A Visit with Lee (May 5, 1865)

Robert E. Lee at 707 E. Franklin Street with son George Washington Custis Lee (left) and staffer Walter H. Taylor (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee at 707 E. Franklin Street with son George Washington Custis Lee (left) and staffer Walter H. Taylor (Library of Congress).

George Meade has reached Richmond, and he drops in on his old adversary, Robert E. Lee. After Appomattox, Lee was living at 707 E. Franklin Street. This is where Mathew Brady had shot now-iconic images of Lee with staffer Walter Taylor and eldest son George Washington Custis Lee on April 16. Lee did sign an Amnesty Oath, on October 2, and sent it on to Washington, but rather than act on it, Secretary of State William Seward gave it to a friend, apparently as a souvenir. Lee did not receive a formal pardon or get his citizenship restored, at least not during his lifetime. His amnesty oath was rediscovered in the National Archives in 1970, and President Gerald Ford signed the act that restored Lee’s citizenship in 1975.

The newspaper article by Theodore Lyman appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser on May 2 and May 4. In it, Lyman laid out the case that Philip Sheridan was receiving too much for victories during the Appomattox campaign, and Meade too little. “It is the object of this brief review not to depreciate the unquestioned merits of General Sheridan, but to show that the whole credit by no means belongs to him,” wrote Lyman. “In no one engagement did General Sheridan handle one-half as many troops as were commanded by General Meade. It was Meade’s troops that carried the rebel lines by assault, and it was his troops again that made the decisive charge at Sailor’s Run. At no period during the toilsome pursuit were they wanting in the right place and at the right moment. But General Sheridan is fortunate in his arm of the service, the swift-moving cavalry; and the cavalry are fortunate in their music—the trumpet.” The entire article appears in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe.

It was intended we should march through the city to-day, but the condition of the men after their long march from Burksville, and the appearance of the weather, threatening a storm, the march was postponed till to-morrow. I think it will take us from eight to ten days to march across. I hope to be in Alexandria by the fourteenth or fifteenth. I have not seen anyone here except the Wises and Tuckers. I have heard of a great many people here whom I formerly knew, but besides my occupation, I have been indisposed to visit any of them, because I know they all feel bitter, and many are really in distress, which I am powerless to relieve.

The house at 707 E. Franklin Street (Library of Congress).

The house at 707 E. Franklin Street (Library of Congress).

Last evening Markoe Bache, who had been to see his friend Custis Lee, was told by him that his father, General Lee, would be glad to see me. I called there to-day and had a long talk with him. I endeavored to convince him of the expediency and propriety of his taking the oath of allegiance, not only on his own account, but for the great influence his example would have over others. General Lee said he had personally no objections, that he was willing, and intended to submit to the Constitution and laws of the United States, but that now he was a paroled prisoner of war, and he was unwilling to change his present status until he could form some idea of what the policy of the Government was going to be towards the people of the South. I argued with him that it was impossible for the Government to decide how they were to be treated, until it was satisfied they had returned to their allegiance, and that the only practicable way of showing this was by taking the oath. He admitted that the military power of the Confederacy had been destroyed, and that practically there was now no Confederate Government. The Government of the United States was the only one having power and authority, and those who designed living under it, should evince their determination by going through this necessary form. He also spoke a great deal of the status of the negro, which is really the great and formidable question of the day; but I did not devise any very practicable suggestions. I had a long and interesting talk, and left him, really sad to think of his position, his necessities, and the difficulties which surround him.

Lyman has sent me a Boston paper, with a very excellent article written by himself, which I will send you.

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. 278-9. Available via Google Books.

Boiling and Fuming (April 17, 1865)

Theodore Lyman

Theodore Lyman

On April 17, 1865, Theodore Lyman pens one more defense of his chief, but not without touching on Meade’s flaws—especially his legendary temper.

Sadly, this marks the end of Lyman’s letters. With Lee’s army defeated, Meade’s loyal aide-de-camp returned to Boston. He had served Meade well, and provided one of the best accounts of life with the Army of the Potomac ever written. He and Meade remained in contact. In July, the Lymans hosted the Meades for an extended stay in Boston. When Meade died in 1872, Lyman helped raise money to support the family he left behind. Elected to Congress in 1883, Lyman served only one term. By this time he was feeling a numbness in his extremities, a gradually worsening condition that eventually left Lyman bedridden. It sounds like a neurodegenerative disease of some sort—perhaps amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known today as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As one biographer wrote, “His brave spirit in this growing isolation, which at last withdrew him from the sight of almost all except his own family, surmounted all barriers. . . . When his hand could no longer hold the pen, he spoke through his tender amanuensis words full of the same high courage and cheerful humor which had been his charm in earlier life.”

He died in September 1897. “Theodore Lyman—man of science—soldier—and man of the world—touched life at many points,” wrote George Agassiz, who edited his letters for publication. “He could draw easily on his varied experience, from a well-trained and well-stored mind. This, added to good looks, charm, and good humor, a ready wit and great tact, made him a striking and telling personality, whether in the camp, a scientific meeting, or social gathering.” Something of Lyman’s personality will always survive as long as people can read his lively and vibrant writing, and I hope everyone who has read these posts has enjoyed Lyman’s company as much as I have.

The Cadwallader Lyman mentions is Sylvanus Cadwallader, who covered the latter portion of the war for the New York Herald. He was the reporter who claimed credit for lifting the press boycott of Meade following the Edward Crapsey/Crospey incident. In an account of his war experiences completed in 1896 but not published until 1955 (as Three Years with Grant), Cadwallader expressed a high opinion of Meade. “Unavoidable circumstances growing out of the emergencies of war, often made him the military ‘football’ of these days,” he wrote: “but sober second thought of the American people ought to have corrected, long before this, much injustice there done him. That he was a great soldier, is scarcely denied by any one. But Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Wilson, and even Logan became for a time popular idols, and made it difficult to give Gen. Meade the place in the list that his services deserved . . . .” Cadwallader even said he had never seen any instances of Meade’s temper.

How wicked we are in this world!—Now, when I should be only overflowing with joy and thankfulness at these great results, I keep finding myself boiling and fuming over the personal neglect of General Meade and the totally undeserved prominence given to Sheridan. Yet Meade is really of no more consequence in this vast question of all time, than a sailor, who pulls a good oar, compared with the Atlantic Ocean. The truth will stand out in sober history, even for him—in the future Motleys and Prescotts. The plain truth about Meade is, first, that he is an abrupt, harsh man, even to his own officers, when in active campaign; and secondly, that he, as a rule, will not even speak to any person connected with the press. They do not dare to address him. With other generals, how different: at Grant’s Headquarters there is a fellow named Cadwalader, a Herald man, and you see the Lieutenant-General’s Staff officers calling, “Oh, Cad; come here a minute!” That is the style! With two or three exceptions, Grant is surrounded by the most ordinary set of plebeians you ever saw. I think he has them on purpose (to avoid advice), for he is a man who does everything with a specific reason; he is eminently a wise man. He knows very well Meade’s precise capacity and strong points. For example, if Meade says a certain movement of troops should be made, Grant makes it, almost as a matter of course, because he is so wise as to know that there is one of Meade’s strong points.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 358-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Exaggerated Praise (April 12, 1865)

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the official surrender ceremony for the Army of Northern Virginia, with Brig. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in charge of overseeing the event. After George Gordon Meade’s letter from April 12, I will include Chamberlain’s account of the surrender ceremony. Meade doesn’t write about that—he is fuming with indignation over the way Philip Sheridan is being lionized, while his own role in recent events is being ignored.

Your indignation at the exaggerated praise given to certain officers, and the ignoring of others, is quite natural. Still, I do not see how this evil is to be remedied, so long as our people and press are constituted as they are now. I have the consciousness that I have fully performed my duty, and have done my full share of the brilliant work just completed; but if the press is determined to ignore this, and the people are determined, after four years’ experience of press lying, to believe what the newspapers say, I don’t see there is anything for us but to submit and be resigned. Grant I do not consider so criminal; it is partly ignorance and partly selfishness which prevents his being aware of the effects of his acts. With Sheridan it is not so. His determination to absorb the credit of everything done is so manifest as to have attracted the attention of the whole army, and the truth will in time be made known. His conduct towards me has been beneath contempt, and will most assuredly react against him in the minds of all just and fair-minded persons.

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Grant has left us on a visit to Richmond and Washington. My army is being assembled around this place, where I presume we will await events in North Carolina, and go to Danville, and farther South if it should be deemed necessary. The prevailing belief is that Johnston, on learning the destruction of Lee’s army, will either surrender or disband his. It is hardly probable he will attempt to face Sherman and us.

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. 271. Available via Google Books.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Here is Chamberlain’s account. It is tinged in a glow of romanticism—I suspect the reality was perhaps a little less steeped with glory and reconciliation—but it is a classic account. This is from the end of Oliver Norton’s Attack and Defense of Little Round Top.

How or why it came about, I do not know, but on the evening of the 10th of April I was summoned to headquarters, and informed that I was to command the parade which was to receive the formal surrender of the arms and colors of the rebel army the next morning. This was an order, and to be received and obeyed without question. One request only I ventured to make of my corps commander. It was that, considering this occasion, I might resume command of my old brigade, the Third, from which I had been transferred in June, 1864, with which I had served up to that time since my entrance into the service. My request was granted, and on that evening I yielded the command of my gallant First brigade, and went back to my veterans.

General Grant was a magnanimous man, great-minded and large-minded. He would have nothing done for show and no vain ceremony. He granted to officers the high privilege of retaining their swords, and all men who owned their horses were made welcome to keep them, as they would need them to plow their land. The rebels had begged to be spared the pain of actually laying down their arms and colors in the presence of our troops, and to be permitted to stack them in front of their own camps and march off, and let us go and pick them up after they had gone. But this would be to err too far on the side of mildness. So it was insisted that, while the surrendering army should be spared all that could humiliate their manhood, yet the insignia of the rebellion and the tokens of the power and will to hurt, lifted against the country’s honor and life, must be laid down in due military form in presence of a designated portion of our army.

This latter office fell to our lot. It gave us, no doubt, a grateful satisfaction and permitted a modest pride, but it was not accepted as a token that we surpassed our comrades in merit of any kind.

We formed our line of battle on the southern margin of the principal street in Appomattox Court House. Massachusetts on the right — her Thirty-second regiment, with all that was left to us of her Ninth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-second; then Maine — her Twentieth regiment, with the delivered remnant of her Second and her First Sharpshooters; Michigan next — her Sixteenth, with interminglings of her First and Fourth. On the left Pennsylvania’— her One Hundred and Fifty-fifth holding also filaments which bound us with the Sixty-second, Eightythird, Ninety-first, and One Hundred and Eighteenth, an immortal band, which held in it the soul of the famous “Light Brigade,” and of the stern old First division, Porter’s, which was nucleus of the Fifth corps, men among them who had fired the first shot at Yorktown, and others that had fired the last at Appomattox, and who thus bore upon their banners all the battles of that army.

By the courtesy of General Bartlett the First brigade, which I had so long commanded, and the Second, which had been with me in this last campaign, were sent to me and held part in the parade, being formed on another line across the street and facing us. These were, with the exception of the One Hundred and Ninety-eighth Pennsylvania, composed of New York regiments,— the One Hundred and Eighty-fifth, One Hundred and Eighty-seventh, One Hundred and Eighty-eighth, and One Hundred and Eighty-ninth,— which in severe service had made themselves veterans worthy the fellowship of those sterling old New York regiments that had fulfilled their time and fame. Names and figures, all of these, dear to every heart that had shared their eventful and glorious history.

As we stood there in the morning mist, straining our eyes toward that camp about to break up for the last march, a feeling came over our hearts which led us to make some appropriate recognition of this great, last meeting.

We could not content ourselves with simply standing in line and witnessing this crowning scene. So instructions were sent to the several commanders that at the given signals, as the head of each division of the surrendering column approached their right, they should in succession bring their men to ” attention ” and arms to the ” carry,” then resuming the “ordered arms ” and the ” parade rest.” And now we see the little shelter tents on the opposite slope melting away and carefully folded, being things which were needed by men as men and not as tokens of rebellion. Soon the gray masses are in motion — once more toward us — as in the days that were gone. A thrilling sight. First, Gordon, with the “Stonewall Corps “; then their First corps,— Longstreet’s,— no less familiar to us and to fame; then Anderson, with his new Fourth corps; and lastly, A. P. Hill’s corps, commanded now by Heth, since Hill had fallen at one of the river fights a few days before. On they come with careless, swinging route step, the column thick with battle Hags, disproportionate to their depleted numbers. As they come opposite our right our bugle sounds the signal, repeated along our line. Each organization comes to “Attention,” and thereupon takes up successively the “Carry.” The gallant General Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes, and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped, and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the “Carry.” All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor word nor motion of man, but awful stillness, as if it were the passing of the dead. Now and then a gust of wind would spring up from the south with strange greeting; our starry ensigns stiffen and fly out as if to welcome back the returning brothers. The ensigns of rebellion seem to shrink back and strain away from the fated farewell.

So a division at a time covers our front. They halt, face inward, some ten paces from us; carefully “dress” their lines, each captain as careful of his alignment as if at a dress parade. Then they fix bayonets, stack arms, then wearily remove their cartridge boxes and hang them on the pile; lastly, reluctantly, painfully, they furl their battlestained flags and lay them down; some, unable to restrain themselves, rushing from the ranks, clinging to them, kneeling over them and kissing them with burning tears. And then the Flag of the Union floats alone upon the field.

Then, stripped of every sign of the rebellion and token of its hate and will to hurt, they march off to give their word of honor never to lift arms against the old flag again, and are free to go where they will in the broad Republic.

Thus division after division passes, and it takes the whole day long to complete this deliverance. Twenty-seven thousand men paroled, one hundred and forty cannon and near that number of battle flags surrendered, but only about seventeen thousand stand of small arms. For sometimes a whole brigade, or what was left of it, had scarcely a score of arms to surrender, having thrown them away by roadside and riverside in weariness of flight or hopelessness of heart, or disdaining to carry them longer, only to be taken from them in token of a lost cause. After this it remained only to gather up what was serviceable of this material of war and to destroy the rest. Nothing was left which could be turned to use against the Union armies. The cartridge-boxes were emptied on the ground for the most part, burned, and after the troops had withdrawn, at the first dusk of evening, it was a weird and almost sad sight to see the running flame with frequent bursts of lurid explosion along the lines where the surrendering army had stood; then only bits of leather writhing in the gray ashes.

All was over. With the dawn of morning the hillsides were alive with men, in groups or singly, on foot or horse, making their way as by the instinct of an ant, each with his own little burden, each for his own little harbor or home.

And we were left alone and lonesome! The familiar forms that had long so firmly held our eyes, until they almost demanded the sight of them for their daily satisfaction, had vanished like a dream. The very reason of our existence seemed to have been taken away. And when on the morrow we took up our march again, though homeward, something was lacking in the spring and spice which had enlivened us through even the dreariest times. To be sure, the war was not over yet, but we felt that the distinctive work of the old Third brigade was over. We were soon to be mustered out; but never to be again as if the Third brigade had not become a part of our lives; a part of our souls. There were “thoughts that ran before and after,” memories of things that cannot be told, and new purposes of manly living and hopes of useful service yet, in visions of a broader citizenship and the career of an enfranchised country.

“The Army of Northern Virginia Has Surrendered!” (April 9, 1865)

Robert E. Lee surrendered in Wilmer McLean's parlor. Afterwards, souvenir-seeking Union soldiers nearly stripped McLean's house of furnishings. In an attempt to recoup his losses, McLean commissioned this fanciful print of the surrender. George Meade is one of the people who appear here, but were not present at the actual surrender. Click to enlarge (via Wikipedia).

Robert E. Lee surrendered in Wilmer McLean’s parlor at Appomattox Court House. Afterwards, souvenir-seeking Union soldiers nearly stripped McLean’s house of furnishings. In an attempt to recoup his losses, McLean commissioned this fanciful print of the event. Goerge Meade is one of the people who appear here, but were not present at the actual surrender. Click to enlarge (via Wikipedia).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virgina. While this did not end the American Civil War, it certainly indicated that the end of was near. Lee’s army was the most prominent one of the Confederacy, and once it left the field, the others were sure to follow.

Here’s how I wrote about the surrender, which took place at Wilmer McLean’s home in the village of Appomattox Court House, in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

“Lee, immaculately attired in his clean dress uniform, arrived first and waited in McLean’s parlor with Charles Marshall. Grant rode up later, wearing a private’s coat with his insignia pinned on. After some small talk about the Mexican War (Lee somewhat passive-aggressively told Grant that, try as he might, he hadn’t been able to remember a single feature of his), the two men got down to business. With a number of Union officers watching, including Sheridan, Ord, Custer, Porter, and Seth Williams, Grant wrote out a letter offering generous terms of surrender: parole for the soldiers upon their promise not to raise arms against the U.S. government until properly exchanged, with the officers keeping their sidearms, horses, and baggage. Lee pointed out that many of the men owned their own horses as well, so Grant said he would tell his men to allow any soldier who claimed ownership of a horse or mule to keep it. ‘This will have the best possible effect upon the men,’ said Lee. ‘It will be very gratifying, and will do much toward conciliating our people.’

Wilmer McLean's house, as it appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

Wilmer McLean’s house, as it appeared in 1865 (Library of Congress).

The reconstructed McLean house, as it appears today.

The reconstructed McLean house, as it appears today.

Alfred Waud depicted Lee as he rode away from the surrender meeting (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud depicted Lee as he rode away from the surrender meeting (Library of Congress).

“Col. Ely Parker of Grant’s staff, a full-blooded Seneca Indian, wrote out a clean copy of Grant’s letter, and Lee had a formal letter of acceptance drafted. Lee told Grant his men lacked rations; Grant said he would make arrangements to have some delivered. Sheridan provided the only note of discord when he stepped forward and asked Lee to give him back some letters he had sent that morning complaining of truce violations. Lee handed them over. Then Grant and Lee signed their letters of agreement. Lee requested that Grant send a messenger to Meade with word of the surrender.

“It was all over sometime around 4:00, and Lee bowed to the Union officers and left the house with Marshall. As Lee waited for his orderly to bring his horse, he stood on the steps and gazed sadly into the distance. ‘He thrice smote the palm of his left hand slowly with his right fist in an absent sort of way, seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard, who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unaware of everything about him,’ wrote Horace Porter. ‘All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, moving toward him, and saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present. Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off at a slow trot to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.’”

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s account of the events he witnessed on this momentous day.

We all were up, according to habit, about daylight, with horses saddled, having staid near Stute’s house for the night. In reply to a summons from Grant, Lee has sent in a note to say that he would meet Grant at ten a.m. to confer on measures for peace. The Lieutenant-General answered that he had no authority in the premises and refused the interview; but repeated his offer to accept the army’s surrender on parole. Indeed, we suspected his affairs were from bad to worse, for last night we could hear, just at sunset, the distant cannon of Sheridan. He, with his cavalry, had made a forced march on Appomattox Station, where he encountered the head of the Rebel column (consisting, apparently, for the most part of artillery), charged furiously on it, and took twenty cannon and 1000 prisoners; and checked its progress for that night, during which time the 24th and 5th Corps, by strenuous marching, came up and formed line of battle quite across the Lynchburg road, west of Appomattox C.H. Betimes this morning, the enemy, thinking that nothing but cavalry was in their front, advanced to cut their way through, and were met by the artillery and musketry of two corps in position—(Ah! there goes a band playing “Dixie” in mockery. It is a real carnival!) This seems to have struck them with despair. Their only road blocked in front, and Humphreys’s skirmishers dogging their footsteps! Well, we laid the General in his ambulance (he has been sick during the whole week, though now much better) and at 6.30 a.m. the whole Staff was off, at a round trot—(90 miles have I trotted and galloped after that Lee, and worn holes in my pantaloons, before I could get him to surrender!). An hour after, we came on the 6th Corps streaming into the main road from the upper one. A little ahead of this we halted to talk with General Wright. At 10.30 came, one after the other, two negroes, who said that some of our troops entered Lynchburg yesterday; and that Lee was now cut off near Appomattox Court House. This gave us new wings! An aide-de-camp galloped on, to urge Humphreys to press the pursuit, and all waggons were ordered out of the road, that the 6th Corps might close in immediately on his rear. Away went the General again, full tilt, along the road crowded by the infantry, every man of whom was footing it, as if a lottery prize lay just ahead! A bugler trotted ahead, blowing to call the attention of the troops, while General Webb followed, crying, “Give way to the right! Give way to the right!” Thus we ingeniously worked our way, amid much pleasantry. “Fish for sale!” roared one doughboy. “Yes,” joined in a pithy comrade, “and a tarnation big one, too!” The comments on the General were endless. “That’s Meade.” “Yes, that’s him.” “Is he sick?” “I expect he is; he looks kinder wild!” “Guess the old man hain’t had much sleep lately.” The heavy artillery firing we had earlier heard, now had suddenly ceased, and there was a perfect stillness—a suspicious circumstance that gave us new hope. Somewhat before noon we got to General Humphreys, some five miles east of the Court House and at the very head of his men. He reported that he had just struck the enemy’s skirmish line, and was preparing to drive them back. At that moment an officer rode up and said the enemy were out with a white flag. “They shan’t stop me!” retorted the fiery H.; “receive the message but push on the skirmishers!” Back came the officer speedily, with a note. General Lee stated that General Ord had agreed to a suspension of hostilities, and he should ask for the same on this end of the line. “Hey! what!” cried General Meade, in his harsh, suspicious voice, “I have no sort of authority to grant such suspension. General Lee has already refused the terms of General Grant. Advance your skirmishers, Humphreys, and bring up your troops. We will pitch into them at once!” But lo! here comes now General Forsyth, who had ridden through the Rebel army, from General Sheridan (under a flag), and who now urged a brief suspension. “Well,” said the General, “in order that you may get back to Sheridan, I will wait till two o’clock, and then, if I get no communication from General Lee, I shall attack!” So back went Forsyth, with a variety of notes and despatches. We waited, not without excitement, for the appointed hour. Meantime, negroes came in and said the Rebel pickets had thrown down their muskets and gone leisurely to their main body; also that the Rebels were “done gone give up.” Presently, the General pulled out his watch and said: “Two o’clock—no answer—go forward.” But they had not advanced far, before we saw a Rebel and a Union officer coming in. They bore an order from General Grant to halt the troops. Major Wingate, of General Lee’s Staff, was a military-looking man, dressed in a handsome grey suit with gold lace, and a gold star upon the collar. He was courageous, but plainly mortified to the heart. “We had done better to have burnt our whole train three days ago”; he said bitterly. “In trying to save a train, we have lost an army!” And there he struck the pith of the thing. And so we continued to wait till about five, during which time General Humphreys amused us with presents of Confederate notes, of which we found a barrel full (!) in the Rebel waggons. It was a strange spectacle, to see the officers laughing and giving each other $500 notes of a government that has been considered as firmly established by our English friends!

About five came Major Pease. Headed by General Webb, we gave three cheers, and three more for General Meade. Then he mounted and rode through the 2d and 6th Corps. Such a scene followed as I can never see again. The soldiers rushed, perfectly crazy, to the roadside, and there crowding in dense masses, shouted, screamed, yelled, threw up their hats and hopped madly up and down! The batteries were run out and began firing, the bands played, the flags waved. The noise of the cheering was such that my very ears rang. And there was General Meade galloping about and waving his cap with the best of them! Poor old Robert Lee! His punishment is too heavy—to hear those cheers, and to remember what he once was! My little share of this work is done. God willing, before many weeks, or even days, I shall be at home, to campaign no more.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 355-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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No Rest for the Wicked (April 6, 1865)

A view of Amelia Courthouse today. Lee was delayed here while he waited for his army to concentrate and for rations that never arrived.

A view of Amelia Court House today. Lee was delayed here while he waited for his army to concentrate and for rations that never arrived.

The Union armies’ struggle with the Army of Northern Virginia has turned into a race. Lee’s exhausted forces trace a westward course across the Virginia countryside, shedding men, equipment, and horses like a comet burning up in the atmosphere. Theodore Lyman continues his observations of what it was like to be among the pursuers, as Sheridan’s cavalry nips at Lee’s heels, and the infantry plunges ahead in attempt to place the killing blow. And, as far as Lyman (and Meade) are concerned, Sheridan is eager to grab for all the glory.

Lyman remained so incensed about Sheridan’s credit grab at Sailor’s Creek that a month later he wrote a letter to the Boston Advertiser about it. It was Wright who attacked, he said, “and he was under the immediate orders of General Meade, and had nothing whatever to do with General Sheridan, whose entire command numbered not over 7000 mounted men, while the Second and Sixth Corps had together not less than 25,000 men actually in the fight.”

We are pelting after Old Lee as hard as the poor doughboys’ legs can go. I estimate our prisoners at 16,000, with lots of guns and colors. At six a.m. the three infantry corps advanced in line of battle, on Amelia Court House; 2d on the left; 5th in the centre; and 6th on the right. Sheridan’s cavalry, meantime, struck off to the left, to head off their waggon-trains in the direction of the Appomattox River. We did not know just then, you perceive, in what precise direction the enemy was moving. Following the railroad directly towards Amelia C.H., General Meade received distinct intelligence, at nine o’clock, that the enemy was moving on Deatonsville, intending probably to cross the Appomattox at High Bridge. Instantly General Meade gave orders for the 6th Corps to face about and move by the left flank and seek roads in the direction of High Bridge, with the idea of supporting the cavalry in their attempt to head off the enemy; the 2d Corps were turned into the left-hand road nearest Jetersville, and directed to push on and strike the enemy wherever they could. At nine we got to the left-hand road lying some way beyond Jetersville, and here the 5th Corps was turned in, with orders to follow the road through Paineville and attack whatever they found. These prompt dispositions ensured the grand success of the day, which the newspapers have gracefully handed over to General Sheridan! Here I may as well say that Lee was trying to escape with his large artillery and waggon trains. At first he thought to move directly along the railroad, through Burkeville, to Danville. Cut off by the 5th Corps and the cavalry, he now was trying to march “cross lots” and get to the Danville road, somewhere below us. . . . At ten, we got back to Jetersville, a collection of half-a-dozen houses with a country church. From the second story of a house I witnessed a most curious spectacle—a fight, four miles off in a straight line! At that point was a bare ridge, a little above Deatonsville, and there, with my good glass, I could see a single man very well. It was just like a play of marionettes! and the surrounding woods made side scenes to this stage. At first, I saw only the Rebel train, moving along the ridge towards Deatonsville, in all haste: there now goes a pigmy ambulance drawn by mouse-like horses, at a trot. Here come more ambulances and many waggons from the woods, and disappear, in a continuous procession, over the ridge. Suddenly—boom! boom! and the distant smoke of Humphreys’ batteries curls above the pine trees. At this stimulus the Lilliputian procession redoubles its speed (I am on the point of crying “bravo!” at this brilliant stroke of the gentleman who is pulling the wires). But now enter from the woods, in some confusion, a good number of Rebel cavalry; they form on the crest—but, boom! boom! go the cannon, and they disappear. Ah! here come the infantry! Now for a fight! Yes, a line of battle in retreat, and covering the rear. There are mounted officers; they gallop about, waving their tiny swords. Halt! The infantry form a good line on the crest; you can’t scare them. What are they carrying? Spears? No, rails; that’s what it is, rails for to revet a breastwork. They scramble about like ants. You had better hurry up, Yanks, if you want to carry that crest! (The stage manager informs me the Yanks are hurrying and the next act will be—Enter Duke Humphrey, in haste.) Hullo! There come six fleet mice dragging something, followed by more: yes, a battery. They unlimber: a pause: Flash!—(count twenty-two seconds by Captain Barrows’s watch) then, bang!—flash! flash! bang! bang! There come in their skirmishers! running for their lives; certainly the Yanks are in those woods. Now they turn their guns more to the left; they are getting flanked. Their officers gallop wildly. You seem to hear them shout, “Change front to the rear!” anyhow they do so, at a double-quick. Then one volley of musketry, and they are gone, guns and all! The next moment our skirmishers go swarming up the hill; up goes a battery, and down goes the curtain.

Alfred Waud titled this sketch "The Last of Ewell's Corps." It depicted an incident at the Battle of Sailor's Creek. On the back, Waud wrote, "This was quite an effective incident in its way. The soldiers silhoutted [sic] against the western sky with their muskets thrown butt upwards in token of surrender, as our troops closed in beyond a wagon train which was captured, and burning debris probably other wagons in the gathering gloom." Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Alfred Waud titled this sketch “The Last of Ewell’s Corps.” It depicted an incident at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. On the back, Waud wrote, “This was quite an effective incident in its way. The soldiers silhoutted [sic] against the western sky with their muskets thrown butt upwards in token of surrender, as our troops closed in beyond a wagon train which was captured, and burning debris probably other wagons in the gathering gloom.” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

There is no rest for the wicked. All day long the peppery Humphreys, glaring through those spectacles, presses hotly in their rear; the active Sheridan is felling trees across their front; on their right is the Appomattox, impassible; and now, as the afternoon closes, here comes the inevitable Wright, grimly on their left flank, at Sailor’s Creek. The 6th Corps charges; they can’t be stopped—result, five Rebel generals; 8600 prisoners, 14 cannon; the Rebel rear-guard annihilated! As we get to our camp, beyond Deatonsville, there comes a Staff officer with a despatch. “I attacked with two divisions of the 6th Corps. I captured many thousand prisoners, etc., etc. P. H. Sheridan.” “Oh,” said Meade, “so General Wright wasn’t there.” “Oh, yes!” cried the Staff officer, as if speaking of some worthy man who had commanded a battalion, “Oh, yes, General Wright was there.” Meade turned on his heel without a word, and Cavalry Sheridan’s despatch proceeded — to the newspapers!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 348-51. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Those Cavalry Bucks (April 5, 1865)

Philip Sheridan with (left to right) Col. James Forsyth, Wesley Merritt, Thomas C. Devin and George Custer (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan with (left to right) Col. James Forsyth, Wesley Merritt, Thomas C. Devin and George Custer (Library of Congress).

Meade did not like Philip Sheridan—a feeling shared by Theodore Lyman, as this letter of Lyman’s about the events of April 5 demonstrates. A year earlier Meade and Sheridan had clashed over the cavalry’s failure to clear the Brock Road south of the Wilderness to Spotsylvania. Now Meade felt that Sheridan was too eager to grab after all the military glory he could get—even if it came at the expense of the Army of the Potomac. Here Lyman portrays Sheridan and his cavalry in a very critical light as the army continues its pursuit of Lee’s army.

Last night, at 9.30, came a note from Sheridan, dated at Jetersville, saying that he was there, entrenched, with the 5th Corps and a part of the cavalry; that the whole Rebel army was in his front trying to get off its trains; that he expected to be attacked, but, if the remaining infantry could be hurried up, there was a chance of taking the whole of the enemy. Although the 2d Corps had only gone into bivouac at eight in the morning, and had no rations at that moment, General Meade issued orders for them to move at one at night and push on for Jetersville, followed by the 6th Corps, which lay just behind. The distance was fifteen or sixteen miles. I was sleeping on the floor, in the same room with the General, to look out for him in case he needed anything; for he had a distressing cough and a high fever, but would not give in, for he has a tremendous nervous system that holds him up through everything. General Webb was worn out with want of sleep, so I was up most of the night, writing and copying and receiving the despatches. The General talked a great deal and was very excited in his thoughts, though his head was perfectly clear. General Humphreys had slept, I don’t know when—but there he was, as sturdy as ever, issuing orders for the advance, with his eyes wide open, as much as to say; “Sleep—don’t mention it!” At one in the morning, sure enough, he moved; but had not got a mile, when, behold the whole of Merritt’s division of cavalry, filing in from a side road, and completely closing the way! That’s the way with those cavalry bucks: they bother and howl about infantry not being up to support them, and they are precisely the people who always are blocking up the way; it was so at Todd’s Tavern, and here again, a year after. They are arrant boasters, and, to hear Sheridan’s Staff talk, you would suppose his ten thousand mounted carbineers had crushed the entire Rebellion. Whereas they are immediately cleaned out, the moment they strike a good force of foot-men, and then they cry wolf merrily. The plain truth is, they are useful and energetic fellows, but commit the error of thinking they can do everything and that no one else does do anything. Well, Humphreys could not stir a step till seven next morning, but, meantime, his men got rest by the roadside and his rations were, with incredible exertions, gotten up to him, over fearful roads. At about nine o’clock we put the General in his four-horse waggon, wherein he can lie down, and followed the column, first along the main Namozine road, and then, striking off to the right, across the fields to Jetersville. At ten, we got word that the enemy were still near Amelia Court House, and the infantry were continually ordered to press on, the General stirring up the halting brigades, as he rode past. Some four miles this side of Childer’s house (where Sheridan was) we came upon General Humphreys, at a large house of one Perkinson. Near by were several hundred Rebel prisoners, looking pretty gaunt, for we had nothing to give, and but little food for our own troops. I think that we have been obliged to give mule meat to some of our prisoners, during this campaign, to keep them alive till they could get to supplies; and some of our own men have gone very hungry, because, in the haste of pursuit, they marched straight away from the waggons. … At 1.30 we found General Sheridan at the house, which was perhaps a mile south of Jetersville. Along the front was the 5th Corps, strongly entrenched, while the cavalry covered the flanks. A little before three, Sheridan rode off to the left, to help in Davies whom the enemy’s infantry was trying to cut off. Before this, at two, the head of the 2d Corps was up and the troops went rapidly into position; for, a couple of hours later, Mr. Sheridan (and still more his officers) had a stampede that Lee was coming on top of us. For once in my life I will say I knew better than that, and laughed the cavalry Staff to scorn; for I was dead certain it was only a demonstration, to protect their trains and find our strength. In truth they never came even in sight of our infantry pickets. Though he was not fit for the saddle, General Meade insisted on riding out beyond the lines to talk with Sheridan. He treated him very handsomely and did not avail of his rank to take command over his cavalry, but merely resumed the 5th Corps—a generosity that General Sheridan has hardly reciprocated!

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 345-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Hard March (April 4, 1865)

Theodore Lyman continues his narrative of the last days of the war—or, at least, the war against the Army of Northern Virginia.

We had camped last night round about Sutherland’s Station, as I told you. The fields there were covered with waggons that had parked ready to follow the army. Here too was the scene of Miles’s fight of the 2d, and the Rebel breastworks, with scattered ammunition and dead artillery horses, still marked the spot. Grant had camped there, too, and had confirmed the rumor that Richmond was in our hands; also had stated that Sheridan, in his pursuit towards Amelia Court House, reported much abandoned property by the way, and the capture of prisoners and guns. Everybody was in great spirits, especially the 6th Corps, which cheered Meade vociferously, wherever he showed himself. It would take too much time to tell all the queer remarks that were made; but I was amused at two boys in Petersburg, one of whom was telling the officers, rather officially, that he was not a Rebel at all. “Oh!” said the other sturdily, “you’ve changed your tune since yesterday, and I can lick you, whatever you are!”

This morning the whole army was fairly marching in pursuit. … It was a hard march, for two poor roads are not half enough for a great army and its waggon trains, and yet we took nothing on wheels but the absolute essentials for three or four days. We were up at four o’clock, to be ready for an early start; all the roads were well blocked with waggons toiling slowly towards the front. Riding ahead, we came upon General Wright, halted near a place called Mt. Pleasant Church. The bands were playing and the troops were cheering for the fall of Richmond, which, as the jocose Barnard (Captain on Wheaton’s Staff) said, “Would knock gold, so that it wouldn’t be worth more than seventy-five cents on the dollar!” Suddenly we heard renewed cheers, while the band played “Hail to the Chief.” We looked up the road, and, seeing a body of cavalry, supposed the Lieutenant-General was coming. But lo! as they drew nearer, we recognized the features of Colonel Mike Walsh (erst a sergeant of cavalry), who, with an admirable Irish impudence, was acknowledging the shouts of the crowd that mistook him for Grant!

We continued our ride. This country, from Gravelly Run up, is no longer the flat sand of Petersburg, but like Culpeper, undulating, with quartz and sandstone, and a red soil. About five we halted at Mrs. Jones’s, a little east of Deep Creek, and prepared to go supperless to bed on the floor or on the grass, for our waggons were hopelessly in the rear. General Humphreys was across the Run, whither General Meade went, and came back with him at dusk. The General was very sick; he had been poorly since Friday night, and now was seized with a chill, followed by a violent fever, which excited him greatly, though it did not impair the clearness of his head. Good Humphreys got us something to eat and so we all took to our hoped-for rest.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 341-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Five Forks (April 1, 1865)

A print depicts Sheridan's attack at Five Forks. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A print depicts Sheridan’s attack at Five Forks. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

George Meade writes a short note to his wife on April 1. He mentions that her brother, Willie, had been injured in the fighting for the White Oak Road, but underestimates the severity of the wound. Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman provides a more detailed account of the fighting, including the battle of Five Forks, where Philip Sheridan relieved the V Corps’ Gouverneur Warren of command. Here’s how I describe the events of April 1 in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren

Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren (Library of Congress).

Grant had ordered a movement to get around Lee’s right, with Sheridan’s cavalry moving to Dinwiddie Court House, south of Five Forks, and operating in conjunction with the V Corps. Sheridan and Warren didn’t get along, apparently ever since Warren had complained about Sheridan’s cavalry blocking his way en route to Spotsylvania Court House the previous spring. The relationship did not improve after one of Warren’s divisions had to extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31. Sheridan did not like to admit he needed help from anyone, much less a cautious Army of the Potomac engineer like Warren.

Admittedly, Warren possessed a natural talent for irritating generals. Meade had reached the end of his patience with his onetime protégé. Grant, too, had tired of Warren’s quirks and, like Meade, had discovered a “defect” in Warren’s character: “He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” Grant told Sheridan he was free to relieve Warren and replace him if he felt it was necessary, thus sowing the seeds for Warren’s downfall.

PortraitSheridan wanted to attack the Confederate lines around Five Forks at noon on April 1. He fumed and fretted when Warren wasn’t ready until 4:00. . . . Warren finally put his three divisions into motion, heading north toward the White Oak Road, but Sheridan had misinformed him about the enemy’s position. Two divisions veered left to correct their advance, but Samuel Crawford’s men kept marching straight ahead and missed the Confederate lines altogether. Warren rode off to find Crawford and get him back on track.

A soldier in the 20th Maine recalled the excitement as the other two divisions swept over the enemy’s lines at the Angle, a spot where the rebel defenses bent back on themselves. “Sheridan went dashing past us, wild with the excitement of victory, shouting, as he swung his clenched hand through the air, ‘Smash ’em! Smash ’em! We have a record to make before the sun goes down; we must have the Southside road.’”

In the meantime Warren found Crawford’s men and got them heading the right way. In what turned out to be a great stroke of luck, their errant march had put them in a perfect position to attack the rebel flank and rear. Warren led the soldiers over the barricades and had his horse shot out from under him. “General Warren caught the corps flag from the hand of the man who carried it, and dashed across this field, leading on a column of soldiers he had hastily formed for the charge,” the same soldier recalled. “It was the most gallant deed of the whole day’s battle, and the whole rebel line was now in our possession.”

The Battle of Five Forks marked the beginning of the end for Lee’s army—it was “the Waterloo of the Confederacy.” The rebels had suffered a severe blow. Now that the Union army could move forward and sever the South Side Railroad, Petersburg and Richmond were doomed. Warren and the V Corps had delivered the blow that ensured the victory. Yet Sheridan, still livid over what he perceived as Warren’s inexcusable slowness–and probably unwilling to share any credit for the victory—decided that Warren had not participated in the fighting at all. He ordered Charles Griffin to take over the V Corps and sent a note to Warren relieving him of command.

Warren was stunned. He rode to Sheridan and asked him to reconsider. “I don’t reconsider my decisions!” Sheridan barked. “Obey the order!”

Meade received word of the victory at Five Forks by telegram–but nothing about Warren. He sent a message to Grant. “I am truly delighted with the news from Sheridan,” he said. “What part did Warren take? I take it for granted he was engaged.”

“The Fifth Corps was in and did splendidly,” Grant replied, “but Sheridan had to relieve Warren on the field after the fight began.”

The word of Warren’s relief hit his subordinates like a thunderbolt. “I was astonished at this news and could not imagine what the trouble was,” said Charles Wainwright. “The only thing that occurred to me was that Warren might have got into one of his ugly fits and said what he ought not to.” Wainwright used his journal to vent about Warren’s ill temper, but he didn’t agree with Sheridan’s decision. “To me his removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears wrong and very cruel,” he wrote.

We have been moving and fighting the last three days, and I have not gone to bed till after one and two in the morning, and then up at five. We have had considerable fighting with the enemy out of his works, into which we have invariably driven him; but when there he is too strong for us, and the farther we go round to our left, we still find a formidable entrenched line. I think, however, we will this time reach the Southside Railroad, and if we do so, I should not be surprised if Lee evacuated his Petersburg lines and withdrew north of the Appomattox. Should he remain in them, he will have to stretch out so far that we may find a chance to pierce him.

Your brother Willie was wounded yesterday, not dangerously, as I telegraphed you. He left this morning, and I sent George to accompany him to City Point, and if necessary to Philadelphia. Jim Biddle arrived yesterday.

Now Lyman describes the Battle of Five Forks.

You will see the April Fool was on the Rebels; for they did not know that, the night before, we had sent down an entire corps of infantry (the 5th) to aid the worsted Sheridan. Their infantry had contented itself with retiring from Sheridan’s front, half-way to the White Oak road, and going into camp with a precautionary breastwork in their front. As they lay there, resting, Warren struck them in the flank and swung round, even into their rear, while the cavalry charged their front. After a brief but determined resistance, the enemy broke and fled in wild confusion; 4000 and over were captured and a large part of the rest hopelessly scattered in the woods. Thus our movement, which had begun in simple advantage, now grew to brilliant success, and was destined to culminate, within twenty-four hours, in complete victory.

We were up pretty early, as usual, and at 6.30 A.m. were already at Grant’s Headquarters. These were close to Dabney’s Mill, now marked only by a huge pile of sawdust — a veteran battle-ground, marked by two considerable actions and many minor skirmishes. Indeed that whole tract is a network of picket-pits and hasty breastworks. After visiting Humphreys, on the Quaker road, we returned to the Lieutenant-General’s, and here it was that a note from Sheridan told that he was driving the enemy. Grant folded the slip of paper, and, looking at Meade, said, very quietly: “Very well, then I want Wright and Parke to assault to-morrow morning at four o’clock.” These dozen words settled the fate of Petersburg and of Richmond! It was midnight when General Warren suddenly came into our camp, followed by only one Staff officer. I got him something to eat, but was surprised to see no look of gratification at his victory to-day. Poor man! he had been relieved from command of his Corps. I don’t know the details, but I have told you of the difficulties he has had with the General, from his tendency to substitute his own judgment for that of his commanding officer. It seems that Grant was much moved against him by this. The General had nothing to do with it. I am sorry, for I like Warren.

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. 268-9. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 332-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Sherman (March 29, 1865)

And so it begins. The V Corps moved out early in the morning of March 29, heading west to stretch Lee’s already thin line to the breaking point. Fighting broke out when the men of Joshua Chamberlain’s 3rd Brigade men encountered Confederates entrenched along the Quaker Road. Among the defenders were the command of Henry Wise—former Virginia governor and Meade’s brother-in-law.. Splashing through the cold waters of Gravelly Run, the two regiments of Chamberlain’s brigade assaulted the enemy defenses. “The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot,” Chamberlain recalled.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman writes home about an encounter with William T. Sherman, who had come north to meet with Grant.

To-day we have made a movement to our left, and I am to-night in new headquarters, having abandoned the pleasant quarters you were in.

The enemy attacked Griffin’s Division about 5 p.m., but were handsomely repulsed. I regret, however, to announce the death of Dr. McEwen’s son, who fell in this affair. I have telegraphed Jim Biddle to announce this event to the doctor, for whom I feel deeply.

Theodore Lyman takes a break from the campaign to write home and includes an account from the day before, when he had seen a herd of generals at City Point.

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

This has been a day of manoeuvre and not much fighting. To-morrow may see something more serious. It seems like old times to be once more writing on my knee and sitting in a tent without a board floor. I prefer it; there is novelty in seeing a new bit of country. Yesterday we had an interesting trip to City Point. General Meade said to me, to my great surprise: “I am going down to-morrow to see Sherman!” Which, as I supposed Sherman to be at that moment somewhere near Goldsboro’, seemed a rather preposterous idea! At an early hour we got to Grant’s Headquarters and found le monde not yet up. Soon, however, they began to peer out of their log houses and General Meade marched in to visit the great Mogul. As I was looking in that direction, there suddenly issued from the house a tall figure who jerked himself forward, pulled suddenly up, and regarded the landscape with an inquisitive and very wrinkled expression. This was the redoubtable Sherman himself. He is a very remarkable-looking man, such as could not be grown out of America—the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom. He is tall, spare, and sinewy, with a very long neck, and a big head at the end of the same. The said big head is a most unusual combination. I mean that, when a man is spare, with a high forehead, he usually has a contracted back to his head; but Sherman has a swelling “fighting” back to his head, and all his features express determination, particularly the mouth, which is wide and straight, with lips that shut tightly together. He is a very homely man, with a regular nest of wrinkles in his face, which play and twist as he eagerly talks on each subject; but his expression is pleasant and kindly. But he believes in hard war. I heard him say: “Columbia! — pretty much all burned; and burned good!” There too was “little Phil Sheridan,” scarce five feet high, with his sun-browned face and sailor air. I saw Sherman, Grant, Meade, and Sheridan, all together. A thing to speak of in after years!

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. 268. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 326-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Packing (March 28, 1865)

The Army of the Potomac prepares for its spring offensive against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Theodore Lyman reports.

You must let me off with a few lines to-night, because I have some little packing yet to do and would like a good modicum of slumber; for to-morrow we are up and moving betimes in light order. I do not look for any grand action from this (taking the liberty of guessing where I am in the dark). I fancy a heavy infantry force will move to our left and rear, to mask and protect a great movement of cavalry with Sheridan at its head, directed at the South Side R. R. and other communications; all of which the enemy must be fully aware of; but I don’t think he can have one half our force in cavalry. The amount of fighting will depend on the moves of the enemy; but I do not ever expect to see more than one such field-day as we used to have in the ever memorable campaign of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania— perhaps not even one. Meantime I will not recklessly run against bullets. It isn’t my style; not exactly. Yesterday I rode about with the General, who confabbed with Wright, Warren, and the gay Humphreys. The latter is confirmed as the commander of the 2d Corps, at which we are glad, for he was only its commander ad interim before.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 326. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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.