Submission and Resignation (February 27, 1865)

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery.

The gravestone for John Sergeant Meade, in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

George Meade had left the army for his home in Philadelphia on February 21, and arrived two days later. By then his oldest son, John Sergeant, was dead. He had died at 11 p.m. on the 21st of the tuberculosis he had been fighting for years. On the 26th, Meade received a telegram from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton calling him back out of fear that Robert E. Lee was stirring. Meade wrote this letter while still in Washington.

The mention of Winfield Scott Hancock is a reference to the general’s appointment as commander of the Department of West Virginia. He was replacing General George Crook, who had the misfortune of being captured while in bed by Confederate guerillas.

I take advantage of a delay, waiting to see the Secretary, to send you a few lines. I slept nearly all the journey, much to my surprise; but I was grateful it was so, as I feel in consequence much better than if I had lain awake all night.

Hardy Norris was very kind to me this morning, and accompanied me to the hotel, where we breakfasted, after which I came up here.

General Hancock left suddenly yesterday for Western Virginia. This has given rise to rumor of movements of Lee in that direction, but I have heard nothing reliable in this respect. I saw General Hooker this morning at breakfast. He was very affable and civil, and enquired particularly after you, expressing deep sympathy with us in our affliction. This feeling has been manifested by all whom I have met, including Senator Foster, Mr. Odell and others.

I hardly dare think of you in your lonely condition, surrounded by so many associations of our beloved boy. God have mercy on you and send you submission and resignation! No human reasoning can afford you or myself any consolation. Submission to God’s will, and the satisfaction arising from the consciousness that we did our duty by him, is all that is left us.

I shall leave here at 3 p.m., and will write to you on my arrival at my headquarters.

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. 264-5. Available via Google Books.

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A Hooker Encounter (September 29, 1864)

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker(Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker(Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman resumes writing his detailed letters home, providing a wealth of detail about his experiences in the war. Here he describes how during the trip back to rejoin the army he encountered Joe Hooker, Meade’s predecessor as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Following his defeat at Chancellorsville, Hooker had been sent out west, where he served capably as a corps commander under Ulysses S. Grant in the Army of the Tennessee. But Hooker asked to be relieved when Grant promoted Gen. Oliver O. Howard over him following the death of Gen. John McPherson. In his journal entry, Lyman said that Hooker “was shaky about the legs, red in the face and had a boiled eye, like one who had been on a great spree.” Grant had no love for Hooker. In his memoirs he acknowledged that Hooker’s actions at Chattanooga had been “brilliant,” but added, “I nevertheless regarded him as a dangerous man. He was not subordinate to his superiors. He was ambitious to the extent of caring nothing for the rights of others. His disposition was, when engaged in battle, to get detached from the main body of the army and exercise a separate command, gathering to the standard all he could of his juniors.”

Lyman reaches the army just as Grant launched another offensive, with the Army of the James fighting the battles of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights and for Forts Gilmer and Harrison, and the Army of the Potomac stretching out to probe the far left of its line. Interestingly enough, just last week the National Park Service discovered an unexploded shell from the Civil War in the moat around Fort Gilmer. It apparently dated from the battle on September 29, 1864. Confederate defenders may have rolled it into the moat so it would explode among the attacking soldiers of the Union States Colored Troops.

The 6.45 p.m. train, which bore me, on Monday, from the ancient town of Beverly, did arrive in very good season in Boston, where I hired a citizen, in the hack line, to convey me with speed and safety to the Worcester depot. With an eye to speculation the driver took in also a lone female, who looked with a certain alarm on me, doubtful as to whether I might not be in the highway-robbery line. She had evidently been on a sea-shore visit, and bore a small pitcher with a bunch of flowers therein. By a superior activity I got a place in the sleeping-car, for it seems to be the policy to have about half room enough for the sleepy passengers, so that those who don’t get places may look with envy on t’others and determine to be earlier next time. Geo. D____ was along. The canny man had got a good berth, in the middle of the day, and you should have seen his traveller’s fixings: a blanket, a sort of little knapsack, and finally a white handkerchief to tie over his head; “For,” said he, “perhaps the pillows are not very clean.” With martial indifference I took off boots and blouse, got on an upper shelf (not without convulsive kicks), and composed myself to the fitful rest which one gets under such circumstances. There was, as the conductor truthfully observed, “a tremendous grist of children in the car”—of all sizes, indeed, from a little one that publicly partook of its natural nutriment, to youths of some twelve summers. The first object I saw, on wakening in the morning, was an attentive Ma endeavoring to put a hooped skirt under the dress of a small gal, without exhibiting to a curious public the small gal’s legs; which attempt on her part was a lamentable failure. I was glad to get out of the eminently close locomotive dormitory and hop with agility on the horse-car, which landed me, a little before seven a.m., at the Astor House. Here I partook of a dollar and a quarter’s worth of tea and mutton-chop, and stretched my legs by a walk to the Jersey ferry, and there, as our pilgrim fathers would have said, took shipping for the opposite shore. I should not neglect to say that at the Astor I had noticed a tall man, in the three buttons of a Major-General, whom I at once recognized as the original of the many photographs of General Hooker. I was much disappointed in his appearance: red-faced, very, with a lack-lustre eye and an uncertainty of gait and carriage that suggested a used-up man. His mouth also is wanting in character and firmness; though, for all that, he must once have been a very handsome man. He was a passenger for Washington and sat near me. Next me was a worthy minister, with whom I talked; he, I do remember, delivered a prayer at our chapel last winter, at Headquarters. He was like all of that class, patriotic and one-sided, attributing to the Southerners every fiendish passion; in  of which he had accumulated all the horrible accounts of treatment of prisoners, slaves, etc., etc., and had worked himself into a great state. Evening. 10 p.m. I have got to Baltimore and can’t go a step farther; for all day have I been on the Weldon railroad with General Meade, and I must slap to bed, for I am most sleepy, though all right.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 229-31. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Birney (April 11, 1864)

David Bell Birney.

David Bell Birney.

David Bell Birney was not a Meade ally. He had been born in the South, but a hatred of slavery motivated his father to pack up the family and move north. Birney took up the law and was practicing in Philadelphia when war broke out. As Theodore Lyman wrote, Birney “was a pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness; only he would smile politely when you spoke to him. He was spare in person, with a thin face, light-blue eye, and sandy hair.”

The bad blood between Meade and Birney stretched back to Fredericksburg, at least. When Meade’s brigade broke through the southern lines south of town, Meade sent to Birney for support. Birney replied that he could not move forward until he received word from John Reynolds to do so. This outraged Meade. He sent another officer to Birney with another demand for reinforcements. Birney again refused. Now Meade galloped over himself. He had his recent commission as a major-general in his pocket, and that meant he outranked Birney. “General, I assume the authority of ordering you up to the support of my men,” he said, according to one account. According to another, Meade said much more, in language strong enough to “almost make the stones creep.”

Birney later testified before Congress that he received only one message from Meade and in his official report he said he responded “immediately.” However, in a letter to a friend that Birney wrote shortly after the battle, he said that when a reporter from the New York Herald urged him to send some of his artillery to help Meade, “I told him the Reserves might run and be damned, that not a gun should leave my Division.”

Birney led a division of the III Corps at Gettysburg and took corps command after Daniel Sickles was wounded.

To help speed Meade’s departure from the army, Birney decided to cast his lot with Hooker and Sickles. “Meade is a fraud,” he had written to a friend in March. “We must have Hooker back to this army and I believe he will be sent to us!” he wrote. He also had great hopes for the future of Dan Sickles. “Sickles will I think command this army and in time will be President,” he had predicted back in October. So when Birney testified before the committee, he claimed that on July 5 he had wanted to attack the retreating Confederates but received an order not to do so. That was just the kind of example of timidity the congressmen were seeking. No matter that such an order never appeared in any official record, nor had Birney mentioned this incident in his official report.

Following elimination of the III Corps, Birney received a division in the II Corps under Hancock. He realized he had backed the wrong horse. “Grant killed the demonstration for Hooker, that was assuming shape, and would have ended in the decapitation of Meade,” he noted in a letter on April 5.

There is no doubt General Birney is scared at the turn things have taken in the Sickles matter, for I received a note from Hancock, the other day, saying Birney had been to see him, disclaiming being a partisan of Sickles, and saying he would like to come and see me to explain matters, but did not like to do so without some intimation on my part that it would be agreeable. I replied to Hancock that I was not aware of there being any occasion for explanation on the part of General Birney, as I had heard nothing except what I had seen in the papers about his testimony, and that he had denied in writing. At the same time I was always ready to see General Birney whenever he chose to do me the honor to call.

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. 189. Available via Google Books.

A Violent Attack (March 9, 1864)

David Bell Birney was not a Meade ally. He had commanded the III at Gettysburg following the wounding of Daniel Sickles.

David Bell Birney was not a Meade ally. He had commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg following the wounding of Daniel Sickles.

Meade’s travails with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War continue. He has learned that Generals David Bell Birney and Alfred Pleasonton have testified against him. As I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

As the head of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps, Pleasonton had embarrassed Jeb Stuart at Brandy Station just before Lee’s push north into Pennsylvania, but he had a less-than-sterling reputation. One cavalry officer said Pleasonton owed his position to “systematic lying,” and another called him “the greatest humbug of the war.” According to Pleasonton’s testimony he was with Meade following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on July 3 and “urged him to order a general advance of his whole army in pursuit of the enemy.” Instead, Meade sent him to determine whether the enemy was retreating. A year later Pleasonton will remember even more about his dealings with Meade. This time he recollects that on the afternoon of July 2, Meade had ordered him to prepare his cavalry to cover the army’s retreat, and he had spent the entire remainder of July 2, until around midnight, doing just that. Apparently this had all slipped his memory when he first testified.

David Birney testified the same day as Pleasonton. He had his own ax to grind with Meade following their unpleasant encounter at Fredericksburg. “Meade is a fraud,” he had written to a friend in March. To help speed Meade’s departure from the army, Birney decided to cast his lot with Hooker and Sickles. “We must have Hooker back to this army and I believe he will be sent to us!” he wrote. He also had great hopes for the future of Dan Sickles. “Sickles will I think command this army and in time will be President,” he had predicted back in October. So when Birney testified before the committee, he claimed that on July 5 he had wanted to attack the retreating Confederates but received an order not to do so. That was just the kind of example of timidity the congressmen were seeking. No matter that such an order never appeared in any official record, nor had Birney mentioned this incident in his official report.

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 answered Mr. Harding’s note, likewise one from Cortlandt Parker, and numerous others I have received from sympathizing friends. To prepare a statement and furnish it to all my friends who are desirous of defending me would take too much time. Besides, I intend to await the action of the committee, give them a chance to do me justice, failing which I will publish a pamphlet giving my side of the question. Yesterday’s Tribune has a most violent attack on me, full of the basest and most malicious slanders, in which, not satisfied with attacking my military reputation, they impugn my loyalty and attribute expressions to me I never dreamed of using. [For the article, see below.]

Birney and Pleasanton have appeared in the hostile ranks. The latter’s course is the meanest and blackest ingratitude; for I can prove, but for my intercession he would have been relieved long since.

Here’s the Tribune article that so incensed Meade:

GEN. MEADE AND THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG

The points made before the War Investigating Committee against Gen. Meade, who is substantially on trial before this congressional Commission, by the testimony of Gens. Sickles and Doubleday, are, that he gave and promulgated an order to his army to retreat from Gettysburg at the close of the first day’s fight, when his superior strength, his advantage of position, and the honor and interests of the country, required him to give battle; that, in the forenoon of the second day’s fight—Thursday—he gave another order to retreat, but which was not promulgated in writing; that he had made no dispositions for battle that day, had no plan for fighting, and seemingly no purpose to fight, but that the battle was precipitated by Gen. Sickles, and forced on Meade in part by the enemy, but principally by General Sickles, that Meade did not know on Friday night that our men had whipped Lee, or distrusted the fact that night, and was so uncertain of it on Saturday that he dared not pursue the beaten enemy, and weakly and ignorantly threw away the certainty of capture or destroying the entire Rebel army; that for a few moments he yielded to persuasions to let the 3d Corps pursue, but countermanded the order to do so in ten minutes after it was given, saying, alluding to the Rebels, “Oh, let them go;” that Meade’s subsequent representation that he was not in condition to pursue was not true; that his army was abundantly able and in condition to make immediate pursuit, and, if necessary, to fight and crush Lee’s disordered columns; that the 6th Corps was fresh and substantially intact; it had lost only 100 men, the 12th Corps had lost only 700 and had about 12,000 left, the 3d Corps had 6,000 men left and prayed to be permitted to pursue; the whole of the cavalry, 10,000 was intact and fresh. Gen. French had at Frederick 10,000 veterans in perfect condition, and Couch’s great force was also at Meade’s call. That, in a word, he had over 40,000 effective and ardent troops with which to pursue and destroy Lee’s flying and demoralized army, but refused to use them and suffered the enemy to escape. It is upon the question of the issuance of the second order to retreat that Gen. Butterfield has been summoned.

In the committee room it is understood that the origin of the effort made by Gen. Meade to break up the Third Corps to the waste of its esprit, and the discontent of every man and officer in it, and dissatisfaction with the service, was the refusal of the corps to subscribe to the McClellan testimonial.

It is stated that testimony can be added to convict Gen. Meade of expressing the opinion that we cannot subdue the Rebels. Gens. Birney and Pleasonton, examined before the War Committee to-day, told the remarkable story of the war councils called during and after the battle of Gettysburg, and exhibited the strength and efficiency of the army the morning after the last day’s fight. The testimony of both these Generals was very damaging.

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. 176. The Tribune article appears on pp. 320-1. Available via Google Books.

Humphreys (March 5, 1864)

Gen. Andrew Humphreys, in a photo taken during the 1862 Peninsula campaign (Library of Congress).

Gen. Andrew Humphreys, in a photo taken during the 1862 Peninsula campaign (Library of Congress).

While George Meade is in Washington, dealing with some unpleasant matters on Capitol Hill and elsewhere (more about that in tomorrow’s post), Theodore Lyman writes a letter from the Army of the Potomac’s winter quarters. One thing he notes is the failure of the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid, and he touches on the political winds blowing the army’s way from Washington (including the movement up there to replace Meade with Joe Hooker).

He also writes about Andrew Humphreys, who became Meade’s chief of staff shortly after the battle of Gettysburg. Here’s what I wrote about him in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg: “Humphreys was from Philadelphia. An engineer like Meade, he had graduated from West Point four years before him. He had served on McClellan’s staff and later commanded a division at Antietam and during the bloody battle for Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. As a division commander in the III Corps at Gettysburg he had held the right of Sickles’s advanced position. ‘He was a small, bow-legged man, with chopped-off, iron gray moustache; and when he lifted his army hat you saw a rather low forehead, and a shock of iron-gray hair,’ a staff member recalled. ‘His blue-gray dauntless eyes threw into his stern face the coldness of hammered steel.’ Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, who would get to know Humphreys during the Virginia Campaign of 1864, considered him to be ‘the great soldier of the Army of the Potomac.’ ‘He was a very interesting figure,’ Dana wrote. ‘He used to ride about in a black felt hat, the brim of which was turned down all around, making him look like a Quaker. He was very pleasant to deal with, unless you were fighting against him, and then he was not so pleasant. He was one of the loudest swearers that I ever knew.’ Although Humphreys desired a corps command, he consented to become Meade’s chief of staff, Dana believed, out of pure patriotism.”

Truman Seymour (Library of Congress).

Truman Seymour (Library of Congress).

The “Florida Reverse” Lyman mentions was the Battle of Olustree, a defeat for Union general Truman Seymour. Meade served with but did not like Seymour. In letters to his wife he had complained about the way Seymour used to suck up to John Reynolds, their Pennsylvania reserves division commander. Back in August 1862 Meade had written, “I am sad to say that Reynolds appears to be greatly under Seymour’s influence and I fear my position in the Reserves will not be as agreeable as it has been.” He reports a conversation in which Reynolds told Seymour that he, Seymour, would probably not be with the division long because he would certainly be made a major general. At that Reynolds caught Meade’s eye and hastily added, “Meade too for that matter.” No doubt Meade experienced a bit of schadenfreude over Seymour’s reverse.

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys. (Library of Congress)

I found myself late and galloped four miles in about twenty minutes, only to find I had heated the mare for nothing, insomuch that the venerable Humphreys had put off dinner to six p.m. That young man of fifty has gone in his ambulance to see, I presume, some ladies, and I will here and now wager that we don’t dine till eight p.m. Sich is his nature. Really he should be dismissed the service for conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Au reste, there never was a nicer old gentleman, and so boyish and peppery that I continually want to laugh in his face. I am in fear he won’t be confirmed as major-general. There are some persons, the very dregs of politicians, whom he tried by court-martial, when under him, that now do all they can against his promotion. I find that politicians, like [Charles] Sumner and company, have a way of saying of officers who have had their very clothes shot off their back and have everywhere displayed the utmost skill and courage, that “their hearts are not in the cause,” or “they are not fully with us”; meaning that these officers do not happen to fully agree with every political dogma the party may choose to enunciate. I am of the opinion that the question is: Does such and such an officer fight bravely and with skill? Anyone who has been under fire will be ready to acknowledge that it is a pretty good place to test principles; and if a man goes into the thick of it time and again, I do not ask any better proof of his earnestness. However, it would appear that Washington people often think the best test of faithfulness is to stay away from the fighting and make a good many speeches to people who entirely agree with your sentiments. To my certain knowledge, great exertions are now making to put a man at the head of this army who has made one of the most bloody failures of the War, and who is utterly incompetent to the post. Why is he pushed? Because he professes to be an ultra-Republican, ah, voila! . . .

Pa Meade is at Washington but I hope to have him back to-morrow. Behold my prophecy in regard to Killcavalry’s raid fulfilled. I have heard many persons very indignant with him. They said he went to the President and pressed his plan; told Pleasonton he would not come back alive if he didn’t succeed; that he is a frothy braggart, without brains and not over-stocked with desire to fall on the field; and that he gets all his reputation by newspapers and political influence. These charges are not new and I fancy Kill has rather dished himself. It is painful to think of those poor prisoners hearing the sound of his guns and hoping a rescue was at hand! Now all that cavalry must be carried back in steamers, like a parcel of old women going to market! Bah! Pour moi, I say nothing, as I never criticize superior officers; but I have mine own opinions, quite strong. However, these raids and the like do not much affect the War one way or the other. Nor does such a thing as the Florida reverse. Things have narrowed down now to two or three great centres, and upon large operations there depends the result. It is a favorite remark of General Meade, that “there is but one way to put down this rebellion, namely, to destroy the military power of the Rebels.” Their great armies must be overwhelmed, and there will end their hopes. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 78-80. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Hooker Problem (August 6, 1863)

The Union had an interesting problem during the war: What to do with former commanders of the Army of the Potomac? George McClellan was in exile in New Jersey, eventually to emerge as the Democratic candidate for president. Ambrose Burnside had been packed off to the Department of the Ohio and would eventually return to command of the IX Corps and serve under Meade—to the benefit of neither. Now the question was, what to do with Joe Hooker?

I think I told you confidentially that Halleck had ordered me to halt and cease pursuing Lee, that I had given my judgment against the measure, but had been over-ruled. I do not know the reason.

The other day, as you saw in the papers, I pushed my cavalry forward, which alarmed them (the enemy), so that Lee immediately withdrew all his infantry behind the Rapidan. I am quite sure if I was to advance now, he would fall back to Richmond. What I fear from the delay is that he will recruit faster than I, for, from all I can gather, I fear our draft will prove a perfect failure, and that the few men it does produce will be worthless, and will desert the first opportunity. As the question never will be settled till their military power is destroyed, I think it unfortunate we do not take advantage of their present depression to push them as far as possible.

I think I told you that the President wrote me privately, to know if I would object to Hooker being assigned to a corps under me, and that I answered, no. To-day I have a private letter from _______ written undoubtedly at Halleck’s instigation, saying it is reported Hooker is to be sent, provided I apply for him, and urging me strongly not to do so, on the ground that he will go to work to get up cliques against me, and to demoralize my army. I have written to _________ exactly what has occurred, and said that though my relations with Hooker would not justify me in objecting to his being ordered, yet I had no idea of applying for him, and I did not think either Hooker or his friends could or would expect me to do so. It would be very difficult for Hooker to be quiet under me or any one else, and I sincerely trust some independent command will be found for him, and that it will not be necessary to send him here.

(Hooker did not rejoin the Army of the Potomac. He was sent out West, along with the XI and XII Corps, and fought well at Chattanooga. Hooker later became the focus of various machinations to have him replace Meade as commander of the Army of the Potomac, but nothing came of it. )

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.141-2. Available via Google Books.

Last Day at Aldie (June 25, 1863)

Once again Meade writes from Aldie, where his corps waits as Joe Hooker attempts to determine Robert  E. Lee’s plans. The Monroe Estate he mentions is Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. It still stands today but is privately owned.

Little did Meade know it, but in only three days he will receive command of the Army of the Potomac. President Lincoln and general-in-chief Henry Halleck were rapidly losing any remaining confidence in Hooker. There were also doubts within the army. General Marsena Patrick, the army’s provost marshal general (and a notoriously cranky observer), wrote on Hooker around this time, “He acts like a man without a plan and is entirely at a loss what to do, or how to match the enemy, or counteract his movements. . . . He knows that Lee is his master & is afraid to meet him in a fair battle.”

This is a lengthy and interesting letter. Shortly after writing it Meade received orders to move his corps north toward Frederick. The men broke camp early the next morning and marched to Edwards Ferry, where it crossed the Potomac.

This is the last letter in the first volume of Life and Letters. Volume II picks up the story with a narrative of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Reynolds’s honors, commanding the right wing, only lasted two days, for as soon as we got to Manassas, General Hooker informed him he would communicate direct with corps commanders. Reynolds was at first quite indignant, and took it into his head that Hooker expected our withdrawal from the Rappahannock was going to be disputed, and that he had selected him for a scapegoat to bear the brunt of the shock. Everything, however, passed off quietly, as Lee was well on his way up the Valley of the Shenandoah, and A. P. Hill, who was left to guard Fredericksburg, was glad enough to let us go, that he might follow Lee, as he has done and rejoined him, although we could readily have prevented him, and in my judgment should have done so. What Lee’s object is in moving up the valley is not yet clearly developed. He has massed his army between Winchester and Martinsburg. The invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, so far as I can gather, has as yet been a mere foraging expedition, collecting supplies and horses for his army. He does not, at the latest accounts, seem to have crossed any of his good troops; he has perhaps been waiting for Hill, also to see what Hooker and the authorities at Washington were going to do, before he struck a blow. That he has assumed the offensive and is going to strike a blow there can be no doubt, and that it will be a very formidable one is equally certain, unless his forces have been very much exaggerated. He is said to have collected over ninety thousand infantry and fifteen thousand cavalry, with a large amount of artillery. Hooker has at present no such force to oppose him, but I trust the Government will reinforce Hooker with troops that have been scattered at Suffolk, Baltimore, Washington and other places, and that such will be the case seems probable, from a despatch I received from headquarters yesterday, asking me if I would like to have the Pennsylvania Reserves attached to my corps. I replied, promptly: “Yes; they or any other reinforcements that could be obtained.” I understand the Reserves are seven thousand strong, which will be a very decided addition to my present weak corps. I have seen very few papers lately, and therefore know little or nothing of what is going on. I see you are still troubled with visions of my being placed in command. I thought that had all blown over, and I think it has, except in your imagination, and that of some others of my kind friends. I have no doubt great efforts have been made to get McClellan back, and advantage has been taken of the excitement produced by the invasion of Maryland to push his claims; but his friends ought to see that his restoration is out of the question, so long as the present Administration remains in office, and that until they can remove Stanton and Chase, all hope of restoring McClellan is idle. I have no doubt, as you surmise, his friends would look with no favor on my being placed in command. They could not say I was an unprincipled intriguer, who had risen by criticising and defaming my predecessors and superiors. They could not say I was incompetent, because I have not been tried, and so far as I have been tried I have been singularly successful. They could not say I had never been under fire, because it is notorious no general officer, not even Fighting Joe himself, has been in more battles, or more exposed, than my record evidences. The only thing they can say, and I am willing to admit the justice of the argument, is that it remains to be seen whether I have the capacity to handle successfully a large army. I do not stand, however, any chance, because I have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretensions, and there are so many others who are pressed by influential politicians that it is folly to think I stand any chance upon mere merit alone. Besides, I have not the vanity to think my capacity so pre-eminent, and I know there are plenty of others equally competent with myself, though their names may not have been so much mentioned. For these reasons I have never indulged in any dreams of ambition, contented to await events, and do my duty in the sphere it pleases God to place me in, and I really think it would be as well for you to take the same philosophical view; but do you know, I think your ambition is being roused and that you are beginning to be bitten with the dazzling prospect of having for a husband a commanding general of an army. How is this?

Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. Meade visited here on June 24, 1863 (Library of Congress).

Oak Hill, the former home of President James Monroe. Meade visited here on June 24, 1863 (Library of Congress).

This is a beautiful country we are now in, and we are reveling in lovely landscapes, with such luxuries as fresh butter, milk, eggs, lamb, chickens and other delicacies, to which we have for a long time been strangers. There are some nice people about here, though strong “secesh.” I went the other day to see a fine view, which is to be had from the Monroe estate. It is at present in the hands of a Major Fairfax, who is on Longstreet’s staff. While on the ground I received a polite message from Mrs. Fairfax, saying she would be glad to see me and show me the house, whereupon I called, and found her very affable and ladylike and very courteous. I apologized for my intrusion, but she said she did not so consider it; that she was always glad to see the officers of our army, knowing they took an interest in the place from its having been the former residence of a President of the United States. She referred to the war in a delicate manner, and said her husband, the Major, was at home when Pleasanton attacked Aldie, and that he had barely time to mount his horse and get off before their people were obliged to retire. I spent a half-hour chatting with her and left. Generally the women, when they find you are a gentleman, and not violent and bloodthirsty in your feelings, are disposed to be civil and affable.

Young Morrow, of George’s company, has returned from Richmond. He told George that he saw a great deal of Beckham when he was first captured, who inquired very particularly after me.

Everything is very quiet here. The enemy have a small cavalry force watching us, but no signs of their army this side of the Blue Ridge. At what moment they may show themselves, or when we will advance, is more than I can tell. I hear nothing whatever from headquarters, and am as much in the dark as to proposed plans here on the ground as you are in Philadelphia. This is what Joe Hooker thinks profound sagacity—keeping his corps commanders, who are to execute his plans, in total ignorance of them until they are developed in the execution of orders.

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. 387-9. Available via Google Books.

End Volume 1

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.

 

False Alarm? (June 8, 1863)

The cavalry push that Meade mentions in his letter of June 8 will result the next day in the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle on the North American continent. Although technically a victory for the Confederates, it was also a huge black eye for Rebel cavalry commander Jeb Stuart, who was surprised and embarrassed by the Union attack.

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)

I think for the present the storm has blown over. Both Lee and Hooker appear to be playing at cross-purposes. Hooker took it into his head that Lee was moving and made preparations accordingly. These preparations were construed by Lee into a movement on our part, etc. Sedgwick is still, I understand, across, below Fredericksburg, but is unmolested by the enemy. Pleasanton, with a large force of cavalry, will cross above to-day, and push his way towards Culpeper and Gordonsville, to see what they are doing in that direction.

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. 383. Available via Google Books

Stirrings (June 6, 1863)

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

June 1863 would prove to be a momentous month for George Gordon Meade and it would set the stage for the cataclysm at Gettysburg. In his letter of June 6, Meade explains to his wife what is going on in Virginia, as army commander Joe Hooker attempts to determine just what his adversary, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, were up to. Here’s what I say in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, about Lee’s actions after he routed Hooker at Chancellorsville:

 Robert E. Lee had not been idle in Chancellorsville’s aftermath. After [Stonewall] Jackson’s death he reorganized his army from two corps into three plus a cavalry division under Jeb Stuart. James Longstreet, Lee’s “old warhorse,” remained in command of the I Corps, with three divisions under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood. The II Corps, previously Jackson’s, was now commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run. Like his predecessor, the high-strung Ewell had a reputation for strangeness. Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon described him as “the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate army.” Ewell, too, had three divisions, under Major Generals Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Lee selected A. P. Hill–McClellan’s old rival in love–to command the newly created III Corps. Hill had three divisions under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and William D. Pender.

(Lee would begin moving north soon—but not until after a clash of cavalries at Brandy Station on June 9.

My last letter told you that my corps had been moved up the river, charged with the duty of guarding the several crossing places, and preventing, if possible, the passage of the river by the enemy. General Hooker had received intelligence which induced him to believe Lee was about attempting a manoeuvre similar to the one we tried last month. I have consequently been actively employed riding about, superintending the posting of troops, giving instructions, etc. As yet everything has been very quiet on our part of the line. To-day, however, Hooker had reason to believe most of the enemy had left his immediate front on the heights back of Fredericksburg. He accordingly undertook to throw a bridge across, where Franklin crossed last December. About five o’clock yesterday evening we heard heavy firing, which lasted nearly two hours, which, I understand, was our batteries, endeavoring to drive the enemy from the rifle-pits they had dug to oppose the construction of the bridge. I do not know whether we succeeded or not, as, being some miles away, I have no means of ascertaining. It has been my opinion for some time that Lee would assume the offensive so soon as he was reinforced sufficiently to justify him in doing so; but whether he has yet commenced is, I think, not positively settled. Nor have I quite made up my mind what he will do when he moves. I should think it would be policy on his part to endeavor to overcome this army before he undertakes any invasion of the North. His experience of last summer should teach him the danger of leaving an army on his flank and rear, and if he can once destroy or cripple this army, he will have no opposition to his progress of invasion. It is this reasoning which makes me wonder at the supineness and apathy of the Government and people, leaving this army reduced as it has been by casualties of battle and expiration of service, and apparently making no effort to reinforce it.

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. 382-3. Available via Google Books.