A High Festival (December 10, 1864)

"Destruction of Water Ta[nk]s & Engines & engine houses for pumping water into them at Jarrets Station" by Alfred Waud depicts action from December 8 on the Weldon Railroad. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

“Destruction of Water Ta[nk]s & Engines & engine houses for pumping water into them at Jarrets Station” by Alfred Waud depicts action from December 8 on the Weldon Railroad. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman continues his account of the expedition across Hatcher’s Run to threaten the Boydton Plank Road. And he discusses other things as well. Duane is James C. Duane, the army’s chief engineer; William Riddle is another member of Meade’s staff. Riddle, a Philadelphian, had once served as an aide to Maj. Gen. John Reynolds and had been with that ill-fated general when a bullet struck him down during the first day at Gettysburg. In his letter Lyman leaves out one thing about Riddle’s going away party that he mentions in his notebooks, namely that aide Frederick Rosenkrantz got so disgracefully drunk “it brought the matter next morning to a crisis.” Rosenkrantz promised to mend his ways.

Lyman also writes about Gouverneur Warren’s expedition to destroy the Weldon Railroad. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in command of a brigade in the V Corps, wrote home to his sister about the same expedition and the mutual retaliation it sparked. “Our stragglers fared hard when caught by the enemy’s scouts & guerrillas,” he wrote. “In fact they were murdered—their throats cut from ear to ear. . . . In retaliation our men on the return burnt almost every house on the road. This was a hard night.” Concluded Chamberlain, “It was a sad business.”

[Brig. Gen. Nelson] Miles, with the troops which had been sent to reinforce him, maintained a threatening attitude near Hatcher’s Run till afternoon, when he was ordered to withdraw again to our lines. The enemy undertook to follow up a little, but the rear guard faced about and drove them away.—There was I seized with a fearful sleepy fit last night and went to bed; thus missing a letter home to you. However, I have not before missed one in a very long time; and, if I followed Duane’s advice, I should miss much oftener. “Lyman,” says this ancient campaigner, “you are foolish to write so much. Now I write only once a week, so my letters are valued. You write every day, and probably Mrs. Lyman puts them in her pocket and pays no attention to them.” Ah! I was speaking of Miles, and had got him with all his forces, and put him inside the works, all right. We had to pay farewell respects to Riddle, for his resignation has been accepted and he goes to-morrow. For a long time he has been in miserable health and, in warm weather, is seldom well enough for hard duty. He has been twice wounded, at Antietam and on the Peninsula, and was taken prisoner, but got away from Libby and arrived, after many hardships, within our lines. He is a very good officer and quite a superior person, whom we shall miss on our Staff. The kind-hearted Woolsey invited us all to take oysters in his honor (for you must know that there is a log house where one may have a “fancy roast,” “plain stew,” or “one fried,” just across the road). We gathered in the greatest force, for oysters attracted, even if Riddle didn’t, and had a high festival. We had songs, whereof I sang several, with large applause. “You don’t drink,” said Duane, “but it don’t make any difference, because you look as if you had been drinking, and that’s all that is necessary.”

Before I finish this day I must go back to tell of the beginning and progress of the Weldon road expedition. Last Wednesday, General Warren, with his own Corps, Mott’s division of the 2d Corps, and nearly the whole of Gregg’s division of cavalry, started in the morning and marched down the Jerusalem plank road, striking across to the Nottoway River, at Freeman’s Bridge, a distance of from fifteen to seventeen miles. There a pontoon bridge was thrown and the whole command got over before daybreak the next morning, the advance getting that night to Sussex Court House. Meantime the enemy, getting [wind] of the move, sent off A. P. Hill’s Corps, that evening, twelve hours after Warren. Hill went to Dinwiddie Court House, but what became of him thereafter, I have not yet learned. Their place in the lines was taken, I presume, by some of Early’s men, who were nearly all come down from the valley and are helping Lee now. On Thursday Warren continued his march and struck the Weldon road, a little south of the Nottoway, in the afternoon, and immediately went to destroying the track and burning the river bridge. The work went on systematically: the line being halted on the road, the men stacked arms, and went at the track. Sleepers were torn up, and these, with fence-rails, made great bonfires, on which the rails were laid. Soon the iron would wax red-hot, when the weight of the ends would bend the rails. Some of the men, however, were so enthusiastic as to take rails and twist them round trees, which could be done while the ends were cool and the middle hot. As soon as a brigade had finished its work, it marched down to a new piece, passing the other men who were destroying; and so they kept on till midnight, when they had got to Jarrott’s station and there halted. Next day, Friday, the column kept on, as before, the cavalry preceding them, who, when they arrived at Meherrin Bridge, found strong earthworks on the opposite side and some ten guns, which immediately opened on them. . . . This night was a very severe one, with its high wind and snow, sleet and rain; but it was rendered tolerable by the big fires that the soldiers lighted to heat rails with. General Warren did not deem proper to cross the Meherrin, as it would take a day to flank the Rebels’ works, and he started with but six days’ provisions. Next day, Saturday to wit, he began his return march and the head of the column got as far as Sussex C.H. On this march the people of the country had the bad judgment to “bushwhack” our troops: that is, to kill any stragglers or small parties they could catch. This is against the rules of war. I will not say it is surprising, because the stragglers of an army always steal and plunder and exasperate the people. Colonel Sergeant told me he himself saw five of our men shot and stripped nearly naked. The troops were so enraged by such cases, that they fired every house on their march, and, what made them worse, they found a great amount of apple-brandy in the country, a liquor that readily intoxicates. The superior officers destroyed a great deal of it, but the men got some and many were drunk. The people make this brandy on account of its great price. It sells for $1500 a barrel. Colonel Wainwright told me he found two tithing-bills in one house, one a year old, the other recent; in the old one wheat was valued at $10 a bushel, in the recent, at $40, showing that it has quadrupled in price within a year. It was on this day that a cavalry reconnaissance that pushed out on the Vaughan road reported heavy artillery firing in the direction of Jarrott’s station. This made Grant so uneasy that he directed aid to be sent Warren. Accordingly Potter, with 9000 men, marched that night, and arrived next morning at five a.m. at the Nottoway, at Freeman’s Bridge. A wretched march indeed! in slush and mud and a damp cold; but his men followed on very well and arrived with little straggling, which surprised me.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 293-6. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

A Quick Note (July 3, 1863)

Meades HQJuly 3, 1863, was the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American continent. It climaxed with the Confederate attack we now remember as Pickett’s Charge. Before that happened, General Meade found time to write a quick note to his wife.

All well and going on well with the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking and we completely repulsing them; both Armies shattered. To-day at it again, with what result remains to be seen. Army in fine spirits and every one determined to do or die. George and myself well. Reynolds killed the first day. No other of your friends or acquaintances hurt.

Meade’s letter 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. 103. Available via Google Books.

To Taneytown (June 30, 1863)

On June 30, 1863, Meade moved north from Middleburg, Maryland, to Taneytown, where he established his headquarters at the Shunk farm. Officers of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, who had served in Meade’s brigade, division and corps, arrived there to congratulate him on his new position. “We found him in close conference with Generals Reynolds, Hancock, Sedgwick and others,” recalled Samuel Jackson. “He seemed delighted in welcoming us back to the army. Thanked us for our congratulations, but said that he did not know whether he was a subject of congratulation or commiseration. He appeared anxious and showed that he fully realized the responsibility of his position. He said however that he had all confidence in the bravery of the officers and men of the army and felt assured that we would achieve a glorious victory in the coming conflict.”

From Taneytown Meade sent out orders, via his chief of staff Daniel Butterfield or his assistant adjutant general Seth Williams, to his corps commanders. One order went to John Reynolds, giving him command of the army’s left wing, comprising the I, III and XI Corps. Another circular read:

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

The Commanding General has received information that the enemy are advancing, probably in strong force, on Gettysburg. It is the intention to hold this army pretty nearly in the position it now occupies, until the plans of the enemy shall have been more fully developed.

Three corps, 1st, 3d and llth, are under the command of Major General Reynolds, in the vicinity of Emmettsburg, the 3d Corps being ordered up to that point. The 12th Corps is at Littlestown. General Gregg’s division of cavalry is believed to be now engaged with the cavalry of the enemy, near Hanover Junction.

Corps commanders will hold their commands in readiness at a moment’s notice, and upon receiving orders, to march against the enemy. Their trains (ammunition trains excepted) must be parked in the rear of the place of concentration. Ammunition wagons and ambulances will alone be permitted to accompany the troops. The men must be provided with three-days’ rations in haversacks, and with sixty rounds of ammunition in the boxes and upon the person.

Corps commanders will avail themselves of all the time at their disposal to familiarize themselves with the roads communicating with the different corps.

Another circular, requesting that the corps commanders communicate to their troops how important the upcoming battle would be, ended with this chilling note: “Corps and other commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldiers who fails in his duty at this hour.”

Sometime during the day Meade wrote home. He said:

All is going on well. I think I have relieved Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and that Lee has now come to the conclusion that he must attend to other matters. I continue well, but much oppressed with a sense of responsibility and the magnitude of the great interests entrusted to me. Of course, in time I will become accustomed to this. Love, blessings and kisses to all. Pray for me and beseech our heavenly Father to permit me to be an instrument to save my country and advance a just cause.

It was June 30, 1863.

Meade’s letter 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. 15-18. Available via Google Books.

Reynolds (June 13, 1863)

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

As I write in the book, John Fulton Reynolds played an important role in Meade’s life  until his death on July 1, 1863. “He was a fellow Pennsylvanian, having been born in Lancaster in 1820, and a West Point graduate, from the Class of 1837. He had fought in Mexico, served in California and Oregon, and was an instructor at West Point when the Civil War broke out. One of his soldiers described him as ‘somewhat above the medium height, well-formed, but rather slight in build–had a stern face with black whiskers and mustaches, from which a set of beautiful white teeth now and then peeped forth–black hair, and dark, piercing, penetrating eyes. His look and manner denoted uncommon coolness, and he spoke not unpleasantly. His countenance was one not likely to encourage familiarity; his age, perhaps, thirty-eight.’ One of Reynolds’s aides described him as ‘somewhat rough and wanting polish,’ but thought him ‘brave, kind-hearted, modest,’ and “’a type of the true soldier.’”“Reynolds was a man of few words. Apparently, no one in his family or in the army knew that he was engaged to be married, which is why he wore a Catholic medal around his neck, with a gold ring shaped like clasped hands on its chain. He and Katherine Hewitt had met when Reynolds was returning east. They planned to marry and honeymoon in Europe if Reynolds survived the war. If he died, Kate pledged to enter a convent.

Everything continues very quiet, and two corps having been moved above me on the river, I feel quite secure and comfortable. Reynolds moved up yesterday, and stopped to see me as he passed. He told me that being informed by a friend in Washington, that he was talked of for the command of this army, he immediately went to the President and told him he did not want the command and would not take it. He spoke, he says, very freely to the President about Hooker, but the President said he was not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire once; that he would pick the lock and try it again. To-day I hear Hooker is going to place Reynolds in command of the right wing of the army—that is, his corps, Birney’s and mine.

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. 385. Available via Google Books.


Open War (May 19, 1863)

Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the Chancellorsville house, where Hooker had his headquarters during the battle. He was on the front porch when a cannonball hit the house, striking Hooker with debris. The general although knocked unconscious and probably severely concussed, retained command after awakening. (Library of Congress)

Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the Chancellorsville house, where Hooker had his headquarters during the battle. He was on the front porch when a cannonball hit the house, striking Hooker with debris. The general although knocked unconscious and probably severely concussed, retained command after awakening. (Library of Congress)

The rupture between Meade and Hooker is now complete. Meade wasn’t the only person harboring serious doubts about Fighting Joe’s abilities, though. As I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

After Chancellorsville the New York Tribune sent George W. Smalley to Virginia to determine what had gone wrong. “If I am to be investigated, it might as well be by you as anybody,” Hooker told him. Smalley like Hooker, but he put his personal feelings aside. During the course of his investigation decided that the general had lost his army’s confidence. Several staff officers even urged Smalley to tell Meade he was their choice to command. Smalley agreed to speak to him and found Meade just as the general was getting on his horse. The general invited the reporter to ride along with him.

As Smalley began to explain his mission, Meade turned and looked sharply at him. “I don’t know that I ought to listen to you,” he said. Smalley told the general that he was not acting in any official capacity; he intended only to explain what he had heard. Meade allowed him to continue. “I said my say,” Smalley related. “From beginning to end, General Meade listened with an impassive face. He did not interrupt. He never asked a question. He never made a comment. When I had finished I had not the least notion what impression my narrative had made on him; nor whether it had made any impression. He was a model of military discretion. Then we talked a little about other things. I said good-bye, rode away, and never again saw General Meade.”

 I am sorry to tell you I am at open war with Hooker. He yesterday came to see me and referred to an article in the Herald, stating that four of his corps commanders were opposed to the withdrawal of the army. He said this was not so, and that Reynolds and myself had determined him to withdraw. I expressed the utmost surprise at this statement; when he said that I had expressed the opinion that it was impracticable to withdraw the army, and therefore I had favored an advance, and as he knew it was perfectly practicable to withdraw, he did not consider my opinion as being in favor of an advance. I replied to him that this was a very ingenious way of stating what I had said; that my opinion was clear and emphatic for an advance; that I had gone so far as to say that I would not be governed by any consideration regarding the safety of Washington, for I thought that argument had paralyzed this army too long. I further said that if the enemy were considered so strong that the safety of the army might be jeopardized in attacking them, then I considered a withdrawal impracticable without running greater risk of destroying the army than by advancing, and that it seemed rather singular that he should set me down as the advocate of a measure which he acknowledged I asserted to be impracticable. He reiterated his opinion and said he should proclaim it. I answered I should deny it, and should call on those who were present to testify as to whether he or I was right. The fact is, he now finds he has committed a grave error, which at the time he was prepared to assume the responsibility of, but now desires to cast it off on to the shoulders of others; but I rather think he will find himself mistaken. At any rate, the entente cordiale is destroyed between us, and I don’t regret it, as it makes me more independent and free. I also told him that it was my impression at the time, but that of course it could only be known to himself and his God, that he had made up his mind to withdraw the army before he had heard the opinions of his corps commanders. To this he did not make any reply, and I am satisfied that such was the case. I have not seen Reynolds, or any of the others present on the occasion, since I had this conversation with him, but I intend to address each a letter and ask for their impressions of what I did say. Such things are very painful and embarrassing, but I have always feared the time would come when they would be inevitable with Hooker; for I knew no one would be permitted to stand in his way. I suppose he has heard some of the stories flying round camp in regard to my having the command, and these, in connection with what George Cadwalader told him Governor Curtin said, have induced him to believe that I am manoeuvering to get him relieved, that I may step in his shoes. God knows the injustice he does me, and that I have never spoken a word to any one except Governor Curtin, and to him I never referred to Hooker’s being relieved, but only criticised his recent operations, saying nothing more, or if as much, as I have written to you. I can tell him that if he had no stronger enemy than I am, he might rest much more secure than he can, knowing all that I do. I wish he could hear what some others say; he would look on me very differently.

There are two English officers on a visit to the camp. One of them, Lord Abinger (formerly Mr. Scarlett), Lieutenant Colonel of the Scots Fusileer Guards, brought me a letter from George Ramsay. I am going to-morrow to review my corps, and have invited them to be present. Lord Abinger seems a very nice fellow. He was in Philadelphia in 1857, and speaks a great deal about his visit and the people there. He recognized Major Biddle, asked after his mother, and altogether appears quite at home in Philadelphia society.

I have lost nearly a division by the expiration of service of the two-years’ and nine-months’ men, so that I have had to break up Humphreys’s division, and he is going to take command of the division recently commanded by General Berry, in Sickles’s corps. I am very sorry to lose Humphreys. He is a most valuable officer, besides being an associate of the most agreeable character.

My relations with Hooker are such that I cannot ask for the necessary leave to go up to Washington, to receive my sword; so unless they take some action and get the Secretary to authorize my going up, I fear it will be some time before I come into possession.

Just think, it is nearly two years, indeed over two years, since we have been separated.

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. 377-379. Available via Google Books.

Confirmation (March 12, 1863)

George Meade, like all officers in the Union army, was very aware of his rank and where he stood in comparison to other officers in the army. The confirmation he mentions in this letter is his promotion to major general in the volunteers. At the Battle of Fredericksburg Meade had carried his letter from Secretary of War Stanton regarding his promotion in his pocket and he cited his new rank when he ordered David Birney to send troops to support Meade’s Pennsylvania Reserves. Now Congress had finally put its seal on the promotion.

John Fulton Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds

The Reynolds he mentions is his division commander, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds. Meade and Reynolds had a decent relationship, although one that was sometimes strained by events. For example, after the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Meade felt Reynolds had not given him the necessary support, he wrote to Margaret, “He knows I think he was in some measure responsible for my not being supported on the 13th as he was commanding the corps & had the authority to order up other troops—and it was his business to have seen that I was properly supported, and the advantage that I had gained, secured by promptly advancing reinforcements.” Yet Meade retained his affection for Reynolds. “He is a very good fellow, and I have had much pleasant intercourse with him during the past eighteen months, and considering how closely we have been together and the natural rivalry that might be expected, I think it is saying a good deal for both that we have continued good friends.”

You will see by the papers that we have all been confirmed, with the dates of our appointment.

You have never mentioned Reynolds in your letters. He has been off on ten-days’ leave, and I presumed he would be in Philadelphia. Did you hear of his being there? I have not seen him since his return to ask. I was invited to his headquarters yesterday to dine, it being the anniversary of the organization of the First Corps; and as I had for a time commanded the corps, and also a division in it, I was honored with an invitation. The dinner was given by the staff.

This evening Captain Magaw, of the navy, with his mother, wife and a young lady friend, made their appearance at headquarters, and asked hospitality. He commands the gun-boat flotilla in the Potomac. His wife is quite a sweet, pretty woman, is the daughter of a navy officer, and was born at Pensacola when my sister, Mrs. Dallas, was there, and is named after her and Margaret. The young men on the staff turned out with alacrity and fitted up a tent in which they are quite comfortable.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 357. Available via Google Books.