A Tender Adieu (October 29, 1864)

General Meade continues to stew over the article in Henry Ward Beecher’s Independent, which said that Ulysses s. Grant desired to get rid of him. One gets the sense that Meade was less angry at the paper and more concerned that it might have hit on the truth about Grant’s feelings. It’s possible that Meade was more jittery than usual because of the impending presidential election. Lincoln had waited until after an election season to relieve George McClellan, and perhaps Meade worried the same thing was going to happen to him.

I had a conversation with Grant in reference to my letter about Beecher’s article, and told him I did not care about his despatches, but desired he would furnish me a few lines for publication, that would set at rest, as far as he was concerned, the wicked and malicious falsehoods which that article contained. This he said he would most cheerfully give me. At the same time I told him that, whilst I did not doubt the good feeling of the President and Secretary for me, yet I was satisfied of the existence of a bitter hostility towards me on the part of certain supporters of the President, and I did not desire to embarrass Mr. Lincoln, nor did I wish to retain command by mere sufferance; and that, unless some measures were taken to satisfy the public and silence the persistent clamor against me, I should prefer being relieved; that I was becoming disheartened, and my usefulness and influence with the army were being impaired. In all successful operations I was ignored, and the moment anything went wrong I was held wholly responsible, and rather than continue in this way, I would prefer retiring, and desired him to say this to the President.

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand (Library of Congress).

Yesterday Theodore Lyman wrote about the arrival of two Frenchman who came to observe the Army of the Potomac. Such visitors were not a rarity, but the demands required of a gracious host could make them a nuisance. Here Lyman explains how he contrived to get rid of them. It makes sense that the visitors would want to visit General Régis Dénis de Keredern de Trobriand, for he was a countryman of theirs. De Trobriand had been born into wealth and privilege in France in 1816, married an American heiress, and moved to New York City in 1847. He volunteered for the army when war broke out and proved to be a capable officer, commanding a brigade in the III Corps at Gettysburg. At this point he commanded a brigade in Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps.

After the war de Trobriand wrote Quatre ans a l’armeé du Potomac. He had this to say about Hancock, whose tenure with the Army of the Potomac ended after the Battle of Burgess’s Mill: “General Hancock is one of the handsomest men in the United States army. He is tall in stature, robust in figure, with movements of easy dignity. His head, shaded by thick hair of a light chestnut color, strikes one favorably from the first by the regularity of his features and the engaging expression which is habitual to him. His manners are generally very polite. His voice is pleasant, and his speech as agreeable as his looks. Such is Hancock in repose. In action he is entirely different. Dignity gives way to activity; his features become animated, his voice loud, his eyes are on fire, his blood kindles, and his bearing is that of a man carried away by passion, —the character of his bravery. It is this, I think, which renders him much less fit for an independent command than to act under orders. We will see in the course of our narrative that, after having distinguished himself above all others at the head of a division or an army corps, he was much less fortunate in independent operations which were intrusted to him. Brilliant in the second rank, he did not shine so brightly when occupying the first. Was it a question of execution? he was admirable. If it was necessary to plan and direct, he was no longer equal to the occasion. This is often the case amongst soldiers.”

Having been seized with a powerful suspicion that the valiant Frenchmen would fain squat, to speak in Western phrase, at our Headquarters, I applied my entire mind to shipping them; for, as a travelled man, it was a matter of pride not to be put upon by a brace of such chaps. So I lay [in] wait till they said they would like to see General de Trobriand, and then I hastened to place them on horseback and give an orderly as a guide and tenderly shake hands with them, grieving I should not have the delight of seeing them again! There was a look about their intelligent countenances that seemed to say: “Ah, you are not so soft as we thought,” as they bid me a tender adieu.

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. 237-8. 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, p. 256. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.