Mere Canards (July 23, 1864)

General E.O.C. Ord. His soldiers called him "Old Alphabet." Meade had served with him early in the war (Library of Congress).

General E.O.C. Ord. Thanks to the profusion of initials, his soldiers called him “Old Alphabet.” Meade had served with him early in the war (Library of Congress).

The peace movement Meade mentions in this letter is the one undertaken by newspaper publisher Horace Greely, in which he met with Confederate commissioners at the Canadian border. Greeley, often a thorn in Lincoln’s side, ended up being outmaneuvered by the president, who made sure the conditions Greeley offered for talks required  restoration of the Union and an end to slavery, conditions he knew the Confederates would not accept.

It’s true that Meade professed great friendship for Winfield Scott Hancock. It’s also probably true that he never had a quarrel with the recently departed William F. “Baldy” Smith, but there was certainly no longer any friendship there. Earlier Meade had said he and Smith were “avowed antagonists.” David Birney, formerly a division commander in the II Corps under Hancock, was no friend, either, although Meade did admire his fighting abilities.

The stories you hear about me, some of which have reached camp, are mere canards, I have never had any quarrel with either General Hancock or Smith. Hancock is an honest man, and as he always professes the warmest friendship for me, I never doubt his statements; and I am sure I have for him the most friendly feeling and the highest appreciation of his talents. I am perfectly willing at any time to turn over to him the Army of the Potomac, and wish him joy of his promotion.

We have been very quiet since I last wrote; there are signs of approaching activity. The army is getting to be quite satisfied with its rest, and ready to try it again.

It would appear from the news from Niagara Falls that the question of peace has been in a measure mooted. The army would hail an honorable peace with delight, and I do believe, if the question was left to those who do the fighting, an honorable peace would be made in a few hours.

Ord has been placed in Smith’s place in command of the Eighteenth Corps, and General Birney has been assigned to the Tenth Corps, largely composed of colored troops.

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. 215. Available via Google Books.

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The Last of Baldy Smith (July 20, 1864)

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

On July 20 both George Meade and Theodore Lyman note the departure of William F. “Baldy” Smith from the Army of the James. Smith, who had commanded the XVIII Corps, and Meade had once been friends but became “avowed antagonists” as time passed. Smith was adept at sowing friction. Over at the Army of the James, Smith, Ulysses S. Grant, and Army of the James commander Benjamin Butler became involved in a struggle for power. Grant longed to rid himself of Butler, a general who was much more skilled at politics than war. He contrived to have Smith take control of the Army of the James’s field operations while Butler remained behind the lines in a strictly administrative role. Butler would have none of it. When the dust settled, Butler remained firmly in charge while Grant had sent Smith to New York. Smith later claimed that Butler gained the upper hand by blackmailing Grant over his drinking. The more likely scenario was that with the presidential election looming, the administration realized that this was no time to turn the politically connected General Butler into an enemy.

For Smith’s explanation of the affair, see below. He printed the letter he wrote to Vermont’s Senator Solomon Foote in his book From Chattanooga to Petersburg Under Generals Grant and Butler: A Contribution to the History of the War, and a Personal Vindication (Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1893). It’s quite an interesting account and does a good amount of score settling.

I am a good deal amused at your fear that I will become entangled with politicians. You may make your mind easy on that point, as, with the exception of what you write, I have never heard a word breathed on the subject. I rather fancy I should be considered too independent and too intractable for the purposes of any of these gentlemen.

Much excitement was created to-day by the announcement that General W. F. Smith, who returned last evening from his sick leave, was this morning relieved from his command of the Eighteenth Corps and ordered to New York. It was only the other day he was assigned by the President to this command, and Butler sent to Fortress Monroe. It appears now the tables are turned—Butler remains and Smith goes.

We have had a little rain, which has added greatly to our comfort and allayed somewhat the dust which has been such an annoyance. We are waiting the return of the Sixth Corps, sent to relieve Washington, after which I suppose we shall begin anew.

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s take on things. If anyone was born to serve Lyman as an object for description, it was Ben Butler.

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Benjamin Butler. He was a mediocre general but a wily politician (Library of Congress).

Our camp was this morning taken by assault by a cavalcade which turned out to be Major-General Ben F. Butler and a portion of his Staff. He is the strangest sight on a horse you ever saw: it is hard to keep your eyes off him. With his head set immediately on a stout shapeless body, his very squinting eyes, and a set of legs and arms that look as if made for somebody else, and hastily glued to him by mistake, he presents a combination of Victor Emmanuel, Aesop, and Richard III, which is very confusing to the mind. Add to this a horse with a kind of rapid, ambling trot that shakes about the arms, legs, etc., till you don’t feel quite sure whether it is a centaur, or what it is, and you have a picture of this celebrated General. Celebrated he surely is, and a man of untiring industry and activity. Woe to those who stand up against him in the way of diplomacy! Let the history of “Baldy” Smith be a warning to all such. It is an instructive one, and according to camp rumor, runs thus. It was said that Smith, relying on his reputation with Grant, had great ideas of shelving Butler, and Fame even reported that he had ideas also of giving Meade a tilt overboard. So what do we see but an order stating that Major-General Smith was to command the “forces of the field” of the Department, while Major-General Butler would continue to command the Department, with his “Headquarters at Fortress Monroe.” Next day everybody says: “So, Butler has gone.” Not exactly. Butler was still there, precisely as before. “As long as I command the Department, I command its troops; therefore, Headquarters where I please. I please here.” Off goes Smith to Washington, mysteriously. Down pounces Butler on City Point. Long confab with General Grant. Back comes Smith comfortably and is confronted by an order to “proceed at once to New York and await further orders!” Thus did Smith the Bald try the Macchiavelli against Butler the cross-eyed, and got floored at the first round! “Why did he do so?” asked Butler, with the easy air of a strong man. “I had no military ambition; he might have had all that. I have more important things in view!” Speaking of Butler’s visit, he had sent him an aide without consulting him, and Benjamin thought it a good chance to hit Halleck over the aide’s head. “Aide-de-camp, sir! Ordered on my Staff, sir! I’m sure I do not know what you are to do. I have really nothing for you. All the positions are filled. Now there is General Halleck, what has he to do? At a moment when every true man is laboring to his utmost, when the days ought to be forty hours long, General Halleck is translating French books at nine cents a page; and, sir, if you should put those nine cents in a box and shake them up, you would form a clear idea of General Halleck’s soul!”

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. 214-15. 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. 192-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Now it’s time to give William F. “Baldy” Smith time for his defense. He does go down swinging in this letter to Senator Foote. (The correctionto the date was provided by Smith himself in his book).

Ulysses S. Grant. Questions about his drinking are still debated today  (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant. Questions about his drinking are still debated today (Library of Congress).

I am extremely anxious that my friends in my native state should not think that the reason of General Grant’s relieving me from duty was brought about by any misconduct of mine, and therefore, I write to put you in possession of such facts in the case as I am aware of, and think will throw light upon the subject. About the very last of June, or the first of July, Generals Grant and Butler came to my headquarters, and shortly after their arrival General Grant turned to General Butler, and said: “That drink of whiskey I took has done me good.” And then, directly afterwards, asked me for a drink. My servant opened a bottle for him, and he drank of it, when the bottle was corked and put away.

I was aware at this time that General Grant had within six months pledged himself to drink nothing intoxicating, but did not feel it would better matters to decline to give it upon his request in General Butler’s presence.

After the lapse of an hour or less, the general asked for another drink, which he took. Shortly after, his voice showed plainly that the liquor had affected him, and after a little time he left. I went to see him upon his horse, and as soon as I returned to my tent I said to a staff officer of mine who had witnessed his departure, “General Grant has gone away drunk. General Butler has seen it, and will never fail to use the weapon which has been put into his hands.” Two or three days after that I applied for a leave of absence for the benefit of my health, and General Grant sent word to me not to go, if it were possible to stay, and I replied in a private note warranted by our former relations, a copy of which note I will send you in a few days. The next day, the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Dana, came to tell me that he had been sent by General Grant to say what it becomes necessary to repeat in view of subsequent events, to wit: That he, General G., had written a letter the day before, to ask that General Butler might be relieved from that department, July 2, and I placed in command of it, giving as a reason that he could not trust General Butler with the command of troops in the movements about to be made, and saying also, that, next to General Sherman, he had more confidence in my ability than in that of any general in the field. The order from Washington, dated July 7, sent General Butler to Fortress Monroe, and placed me in command of the troops then under him; and General Grant said he would make the changes necessary to give me the troops in the field belonging to that department. I had only asked that I should not be commanded in battle by a man that could not give an order on the field, and I had recommended General Franklin or General Wright for the command of the department. I was at the headquarters of General Grant on Sunday, July 10 [actually, July 9] and there saw General B., but had no conversation with him. After General B. had left, I had a confidential conversation with General Grant about changes he was going to make. In this connection it is proper to state that our personal relations were of the most friendly character. He had listened to and acted upon suggestions made by me upon more than one important occasion. I then thought, and still think (whatever General Butler’s letter writers may say to the contrary), that he knew that any suggestion I might make for his consideration would be dictated solely by an intense desire to put down this rebellion, and not from any considerations personal to myself, and that no personal friendships had stood in the way of what I considered my duty with regard to military management, a course not likely to be pursued by a man ambitious of advancement. In this confidential conversation with General Grant, I tried to show him the blunders of the late campaign of the Army of the Potomac and the terrible waste of life that had resulted from what I had considered a want of generalship in its present commander. Among other instances, I referred to the fearful slaughter at Cold Harbor, on the 3d of June. General Grant went into the discussion, defending General Meade stoutly, but finally acknowledged, to use his own words, “that there had been a butchery at Cold Harbor, but that he had said nothing about it because it could do no good.” Not a word was said as to my right to criticise General Meade then, and I left without a suspicion that General Grant had taken it in any other way than it was meant, and I do not think he did misunderstand me.

On my return from a short leave of absence on the 19th of July, General Grant sent for me to report to him, and then told me that he “ could not relieve General Butler,” and that as I had so severely criticised General Meade, he had determined to relieve me from the command of the 18th Corps and order me to New York City to await orders. The next morning the general gave some other reasons, such as an article in the “Tribune” reflecting on General Hancock, which I had nothing in the world to do with, and two letters, which I had written before the campaign began, to two of General Grant’s most devoted friends, urging upon them to try and prevent him from making the campaign he had just made. These letters, sent to General Grant’s nearest friends and intended for his eye, necessarily sprang from an earnest desire to serve the man upon whom the country had been depending, and these warnings ought to have been my highest justification in his opinion, and indeed would have been, but that it had become necessary to make out a case against me. All these matters, moreover, were known to the general before he asked that I might be put in command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, and therefore they formed no excuse for relieving me from the command I held.

I also submit to you that if it had been proven to him that I was unfitted for the command I then held, that that in nowise changed the case with reference to General Butler and his incompetency, and did not furnish a reason why he should not go where the President had ordered him at the request of General Grant; and that as General Grant did, immediately after an interview with General Butler, suspend the order and announce his intention of relieving me from duty there, other reasons must be sought, different from any assigned, for this sudden change of views and action. Since I have been in New York, I have heard from two different sources (one being from General Grant’s headquarters and one a staff officer of a general on intimate official relations with General Butler), that General Butler went to General Grant and threatened to expose his intoxication, if the order was not revoked. I also learned that General Butler had threatened to make public something that would prevent the President’s re-election. General Grant told me (when I asked him about General Butler’s threat of crushing me), that he had heard that General Butler had made some threat with reference to the Chicago convention, which he (Butler) said, he “had in his breeches pocket,” but General Grant was not clear in expressing what the threat was. I refer to this simply because I feel convinced that the change was not made for any of the reasons that have been assigned; and whether General Butler has threatened General Grant with his opposition to Mr. Lincoln at the coming election, or has appealed to any political aspirations which General Grant may entertain, I do not know; but one thing is certain, I was not guilty of any acts of insubordination between my appointment and my suspension, for I was absent all those days on leave of absence from General Grant. I only hope that this long story will not tire you, and that it will convince you that I have done nothing to deserve a loss of the confidence which was reposed in me.

Yours very truly, Wm. F. Smith, Major-General.

P. S. I have not referred to the state of things existing at headquarters when I left, and to the fact that General Grant was then in the habit of getting liquor in a surreptitious manner, because it was not relevant to my case; but if you think, at any time, the matter may be of importance to the country, I will give it to you. Should you wish to write to me, please address, care of S. E. Lyon, Jauncy Court, 39 Wall Street, New York.

 

On to Petersburg . . . Almost (June 15, 1864)

A portion of the Confederate defenses taken by the XVIII Corps on June 15, 1864 (Library of Congress).

A portion of the Confederate defenses taken by the XVIII Corps on June 15, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Yet another of the Civil War’s lost opportunities, as described by Theodore Lyman. William F. “Baldy” Smith and the XVIII Corps attack the Dimmock Line around Petersburg and appear in a position to make their victory complete, but Smith holds back. Instead of having Hancock and the II Corps, newly arrived, press the advantage, Smith has them fill in for his exhausted men. Here Lyman expresses surprise at the fighting qualities of the African-American troops he had disparaged just the month before. Although he still expresses condescending impressions of black soldiers, this is something of a step forward. He also mentions “Wise’s Legion,” which are the troops commanded by Meade’s brother-in-law, Henry Wise. A former governor of Virginia, Wise’s first wife had been Meade’s wife’s sister.

A view of the pontoon bridge over the James Riber (Library of Congress).

A view of the pontoon bridge over the James River (Library of Congress).

Of course, the first thing was to visit the great bridge. The approach to it lay along the river border, under the bank, and had been prepared with much labor, for, a day or two previous, it had been covered with great cypresses, some of them at least three and a half feet in diameter, and these had to be cut close to the ground, and the debris carefully cleared away; in a portion of the road too there was a muddy swamp, which had to be laboriously spanned by a causeway; but there was the whole thing, finished, and of course a photographer making a “picture” of it. It was very simple: you have only to fancy a bridge of boats, thirteen feet wide and 2000 long, the while looking so light as scarcely to be capable of bearing a man on horseback. In the middle of the river were anchored two schooners, which gave greater stability to the bridge, by being attached to it with ropes. What added to the strangeness of the scene was the ci-devant Rebel iron-clad Atlanta, lying there, like a big mud-turtle, with only its back exposed. The group was completed by two or three gunboats and several steamers anchored near by. It was funny to run against the marine in this inland region, and to see the naval officers, all so smug and well brushed in their clean uniforms. Admiral L[ee] came to visit the General—a pleasant old lady apparently. While we were at dinner came Colonel Babcock, from Grant at City Point, with news that Baldy Smith had marched thence before daylight, engaged the enemy at five a.m., and was driving them towards Petersburg. Orders were immediately given to halt the waggon-train, now passing the bridge, and allow the 9th Corps to pass over and push on towards Petersburg (by the same route that Hancock had been following, during the day), and there form on his left. Smith, meantime, had hit the enemy, some three or four miles from City Point, in a wood, near where the main road crossed the rail. . . . How many there were I do not know, but they made a considerable fight with help of field batteries. Harry [Lyman’s brother-in-law], with 300 of his men, had the extreme left, and was wounded in this wood, early in the engagement..

The former Confederate ironclad Atlanta as Lyman would have seen her on the James River. She started life as the steamer Fingal before her conversion to an ironclad. the Union captured her in June 1863 (Library of Congress).

The former Confederate ironclad Atlanta as Lyman would have seen her on the James River. She started life as the steamer Fingal before her conversion to an ironclad. the Union captured her in June 1863 (Library of Congress).

A soldier told me he held on for an hour after he was hit; and I was further told his men did remarkably well. Within about two and a half miles of the town, Smith ran on the strong works long since constructed for its defence. These consist of a series of redoubts, with regular ditches and barbettes for guns, and connected in a chain by a heavy infantry parapet. The line was defended by Wise’s men (who look to me just like other Confederate soldiers) and by the local militia. What a difference that makes!! Their batteries opened a well-directed fire as our people advanced; but no sooner did the lines of battle debouch from the woods and push over the open ground, than the militia got shaky behind their works and, when our troops charged, they broke and ran, leaving sixteen guns and 300 or 400 prisoners in our hands. Everyone gives great credit to the negroes for the spirit they showed. I believe there is no question their conduct was entirely to their credit. . . . I shall never forget meeting, on the City Point road, five Confederate soldiers, under guard of nigs! . . . Three of the prisoners looked as if they could have taken off a tenpenny nail, at a snap. The other two seemed to take a ludicrous view of the matter and were smiling sheepishly. As to the negroes, they were all teeth, so to speak, teeth with a black frame. Hancock got up that evening and joined the 18th Corps. Their troops were all exhausted, but, oh! that they had attacked at once. Petersburg would have gone like a rotten branch. In war there is a critical instant—a night—perhaps only a half hour, when everything culminates. He is the military genius who recognizes this instant and acts upon it, neither precipitating nor postponing the critical moment. There is thus good reason why great soldiers should be so rare that generations pass without producing a single one. A great soldier must have, in addition to all usual traits of intellect, a courage unmoved by the greatest danger, and cool under every emergency, and the quickness of lightning, not only in conceiving, but in enforcing an order. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 160-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Photo Sessions (June 1864)

Writing in his journal on June 11, Theodore Lyman noted, “In the leisure of these last few days we have had the apparition of Brady, who photographed the General & whole staff.” Photographer Mathew Brady and his men were very busy around June 11 and 12, 1864. Before the Army of the Potomac embarked on its ambitious flanking movement down to the James River, Brady set out to photograph various Union generals, from Ulysses S. Grant on down. He managed to get Grant, Meade, Hancock (II Corps), Wright (VI Corps), Burnside (IX Corps), and “Baldy” Smith (XVIII Corps) but had to wait to arrange a session with Gouverneur Warren (V Corps). Below are the photographs the Brady team took that day. The illustrated papers of the day used photographs as the basis for their engravings, and I’ve posted some examples of those here as well. (All images from the Library of Congress. Click to enlarge any image).

Grant

An iconic image of Ulysses S. Grant in front of his headquarters tent at Cold Harbor.

 

Grant along, with photographer Brady appearing at the edges. This appears to be half of a stereo image.

Grant along, with photographer Brady appearing at the edges.

 

Grant and his staff.

Grant and his staff.

 

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana.

Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana.

 

George Meade at Cold Harbor.

George Meade at Cold Harbor.

 

General Meade and his staff. Provost Marshall Marsena Patrick (the man with the white beard seated next to Andrew Humphreys) had grumbled in a letter, "I doubt it will [prove] a good picture," but Meade was delighted, thinking it "the best picture I ever saw; each face being so distinct."

General Meade and his staff. Provost Marshall Marsena Patrick (the man with the white beard seated next to Andrew Humphreys) had grumbled in a letter, “I doubt it will [prove] a good picture,” but Meade was delighted, thinking it “the best picture I ever saw; each face being so distinct.” Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls stands to the right of Meade. Theodore Lyman is in the rear behind Ingalls, looking to the side with his hat at a jaunty angle.

The image of Meade and his staff as translated into a Harper's engraving.

The image of Meade and his staff as translated into a Harper’s engraving.

 

Winfield Scott Hancock and staff.

Winfield Scott Hancock of the II Corps with his staff and division commanders.

 

The above image as it appeared in Harper's.

The above image as it appeared in Harper’s.

 

VIC Corps commander Horatio Wright and staff.

VI Corps commander Horatio Wright and staff.

 

IX Corps commander Ambrose Burnside and staff.

IX Corps commander Ambrose Burnside and staff.

 

The above image in Harper's.

The above image in Harper’s.

 

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff members at Cold Harbor, 1864. That's photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat.

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff members at Cold Harbor, 1864. That’s photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat.

 

William F. "Baldy" Smith of the XVIII Corps and his staff.

William F. “Baldy” Smith of the XVIII Corps and his staff.

Aftermath (June 4, 1864)

The assault at Cold Harbor on June 3 had been a disaster. In Grant’s initial message to Halleck, sent at 2:15 in the afternoon on June 3—when he must have known better—he wrote that the army’s loss was “not severe.” Later, he would come to regret having ordered the attack at Cold Harbor. According to Horace Porter, Grant’s officers soon learned not to bring up the battle in conversation.

Our men have, in many instances, been foolishly and wantonly sacrificed,” Emory Upton wrote bitterly to his sister. “Thousands of lives might have been spared by the exercise of a little skill; but, as it is, the courage of the poor men is expected to obviate all difficulties.”

There’s no doubt that the Union attack at Cold Harbor was a miserable failure. So was the Confederate attack on the third day at Gettysburg. James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Civil War historian, expressed bewilderment at how differently people remember the two failed attacks. At Cold Harbor, “Fifty thousand Union soldiers suffered seven thousand casualties, most of them in less than half an hour,” wrote McPherson in Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, “For this mistake, which he admitted, Grant has been branded a ‘butcher’ careless of lives of his men, and Cold Harbor has become a symbol of mule-headed futility.” McPherson points out that Lee’s army also suffered around seven thousand casualties on July 3. “Yet this attack is perceived as an example of great courage and honor. This contrast speaks volumes about the comparative image of Grant and Lee, North and South, Union and Confederacy.”

I doubt Meade perceived much glory in either attack. In fact, by this point he believed Grant’s relentless hammering at Lee had not worked and was becoming increasingly irritated by the way the general in chief eclipsed Meade’s role in the campaign. Some of that frustration appears in his letter of June 4.

I have only time to write you that we had a big battle yesterday, on the field of the old Gaines’s Mill battle-ground, with the positions of the contending forces reversed. The battle ended without any decided results, we repulsing all attacks of the enemy and they doing the same; losses estimated about equal on both sides; ours roughly estimated at seven thousand five hundred in all.

I had immediate and entire command on the field all day, the Lieutenant General honoring the field with his presence only about one hour in the middle of the day. The papers will, however, undoubtedly inform you of all his doings, and I will therefore confine myself to mine.

George, myself, and all your friends, are well and unhurt. The enemy, as usual, were strongly fortified, and we have pretty well entrenched ourselves. How long this game is to be played it is impossible to tell; but in the long run, we ought to succeed, because it is in our power more promptly to fill the gaps in men and material which this constant fighting produces.

Baldy Smith’s corps has joined, and he is placed under my orders.

As usual, Lyman has a great deal more to add, whether commenting on the relationships among the generals or discussing the way various pieces of ordnance return to earth.

William F. "Baldy" Smith and his staff at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

William F. “Baldy” Smith and his staff at Cold Harbor (Library of Congress).

Although there was no battle to-day, both sides were as sensitive as Hotspur when he was “all smarting from my wounds being cold.” The slightest movement would provoke a volley, and any unusual stir would open a battery. This is characteristic of troops in a new position. When they have remained awhile, they begin to be more quiet, the skirmishers fire less and less, and finally cease entirely. The General took three or four of us and went on a sort of tour to his Generals; after a brief visit to General Hancock (who had a battery roaring away close to his Headquarters) and a few words with General Wright, we paid a long visit to “Baldy” Smith, whose tents were pitched between the Woody house and the line of battle. His tent was much better than General Meade’s and he displayed, for his benefit, a lunch with champagne, etc., that quite astonished us. Whether it was the lunch, or Baldy, or “Bully” Brooks (a General of that name), I do not know, but the Commander staid there several hours, talking and smoking.

Let me see, I left the party sitting, as it appeared to me, an unnecessarily long time at Baldy Smith’s. I say “unnecessarily,” first, because it was several hours, and General Meade had nothing to discuss of any moment; and, secondly, because a round-shot would, every now and then, crash through the neighboring trees, or go hoppity-hop along the open field on the edge of which the tents were. You ought to see them skip! It would be odd, if it were not so dangerous. When they have gone some distance and are going slower, you can see them very plainly, provided you are in front of, or behind them. They pass with a great whish, hit the ground, make a great hop, and so go skip, skip, skip, till they get exhausted, and then tumble —flouf— raising a puff of sand. That is the reason round-shot are more dangerous than conical, which strike perhaps once, vault into the air with a noise like a Catherine’s wheel, topple over and over, and drop without further trouble. … At last the General’s confab was broken up by the arrival of Burnside,* who, in Fredericksburg days, had a furious quarrel with Baldy and Brooks—or they with him. So they don’t speak now; and we enjoyed the military icicle in great perfection! All the day there was sharpshooting and cannonading along our front.

*”Burnside has a short, military jacket, and, with his bell-crowned felt hat, the brim turned down, presents an odd figure, the fat man!” —Lyman’s Journal.

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. 200-1. 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.148-9. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Recruiting (August 19, 1863)

In this letter Meade mentions William “Baldy” Smith. They were apparently on good terms at this point but would have a falling out by the end of the war. After Fredericksburg Smith and William Franklin, who had commanded the Left Grand Division under Ambrose Burnside there, went to Washington to complain about Burnside’s leadership. Franklin was exiled out West. Smith would eventually follow. There he would earn the confidence of Ulysses S. Grant and when Grant came east to become general-in-chief in 1864 there was talk that Smith would get command of the Army of the Potomac. Instead he received command of the XVIII Corps in the Army of the James. Meade aide Theodore Lyman described Smith as “a short, quite portly man, with a light-brown imperial and shaggy mustache, a round, military head, and the look of a German officer, altogether.” He possessed “unusual powers of caustic criticism” and quarreled incessantly with his superior officers.

Lee finds it as hard to recruit his army as I do mine. I do not hear of any reinforcements of any consequence joining him. At the same time it is very difficult to obtain any minute or reliable intelligence of his movements.

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

I saw to-day a note from Baldy Smith, who is at Hagerstown, commanding four hundred men and a “secesh” hospital. He says he is afraid to make any stir, for fear they should serve him as they have Franklin, who is at Baton Rouge, commanding a division under Banks. This is pretty hard for Franklin, and I feel sorry for him.

I had a visit yesterday from a Mrs. Harris, a lady belonging to the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, who has been connected with the army for a long time, and who, every one says, does a great deal of good. She talked a great deal about Philadelphia, where she belongs, and where she was going on a visit, and said every one would be inquiring about me, so that she had to come and see me.

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.143-4. Available via Google Books.

Good-bye, Baldy (February 6, 1863)

William F. "Baldy" Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

William F. “Baldy” Smith was a Meade friend who eventually turned enemy. (Library of Congress)

In this letter from February 6, 1863, Meade mentions General William “Baldy” Smith, another man with whom he would have unpleasant dealings later. Smith and Meade were friendly enough at this time. In fact, Smith was one of the generals Meade invited to share his champagne and celebrate his assumption to command of the V Corps on December 23. But Smith, who had commanded the VI Corps at Fredericksburg, had also been one of the generals undermining Ambrose Burnside. He had even visited Abraham Lincoln at the White House to complain about Burnside’s generalship. (William Franklin, whom Meade mentioned in his previous letter, went with Smith. Both generals were sent packing from the Army of the Potomac.) When Theodore Lyman, Meade’s observant aide, met Smith in 1864 he described him as “a short, quite portly man, with a light-brown imperial and shaggy mustache, a round, military head, and the look of a German officer, altogether.” He was not really bald, although his hair was thinning. He possessed “unusual powers of caustic criticism” and quarreled incessantly with his superior officers. The Sedgwick who replaced Baldy Smith at the head of the VI Corps was John Sedgwick. He was a Connecticut native who had graduated from West Point two years after Meade. A lifelong bachelor, he was “married” to the army and enjoyed passing the time playing long games of solitaire. War correspondent George W. Smalley called him “one of the best generals we had: a man of utterly transparent honesty, simplicity, and truth of character; trusted, beloved, ardently followed by his men; a commander who had done great things and was capable of greater.” His men loved him and called him “Uncle John.”

I assume the Frailey Meade mentions is James M. Frailey, a Philadelphian who commanded the USS Quaker City, a sidewheel steamer that served in the Union blockading fleet. Southern ironclads had attacked Union vessels outside Charleston on January 31, seriously damaging the Quaker City.

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him "Uncle John." (Library of Congress)

Major General John Sedgwick. His men called him “Uncle John.” (Library of Congress)

To-day an order is issued abolishing grand divisions and returning to the system of corps. I am announced as in command of the Fifth Corps. This is what I expected and accords with my ideas of what is best for the efficiency of the army. Baldy Smith has been relieved of his command and Sedgwick takes his corps—cause unknown, but supposed to be his affiliation with Franklin, and the fear that he would not co-operate with Hooker. This, however, is mere surmise, I have not seen any one to know or hear what is going on.

Last evening I received orders to send out an expedition this morning, which I did; but it has been storming violently all day, and this afternoon I sent to recall it. The Ninth Corps, which came with Burnside from North Carolina, is not announced in the order published to-day, and I hear it is under orders to move—where it is going, not known, but the probability is that Burnside has asked to have it with him, in case he returns to North Carolina.

The news from Charleston looks very badly, I hope our friend Frailey will come out all right. Stellwagon of theMercedita,if you remember we met at Mrs. Frailey’s last summer, the evening I went in there. Our navy has hitherto been so successful, that it seems hard to realize a reverse.

I do not know what to make of the political condition of the country. One thing I do know, I have been long enough in the war to want to give them one thorough good licking before any peace is made, and to accomplish this I will go through a good deal.

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), pp. 353-354. Available via Google Books.