Very Bad Spirits (July 29, 1864)

Ulysses S. Grant and his staff at City Point (Library of Congress).

Ulysses S. Grant and his staff at City Point (Library of Congress).

Intrigue and rumors continue to plague the Army of the Potomac. The Franklin that Grant wanted to command the new department is William Franklin, whose career had never really recovered after his maneuverings against Ambrose Burnside following Fredericksburg. The other refugees from the Army Meade mentions are Oliver O. Howard and Joe Hooker.

The upcoming attack that Meade mentions is the debacle we remember as the Battle of the Crater.

Your letters of the 24th and 27th arrived this evening. They are written in very bad spirits, and I am tempted to scold you for indulging in such. I want you to recover your original elasticity of spirits which characterized you in the early days of our married life, when you were always sure something was going to turn up. You must now try to look on the bright side and hope for the best. I think we have a great deal to be thankful for, and things might be much worse.

I had a visit yesterday from our old friend the Rev. Mr. Neill. He was very complimentary to me, and promised to call and see you on his return to Philadelphia. He was here as agent of the Christian Commission.

Yesterday I went to see General Grant at City Point. He said he wanted an officer to go to Washington to take command of the Department of West Virginia, Susquehanna, Baltimore and Washington. That not wishing to take any one from the field, he had suggested Franklin, but they had declined to have Franklin. He then suggested my name, to which he had received no reply, but a message from the President asking him to meet him at Fortress Monroe. I made no reply to Grant, except to say I was ready to obey any order that might be given me. So far as having an independent command, which the Army of the Potomac is not, I would like this change very well; but in other respects, to have to manage Couch, Hunter, Wallace and Augur, and to be managed by the President, Secretary and Halleck, will be a pretty trying position that no man in his senses could desire. I am quite indifferent how it turns out. I think the President will urge the appointment of Halleck; but Grant will not agree to this if he can help it.

Grant told me Sherman has assigned Howard to McPherson’s command. This had disgusted Joe Hooker, who had asked to be and had been relieved. To-morrow we make an attack on Petersburg. I am not sanguine of success, but hope for the best.

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. 216-17 Available via Google Books.

Great Excitement and Idle Talk (July 15, 1864)

Jubal Early’s raid to the outskirts of Washington continues to create excitement. In his letter of July 15, Meade also mentions the latest in what will become a series of meetings with Ulysses S. Grant regarding his future with the Army of the Potomac. In his letter of July 12 Meade had written about rumors that Meade was going to be replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac by Winfield Scott Hancock. From this point on Meade and Grant will have what must have been increasingly uncomfortable conversations about Meade’s status with the army.

General William Franklin. An engineer like Meade, Franklin had been overseeing construction of the U.S. Capitol's new dome when war broke out  (Library of Congress).

General William Franklin. An engineer like Meade, Franklin had been overseeing construction of the U.S. Capitol’s new dome when war broke out (Library of Congress).

In this letter Meade also mentions General William Franklin. At the Battle of Fredericksburg Franklin had commanded the Left Grand Division of Ambrose Burnside’s army, in which Meade commanded his division of the Pennsylvania Reserves. After the battle Franklin had criticized Burnside, who had him removed from the army and sent west. Franklin’s bad luck continued when he was wounded during the Red River campaign under General Nathaniel Banks. Bad luck followed him back east, too. In this letter Meade refers to an incident in which Confederate partisans under Harry Gilmore attacked Franklin’s train during a raid into Maryland and captured the general. The rumors Meade hears of Franklin’s escape will turn out  to be true

I suppose you are in a great state of excitement on account of the rebel invasion. I wrote you in my last that I thought it was a serious affair, and subsequent developments prove it to be so. Day before yesterday I went down to City Point to see General Grant, having heard a rumor that I was to be sent to Washington. I found Grant quite serious, but calm. He seemed to think that with the Sixth Corps from this army, and the Nineteenth from Louisiana, there would be troops enough, with Hunter’s, Couch’s and Augur’s commands, not only to defeat the rebels, but to bag them. He said he had not contemplated sending me to Washington, but if another corps had to go, he would send me with it. I do not think the position a desirable one, as the difficulty will be to get the various commands together and harmonize such conflicting elements. If, however, I am ordered, I will do the best I can. I think Grant should either have gone himself or sent me earlier. He has given the supreme command to Wright, who is an excellent officer. I expect that after the rebels find Washington too strong for them, and they have done all the plundering they can, they will quietly slip across the Potomac and rush down here to reinforce Lee, who will then try to throw himself on us before our troops can get back.

I spoke to Grant about the report that I was to be relieved, and he said he had never heard a word of it, and did not believe there was any foundation for it, as he would most certainly have been consulted. I have therefore dismissed the matter as some idle talk from some person with whom the wish was father to the thought.

Lee has not sent away any of his army, and is doubtless disappointed that his diversion has not produced a greater weakening of Grant’s army. He confidently expected to transfer the seat of war to Maryland, and thought his menace of Washington would induce the Government to order Grant back there with his army.

I was very sorry to hear of Franklin’s capture, for his health is not good, owing to a wound he received in Louisiana, and I fear, if they send him to Charleston, his health may give way under the confinement in that climate, or be permanently injured.

Whilst I was writing we have a telegram reporting the withdrawal of the enemy across the Potomac, Wright in pursuit. Just as I expected. It also states there is a rumor that Franklin has made his escape, which I earnestly hope may prove true.

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. 212-13. 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.

Regrets (April 12, 1863)

Lt. Arthur Dehon, who was serving as Meade's aide when he was killed at Fredericksburg (Courtesy Rick Lawrence).

Lt. Arthur Dehon, who was serving as Meade’s aide when he was killed at Fredericksburg (Courtesy Rick Lawrence). You can learn more about Dehon here.

Meade opens today’s letter on a mournful note. Arthur Dehon and Hamilton Kuhn were aides who had been killed in earlier battles, Dehon at Fredericksburg and Kuhn at Glendale, the same fight in which Meade had been wounded. Dehon’s father had even visited Margaret in Philadelphia. Back on January 2 Meade had written to Margaret, “I send you a piece from a Boston paper on poor Dehon, sent to me by some friend or relative. It does no more than justice to Dehon, who was a gallant officer and clever gentleman. I have felt his loss even more than poor Kuhn’s, because, in his case, I was directly instrumental in placing him where he received his death wound, though at the time I sent him I had no idea of the great danger attending his mission. Kuhn, you know, was not with me when he fell, and I have never been able to ascertain whether he fell before or after I was wounded, but think it must have been very near the same time, and that he could not have been very far from me, though I did not see him.”

I am not sure to which scandal of Hooker’s Margaret had referred but Hooker was not unacquainted with scandalous behavior regarding women. It’s interesting to see that Meade defends him against drunkenness, one charge that many others were willing to throw at the current army commander.

Meade continues to be concerned about the fate of William Franklin, his former corps commander whom the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had criticized for his actions at Fredericksburg.

I feel very sad when I think of young Dehon and Hamilton Kuhn, both so full of life and promising so much; to be cut off in the way they were, is truly mournful, and I feel sometimes as if I was individually responsible, and in some measure the cause of the misfortune of their friends.

I have had another hard day’s work. No sooner had the President left, than a Major General Follarde, of the Swiss army, comes down here, with orders to Hooker to show him every attention, and as he does not speak English, and I have some pretensions to speaking French, Hooker turned him over to me, and I have, to-day, been taking him all through my camps and showing him my command. He seems like all foreign officers of rank, intelligent and educated. He expressed himself delighted and wonder-struck with all he saw, and says our troops will compare favorably with the best troops in Europe, and he has seen them all. If he goes back to Philadelphia, I will give him a letter to you, for I think he will interest you.

I note what you say of General Hooker. I think he will outlive that scandal, for it most certainly is a scandal. Whatever may have been his habits in former times, since I have been associated with him in the army I can bear testimony of the utter falsehood of the charge of drunkenness.

I spoke to the President when here about Franklin, and endeavored to convince him that the whole affair turned on a misapprehension, Burnside thinking he was saying and ordering one thing and Franklin understanding another. I know that Franklin did not, nor did any of those around him, believe or understand that Burnside intended our attack for the main attack, which Burnside now avers was always his intention.

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. 365-6. Available via Google Books.

Courtesy Call (March 30, 1863)

When Meade’s fellow generals passed through Philadelphia they often paid visits to Margaret Meade. Her husband always appreciated such courtesy and often mentioned the visits in his letters. Here he’s writing about William Franklin, the embattled former head of the VI Corps, who had become the target of a Congressional inquiry over his actions at Fredericksburg.

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing of General William Franklin (Library of Congress).

I am truly glad to hear Franklin called to see you. I am sure you will bear testimony to the respect and good feeling I have always expressed towards Franklin, and my earnest desire to avoid being drawn into the controversy between himself and Burnside. I think Franklin missed a great chance at Fredericksburg, and I rather infer from his letter that he thinks so now; but I have always said he was hampered by his orders and a want of information as to Burnside’s real views and plans. A great captain would have cast them aside and assumed responsibility. At the same time I must say that he knew and I know that if he had failed, then his going beyond his orders would prove utter ruin.

Deserters from the other side say the men are really suffering from the want of sufficient food, but that their spirit is undaunted, and that they are ready to fight. The morale of our army is better than it ever was, so you may look out for tough fighting next time.

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. 362. Available via Google Books.

The Plot Thickens (March 29, 1863)

Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

Pennsylvania’s Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (Library of Congress).

As March approaches its end Meade still finds himself entangled in the fallout from the Fredericksburg battle. Now he’s stuck in a war of words between William Franklin and Ambrose Burnside over the question of who would end up being cast as the fall guy for the December disaster. The Birney whom Meade mentions is David Bell Birney, with whom he exchanged some harsh words at Fredericksburg. Governor Curtin is Andrew Gregg Curtin, the governor of Pennsylvania. The Republican Curtin had been elected in 1860 and soon realized that war was inevitable. He had met with President Lincoln only four days before the attack on Ft. Sumter ushered in hostilities and after returning to Pennsylvania asked the legislature to help the state prepare for war. Curtin will later add to the tension between Meade and Joseph Hooker following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

I received yesterday your letter of the 26th. The same mail brought me a letter from Franklin. It is evident from Franklin’s letter that my surmise was correct, that he had taken it into his head that I had been talking to Burnside and furnishing him with data for the controversy. I don’t intend to quarrel with Franklin if I can help it, because I feel that in all this war he has shown more real regard for me and appreciation for me than any other man. I have never had any official relations with Franklin, till Fredericksburg, and I know that he has on numerous occasions referred to me as one who has not been advanced in proportion to his merits. Besides this feeling, selfish to be sure, my judgment is that Burnside is making a mistake in holding Franklin responsible for the disaster at Fredericksburg. Franklin may be chargeable with a want of energy, with failing, without reference to orders, to take advantage of a grand opportunity for distinction, with, in fact, not doing more than he was strictly required to do; but it is absurd to say he failed to obey, or in any way obstructed the prompt execution of his orders; that is, so far as I know them.

Burnside says he sent him orders about the middle of the day to attack with his whole force. Franklin, I understand, denies having received any such orders. Moreover, Baldy Smith, I hear, has sworn that a day or two before Franklin was relieved, Burnside told him (Baldy Smith) that he was going to give up the command of the army and urge the President to put Franklin in his place. This seems very inconsistent with his subsequent course, as there is no doubt Franklin’s command was taken away from him on the representations of Burnside. My position, with my friendly feelings for both, is not only peculiar but embarrassing.

We had some grand races day before yesterday, gotten up by Birney. I went over there and met Governor Curtin. He returned with me and inspected several of the Pennsylvania regiments in my command, making little speeches to each.

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. 361-2. Available via Google Books.

Investigations (March 17, 1863)

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

General William Franklin (Library of Congress photo).

This letter from March 17, 1863, is fascinating. In it Meade discusses the political fallout from the debacle at Fredericksburg. Burnside, of course, is Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. Franklin is William Franklin. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had come in first in his West Point class of 1843. Like Meade he was an engineer and he had been in charge of constructing the new dome of the Capitol in Washington when war broke out. At Fredericksburg he had been in charge of the army’s left wing, which included Meade’s division. Franklin was angry with Burnside. He had been under the impression that Burnside wanted Franklin’s wing would make the main attack from below Fredericksburg and didn’t learn otherwise until the morning of the attack. Now both men were being investigated by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

The General Parke whom Meade mentions is John Parke. Wright is Horatio Wright, later to succeed John Sedgwick at the head of the VI Corps.

I returned to-day from Washington. I went up day before yesterday, the 15th, arriving in Washington about 7 P. M. I went to Willard’s, where, as usual, I saw a great many people. Finding Burnside was in the house, I sent up my name and was ushered into his room, where I found himself and Mrs. Burnside, the latter a very quiet, lady-like and exceedingly nice personage, quite pretty and rather younger than I expected to see. Burnside was very glad to see me, and we had a long talk. Among other things he read me a correspondence he had had with Franklin. Franklin had called his attention to the letter which appeared in the Times, said this was known to be written by Raymond, the editor, and it was generally believed his information was derived either from Burnside himself or some of his staff. Hence this letter was considered authority, and as it did him, Franklin, great injustice, he appealed to his, Burnside’s, magnanimity to correct the errors and give publicity to his correction. Burnside replied that he had not read the article till Franklin called his attention to it; that he was not responsible for it, nor was he aware that any of his staff had had any part in its production. Still, he was bound to say that in its facts it was true; that as to the inferences drawn from these facts, he had nothing to say about them and must refer him to Raymond, the reputed author. Several letters had passed, Franklin trying to get Burnside to (as he, Burnside, expressed it) whitewash him. This Burnside said he was not going to do; that Franklin must stand on his own merits and the facts of the case; that he had never made any accusation against him, except to say that the crossing of the river, being against his, Franklin’s, judgment, he thought Franklin had been wanting in a zealous and hearty co-operation with his plans. That about the time my attack failed, hearing from one of his, Burnside’s, staff officers, just from the field, that Franklin was not attacking with the force and vigor he ought to, he immediately despatched him an order “directing him to attack with his whole force if necessary,” which order he assumed the responsibility of not executing, and he must now take the consequences, if blame was attached to him for it.

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, "Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains." (Library of Congress.)

This illustration by Arthur Lumley shows Ambrose Burnside talking with William Franklin about evacuating his position following the debacle at Fredericksburg. At the bottom Lumley wrote, “Franklin corps in the distance and Rebel batteries on the mountains.” (Library of Congress.)

The next morning I went up to the Capitol, to the committee room, and found only the clerk present. He said the committee had been awaiting me some days; that Senators Chandler and Wade were the only two members present, and now down town; that he would hunt them up, and have them at the room by three o’clock, if I would return at that hour. At three I again presented myself to the committee, and found old Ben Wade, Senator from Ohio, awaiting me. He said the committee wished to examine me in regard to my attack at Fredericksburg. I told him I presumed such was the object in summoning me, and with this in view I had brought my official report, which I would read to him, and if he wanted any more information, I was prepared to give it. After hearing my report, he said it covered the whole ground, and he would only ask me one or two questions. First, was I aware that General Burnside, about the time of my attack, had ordered General Franklin to attack with his whole force? I answered, “At the time of the battle, No; indeed, I only learned this fact yesterday evening, from General Burnside himself.” Secondly, what, in my judgment, as a military man, would have been the effect if General Franklin had, when my attack was successful, advanced his whole line? I said I believed such a movement would have resulted in the driving back of the enemy’s right wing; though it would, without doubt, have produced a desperate and hard-contested fight; but when I reflected on the success that attended my attack, which was made with less than ten thousand men (supports and all), I could not resist the belief that the attack of fifty thousand men would have been followed by success. This was all he asked, and except the last question, the answer to which was a mere matter of opinion, I don’t think any one can take exception to my testimony. My conversations with Burnside and Wade satisfied me that Franklin was to be made responsible for the failure at Fredericksburg, and the committee is seeking all the testimony they can procure to substantiate this theory of theirs. Now, Franklin has, first, his orders, as received from Burnside, and then the fact that the execution of these orders was entrusted to Reynolds, for his defense. Before the committee, of course, he will not be heard, but after their report comes out, it will be incumbent on him to notice their statements and demand an investigation. I feel very sorry for Franklin, because I like him, and because he has always been consistently friendly to me.

After returning from the Capitol, I dined with General and Mrs. Burnside and Parke. Parke said he was about being left off the list of major generals, when Burnside’s opportune arrival saved him, Halleck giving as a reason that he had exercised no command since his appointment. Burnside, however, had his name sent in, and now he is going to supersede Baldy Smith and take command of the Ninth Corps, which is to accompany Burnside in his new command, to which he, Burnside, expects to be ordered in a few days.

The best piece of news I learned when in Washington was that the President was about issuing his proclamation putting in force the conscription law, and ordering immediately a draft of five hundred thousand men. Only let him do this, and enforce it and get the men, and the North is bound to carry the day.

I sometimes feel very nervous about my position, they are knocking over generals at such a rate. Among others, Wright, who was my beau ideal of a soldier, and whom I had picked out as the most rising man, has had his major-generalcy and his command both taken away from him, because he could not satisfy the extremists of Ohio (anti-slavery) and those of Kentucky (pro-slavery), but tried by a moderate course to steer between them.

Did I tell you the old Reserves had subscribed fifteen hundred dollars to present me with a sword, sash, belt, etc.? It is expected they will be ready about the close of the month, when I am to go, if possible, to their camp near Washington to receive them.

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. 358-61. Available via Google Books.

Family Ties (February 1, 1863)

A view of Fredericksburg, taken in February 1863. So near, and yet so far.

A view of Fredericksburg, taken in February. So near, and yet so far. (Library of Congress)

The American Civil War is often characterized as being “brother against brother” and that was sometimes literally true. For example, General John Gibbon, whom Meade mentioned in his letter of January 28, had three brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Even under circumstances not quite so extreme, the conflict often divided families. Meade’s family is a case in point. His wife’s sister, Sarah, had married Henry Wise, who became governor of Virginia, signed John Brown’s death warrant, and served in the Army of Virginia under Robert E. Lee.

Meade’s own sister, Elizabeth, had married a Virginia planter named Alfred Ingraham and moved to Mississippi with him. She became an ardent rebel. In June 1863 Union forces reached her home, Ashwood, during the Vicksburg campaign and generals John McClernand and James McPherson made their headquarters there. It’s not clear whether she told them that her brother commanded the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps.

On July 23, 1863, Elizabeth wrote to her brother. “My dear George,” she began, “We have been despoiled of everything, our crops ruined, our home literally gutted, but the Federal soldiers under Gen’l Grant & McClernand, Gen’l McPherson being in my parlor during a portion of the time & to whom I applied personally without effect.” Among the possessions she said the soldiers had ruined was their father’s desk. She wanted to a permit to cross the Federal lines with what possessions she still had. “My sons are dead,” she said, “Edward murdered at Farmington [MS] after he had surrendered, he’s buried near Corinth. Frank, killed at Chancellorsville on 3rd May, the very day this house was despoiled, is buried on Mary’s Hite, without even a winding sheet, it being one of the barbarous usages of this cruel & unnatural war to strip the dead—God help me.”

But those tragedies still lay in the future when Meade wrote to his wife on February 1, 1863, to tell her he had received word from his doomed nephew Frank, who was with Lee’s army at Fredericksburg. (Ned was Frank’s brother, who had died in Mississippi and Apolline his sister.)

The Franklin that Meade mentions is Major General William Franklin. A native of York, Pennsylvania, Franklin had commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, to which Meade’s brigade belonged, at the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December. The Committee on the Conduct of the War now had Franklin in its sights.

Yesterday I received by the flag of truce, a note from Frank Ingraham, who says he is a private in the Twenty-first Mississippi Regiment, now at Fredericksburg. He says Ned was killed last spring, and that Apolline has lost her husband, who died from exposure in service; that his mother and the rest are all well, and wish to be remembered to his yankee relatives.

Major General William Franklin. After the Battle of Gettysburg he found himself the focus of Congressional attention. (Library of Congress)

Major General William Franklin. After the Battle of Gettysburg he found himself the focus of Congressional attention. (Library of Congress)

The weather continues most unfavorable, rain and mud are the order of the day, and in my judgment it will be some months before we can undertake operations of any magnitude. I am afraid, from what I see in the papers, that General Franklin is going to have trouble, for which I shall be truly sorry, for I really like Franklin.

Elizabeth’s letter is from Moore, Sue Burns, and Drake, Rebecca Blackwell, editors. Leaves: The Diary of Elizabeth Meade Ingraham, the Rebel Sister of General George Meade. Champion Hill Heritage Foundation, 2010.

Meade’s letter is 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. 353. Available via Google Books.