The Grand Review

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPS, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwiin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quatermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress).

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPs, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), George Gordon Meade, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress. Thanks to Garry Adelman for discovering this detail.).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, a triumphant Army of the Potomac marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. Here’s how I described the event in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

May 23 dawned with the promise of perfect weather, with just enough rain early in the morning to keep the dust down. The Army of the Potomac began forming around the Capitol building in the early hours. At 9:00 a cannon shot from Capitol Hill announced the parade’s start, and the long blue lines of men began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol toward the White House, Meade astride his horse Blackie proudly at their head. “The plaudits of the multitude followed him along the entire line of march; flowers were strewn in his path, and garlands decked his person and his horse,” wrote Horace Porter. His staff—minus Theodore Lyman, who was back in Boston—followed behind him. When he reached the reviewing stand in front of the White House, Meade turned, drew his sword, and saluted. He then joined the dignitaries to watch his army pass.

An artist's conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

An artist’s conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

Sheridan was absent. Grant had sent him west to deal with matters there. However, Charles Wainwright suspected that Sheridan had left early because he did not want to appear in the Grand Review under Meade. Wesley Merritt led the cavalry in Sheridan’s absence. When Custer passed the reviewing stand, a spectator tossed him a wreath, which made his horse bolt. Custer went galloping past before he could regain control and wheel back into position. Some people suspected that Custer was showing off for the crowd.

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The cavalry followed Meade, then the IX, V, and II Corps. Cannons rumbled down Pennsylvania Avenue, and engineers hauled pontoon boats along the parade route. “The men preserved their alinement and distances with an ease which showed their years of training in the field,” Porter noted with satisfaction. “Their movements were unfettered, their step was elastic, and the swaying of their bodies and the swinging of their arms were as measured as the vibrations of a pendulum. Their muskets shone like a wall of steel. The cannon rumbled peacefully over the paved street, banks of flowers almost concealing them.” No African American soldiers were in the parade, as the black units were going west with Sheridan. The entire VI Corps was still in Virginia and unable to attend. But even with these absences, it took six hours for the eighty thousand men from the Army of the Potomac to pass in review.

Washington’s residents had draped the buildings along the parade route with flags and banners, replacing the black symbols of mourning that had gone up following Lincoln’s assassination. Charles Wainwright noticed one banner in particular: “The only debt we can never repay,” it read; “what we owe to our gallant defenders.” Wainwright eyed it cynically. “I could not help wondering whether, having made up their minds that they can never pay the debt, they will think it useless to try.”

But this was not a day for cynicism. “Everything went off to perfection,” said Wainwright, who had his men shine their artillery until it gleamed and paid particular attention to the appearance of the horses. Of all the brigades in the army, Wainwright thought his artillery looked best.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Advertisements

2015 Meade Symposium

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Armies. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence), George Meade, Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the armies in Washington. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence), George Meade, Secretary of the Navy Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

It’s safe to say that the 2015 Meade Symposium was a great success. There must have been at least 60 people present, despite severe cold and strong winds. The weather had been so bad, in fact, that one of the speakers, Ralph Peters, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia from his home in Virginia. Held in the beautiful conservatory building at West Laurel Hill Cemetery on Sunday, February 15, the symposium featured four speakers (myself included) who provided a cradle-to-grave summary of George Gordon Meade’s life. Dr. John Selby of Roanoke College spoke about Meade’s life up until the Civil War; Jerry McCormick picked up the story through the Battle of Chancellorsville; and Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, stood in for Col. Peters and covered the rest of the Civil War. I wrapped things up by talking about the last seven years of Meade’s life, which included incidents of murder, torture, armies of Irishmen, and the difficulties of Reconstruction.

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

If that weren’t enough, Jim Schmick of Civil War and More was there with a large selection of Civil War books for sale, and the Kearney Kommissary was on hand to provide a delicious lunch (plus wine and beer).

The conservatory provided an extremely picturesque setting for the day’s events, with large windows looking out over the cold and windswept cemetery. Just 200 yards away was the grave of Meade’s West Point classmate Herman Haupt, the Union’s railroad mastermind (and one of Meade’s critics). I wish I had the time to find his grave, as well as those of other notables buried there. One of those eternal residents is Francis Adams Donaldson, who journal of his experiences in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry provided the material for the book Inside the Army of the Potomac. I had used that book when I researched Searching for George Gordon Meade. It’s fascinating. Donaldson hated his commanding officer, so he contrived to get kicked out of the army, with the plan of visiting Abraham Lincoln in Washington and having the president give him an honorable discharge. It sounded like a far-fetched plan, but that is exactly what Donaldson did.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

Other celebrity residents include musicians Grover Washington, Jr., and Teddy Pendergrass. West Laurel Hill is a big, sprawling cemetery, with dozens of elaborate mausoleums, and I hope to go back on a warmer, greener day and explore.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade. The general watches me with trepidation.

As I said, this was a great event. It’s truly gratifying to see so many people with this kind of interest in history. And it wasn’t all seriousness, either. There were plenty of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. History should always be so much fun!

This is George Meade’s bicentennial year and I have a lot of talks scheduled. Next up are appearances before the round tables in Milwaukee and Chicago, and then talks at Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Later in the year I’m scheduled to speak in Richmond, at a Meade bicentennial event in Gettysburg, and at the Civil War Round Table at Philadelphia’s Union League in December. The year will end at the Meade 200th birthday commemoration at Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. Check out the event calendar for details.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Petty Tyranny (October 17, 1864)

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Col. Martin McMahon (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman grumbles about what he sees as political favoritism and retribution within the Army of the Potomac. Colonel Collis was Charles Collis, who had commanded the 114th Pennsylvania, the zouave regiment that served as Meade’s headquarters guard. McMahon is Martin T. McMahon, whose brother James had, indeed, fallen at Cold Harbor (which Lyman insists on calling Cool Arbor). His other brother, John, died of wounds he received while in command of the 164th New York. The problem with Lyman’s story about Martin being dismissed from the army for his pro-McClellan talk, though, is that McMahon was not mustered out until February 1866. There’s an interesting article about the McMahon brothers here.

In his next letter Meade will mention the dignitaries who graced the army with their presence, but the general will not be nearly as amusing in his descriptions as Lyman. I particularly like Lyman’s remark that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton “looks like his photographs, only more so.” The Fessenden with the “Palmer leg” (an artificial limb that included a knee joint) was Francis,  the son of Maine senator William P. Fessenden, who had replaced Salmon Chase as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury. Young Fessenden had lost the leg while commanding a brigade under Nathaniel Banks during the Red River Campaign. Once again Lyman provides an anecdote about hapless aide James C. Biddle.

It is indeed not difficult to get material for a grumble, if one will but look about in this world. You see I can’t be enthusiastic about such a government as Lincoln’s, when I see, under my nose, the petty tyranny and persecution they practise against subordinate officers. Now there is Colonel Collis, a petty, scheming political officer; he sends letters to newspapers and despatches to Mr. Stanton about the enthusiasm for Lincoln in the army, etc., etc. Nothing is said to him; that is all right; he has an opinion, as he ought to have. But there is Lieutenant-Colonel McMahon, lately Adjutant-General of the 6th Corps, an excellent soldier, whose brother fell at the head of a charge at Cool Arbor, and who himself had been in all the battles: he is a McClellan man, as was natural in one of General Sedgwick’s Staff. He talks very openly and strongly about his side, as he has a right to do. What is the consequence? He is, without any warning, mustered out of the service! That is to say, a soldier who don’t agree with the Administration must be got rid of; it is nothing in his favor that he has exposed his life in twenty different actions. You would scarcely credit the number of such cases as this, cases of petty spite, fitting rather to a bad-tempered child than to a great and dignified cabinet minister. They suffer chances of victory to pass, rather than take voters from states. They send down three brevets of brigadiers, only one of which has been recommended by General Meade; and all three are men from the much dreaded and uncertain state of Pennsylvania. Don’t think I am a grumbler; all this wickedness and smallness and selfishness is a part of humanity, and to be expected; but don’t ask me to be enthusiastic for such people. There were a parcel of them down here to-day; bah! the sight of them is enough!

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

Francis Fessenden (Library of Congress).

As we sat at breakfast there came a despatch saying that Hon. Secretary Stanton, with a long tail, might be looked for, per rail, very presently. It is an historical fact that General Meade expressed his gratification at this deep honor, in the following terms: “The devil! I shan’t have time to smoke my cigar.” Immediately I got on my double-barreled coat, with a sash withal, and a pair of white cotton gloves; but there was plenty of time to smoke a cigar, for they didn’t get along for an hour or two, and then the greatest posse of large bugs! First, on horseback, Generals Grant, Meigs (Quartermaster-General), Barnard, Eaton (Commissary-General), Barnes (Surgeon-General), Fessenden (with a Palmer leg). Then, in ambulances, Fessenden’s papa, the Secretary of the Treasury, a sharp, keen, quiet-looking man; Hon. Secretary Stanton, who looks like his photographs, only more so; Hon. Sim. Draper and Mr. Barney, twin New York politicians. The former had a very large, long nose, and a very round and abrupt waistcoat, so that he resembled a good-natured pelican, just after a surfeit of sprats. General Meade received them with his usual high ceremony. He walked out of his tent, with his hands in his pockets, said, “Hullo, how are you?” and removed one hand, for the purpose of extending it to Grant, who lighted down from his horse, put his hands in his pockets, and sat down on a camp chair. The pelican came up and bobbed at the Meade, as did his friend. We carted them all to see Fort Wadsworth, where Rosencrantz swears that Mr. Stanton, on being informed that there was only a picket line between him and the enemy, pulled out his watch and said they really must be going back! which indeed they did. When the train started with its precious freight of military and diplomatic jewels, General Meade accompanied it, with Biddle, Mason and Rosencrantz. It would appear that they encountered, at City Point, Admiral Porter with Mrs. P. and another lady, who came, on their return, as far as Hancock’s Headquarters. The hospitable H. did thereat cause supper to be set forth, for it was now dark, and the General, with much talk and good humor, took root there; for he is death to hold on, when he gets talking and in company he likes. At nine o’clock came the galliant Generale, with his aides, whereof Rosencrantz and Mason were bursting to tell something good; whereas Biddle had a foolish and deprecatory air. It immediately was related, midst loud shouts, how, at City Point Grant had given General Meade a bunch of cigars to beguile the way of himself, Admiral Porter, and some other guests going to the front. The Chief handed them to Biddle, asking him to take charge of them for the present. Now B. has few equals in the power of turning things end for end; and so he at once and clearly understood that he [was] made a sort of almoner of tobacco, and proceeded to distribute the cigars in the most liberal manner, to everybody who would either smoke or pocket them! The Staff and bystanders asked no questions, but puffed away at Grant’s prime Havanas. Arrived at Hancock’s and supper done, the General said to Porter: “I think now is the moment to enjoy those good cigars!” Out comes “Shaw,” the faithful servitor. “Oh, if you please, Major, the Gen’ral sends his compliments, sir: and would like that bunch of cigars, sir.” Biddle immediately assumed the attitude indicated in the accompanying drawing! and the curtain dropped. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 247-50. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.