The President (March 26, 1865)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee’s attack on Fort Stedman interrupted the visit by Mrs. Meade and the Meade children. Meade was with his family on the steamer Thomas Collyer at City Point when word of the attack arrived. “Meade was greatly nettled by the fact that he was absent from his command at such a time, and was pacing up and down with great strides, and dictating orders to his chief of staff, General Webb, who was with him, in tones which showed very forcibly the intensity of his feelings,” recalled Horace Porter, Grant’s aide-de-camp. President Lincoln had come down to visit Grant. The next day, when word arrived that the Confederate attack had been repulsed, he accepted Grant’s offer to visit the Petersburg front.

Following Meade’s letter to his wife is Theodore Lyman’s letter from the same day. He has some interesting observations about the president.

Your visit seems so like a dream I can hardly realize you have been here.

The orderly who took Meta McCall’s saddle down says he arrived just in time to put it on board, so I presume you started soon after

12 M. To-day is a fine day, without wind, and I trust you will have a pleasant journey up the Potomac and get safe home.

After I arrived here, the President and party came about 1 p.m. We reviewed Crawford’s Division, and then rode to the front line and saw the firing on Wright’s front, at the fort where you were, where a pretty sharp fight was going on. Indeed, Humphreys and Wright were fighting till eight o’clock, with very good results, taking over one thousand prisoners from the enemy, and inflicting heavy losses in killed and wounded. The day turned out to be a very successful one, we punishing the enemy severely, taking nearly three thousand prisoners and ten battle flags, besides the morale of frustrating and defeating his plans.

Mrs. Lincoln spoke very handsomely of you and referred in feeling terms to our sad bereavement. The President also spoke of you, and expressed regret that your visit should have been so abruptly terminated. I suppose Mrs. Hopkinson and yourself will have great fun in recalling the incidents of your trip. Altogether, your expedition was very successful, and I am very glad you came.

I expect we shall have stirring times before long. The fighting yesterday proved the enemy has still some spirit left in him, and Lee, having once begun, is likely to try his hand again; and if he don’t, I suppose we shall have to take the matter in hand.

Here is Lyman’s letter. His impressions of Lincoln certainly come filtered through his own Boston snobbery, yet overall it’s a favorable portrait. Lyman does not include his impressions of Mrs. Meade in his letters, but he did in his journals. “Mrs. Meade has a pleasant and still good looking face, for her age, and very fine hair,” he wrote. “She has a little of the languid, half southern way, and is wanting in force, somewhat.”

My letter of yesterday only gave a part of the day’s work. Our train went briskly up to the front and stopped not far from the little rustic chapel you saw; for there was General Parke with his Staff, waiting to receive the General and report the morning’s work. . . . Brevet Brigadier McLaughlen got taken in trying to maintain his line—a good officer. He was the one who had been five days in Boston and told me he was so tired that he thought he should go right back. A certain Major Miller was captured and sent, with a guard of four men, a little to the rear. They sat in a bomb-proof for protection and Miller did so describe the glories of Yankeedom to his captors, that, when we retook the work, they all deserted and came over with him! Then we kept on and got out at our own domus, where General Meade (it being then about 11.30 a.m.)telegraphed sundry orders to his generals; wherefrom resulted, at 12.15, the greatest bang, bang, whang, from good Duke Humphrey, who, spectacles on nose, rushed violently at the entrenched skirmish line of the enemy and captured the same, with the double view of making a reconnaissance and a diversion, and furthermore of showing the Johns that we were not going to be pitched into without hitting back.

Then there was a lull, filled by the arrival of a long grey procession of some 1500 prisoners from the 9th Corps. Really these men possess a capacity for looking “rough” beyond any people I ever saw, except the townsmen of Signor Fra Diavolo. They grew rougher and rougher. These looked brown and athletic, but had the most matted hair, tangled beards, and slouched hats, and the most astounding carpets, horse-sheets and transmogrified shelter-tents for blankets, that you ever imagined. One grim gentleman, of forbidding aspect, had tempered his ferocity by a black, broad-brimmed straw hat, such as country ministers sometimes wear—a head-dress which, as Whittier remarked, “rather forced the season!” Singularly enough, the train just then came up and the President and General Grant, followed by a small party, rode over to the Headquarters. “I have just now a despatch from General Parke to show you,” said General Meade. “Ah,” quoth the ready Abraham, pointing to the parade-ground of the Provost-Marshal, “there is the best despatch you can show me from General Parke!” The President is, I think, the ugliest man I ever put my eyes on; there is also an expression of plebeian vulgarity in his face that is offensive (you recognize the recounter of coarse stories). On the other hand, he has the look of sense and wonderful shrewdness, while the heavy eyelids give him a mark almost of genius. He strikes me, too, as a very honest and kindly man; and, with all his vulgarity, I see no trace of low passions in his face. On the whole, he is such a mixture of all sorts, as only America brings forth. He is as much like a highly intellectual and benevolent Satyr as anything I can think of. I never wish to see him again, but, as humanity runs, I am well content to have him at the head of affairs. . . . After which digression I will remark that the President (who looks very fairly on a horse) reviewed the 3d division, 5th Corps, which had marched up there to support the line, and were turned into a review. As the Chief Magistrate rode down the ranks, plucking off his hat gracefully by the hinder part of the brim, the troops cheered quite loudly. Scarcely was the review done when, by way of salute, all those guns you saw by Fort Fisher opened with shells on the enemy’s picket line, which you could see, entrenched, from where you stood. Part of the 6th Corps then advanced and, after a sharp fight, which lasted, with heavy skirmishing, till sunset, drove off the Rebels and occupied their position, driving them towards their main line. At four and at seven P.m. the enemy charged furiously on Humphreys, to recover their picket line, but were repulsed with great loss; our men never behaved better. Both Wright and Humphreys took several hundred prisoners, swelling the total for the day to 2700, more than we have had since the noted 12th of May. Our total loss is from 1800 to 2000; while that of the enemy must be from 4000 to 5000 plus a great discouragement. Isn’t it funny for you to think of the polite Humphreys riding round in an ambulance with you Friday, and, the next day, smashing fiercely about in a fight?

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. 267-8. 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. 323-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Fort Stedman (March 25, 1864)

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The interior of Fort Stedman. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The campaigning season begins, and Robert E. Lee striking the first blow with a dawn attack on Fort Stedman. Early in the morning on March 25, a group of rebels pretending to be deserters approached in the darkness and subdued the Union picket line. Behind them streamed some ten thousand men under the command of Gen. John B. Gordon. The rebels charged across the fields and overwhelmed Stedman’s defenders. Then they turned left and right and captured the batteries on each side. A counterattack by the IX Corps soon turned the tide, and as the Confederates retreated, the Union guns turned the fields into “a place of fearful slaughter,” recalled one soldier. “My mind sickens at the memory of it—a real tragedy in war—for the victims had ceased fighting, and were now struggling between imprisonment on the one hand, and death or home on the other.”

In this letter from March 25, Theodore Lyman describes the fighting. He will resume his narrative tomorrow.

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke, commander of the IX Corps (Library of Congress).

We may indeed call this a many-sided field-day: a breakfast with a pleasure party, an assault and a recapture of an entrenched line, a review by the President of a division of infantry, and sharp fighting at sundry points of a front of eighteen miles! If that is not a mixed affair, I would like to know what is? It has been a lucky day, for us; and the 9th Corps, after patient waiting for eight months, have played the game of the “Mine” against their antagonists. The official despatches will give you the main facts very well, but I can add some particulars. About daylight, the enemy having massed three divisions and a part of a fourth, made a sudden rush and carried Fort Stedman and about half a mile of line commanded by it. The garrisons of the forts on either side stood firm, however, and repelled a severe attack with much injury to the enemy. Meantime, General Parke had ordered that the works should be retaken, if it cost every man in the Corps; and all the scattered regiments immediately at hand were put in and checked a further advance, until General Hartranft (I’m not sure about the spelling of his name) brought up the 3d division, which had been camped in reserve. He personally led in one brigade of it, with conspicuous gallantry, retook the whole portion lost, and captured, at one swoop, 1800 Rebels. It was just the “Mine,” turned the other way: they got caught in there and could not get out. Their loss also in killed and wounded must have been severe, not only from musketry, but also from canister, which was thrown into a ravine by which they retreated. Upwards of a hundred Rebel dead lay in and round Fort Stedman alone. Our own losses in the 9th Corps will be somewhat over 800, half of whom may be reckoned prisoners, taken in the first surprise. I should guess the loss of their opponents as not less than 2600.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 322-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Tolerably Able (November 10, 1864)

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

President Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress).

The editor of Theodore Lyman’s letters. George R. Agassiz, thought the entry for November 10, 1864, was so unusual it required a bit of a disclaimer. “Some parts of the following letter make curious reading now,” he wrote. “They are, however, interesting, not merely as an individual opinion at that time, but as reflecting the contemporary sentiments of a large body of intelligent men.” I assume Agassiz felt compelled to add his note because of Lyman’s qualified praise for Lincoln. Today Lincoln is lionized as one of America’s greatest presidents, comparable only to Washington. During the Civil War, however, Lincoln had yet to acquire his veneer of greatness. For many, calling him “tolerably able,” as Lyman does in this letter, was giving him more credit than he was due. Lyman and Meade were both politically conservative and would have had doubts about Lincoln. Lyman’s conservatism explains his condescending reference to Theodore Parker, a noted transcendentalist and abolitionist. Parker’s grandfather had led the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington. In this letter Lyman also notes an incident of “acoustic shadow,” in which atmospheric conditions mask the sounds of battle.

They have been singularly niggardly to us about election returns; but we have reliable intelligence to-night that Lincoln is re-elected, the coarse, honest, good-natured, tolerably able man! It is very well as it is; for the certainty of pushing this war to its righteous end must now swallow up all other considerations. I am still more content that there has been a powerful opposition to him, even from respectable men, an opposition strong enough to carry several states. This will caution him, or better, his party, to proceed cautiously and to make no fanatical experiments, such as we too often have seen, but to proceed firmly, and according to rule and law. Lincoln has some men of ability about him—pre-eminent, Mr. Seward, whom the ultras have thrown over, but whom I think the strong man of the cabinet. Mr. Fessenden is said to be a very superior person, and his face is certainly a bright one, very. There is another important advantage in keeping on as we are: the machine is in running order and it is always a drawback to change midst a season of public trial. And again we have done with Lincoln what the Rebels have successfully done with their generals, let him learn from his own misfortunes and mistakes; not a bad school for a sensible man. So you see, I am inclined to make the best of what I deem is the best, albeit not very good. . . .

Have you read an article from Fraser, in Littells, called “Concord Transcendentalists.” It is a singular production, rather entertaining some of it, and interspersed with the weakest, sweetened warm milk and water. The place where it says that Theodore Parker hid two slaves in his study, and nightly sat writing at the door of it, with several pistols and the gun that had belonged to his grandfather, would be a funny passage at any time, but, written so gravely in these war days, it is quite irresistible! If you see any number, in future, containing the tale of Tony Butler, you might send it to me, though it is no great matter. I have read a number or two, the last chapter being in this very number where the Transcends flourish. Which reminds me of what a West Point professor said, according to the solemn Duane. He was hearing a recitation in philosophy, and would fain illustrate how the body might slowly change, yet the individual remain the same. “Now,”said he,” if I have a knife and lose a blade and get it replaced, it is still the same knife.” “Well,” said a stupid-looking cadet, “and suppose you lose the other blades, one after another, and get them replaced, is it the same knife?” “Certainly,” replied the Professor. “And suppose the handle should get rather ricketty and you replaced that?” “Yes, it would be the same knife.” “Well, now,” cried the stupid one, suddenly brightening up amazingly, “suppose you took the old handle, and found the old blades, and put ‘em all together, what would you call that, hey?” Poor Major Duane! he can’t do much but talk and tell stories, for he is quite miserably yet and is not fit for duty, though he is improving. . . .

Last night, with a mild south wind, we had a singular example of the stopping of sound. Our batteries near the plank road, some three miles off, may usually be heard with perfect distinctness; not only the guns, but the explosion of the shells; and the replies of the Rebels also. At night we can see the shells going over, by the burning fuse, that looks like a flying spark. The deception is very singular in the dark, for, though the shell may be passing at the rate of 1200 feet a second, in the distance the fuse seems to go slowly and in a stately curve. This is because 1200 feet looks very small, three miles away, and the eye gets an idea of rapidity by the space travelled over in a given time. Well, last night, they opened a somewhat brisk discharge of mortar shells from both sides; but though we could see them go through the sky and burst below, not the faintest sound reached the ear! At other times these same guns will sound quite close to us. I could cite many such contrasts.

I rode forth with good Duke Humphrey, to see the dress-parade in the 9th Corps. That and the 5th, not being in the immediate presence of the enemy, have a good chance for drill. The 9th Corps, in particular, have gone into the evolutions to an alarming extent, an exercise which, like Wistar’s balsam of wild cherry, can’t do harm and may do good. Around General Parke’s Headquarters there is a chronic beating of drums and fifing of fifes and playing of bands. We sat some time and watched the drilling; it was quite fun to see them double-quicking here, and marching there, and turning up in unexpected positions. At last the gallant Colonel McLaughlen, after many intricate manoeuvres, charged and took a sutler’s tent, and the brigade was then marched to its quarters. As we returned, there was a nig brigade, having its dress parade in fine style. They looked extremely well and marched in good style. The band was a great feature. There was a man with the bass drum (the same I believe that so amused De Chanal) who felt a ruat-coelum-fiat-big-drum sentiment in his deepest heart! No man ever felt more that the success of great things lay in the whacking of that sheepskin with vigor and precision! Te-de-bung, de-de-bung, bung, bung! could be heard, far and near. . . . The nigs are getting quite brisk at their evolutions. If their intellects don’t work, the officers occasionally refresh them by applying the flats of their swords to their skins. There was a Swede here, who had passed General Casey’s board for a negro commission. He was greatly enraged by a remark of the distinguished Casey, who asked him what Gustavus Adolphus did, meaning what great improvements he introduced in the art of war. To which the furriner replied: “He was commander-in-chief of the Swedish army.” “Oh, pooh!” said Casey, “that’s nothing!” Which the Swede interpreted to mean that Gustavus was small potatoes, or that the Swedish army was so. Really, most foreign officers among us are but scapegraces from abroad. The other day the Belgian Minister Sanford sent a letter asking for promotion for private Guatineau, whose pa had rendered us great service by writing in the French press. The matter being referred to his commander, the reply was: “This man deserted to the enemy from the picket line.”

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 259-62. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Well-Conducted Fizzle (October 28, 1864)

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via CivilWarTalk.com).

Lt. Charles W. Woolsey, the aide to Seth Williams who made a daring escape from the rebels (Library of Congress; accessed via CivilWarTalk.com).

In his letter of October 28, Theodore Lyman describes the frustrating experiences of the fighting at Burgess’s Mill and captures the sense of confusion that ruled the battlefield. The fighting had been done by the II, V, and IX Corps under Winfield Scott Hancock, Gouverneur Warren, and Charles Parke, with cavalry commanded by David McMurtrie Gregg. Charles Woolsey, whose escape from capture Lyman describes, served as an aide to Seth Williams, the army’s assistant adjutant-general.

Where do you think I am? Why, right by my dear chimney! All camped just where we were! I called our movement a grand reconnaissance in force; it would be more fair to call it an “attempt,” whose success depended on the enemy not having certain advantages of position. But they were found to have these advantages, and so here we are back again, nobody having fought much but Hancock, who had a most mixed-up and really severe action, on the extreme left, in which the Rebels got rather the worst of it; but Grant ordered Hancock to withdraw during the night, or early in the morning, by which he was compelled to leave some of his wounded in a house on the field. Warren would fain fight it out there, for the name of the thing; but that would have been bad strategy, though I do confess that (albeit not a fire-eater) I would sooner have seen it through the next day, by reinforcing the left. This, however, is a mere matter of sentiment; certainly I don’t set up my wisdom. As the Mine was to be termed an ill-conducted fizzle, so this attempt may be called a well-conducted fizzle. The Rebs are good engineers and had thrown up dirt scientifically, I can tell you. We got a pretty good handful of prisoners; I dare say 800 or so, and lost, including stragglers, I fancy as many, though they say we did not. The killed and wounded about equal; perhaps the enemy lost rather more than we; but the honors of the left lie with the enemy, for we abandoned the field in the night. To-day we marched back scientifically (we are hard to beat on a retreat I can tell you). The 9th and 5th Corps withdrew by successive lines of battle, one behind the other, and alternately marching to the rear, the front line passing through that behind. A very handsome manoeuvre; and the enemy, with relief, said good riddance. I do not feel anywise down in spirits, for we gave blow for blow, and came back when we saw the positions would not admit of the plan proposed. There was no blunder or disaster, but it was soldier-like. The General kept a good temper throughout, so that it was quite pleasant all round.

[In writing some days later, Lyman thus describes the country over which this engagement was fought:] The tract marked “dense wood” on my map beggars description. It is a wood, with a tangled, thick undergrowth that almost stops the passage of a man. The rest of the country is also much wooded, but wherever you see a house, there is a farm of greater or less size. [After a more detailed description of the fighting, he continues:] Mott’s men give way, the Rebels yell and their batteries open a cross-fire, and the enemy the other side of the run make as if to attack the 2d division in front. But the valiant Egan faces his line to the rear and charges the flank of the Rebels rushing from the woods; they are in turn smashed up and run back again, and a grand mixed-up fight takes place, in the midst of which Hampton’s cavalry falls furiously upon Gregg, who falls furiously upon him, and won’t budge an inch. The most singular things happened here; for, as the woods were full of broken bands of both parties, everybody captured everybody else, and was in turn captured! A good many parties of Rebels, carrying our prisoners to the rear, took wrong direction and fell into the open maw of Crawford. Lieutenant Woolsey, General Williams’s aide, in such an affair, showed a valor little to be looked for in so mild a youth. He was going along a wood road and came directly upon twelve Rebel cavalry; all cried “Halt! surrender!” to him, and two fired their carbines at him; Woolsey snapped his pistol at them, when one seized him round the waist; whereat W. hit him a back-handed blow on the bridge of his nose, put in the spurs, and actually broke away from the whole of them! When I asked him why he didn’t give up, he replied in a simple manner: “Why, I thought my mother would be much distressed if I was taken prisoner, so I thought it would perhaps be better not to surrender.” General Williams was in the greatest state of chuckle over his aide’s conduct, and kept asking unwary persons: “Do you know how Mr. Woolsey escaped from guerillas?” and, being answered “No,” would say:”Why, thus!” at the same time giving the unwary one a punch in the stomach, with his elbow. Then Major Roebling rode into a Rebel line of battle and had his orderly killed in his escape; Major Bingham was captured, but scared his guard so by telling him he was within our lines, that the man took to the bushes and left him. Lieutenant Dresser rode into the midst of a Rebel brigade, thinking they were prisoners. “Where is the Provost Guard?” asked D., who luckily had a gray rubber coat on. “Hain’t got none.” “What troops are these?” “Fourth Alabama.” “Oh, all right,” says Dresser, with presence of mind, and rides off, very slow at first, and very fast as soon as out of sight! The best feat was that of Major Mitchell (he always does perform feats). He rode into the woods, saw 200 Rebel infantry who had got lost, and were drawn up in line; came back, got a regiment, went out again and gobbled them all up. . . .

[The letter finishes with a lively description of some curious visitors to Headquarters.]

I had got safely to the Peeble house and was watching the columns as they marched in. I was still watching when suddenly there appeared a new comico-military procession: to wit, a venerable Brigadier, of a diluted visage, followed by two or three officers, and by two beings calculated to astonish the uninitiated. The first was simply gorgeous, not of dubious character, but evidently an officer of one of those theatrical French indigene regiments. He was tightly done up in a black jacket, all over which five hundred yards of fine black braid had gone into spasmodic convulsions; then black trousers with a wide scarlet stripe, morocco knee-boots, and a light blue kepi. To complete his costume, a row of medals stretched from his central buttonhole to the point of his shoulder! The second stranger was utterly incomprehensible. He had on a pair of red, military trousers, a red fez with a blue tassel, and a black dresscoat! In order to mark this simple costume, he had, with admirable taste, suspended a small stiletto from the lower buttonhole of his waistcoat. The kepi was presented as Chef-de-bataillon de Boissac; the fez as Vicomte de Montbarthe. Upon which, to myself within myself said I: strike out the “de” and Boissac is correct; strike out “Vicomte” and substitute “Corporal” and we shall be pretty near Mr. Fez. He was one of the vulgarest of vulgar Frenchmen, and a fool into the bargain. De Boissac was a type, and I fancy the real thing; a regular, chatty, boastful, conceited, bright little Gaul, who had been in China, the Crimea, Italy, Japan, and Africa, and had worn the hair off his little bullet head with serving in various climes. “I was promoted to be Chef-de-bataillon,” said kepi (just as if I had asked anything about it), “for having planted the flag, alone, on the rampart! My comrades cry to me, ‘Descend! descend!’ I reply, ‘Non! j’y suis!’“ “And I,” chimed in fez, “received the cross for repelling, with forty men, four hundred Austrians: wounded twice in the leg, I lay on the field and the Emperor himself pinned the cross on my breast!” I could not help thinking what a pity it was that the wounds had not been higher up, whereby the Emperor would have been saved the expense of a cross, and I the trouble of listening to his stories. These two brave bucks were travelling on their good looks, having got down, the Lord knows how, with no letters to anybody; yet they dined with General Meade, and passed the night in camp; passed another night at General Davies’, and, the last I heard of them, were pledging General Hancock in the national whiskey! … I omitted to mention a third ornament to military life, a gent with eagles on his shoulders, who, on enquiry, turned out to be a brother militia man, and a great credit to the service, as he perilled his life daily, in the state of New York, as General Sanford’s aide (commanding state militia), and now was visiting the army to see that justice was done to deserving non-commissioned officers in the way of promotion. Et puis?—thought T. L. Yes, that was to electioneer the regiments in favor of the Republican candidate for governor, in case of whose election, he, Colonel D , was to be Quartermaster-General! He had not only cheek enough for this, but enough to spare to come and stay all night at Headquarters, and take his meals there, without the breath of an invitation!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 251-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Peebles’ Farm (September 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman provides a good description of the battle known as Peeble’s Farm. It was part of Grant’s strategy to force Lee to stretch his lines until they broke. While the Army of the James was attacking Lee’s left north of the James River, Meade’s Army of the Potomac hit the right. Fighting will continue on October 1.

If the General will ride out at 8.30 A.m., and get back at 10.30 P.m., and fight a good part of the day, how am I to feel wakeful and lively to write to you? I am very well and getting stronger; was in part of the battle beyond the railroad; but only had a few bullets and one solitary cannonball in my neighborhood. This going from Beverly to battle is quite a sharp contrast. Our advantage was signal and important if we have good luck in holding on, which I think we shall. There may be fighting to-morrow, but I incline to think not.

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade's headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade’s headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

On October 4, Lyman wrote out a more complete account of the events of September 30. I include it here for the sake of chronological consistency. Gouverneur Warren commands the V Corps. John Parke had replaced Ambrose Burnside at the head of the IX Corps. Samuel Crawford and Charles Griffin command V Corps divisions. Griffin is the profane general whom Grant wanted Meade to arrest for insubordination at the Wilderness; Meade had assured him that Griffin’s intemperate speech was only “his way.”

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

At 8.30 in the morning, the General, with the combative [Andrew] Humphreys and all the Staff, rode towards the left, stopping of course at the irresistible Hancock’s. At noon we got to Globe Tavern, which is some six miles from our old Headquarters. [Samuel] Crawford’s division still held the works on the Weldon road, while Warren, with two divisions, followed by [John] Parke, with two divisions of the 9th Corps, had moved out to the west, and already we could hear the Rebel artillery shelling our advance. . . . . At the Poplar Grove Church the Rebels began to throw shells, with a good deal of accuracy, into the road; for they had the range, though they could not see for the woods. Near here was a swampy run, where our skirmishers drove those of the enemy across, and the division then got over and kept ahead. General Meade, meantime, staid at the Globe Tavern, waiting for the movement to develop. He sent out an aide or two, to tell Warren he was there and to bring news of the progress. Warren sent in word that; having got across the run, he would soon see what could be done. At 12.45 we could hear pretty brisk musketry, which continued a short time and then ceased. Some time after, an aide came in from General Warren, with news that Griffin had captured a strong line and a redoubt, in handsome style. Not long after, the General rode to the front, where we arrived at 2.45. Most of the road was through a pleasant wood, chiefly oak. Passing the “church” (a little, old, wooden building that might seat forty persons), we turned to the right and came out on a large, open farm. On a roll of land, just ahead, was the Peeble house (pretty well riddled with bullets), and hence you looked over more open land ending in a fringe of wood. Perhaps 400 yards in front was the captured line and the redoubt: the former very strongly and handsomely made; the latter not quite finished inside, wanting still the platforms for the guns; otherwise it was done, with a ditch outside and an abattis. So far as I can learn, the occupying force was about equal to the attacking; but they did not make as good a fight as usual. The two assaulting brigades advanced very handsomely and rushed over the works. The enemy began at once to draw off their cannon, but the horses of one piece were shot, and it fell into our hands. The loss was very small in the assault, not over 100, which shows how much safer it is to run boldly on: the enemy get excited and fire high. I went into the redoubt. A Rebel artillery-man lay dead on the parapet, killed so instantly, by a shot through the head, that the expression of his face was unchanged. In front they were burying two or three of our men and a corporal was marking their names on a headboard, copying from letters found in their pockets. Parke was now ordered to form on the left of Warren ([Romeyn] Ayres being on the right of Griffin), and it was understood that the whole line would then advance from its present position, near the Pegram house, and see if it were practicable to carry the second line, which lay perhaps three fourths of a mile beyond. As I understand it, General Meade’s orders were not properly carried out; for Griffin did not form, so as to make an extension of Parke’s line. At 5.30 we were sitting in the Peeble house, waiting for the development of the attack, when we heard very heavy musketry beyond the narrow belt of the woods that separated us from the Pegram farm; there was was cheering, too, and then more musketry, and naturally we supposed that Parke was assaulting. But presently there came from the woods a considerable number of stragglers, making their way to the rear; then came even a piece of a regiment, with its colors, and this halted inside the captured works. The musketry now drew plainly nearer, and things began to look ticklish. I watched anxiously a brigade of the 5th Corps that stood massed in the edge of the wood, beyond the redoubt. Suddenly it filed to the left, at a double-quick, the brigade colors trotting gaily at the head, then formed line and stood still. In another moment the men leveled their muskets, fired a heavy volley and charged into the wood. The musketry receded again; a battery went forward and added itself to the general crash, which was kept up till darkness had well set in; while we sat and watched and listened, in comparative safety, just beside the captured redoubt. [Robert] Potter had been taken in the flank by the Rebels charging, and had been driven back in confusion. Griffin had advanced and restored the retired line. And who rides hither so placidly? It is General Humphreys: he has stolen off and, bless his old soul, has been having a real nice time, right in the line of battle! “A pretty little fight,” said he gingerly, “a pretty little fight. He! he! he!” Poor Potter! it wasn’t his fault. Our extreme advance was driven back, but the day was a great success, with important strategic bearing.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 231 and 234-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Investigations (March 17, 1863)

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

This letter from March 17, 1863, is fascinating. In it Meade discusses the political fallout from the debacle at Fredericksburg. Burnside, of course, is Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. Franklin is William Franklin. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had come in first in his West Point class of 1843. Like Meade he was an engineer and he had been in charge of constructing the new dome of the Capitol in Washington when war broke out. At Fredericksburg he had been in charge of the army’s left wing, which included Meade’s division. Franklin was angry with Burnside. He had been under the impression that Burnside wanted Franklin’s wing would make the main attack from below Fredericksburg and didn’t learn otherwise until the morning of the attack. Now both men were being investigated by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

The General Parke whom Meade mentions is John Parke. Wright is Horatio Wright, later to succeed John Sedgwick at the head of the VI Corps.

I returned to-day from Washington. I went up day before yesterday, the 15th, arriving in Washington about 7 P. M. I went to Willard’s, where, as usual, I saw a great many people. Finding Burnside was in the house, I sent up my name and was ushered into his room, where I found himself and Mrs. Burnside, the latter a very quiet, lady-like and exceedingly nice personage, quite pretty and rather younger than I expected to see. Burnside was very glad to see me, and we had a long talk. Among other things he read me a correspondence he had had with Franklin. Franklin had called his attention to the letter which appeared in the Times, said this was known to be written by Raymond, the editor, and it was generally believed his information was derived either from Burnside himself or some of his staff. Hence this letter was considered authority, and as it did him, Franklin, great injustice, he appealed to his, Burnside’s, magnanimity to correct the errors and give publicity to his correction. Burnside replied that he had not read the article till Franklin called his attention to it; that he was not responsible for it, nor was he aware that any of his staff had had any part in its production. Still, he was bound to say that in its facts it was true; that as to the inferences drawn from these facts, he had nothing to say about them and must refer him to Raymond, the reputed author. Several letters had passed, Franklin trying to get Burnside to (as he, Burnside, expressed it) whitewash him. This Burnside said he was not going to do; that Franklin must stand on his own merits and the facts of the case; that he had never made any accusation against him, except to say that the crossing of the river, being against his, Franklin’s, judgment, he thought Franklin had been wanting in a zealous and hearty co-operation with his plans. That about the time my attack failed, hearing from one of his, Burnside’s, staff officers, just from the field, that Franklin was not attacking with the force and vigor he ought to, he immediately despatched him an order “directing him to attack with his whole force if necessary,” which order he assumed the responsibility of not executing, and he must now take the consequences, if blame was attached to him for it.

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, "Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains." (Library of Congress.)

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, “Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains.” (Library of Congress.)

The next morning I went up to the Capitol, to the committee room, and found only the clerk present. He said the committee had been awaiting me some days; that Senators Chandler and Wade were the only two members present, and now down town; that he would hunt them up, and have them at the room by three o’clock, if I would return at that hour. At three I again presented myself to the committee, and found old Ben Wade, Senator from Ohio, awaiting me. He said the committee wished to examine me in regard to my attack at Fredericksburg. I told him I presumed such was the object in summoning me, and with this in view I had brought my official report, which I would read to him, and if he wanted any more information, I was prepared to give it. After hearing my report, he said it covered the whole ground, and he would only ask me one or two questions. First, was I aware that General Burnside, about the time of my attack, had ordered General Franklin to attack with his whole force? I answered, “At the time of the battle, No; indeed, I only learned this fact yesterday evening, from General Burnside himself.” Secondly, what, in my judgment, as a military man, would have been the effect if General Franklin had, when my attack was successful, advanced his whole line? I said I believed such a movement would have resulted in the driving back of the enemy’s right wing; though it would, without doubt, have produced a desperate and hard-contested fight; but when I reflected on the success that attended my attack, which was made with less than ten thousand men (supports and all), I could not resist the belief that the attack of fifty thousand men would have been followed by success. This was all he asked, and except the last question, the answer to which was a mere matter of opinion, I don’t think any one can take exception to my testimony. My conversations with Burnside and Wade satisfied me that Franklin was to be made responsible for the failure at Fredericksburg, and the committee is seeking all the testimony they can procure to substantiate this theory of theirs. Now, Franklin has, first, his orders, as received from Burnside, and then the fact that the execution of these orders was entrusted to Reynolds, for his defense. Before the committee, of course, he will not be heard, but after their report comes out, it will be incumbent on him to notice their statements and demand an investigation. I feel very sorry for Franklin, because I like him, and because he has always been consistently friendly to me.

After returning from the Capitol, I dined with General and Mrs. Burnside and Parke. Parke said he was about being left off the list of major generals, when Burnside’s opportune arrival saved him, Halleck giving as a reason that he had exercised no command since his appointment. Burnside, however, had his name sent in, and now he is going to supersede Baldy Smith and take command of the Ninth Corps, which is to accompany Burnside in his new command, to which he, Burnside, expects to be ordered in a few days.

The best piece of news I learned when in Washington was that the President was about issuing his proclamation putting in force the conscription law, and ordering immediately a draft of five hundred thousand men. Only let him do this, and enforce it and get the men, and the North is bound to carry the day.

I sometimes feel very nervous about my position, they are knocking over generals at such a rate. Among others, Wright, who was my beau ideal of a soldier, and whom I had picked out as the most rising man, has had his major-generalcy and his command both taken away from him, because he could not satisfy the extremists of Ohio (anti-slavery) and those of Kentucky (pro-slavery), but tried by a moderate course to steer between them.

Did I tell you the old Reserves had subscribed fifteen hundred dollars to present me with a sword, sash, belt, etc.? It is expected they will be ready about the close of the month, when I am to go, if possible, to their camp near Washington to receive them.

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. 358-61. Available via Google Books.