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.

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Meanwhile, Back in Gettysburg (November 19, 1863)

With Meade remaining silent, we stick with Theodore Lyman’s accounts of live with the Army of the Potomac with his letter from November 19, 1863. On this day in Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln was speaking at the dedication of the new National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The president was not the headliner, though. That honor fell to Edward Everett, a former congressman, Massachusetts governor, and president of Harvard. Everett had also run for vice president on the Union platform with John Bell, the ticket for which Meade and Lyman voted in the 1860 election. Everett’s speech at Gettysburg ran for more than two hours—about sixty times longer than the president’s—but who today remembers what he said? The situation reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones encounters a scimitar-wielding assassin who dazzles him with an elaborate display of swordsmanship. Indy then draws his gun and shoots him dead with a single shot.

Edward Everett, the man who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg and therefore forever doomed to be a footnote to history (Library of Congress).

Edward Everett, the man who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg and therefore forever doomed to be a footnote to history (Library of Congress).

Meade was invited to attend the ceremonies at Gettysburg but obviously had other matters demanding his attention. However, he and Lyman were, in a small fashion, involved with Everett’s speech. In his journal entry for October 5 (quoted in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David Lowe) Lyman says this: “Prepared, by order, a sort of résumé of Gen. Meade’s official report of the battle of Gettysburg, to be sent to Mr. Everett, who is to deliver an oration at the cemetery, to be made at that place.” On October 26 he noted getting a letter from Everett asking for more information about the battle. Lyman was a Harvard graduate himself and his father and Everett had once traveled through Europe together. Lyman happened to be in Boston in January 1865 when Everett died and attended the funeral, “which took place with the usual solemnities.”

Meade made his own Gettysburg Address in 1869, which you can find here.

The Britons still continue with us. Yesterday we took them, with a small escort, to [John] Buford’s Headquarters beyond Culpeper. By Brandy Station we came across a line of rifle-pits that the Rebs had thrown up, probably on the Saturday night of their retreat, so as to cover the trains falling back on the Rapid Ann. We found the cavalry Chief afflicted with rheumatism, which he bore with his usual philosophy. Hence we made haste, across the country, to General [Gouverneur K.] Warren’s, where he had prepared some manoeuvres of infantry for us. This was one of the finest sights I have seen in the army. There were some 6000 or 7000 men on the plain, and we stood on a little hill to look. The evolutions ended by drawing up the force in two lines, one about 300 yards in rear of the other; and each perhaps a mile long. Then they advanced steadily a short distance, when the order was given to charge, and, as if they were one man, both fines broke into a run and came up the hill, shouting and yelling. I never saw so fine a military spectacle. The sun made the bayonets look like a straight hedge of bright silver, which moved rapidly toward you. But the great fun was when part of the line came to a stone wall, over which they hopped with such agility as to take Colonel Earle prisoner, while Captain Stephenson’s horse, which was rather slow, received an encouraging prod from a bayonet. Which events put us in great good humor, and we rode merrily home.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 50. 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!

An Explanation (October 12, 1863)

Here Meade explains the current movements of his army. He also mentions how he wants to get promotions for John Buford, commander of the cavalry division that had slowed the Confederates at Gettysburg on July 1, and John Gibbon, the II Corps division commander who had also performed ably at Gettysburg (and been badly wounded on July 3).

On Saturday I found Lee was turning my right flank and assuming an offensive position. As to have remained where I was would have endangered my communications, I yesterday fell back to the Rappahannock. As I do not hear to-day anything of his movement on my right being continued, I have sent a force back towards Culpeper, to see whether he will give me battle at any point between the two rivers. If he will, I shall fight him at all hazards. At the present moment there is firing heard, but I have not received any report.

Brigadier General John Gibbon. He became a major general in June 1864 (Library of Congress).

Brigadier General John Gibbon. He became a major general in June 1864 (Library of Congress).

I have most earnestly, by special telegram, recommended Gibbon for promotion. Indeed, himself and Buford are the only two that I have urged in this special manner on the attention of the department. The difficulty is that there are no vacancies in the grade of major general, and several appointments have been made in excess of the number authorized by law.

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. 153. Available via Google Books.

Cavalry Operations (September 13, 1863)

Alfred Pleasonton headed the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

Alfred Pleasonton led the cavalry corps for the Army of the Potomac (Library of Congress).

On September 13 Meade wrote home about sending cavalry head Alfred Pleasonton on an expedition to determine if Robert E. Lee’s army was on the move. He attached Theodore Lyman to Pleasonton’s staff so Lyman could get some experience in the field. Lyman wrote about his adventures on September 17 but I thought I would include that letter here. It demonstrates Lyman’s great value as an observer. He provides a wonderful perspective of a cavalry operation and a particularly vivid portrait of George Armstrong Custer.

A few days ago some scouts I had sent across the river returned and reported that Lee’s army was moving back to Richmond. They asserted positively that that portion near Fredericksburg had actually gone. I did not and do not much rely on their story, though I could not doubt but that a portion of his force had been sent away for some purpose either to re-inforce Beauregard at Charleston or Bragg in the South West.

It was necessary, however, that I should make some effort to ascertain what was going on, so to-day I sent Pleasanton, with all the cavalry, supported by Warren’s Corps (Second), to see what they could find out. Pleasanton crossed the river early, and immediately was engaged with the enemy’s cavalry, and has been fighting them all day. The result is that we have driven them from Culpeper Court House, and three miles beyond, have captured three guns and over fifty prisoners, and Warren is now in Culpeper, some nine miles in front of the Rappahannock. Still the great question as to whether Lee is withdrawing is unsettled, though Pleasanton sends word that all the information that he is able to pick up goes to support the rumor that he is falling back. Should it prove true, I suppose some movement on my part will be necessary; but what, I can’t say, as with my limited force I don’t see how I can advance much farther, and there is no probability of their permitting me to go to the James River, as it uncovers Washington.

Here’s Lyman’s take:

Having again got “home,” I find leisure and paper to write you a rather longer letter than you have got of late. Perhaps you would like to hear about our little cavalry performance. Of course there was not hard fighting, and a hundred or so will cover all the killed and wounded; nevertheless, as the whole was new to me and as the operations covered a good deal of country, they were interesting and instructive both. The whole Cavalry Corps (a good many thousand men) had been massed the day before, and had orders to cross the Rappahannock early next morning. I was to ride down in time to join General Pleasonton. The distance to the river is some eight miles, so I was up at 4.30 — rain pitchforks! dark as a box — thunder and lightning — everything but “enter three witches.” However, in my india-rubber coat and much-insulted large boots, much of the water could be kept out, and, by the time we were saddled and had had some tea, behold it stopped raining and away I went, quite thankful, and with a tail of six orderlies and a corporal. The ground was very wet, and we went slipping and sliding, in the red mud, till we drew near the river, when, behold, the whole country alive with train-waggons, columns of infantry, batteries, and ambulances; the latter with the stretchers fastened outside disagreeably suggestive of casualties. The rear of the cavalry had just crossed, when I got there; and General Pleasonton was on the opposite bank, where I presently joined him, crossing by the railroad bridge. He had with him a good many aides, besides orderlies and escort. Just at this point we held the southern, as well as the northern, bank and the pickets were some two miles out. The country is rolling, but not quite hilly; there are very large open fields (now filled mostly with weeds) and again, considerable woods. In these last our cavalry were hidden, so that you would have said there were not 300 of them all together. This I found, presently, was a great point, to conceal men, behind woods and ridges, as much as possible. We all now rode to our extreme picket line and took a view; and there, sure enough, was Mr. Reb with his picket line, about one third of a mile off. We could see a chain of mounted videttes, and, behind these, on a little knoll, a picket reserve, with their horses tied to trees. We waited some time to give a chance to General Gregg who had crossed on our right, and General Kilpatrick on our left, to get into the proper positions. Then General Pleasonton ordered an advance, and, in a few moments, quite as if by magic, the open country was alive with horsemen; first came columns of skirmishers who immediately deployed and went forward, at a brisk trot, or canter, making a connected line, as far as the eye could reach, right and left. Then followed the supports, in close order, and with and behind them came the field batteries, all trooping along as fast as they could scramble. It was now between eight and nine and the sun was bright, so that the whole spectacle was, to a greenhorn like me, one of the most picturesque possible. Not the least remarkable feature was the coolness of Mr. Reb under these trying circumstances. Their videttes stared a few moments, apparently without much curiosity, then turned tail and moved off, first at a walk, then at a trot, and finally disappeared over the ridge at a gallop. We rode on about a mile, keeping a little behind the skirmishers; General Buford and his Staff being just ahead and to the left. To the left we could hear cannon, General Kilpatrick having got into a skirmish there. Presently I saw a puff of smoke, on a ridge in front of us, and then hm-m-why-z-z-z, bang! went the shell, right by General Buford’s Staff, taking the leg off a poor orderly. Much pleased with their good shot, they proceeded to give our Staff a taste; and missiles of various kinds (but all disagreeable) began to skip and buzz round us. It was to me extraordinary to see the precision with which they fired. All the shot flew near us, and, while I had gone forward to the crest of the ridge to get a better view, a shell exploded directly in the midst of the Staff, wounding an orderly and very neatly shaving a patch of hair off the horse of Captain Hutchins. However, two could play at that game, and Captain Graham soon made the obnoxious guns limber up and depart to the next ridge, where they would again open and stay as long as they could. By the time we had got a few miles further, the enemy had brought forward all his cavalry and began firing with rifles, to which our men replied with their carbines.

George Armstrong Custer and Alfred Pleasonton, photographed in Warrenton, VA, in October 1863 (Library of Congress).

George Armstrong Custer and Alfred Pleasonton, photographed in Warrenton, VA, in October 1863 (Library of Congress).

We now entered a wooded tract, interspersed with mudholes and springy ground, and here the enemy made quite a hard stand, for the town of Culpeper lay a couple of miles beyond and they wished to gain time to get off their stores by the railroad. The advanced regiments were therefore dismounted and sent into the woods, while the artillery tried to find some place whence the guns could be used. It was at this place that I first heard the yells, for which the Rebels are noted. They were the other side of a high bank, covered with bushes, and they yelled to keep their spirits up as long as possible. But they were soon driven through the woods and then we came on an open country, in full view of Culpeper. This was a very interesting sight. The hills are, hereabout, quite large, and on the one opposite us stood Culpeper, very prettily situated, the railroad running through the lower part of the town. Just in the outskirts the Rebels had planted two batteries, as a last check, and behind were drawn up their supports of cavalry. Our cavalry were coming out of the woods, on all sides, moving on the town in form of a semi-circle, while the guns were pelting those of the enemy with might and main. Suddenly we were aware of a railroad train slowly leaving the depot, and immediately several guns were turned on it; but it went off, despite the shells that burst over it. Then there suddenly appeared a body of our cavalry, quite on the left of the town, who made a rush, at full speed, on three cannon there stationed, and took the whole of them with their caissons. This was a really handsome charge and was led by General Custer, who had his horse shot under him. This officer is one of the funniest looking beings you ever saw, and looks like a circus rider gone mad! He wears a huzzar jacket and tight trousers, of faded black velvet trimmed with tarnished gold lace. His head is decked with a little, gray felt hat; high boots and gilt spurs complete the costume, which is enhanced by the General’s coiffure, consisting in short, dry, flaxen ringlets! His aspect, though highly amusing, is also pleasing, as he has a very merry blue eye, and a devil-may-care style. His first greeting to General Pleasonton, as he rode up, was: “How are you, fifteen-days’-leave-of-absence? They have spoiled my boots but they didn’t gain much there, for I stole ‘em from a Reb.” And certainly, there was one boot torn by a piece of shell and the leg hurt also, so the warlike ringlets got not only fifteen, but twelve [additional] days’ leave of absence, and have retreated to their native Michigan!

George Armstrong Custer (Library of Congress).

George Armstrong Custer (Library of Congress).

The Rebels now retreated in all haste, and we rode at once in, and found a good many supplies at the depot with a number of rifles and saddles. As we rode up, the building was beset with grinning dragoons, each munching, with great content, a large apple, whereof they found several barrels which had been intended for the comfort of Mr. Stuart’s dashing knights. I was surprised at the good conduct of the gypsy-looking men. They insulted no one, broke nothing, and only took a few green peaches, which, I fancy, amply revenged themselves. Culpeper is a really decent place, with a brick hotel, and a number of good houses, in front of which were little gardens. I send you a rosebud, which I picked as we rode through the town; there were plenty of them, looking rather out of place there, in the midst of muddy batteries and splattered cavalrymen! A queer thing happened in the taking of the three guns. An officer was made prisoner with them, and, as he was marched to the rear, Lieutenant Counselman of our side cried out, “Hullo, Uncle Harry!” “Hullo!” replied the captain uncle. “Is that you? How are you?” And there these two had been unwittingly shelling each other all the morning!

After resting the horses we pushed on to the south, towards what is called Pong Mountain, for you must know that this region is more hilly, and Pong Mountain is about comparable to the Blue Hills (not quite so high, perhaps). . . . We drove the enemy five miles beyond Culpeper, making fifteen miles, in all, and there a halt was ordered and pickets thrown out. Our Headquarters were a wretched house, of two rooms, inhabited by two old women. We gave them one room and took the other ourselves. And now I loomed out! The Staff had, in the way of creature comforts, nothing but sabres and revolvers. It was dark and raining guns, and the Chief-of-Staff had the stomachache! I took from my saddle-bags a candle and lighted the same, prepared tea from my canteen, and produced a loaf of bread and a Bologna sausage, to the astonishment of the old campaigners, who enquired, “Whether I had a pontoon bridge about me?” Then I rolled myself in my coat and took a good night’s sleep on the floor.

The next morning we started for Raccoon Ford, on the Rapidan, five miles distant. The enemy were mostly across and only opposed us with a few skirmishers. As we got in sight of it, the prospect was not cheering. The opposite bank, partly wooded and partly covered with cultivation, rose in steep, high hills, which completely commanded our side of the river. It was a fine sight to see the column splashing along the wood road, lying between fine oak trees; but the fine sight was presently interrupted by a shell, which exploded about 100 yards ahead of me and right among the horses’ legs, without touching me! The General rode into the open field to reconnoitre the position, and I with him, because he wanted my glass; but Mr. Secesh has a sharp eye for gold cords round hats, and, in a minute, wh-n-n-g, fiwp! wh-z-z-z! a solid shot struck just in front of us, and bounced over our heads. The General ordered us to disperse about the field, so as not to make a mark; but, as I rode off, they sent a shell so near me that a facetious officer called out: “I guess they think you’re somebody pretty distinguished, Kun’l.” However, there may be a good deal of cannon shooting, without many hits; in proof of which I will say that we had a brisk fire of artillery from 10.30 to 2.30, together with a sharp spattering of rifles and carbines, and that our loss was five killed and fifteen wounded! Shells do not sound so badly as I expected; nor did I feel as I expected on the occasion. There is a certain sense of discipline and necessity that bears you up; and the only shell I “ducked” was the first one.

After some difficulty we got some guns in position and drove off those opposed. Then General Kilpatrick’s division went to a better ford below, and tried to get over there; but the Rebels opened on him with fourteen cannon and silenced his guns after a hard fire. So we concluded the fords were not practicable for cavalry, which I think might have been apparent from the outset. Whereupon both parties stopped and stared at each other; and we heroes of the Staff went to a house (much better than that of last night) and partook of mutton which, during the day, we had valiantly made the prey of our bow and our spear. On our right General Gregg had driven the enemy beyond Cedar Mountain and nearly to the river, but was there brought up by a heavy force of artillery in position. All day Tuesday we lay doing nothing. I rode over with the General to Cedar Mountain, passing close to the battlefield, and ascended, thus getting a fine view of the Rapidan valley, which is very beautiful and would, in the hands of good farmers, yield a thousandfold. . . . We have taken on our reconnaissance in force about 150 prisoners, three guns, and five caissons. Yesterday the entire army crossed the Rappahannock, and I got orders to return to Headquarters, which I did.

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. 148-9. 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. 14-20. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.