Washington Fatigue (February 21, 1864)

One of the tasks facing Meade in the winter of 1864 was working with Henry Halleck and others in Washington, D.C., to reorganize the Army of the Potomac. Big changes were afoot, with some corps destined to be sent west and others to be eliminated completely. The congressman Meade mentions is Moses Odell, a Democrat from New York. It would be interesting to know what the two men talked about. The only House Democrat on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which will target Meade in the spring, Odell will support the general on an otherwise hostile panel. Judge Harris is probably Ira Harris, who had served on the New York State Supreme Court before becoming a Republican senator from that state. Speaker Colfax is Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, who had been elected Speaker of the House back in December.

Congressman Moses Odell, a Democratic congressman from New York (Wikipedia).

Congressman Moses Odell, a Democratic congressman from New York (Wikipedia).

I returned from Washington to-day, very much fatigued and worn out with two days passed in that place. I reached there Friday about 2 P. M., and immediately went to the Department, where I stayed till 6 P. M., returned to the hotel, dined, and spent the evening with Mr. Odell, member of Congress, and Judge Harris. The next day, Saturday, I was with General Halleck till 3 P. M., when I went out to Georgetown and saw Margaret [Meade’s sister]. I ought to have mentioned that before going to see Margaret, I stopped at the President’s, where Mrs. Lincoln was holding a levee, and spent a half-hour. I also ought to have stated that the evening before, after leaving Judge Harris, I was persuaded by Mr. Harding and Cortlandt Parker to go to Speaker Colfax’s reception, where I was a great lion, Mr. Colfax himself turning usher and bringing every man and woman in the room to introduce to me. All this going about, sitting up late at night and standing so much, had its effect on me, wearying and fatiguing me so that I was very glad to get back to-day.

The army is overrun with women. There is to be a grand ball to-morrow at the headquarters of the Second Corps, and I believe half of Washington is coming down to attend. I expected the Secretary of the Interior and his lady to come down with me to-day, but he did not come to the cars. As the ball is nearly five miles from my headquarters, I don’t think I shall have the courage to go. I don’t mind the going, but it is the coming back which is so unpleasant.

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. 166-7. Available via Google Books.

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Flowers from Mrs. Lincoln (April 20, 1863)

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Library of Congress)

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Here Meade continues his discussion of Samuel Du Pont’s failure to subdue Charleston with navy ironclads. The Seymour to whom he refers is Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour, serving as Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s chief of staff in South Carolina. Hunter had hoped he navy would use their ironclads to support a landing by his troops. Meade knew—and disliked—Seymour when they both commanded brigades under John Reynolds. Meade particularly resented the way he thought Seymour was sucking up to Reynolds in hopes of advancement.

Meade’s story about getting flowers from Mary Todd Lincoln displays a fine touch of self-deprecation, which I enjoy.

The note about son George hints at one of the upcoming problems with Hooker’s Chancellorsville campaign. George Stoneman’s cavalry, to which young George Meade’s regiment belonged, was supposed to range behind the Confederate army and disrupt its communications and supplies. Torrential storms raised the rivers and severely delayed Stoneman’s operation, putting an early kink in Hooker’s plans.

I can see by the public journals that the navy are in the affair at Charleston about to imitate the bad example of the army by squabbling among themselves after a battle with greater energy than they display fighting the enemy. DuPont will undoubtedly have to bear the brunt of the failure at Charleston, but as I see the Tribune most warmly and energetically espouses his cause, I presume he is all safe. I never had any idea the ironclads would be able to do much more than they did. They are simply able to stand fire, but have no more offensive power, indeed not as much as ordinary vessels of war.

I see Seymour has been sent by Hunter to endeavor to have countermanded the order sending the ironclads to the Mississippi. This order, if ever given, was in my judgment very injudicious, for these vessels will be of no use on that river in reducing the works of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. The only service they can be put to there would be to patrol the river between the two places, and prevent supplies to the rebels from the Red River Country.

Yesterday the Richmond papers announced the fall of Suffolk, and we were all pretty blue; but this morning we have a telegram from General Peck reporting that he has stormed and carried a battery of six guns that the enemy had built, and had captured a portion of an Alabama regiment that was defending it. This is great news, not so much for the actual amount of the success, as for the facts—first, that it is the reverse of what the rebels had reported, and, second, because it is the first time in this war that our troops have carried a battery in position at the point of the bayonet, an example, I trust, will be speedily and often imitated by us.

Day before yesterday, I was astonished at receiving a very beautiful bouquet of flowers, which had attached to it a card on which was written, “With the compliments of Mrs. A. Lincoln.” At first I was very much tickled, and my vanity insinuated that my fine appearance had taken Mrs. L’s eye and that my fortune was made. This delusion, however, was speedily dissolved by the orderly who brought the bouquet inquiring the road to General Griffin’s and Sykes’s quarters, when I ascertained that all the principal generals had been similarly honored.

I understand George joined his regiment up the river, the day after he arrived. He went up in a violent storm.

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. 367-8. Available via Google Books.

Sucking Up (April 11, 1863)

On April 9, 1863, Alfred Waud sketched President Lincoln as he and various Union generals reviewed the Army of the Potomac. Someone has clipped off Joe Hooker's head. Click on the image for a larger version (Library of Congress).

On April 9, 1863, Alfred Waud sketched President Lincoln as he and various Union generals reviewed the Army of the Potomac. Someone has clipped off Joe Hooker’s head. Click on the image for a larger version (Library of Congress).

George Meade was an ambitious man. That’s obvious even in his edited letters, which appeared in print as The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army in 1913. The unedited versions show even more clearly how much Meade aspired to reach a position to which he felt entitled. He often expressed his ambitions in his letters to his wife. In this one he amusingly details some of his efforts to ingratiate himself with Abraham Lincoln when the president visited the Army of the Potomac. (It’s possible that Meade is the only person to refer to Mary Todd Lincoln as “amiable.)

The Lancers are the cavalry regiment to which Meade’s son, George, belonged. Stoneman was George Stoneman, commander of the army’s cavalry corps.

Major General George Stoneman, who commanded the cavalry corps (Library of Congress).

Major General George Stoneman, who commanded the cavalry corps (Library of Congress).

The President has now reviewed the whole army, and expresses himself highly delighted with all he has seen. Since our review, I have attended the other reviews and have been making myself (or at least trying so to do) very agreeable to Mrs. Lincoln, who seems an amiable sort of personage. In view also of the vacant brigadiership in the regular army, I have ventured to tell the President one or two stories, and I think I have made decided progress in his affections. By-the-by, talking of this vacancy, I have been very much gratified at the congratulations I have received from several distinguished general officers on the prominence that has been given my name in connection with this appointment. The other day, Major General Stoneman came up to me and said he was very glad to hear I was so much talked of in connection with this vacancy; that he hoped I would get it, and that he believed the voice of the army would be in my favor. Coming as this does from those who are cognizant of my services, some of whom are themselves candidates, I cannot but regard it as most complimentary and gratifying, and I am sure it will please you. Stoneman also told me that, hearing I had a boy in the Lancers, he had sent for him and introduced him to Mrs. Stoneman. Stoneman also spoke very handsomely of the Lancers, and said he intended they should have full chance to show what they were made of.

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. 364-5. Available via Google Books.