Art and War (March 21, 1863)

In the letter below Meade refers to a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It appears he is not talking about a production of Shakespeare’s play; the reference appears to be to Die Lustigen Weiber Von Windsor, an operatic adaptation by Otto Nicolai to a libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal . The 1849 opera made its American debut in Philadelphia in 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863.

William Averell, who commanded the cavalry that fought at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863 (Library of Congress).

“Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray” was the battle that took place up the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford Union, when cavalry under Brig. Gen. William Averell battled Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate horsemen on March 17, 1863. Here’s how I describe it in the book:

 Averell had a score to settle with his old friend Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee’s nephew. After an earlier cavalry skirmish had gone badly for the Union, Lee left behind a taunting note for Averell: “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home. You ride a good horse, I ride a better. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”

Averell brought about three thousand men with him to answer Lee’s taunt. He made a difficult crossing of the swiftly flowing river at Kelly’s Ford and launched a spirited cavalry battle on the other side. Averell’s ingrained caution prevented him from routing Lee’s forces, but he made a surprisingly good showing for the until-then toothless Union cavalry. He also left behind some coffee and a note. “Dear Fitz,” it read. “Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly's Ford.

John Pelham, who was mortally wounded in the fighting at Kelly’s Ford.

One of the Confederates who died in the fighting was “Gallant” John Pelham, the young officer who had troubled Meade with his horse artillery at Fredericksburg.  There’s a small monument to him hidden away in the trees near Kelly’s Ford.  

I had seen in the papers a glowing account of the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” which must have been a great treat. There is nothing I feel so much the deprivation of as hearing good music, and I was very sorry that there was no opportunity to indulge myself while in Philadelphia.

We have literally nothing new or exciting in camp. Averell’s brilliant cavalry foray has been the camp talk. The enemy, through Richmond papers, admit they were whipped and believe it to be the commencement of Hooker’s campaign, and already talk of the probable necessity of Lee’s having to fall back nearer Richmond. This confirms what we have suspected, that their force opposite to us had been much reduced, and that when we pressed them they would retire. There is not much chance of doing this at present, however. Yesterday it snowed all day, and to-day it is raining, so that our roads are again, or will be, in a dreadful condition.

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. 361. Available via Google Books.

The Pelham monument near Kelly's Ford.

The Pelham monument near Kelly’s Ford.