And So It Begins (May 3, 1864)

Alexander Gardner called this photograph "Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe's deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army's Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner called this photograph “Breaking Camp.: It shows General George H. Sharpe’s deserted headquarters at Brandy Station. Sharpe headed the army’s Bureau of Military Information. Winter camp is over; the army is on the move (Library of Congress).

We are now on the very eve of the Overland Campaign, a bloody, protracted slugging match between the Army of the Potomac under Meade (accompanied by Grant) and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At the start of the campaign Grant warned Meade that he did not intend to fight by “maneuvering for position.” Meade must have seen that as a critique of the army’s campaigns from the previous fall. He replied, “General Grant, you are opposed by a general of consummate ability, and you will find that you will have to maneuver for position.” Meade will be right. Throughout the Overland Campaign Grant will attempt to overwhelm the Confederates with direct assaults, and then order Meade’s army on wide, sweeping maneuvers in attempts to outflank Lee.

The letter from Lee that Meade mentions here is the one the Confederate general sent demanding to know the truth about Ulric Dahlgren’s orders for his ill-fated raid on Richmond. Papers found on his body indicated he intended to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and burn Richmond. Meade had denied that anyone had issued such orders. Pennie is Meade’s son Spencer.

I send herewith original letter recently received from General Lee, which you can give to Pennie, as it has General Lee’s autograph, and on the envelope an original endorsement by Jeb Stuart, the great reb. cavalry general.

I also enclose you a printed copy of an address issued to-day by me to the army. To-morrow we move. I hope and trust we will be successful, and so decidedly successful as to bring about a termination of this war. If hard fighting will do it, I am sure I can rely on my men. They are in fine condition and in most excellent spirits, and will do all that men can do to accomplish the object. The enemy have had time, I expect, to bring up all available reinforcements. This is all the better for us, if we succeed, as it will make the battle and victory more decisive. The telegraph will convey to you the first intelligence, though I shall endeavor to keep you posted. I beg of you to be calm and resigned, to place full trust in the mercy of our heavenly Father, who has up to this time so signally favored us, and the continuance of whose blessing we should earnestly pray for. Do not fret, but be cheerful, and go about and do just as if nothing was going on, and above all things don’t anticipate evil; it will come time enough. Give my love to all the dear children. I shall think a great deal of you and them, notwithstanding the excitement of my duties. I feel quiet and determined, satisfied I have ever striven to do my duty to the best of my ability, and believing that in time posterity will do justice to my career. Good-by! God bless and protect us all!

“Address” mentioned in last letter:

Head-quarters, Army Of The Potomac, May 4, 1864.

Soldiers!

Again you are called upon to advance on the enemies of your country. The time and the occasion are deemed opportune by your Commanding General to address you a few words of confidence and caution.

You have been re-organized, strengthened and fully equipped in every respect. You form a part of the several armies of your country, the whole under the direction of an able and distinguished General, who enjoys the confidence of the government, the people and the army. Your movement being in co-operation with others, it is of the utmost importance that no effort should be left unspared to make it successful.

Soldiers! the eyes of the whole country are looking with anxious hope to the blow you are about to strike in the most sacred cause that ever called men to arms.

Remember your homes, your wives and children, and bear in mind that the sooner your enemies are overcome, the sooner you will be returned to enjoy the benefits and blessings of peace. Bear with patience the hardships and sacrifices yon will be called upon to endure. Have confidence in your officers and in each other. Keep your ranks on the march and on the battlefield, and let each man earnestly implore God’s blessing and endeavor by his thoughts and actions to render himself worthy of the favor he seeks. With clear consciences and strong arms, actuated by a high sense of duty, fighting to preserve the Government and the institutions handed down to us by our forefathers—if true to ourselves—victory, under God’s blessing, must and will attend our efforts.

Geo. G. Meade,
Official: Major General Commanding

Here’s what Theodore Lyman wrote home on the same day. Lyman wrote detailed and fascinating letters home about the fighting during the Overland Campaign and I will post them here on the appropriate days.

At last the order of march, for to-morrow at 5 a.m.! Of it more when it is over — if I am here to write. Only spring waggons go for our little mess kits and baggage; other things go with the main train. May God bless the undertaking at last and give an end to this war! I have made all preparations for the campaign.

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. 192-4. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 84. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Hatchets Buried (April 18, 1864)

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, and his staff. Both Meade and Lyman wrote about the review of the VI Corps on April 18 (Library of Congress).

David Birney realizes the uselessness of the attempts to remove Meade from command and replace him with either Joe Hooker or Dan Sickles. Now he must mend fences. It must have been an uncomfortable meeting for Birney but apparently he was pleased with the results. “I am again on very pleasant terms with Gen. Meade,” Birney wrote to a friend. “He assured me of his high regard, and desire for me to remain.”

In this letter Meade also comments once again on the failed raid on Richmond that Judson Kilpatrick and Ulric Dahlgren had attempted in March. Dahlgren had been killed and on his body the Confederates found letters outlining a plan to burn Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and members of his cabinet. The Mr. Bond he mentions is L. Montgomery Bond, who had headed a campaign to get Philadelphians to volunteer for the Sanitary fair held in that city. Quite likely Meade had written to him about that subject.

Following Meade’s letter is Theodore Lyman’s observations on the Army of the Potomac, written on the same day. Where Meade mentions the review of the VI Corps, Lyman describes it.

I had an interview with General Birney to-day, who disclaimed ever having entertained unfriendly feelings towards me, or being a partisan of Sickles, and expressed the hope he would be permitted to serve under me. I listened to all he had to say, but made no reply, except that I had never heard he had any unfriendly feelings towards me.

To-day Grant reviewed the Sixth Corps (Sedgwick’s). It was a fine day, and the men looked and marched finely. Grant expressed himself highly pleased, and is quite astonished at our system and organization.

I see a letter I wrote to a Mr. Bond, Chairman of Committee on Labor, Income and Revenue, has already gotten into the papers. I declare I am almost afraid to put pen to paper, when writing to any one but you. I had supposed that my present humble position would shield me from getting into print, and that letters from Grant only would be of value. You would be amused to see the worshipping of the rising sun by certain officers in this army; but Grant behaves very handsomely, and immediately refers to me all the letters and communications he gets from my subordinates, who apply to him when they have axes to grind. I have received a letter from General Lee, enclosing photographic copies of the papers found on Colonel Dahlgren, and asking whether these papers were authorized, sanctioned or approved by the Government of the United States, or Colonel Dahlgren’s superior officers. This was a pretty ugly piece of business; for in denying having authorized or approved “the burning of Richmond, or killing Mr. Davis and Cabinet,” I necessarily threw odium on Dahlgren. I, however, enclosed a letter from Kilpatrick, in which the authenticity of the papers was impugned; but I regret to say Kilpatrick’s reputation, and collateral evidence in my possession, rather go against this theory. However, I was determined my skirts should be clear, so I promptly disavowed having ever authorized, sanctioned or approved of any act not required by military necessity, and in accordance with the usages of war.

Here’s Lyman’s letter. The Rowley he mentions is William Rowley, who had been with Grant out west and now was serving as his military secretary. There was some tension between the staffs of Meade and Grant; perhaps Lyman’s observations are a reflection of this.

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

Ulysses Grant was known as a natural and skilled rider (Library of Congress).

I have seen some high-bush blackberries that already had wee leaves, just beginning to open; and the buds of the trees are swelling; and hundreds of little toads sing and whistle all night, to please other hundreds of Misses toads. The sap is rising so in the oak trees that the wood won’t burn without some trouble. It really looks like a beginning of spring; and everything is so quiet that it is quite amazing; whether it is that old soldiers get lazy and sleep a good deal during the day, I don’t know, but really just a short way from camp, it is as still as if not a human being were near; and here at Headquarters, the only sounds are the distant car-whistles and the drums and trumpets sounding the calls; except, indeed, the music of the band, which is hardly a noise and is very acceptable. I suppose we may call this the lull before the hurricane, which little short of a miracle can avert. There is Grant, with his utterly immovable face, going about from Culpeper to Washington and back, and sending no end of cipher messages, all big with strategy. He evidently means to do something pretty serious before he gives up. To-day was a great day for him; he reviewed the entire 6th Corps, which, as you know, has been strengthened by a division of the late 3d Corps. The day has been fine, very. At eleven o’clock we started and rode towards Culpeper, to meet General Grant, who encountered us beyond Brandy Station. He is very fond, you must know, of horses, and was mounted on one of the handsomest I have seen in the army. He was neatly dressed in the regulation uniform, with a handsome sash and sword, and the three stars of a lieutenant-general on his shoulder. He is a man of a natural, severe simplicity, in all things — the very way he wears his high-crowned felt hat shows this: he neither puts it on behind his ears, nor draws it over his eyes; much less does he cock it on one side, but sets it straight and very hard on his head. His riding is the same: without the slightest “air,” and, per contra, without affectation of homeliness; he sits firmly in the saddle and looks straight ahead, as if only intent on getting to some particular point. General Meade says he is a very amiable man, though his eye is stern and almost fierce-looking.

Well, we encountered him, as aforesaid, followed by three or four aides; one of whom, Lieutenant-Colonel Rowley, was oblivious of straps, and presented an expanse of rather ill-blacked, calfskin boots, that took away from his military ensemble a good deal. When a man can ride without straps, he may do so, if he chooses; but, when he possesseth not the happy faculty of keeping down his trousers, he should make straps a part of his religion! We took our station on a swell of ground, when we could see a large part of the Corps in line; but there was so much of it, that, though drawn up by battalions (that is, ten men deep), there could be found, in the neighborhood, no ground sufficiently extensive, without hollows. At once they began to march past — there seemed no end of them. In each direction there was nothing but a wide, moving hedge of bright muskets; a very fine sight. . . . General Grant is much pleased and says there is nothing of the sort out West, in the way of discipline and organization. . . .

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. 190-1. 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 82-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Congress (March 6, 1864)

Daniel Sickles commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg and began attacking Meade's reputation afterwards (Library of Congress).

Daniel Sickles commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg and began attacking Meade’s reputation afterwards (Library of Congress).

We are now entering into a troubling time for George Gordon Meade, as he discovers his generalship is being questioned by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a Congressional body investigating the Union war effort. The driving forces behind the committee were Republican senators Zachariah Chandler of Michigan and Ben Wade of Ohio. Both of them despised General George McClellan and wanted to root out all taints of McClellanism from the Army of the Potomac. The found a willing ally in General Daniel Sickles, who had moved his III Corps forward at Gettysburg, lost a leg, and began spreading the story that Meade had intended to retreat from the battlefield; by helping precipitate the fighting on July 2, Sickles told people,  the III Corps had kept Meade from leaving. Other generals, including Abner Doubleday, also testified against Meade. Here’s what I write in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Starting in February 1864 and continuing through April, seventeen generals from the Army of the Potomac trooped through the Capitol’s corridors so they could testify in the basement room where members of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War examined its witnesses. They brought with them a collection of bruised egos, simmering resentments, and unrestrained ambition—leavened here and there by a dash of true patriotism and a desire to see more progress in the war.

Chandler and Wade wanted Joe Hooker returned to command, even though he was another West Pointer who had once resisted the idea of emancipation. Later, though, he apparently had seen which way the wind was blowing and shifted his position on that subject. His aggressive talk about fighting also made committee members think he was the aggressive, offensive-minded general they needed, Chancellorsville notwithstanding. Perhaps most important, Hooker showed no signs of political ambition; any military success he achieved would not create a potential rival at the ballot box.

Sickles was an equally unlikely ally for a committee dominated by Radical Republicans, for he was a partisan Democrat who had emerged from the highly politicized party machinery in New York City. Yet “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Sickles was out to get Meade and so was the committee.

Sickles testified on February 26. Wade asked all the questions. When he did not outright lie—for example, by saying the III Corps had occupied Little Round Top when it clearly had not—Sickles used his lawyer skills to carefully skirt the truth. For example, when he read into the record Meade’s Pipe Creek Circular, which he said demonstrated that Meade had intended to retreat from Gettysburg, he did not read this line: “Developments may cause the commanding general to assume the offensive from his present position.” In other words, it was a contingency plan, not a plan to retreat.

Abner Doubleday took over command of the I Corps at Gettysburg after the death of John Reynolds. Meade replaced him with John Newton and Doubleday never forgot the slight (Library of Congress).

Abner Doubleday took over command of the I Corps at Gettysburg after the death of John Reynolds. Meade replaced him with John Newton and Doubleday never forgot the slight (Library of Congress).

Abner Doubleday testified on March 1. Like Sickles, he was still nursing grievances against Meade because Meade had replaced him at the head of the I Corps with John Newton following [John] Reynolds’s death. The aggrieved Doubleday told the committee that Meade’s plan was to make him and General [Oliver O.] Howard scapegoats in case the battle turned out badly. Meade, he said, liked to place his personal friends in power. “There has always been a great deal of favoritism in the army of the Potomac,” he claimed. “No man who is an anti-slavery man or an anti-McClellan man can expect decent treatment in that army as at present constituted.”

Brig. Gen. Albion Howe, “a zealot who despised anyone he thought to be an admirer of General McClellan,” had commanded a division of the VI Corps at Gettysburg. He continued Doubleday’s line of reasoning when he testified on March 3 and 4. Responding to some leading questioning by Wade, Howe explained that Meade and other generals in the Army of the Potomac had been tainted by the connection with McClellan., that there were “certain sympathies, feelings, and considerations of action which seem to govern now as they did then.” In fact, Howe decided, the problem within the Army of the Potomac was an epidemic of “copperheadism.”

After hearing all this Wade and Chandler went to see Stanton and Lincoln and urged them to replace Meade with Hooker . . . .

While in Washington Meade heard that Sen. Morton S. Wilkinson, a Republican from Minnesota and a Chandler ally, had attacked him on the Senate floor the previous day. Wilkinson told the Senate he had learned that before the Battle of Gettysburg, “the order went forth from the commander of that army to retreat; and but for the single fact that one of the corps commanders had got into a fight before the dispatch reached him, the whole army would undoubtedly have been retreating.”

At the end of his letter Meade mentions that the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid had failed. There will be repercussions from the raid to come later. For Meade’s report on the raid, from the Official Records, series, 1, volume 33, see below.

Senator Ben Wade of Ohio (via Wikipedia).

Senator Ben Wade of Ohio (via Wikipedia).

I returned from Washington to-day. I went there Friday morning on business connected with the reorganization of the army. The night before I left I saw Mr. Wilkeson’s attack on me in the Senate and Reverdy Johnston’s reply and defense. When I reached Washington I was greatly surprised to find the whole town talking of certain grave charges of Generals Sickles and Doubleday, that had been made against me in their testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. On Saturday I was summoned before the committee. I found there only Mr. Wade, of Ohio. He was very civil, denied there were any charges against me, but said the committee was making up a sort of history of the war and was now taking evidence to enable it to give an account of the battle of Gettysburg, and my administration since commanding the army. I then occupied about three hours giving a succinct narrative of events. Subsequently Mr. Stanton told me (this is strictly confidential), that there was and had been much pressure from a certain party to get Hooker back in command, and that thinking, through Sickles and others, they might get me out (a preliminary step) they had gotten up this halloobaloo in the Committee on the Conduct of the War; but that I need not worry myself, there was no chance of their succeeding. The only evil that will result is the spreading over the country certain mysterious whisperings of dreadful deficiencies on my part, the truth concerning which will never reach the thousandth part of those who hear the lies. I suppose and fear you will be worried about them, but I beg you to be calm and quiet, and rest satisfied that I will come out all right in the end.

I saw nobody in Washington, except people about the Government, except Mr. Howard, of Michigan, whom I went to see and to whom I explained the absurd charge of Sickles, that I had ordered a retreat at Gettysburg, and that that battle was fought in spite of all my efforts to prevent it.

It is a melancholy state of affairs, however, when persons like Sickles and Doubleday can, by distorting and twisting facts, and giving a false coloring, induce the press and public for a time, and almost immediately, to take away the character of a man who up to that time had stood high in their estimation. However, I suppose we cannot change human nature; we must be patient, await the period when the truth will slowly and surely make itself be known.

You have doubtless seen that Kilpatrick’s raid was an utter failure. I did not expect much from it. Poor Dahlgren I am sorry for.

Meade's report on the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid, page 1

Meade’s report on the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid, page 1

Meade's report, page 2

Meade’s report, page 2

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. 169-70. Available via Google Books.

The Raid Continues (March 2, 1864)

As Judson Kilpatrick and Ulric Dahlgren make their move on Richmond, the Army of the Potomac waits anxiously for news. Kilpatrick did not allow George Armstrong Custer on his raid, “no doubt a punishment for past insubordination,” as Kilpatrick biographer Samuel J. Martin speculates. Instead, Custer makes a diversionary attack.

George Armstrong Custer (Library of Congress).

George Armstrong Custer (Library of Congress).

We have all been in a state of excitement about our recent cavalry raids. On the 28th, I moved the Sixth Corps and part of the Third to Madison Court House, threatening the enemy’s left flank. At the same time Custer, with fifteen hundred cavalry and two pieces of artillery, was sent to Charlottesville to try and cut the Gordonsville and Lynchburg Railroad near that place, where there is an important bridge over the Ravenna River. Custer got within two miles of the bridge, but found it too strongly guarded. He, however, skirmished with the enemy, destroyed and captured a great deal of property, took fifty prisoners, and on his return cut his way through a large cavalry force, commanded by Jeb. Stuart, that had been sent to cut him off, thus being quite successful. In the meantime, while the enemy’s attention was fully occupied with Custer, and they were under the impression I was moving in that direction, Kilpatrick, with four thousand cavalry and six guns, at night crossed the Rapidan on our left and pushed straight for Richmond. He fortunately captured the picket on the Rapidan, thus preventing early intelligence of his movement being communicated. He left Sunday night, and the last we have heard of him was Monday afternoon, when he was within thirty miles of Richmond. Of course you can imagine our anxiety to know his fate. If he finds Richmond no better guarded than our information says it is, he will have a great chance of getting in and liberating all the prisoners, which is the great object of the movement. God grant he may, for their sakes and his.

I suppose you have seen by the papers that I have been confirmed as a brigadier general in the regular army.

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. 168-9. Available via Google Books.

The Raid (March 1, 1864)

Judson Kilpatrick, the controversial cavalry commander (Library of Congress).

Judson Kilpatrick, the controversial cavalry commander (Library of Congress).

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s behind-the-scenes look at the start of the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid  on Richmond. Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Custer’s brigade of cavalry were designed to divert Confederate attention from the raid. After Lyman’s letter I include the report that Meade prepared for Henry Halleck (still the commander-in-chief of the Union armies, but not for long) on March 1 about the raid’s progress to that point. General Andrew Humphreys is Meade’s chief of staff.

. . . For some days General Humphreys has been a mass of mystery, with his mouth pursed up, and doing much writing by himself, all to the great amusement of the bystanders, who had heard, even in Washington, that some expedition or raid was on the tapis, and even pointed out various details thereof. However, their ideas, after all, were vague; but they should not have known anything. Que voulez-vous? A secret expedition with us is got up like a picnic, with everybody blabbing and yelping. One is driven to think that not even the prospect of immediate execution will stop Americans from streaming on in their loose, talking, devil-may-care ways. Kilpatrick is sent for by the President; oh, ah! everybody knows it at once: he is a cavalry officer; it must be a raid. All Willard’s chatters of it. Everybody devotes his entire energies to pumping the President and Kill-cavalry! Some confidential friend finds out a part, tells another confidential friend, swearing him to secrecy, etc., etc. So there was Eleusinian Humphreys writing mysteriously, and speaking to nobody, while the whole camp was sending expeditions to the four corners of the compass! On Saturday, at early morn, Uncle John Sedgwick suddenly picked up his little traps and marched with his Corps through Culpeper and out towards Madison Court House, away on our right flank. The next, the quiet Sabbath, was broken by the whole of Birney’s division, of the 3d Corps, marching also through Culpeper, with the bands playing and much parade. We could only phancy the feeling of J. Reb contemplating this threatening of his left flank from his signal station on Clark’s Mountain. Then the flaxen Custer, at the head of cavalry, passed through, and wended his way in the same direction. All this, you see, was on our right. That night Kilpatrick, at the head of a large body of cavalry, crossed at Ely’s Ford, on our extreme left, and drew a straight bead on Richmond! At two oclock that night he was at Spotsylvania C. H., and this is our last news of him. He sent back word that he would attack Richmond at seven this morning. The idea is to liberate the prisoners, catch all the rebel M. C.’s that are lying round loose, and make tracks to our nearest lines. I conceive the chances are pretty hazardous, although the plan was matured with much detail and the start was all that could be asked. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 76-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

 Meade’s report is from the Official Records, ser. 1, Vol. 33, p. 169:

Meade March 1

Leap Year (February 29, 1864)

Alexander Gardner took this photograph at Fairfax Court House in June 1863, just before the start of the Gettysburg Campaign. He called it "Studying the Art of War." Ulric Dahlgren is the man standing. The man in the center is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, in the United States to observer. He will later become famous for the airships he develops. At the far right is Lt. Rosencranz, who will later serve on Meade's staff. Theodore Lyman mentions him often in his writings. To read Gardner's extensive caption for this photo, see below (Library of Congress).

Alexander Gardner took this photograph at Fairfax Court House in June 1863, just before the start of the Gettysburg Campaign. He called it “Studying the Art of War.” Ulric Dahlgren is the man standing. The man crouching  in the center is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, in the United States to observe the war. He will become known for the airships he later develops. Reclining is Joseph Dickinson. At the far right is Lt. Frederick Rosencrantz, who will later serve on Meade’s staff. Theodore Lyman mentions him often in his writings. Benjamin Ludlow, at left, was another Meade staffer. To read Gardner’s extensive caption for this photo, see below (Library of Congress).

1864 was a leap year, hence this letter from February 29. It is Meade’s last letter from February. March will be an eventful month, marking the arrival of Ulysses S. Grant, the investigations by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, and the fallout from the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid on Richmond. As the last paragraph of Meade’s letter points out, March will also bring Ulysses S. Grant, the new general-in-chief of the Union armies, a post held until now by Henry Halleck.

Yesterday Mr. Dorr, from Christ Church, preached for us, and afterwards dined and spent the evening with me. During the evening one of the escaped prisoners from Libby prison, who had made his way from Richmond right through the main body of Lee’s army and into our lines, came to see me, and Mr. Dorr seemed very much interested in the narrative of his adventures. He returned home this morning, delighted with his visit to the army and all he had seen. He has a son who is a captain in Chapman Biddle’s regiment, the One Hundred and Twenty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Ulric Dahlgren, in a close-up from Gardner's photograph (Library of Congress).

Ulric Dahlgren, in a close-up from Gardner’s photograph (Library of Congress).

My cavalry expedition for Richmond got off last night, and at 2 a.m., the last I heard from them, they were getting on famously, not having met any one or being, as far as they could tell, discovered by the enemy. I trust they will be successful; it will be the greatest feat of the war, if they do succeed, and will immortalize them all. Young Dahlgren, with his one leg, went along with them. The weather from having been most favorable, now that the expedition has gone, begins to look suspicious, and to-night we have a little rain.

I see Congress has passed the Lieutenant General bill. This will make Grant Commander-in-Chief; what will become of Halleck I can’t tell, and possibly when Grant is responsible for all military operations, he may want some one else whom he knows better in command of this army.

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. 168. Available via Google Books.

This is what Gardner wrote about “Studying the Art of War,” in a caption that appeared in Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War:

A group at the headquarters, near Fairfax Court-House, taken in June, 1863. Thoughtful and erect, the most prominent figure is Colonel Ulric Dahigren, then a Captain on the Staff of General Meade. Handsome, chivalric, one of the bravest of the brave, his character was fitly compared to that of the good knight, the Chevalier Bayard, and like him, he was truly “sans peur et sans reproche.” So noble a man, that of all the heroes who have perished for the nation, his loss is the hardest to realize. The story of his short but brilliant career has been written by abler hands, and is now a “household word.” Of its closing scenes, the writer narrowly escaped being a witness, having been invited to accompany the Colonel on that ill-starred expedition by which his life was sacrificed. Just recovering from the loss of his leg, and suffering acutely from any physical exertion, his active spirit could not be controlled, when he thought of his brothers in arms pining under the cruelties of Libby and Belle Isle. No ruthless raid was his, but a Christian effort to help the despairing Union Prisoners. None, who knew him, need be told how false was the document, claimed to have been found upon his person. General Meade, suspecting his inability to undergo the fatigues of an expedition in the inclement weather of February, was disinclined to give him permission; but Dahlgren, determined on his purpose, mounted his horse, and proceeding to a review of the Second Corps, rode so fearlessly over the fields, and under his frank smile, so well hid all traces of bodily suffering, that the General reluctantly permitted him to depart. After the review, when he came over (for the retirement it offered) to the writer’s tent, it was too evident how fearful had been the effort of his will.

The officer upon the ground, wearing a straw hat, is Lieutenant-Colonel [Joseph] Dickinson, Assistant Adjutant General to General Hooker a position he held from the time that General first commanded a brigade, until the battle of Gettysburg. In that action the Colonel was hit in the arm with a link of a chain, thrown with other misiles from a rebel shell. On the recovery of his wound he retired from the service, The gentleman in foreign uniform is Count Zeppelin, of the Prussian army, then on a visit to this country. On the left is the figure of Major [Benjamin] Ludlow, since better known as the General in Command of the Colored Brigade, which excavated, under a continual and heavy fire, the canal on the James, called Dutch Gap. The perils of that undertaking he faithfully shared, from first to last, doing much, by his cheerful bearing and example, to support his troops in their perilous work. The last of the group is Lieutenant (since Lieutenant Colonel) Rosencranz, a Swedish officer, on leave of absence, and occupying successively the position of Personal Aid upon the Staff of Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade. A very reliable soldier, and one of the best Aids on the Staff, his genial disposition, unfailing amiability, and keen appreciation of humor, made him acceptable everywhere. He was probably as well known as any officer in the field.

A Desperate Undertaking (February 27, 1864)

In this letter Meade alludes to an upcoming raid on Richmond. The story of this raid will continue in Meade’s future letters. Led by Judson Kilpatrick with assistance by one-legged Ulric Dahlgren, who lost his limb fighting in Hagerstown during the Gettysburg campaign, it will not end well. There will be repercussions.

I am glad George wrote you an account of the ball. I should have been delighted, if I had owned the carpet in the Arabian Nights to have transported sister and yourself to the army for that night, but the journey here and back, the expense and fatigue, besides exposure, were all drawbacks, greater than the compensation to be found in the pleasure of your presence.

I have been a good deal occupied with an attempt I am about making, to send a force of cavalry into Richmond to liberate our prisoners. The undertaking is a desperate one, but the anxiety and distress of the public and of the authorities at Washington is so great that it seems to demand running great risks for the chances of success.

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. 167-8. Available via Google Books.