Engineers (August 23, 1864)

George Cullum

General George Washington Cullum (Library of Congress).

James C. Duane, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, took a liking to Theodore Lyman and liked to spend time with him. Here he shares a story with Lyman about another army engineer, General George Cullum. The fort in question is Fort Trumbull, today a Connecticut state park. Cullum, who grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, served as the superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1864-1866. He later married Henry Halleck’s widow. Lyman also provides a quick glimpse of Meade in full “Great Peppery” mode. In his journal, Lyman wrote that Meade “was in a mood to ‘rake’ people.” He also noted that Butler’s assistant adjutant general, who was supposed to send coffee through enemy lines to prisoners Joseph Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick, never sent it and did not return Lyman’s money! In addition, the journal entry mentioned Winfield Scott Hancock and the II Corps preparing to march to Reams Station, some inadvertently ominous foreshadowing.

Major Duane, who visits me much of evenings, because he can’t use his eyes, told me a story of Captain Cullum (now General Cullum) that I thought eminently Cullumish. Cullum was building a small fort at New London and was visited by a country editor, whom he received with high state and gave a lecture on the principles of fortification, after showing the small work on which he was engaged. He took as an example a large bastioned fort, and showed how it could be breached in forty days; and how the defenders would then make an interior line and drive out the stormers when they got inside the first. The editor, taking all this as applicable to the New London work, went home and published a tremendous leader, in which he said that the talented Captain Cullum was erecting the largest bastion fort in the world; that it would take you forty days to get inside it, and, when you were inside, you were worse off than you were before! The General rode along a new line we had been making, principally the work of the nigs, who are very faithful at making a breastwork and slashing the timber in front. A colonel or two got well pitched into for not having their men with their belts on and ready for action. I do believe our soldiers would sooner run the risk of getting shot twice a day, than take any little precaution. To-day I performed an act of military charity, by sending, per flag-of-truce boat, some coffee and sugar to Joe Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 223-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Touching a Tiger’s Cubs (August 19, 1864)

The Aiken House on the Weldon Railroad, a photo by Timothy Gardiner (Library of Congress).

The Aiken House on the Weldon Railroad, a photo by Timothy Gardiner (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman provides some detail about Gouverneur Warren’s capture of the Weldon Railroad. Not for the first (or last time) Lyman demonstrates that he had a good eye for military affairs. In fact, in his journal entry Lyman even criticizes Meade over the days’s action, something he didn’t often do. Regarding the way the Union lines offered the Confederates a perfect opportunity for a flank attack, Lyman wrote, “The position was faulty; Warren should have corrected it, and Meade should have known it.”

General Gersham Mott (Library of Congress).

General Gershom Mott (Library of Congress).

Some notes about the principals mentioned: Gershom Mott commanded a division in the II Corps and had been brought down from Deep Bottom, north of the James River. Robert Potter had a division in the IX Corps. Julius White had replaced James Ledlie as a IX Corps division commander; in his journal Lyman says of White, “He is no soldier but always ready to fight; a trait that goes far in war!” Brig. Gen. Joseph Hayes of the V Corps wax exchanged in April 1865, just in time to participate in the Appomattox campaign.

To-day I have been with the General to General Warren, who with the 5th Corps seized the Weldon railroad yesterday. It is touching a tiger’s cubs to get on that road! They will not stand it. Warren had a severe fight yesterday at midday, but they could not get him off. All was quiet this morning towards the railroad. Mott got in, through the mud, about seven, and began at once to relieve the 9th Corps, which was not an easy matter, for the covered way was, in many places, waist-deep in water, so the troops had to march up as well as they could, keeping behind hills, etc. The enemy opened on them with artillery but it was rather too late, and the columns were already pretty well out of reach. At noon the General started to go out to visit the scene of action. It was raining steadily, and we went slop, slop along. Near the Cheever house was a damp brigade of Potter’s division, halted. The General ordered me to tell it to move on, as it might be needed. General Potter himself was near by at General White’s Headquarters. . . . After which I was fain to gallop briskly to catch up with the Staff, which was jogging along the Williams house road. . . . Cutting through a skirt of wood, we came on a very large, flat, open farm, on which is the Globe Tavern, and through which runs the railroad. . . . General Warren had a narrow escape in the fight of yesterday. His horse was struck directly between the eyes by a minie ball. If his head had been down, there would have been nothing to save the General’s body. The Corps [Warren’s] was then formed in form of two sides of a rectangle, the longer arm lying across the railroad, the shorter parallel to it. It could scarcely fail to strike me that, while his left flank was well protected, his right was “in the air,”having nothing in connection with it but the picket line. However, as I am not a military critic, I thought no more of it. The enemy did think a good deal of it. In front of the position were dense woods, on its left a fine open tract, and, on the right, a wood separated it from the open farm of the Aiken house. We left at 3.30, and returned by the way we came. Both going and coming I quite expected to see the picket line tumbling in on top of us, and was not surprised, as we rode along near the Aiken house, to hear a number of dropping shots to our left. Just after we got to the plank road, we could hear the cannon opening, which continued a short time and then ceased. During the said short time was enacted one of those disgraceful surprises which we have in such perfection. The enemy, making a front attack, at the same moment threw a strong column down a road leading past the Linear house and outside our right flank. They smashed through the picket line, passed down the road, faced to their right, and rushed, yelling and firing, into the open fields, in rear of our right wing. Met here by a fire of artillery and reserve troops, they themselves fell into confusion, and rushing back through our lines, like a great tide, carried out to sea at least 2000 of our men, including most of our gallant little regular brigade with its commander, General [Joseph] Hayes. To be sure we drove them off and held the railroad, but we ought to have taken all that flanking column.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 217-20. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Dinner Party (February 12, 1864)

Winter camp could be muddy, cold, damp, uncomfortable and boring, but it sometimes offered compensations, at least for officers. Here Theodore Lyman describes one example. He and Joseph Hayes had attended Harvard together. Hayes started the war with the 18th Massachusetts. Later, Hayes will be wounded in the head in the Wilderness and captured in the fighting for the Weldon Railroad during the Petersburg campaign.

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

In this epistle I shall describe to you the whirl of fashion, the galaxy of female beauty, the grouping of manly grace. Behold, I have plunged into the wild dissipation of a military dinner-party. The day before yesterday, there appeared a mysterious orderly, with a missive from Colonel Hayes (my classmate) saying that he should next day entertain a select circle at dinner at five of the clock, and wouldn’t I come and stay over night. To which I returned answer that I should give myself that pleasure. The gallant Colonel, who commands the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, has his Headquarters on the north side of the river, about half a mile from Rappahannock station. At 4 P.m. I was ready, very lovely to look on, with full tog and sash, neatly finished by white cotton gloves and my thick laced shoes. With great slowness did I wend on my sable mare, for fear of splashing myself in a run or a puddle. On the other side of the pontoon bridge I fell in with Lieutenant Appleton wending the same way — he splashed his trousers in Tin Pot Run, poor boy! The quarters were not far, and were elegantly surrounded by a hedge of evergreen, and with a triumphal arch from which did float the Brigade flag. Friend Hayes has an elegant log hut, papered with real wall-paper, and having the roof ornamented with a large garrison flag. The fireplace presented a beautiful arch, which puzzled me a good deal, till I found it was made by taking an old iron cog-wheel, found at the mill on the river, and cutting the same in two. Already the punctual General Sykes, Commander of the Corps, was there, with Mrs. S., a very nice lady, in quite a blue silk dress. . . . Also several other officers’ wives, of sundry ages, and in various dresses. Then we marched in and took our seats, I near the head and between Mrs. Lieutenant Snyder and Mrs. Dr. Holbrook. Next on the left was General Bartlett, in high boots and brass spurs. There must have been some twenty-four persons, in all. The table ran the length of two hospital tents, ingeniously floored with spare boards from the pontoon-train and ornamented with flags and greens. The chandeliers were ingeniously composed of bayonets, and all was very military. Oyster soup had we; fish, biled mutting, roast beef, roast turkey, pies, and nuts and raisins; while the band did play outside. General Sykes, usually exceeding stern, became very gracious and deigned to laugh, when one of his captains said: “He was the mildest-mannered man that ever cut a throat or scuttled ship.”

After dinner, songs were encouraged, and General Sykes told two of his Staff, if they didn’t sing immediately, he would send them home at once! I sang two comic songs, with immense success, and all was festive. I passed the night there, and took breakfast this morning, when Albert came down with the horses. Joe Hayes is a singular instance of a man falling into his right notch. In college he was not good at his studies at all; but, as an officer, he is remarkable, and has a reputation all through the Corps. Though only a colonel, he was entrusted, at Mine Run, with bringing off the picket line, consisting of 4000 men, which he did admirably. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 71-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.