage all readers of this blog to attend! It is a fun event and a good way to salute the victor of Gettysburg (and I don’t mean Joe Hooker).

I was very sorry I could not be at home to spend Christmas with you and the children, but was glad to let George go. I spent a very quiet day in camp, attending to the business of re-enlisting the veteran volunteers, to which I had to give much personal attention, as I had let [Seth] Williams, [Andrew] Humphreys, and many others, go to Washington to spend the day.

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day's fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock had been wounded during the third day’s fighting at Gettysburg. His wound troubled him for the rest of the war (Library of Congress).

Yesterday General [Winfield Scott] Hancock arrived. He has been with me all the time since his arrival, and we have had a long talk. He says it was undoubtedly intended at first to relieve me, and it was, as I surmised, intimated to him that he would be placed in command. Such was his impression till the day before he came down, when, on reporting to Halleck, he was told the design was abandoned, and that he could go down to his old corps. Hancock further says that Halleck declares he saved me; that they were going to relieve me at once on the receipt of the intelligence that I had returned; but that he, Halleck, said, “No, an officer who gained the battle of Gettysburg is entitled to more consideration. Let us wait and hear what General Meade has to say, and if his report is not satisfactory, then we can act advisedly.” This was agreed to, and the unanimous opinion of all returning officers, together with my report, changed the whole aspect of the case. I must say I am gratified some little consideration was extended towards me and that justice was finally awarded.

I understand there is a bitter article in Wilkes’s Spirit of the Times, asserting that Hooker planned the campaign of Gettysburg, and that Butterfield wrote all the orders for the movements, in accordance with Hooker’s plans. I furthermore hear that General Sickles asserts that Hancock selected the position, and that he (Sickles), with his corps, did all the fighting at Gettysburg. So, I presume, before long it will be clearly proved that my presence on the field was rather an injury than otherwise.

The President has written me that he desires to see me upon the subject of executing deserters; so, as soon as I can get time, I shall have to go up to Washington.

The article that raised Meade’s ire, originally run in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 26, 1863)

BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG—HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE

General Halleck, in his report of the operations of our armies in the field during the past year, in commenting upon the Battle of Gettysburg, says: “To General Meade belonged the honor of a well-earned victory, in one of the greatest and best fought battles of the war.”

As a public journalist, we cannot allow such a record to be made in the face of the well-known history of the battle of Gettysburg, now made classic by the eloquence of Everett, and in view of the important part the gallant Hooker and his chief of staff performed preliminary to, and during the battle, without entering our solemn protest against it. And in doing this, we do not mean to detract in the slightest degree from the reputation and honor of General Meade.

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

It is a matter of history that the army of the Potomac was never in finer drill, or better discipline, or more thoroughly in “fighting trim” than it was when it fought at Gettysburg. So much to the credit of General Hooker.

It is a matter of history that when the advance column of the rebel army was within a day’s march of the capital of Pennsylvania, and the main body of the rebel army was in Maryland, following the advances, Lee, supposing that he had out-generaled Hooker, and made sure of Baltimore and Washington, was startled to find Hooker across the Potomac and right on his flank. So much to the credit of the latter.

It is a matter of history that when General Hooker was about to direct some of the troops in the field (on Maryland Heights) under his command to prepare for a blow upon Lee’s flank, before the latter could contract his lines, which would have resulted in cutting the rebel army in two, Hooker’s plans were interrupted by the general-in-chief, and at his (Hooker’s) own request, feeling justly indignant at the treatment he had received, he was relieved. General Lee, in his report to Jeff Davis, acknowledges he was outflanked and outgeneraled by Hooker. So much to the credit of the latter.

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he "has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade's reputation under the fifth rib."

Daniel Buttefield. In the words of early Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, he “has never lost the occasion to stab General Meade’s reputation under the fifth rib.”

It is a matter of history that when General Butterfield made out his line of marches in Maryland, he was directed by Hooker to keep well to the right in order to cover Baltimore, intending thereby to force Lee to fight at Gettysburg or thereabouts. So much to the credit of Hooker.

It is a matter of history that Hooker had formed a general plan of battle: that his Chief of Staff had that plan; that Gen. Meade knew it; that, as Hooker’s successor, Meade had not only the benefit of Hooker’s plans and necessarily acted upon them, but he also had Hooker’s Chief of Staff (Gen. Butterfield) by his side constantly, and, if General Hooker dislikes to acknowledge the facts briefly cited above in his report, it does not detract any the less from the gentlemanly and soldierlike conduct of Gen. Meade, who, immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, in a personal letter to Gen. Butterfield, acknowledged his great indebtedness to that officer for his valuable aid, without which, he stated, he could not have succeeded. Gen. Butterfield knew all of Hooker’s plans, and was instructed by the latter to communicate them freely to Gen. Meade, and we happen to know that Gen. Meade received them, acted upon them, and, after the battle, like a true gentleman, acknowledged his gratitude. So much to the credit of Gen. Hooker.

It is not a matter of history, but it is a matter of the plainest common sense, that neither Gen. Meade or any other military chieftain living could have taken the Army of the Potomac, and in so short a time have it well enough “in hand” to hurl it successfully against such a witty, well organized, and well led host, without aid from his immediate predecessor.

Gen. Meade can ask for no higher honor than that which he acquired by winning such a victory over the best disciplined army the rebels have in the field, in a series of battles which commenced only about forty-eight hours after he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, even upon the plans of another!

Mr. Everett, in his oration at Gettysburg, did not fail to do Gen. Hooker justice; nor did Gen. Lee, the leader of the crestfallen and defeated rebel army. We regret the more, therefore, that the General-in-Chief of the army of the United States, in making up an official report, which is now a part of the history of the present war, and to whom the country looks for a faithful chronicler of passing military events, should have omitted to do so, especially in view of the signal service Gen. Hooker has recently rendered by his dashing and daring exploits in the mountain fastnesses of the west, astonishing, even the peerless Grant, who promptly awarded to “Fighting Joe” and his brave troops the credit so justly due to him and them. Honor to whom it is due.

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. 164-5. Available via Google Books.

The Russians are Coming! (December 16, 1863)

Brig. Gen. John Buford, who died on December 16, 1863  (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. John Buford, who died on December 16, 1863 (Library of Congress).

On December 16 George Meade and Theodore Lyman both write home about an Russian invasion of sorts, as they Army of the Potomac received a delegation of naval officers from that country. Both letters are included here. Lyman included more details, and strong dash of anti-Semitism, in his diary entry for December 15 (which you can read in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe). The leader was a “a very well looking, intelligent man, with somewhat of a Sclavic [Slavic] face, short nose, round countenance, and eyes rather small and sunken.” Lyman noted that some of the other men were “palpable Jews.”

Meade also expresses his indignation at a recent action of Congress, which issued an official thank you for the victory at Gettysburg. The first person named was Joe Hooker. Meade came second, with Oliver O. Howard third. It was an indication of the troubles Meade would face in Washington in 1864.

In his diary entry for December 16 Lyman mentions receiving word of a great loss for the Army of the Potomac–the death of John Buford. The stalwart cavalryman had died of typhoid in Washington.

I received yesterday your letter of the 13th inst., and would have answered it at once, but about 2 p. m. we had a sudden invasion of Muscovites, some twenty-four officers of the fleet visiting the army, and I had to give them my attention till after 10 P. M., when they returned to Alexandria. I had the Sixth Corps paraded and some artillery to show them. We had great fun with them in mounting them on horseback, which they all insisted on attempting; but we had not proceeded far before one was thrown and some half a dozen ran away with. After the review we gave them some dinner, with plenty of brandy and whisky, and, making them jolly, sent them back highly delighted with their visit and reception. They appeared intelligent and gentlemanly, almost all speaking English quite well. The admiral did not honor us, Captain Bourtakoff being the senior officer with the party.

I presume you have seen how highly honored I have been in having my name associated with General Hooker by Mr. Wilson, in the Senate, in a vote of thanks for the Gettysburg campaign. Why they confined the including of my predecessors to Hooker I am at a loss to imagine. He certainly had no more to do with my operations and success at Gettysburg than either Burnside or McClellan; but I presume Mr. Wilson, who is a great friend and admirer of Hooker, was a little doubtful of a distinct resolution on his behalf getting through.

Here is Theodore Lyman’s view of things from December 16. This is his last letter of 1863 as he will soon head to Boston on leave.

Yesterday we had one of the funniest exhibitions that the Army has been favored with in a long while. The peaceful dolce far niente of the forenoon was suddenly broken by a telegraph, announcing a Russian invasion — nothing less than a legion of Muscovite naval officers pouring down, to the number of twenty-four, in a special train, on our devoted heads! And they were to come in a couple of hours! Would they pass the night? if so, where put them, in a camp where two or three guests make a crowd? Would they be fed? Even this was a problem, unless we ordered the Commissary to open a dozen boxes of the best stearine candles. However, General Meade at once orders the 6th Corps to parade, and gets hold of all the ambulances of the Staff, which are forthwith sent to the depot, after the serene Bears. And soon the vehicles returned, with flat caps hanging out of all the openings. Then the thing was to put them on horseback, as soon as possible, for it grew late in the day, already. You have heard of “Jack on horseback,” and this was a most striking instance. Each one sat on his McClellan saddle, as if doublereefing a topsail in a gale of wind. Their pantaloons got up, and their flat caps shook over their ears; and they kept nearly tumbling off on one side and hoisting themselves up again by means of the pommel. Meanwhile they were very merry and kept up a running fire of French, English and Russian. The extraordinary cavalcade having reached a hill, near the ground, there was found an ambulance, which had brought such as did not wish to ride, including the Captain, Bootekoff, who was the head feller. He, however, was persuaded to mount my mare, while I remained in the carriage. Thereupon the other carriage company were fired with a desire also to mount. So a proper number of troopers were ordered to get down, and the Russians were boosted into their saddles, and the procession moved off; but suddenly —

A horseman darted from the crowd
Like lightning from a summer cloud.

It was a Muscovite, who had discovered that the pommel was a great thing to hold on to, and who had grasped the same, to the neglect of the rein; whereupon the steed, missing his usual dragoon, started at a wild gallop! Off flew the flat cap and away went the horse and rider, with a Staff officer in full chase! Example is contagious, and, in two minutes, the country was dotted with Russians, on the wings of the wind, and vainly pursuing officers and orderlies. Some tumbled off, some were caught and brought back; and one chief engineer was discovered, after dark, in the woods, and in the unpleasant vicinity of the enemy’s picket line. However, the most of them were at last got up and viewed the troops from their uncertain positions. After which they were filled up with large quantities of meat and drink and so sent in a happy frame of mind to Washington. The Captain was a very intelligent man; but most of the rest had no character or manliness in their faces, and two or three of them seemed to me almost full-blooded Jews. . . .

To-morrow I lose my tent-mate, the phlegmatic countryman of Gustav Adolf and Charles XII. He could not get permission to remain on General Hunt’s Staff and so will have the satisfaction of joining his cavalry regiment, which is hutted somewhere in the mud, near Culpeper! In his place I shall probably have Rosencrantz, another Swede, and for some time at Headquarters as A.D.C. He is a courteous man, an old campaigner, and very amusing with his broken English.*

*This final paragraph is from a letter dated December 15.

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. 161. 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 61-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Defending Hooker (May 23, 1863)

Joseph Hooker and his staff, photographed in Falmouth in June 1863. That's Daniel Butterfield seated to Hooker's left (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker and his staff, photographed in Falmouth in June 1863. That’s Daniel Butterfield seated to Hooker’s left (Library of Congress).

Meade may have been disappointed with Joe Hooker, but it appears he was not willing to actively undercut his army commander. His letter of May 23 is an exercise in restraint, in which Meade corrects his wife’s mistaken impressions of Hooker’s conduct at Chancellorsville.

The story of Hooker losing his head, and my saving the army, is a canard, founded on some plausible basis. When Hooker was obliged to give up Chancellorsville and draw in his lines, I fortunately had anticipated this, and was prepared with my troops to take up the new line in a very short time, and to receive within it the broken columns from the old line. About this time Hooker, who had just been stunned by being struck with a pillar of a house, hit by a shot, felt himself fainting and had to dismount from his horse and lie on his back for ten or fifteen minutes. During this time he was constantly calling for me, and this operation above referred to was executed by me. Outsiders, particularly his staff, not knowing my previous preparations and expectation of having to do this, and seeing it so well and quickly done, were astonished, and gave me more credit than I was entitled to, and hence arose the story that I saved the army. Hooker never lost his head, nor did he ever allow himself to be influenced by me or my advice. The objection I have to Hooker is that he did not and would not listen to those around him; that he acted deliberately on his own judgment, and in doing so, committed, as I think, fatal errors. If he had lost his head, and I had been placed in command, you may rest assured a very different result would have been arrived at, whether better or worse for us cannot be told now; but it certainly would have been more decisive one way or the other. Secretary Chase was in camp day before yesterday at headquarters. He neither honored me with a visit, nor did he invite me to visit him; of course I did not see him. He returned in the afternoon, accompanied by Wilkes, of the Spirit of the Times. It is understood that the Cabinet is divided, Chase upholding Hooker, Blair and Seward in opposition. I have always thought Hooker would be allowed another chance, and I sincerely trust and hope, and indeed believe, he will do better, as I think he now sees the policy of caution is not a good one. Until our recent imbroglio, he has always spoken of me very warmly, though he has never asked my advice, or listened to my suggestions. What he is going to do or say now I don’t know, but I shall not count on any very friendly offices from him. Still, I should be sorry to see him removed, unless a decidedly better man is substituted.

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. 380-1. Available via Google Books.