The Case for Meade (November 16, 1864)

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. (Library of Congress).

Matthew Brady took this photograph of Meade at Cold Harbor on June 12, 1864. This is the cover image for the 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar, which you can order through Lulu.com  (Library of Congress).

News of Philip Sheridan’s promotion spurs Theodore Lyman to write a stirring defense of General Meade. True, he overestimates Lee’s numbers at Gettysburg, but still. This is a fair statement of the case for General Meade, without taking anything away from Sheridan.

They have made Sheridan a Major-General in the Regular Army. I think he deserves it for that remarkable battle of Cedar Creek. Those of Opequon and of Fisher’s Hill were joyous occasions; but he ought to have won those, because his forces were probably at least as two to one, and his cavalry immeasurably superior; but this last battle was the thing that brought out his high merit. The language of the order is not to be commended, as it makes Sheridan a cat’s-paw to give McClellan an insulting hit. It is hard on Meade, and I think he feels it; during a long campaign, in many respects unprecedented in military history for its difficulties and its grandeur, he has handled an army, which has at times considerably exceeded 100,000 men; and that too under circumstances very trying to a man who has had a chief command; that is to say, obliged to take the orders and tactics of a superior, but made responsible for all the trying and difficult performance, which indeed is more than one half the game of war. I undertake to say that his handling of his troops, when a mistake would be the destruction of the entire plan, has been a wonder: without exaggeration, a wonder. His movements and those of Lee are only to be compared to two exquisite swordsmen, each perfectly instructed, and never erring a hair in attack or in defence. Of course, it is idle to tell such facts to people at large; they don’t understand, or care, or believe anything about it. It is true, the army has played what seems its destined role, to kill and to be killed without decisive actions, until both sides pause from mere exhaustion; but do people reflect what a tremendous effect all this has on the Rebels? that by wearing ourselves, we have worn them down, until they are turning every teamster into the ranks and (of all things) are talking of arming the negroes. Suppose there had been no army capable of clinging thus for months in a death-grapple, and still clinging and meaning to cling; what would have become of Sherman and his great work? The record of General Meade is a remarkably clear one. He has risen from a brigadier of volunteers to all the higher commands, by hard fighting and an experience that dates from the first days of McClellan. He has done better with the Army of the Potomac than McClellan, Pope, Burnside, or Hooker; and—I will add boldly and without disparagement to the Lieutenant-General—better than Grant! and you would agree with me did you know what power and what men Grant has had to command. Meade’s great virtue is, that he knows when to fight, and when not to fight. Taking up an army on the march, he fought and won the greatest battle of this war—Gettysburg—100,000 men against 110,000—a battle that saved Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia, and nobody knows what besides. He wouldn’t fight (assault) Lee at Williamsport, and immediately he was “timid, timid, timid!” Now look here: we assaulted at Spotsylvania, at Cool Arbor, at Petersburg, and were repulsed with perfect slaughter; after all that, if Lee had assaulted us in position what would, what would have become of him? Why, we would have used him up so, that he wouldn’t have known himself. Just turn this about and apply it to Gettysburg and reflect how “the people” are frequently semi-idiotic! He followed Lee to the Rappahannock and got orders to stop. In September he was to move and attack Lee on the Rapid Ann; the day before this move they took 20,000 men from him and sent West: it couldn’t be done to Grant. Then Lee marched on Centreville; Meade beat him and got there first; Lee wouldn’t fight and retreated (he also knows when not to fight). It was in just such a move that Pope was smashed all to pieces and driven into Washington. Then Meade forced the Rappahannock, and drove Lee in haste over the Rapid Ann. The Mine Run expedition followed; we did not go fast enough—that was unfortunate; but it would have been more unfortunate to have left 10,000 men on the slopes there. If Meade had lacked the great moral courage to say “retreat,” after having been called “timid” by the papers, and having been hounded on by Halleck and Stanton to “do something,” he would not only have got a disastrous defeat, but would have destroyed the plan of re-enlistments by which we obtained the very backbone of our army for this campaign. His “timidity” lies in this, that he will not try to build a house without enough of tools and timber. Lately, they have turned round, 180 degrees, and now call him “butcher”; but that does just as well—blow hot, blow cold. This is a fair statement. I don’t say he is Napoleon, Caesar and Alexander in one; only that he can handle 100,000 men and do it easy—a rare gift! Also, as Sherman and Sheridan, commanding the two other great armies, have been made regular Major-Generals, he too, who is doing his part, and has fought more than both of them put together, ought to have equal rank. General Grant, as far as I can hear, thinks everything of General Meade, and it is said will have him promoted like the others. I believe it will turn out that Sherman is our first military genius, while Sheridan is most remarkable as a “field fighter,” when the battle is actually engaged. Bless my soul! quelle lecture on my commanding General! Never mind, variety is the spice of life.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 270-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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Eyes like a Rattlesnake’s (May 24, 1864)

Photographer Timothy O'Sullivan described this image as "Jericho Mills, Va. Canvas pontoon bridge across the North Anna, constructed by the 50th New York Engineers; the 5th Corps under Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren crossed here on the 23d. View from the north bank (Library of Congress).

Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan described this image as “Jericho Mills, Va. Canvas pontoon bridge across the North Anna, constructed by the 50th New York Engineers; the 5th Corps under Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren crossed here on the 23d. View from the north bank.” Grant and Meade booth crossed here  (Library of Congress).

Meade writes on May 24, 1864, from Mt. Carmel Church, where he and Grant established headquarters while deciding what to do with Lee, who had established a strong position across the North Anna River. He does not mention that on this day Grant issued orders placing Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps under Meade’s command. Until now Burnside had answered directly to Grant. Grant’s Special Orders, No 25, read, “To secure the greatest attainable unanimity in co-operative movements, and greater efficiency in the administration of the army, the Ninth Army Corps, Maj. Gen. A.E. Burnside commanding, is assigned to the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. G.G. Meade commanding, and will report accordingly.”

We have maneuvered the enemy away from their strong position on the Po, near Spottsylvania Court House, and now have compelled them to fall back from the North Anna River, which they tried to hold. Yesterday Warren and Hancock both had engagements with them, and were successful. We undoubtedly have the morale over them, and will eventually, I think, compel them to go into Richmond; after that, nous verrons.

I am writing this letter in the House of God, used for general headquarters. What a scene and commentary on the times!

Another one of O'Sullivan's images from May 24. Of this one he said, "Jericho Mills, Va. Party of the 50th New York Engineers building a road on the south bank of the North Anna, with a general headquarters wagon train crossing the pontoon bridge" (Library of Congress).

Another one of O’Sullivan’s images from May 24. Of this one he said, “Jericho Mills, Va. Party of the 50th New York Engineers building a road on the south bank of the North Anna, with a general headquarters wagon train crossing the pontoon bridge” (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman’s letter fills in much of the detail, including much about General Meade’s gunpowder disposition and an incident at Mt. Carmel Church concerning a message from General Sherman. Lyman also noted this incident in his journal, where he said Meade’s “grey eyes grew like a rattlesnake’s.” Meade had reason for anger at Sherman’s effrontery–as David W. Lowe points out in his excellent book of Lyman’s journals, “If one compares casualties along, Sherman’s men were having an easy time of it.”

We started quite early—a little before six—to go towards the North Anna; and halted at Mt. Carmel Church, where this road from Moncure’s strikes the “telegraph road” (so called, because the telegraph from Fredericksburg ran along it). If you want a horrible hole for a halt, just pick out a Virginia church, at a Virginia cross-roads, after the bulk of an army has passed, on a hot, dusty Virginia day! There was something rather funny, too. For in the broad aisle they had laid across some boards and made a table, round which sat Meade, Grant, General Williams, etc., writing on little slips of paper. It looked precisely like a town-hall, where people are coming to vote, only the people had unaccountably put on very dusty uniforms. General Meade is of a perverse nature; when he gets in a disagreeable place, he is apt to stay there. I think he likes to have officers who are prone to comfort feel decidedly uncomfortable. That reminds me of an anecdote. The day before yesterday, when we had our bloody attack along the whole line, General Meade had ordered his whole Staff ready at four in the morning. Now, such people as the Judge-Advocate-General are Staff officers and at Headquarters, but not aides. Ours is an old army officer, with many characteristics of a part of his class, that is, rather lazy and quite self-sufficient. He came to the front with us and staid some time; but, as dinner-time approached, late in the afternoon, he thought it would be bright to go to the camp and arrange a snug dinner. Pretty soon the suspicious and not very kindly gray eyes of the chief began to roll about curiously. “General Williams! did you give orders that all my Staff should accompany me?” “Yes, sir; certainly, sir.” (Seth is rather scared at his superior, as are many more.) “Where is Major Platt?” “I think he must have gone to camp for a moment, sir.” “Send at once for him!” In no great time the Major arrived at a gallop. “Major Platt,” said the General slowly and solemnly, “I wish you to ride along our whole lines (possibly about eight miles) and ascertain as accurately as possible the amount of our casualties during the day!” Somewhere about nine o’clock that night Platt returned with his statement, having missed a nice, six o’clock dinner, and happily been missed by stray balls and shells. . . .

I am glad to hear that you take once more an interest in the furniture coverings; an excellent sign! Keep a-going; that’s the way! That is the way I do: heart in my mouth for half a day; then come home and eat a good supper; there is no use in “borrowing trouble”—you do learn that here. You know I am not sanguine in my military hopes; but I have the strongest hopes of ultimate success, taking into consideration the uncertainty of war. You must go by the general features; and these are: 1st: Watchfulness, caution, and military conduct of our generals. 2d: The defensive attitude of the enemy; an attitude which Lee never assumes unless driven to it. 3d: The obstinacy and general reliability of our troops. 4th: The fact, that we have worked them, from one position to another, to within nine miles of Richmond across a highly defensible country. 5th: That their counter-attacks on us have been few and comparatively weak, and of no great moment, showing that they have no large force with a “free foot”; but have to put all their men on their lines. Nevertheless, I look on the future as still long and full of the common hazards of war. If the Rebels are forced to abandon Richmond, I believe the effect would be very heavy on them. This I judge not only on general grounds but also from the stupendous efforts, the general concentration, they are using to defend it. Do not, for a moment, look for the “annihilation,” the “hiving,” or the “total rout” of Lee. Such things exist only in the New York Herald.

To return to our Mt. Carmel. About seven came a negro who reported the whole Rebel army retreating on Richmond—a vague expression which left them room to halt anywhere this side of it. Soon after “Tick” Wadsworth—son of the late General—came in from General Sheridan and reported the cavalry corps at Dunkirk. This was welcome news to us. Sheridan had been sent on a raid towards Richmond and had destroyed railroads and depots of stores to a considerable extent. Also recaptured some hundreds of our prisoners on their way to the capital. He was delayed on his return by the rise of the Pamunkey, but got pontoons from Fortress Monroe and crossed it. On his way down, Stuart’s cavalry tried to stop him, but he pitched into them, took two guns and a number of prisoners, and killed Stuart, driving off his command completely. It is curious that the southern cavalry cannot now cope with ours. We have beaten them every time this campaign; whereas their infantry are a full match for us. Sheridan was a great help on his return, to watch our flanks and threaten the enemy’s rear. . . . About ten there came in a very entertaining nigger, who had been servant of Colonel Baldwin, Rebel Chief of Ordnance. He gave a funny description of Lee’s Headquarters. From him and from other sources I judge that the reports of Lee’s humble mode of living are true. He has only corn bread and bacon for the “chief of his diet,” and this sets an example to all his men. There can be no doubt that Lee is a man of very high character (which you may reconcile as you may with his treacherous abandonment of the flag). He carries on war in a merciful and civilized way, his correspondence is dignified and courteous, and his despatches are commonly (not always) frank and not exaggerated. General Meade got awfully mad, while waiting at the church. There came a cipher despatch from Sherman, in the West. Mr. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, hastened—with considerable want of tact—to read it to the General. Sherman therein told Grant that the Army of the West, having fought, could now afford to manoeuvre, and that, if his (Grant’s) inspiration could make the Army of the Potomac do its share, success would crown our efforts. The eyes of Major-General George Gordon Meade stood out about one inch as he said, in a voice like cutting an iron bar with a handsaw: “Sir! I consider that despatch an insult to the army I command and to me personally. The Army of the Potomac does not require General Grant’s inspiration or anybody’s else inspiration to make it fight!” He did not get over it all day, and, at dinner, spoke of the western army as “an armed rabble.” General Grant, who is one of the most candid men I ever saw, has repeatedly said that this fighting throws in the shade everything he ever saw, and that he looked for no such resistance. Colonel Comstock and others, who have fought with both armies, say distinctly that our troops are fifty per cent better than the western, and that the good Rebel soldiers have always been kept near Richmond except when Longstreet went temporarily to the West. At dusk we rode down to cross the North Anna, midst a fearful thunderstorm; some of the lightning fell so near that it really hissed, which was disagreeable, as there was an ammunition train close by. The North Anna is a pretty stream, running between high banks, so steep that they form almost a ravine, and, for the most part, heavily wooded with oak and tulip trees, very luxuriant. It is perhaps 125 feet wide and runs with a tolerably swift and deep stream, in most places over one’s head. The approaches are by steep roads cut down the banks, and how our waggons and artillery got across, I don’t know! Indeed I never do know how the trains get up, seeing that you are not over well off, sometimes, on a horse. . . .

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. 198. 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 122-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

May 4, 1864

Elements of the Army of the Potomac cross the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford on May 4, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Elements of the Army of the Potomac cross the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford on May 4, 1864 (Library of Congress).

We will not hear from George Meade for a little while. He has much to command his attention at this point. Same with Theodore Lyman. In the meantime, here’s a short excerpt from Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg explaining the events of May 4, 1864. (If you do not have the book already, shame on you! It is available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and quality bookstores.)

The army began moving at midnight. “There is a kind of weird excitement in this starting at midnight,” noted Col. Charles Wainwright, now handling artillery for the V Corps. “The senses seemed doubly awake to every impression–the batteries gathering around my quarters in the darkness; the moving of lanterns, and the hailing of the men; then the distant sound of the hoofs of the aid’s horse who brings the final order to start. Sleepy as I always am at such times, I have a certain amount of enjoyment in it all.”

The plan for the campaign had the II Corps crossing the Rapidan at Ely’s Ford and the V and VI Corps farther upstream at Germanna Ford. Meade and his staff left their winter camp at 5:25 a.m. on their way to Germanna Ford. The sun rose at the start of a beautiful spring day and illuminated a mighty host on the move. “As far as the eye could reach the troops were wending their way to the front,” wrote Horace Porter. “Their war banners, bullet-riddled and battle-stained, floated proudly in the morning breeze. The roads resounded to the measured tread of the advancing columns, and the deep forests were lighted by the glitter of their steel.”

Meade soon found an occasion for an outburst of temper. At 7:00 he encountered a cavalry wagon train blocking the road, one of his pet peeves. The general gave the quartermaster a tongue-lashing and ordered him to move his wagons out of the way. An hour later he reached the ford, the same spot where his men had camped during the withdrawal from Mine Run. It had been bitter cold then and the army had been disheartened; now spring was bursting out in all its glory and the Union soldiers felt confident. “The troops were very light-hearted, almost as joyous as schoolboys; and over and over again as we rode by them, it was observed by members of the staff that they had never seen them so happy and buoyant,” recalled a staff member.

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Congressman Eli Washburne of Illinois, a great supporter of Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress).

Meade and his staff crossed the river at 9:30. Grant and his staff, accompanied by Congressman Eli Washburne, joined them shortly afterward. Lyman noted that some of Grant’s staff talked “flippantly” about Lee and his army and regarded the war as nearly won. Grant established his headquarters at an old farmhouse overlooking the Rapidan. Meade dropped by that evening and took a camp chair by a blazing fire of fence rails. Grant offered him a cigar and helped him light it. The two generals sat by the cheery fire, smoking their cigars and talking over their plans for the next day. The move across the Rapidan had gone off without a hitch. “This I regarded as a great success,” said Grant, “and it removed from my mind the most serious apprehensions I had entertained: that of crossing the river in the face of an active, large, well-appointed, and ably commanded army, and how so large a train was to be carried through a hostile country and protected.”

As Grant and Meade talked, messengers brought telegrams informing Grant that the other armies under his command—Ben Butler’s on the James River, Fritz Sigel’s in the Valley, and Sherman’s in Georgia—were advancing according to his plan to apply pressure all over the Confederacy. The Army of the Potomac appeared to be playing its own part in Grant’s grand design. So far, so good. But the army had yet to emerge from the Wilderness.

General-in-Chief (April 13, 1864)

Meade's staff at the general's headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

Meade’s staff at the general’s headquarters at Brandy Station in April 1865. Andrew Humphreys stands facing left in the center (Library of Congress. Click to enlarge).

When it comes to Meade’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, so far, so good. Before getting to Meade’s letter, here is what Grant communicated to Meade regarding his plans, in an order written on April 9:

“For information and as instruction to govern your preparations for the coming campaign, the following is communicated confidentially for your own perusal alone.

“So far as practicable all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre. Banks has been instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile. This he is to do without reference to other movements. From the scattered condition of his command, however, he cannot possibly get it together to leave New Orleans before the 1st of May, if so soon. Sherman will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim. If successful he will secure the line from Chattanooga to Mobile with the aid of Banks.

“Sigel cannot spare troops from his army to reinforce either of the great armies, but he can aid them by moving directly to his front. This he has been directed to do, and is now making preparations for it. Two columns of his command will make south at the same time with the general move; one from Beverly, from ten to twelve thousand strong, under Major-General Ord; the other from Charleston, Va., principally cavalry, under Brig.-General Crook. The former of these will endeavor to reach the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, about south of Covington, and if found practicable will work eastward to Lynchburg and return to its base by way of the Shenandoah Valley, or join you. The other will strike at Saltville, Va., and come eastward to join Ord. The cavalry from Ord’s command will try to force a passage southward, if they are successful in reaching the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, to cut the main lines of the road connecting Richmond with all the South and South-west.

“Gillmore will join Butler with about 10,000 men from South Carolina. Butler can reduce his garrison so as to take 23,000 men into the field directly to his front. The force will be commanded by Maj.-General W. F. Smith. With Smith and Gillmore, Butler will seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours.

“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.

“These advantages and objections I will talk over with you more fully than I can write them.

“Burnside with a force of probably 25,000 men will reinforce you. Immediately upon his arrival, which will be shortly after the 20th inst., I will give him the defence of the road from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station and to the front.

“There will be naval co-operation on the James River, and transports and ferries will be provided so that should Lee fall back into his intrenchments at Richmond, Butler’s force and yours will be a unit, or at least can be made to act as such. What I would direct then, is that you commence at once reducing baggage to the very lowest possible standard. Two wagons to a regiment of five hundred men is the greatest number that should be allowed, for all baggage, exclusive of subsistence stores and ordnance stores. One wagon to brigade and one to division headquarters is sufficient and about two to corps headquarters.

“Should by Lee’s right flank be our route, you will want to make arrangements for having supplies of all sorts promptly forwarded to White House on the Pamunkey. Your estimates for this contingency should be made at once. If not wanted there, there is every probability they will be wanted on the James River or elsewhere.

“If Lee’s left is turned, large provision will have to be made for ordnance stores. I would say not much short of five hundred rounds of infantry ammunition would do. By the other, half the amount would be sufficient.”

This is what Meade’s aide, Theodore Lyman, wrote about Grant on April 12: “Grant is a man of a good deal of rough dignity; rather taciturn; quick and decided in speech. He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it. I have much confidence in him.”

Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived, and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here. It is undoubtedly true he will go with it when it moves, and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operations, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present. Moreover, whilst I have no doubt he will give me all the credit I am entitled to, the press, and perhaps the public, will lose sight of me in him. Nevertheless he is so much more active than his predecessor, and agrees so well with me in his views, I cannot but be rejoiced at his arrival, because I believe success to be the more probable from the above facts. My position before, with inadequate means, no power myself to increase them, and no effort made by others to do so, placed me in a false position, causing me to be held responsible, when in fact I could do nothing. My duty is plain, to continue quietly to discharge my duties, heartily co-operating with him and under him.

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. 189. Available via Google Books.

The Storm Subsides (March 10, 1864)

Meade appears upbeat about his battles in Congress on March 10. At the end of the letter he mentions Grant’s arrival for a visit, which is even bigger news. This is how Grant himself recalled the meeting in his memoirs:

A sketch of Ulysses S. Grant by Alden Finney Brooks (Library of Congress).

A sketch of Ulysses S. Grant by Alden Finney Brooks (Library of Congress).

My commission as lieutenant-general was given to me on the 9th of March, 1864. On the following day, as already stated, I visited General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, at his headquarters at Brandy Station, north of the Rapidan. I had known General Meade slightly in the Mexican war, but had not met him since until this visit. I was a stranger to most of the Army of the Potomac, I might say to all except the officers of the regular army who had served in the Mexican war. There had been some changes ordered in the organization of that army before my promotion. One was the consolidation of five corps into three, thus throwing some officers of rank out of important commands. Meade evidently thought that I might want to make still one more change not yet ordered. He said to me that I might want an officer who had served with me in the West, mentioning Sherman specially, to take his place. If so, he begged me not to hesitate about making the change. He urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions. For himself, he would serve to the best of his ability wherever placed. I assured him that I had no thought of substituting any one for him. As to Sherman, he could not be spared from the West.

This incident gave me even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.

Meade’s position afterwards proved embarrassing to me if not to him. He was commanding an army and, for nearly a year previous to my taking command of all the armies, was in supreme command of the Army of the Potomac—except from the authorities at Washington. All other general officers occupying similar positions were independent in their commands so far as any one present with them was concerned. I tried to make General Meade’s position as nearly as possible what it would have been if I had been in Washington or any other place away from his command. I therefore gave all orders for the movements of the Army of the Potomac to Meade to have them executed. To avoid the necessity of having to give orders direct, I established my headquarters near his, unless there were reasons for locating them elsewhere. This sometimes happened, and I had on occasions to give orders direct to the troops affected.

In that excerpt Grant mentions the changes in the Army of the Potomac. Meade had requested that the army be consolidated from five corps to three, and the War Department issued the official orders on March 23. The I and III Corps, both terribly battered at Gettysburg, were broken up, their units distributed to the II, V, and VI Corps. That meant the departures of John Newton and William French, moves that created little regret. George Sykes was also removed from command of the V Corps; prickly, perfectionistic Gouverneur Warren now filled that post. Alfred Pleasonton, the dapper self-promoter who commanded the cavalry, had departed, too. His replacement was the short, pugnacious, and eager-for-glory Philip Sheridan. The General Gibbon whom Meade mentions is John Gibbon, who commanded a division of the II Corps. Reverdy Johnson is the conservative Democratic Senator from Maryland.

Brigadier General John Gibbon as he appeared during the war.

Brigadier General John Gibbon as he appeared during the war.

The storm in which I have been involved seems to be subsiding, as I note the Tribune now says that no charges were preferred against me by General Sickles or Doubleday. Tell General Gibbon that I have received his letter, and am greatly obliged to him for his gallantry and daring in coming out so boldly in my defense; but I do not wish him to compromise himself, and affairs are becoming complicated.

I think I wrote you on my return from Washington I found a polite note from Reverdy Johnston, saying he had assumed the responsibility of denying Mr. Wilkinson’s statement, and asking me if he was not right. This act of courtesy I considered entitled to an acknowledgment, so I replied to Mr. Johnston, and explained to him wherein I thought Mr. Wilkinson had been misled. This letter, it appears, Mr. Johnston showed to his friends, and its receipt was announced in Forney’s Chronicle. To-day I got a sharp letter from the Secretary of War, asking by what authority I wrote to Senators on military operations. I have replied my note was private and not intended for publication or circulation, and that I was not aware I required any authority to write private letters defending myself from the false and slanderous reports with which the public press has been filled for a week, particularly as the military operations referred to took place nine months ago, and the official reports have been published. This may involve me in trouble with the Secretary, but I cannot help it; I will not yield my right to defend myself.

To-day Lieutenant General Grant arrived here. He has been very civil, and said nothing about superseding me.

I go to-morrow to Washington, and shall go again before the committee, to add to my testimony.

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. 176-7. Available via Google Books.