A Very British Visit (November 15, 1863)

Captain Henry J. Sleeper, whom Lyman mentions in his November 15 letter, sits at the right in this photograph showing members of the 10th Massachusetts Battery. This was taken in December 1863. The man on the left is not a battery member--he is artist Alfred Waud (Library of Congress).

Captain Henry J. Sleeper, whom Lyman mentions in his November 15 letter, sits at the right in this photograph showing members of the 10th Massachusetts Battery. This was taken in December 1863. The man on the left is not a battery member–he is artist Alfred Waud, who just a few weeks earlier had sketched the battery in action (Library of Congress).

Foreigners loved to visit the Army of the Potomac, and Theodore Lyman’s letters and journal entries are filled with accounts of people from overseas popping in for a look-see. The Sir Robert Peel he mentions is Britain’s former prime minister. The McClellan saddle is a saddle that George McClellan had designed. Sleeper, the artillery man Lyman mentions, is Captain Henry Sleeper, who served with the 10th Massachusetts Battery, not the 9th.

Yesterday the General made a start at six A.m. for Washington, taking with him Major Biddle, Captain Meade, and Captain Mitchell, and suppose he will perhaps get back to-morrow. A little before one o’clock came a telegraph that four officers of the “Ghords” were coming in the train, and that we were to send an officer, with ten men, also four led horses, to bring them up. So Major Barstow asked if I would go, whereat, there being nothing to do, I said I would. It is about eight miles to Bealton, the nearest place the railroad runs to, and, by making haste a little, we got there by two o’clock, and the train came a few minutes after. And there, sure enough, were four gents, much braided and striped, who were the parties in question: viz., Lieutenant-Colonel Earle, and Lord Castle Cuff (Grenadier Guards), Captain Peel and Captain Stephenson (Scotch Fusiliers). This was the best lot of Bulls I have seen for a long time. The nobile Lord is, I should say, about sixteen, and, with his cap off, is as perfect a specimen of a Pat as you ever saw; but he is manly, and not so green as many I have seen of double his age. Colonel Earle is extremely quiet and well mannered, and was down here in Burnside’s time. Captain Stephenson is in the beefy style, and Captain Peel (son of Sir Robert) is of the black order; but both have free use of their legs and tongues, a remarkable phenomenon in a Bull. We put them on horses, where they were well at home, except they would persist in trying to rise to the trot in a McClellan saddle, which is next to impossible. We had to cross the river, close to the railroad, where I showed them the work they took last Saturday; at which they remarked: “Oh! Ah! A nasty place, a very nasty place!” Then we rode to Headquarters, just in time to avoid a heavy rain, which continued much of the night. To-day we have lain quiet; but this evening we took them over to see Captain Sleeper, 9th Massachusetts Battery. The Colonel was very inquisitive about artillery, whereupon the enthusiastic Sleeper had a newly contrived shell, which was loaded, suddenly brought into the tent! The great improvement in the shell seemed to be that it was bound to go off, somehow; so that there was a marked nervousness about him of the Guards, as the Captain poked and twisted the projectile, to illustrate its manifold virtues! . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 48-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Alfred Waud drew Sleeper's Battery at work during the November 7 battle at Kelly's Ford, part of William French's diversionary attack during the Battle of Rappahannock Station (Library of Congress; click to enlarge).

Alfred Waud drew Sleeper’s Battery at work during the November 7 battle at Kelly’s Ford, part of William French’s diversionary attack during the Battle of Rappahannock Station (Library of Congress; click to enlarge).

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Art and War (March 21, 1863)

In the letter below Meade refers to a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It appears he is not talking about a production of Shakespeare’s play; the reference appears to be to Die Lustigen Weiber Von Windsor, an operatic adaptation by Otto Nicolai to a libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal . The 1849 opera made its American debut in Philadelphia in 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863 (Library of Congress).

“Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray” was the battle that took place up the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford Union, when cavalry under Brig. Gen. William Averell battled Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate horsemen on March 17, 1863. Here’s how I describe it in the book:

 Averell had a score to settle with his old friend Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee’s nephew. After an earlier cavalry skirmish had gone badly for the Union, Lee left behind a taunting note for Averell: “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home. You ride a good horse, I ride a better. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”

Averell brought about three thousand men with him to answer Lee’s taunt. He made a difficult crossing of the swiftly flowing river at Kelly’s Ford and launched a spirited cavalry battle on the other side. Averell’s ingrained caution prevented him from routing Lee’s forces, but he made a surprisingly good showing for the until-then toothless Union cavalry. He also left behind some coffee and a note. “Dear Fitz,” it read. “Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly's Ford.

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly’s Ford.

One of the Confederates who died in the fighting was “Gallant” John Pelham, the young officer who had troubled Meade with his horse artillery at Fredericksburg.  There’s a small monument to him hidden away in the trees near Kelly’s Ford.  

I had seen in the papers a glowing account of the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” which must have been a great treat. There is nothing I feel so much the deprivation of as hearing good music, and I was very sorry that there was no opportunity to indulge myself while in Philadelphia.

We have literally nothing new or exciting in camp. Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray has been the camp talk. The enemy, through Richmond papers, admit they were whipped and believe it to be the commencement of Hooker’s campaign, and already talk of the probable necessity of Lee’s having to fall back nearer Richmond. This confirms what we have suspected, that their force opposite to us had been much reduced, and that when we pressed them they would retire. There is not much chance of doing this at present, however. Yesterday it snowed all day, and to-day it is raining, so that our roads are again, or will be, in a dreadful condition.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 361. Available via Google Books.

The Pelham monument near Kelly's Ford.

The Pelham monument near Kelly’s Ford.