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.

The Most Cruel and Humiliating Indignity (April 23, 1865)

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. "Old Brains" (Library of Congress).

Major General Henry Halleck, a.k.a. “Old Brains” (Library of Congress).

Meade continues his complaints about being placed under Henry Halleck, the new commander of the division to which the Army of the Potomac reports. He has finally decided that he can’t look to Grant for advancement. For Meade, though, the ultimate blow will come in 1869, after Grant becomes president and promotes Philip Sheridan to the rank of lieutenant general, over Meade. “The blow has been struck and our worst fears realized,” Meade will write to his wife on March 6, 1869, when he hears that news.

I like Meade’s comments about Theodore Lyman.

An order came yesterday constituting Virginia into the Military Division of the James, assigning Major General Halleck to the command, and putting myself and the Army of the Potomac under him.

This is the most cruel and humiliating indignity that has been put upon me. (It is General Grant’s work, and done by him with a full knowledge of my services and the consideration due to them, all of which have been ignored by him to suit his convenience). The order is a perfectly legitimate one, and to which, as a soldier, I have no right to make any objection, General Halleck being my senior in the regular army. I understand, however, the whole affair. After the assassination of the President, General Grant, who had previously determined to return here, made up his mind to remain in Washington. He wished to find a place for Halleck. His first order assigned Halleck to the command of the Department of Virginia, in [Edward] Ord’s place, sending Ord to South Carolina. I presume Halleck demurred at this, as a position not equal to what he was entitled. At Halleck’s remonstrance, and to render acceptable his removal from Washington, this order was rescinded, and the order issued making the Military Division of the James, and putting both Ord and myself under him. I feel quite confident that, if I had been in Washington and my remonstrances could have been heard, I either would have frustrated this plan, or have been provided for in some way more consistent with my past services, but les les absens ont toujours tort was fully illustrated in this instance, and there is nothing left me but the submission which a good soldier should always show to the legitimate orders of his superiors. I, however, now give up Grant.

I am glad Lyman called to see you. He is an honest man and a true friend. He has a healthy mental organization, which induces him to look on all matters in the most favorable light.

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. 275-6. Available via Google Books.

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Very Little Going On (January 22, 1865)

After writing this letter, General Meade left for Philadelphia. He reached there on January 28 and left to return to the army two days later. The main purpose for his visit was his oldest son, John Sergeant, who was near death with tuberculosis. Markoe Bache is Meade’s nephew and serves on the general’s staff; we have had of him before.

Markoe Bache, Meade's nephew (Library of Congress).

Markoe Bache, Meade’s nephew (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman remains in Boston. On January 18 he had received a letter from Meade, giving him permission to stay there indefinitely. “He is low in spirits, being anxious about his confirmation, and what is worse is eldest son is very low,” Lyman noted. The general also asked his aide to use what influence he had in Massachusetts to move Meade’s promotion forward, so Lyman wrote to Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson and businessman John Murray Forbes and met personally with Governor John A. Andrews. Lyman also noted that Seth Williams, the extremely capable assistant adjutant-general for the Army of the Potomac, had been promoted by Grant to be the army inspector general. You can read all of Lyman’s journal entries in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe (Kent State University Press, 2007). Highly recommended!

There is very little going on here. We have had a violent storm of rain. Grant is still away, and I have heard nothing from Markoe Bache, so that I am ignorant of what turn affairs are taking in Washington. I received a letter yesterday from Cram, enclosing me one from a correspondent in Washington, who advises him (Cram) that he has been reliably informed that I am likely to be rejected. Still, this may be a street rumor, circulated by those who want this result.

To-day Bishop Lee, of Delaware, held service in the chapel tent at these headquarters, and gave us a very good sermon. He came here with Bishop Janeway, of the Methodist Church, and a Mr. Jones, a lawyer from Philadelphia, who were a commission asking admission into the rebel lines, to visit our poor prisoners in their hands to relieve their spiritual wants; but I believe the Confederate authorities declined.

The Richmond papers are very severe on Davis, and there is every indication of discord among them. I hope to Heaven this will incline them to peace, and that there may be some truth in the many reports in the papers that something is going on!

(General Meade left head-quarters for Philadelphia where he arrived January 28. He left Philadelphia on the 30th.)

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. 257-8. Available via Google Books.

Conquer a Peace (December 23, 1864)

"Santa Claus in Camp," an illustration from Harpers, January 3, 1863 (Library of Congress).

“Santa Claus in Camp,” an illustration from Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863 (Library of Congress).

After this letter, George Meade will go silent for a time. He will go on leave starting December 30—the day before his birthday (and wedding anniversary) and depart for camp on January 9.

The General Meade Society of Philadelphia will hold its birthday commemoration again this year on December 31 at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. It is always a fun event. I encourage everyone reading this to attend. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all!

I have received a letter from the Earl of Fife, in Scotland, asking my good offices for a young kinsman of his, who, he understands, has got a commission in my army. I think I told you some time ago I had a letter from a Mr. Duff, just arrived in New York, asking to be taken on my staff, and sending a letter of introduction from Captain Schenley. I replied he would first have to get a commission, and indicated to him how to go about it. Since then I have not heard from him, but presume, from the Earl of Fife’s note, that he has succeeded in getting the commission, but perhaps has changed his mind as to the staff appointment.

Colonel James Biddle has gone on leave. Young Emory has also gone, to get married, and talks of trying to get a commission of colonel in Hancock’s new corps. Mason has got a leave, and Lyman I let go also, so that headquarters are a good deal changed.

I think the Confederacy is beginning to shake, and if we only can get the three hundred thousand men the President has called for, and they prove good fighting men, I believe next summer we will conquer a peace, if not sooner. God grant it may be so!

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. 254-5. Available via Google Books.

Politics (September 17, 1864)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. People remain baffled by politics and politicians today, even as George Meade was 150 years ago. No doubt he is responding to some comment of his wife’s about the upcoming presidential election, in which Abraham Lincoln is battling Democratic candidate George McClellan.

Robert Gould Shaw, who was related to Theodore Lyman by marriage (Library of Congress).

Robert Gould Shaw, who was related to Theodore Lyman by marriage (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman is sending notes and cigars to Meade because he remains in Boston on leave, where he has fallen ill. Lyman’s sister was married to Rowland Shaw, whose nephew was Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Shaw had been killed the previous July leading his African-American soldiers into battle outside Charleston, South Carolina.

I wish you would dismiss all politics from your mind; I think you allow yourself to be unnecessarily harassed about such matters. I fancy we shall be happy, never mind who is President, if God will only spare my life, restore me to you and the children, and graciously permit dear Sergeant’s health to be re-established. Besides, politics are so mixed up that, thinking about them, and trying to unravel their mysteries, is enough to set a quiet person crazy.

I got a nice note last evening, and a box, from Lyman. The box had five hundred cigars in it, which he said were a present from his patriotic sister, Mrs. Rowland Shaw, and his wife, so you see how I am honored. By-the-by, talking of presents, I have never suitably acknowledged Mr. Tier’s handsome present of a box of tea. I wish you would tell him it is most excellent, just the kind I like, and that all the members of my mess, including the French officers, one of whom served in China and is therefore a judge, are equally with myself delighted with the flavor and hold him in most honorable and grateful remembrance. Poor Colonel de Chanal has received letters from the Minister of War, who does not seem to be oversatisfied with his reports from the field, and wants more information about our arsenals and manufacture of arms and munitions; so the colonel is going to leave us, to travel; which I regret very much, as he does, for I believe he has become quite attached to our service and the officers of my staff.

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. 228-29. Available via Google Books.

USCT (May 18, 1864)

You can suffer from chronological whiplash when reading Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox. For instance, the opening of the letter he wrote on May 18 (150 years ago today), opens with interesting observations about the recent fighting in general he noted during a lull at Spotsylvania. It includes some especially interesting observations about the use of breastworks. He then jumps back to May 7 to continue his narrative of the Overland Campaign.

"Make Way for Liberty!" by illustrator Henry Louis Stephens, circa 1863 (Library of Congress).

“Make Way for Liberty!” by illustrator Henry Louis Stephens, circa 1863 (Library of Congress).

Lyman’s comments on the use of African-American soldiers are also interesting, if less insightful. Lyman was certainly not alone in wondering if black soldiers could fight. When he issued the Emancipation Proclamation President Lincoln also opened the door for black men to fight for the Union, but many white soldiers did not accept the new arrivals with open arms. Lyman either was unaware of the irony in his words or refused to acknowledge that Lincoln had transformed the war into more than a crusade to restore the Union. It was now a war to end slavery as well. By the end of the war Lyman had gained a grudging respect for the African-American soldiers, but he never abandoned his conservative views on race.

When I was researching Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg I spent a day exploring Spotsylvania with historian John Cummings. He had recently started a reenactment group to commemorate the 23rd United States Colored Troops, a regiment from Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero’s division that fought here on May 15. These were some of the black soldiers that so distressed Lyman. “By 2014 I think it’s vitally important to do something to commemorate the first time that black troops actually fired on the Army of Northern Virginia,” Cummings told me then. I’m pleased to say he helped make that happen, as you can read here.

I have no right to complain: I have less hardship, more ease, and less exposure than most officers, and, if I must be with the army in the field, I have as good a place as one can well expect. I did hope (though there was no proper ground for it) that we might have the great blessing of an overwhelming victory. Such things you read of in books, but they do not happen often, particularly with such armies to oppose as those of the Rebels. . . .

The great feature of this campaign is the extraordinary use made of earthworks. When we arrive on the ground, it takes of course a considerable time to put troops in position for attack, in a wooded country; then skirmishers must be thrown forward and an examination made for the point of attack, and to see if there be any impassable obstacles, such as streams or swamps. Meantime what does the enemy? Hastily forming a line of battle, they then collect rails from fences, stones, logs and all other materials, and pile them along the line; bayonets with a few picks and shovels, in the hands of men who work for their lives, soon suffice to cover this frame with earth and sods; and within one hour, there is a shelter against bullets, high enough to cover a man kneeling, and extending often for a mile or two. When our line advances, there is the line of the enemy, nothing showing but the bayonets, and the battle-flags stuck on the top of the work. It is a rule that, when the Rebels halt, the first day gives them a good rifle-pit; the second, a regular infantry parapet with artillery in position; and the third a parapet with an abattis in front and entrenched batteries behind. Sometimes they put this three days’ work into the first twenty-four hours. Our men can, and do, do the same; but remember, our object is offense—to advance. You would be amazed to see how this country is intersected with field-works, extending for miles and miles in different directions and marking the different strategic lines taken up by the two armies, as they warily move about each other.

The newspapers would be comic in their comments, were not the whole thing so tragic. More absurd statements could not be. Lee is not retreating: he is a brave and skilful soldier and he will fight while he has a division or a day’s rations left. These Rebels are not half-starved and ready to give up — a more sinewy, tawny, formidable-looking set of men could not be. In education they are certainly inferior to our native-born people; but they are usually very quick-witted within their own sphere of comprehension; and they know enough to handle weapons with terrible effect. Their great characteristic is their stoical manliness; they never beg, or whimper, or complain; but look you straight in the face, with as little animosity as if they had never heard a gun.

Now I will continue the history a little. But first I will remark that I had taken part in two great battles, and heard the bullets whistle both days, and yet I had scarcely seen a Rebel save killed, wounded, or prisoners! I remember how even line officers, who were at the battle of Chancellorsville, said: “Why, we never saw any Rebels where we were; only smoke and bushes, and lots of our men tumbling about”; and now I appreciate this most fully. The great art is to conceal men; for the moment they show, bang, bang, go a dozen cannon, the artillerists only too pleased to get a fair mark. Your typical “great white plain,” with long lines advancing and manoeuvring, led on by generals in cocked hats and by bands of music, exist not for us. Here it is, as I said: “Left face—prime—forward!”—and then wrang, wr-r-rang, for three or four hours, or for all day, and the poor, bleeding wounded streaming to the rear. That is a great battle in America. Well! to our next day.

Saturday, May 7

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero. A former dancing instructor, he commanded a division of African American soldiers (Library of Congress).

Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero. A former dancing instructor, he commanded a division of African-American soldiers (Library of Congress).

At daylight it would be hard to say what opinion was most held in regard to the enemy, whether they would attack, or stand still; whether they were on our flanks, or trying to get in our rear, or simply in our front. However, it was not long before they were reported as fallen back — a good deal back from the left and right and somewhat from our centre on the pike. Reconnaissances were at once thrown out; and the General sent me to the front, on the pike, to learn how matters stood; where I found, on the most undoubted evidence, that we were throwing solid shot and shell at the rebels, and they were throwing solid shot and shells at us. . . . There was heavy skirmishing, with some artillery, all that morning, until we determined that the enemy had swung back both wings; and shortened and straightened his line. There lay both armies, each behind its breastworks, panting and exhausted, and scowling at each other. At five this morning a novel sight was presented to the Potomac Army. A division of black troops, under General Ferrero, and belonging to the 9th Corps, marched up and massed in a hollow near by. As I looked at them, my soul was troubled and I would gladly have seen them marched back to Washington. Can we not fight our own battles, without calling on these humble hewers of wood and drawers of water, to be bayonetted by the unsparing Southerners? We do not dare trust them in the line of battle. Ah, you may make speeches at home, but here, where it is life or death, we dare not risk it. They have been put to guard the trains and have repulsed one or two little cavalry attacks in a creditable manner; but God help them if the grey-backed infantry attack them! . . .

As General Grant sat under a pine tree, stoically smoking his briarwood pipe, I heard him say: “To-night Lee will be retreating south.”* Ah! General, Robert Lee is not Pemberton; he will retreat south, but only far enough to get across your path, and then he will retreat no more, if he can help it. In fact, orders were out for the whole army to move at dark on Spotsylvania Court House. But Lee knew it all: he could see the waggons moving, and had scouts besides. As night fell, his troops left their works and were crowding down the Parker’s Store road, towards Spotsylvania—each moment worth untold gold to them! Grant had no longer a Pemberton! “His best friend,” as he calls him. And we marched also. . . .

We [Headquarters] did not start till nearly nine o’clock. … It was a sultry night—no rain for many days; the horses’ hoofs raised intolerable clouds of dust, which, in this sandy region, is fine almost like flour. I never saw—nobody could well see—a more striking spectacle than that road as we passed slowly along. All the way was a continuous low breastwork behind which lay crowded the sleeping infantry. They were so close as almost to be on top of each other; every man with his loaded musket in his hand, or lying at his side. A few yards outside stood a line of sentries, their muskets cocked, and others sat on top of the breastwork. Few of the officers allowed themselves any rest, but paced up and down, in their great coats and slouched hats, looking sharply after the sentries. That looked like war, I do assure you. By the roadside was Gibbon, and a tower of strength he is, cool as a steel knife, always, and unmoved by anything and everything. There we lay down, literally in the dust, after a drink of iced water (for all the farms have ice-houses in this region, which our men are not slow to hunt out), and then we waited for General Meade, who had waited behind to speak with Hancock. By and by he came, with more clouds of dust, and then on again, past more sleeping men, and batteries in position, losing the road, finding it again, tearing our clothes among trees and bushes, then coming to cavalry pickets and finally to Todd’s Tavern, where General Gregg had his Headquarters, with his division of cavalry camped about there. . . . There was a porch in front with a dirt floor, and there I lay down, with my head on a timber, and got some sleep. On Sunday morning, May 8th,—it was not much like a Sabbath,—we were all staring sleepily about us, forlorn with dust and dirt. The road was full of the infantry, passing at a rapid rate; in light order they were, many without knapsacks, or coats: most had thrown away all baggage but a blanket and haversack. Then came batteries, then more infantry, all of the 5th Corps; the Second had not yet begun to pass. An old nigger made us some coffee and hoe-cake — very acceptable. . . .

*In a footnote taken from his journal entry of May 6, Lyman noted that on the day before, “Grant told Meade that Joe Johnston would have retreated after two such days’ punishment. He recognized the difference of the Western Rebel fighting.”

Theodore Lyman’s letters are from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 99-104 . Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.


The Wilderness, Day Two

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this drawing "Rebel advance through the smoke, and seizure of a part of the breastworks on Brock road. The logs had caught fire." It depicted fighing that took place later in the day on May 6. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Artist Alfred Waud labeled this drawing “Rebel advance through the smoke, and seizure of a part of the breastworks on Brock road. The logs had caught fire.” It depicted fighing that took place later in the day on May 6. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Here’s another short excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. This one is about the start of the fighting on May 6, 1864, the second day of the bloody struggle in the Wilderness.  The book is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at quality bookstores.

Fighting resumed bright and early on May 6. Grant had wanted the army to move at 4:30 a.m., but Meade, thinking that was too early for the exhausted and disorganized men–and perhaps because he suspected Burnside and the IX Corps would be late as usual–suggested 6:00. Grant said he would delay things by half an hour. Near dawn Meade and Lyman rode out to the Germanna Plank Road to find Burnside, who was supposed to move his men into the gap between the forces on the plank road and the turnpike. Burnside was late, however, delayed in part because the roads were clogged with artillery. One of his aides arrived and told Meade that if the general authorized the clearing of the roads, he would go back and hurry Burnside along. “No, Sir, I have no command over General Burnside,” Meade replied. The IX Corps was not under his control–that was Grant’s responsibility.

Back at headquarters the general ordered Lyman to report on Hancock’s progress down by the Brock Road intersection. Lyman mounted his horse at around 5:00 in the morning. Already he could hear musket fire from skirmishers, followed by the loud, crashing volleys that meant major fighting had erupted.

He found Hancock in a good mood. “We are driving them, sir; tell General Meade we are driving them most beautifully,” he said. But Hancock’s mood darkened when Lyman informed him of Burnside’s delay. “Just what I expected,” Hancock snapped. “If we could attack now, we would smash A. P. Hill all to pieces!”

The Union forces were doing a pretty good job of it even without Burnside’s help. The situation was looking increasingly desperate for Lee’s army. But then, as a blood red sun rose higher in the sky, its light diffused by the smoke of battle, James Longstreet and the I Corps arrived, moving east down the Orange Plank Road toward the fighting.

A historical marker on the Wilderness battlefield driving tour details an incident that occurred as Longstreet’s men came up and prepared to counterattack. It took place near the Widow Tapp farm, where Lee had his headquarters. As the Texas Brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. John Gregg began to advance, Lee rode along with it, swept up in the excitement of battle. But Gregg’s men refused to let him risk his life with them. “Lee to the rear! Lee to the rear!” they yelled, some of them tugging on his bridle, until the general reluctantly turned back.

“Lee to the rear!” is a stirring story, even to a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee like me. It has entered the treasury of great Civil War tales. But as I read the story on the marker I think about Meade at Gettysburg on day two, sitting atop his horse on Cemetery Ridge, sword unsheathed, aides nervously arrayed behind him, with nothing between him and the advancing enemy. No markers recount that moment. No one after the war sought to add the patina of glory that would elevate the incident into legend. True, Meade lacked Lee’s charisma. He had been in command of his army for mere days at that point. His men hardly knew him. Yet it is also a great story and one that deserves to be told.

But perhaps Union soldiers felt less need to repeat such tales of glory. After all, Meade’s army had won the war. Lee’s veterans had to find solace in something other than victory.

Excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg by Tom Huntington, pp. 259-60. Copyright © 2013 by Stackpole Books.

The Return of Lyman (March 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman, George G. Meade’s observant aide, has been on leave in Boston, depriving us of his accounts of life in the Army of the Potomac for much of March 1864. He returns to find a transformed army, with several of its top generals transferred elsewhere.

The heavy artillery regiments he mentions will receive a baptism in blood soon enough.

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

General George Sykes (Library of Congress photo).

I am pretty well, I thank you, and not so blue as when I came back the other time, perhaps because the generals are here and it is not so utterly triste. However, I am fain to say I draw invidious comparisons between it and home, mais that helps nothing. There have been marvellous changes within these three weeks. Generals Sykes, Newton, French, and Pleasonton are ordered off. I do feel sorry for Sykes, an excellent soldier, always sure to do his duty, and with this army for a long time. I fear they displaced him at Washington because they disliked his rough manners. General Pleasonton was always very civil to me and I am sorry therefore to see him go. I have not yet got it clearly in my head how the corps have been shifted about, but I suppose I shall in a few days. . . .

The latest joke is the heavy sell that has been practised on some regiments of “Heavy Artillery,” which had reenlisted and had been sent home to recruit. Now these gentry, having always been in fortifications, took it for granted they should there continue; consequently the patriotic rush of recruits (getting a big bounty) was most gratifying; one regiment swelled to 1900; another to 2200, etc., etc. Bon! Then they returned to the forts round Washington, with the slight difference that the cars kept on, till they got to Brandy Station; and now these mammoth legions are enjoying the best of air under shelter tents! A favorite salutation now is, “How are you, Heavy Artillery?” For Chief of Cavalry we are to have a General Sheridan, from the West. He is, I believe, on his way. If he is an able officer, he will find no difficulty in pushing along this arm, several degrees. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 80-1. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Back in Camp (February 16, 1864)

George Gordon Meade as he appeared in a carte de visite (Library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade as he appeared in a carte-de-visite (Library of Congress).

After a long absence, George Gordon Meade returns to the Army of the Potomac.

I reached camp yesterday about 4 p.m., but was so much engaged talking to those who came to see me that I had no time to write to you. I had a grand sleep last night in my old buffalo robe, and feel a great deal better to-day, the cold in my head being much better. Indeed, it may be imagination, but I think getting back to camp has been decidedly beneficial, notwithstanding I arrived in a snow storm and that it has been very cold to-day. My friend Lyman had a big fire in my tent all day before I came. By-the-by, Lyman tells me his father-in-law, Mr. Russell, studied law in your father’s office, and remembers you very well. If you see Colonel Bache, you can tell him Lyman is the son of his old friend, as Lyman tells me his father was Mayor of Boston and married a Miss Henderson, of New York.

I have been overwhelmed with business and papers to-day. Among others, I have some fifteen applications for autographs and cartes-de-visite.

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. 165-6. Available via Google Books.

Dinner Party (February 12, 1864)

Winter camp could be muddy, cold, damp, uncomfortable and boring, but it sometimes offered compensations, at least for officers. Here Theodore Lyman describes one example. He and Joseph Hayes had attended Harvard together. Hayes started the war with the 18th Massachusetts. Later, Hayes will be wounded in the head in the Wilderness and captured in the fighting for the Weldon Railroad during the Petersburg campaign.

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

General George Sykes. (Library of Congress photo.)

In this epistle I shall describe to you the whirl of fashion, the galaxy of female beauty, the grouping of manly grace. Behold, I have plunged into the wild dissipation of a military dinner-party. The day before yesterday, there appeared a mysterious orderly, with a missive from Colonel Hayes (my classmate) saying that he should next day entertain a select circle at dinner at five of the clock, and wouldn’t I come and stay over night. To which I returned answer that I should give myself that pleasure. The gallant Colonel, who commands the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, has his Headquarters on the north side of the river, about half a mile from Rappahannock station. At 4 P.m. I was ready, very lovely to look on, with full tog and sash, neatly finished by white cotton gloves and my thick laced shoes. With great slowness did I wend on my sable mare, for fear of splashing myself in a run or a puddle. On the other side of the pontoon bridge I fell in with Lieutenant Appleton wending the same way — he splashed his trousers in Tin Pot Run, poor boy! The quarters were not far, and were elegantly surrounded by a hedge of evergreen, and with a triumphal arch from which did float the Brigade flag. Friend Hayes has an elegant log hut, papered with real wall-paper, and having the roof ornamented with a large garrison flag. The fireplace presented a beautiful arch, which puzzled me a good deal, till I found it was made by taking an old iron cog-wheel, found at the mill on the river, and cutting the same in two. Already the punctual General Sykes, Commander of the Corps, was there, with Mrs. S., a very nice lady, in quite a blue silk dress. . . . Also several other officers’ wives, of sundry ages, and in various dresses. Then we marched in and took our seats, I near the head and between Mrs. Lieutenant Snyder and Mrs. Dr. Holbrook. Next on the left was General Bartlett, in high boots and brass spurs. There must have been some twenty-four persons, in all. The table ran the length of two hospital tents, ingeniously floored with spare boards from the pontoon-train and ornamented with flags and greens. The chandeliers were ingeniously composed of bayonets, and all was very military. Oyster soup had we; fish, biled mutting, roast beef, roast turkey, pies, and nuts and raisins; while the band did play outside. General Sykes, usually exceeding stern, became very gracious and deigned to laugh, when one of his captains said: “He was the mildest-mannered man that ever cut a throat or scuttled ship.”

After dinner, songs were encouraged, and General Sykes told two of his Staff, if they didn’t sing immediately, he would send them home at once! I sang two comic songs, with immense success, and all was festive. I passed the night there, and took breakfast this morning, when Albert came down with the horses. Joe Hayes is a singular instance of a man falling into his right notch. In college he was not good at his studies at all; but, as an officer, he is remarkable, and has a reputation all through the Corps. Though only a colonel, he was entrusted, at Mine Run, with bringing off the picket line, consisting of 4000 men, which he did admirably. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 71-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.