Generals (May 20, 1864)

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon. Lyman mentions all four generals in his letter of May 20, 1864 (Library of Congress).

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon. Lyman mentions all four generals in his letter of May 20, 1864 (Library of Congress).

There’s no letter from Meade on May 20, but Theodore Lyman contributes another detailed report. One of the people he mentions is Francis Barlow. Like Lyman, Barlow was a Harvard man. He had practiced law before the war and looked more like a newsboy than a general, but Barlow had been wounded at Antietam and left for dead at Gettysburg (after posting his XI Corps division in a too-extended position). He carried an especially large sword—so that when he hit stragglers with it, he would hurt them, he told Lyman. Lyman called him “an eccentric officer.”

Lyman also writes about the death of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick. Col. Martin McMahon, the officer who informed Lyman of General John Sedgwick’s death, wrote an account of the incident that appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (Vol IV, p. 175). Here’s what he wrote:

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

I gave the necessary order to move the troops to the right, and as they rose to execute the movement the enemy opened a sprinkling fire, partly from sharp-shooters. As the bullets whistled by, some of the men dodged. The general said laughingly, “What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” A few seconds after, a man who had been separated from his regiment passed directly in front of the general, and at the same moment a sharp-shooter’s bullet passed with a long shrill whistle very close, and the soldier, who was then just in front of the general, dodged to the ground. The general touched him gently with his foot, and said, “Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way,” and repeated the remark, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” The man rose and saluted, and said good-naturedly, “General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging.” The general laughed and replied, “All right, my man; go to your place.”

For a third time the same shrill whistle, closing with a dull, heavy stroke, interrupted our talk, when, as I was about to resume, the general’s face turned slowly to me, the blood spurting from his left cheek under the eye in a steady stream. He fell in my direction; I was so close to him that my effort to support him failed, and I fell with him.

Colonel Charles H. Tompkins, chief of the artillery, standing a few feet away, heard my exclamation as the general fell, and, turning, shouted to his brigade-surgeon, Dr. Ohlenschlager. Major Charles A. Whittier, Major T. W. Hyde, and Lieutenant-Colonel Kent, who had been grouped near by, surrounded the general as he lay. A smile remained upon his lips but he did not speak. The doctor poured water from a canteen over the general’s face. The blood still poured upward in a little fountain. The men in the long line of rifle-pits, retaining their places from force of discipline, were all kneeling with heads raised and faces turned toward the scene; for the news had already passed along the line.

I was recalled to a sense of duty by General Ricketts, next in command, who had arrived on the spot, and informed me, as chief-of-staff, that he declined to assume command of the corps, inasmuch as he knew that it was General Sedgwick’s desire, if anything should happen to him, that General Horatio G. Wright, of the Third Division, should succeed him. General Ricketts, therefore, suggested that I communicate at once with General Meade, in order that the necessary order should bo issued. When I found General Meade he had already heard the sad intelligence, and had issued the order placing General Wright in command. Returning I met the ambulance bringing the dead general’s body, followed by his sorrowing staff. The body was taken back to General Meade’s headquarters, and not into any house. A bower was built for it of evergreens, where, upon a rustic bier, it lay until nightfall, mourned over by officers and soldiers. The interment was at Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut.

Now let’s see what Lyman had to say on May 20, 1864.

To-day has been entirely quiet, our pickets deliberately exchanging papers, despite orders to the contrary. These men are incomprehensible— now standing from daylight to dark killing and wounding each other by thousands, and now making jokes and exchanging newspapers! You see them lying side by side in the hospitals, talking together in that serious prosaic way that characterizes Americans. The great staples of conversation are the size and quality of rations, the marches they have made, and the regiments they have fought against. All sense of personal spite is sunk in the immensity of the contest.

Francis C. Barlow (Library of Congress).

Francis C. Barlow (Library of Congress).

In my letter of yesterday I got you as far as the evening of Sunday the 8th. On Monday, the 9th, early, Burnside was to come down the Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg road to the “Gate,” thus approaching on the extreme left; Sedgwick and Warren respectively occupied the left and right centre, while Hancock, in the neighborhood of Todd’s Tavern, covered the right flank; for you will remember that the Rebel columns were still moving down the Parker’s Store road to Spotsylvania, and we could not be sure they would not come in on our right flank and rear. Betimes in the morning General Meade, with three aides, rode back to General Hancock, and had a consultation with him. The day was again hot and the dust thicker and thicker. As we stood there under a big cherry tree, a strange figure approached; he looked like a highly independent mounted newsboy; he was attired in a flannel checked shirt; a threadbare pair of trousers, and an old blue kepi; from his waist hung a big cavalry sabre; his features wore a familiar sarcastic smile. It was General Barlow, commanding the 1st division of the 2d Corps, a division that for fine fighting cannot be exceeded in the army. There, too, was General Birney, also in checked flannel, but much more tippy than Barlow, and stout General Hancock, who always wears a clean white shirt (where he gets them nobody knows); and thither came steel-cold General Gibbon, the most American of Americans, with his sharp nose and up-and-down manner of telling the truth, no matter whom it hurts. . . .

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John" (Library of Congress).

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John” (Library of Congress).

It was about ten o’clock, and I was trotting down the Piney Branch road, when I met Colonel McMahon, Adjutant-General of the 6th Corps; I was seriously alarmed at the expression of his face, as he hurriedly asked where General Meade was. I said, “What is the matter?” He seemed entirely unnerved as he replied: “They have hit General Sedgwick just here under the eye, and, my God, I am afraid he is killed!” It was even so: General Sedgwick, with a carelessness of consequences for which he was well known, had put his Headquarters close on the line of battle and in range of the sharpshooters. As he sat there, he noticed a soldier dodging the bullets as they came over. Rising from the grass, he went up to the man, and, laying his hand on his shoulder, said, “Why, what are you dodging for? They could not hit an elephant at that distance.” As he spoke the last word, he fell, shot through the brain by a ball from a telescopic rifle. . . . The dismay of General Sedgwick’s Staff was a personal feeling; he was like a kind father to them, and they loved him really like sons. So fell “good Uncle John,” a pure and great-hearted man, a brave and skilful soldier. From the commander to the lowest private he had no enemy in this army. . . .

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

I found General Meade with Generals Wright, Warren, and Humphreys consulting together in the same spot where Grant sat yesterday among the bullets, for no apparent reason. You never saw such an old bird as General Humphreys! I do like to see a brave man; but when a man goes out for the express purpose of getting shot at, he seems to me in the way of a maniac. … In the afternoon there was some fighting on the right centre, without result; Burnside pushed down on the left, driving the enemy before him; and so the day closed, our army crowding in on Lee and he standing at bay and throwing up breastworks.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 106-108. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Two Heads (May 19, 1864)

Senator John Sherman. His resemblance to his older brother, the general, is striking (via Wikipedia).

Senator John Sherman. His resemblance to his older brother, the general, is striking (via Wikipedia).

Another double-header today, with letters from both Meade and Theodore Lyman. I’m especially taken by the end of Meade’s letter. It’s an interesting analysis of his role under Grant. He does chafe at his subordinate role and will later become increasingly agitated over not receiving the recognition he feels he deserves, but here he accepts the situation for what it is. Of course, by the time the article he mentions appeared, Horatio Wright replaced John Sedgwick at the head of the VI Corps, and Sedgwick had joined the thousands of soldiers who lie moldering in the grave. The Coppée he mentions is Henry Coppée, a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran who went on to become the first president of Leheigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He also wrote biographies of Ulysses Grant and George Thomas. The magazine Meade cites is the United States Service Magazine.

Senator John Sherman was William T. Sherman’s younger brother. Senator William Sprague was also a former governor of Rhode Island.

All goes on well up to this time. We did not have the big battle which I expected yesterday, as, on advancing, we found the enemy so strongly entrenched that even Grant thought it useless to knock our heads against a brick wall, and directed a suspension of the attack. We shall now try to manoeuvre again, so as to draw the enemy out of his stronghold, and hope to have a fight with him before he can dig himself into an impregnable position.

We have recent Richmond papers containing Lee’s congratulatory address to his army, so you see both sides claim having gained the advantage. Lee, however, seems to think they have gained their point when they check us.

Yesterday I had a visit from Senators Sherman, of Ohio, and Sprague, of Rhode Island; both were very complimentary to me, and wished me to know that in Washington it was well understood these were my battles. I told them such was not the case; that at first I had manceuvered the army, but that gradually, and from the very nature of things, Grant had taken the control; and that it would be injurious to the army to have two heads. I see one of the newspaper men is puzzled to know what share we each have in the work, and settles it by saying Grant does the grand strategy, and I the grand tactics. Coppée in his Army Magazine says, “the Army of the Potomac, directed by Grant, commanded by Meade, and led by Hancock, Sedgwick and Warren,” which is a quite good distinction, and about hits the nail on the head.

In his letter from May 19, Theodore Lyman continues his account of the campaign so far. A journal entry added as a footnote to the letter mentions the altercation that occurred between Meade and Philip Sheridan at Todd’s Tavern.

To continue my history a little—I had struggled with much paper to the morning of the 8th. It proved a really hot day, dusty in the extreme and with a severe sun. We staid till the morning was well along, and then started for Piney Branch Church. On the way passed a cavalry hospital, I stopped and saw Major Starr, who had been shot directly through both cheeks in a cavalry fight the day before. He was in college with me, and when I first came to the army commanded the Headquarter escort, the same place [Charles Francis] Adams now has. . . .

Near Piney Branch Church we halted, pitched tents and had something cooked. Meanwhile there was firing towards Spotsylvania, an ill omen for us. The Rebels were there first and stood across the way. Warren attacked them, but his were troops that had marched and fought almost night and day for four days and they had not the full nerve for a vigorous attack. General Robinson’s division behaved badly. Robinson rode in among them, calling them to attack with the bayonet, when he was badly shot in the knee and carried from the field. They failed to carry the position and lost a golden opportunity, for Wilson’s cavalry had occupied Spotsylvania, but of course could not keep there unless the enemy were driven from our front. . . .

A little before two we moved Headquarters down the Piney Branch Church road, south, to near its junction with the Todd’s Tavern road. Meantime the 6th Corps had come up and formed on the left of Warren, the lines running in a general easterly and westerly direction, a mile and a half north of Spotsylvania. There was a high and curving ridge on which was placed our second line and batteries, then was a steep hollow, and, again, a very irregular ridge, or broken series of ridges, much of them heavily wooded, with cleared spaces here and there; along these latter crests ran the Rebel lines in irregular curves. Preparations were pushed to get the corps in position to attack, but it was plain that many of the men were jaded and I thought some of the generals were in a like case. About half-past four what should Generals Grant and Meade take it into their heads to do but, with their whole Staffs, ride into a piece of woods close to the front while heavy skirmishing was going on. We could not see a thing except our own men lying down; but there we sat on horseback while the bullets here and there came clicking among trunks and branches and an occasional shell added its discordant tone. I almost fancy Grant felt mad that things did not move faster, and so thought he would go and sit in an uncomfortable place. General Meade, not to be bluffed, stayed longer than Grant, but he told me to show the General the way to the new Headquarters. Oh! with what intense politeness did I show the shortest road! for I had picked out the camp and knew the way.

Hobart Ward (Library of Congress).

J. Hobart Ward. After the Wilderness, Winfield Scott Hancock had him relieved for being intoxicated in the face of the enemy (Library of Congress).

Well, they could not get their attack ready; but there was heavy skirmishing.* … I think there was more nervous prostration to-day among officers and men than on any day before or since, the result of extreme fatigue and excitement. General Ward was relieved from his command, for misbehavior and intoxication in presence of the enemy during the Battle of the Wilderness. I had always supposed him to be a brave but rough man. . . .

*”Sheridan now came to Headquarters—we were at dinner. Meade told him sharply that his cavalry was in the way, though he had sent him orders to leave the road clear. S. replied that he never got the order. Meade then apologized, but Sheridan was plainly full of suppressed anger, and Meade too was in ill temper. S. went on to say that he could see nothing to oppose the advance of the 5th Corps; that the behavior of the infantry was disgraceful, etc., etc. Maybe this was the beginning of his dislike of Warren and ill-feeling against Meade.”—Lyman’s Journal.

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. 197-8. 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 104-106. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Famous Last Words

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John" (Library of Congress).

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John” (Library of Congress).

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps. He was killed outside Spotsylvania by a sharpshooters bullet. Here’s how I wrote about it in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. The book is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at quality bookstores.

From where we’re standing we can see the heavy stone memorial at the park entrance. This marks the spot where John Sedgwick died, killed by a Confederate sharpshooter who fired from someplace around here. If there were a Famous Last Words Hall of Fame, Sedgwick would hold a place of honor. On the morning of May 9 he was near the Union front lines when he noticed some of his artillerymen dodging sharpshooters’ bullets. He chastised them for their fear. “Why, what are you dodging about?” he asked. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance.” Just then a bullet struck him below his left eye. His chief of staff, Col. Martin McMahon, was standing next to him when the bullet hit. Sedgwick turned toward him, and McMahon saw blood spurting from the wound like a fountain. Then the general fell, knocking McMahon to the ground, too. Sedgwick died almost instantly, a smile still on his lips.

The Sedgwick monument at Spotsylvania.

The Sedgwick monument at Spotsylvania.

Poor Sedgwick! “We bore him tenderly to an ambulance, and followed it to army headquarters where an evergreen bower had been prepared, and there he lay in simple state with the stars and stripes around him,” remembered Major Hyde, whom the general had been good-naturedly teasing just before he died. “All who came remained to weep; old grizzled generals, his comrades for many years; young staff officers, and private soldiers: all paid this tribute to his modest greatness.”

Meade was bothered by the fact that he had been sharp with Sedgwick at their last meeting the night before. Meade thought Sedgwick had been relying too much on Warren’s judgment, so he snapped at him, saying he wished “he would take command of his own corps.” It was the last time they spoke. “I feel more grieved at his death because we had not parted entirely in good feeling,” he told Lyman. Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright took over the VI Corps.

Excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg by Tom Huntington, pp. 271-2. Copyright © 2013 by Stackpole Books.

Hatchets Buried (April 18, 1864)

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

David Birney realizes the uselessness of the attempts to remove Meade from command and replace him with either Joe Hooker or Dan Sickles. Now he must mend fences. It must have been an uncomfortable meeting for Birney but apparently he was pleased with the results. “I am again on very pleasant terms with Gen. Meade,” Birney wrote to a friend. “He assured me of his high regard, and desire for me to remain.”

In this letter Meade also comments once again on the failed raid on Richmond that Judson Kilpatrick and Ulric Dahlgren had attempted in March. Dahlgren had been killed and on his body the Confederates found letters outlining a plan to burn Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and members of his cabinet. The Mr. Bond he mentions is L. Montgomery Bond, who had headed a campaign to get Philadelphians to volunteer for the Sanitary fair held in that city. Quite likely Meade had written to him about that subject.

Following Meade’s letter is Theodore Lyman’s observations on the Army of the Potomac, written on the same day. Where Meade mentions the review of the VI Corps, Lyman describes it.

I had an interview with General Birney to-day, who disclaimed ever having entertained unfriendly feelings towards me, or being a partisan of Sickles, and expressed the hope he would be permitted to serve under me. I listened to all he had to say, but made no reply, except that I had never heard he had any unfriendly feelings towards me.

To-day Grant reviewed the Sixth Corps (Sedgwick’s). It was a fine day, and the men looked and marched finely. Grant expressed himself highly pleased, and is quite astonished at our system and organization.

I see a letter I wrote to a Mr. Bond, Chairman of Committee on Labor, Income and Revenue, has already gotten into the papers. I declare I am almost afraid to put pen to paper, when writing to any one but you. I had supposed that my present humble position would shield me from getting into print, and that letters from Grant only would be of value. You would be amused to see the worshipping of the rising sun by certain officers in this army; but Grant behaves very handsomely, and immediately refers to me all the letters and communications he gets from my subordinates, who apply to him when they have axes to grind. I have received a letter from General Lee, enclosing photographic copies of the papers found on Colonel Dahlgren, and asking whether these papers were authorized, sanctioned or approved by the Government of the United States, or Colonel Dahlgren’s superior officers. This was a pretty ugly piece of business; for in denying having authorized or approved “the burning of Richmond, or killing Mr. Davis and Cabinet,” I necessarily threw odium on Dahlgren. I, however, enclosed a letter from Kilpatrick, in which the authenticity of the papers was impugned; but I regret to say Kilpatrick’s reputation, and collateral evidence in my possession, rather go against this theory. However, I was determined my skirts should be clear, so I promptly disavowed having ever authorized, sanctioned or approved of any act not required by military necessity, and in accordance with the usages of war.

Here’s Lyman’s letter. The Rowley he mentions is William Rowley, who had been with Grant out west and now was serving as his military secretary. There was some tension between the staffs of Meade and Grant; perhaps Lyman’s observations are a reflection of this.

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

I have seen some high-bush blackberries that already had wee leaves, just beginning to open; and the buds of the trees are swelling; and hundreds of little toads sing and whistle all night, to please other hundreds of Misses toads. The sap is rising so in the oak trees that the wood won’t burn without some trouble. It really looks like a beginning of spring; and everything is so quiet that it is quite amazing; whether it is that old soldiers get lazy and sleep a good deal during the day, I don’t know, but really just a short way from camp, it is as still as if not a human being were near; and here at Headquarters, the only sounds are the distant car-whistles and the drums and trumpets sounding the calls; except, indeed, the music of the band, which is hardly a noise and is very acceptable. I suppose we may call this the lull before the hurricane, which little short of a miracle can avert. There is Grant, with his utterly immovable face, going about from Culpeper to Washington and back, and sending no end of cipher messages, all big with strategy. He evidently means to do something pretty serious before he gives up. To-day was a great day for him; he reviewed the entire 6th Corps, which, as you know, has been strengthened by a division of the late 3d Corps. The day has been fine, very. At eleven o’clock we started and rode towards Culpeper, to meet General Grant, who encountered us beyond Brandy Station. He is very fond, you must know, of horses, and was mounted on one of the handsomest I have seen in the army. He was neatly dressed in the regulation uniform, with a handsome sash and sword, and the three stars of a lieutenant-general on his shoulder. He is a man of a natural, severe simplicity, in all things — the very way he wears his high-crowned felt hat shows this: he neither puts it on behind his ears, nor draws it over his eyes; much less does he cock it on one side, but sets it straight and very hard on his head. His riding is the same: without the slightest “air,” and, per contra, without affectation of homeliness; he sits firmly in the saddle and looks straight ahead, as if only intent on getting to some particular point. General Meade says he is a very amiable man, though his eye is stern and almost fierce-looking.

Well, we encountered him, as aforesaid, followed by three or four aides; one of whom, Lieutenant-Colonel Rowley, was oblivious of straps, and presented an expanse of rather ill-blacked, calfskin boots, that took away from his military ensemble a good deal. When a man can ride without straps, he may do so, if he chooses; but, when he possesseth not the happy faculty of keeping down his trousers, he should make straps a part of his religion! We took our station on a swell of ground, when we could see a large part of the Corps in line; but there was so much of it, that, though drawn up by battalions (that is, ten men deep), there could be found, in the neighborhood, no ground sufficiently extensive, without hollows. At once they began to march past — there seemed no end of them. In each direction there was nothing but a wide, moving hedge of bright muskets; a very fine sight. . . . General Grant is much pleased and says there is nothing of the sort out West, in the way of discipline and organization. . . .

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. 190-1. 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 82-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Father and Son (March 29, 1864)

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud sketched the Union signal position that Meade and his son saw on Pony Mountain (Library of Congress).

George Meade continues to enjoy his time with son Spencer.

Of the officers he mentions in this letter, George Sykes will head west to take command of the Department of Kansas. John Newton, whom Meade had assigned to command of the I Corps over Abner Doubleday at Gettysburg, will command a division in William Sherman’s army. William French’s days of combat are over; he will serve as an administrator for the rest of the war. Why Meade fought to retain him after French’s failures at Mine Run is a bit of a mystery. Alfred Pleasonton will also head west to command cavalry in the Department of the Missouri.

In Washington, Daniel Buttefield spreads the story that Meade planned to retreat from Gettysburg.

Spencer and the Whipple boys continue to enjoy themselves. Yesterday was a fine day, and they rode over with me to Hancock’s, some five miles. We then rode to Culpeper Court House, five miles, where I met General Grant, just from Washington. After which we returned to headquarters, a distance of six miles, making in all sixteen miles for the day’s riding. En route the boys ascended Pony Mountain, a hill of some five hundred feet elevation, near Culpeper, on which we have a signal station and a fine telescope, and from whence you have a good view of the country, the rebel lines, camps, etc. At night Pennie was pretty well fatigued. But this morning he was up bright and early, and started with me, before eight o’clock, to go to Culpeper, where General Grant reviewed two divisions of infantry, and one of cavalry. It commenced to rain, however, during the review, which curtailed the ceremonies, and after spending an hour with Grant, we returned home in the rain. I borrowed an India rubber poncho for Pennie, so that he came back dry, but on the way his horse, and Willie Whipple’s, became excited and started off with them at full speed. The boys, however, kept their seats beautifully till George and an orderly headed off the horses and stopped them.

Grant continues very affable and quite confidential. He laughs at the statement in the papers of his remarks about balls, etc., and says he will be happy to attend any innocent amusement we may get up, he including among these horse races, of which he is very fond.

I join with you in the regret expressed at the relief of Sykes. I tried very hard to retain Sykes, Newton, and even French, as division commanders, but without avail. I had very hard work to retain Sedgwick. As to Pleasanton, his being relieved was entirely the work of Grant and Stanton.

I hear Butterfield has been swearing terribly against me. I shall go up day after to-morrow to meet his charges.

It is storming now violently.

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. 185. Available via Google Books.

Reorganizing (March 24, 1865)

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps).

Taken in September 1863 outside Culpeper, this image shows Meade with his corps commanders. From left to right we have Gouverneur Warren, then in command of the II Corps, William French (III Corps), Meade, artillery chief Henry Hunt, chief of staff Andrew Humphreys, and George Skyes (V Corps). Now French and Sykes are out and Warren has command of the V Corps (Library of Congress).

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

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

I have been very busy to-day. The much-talked-of order for reorganizing the Army of the Potomac has at last appeared. Sykes, French and Newton are relieved. Sedgwick, Hancock and Warren command the three corps. This evening an order has arrived relieving General Pleasanton, which, although I did not originate it, yet was, I presume, brought about by my telling the Secretary that the opposition I had hitherto made to his removal I no longer should make. As the Secretary has been desirous of relieving him ever since I have had command, and I have been objecting, he has taken the first chance to remove him as soon as my objections were withdrawn.

Grant arrived to-day. I met him at the depot near my headquarters and accompanied him to Culpeper, where I spent several hours and returned. He was as affable as ever, and seems not at all disposed to interfere with my army in any details.

I hear Butterfield is in Washington, and is going to swear that I told him to prepare an order to retreat, and from what Gibbon writes me, it is evident he did prepare such an order; but I trust by the concurrent testimony of every other officer on the field, the documentary evidence in the shape of orders at different periods of the day, and my own sworn statement, to prove that the preparation of this order was not authorized by me, and that it was due to Butterfield’s own fears. I understand the Secretary is very indignant at his coming to Washington, and has ordered him back to his post.

Get the last number of the Spirit of the Times, in which there is a scathing article on Grant, Sherman, McPherson, Schofield and myself, and lauding, as usual, Joe Hooker.

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. 182-3. Available via Google Books.

Butterfield (March 20, 1864)

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

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

No one can deny that George Meade had a knack for making enemies. One of them was Daniel Butterfield. Back in 1862 Ambrose Burnside appointed Butterfield to command the V Corps. Meade pointed out that he outranked Butterfield and the position should have been his. Burnside agreed, and Meade took over from Butterfield. He thought he and Butterfield smoothed things over afterwards, but apparently not. Joe Hooker later appointed Butterfield his chief of staff. “I believe Hooker is a good soldier,” Meade wrote to his wife back then; “the danger he runs is of subjecting himself to bad influences, such as Dan Butterfield and Dan Sickles, who, being intellectually more clever than Hooker, and leading him to believe they are very influential, will obtain an injurious ascendancy over him and insensibly affect his conduct.” Once Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac he tried to find someone to replace Butterfield as chief of staff, but he could not find anyone willing to take the job. When John Sedgwick heard that Butterfield would keep his position, the VI Corps commander “looked solemn and said he regretted it, that he knew Butterfield well, that he was a bold bad man and that Meade would live to regret it.” Sedgwick was right. When the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War began investigating Meade and Gettysburg, Butterfield, who had been sent west, traveled to Washington without leave to provide damaging testimony. He said that on July 2 Meade had told him to prepare an order directing the Army of the Potomac to retreat from the battlefield, a charge Meade vehemently denied.

I have received a letter from [John] Gibbon which has worried me a great deal. It is now evident that Butterfield, either intentionally or otherwise, misconstrued something that I said to him on the 2d of July into instructions to prepare an order to withdraw the army. To-be-sure, this order was never issued; it is also certain I never intended it to be prepared, much less issued. Nevertheless, the fact that he did prepare it, and, as he will swear, was ordered to do so, notwithstanding it was never issued, will operate against me, as people disposed to find fault will say I was all the time anticipating defeat, and hampered accordingly. God knows my conscience is clear that I never for a moment thought of retreating, although I presume I held in view the contingency that the enemy might compel me so to do, and I may have told Butterfield to familiarize himself with the roads, etc., so that if it became necessary we would be prepared to do it promptly and in good order. Out of this he has manufactured the lie that I intended at the time to do so. The falsehoods that have been uttered against me, and the evidence of a regular conspiracy which has been organizing almost since the date of the battle, make me heartsick. I believe now that Butterfield commenced deliberately, from the time I assumed command, to treasure up incidents, remarks and papers to pervert and distort in the future to my injury. How otherwise to account for his having a copy of this pretended order? Not only is no such order or paper found among the records of the Adjutant General’s Office, but the clerks and others have no recollection of any order.

It is hard that I am to suffer from the malice of such men as Sickles and Butterfield.

Grant is expected here next Wednesday. He spoke very fairly when here last, and from all I can hear of what he has said of me to others, I ought to be satisfied, as I understand he expressed every confidence in me, and said no change would be made in the command, as far as he was concerned. Still, he undoubtedly will have the power, and will exercise it, of bringing here such a force as will effect results that hitherto I have been unable to effect, and this will by the ignorant public be set down to his superior merit and quoted against me. However, I shall do my duty to the best of my ability, and trust to Providence.

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. 181-2. Available via Google Books.*

A Taste of Combat (February 7, 1864)

Artist Alfred Waud captured in pencil the same scene Lyman sketched in words. He titled this drawing "Scene at the late reconnaisance at Morton Ford -(night). It appeared as an engraving in Harper's Weekly on March 5, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud captured in pencil the same scene Lyman sketched in words. He titled this drawing “Scene at the late reconnaisance at Morton Ford -(night).” It appeared as an engraving in Harper’s Weekly on March 5, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In this descriptive letter from February 7, Theodore Lyman describes an action that took place the previous day. He also included an account of these events in his journals, edited by David W. Lowe and published in 2007 by Kent State University Press as Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col.  Theodore Lyman. In that version, Lyman included this detail: “On the other side saw a soldier laid out for burial, as sad a sight as could be; his white hands folded across his breast and the cape of his coat folded up over his face.” Perhaps Lyman kept this from his letter because he wanted to shield his family back home from this glimpse of death. Lowe reports the casualties from this brief encounter as 255 (dead, wounded and missing) for Warren’s II Corps and 15 for the cavalry. With Meade still ill back in Philadelphia, John Sedgwick had temporary command of the Army of the Potomac.

It is one in the morning and I have, so to speak, just taken a midnight dinner, having come in from the front between 11 and 12 oclock. Well, who would have thought of marching out of comfortable winter quarters, to go poking round the Rapidan! . . . Only last night orders were suddenly issued to the 1st and 2d Corps to march at sunrise, the one on Raccoon, the other on Morton’s Ford; where they were to make a strong demonstration and perhaps cross at Morton’s (Raccoon being too strong). Certain cavalry, also, were to go to other points, with special orders. The whole thing was very sudden, all round, and none of our fish. This morning we took an early breakfast, which, with the ready horses, quite reminded one of campaigning times. General Sedgwick was over, being in command, as viceroy. At 10.30 we began to hear the cannon, but General Humphreys would not stir, as he said he must stay to attend to the despatches and telegraph. However, at 3 p.m., he suddenly did start, with his own aides and Biddle, Mason, Cadwalader and myself, de la part de General Meade; also Rosencrantz. To Morton’s Ford is some ten miles, but you might as well call it fifty, such is the state of the roads. Mud, varying from fetlocks to knees, then holes, runs, ditches and rocks — such was the road. With utmost diligence it took fully two hours. . . . Here we had thrown across a division, and General Warren was with them. The enemy had offered a good deal of opposition, with a skirmish fire and with artillery; despite which the whole division had waded the stream, up to their waists (cold work for the 6th of February!), and were now in line, behind some ridges; while a heavy skirmish line covered their front. Enclosing them, almost in a semi-circle, were the Rebel earthworks. It looked a shaky position for us! All was quiet; the men were making coffee, and nothing broke the stillness but an occasional shot from the sharpshooters. “Well,” said General Humphreys, “I must go across and look about, while there is light left. I don’t want many to go. McClellan, you will come; and Major Biddle and Colonel Lyman, if you would like, I shall be glad of your company.” So off we four rode, and met Warren coming back, before we got to the river. But he at once turned horse and kept on with us. The ford was very bad, deep and with steep sides, but we floundered over, and I was once again south of the Rapid Ann. … As we got to the main line, “Now,” said General Warren, “get off here and I will take you as far as you can go, very soon.” We dismounted and remained, while the two Generals went some 150 yards to Morton’s house on the crest of the ridge, where they no sooner got than a sharpshooter fired at them and the ball flew harmless over our heads, though it came close to General Warren. But hang it all! We had not been there five minutes when that infernal old sound came, whing-z-z-z-z, and over went a spherical case! “Fall in, fall in!” shouted the colonels, and the men took their arms. Whing-z-z! Bang! came another, right into the infantry, killing a poor man. “Steady! steady!” roared the colonels. Whing-z-z-z-z! Bang! and one of the pieces struck close to me, while one of the bullets struck the scabbard of the orderly next me, who coolly picked up the missile. We were a little sheltered by the road, but, I don’t care who knows it, I did duck when that spherical case came over. By this time the Generals got back and mounted, the enemy continuing the fire but throwing their shot too high. We had not got far towards the river, when they began with musketry, a very heavy skirmish fire, and seemed about to make a general attack; but it turned out to be a strong attempt to drive back our skirmish line from a favorable fence they had secured; and the artillery was a cover for their advance. When we got back to the high ground by Robinson’s, we could look across and see the fight, though it was growing dark and the air was very foggy. Our artillery opened on them also, and, in course of an hour or so, night set in, and the firing ceased, our line holding its own everywhere. And now the poor wounded fellows began to come in, some alone, some supported, and some in ambulances. The surgeons were numerous and all that could be wished for. Except one or two mortally hurt, there was nothing sad in it, so manly were the men and so cheerful. Not a groan, not a complaint. I asked one man who was staggering along, if he were much hurt. “Very slightly,” he remarked, in a lively tone. I found what he called “very slightly” was a musket-ball directly through the thigh. These men are wonderful, much more so, I think (proportionately), than the officers. There was a whole division wet to the waist, on a rainy February day, exposed each instant to attack, and yet making little pots of coffee, in the open air, as calmly as if at Revere House.

Oh! what a ride had we home! It took us over three hours, with the help of a lantern. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 68-71. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Party of Ladies (January 29, 1864)

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

John Sedgwick and staff stand in front by the VI Corps headquarters near Culpeper. Taken in March 1864, this photo shows Sedgwick standing third from right (Library of Congress).

The business of war wasn’t always hell; there was frivolity, too, especially in winter camp. In this letter Theodore Lyman details some of the less-serious side of life in the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys, of course, is Meade’s chief of staff, Andrew Humphreys.

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

If you saw the style of officers’ wives that come here, I am sure you would wish to stay away. Quelle experience had I yesterday! I was nearly bored to death, and was two hours and a half late for my dinner. Oh, list to my harrowing tale. I was in my tent, with my coat off, neatly mending my maps with a little paste, when Captain [Adolphus] Cavada poked in his head (he was gorgeous in a new frockcoat). “Colonel,” said he, “General Humphreys desires that you will come and help entertain some ladies!” I held up my pasty hands in horror, and said,”What!” “Ladies!” quoth Cavada with a grin; “ a surprise party on horseback, thirteen ladies and about thirty officers.” There was no moyen; I washed my hands, put on the double-breaster, added a cravat, and proceeded, with a sweet smile, to the tent, whence came a sound of revelry and champagne corks. Such a set of feminine humans I have not seen often; it was Lowell factories broken loose and gone mad. They were all gotten up in some sort of long thing, to ride in. One had got a lot of orange tape and trimmed her jacket in the dragoon style; another had the badge of the Third Corps pinned all askew in her hat; a third had a major’s knot worked in tarnished lace on her sleeve; while a fourth had garnitured her chest by a cape of grey squirrel-skin. And there was General Humphreys, very red in the face, smiling like a basket of chips, and hopping round with a champagne bottle, with all the spring of a boy of sixteen. He spied me at once, and introduced me to a Mrs. M , who once married somebody who treated her very badly and afterwards fortunately went up; so Mrs. M seemed determined to make up lost time and be jolly in her liberty. She was quite bright; also quite warm and red in the face, with hard riding and, probably, champagne. Then they said they would go over to General [John] Sedgwick’s, and General Humphreys asked if I would not go, too, which invitation it was not the thing to refuse; so I climbed on my horse, with the malicious consolation that it would be fun to see poor, modest Uncle John with such a load!

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John" (Library of Congress).

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John” (Library of Congress).

But Uncle John, though blushing and overcome, evidently did not choose to be put upon; so, with great politeness, he offered them sherry, with naught to eat and no champagne. Then nothing would do but go to Headquarters of the 3d Corps, whither, to my horror, the gallant Humphreys would gang likewise. Talk about cavalry raids to break down horses! If you want to do that, put a parcel of women on them and set them going across the country. Such a Liitzow’s wild hunt hath not been seen since the day of the respected L. himself! Finally one lady’s horse ran away, and off went the brick, Humphreys, like a shot, to stop her. Seeing her going into a pine tree, he drove his horse between the tree and her; but, in so doing, encountered a hidden branch, which slapped the brisk old gent out of his saddle, like a shuttlecock! The Chief-of-Staff was up in a second, laughing at his mishap; while I galloped up, in serious alarm at his accident. To make short a long story, the persistent H. tagged after those womenfolk (and I tagged after him) first to Corps Headquarters, then to General Carr’s Headquarters, and finally to General Morris’s Headquarters, by which time it was dark! I was the only one that knew the nearest way home (we were four miles away) and didn’t I lead the eminent soldier through runs and mud-holes, the which he do hate!

To-day we have had a tremendous excitement: a detail of 250 men to “police” the camp, under charge of [James C.] Biddle, just appointed Camp Commandant. They have been sweeping, cutting down stumps, burning brush, and, in general, making the worst-looking camp in the army neat and respectable.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 65-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Winter Leaves (December 10, 1863)

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

General Meade and General Sedgwick visit the Horse Artillery headquarters at Brandy Station. The Army of the Potomac established its winter quarters at Brandy Station in 1863 and remained there until the start of the Overland Campaign the next May.

It appears that campaigning is over for the winter and attention turns to more mundane things: leaves and winter quarters. Theodore Lyman takes the pulse of the army and reports on the speculation about Meade’s replacement. Major Biddle is James C. Biddle of Meade’s staff. In Meade’s Army: the Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, editor David Lowe reports that Biddle “came from a distinguished military family but did not always meet expectations. He could be something of a buffoon and was the target of much good-natured camp humor.”

All the officers are inclined to be petulant and touchy, for they think that winter quarters are coming and are all stretching out for “leaves,” which they know only a part can get. Major Biddle becomes quite irate over the subject. “Now there is General Webb has a ten-day leave,” says B. petulantly; “every corps is to give one general a ten-day leave. I don’t want any little ten-day leave; I want a decent leave; a sixty-day leave. I have been two years and a half in this army, and never had but seven days’ leave, except once when I was sick; and it isn’t any fun to be sick. If we are going into winter quarters, one third of this army can do what is necessary, just as well as the whole; and they might as well be liberal to us. It is too bad! really too bad!” Such discoveries of patriotic services as the officers now make, to back up their applications, are miraculous. They have all been in service since the First Bull Run (the Genesis of the Potomac Army); they have all been wounded six times; they have never been absent a single day; their wives are very sick; their mothers are not expected to live; and they can easily bring back fifty volunteers with them, to fill up their regiment! All of which General [Seth] Williams receives with the blandest smile, as if he had never before heard of so strong a case, and promises to refer it to General Meade, which indeed he does. Meanwhile the rattling of axes is heard on all sides, and villages of little log huts, with canvas roofs, spring into existence in a single night. General [Rufus] Ingalls asked if the troops could have permission to build huts: to which the Major-General commanding replied, with charming non-committal. “Build huts; certainly; why not? They can move from huts as well as from tents, can’t they?” I observe the papers continue to discuss the succession of the General. He himself thinks he will be relieved, but I doubt it. If for no other reason, because it is hard to find anyone for the post. General Sedgwick would, I think, refuse; General Warren is very young, and is, besides, under a cloud about his movement on our left. General Sickles, people would say, is too much of a Bowery boy. Generals French, Newton, and Sykes are out of the question. General Humphreys has no influence strong enough to put him up. Any subordinate general would have to be of great note to be lifted thus high; there is no such one. I think they would not try a western general, after Pope’s experience. The only one I can think of is Hancock, for a long while laid up by his Gettysburg wound, and not yet in the field. He belongs in this army, is popular, and has an excellent name. The New York Herald insists on General Pleasonton, which is an original idea. I heard of an officer who asserted that he had seen the order putting him in command; a rather unlikely assertion.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p 61. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google
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