Flowers from Mrs. Lincoln (April 20, 1863)

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Library of Congress)

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Library of Congress)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 367-8. Available via Google Books.

Ignorance, Not Bliss (April 18, 1863)

In his letter of April 18 Meade complains about Joe Hooker’s tendency to keep his plans to himself. This is something that would increasingly bother Meade. Only three days before he took command of the Army of the Potomac, as Hooker was following Lee towards Pennsylvania, Meade wrote to his wife, “I hear nothing whatever from headquarters, and am as much in the dark as to proposed plans here on the ground as you are in Philadelphia. This is what Joe Hooker thinks profound sagacity—keeping his corps commanders, who are to execute his plans, in total ignorance of them until they are developed in the execution of orders.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade's commissions (National Archives).

Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, Davis had signed one of Meade’s commissions (National Archives).

On April 2 Richmond citizens had rioted over the lack of bread and Meade mentions Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s proclamation about food, issued on April 10. He asked the Southern people to switch production from cotton and tobacco to foodstuffs and fodder. “Let your fields be devoted exclusively to the production of corn, oats, beans, peas, and other food for man and beast,” asked Davis.

To-day is fine and beautiful, and if we only have a continuance of such weather, we shall soon be on the move. I suppose the sooner we get off the better. General Hooker seems to be very sanguine of success, but is remarkably reticent of his information and plans; I really know nothing of what he intends to do, or when or where he proposes doing anything. This secrecy I presume is advantageous, so far as it prevents the enemy’s becoming aware of our plans. At the same time it may be carried too far, and important plans may be frustrated by subordinates, from their ignorance of how much depended on their share of the work. This was the case at Fredericksburg. Franklin was not properly advised, that is to say, not fully advised, as to Burnside’s plan. I am sure if he had been so advised, his movements would have been different.

I suppose you have seen Jeff Davis’s proclamation on the subject of food. It undoubtedly is a confession of weakness, but we should be very careful how we allow ourselves to be led astray by it. Not a single exertion on our part should be relaxed, not a man less called out than before. We might as well make up our minds to the fact that our only hope of peace is in the complete overpowering of the military force of the South, and to do this we must have immense armies to outnumber them everywhere. I fear, however, that this plain dictate of common sense will never have its proper influence. Already I hear a talk of not enforcing the conscription law. Certainly no such efforts are being made to put the machinery of the law into motion as would indicate an early calling out of the drafted men. In the course of the next month and the one ensuing, all the two-year and nine-month men go out of service. Of the latter class there were called out three hundred thousand. How many are in service I don’t know. I do know, however, that this army loses in the next twenty days nearly twenty-five thousand men, and that I see no indication of their being replaced. Over eight thousand go out of my corps alone. These facts have been well-known at Washington for some time past, and pressed upon the attention of the authorities, and perhaps arrangements unknown to me have been made to meet the difficulty.

Meade’s letter taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 366-7. Available via Google Books.