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.

Meetings in Washington (September 24, 1863)

In his letter of September 24, Meade tells his wife about the events that led to the XI and XII Corps being taken from his army and sent to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans in Chattanooga following the Union defeat at Chickamauga. (The administration also sent Joe Hooker with the two corps, answering the question of what to do with Meade’s predecessor in command.) This move cost the Army of the Potomac some 16,000 men.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Library of Congress).

The last time I wrote I told you of my having referred to Washington the question of a further advance. As I expected, no decisive answer was sent to me, but I was told to act in accordance with my own judgment. The next thing I was summoned to Washington and informed that the President considered my army too large for a merely defensive one, and proposed to take a portion of it away. I objected and reasoned against this, and left Washington with the belief that the President was satisfied. I had just arranged the programme for a movement, and was about issuing the orders, when orders came from Washington, taking troops away. Of this I do not complain. The President is the best judge of where the armies can be best employed, and if he chooses to place this army strictly on the defensive, I have no right to object or murmur. I was in Washington from 11 p. M. Tuesday till 1 p. M. Wednesday; saw no one but the President, Mr. Stanton and General Halleck; was treated very courteously by all. I told the President and General Halleck that if they thought I was too slow or prudent, to put some one else in my place. Halleck smiled very significantly, and said he had no doubt I would be rejoiced to be relieved, but there was no such good luck for me. I cannot very well tell you all that transpired; the intelligence, by no means favorable, had been received from Rosecrans, and it was evident, without any one knowing what exactly might or could be done, that there still existed a feverish anxiety that I should try and do something. Now that I have been weakened, I presume the country will not be so exigeante.

Theodore Lyman, Meade’s aide, wrote home on the same day. It’s interesting to see things from his perspective:

Yesterday we were favored with the presence of Sir Henry Holland, the Queen’s physician, who is one of the liveliest old birds for one of seventy-five that ever was seen. He travels two months every year, and has already been four or five times in these United States. Dr. Letterman, the Medical Director, put him in an ambulance, and Colonel Townsend and myself completed the party. What pains wounded people may suffer in ambulances, I know not; but I do know that, when driven at a trot, over open fields and through little ditches, the jolting is not to be expressed in words. But the royal medical person maintained his equanimity wonderfully and continued to smile, as if he were having a nice drive over a turnpike. First he was halted on a rising spot, when he could see four batteries of horse artillery, which did defile before him, to his great admiration. Then we bumped him six miles farther, to the Headquarters of the 12th Corps, close to the river. Here he hobnobbed with General Slocum, and then got on a horse and rode about the camps. After which he was taken to a safe spot, whence he could behold the Rebels and their earthworks. He returned quite fresh and departed in a most amiable mood.

There seems to me no particular prospect of a battle. I thought this morning, that we should have a great fight within a couple of days; but movements, which I dare say you will read of in the papers before this letter reaches you, have just knocked it. Entre nous, I believe in my heart that at this moment there is no reason why the whole of Lee’s army should not be either cut to pieces, or in precipitate flight on Richmond. In saying this to you, I accuse nobody and betray no secrets, but merely state my opinion. Your bricks and mortar may be of the best; but, if there are three or four chief architects, none of whom can agree where to lay the first brick, the house will rise slowly.

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. 150-1. 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. 21-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.