All Responsibility (December 2, 1863)

In a letter that reads less like a missive from a husband to a wife and more like a brief for the defense, George Gordon Meade outlines the reasons why he called off the attack on Lee’s defenses at Mine Run.

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

Major General George Gordon Meade (lLibrary of Congress).

I expect your wishes will now soon be gratified, and that I shall be relieved from the Army of the Potomac. The facts are briefly these: On the 26th ultimo I crossed the Rapidan, intending to turn the right flank of General Lee and attack him, or compel him to attack me out of his formidable river entrenchments. I had previously been advised, by deserters and others, that he had commenced a line of works running perpendicular to the river, but only extending a few miles, but which he designed covering his flank, and permitting him to leave the lower fords unguarded. I accordingly made my plans to cross in three columns, to unite at a common point below his entrenchments, and then to advance rapidly and attack him before he could prepare any defenses. The plan was a good one, but owing to the failure of others to whom its execution was necessarily intrusted, it failed. In the first place, one corps [William French and the III] was three hours behind time in arriving at the river, and slow of movement afterwards; which caused a delay of one day, enabled the enemy to advance and check my columns before they united, and finally to concentrate his army in a very formidable position, behind entrenchments almost as strong as those I was making a long detour to avoid. Again, after I had come up with the enemy, one corps commander [Warren] reported he had examined a position where there was not the slightest doubt he could carry the enemy’s works, and on his positive and unhesitating judgment, he was given twenty-eight thousand men, and directed to attack the next morning at eight o’clock. At the same time another attack was to be made by fifteen thousand men, at a point where the enemy evidently was not fully prepared. On the eventful morning, just as the attack was about being made, I received a despatch from the officer commanding the twenty-eight thousand men, saying he had changed his opinion, and that the attack on his front was so hopeless, that he had assumed the responsibility of suspending it till further orders were received. This astounding intelligence reached me just ten minutes before the hour of attacking, and barely in time to suspend the other attack, which was a secondary one, and which, even if successful, could not be supported with so large a portion of my force away for the main attack. This lost me another day, during which the enemy so strengthened the point threatened by the secondary attack as to render it nearly as strong as the rest of his line, and to have almost destroyed the before probable chances of success. Finding no possibility of attacking with hope of success, and power to follow up success, and that the only weak point visible had been strengthened during the delay caused by the change of opinion of a corps commander, I determined not to attempt an assault. I could not move any further around the enemy’s flank, for want of roads, and from the danger at this season of the year of a storm, which would render locomotion, off the prepared roads, a matter of impossibility. After reviewing all the circumstances, notwithstanding my most earnest desire to give battle, and in the full consciousness of the fact that my failure to do so was certain personal ruin, I, having come to the conclusion that an attack could not be successful, determined to, and did, withdraw the army. I am fully aware it will be said I did wrong in deciding this question by reasoning, and that I ought to have tried, and then a failure would have been evidence of my good judgment; but I trust I have too much reputation as a general to be obliged to encounter certain defeat, in order to prove that victory was not possible. Political considerations will, however, enter largely into the decision, and the failure of the Army of the Potomac to do anything, at this moment, will be considered of vital consequence, and if I can be held responsible for this failure, I will be removed to prove that I am. I therefore consider my fate as settled; but as I have told you before, I would rather be ignominiously dismissed, and suffer anything, than knowingly and wilfully have thousands of brave men slaughtered for nothing. It was my deliberate judgment that I ought not to attack; I acted on that judgment, and I am willing to stand or fall by it at all hazards. I shall write to the President, giving him a clear statement of the case, and endeavoring to free his action as much as possible, by assuming myself all the responsibility. I feel of course greatly disappointed; a little more good fortune, and I should have met with brilliant success. As it is, my conscience is clear. I did the best I could. If I had thought there was any reasonable degree of probability of success, I would have attacked. I did not think so; on the contrary, believed it would result in a useless and criminal slaughter of brave men, and might result in serious disaster to the army. I determined not to attack, no other movements were practicable, and I withdrew. There will be a great howl all over the country. Letter writers and politicians will denounce me. It will be proved as clear as the light of day, that an attack was perfectly practicable, and that everyone, except myself, in the army, particularly the soldiers, was dying for it, and that I had some mysterious object in view, either in connection with politics, or stock-jobbing, or something else about as foreign to my thoughts, and finally the Administration will be obliged to yield to popular clamor and discard me. For all this I am prepared, fortified as I said before by a clear conscience, and the conviction that I have acted from a high sense of duty, to myself as a soldier, to my men as their general, and to my country and its cause, as the agent having its vital interests solemnly entrusted to me, which I have no right wantonly to play with and to jeopardize, either for my own personal benefit, or to satisfy the demands of popular clamor, or interested politicians.

George was sent with one of the messages to suspend the attack; his horse fell with him, he was a little bruised and cut about the eye, but nothing serious.

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. 156-9. Available via Google Books.

Satisfaction (November 9, 1863)

On November 9 Meade writes to his wife with his comments on the Battle of Rappahannock Station.

When I last wrote to you I thought we were on the eve of a great battle, and I was also under the impression that the work I had before me was likely to prove a very severe task. The enemy occupied very strong positions on the Rappahannock, which at one place I knew were strongly entrenched, and I believed they were so at other points. Thanks, however, to their being entirely deceived as to my capacity to move, and to the gallantry of my men, we were enabled to carry then- strong works and to force the passage of the river (considered one of the most critical operations in war), with a comparatively small loss, and with great eclat, as we captured four guns, eight battle flags and nearly two thousand prisoners. The operation being successful, the army is in fine spirits, and of course I am more popular than ever, having been greeted yesterday as I rode through the ranks with great cheering; and my having forced the passage of the Rappahannock and compelled Lee to retire to the Rapidan, will I trust convince the intelligent public that my retreat to Centreville was not to avoid battle, and that Lee, who was not outflanked, or had his communications threatened, but was attacked in front, and yet withdrew, is really the one who has avoided battle. I certainly expected he would fight, and can only now account for his not doing so on the ground that he was deceived as to my strength and construed my sudden and bold advance into an evidence that I had been strongly reinforced and greatly outnumbered him. I must say I was greatly disappointed when I found Lee refused my offer of battle, because I was most desirous of effecting something decisive, and I know his refusal was only a postponement of a question that had to be met and decided.

I have received a telegram from the President, expressing his satisfaction with my operations.

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. 155-6. Available via Google Books.

Lyman Reports (October 26 and 28, 1863)

Theodore Lyman reports from the Army of the Potomac on October 26 and 28. In the first letter he comments on Meade’s notorious temper, which Lyman indicates served a useful purpose.

Ah! we are a doleful set of papas here. Said General Meade: “I do wish the Administration would get mad with me, and relieve me; I am sure I keep telling them, if they don’t feel satisfied with me, to relieve me; then I could go home and see my family in Philadelphia.” I believe there never was a man so utterly without common ambition and, at the same time, so Spartan and conscientious in everything he does. He is always stirring up somebody. This morning it was the cavalry picket line, which extends for miles, and which he declared was ridiculously placed. But, by worrying, and flaring out unexpectedly on various officers, he does manage to have things pretty ship-shape; so that an officer of Lee’s Staff, when here the other day, said: “Meade’s move can’t be beat.” Did I tell you that Lee passed through Warrenton and passed a night. He was received with bouquets and great joy. . . . The last three nights have been cool, almost cold, with some wind, so that they have been piling up the biggest kind of camp-fires. You would laugh to see me in bed! First, I spread an india-rubber blanket on the ground, on which is laid a cork mattress, which is a sort of pad, about an inch thick, which you can roll up small for packing. On this comes a big coat, and then I retire, in flannel shirt and drawers, and cover myself, head and all, with three blankets, laying my pate on a greatcoat folded, with a little india-rubber pillow on top; and so I sleep very well, though the surface is rather hard and lumpy. I have not much to tell you of yesterday, which was a quiet Sunday. Many officers went to hear the Rebs preach, but I don’t believe in the varmint. They ingeniously prayed for “all established magistrates”; though, had we not been there, they would have roared for the safety of Jeff Davis and Bob Lee! . . .

A view of Richmond's Libby Prison as it looked in August 1863 (Library of Congress).

A view of Richmond’s Libby Prison as it looked in August 1863 (Library of Congress).

And on October 28 Lyman wrote:

. . . The guerillas are extremely saucy of late, and, in a small way, annoying. Night before last they dashed at a waggon train and cut loose upwards of a hundred mules and horses, which they made off with, teamsters and all, leaving the waggons untouched. These men are regularly enlisted, but have no pay, getting, in lieu thereof, all the booty they can take, except horses, which they must sell to the Rebels at a fixed rate. They have taken several officers who, from carelessness, or losing their way, have gone alone beyond the lines. Prisoners are treated with consideration, but I fancy that, from all accounts, Libby Prison is pretty dirty and crowded. When some of our officers were taken through Warrenton, on the retreat of Lee, the inhabitants gave them supper; for the 6th Corps were long quartered there and treated the people kindly. When you are here you see how foolish and blind is the clamor raised by some people, to have all property destroyed by the army in the Rebel states, as the troops passed. There was, you know, a great talk about putting guards over houses of Rebels; but, 1st, it is very wrong to punish a people en masse, without regard to their degree of guilt and without properly measuring the punishment; and, 2d, nothing so utterly and speedily demoralizes an army as permission to plunder. It is our custom to put guards over the houses that are inhabited; but, despite that, the cavalry and advanced guard take a good slice of the live-stock; forage, and vegetables. .. .

Theodore Lyman’s letters are from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 38-40. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

An Army on the Move (October 11, 1863)

Artist Alfred Waud drew Union soldiers burning the railroad bridge at Rappahannock Station on October 13 as the Army of the Potomac fell back to keep from being outflanked (Library of Congress). Click to enlarge.

Artist Alfred Waud drew Union soldiers burning the railroad bridge at Rapphannock Station on October 13 as the Army of the Potomac fell back to keep from being outflanked (Library of Congress). Click to enlarge.

There’s no letter from George Meade on October 11, but his aide Theodore Lyman wrote a typically fascinating account in which he described the Army of the Potomac on the move. Robert E. Lee had sparked the activity by putting his own army into motion, the start of a flanking maneuver much like the one that had caused so much grief for John Pope in the Second Bull Run campaign. In order to prevent his army from being outflanked, Meade opted to pull back from his position on the Rappahannock towards Centreville. Lyman observed it all in his inimitable fashion.

As all is packed, I take to pencil correspondence. Uncle Lee has concluded that we have stared long enough at each other, and so is performing some fancy antics, though whether he means to fight, or retreat after a feint, or merely take a walk, I know not. He is now paddling along, in the general direction of Warrenton, between us and the Blue Ridge; and so has entirely left his station on the other bank of the river. . . . Last night I, being of a foxy disposition, turned in at an early hour, so that I was fresh and fine at four this morning, when we were routed out, and assisted to coffee and bread and cold ham. It was a Murillo-esque (!) sight to behold the officers, in big coats and bigger sabres, standing with the bright light of the camp-fire on their faces. The cavalry cloaks, slouched hats, and great boots, though, as Co [Lyman’s sister] says, “drunk “-looking, are much more suited to a painter than the trig uniforms of the Europeans. So here we are, with horses saddled, waiting to see what is what. You understand that Mr. Reb is not very near us, in fact further off than before, but he is moving, and so we, too, are “en garde.” Our army, I say with emphasis, ought to be able to whip the gentlemen. Down comes General Meade; I clap the pencil in my pocket, and in two minutes we are off, escort, orderlies, Staff and all, winding our way midst miles of baggage and ammunition waggons and slow columns of moving infantry. Ha, ha, ha! They don’t look much like the “Cadets,” these old sojers on the march. There is their well-stuffed knapsack, surmounted by a rolled gray blanket, the worse for wear; from their belt is slung a big cartridge-box, with 1 His sister. forty rounds, and at their side hangs a haversack (satchel you would call it) quite bursting with three days’ rations. Hullo! what has that man, dangling at the end of his musket? A coffee-pot! an immense tin coffee-pot! and there is another with a small frying-pan — more precious to them than gold. And there goes a squad of cavalry, the riders almost obscured by the bags of oats and the blankets and coats piled on pommel and crupper; their carbine hangs on one side and their sabre clatters from the other. And then behold a train of artillery (the best-looking arm of the service), each gun drawn by six or eight horses, and the caissons covered with bags of forage. And so the face of the country is covered, when an army is on the march, the waggons keeping the road, the infantry winding through the open land. It is singular, in regard to the latter, that, however dirty or slovenly the men may be, their muskets always shine like silver; they know it is an important member. Well, you perceive I have leisure to get a pen-full of ink, to continue the letter, begun this morning. In fact we have done our day’s march and our movable houses are all up at a new “Headquarters.” We hear nothing much of the Insurges, but are all ready to pitch into them if we find them in a soft spot. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 29-30.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Reading Material (October 7, 1863)

The article in Blackwood’s Magazine to which Meade refers in this letter to his son, John Sergeant, was written by Arthur Fremantle, a British officer who was present at Gettysburg with Lee’s army. You can read the entire article here.

I have read the article in Blackwood, which is tolerably fair for a “secesh” Englishman. The general officer referred to as being cheered was your humble servant, and I was at that time riding down the line to the left, for the purpose of ordering an attack; but it was so late and the distance to the enemy’s line so great, that by the time the troops were in motion the day was at an end.

Lee’s report has just been published. Considering all things, it is pretty fair, in some places a little too much of what the lawyers call the suppressio veri. Still, I am willing to leave to history the fact, which he plainly admits, that after the battle of Gettysburg he had to retreat continuously till he reached the south bank of the Rappahannock, from whence he had started to destroy my army and accomplish other valuable results.

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. 153. Available via Google Books.

Anxiety (September 30, 1863)

Sir Henry Holland, travel writer and Royal physician (via Wikipedia).

Sir Henry Holland, travel writer and Royal physician (via Wikipedia).

In an earlier letter Theodore Lyman mentioned Sir Henry Holland, the British Royal Physician who was visiting the Army of the Potomac. Besides being a medical man who attended the British royal family, Holland was also a noted travel writer whose books included Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, &c. During the Years 1812-1813. He died in 1873. (To see what Holland wrote about his visit, see below.)

Meade obviously had other things than British visitors on his mind, as this letter to his wife indicates.

I am sorry to see you so anxious about me, because it is impossible to keep you constantly advised of what is going on, and your imagination undoubtedly makes matters worse. You must try and be resigned, and not anticipate evil, but wait for its actual arrival. My position is of course liable to misconstruction so long as the public are ignorant of the truth, but the time will come when they will be enlightened, and then I shall be all right. Of course, if people believe that Lee has no army, and that I have an immense one, it is hard to expect them not to inquire why I do not do something; but when they come to know that just as I was about trying to do something, my army was suddenly reduced to a figure a little greater only than Lee’s, and that he occupies a very strong position, where the natural advantages in his favor more than equalize the difference in our forces, they will understand why I cannot do anything. I have remained here to offer Lee battle if he chooses to come out of his stronghold, and to prevent by my threatening attitude his sending any more troops to Bragg. Whether I will get any credit for this is perhaps questionable. The whole matter, however, reverts to what I have always told you, that I intend to act up to the French motto, “Faites bien, laissez dire.”

I don’t think I wrote to you that I had a very pleasant visit from a General Cortez, of the Mexican army, who came here with letters from the Secretaries of State and War. He spent a day with me, and I took him around the camps and showed him different portions of the army, and he went away much gratified. I also had a visit from Sir Henry Holland, physician to the Queen of England. He was a very agreeable, intelligent gentleman, over seventy years of age, who had crossed the Atlantic fourteen times. He seemed greatly interested with everything we showed him.

To-day Gouverneur Paulding and a Dr. Young, of Cold Spring, New York, have been here to present General Warren with a sword. Paulding I have known from a boy, and Dr. Young married a daughter of old Parson Hawley, of Washington. They also have been delighted with their visit.

Here’s Lyman’s letter from September 29. He touches on some of the same topics, but in a much livelier style. He also mentions Seth Williams, the army’s assistant adjutant general. Like me, Williams was born in Augusta, Maine. He was apparently much liked in the army for I never found anyone who had a bad word to say about him. Lyman also mentions General Henry Benham, whom we have encountered on this blog before. From this brief mention it does not appear that Benham had cleaned up his act since his disgraceful appearance during the Chancellorsville campaign. Channing Clapp was one of Lyman’s Harvard classmates.

Seth Williams of Augusta, Maine (National Archives).

Seth Williams of Augusta, Maine (National Archives).

I see such flocks of generals now, that I do not always take the pains to describe them. On Sunday there arrived General Benham, one of the dirtiest and most ramshackle parties I ever saw. Behind him walked his Adjutant General, a great contrast, in all respects, being a trig, broad-shouldered officer, with a fierce moustache and imperial and a big clanking sabre. I gazed at this Adjutant General and he at me, and gradually, through the military fierceness, there peeped forth the formerly pacific expression of Channing Clapp! There never was such a change, Achilles and all other warlike persons; and is much improved withal. That same evening enter another general (distinguished foreigner this time), El General Jose Cortez, chevalier of some sort of red ribbon and possessor of a bad hat. He was accompanied by two eminent Senors, Mexicans and patriotic exiles. We were out riding when they came; but, after our return, and in the midst of dinner, there comes an orderly with a big official envelope, proving to be a recommendation from Mr. Seward. “Oh,” says the General, “another lot, hey? Well, I suppose they will be along to-morrow”; and went on quietly eating dinner. Afterwards I went into the office of General Williams (or “Seth” as they call him here) and there beheld, sitting in a corner, three forlorn figures. Nobody seemed to know who they were, but the opinion prevailed that they were a deputation of sutlers, who were expected about that time! But I, hearing certain tones of melancholy Spanish, did presently infer that they were the parties mentioned in the big, official envelope, and so it proved! They were speedily entered into the General’s presence and, after a few compliments, anxiously asked when the next train left for Washington; for it appears that they had supposed Culpeper was a pleasant jaunt of about fifteen minutes from the Capitol, and was furnished with elegant hotels and other conveniences; consequently they had brought no sac de nuit, and had had nothing to eat since early morning, it being then dark! Their surprise was considerable, after a weary ride of some hours, to be dumped in a third rate village, deserted by its inhabitants and swarming with dusty infantry. John made ready with speed, and, after a meal and a bottle of champagne, it was surprising to see how their barometers rose, especially that of small Sefior, No. 2, who launched forth in a flood of eulogium on the state of civil liberty in the United States. Our next care was to provide them sleeping-accommodations; no easy matter in the presence of the fact that each has barely enough for himself down here. But I succeeded in getting two stretchers from the hospital (such as are used to bring in the wounded from the field) and a cot from Major Biddle; three pillows (two india-rubber and one feather) were then discovered, and these, with blankets, one tin basin, one bucket, and one towel, made them entirely happy. Really, how they looked so fresh next morning was quite a marvel. Then, after a good breakfast, we put them all on horseback (to the great uneasiness of the two Sefiors) and followed by a great crowd of a Staff (who never can be made to ride, except in the higglety-pigglety style in which “Napoleon et ses Marechaux” are always represented in the common engravings), we jogged off, raising clouds of red dust, to take a look at some soldiers. … El General was highly pleased and kept taking off his bad hat and waving it about. Also he expressed an intense desire that we should send 50,000 men and immediately wipe out the French in Mexico.

“Why doesn’t Meade attack Lee?” Ah, I have already thrown out a hint on the methods of military plans in these regions. But, despite the delays, I should have witnessed a great battle before this; if, If, IF, at the very moment the order had not come to fill up the gap that the poltroonery of two of Rosecrans’ Corps has made in the western armies. I do believe that we should have beaten them (that’s no matter now), for my Chief, though he expressly declares that he is not Napoleon, is a thorough soldier, and a mighty clear-headed man; and one who does not move unless he knows where and how many his men are; where and how many his enemy’s men are; and what sort of country he has to go through. I never saw a man in my life who was so characterized by straightforward truthfulness as he is. He will pitch into himself in a moment, if he thinks he has done wrong; and woe to those, no matter who they are, who do not do right! “Sir, it was your duty and you haven’t done it; now go back and do it at once,” he will suddenly remark to some astonished general, who thinks himself no small beer. Still I do wish he would order the Provost-Marshal to have a few more of the deceased horses buried. The weather here is perfect—could not be finer.

Here’s what Sir Henry Holland wrote about his visit to the United States during the Civil War, which he published in Recollections of Past Life (D. Appleton & Co., 1872, and available via Google Books. This passage is from pp. 64-66.)

In travelling through Holstein and the Danish Isles in 1848, I saw something of the petty war of Germans and Danes then going on, since followed on the same field by events of so much higher import. At a later period (in 1863), when 75 years of age, I was an active spectator—I will not say an actor—in the midst of the great civil war then raging in America. At the headquarters of the Federal army in Virginia, and with the advanced division on the Rapidan in front of General Lee’s army, and still more in the country through which I passed to reach the army, I saw warfare on its largest scale of action and devastation. Twice before I had traversed this part of Virginia, then very different in aspect—a happy and flourishing country, where the evils of slavery were mitigated by various social conditions more or less peculiar to this great State. The contrast of scene, as I saw it in the heat of war, was saddening to the eye and to the mind. But in a region so variously favoured by nature, time and tranquillity will restore what has been lost. The too sudden advance of the Negro to political power may retard this restoration, but cannot prevent it. Eight weeks of absence from my own house in Brook Street comprised this extraordinary spectacle of American warfare, with much besides of political and social interest, to which my several preceding visits to the United States gave me access. Living in the hospitable house of my excellent friend Mr. Seward at Washington, and seeing much of President Lincoln, I enjoyed facilities which few travellers can obtain. Mr. Staunton [sic], then Secretary of War, sent Adjutant-General Townshend with me to the army of the Potomac; an accomplished soldier and admirable companion, to whom the expedition was a luxury, as he had hitherto known the war only through his heavy official duties at Washington. General Meade, the recent victor at Gettysburg, was at this time in command of the army. By him, and the other generals and officers at head-quarters, as well as those at the advanced posts, I was received with a courtesy which I cannot readily forget. Such interludes are not common in the life of a London physician. But I have already confessed to a certain pleasure, whether rational or not, from these sudden contrasts; and in the instance just given, this taste, such as it is, was amply satisfied.

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. 151-2. 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. 23-4.Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Stirrings (June 6, 1863)

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

Joseph Hooker (Library of Congress).

June 1863 would prove to be a momentous month for George Gordon Meade and it would set the stage for the cataclysm at Gettysburg. In his letter of June 6, Meade explains to his wife what is going on in Virginia, as army commander Joe Hooker attempts to determine just what his adversary, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, were up to. Here’s what I say in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, about Lee’s actions after he routed Hooker at Chancellorsville:

 Robert E. Lee had not been idle in Chancellorsville’s aftermath. After [Stonewall] Jackson’s death he reorganized his army from two corps into three plus a cavalry division under Jeb Stuart. James Longstreet, Lee’s “old warhorse,” remained in command of the I Corps, with three divisions under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws, George E. Pickett, and John Bell Hood. The II Corps, previously Jackson’s, was now commanded by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who had lost a leg at Second Bull Run. Like his predecessor, the high-strung Ewell had a reputation for strangeness. Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon described him as “the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate army.” Ewell, too, had three divisions, under Major Generals Jubal A. Early, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, and Robert E. Rodes.

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress).

Lee selected A. P. Hill–McClellan’s old rival in love–to command the newly created III Corps. Hill had three divisions under Major Generals Richard H. Anderson, Henry Heth, and William D. Pender.

(Lee would begin moving north soon—but not until after a clash of cavalries at Brandy Station on June 9.

My last letter told you that my corps had been moved up the river, charged with the duty of guarding the several crossing places, and preventing, if possible, the passage of the river by the enemy. General Hooker had received intelligence which induced him to believe Lee was about attempting a manoeuvre similar to the one we tried last month. I have consequently been actively employed riding about, superintending the posting of troops, giving instructions, etc. As yet everything has been very quiet on our part of the line. To-day, however, Hooker had reason to believe most of the enemy had left his immediate front on the heights back of Fredericksburg. He accordingly undertook to throw a bridge across, where Franklin crossed last December. About five o’clock yesterday evening we heard heavy firing, which lasted nearly two hours, which, I understand, was our batteries, endeavoring to drive the enemy from the rifle-pits they had dug to oppose the construction of the bridge. I do not know whether we succeeded or not, as, being some miles away, I have no means of ascertaining. It has been my opinion for some time that Lee would assume the offensive so soon as he was reinforced sufficiently to justify him in doing so; but whether he has yet commenced is, I think, not positively settled. Nor have I quite made up my mind what he will do when he moves. I should think it would be policy on his part to endeavor to overcome this army before he undertakes any invasion of the North. His experience of last summer should teach him the danger of leaving an army on his flank and rear, and if he can once destroy or cripple this army, he will have no opposition to his progress of invasion. It is this reasoning which makes me wonder at the supineness and apathy of the Government and people, leaving this army reduced as it has been by casualties of battle and expiration of service, and apparently making no effort to reinforce it.

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. 382-3. Available via Google Books.