The Grand Review

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPS, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwiin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quatermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress).

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPs, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), George Gordon Meade, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress. Thanks to Garry Adelman for discovering this detail.).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, a triumphant Army of the Potomac marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. Here’s how I described the event in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

May 23 dawned with the promise of perfect weather, with just enough rain early in the morning to keep the dust down. The Army of the Potomac began forming around the Capitol building in the early hours. At 9:00 a cannon shot from Capitol Hill announced the parade’s start, and the long blue lines of men began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol toward the White House, Meade astride his horse Blackie proudly at their head. “The plaudits of the multitude followed him along the entire line of march; flowers were strewn in his path, and garlands decked his person and his horse,” wrote Horace Porter. His staff—minus Theodore Lyman, who was back in Boston—followed behind him. When he reached the reviewing stand in front of the White House, Meade turned, drew his sword, and saluted. He then joined the dignitaries to watch his army pass.

An artist's conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

An artist’s conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

Sheridan was absent. Grant had sent him west to deal with matters there. However, Charles Wainwright suspected that Sheridan had left early because he did not want to appear in the Grand Review under Meade. Wesley Merritt led the cavalry in Sheridan’s absence. When Custer passed the reviewing stand, a spectator tossed him a wreath, which made his horse bolt. Custer went galloping past before he could regain control and wheel back into position. Some people suspected that Custer was showing off for the crowd.

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The cavalry followed Meade, then the IX, V, and II Corps. Cannons rumbled down Pennsylvania Avenue, and engineers hauled pontoon boats along the parade route. “The men preserved their alinement and distances with an ease which showed their years of training in the field,” Porter noted with satisfaction. “Their movements were unfettered, their step was elastic, and the swaying of their bodies and the swinging of their arms were as measured as the vibrations of a pendulum. Their muskets shone like a wall of steel. The cannon rumbled peacefully over the paved street, banks of flowers almost concealing them.” No African American soldiers were in the parade, as the black units were going west with Sheridan. The entire VI Corps was still in Virginia and unable to attend. But even with these absences, it took six hours for the eighty thousand men from the Army of the Potomac to pass in review.

Washington’s residents had draped the buildings along the parade route with flags and banners, replacing the black symbols of mourning that had gone up following Lincoln’s assassination. Charles Wainwright noticed one banner in particular: “The only debt we can never repay,” it read; “what we owe to our gallant defenders.” Wainwright eyed it cynically. “I could not help wondering whether, having made up their minds that they can never pay the debt, they will think it useless to try.”

But this was not a day for cynicism. “Everything went off to perfection,” said Wainwright, who had his men shine their artillery until it gleamed and paid particular attention to the appearance of the horses. Of all the brigades in the army, Wainwright thought his artillery looked best.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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Sherman (April 27, 1865)

An Alexander Gardner photo of Lincoln's coffin in New York City (Library of Congress).

An Alexander Gardner photo of Lincoln’s coffin in New York City (Library of Congress).

In today’s letter, George Meade comments on the controversy William T. Sherman created with the surrender terms he offered to Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman had overreached, and the terms he and Johnston agreed to included agreements about citizenship and recognition of state governments. There was an immediate outcry from Washington, with some calling for Sherman’s removal from command. Edwin Stanton was harshly critical of Sherman’s actions, something the general would not forgive. Grant had hurried down to North Carolina to straighten out the mess.

I have received your letters of the 22d and 23d insts. Such exhibitions as are now being made of the body of Mr. Lincoln, are always in my judgment in bad taste, and are never solemn or impressive. Still, as public ceremonies, I suppose they always will be, as they ever have been, necessary for the masses of people.

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

I cannot understand Sherman’s course.1 I am very sorry for Sherman, no one can dispute that his services have been pre-eminent, and though he may have erred in judgment, and have mistaken the temper of the North, he is entitled to the considerations due to his past services, which should have shielded him from having his motives and loyalty impugned. I am curious to see whether Grant, when he joins him, will smother him as he did 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), p. 277. Available via Google Books.

Sherman (March 29, 1865)

And so it begins. The V Corps moved out early in the morning of March 29, heading west to stretch Lee’s already thin line to the breaking point. Fighting broke out when the men of Joshua Chamberlain’s 3rd Brigade men encountered Confederates entrenched along the Quaker Road. Among the defenders were the command of Henry Wise—former Virginia governor and Meade’s brother-in-law.. Splashing through the cold waters of Gravelly Run, the two regiments of Chamberlain’s brigade assaulted the enemy defenses. “The attack was impetuous; the musketry hot,” Chamberlain recalled.

Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman writes home about an encounter with William T. Sherman, who had come north to meet with Grant.

To-day we have made a movement to our left, and I am to-night in new headquarters, having abandoned the pleasant quarters you were in.

The enemy attacked Griffin’s Division about 5 p.m., but were handsomely repulsed. I regret, however, to announce the death of Dr. McEwen’s son, who fell in this affair. I have telegraphed Jim Biddle to announce this event to the doctor, for whom I feel deeply.

Theodore Lyman takes a break from the campaign to write home and includes an account from the day before, when he had seen a herd of generals at City Point.

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

This has been a day of manoeuvre and not much fighting. To-morrow may see something more serious. It seems like old times to be once more writing on my knee and sitting in a tent without a board floor. I prefer it; there is novelty in seeing a new bit of country. Yesterday we had an interesting trip to City Point. General Meade said to me, to my great surprise: “I am going down to-morrow to see Sherman!” Which, as I supposed Sherman to be at that moment somewhere near Goldsboro’, seemed a rather preposterous idea! At an early hour we got to Grant’s Headquarters and found le monde not yet up. Soon, however, they began to peer out of their log houses and General Meade marched in to visit the great Mogul. As I was looking in that direction, there suddenly issued from the house a tall figure who jerked himself forward, pulled suddenly up, and regarded the landscape with an inquisitive and very wrinkled expression. This was the redoubtable Sherman himself. He is a very remarkable-looking man, such as could not be grown out of America—the concentrated quintessence of Yankeedom. He is tall, spare, and sinewy, with a very long neck, and a big head at the end of the same. The said big head is a most unusual combination. I mean that, when a man is spare, with a high forehead, he usually has a contracted back to his head; but Sherman has a swelling “fighting” back to his head, and all his features express determination, particularly the mouth, which is wide and straight, with lips that shut tightly together. He is a very homely man, with a regular nest of wrinkles in his face, which play and twist as he eagerly talks on each subject; but his expression is pleasant and kindly. But he believes in hard war. I heard him say: “Columbia! — pretty much all burned; and burned good!” There too was “little Phil Sheridan,” scarce five feet high, with his sun-browned face and sailor air. I saw Sherman, Grant, Meade, and Sheridan, all together. A thing to speak of in after years!

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. 268. 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. 326-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Return of Lyman (March 2, 1865)

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, "Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure" (Library of Congress).

This is the kind of scene that would have greeted Lyman upon his return to the army. The Library of Congress describes it as, “Petersburg, Va. General view of camp of Oneida, N.Y., Independent Cavalry Company at Army headquarters, with men at leisure” (Library of Congress).

After two months on leave back in Boston, Theodore Lyman finally returns to the Army of the Potomac. “Over two months at home!” he noted in his journal on February 27. “Now it seems hardly possible—about two weeks, that is the way it seems.” From this point on we will be hearing from Lyman as well as Meade. Lyman’s letters home are invariably entertaining and detailed, although he often composed them several days after the date they bear.

Meade’s comment about Gouverneur Warren is interesting, because he two generals had fallen out the previous summer, and Meade had even considered having Warren relieved.

Lyman has returned without waiting for my summons, he becoming nervous for fear some movement of Lee’s might precipitate matters before he could get notice, and if the army should move, it might be a difficult matter to join it.

I see by the papers Howard and Schofield have been made brigadier generals in the regular army. This I think injustice to General Warren, whom I recommended some time ago to General Grant for this position.

Meade’s Headquarters, the book of Lyman’s wartime letters, has this to say about Lyman’s absence and his return to the Army:

“As the Army of the Potomac was now settling down to winter quarters before Petersburg, Meade chaffingly remarked to Lyman one day toward the end of December: ‘I have a Christmas present for Mrs. Lyman—a certain worthless officer whom I shall send home to her.’ And that evening he gave him a 300-day leave, with the understanding that Lyman was to return with the opening of the active campaign in the spring.

“Toward the end of February, Lyman became restless, and fearing that operations might start in his absence, turned up at Headquarters on March 1. On going into dinner, he was kindly greeted by General Meade, who, poor man, although he had just come back from burying his son, managed to say playfully that he would have Lyman court-martialed for returning without orders.”

Here is Lyman’s letter from March 2.

It was raw yesterday, or chilly rather, without being cold, and to-day we are favored by a persistent northeast rain, such as we had a month later than this at Culpeper. The season, I should fancy, is earlier here than at Culpeper—very likely by two weeks or more. Indeed last night the toads were whistling in the bog-holes, as they do with us in the last of April; and Rosie had, on his mantel, a bud of narcissus, or some such flower, he had found in a swamp. You would not give us much credit for a chance to move, could you see the country; the ground everywhere saturated and rotten, and giving precarious tenure even to single horses, or waggons. I did not believe very earnestly that we should soon move, when I left, but only wanted to be within all chances. I do really doubt whether anything will be done before the 1st of April. I think the state of the country will hardly permit it to either party. When Sherman gets, say, in the latitude of Weldon, if he does so without check, he must, I think, strike the perfection of the mud zone; and must stick for a while; besides which he must establish a regular base, and, if he contemplates hard or protracted fighting, he must have a protected line for supplies. All these things take time, and take season also. Of course, it is not Lee’s policy to let go his hold hereabout, till the very last moment. He has gone south in person, to gather up all possible forces and put them in the best order for resistance he can. The impression here seems to be, that the combined forces against Sherman are not very strong in the sum total, and are, of course, not so good in quality as Lee’s own men. Then again, his very army, it is within bounds to say, never was so low in morale as now. During the twenty-eight days of February nearly 900 men deserted to the lines of this army alone, and a proportional number to those of the Army of the James. The remarkable point, also, is that these are old men—nearly all of them—and not the raw conscripts. In one day there came over 134 men, including also their non-commissioned officers, bringing their arms with them. Among the deserters have been four commissioned officers. During the time I have been with the army, I recall only two or three instances, besides these. Of course many more desert to the rear than to the enemy; so that I doubt not that Lee’s losses from this cause during February were something between a large brigade and a small division. General Meade, after reviewing Lee’s position and prospects, said: “I do not see what he is to do!”—which is a very strong speech for the cautious General. Well, as I have always said, he has the remaining chance, should everything work precisely to favor him, of falling with fury and with all available troops, on a part of Sherman’s army, or even on the whole of it, and dealing a stunning blow, whereby his evil day would be postponed; but how it could be averted seems to me inconceivable, save by a sort of miracle. If I am not mistaken, the forces now opposed to the Rebels in the east are at least as two to one. And again they have almost everything against them excepting the important advantage of interior lines.

Meantime all is very quiet with us. Last night I certainly heard not over half-a-dozen musket-shots, whereas in the autumn we had a real skirmish fire all the night through, not to speak of intermittent shelling. As I told you, Duane was on hand to welcome me. He looks very well and is better as to his eyes. Then Rosie—had he not, in my honor, caused constructed a new and very high hedge, or shelter, of pine branches, topped off with a tuft of cedar, and a triumphal arch of the same over the doorway! Within the tent were further improvements; andirons to wit (weak as to their legs, and frequently tumbling over on their sides at critical moments). Then a large Swedish flag, with the Union over my bed—a gift from some Scandinavian marines who visited the Headquarters, and upon whom Rosie quite ran himself aground in the matter of oysters, at the saloon over the way. Then, too, the middle tent-pole has been removed and the interior of the tent supported by a framework, a part of which takes the form of a shelf, running round the sides and very handy for any small articles. I must also give credit to that idiotic Frenchman, who waited at table, for having ingeniously burned down our mess tent, during my absence, whereby we now have a much improved hospital tent, very pleasant, and we have got rid of the idiot and have a quite intelligent nig, which actually keeps the spoons clean.

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. 265. 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. 304-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

2015 Meade Symposium

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Armies. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence), George Meade, Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the armies in Washington. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence), George Meade, Secretary of the Navy Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

It’s safe to say that the 2015 Meade Symposium was a great success. There must have been at least 60 people present, despite severe cold and strong winds. The weather had been so bad, in fact, that one of the speakers, Ralph Peters, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia from his home in Virginia. Held in the beautiful conservatory building at West Laurel Hill Cemetery on Sunday, February 15, the symposium featured four speakers (myself included) who provided a cradle-to-grave summary of George Gordon Meade’s life. Dr. John Selby of Roanoke College spoke about Meade’s life up until the Civil War; Jerry McCormick picked up the story through the Battle of Chancellorsville; and Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, stood in for Col. Peters and covered the rest of the Civil War. I wrapped things up by talking about the last seven years of Meade’s life, which included incidents of murder, torture, armies of Irishmen, and the difficulties of Reconstruction.

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

If that weren’t enough, Jim Schmick of Civil War and More was there with a large selection of Civil War books for sale, and the Kearney Kommissary was on hand to provide a delicious lunch (plus wine and beer).

The conservatory provided an extremely picturesque setting for the day’s events, with large windows looking out over the cold and windswept cemetery. Just 200 yards away was the grave of Meade’s West Point classmate Herman Haupt, the Union’s railroad mastermind (and one of Meade’s critics). I wish I had the time to find his grave, as well as those of other notables buried there. One of those eternal residents is Francis Adams Donaldson, who journal of his experiences in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry provided the material for the book Inside the Army of the Potomac. I had used that book when I researched Searching for George Gordon Meade. It’s fascinating. Donaldson hated his commanding officer, so he contrived to get kicked out of the army, with the plan of visiting Abraham Lincoln in Washington and having the president give him an honorable discharge. It sounded like a far-fetched plan, but that is exactly what Donaldson did.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

Other celebrity residents include musicians Grover Washington, Jr., and Teddy Pendergrass. West Laurel Hill is a big, sprawling cemetery, with dozens of elaborate mausoleums, and I hope to go back on a warmer, greener day and explore.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade. The general watches me with trepidation.

As I said, this was a great event. It’s truly gratifying to see so many people with this kind of interest in history. And it wasn’t all seriousness, either. There were plenty of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. History should always be so much fun!

This is George Meade’s bicentennial year and I have a lot of talks scheduled. Next up are appearances before the round tables in Milwaukee and Chicago, and then talks at Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Later in the year I’m scheduled to speak in Richmond, at a Meade bicentennial event in Gettysburg, and at the Civil War Round Table at Philadelphia’s Union League in December. The year will end at the Meade 200th birthday commemoration at Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. Check out the event calendar for details.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Sad Facts (December 11 and 12, 1864)

A marker at Fort Lee outside Petersburg indicates the location of Meade's headquarters during the campaign (Tom Huntington photo).

A marker at Fort Lee outside Petersburg indicates the location of Meade’s headquarters during the campaign (Tom Huntington photo).

I neglected to post this letter yesterday. George Meade wrote it on December 11, 1864, to Henry A. Cram, his wife’s brother in law. Meade often wrote at length to Cram about the greater issues of the war and they cast good insight on his way of thinking. Lyman’s letter from 150 years ago today follows.

I fear you good people confine your efforts to suppress the Rebellion too much to speechifying, voting, and other very safe and easy modes of showing firm determination never to yield; but the essential element to success, namely, turning out to fight, don’t seem to be so popular. You will have to stop filling quotas without adding to your armies before you can expect to finish the war. Do you know that the last loud call for five hundred thousand men has produced just one hundred and twenty thousand? Of these only about sixty thousand were sent to the field, and the share of my army, one of the largest in the field, was not over fifteen thousand; and of this number the greater part were worthless foreigners, who are daily deserting to the enemy. These are sad facts. I remember you were struck last winter with my telling the Councils of Philadelphia that this army, of whose fighting qualities there seemed to be a doubt, had lost, from official records, from April, 1862, to December, 1863, one hundred thousand, killed and wounded. I have now an official document before me in manuscript, being my report of the campaign from the Rapidan to the 1st of November, and it has a list of casualties showing the enormous number of ninety thousand men, killed, wounded and missing. All this is strictly confidential, as I would be condemned for telling the truth; but when people talk to me of ending the war, I must tell them what war is and its requirements; because you can then see how much prospect there is of finishing it, by forming your own judgment of the adaptation of the means to the end. No, my good friend, this war is not going to be ended till we destroy the armies of the Confederation; and in executing this work we shall have to expend yet millions of treasure and vast numbers of lives. Nothing is gained by postponing the exigencies which must be met. The people must make up their minds not only that the war shall be carried on, they must not only subscribe and cheerfully pay money to any extent, but they must themselves turn out, shoulder their muskets and come to the army, determined to fight the thing out. When I see that spirit, the men coming, and doing the fighting, then I will begin to guess when the war will be closed. Undoubtedly, the South is becoming exhausted; its calmly discussing the expediency of freeing and arming the slaves is positive evidence of its exhaustion and desperation; but unless we take advantage of this by increasing our armies and striking telling blows, it can prolong such a contest as we are now carrying on indefinitely.

I thank you for your kind congratulations on my appointment as major general in the regular army. If confirmed by the Senate, it places me fourth in rank in the army—Grant, Halleck and Sherman only being my seniors. Putting me ahead of Sheridan, from the popular position that officer now holds, may create opposition in the Senate; but it is well known my appointment was recommended by the lieutenant general, commanding, approved and determined on by the President, when Sheridan was my subordinate, commanding my cavalry, and before he had an opportunity of distinguishing himself, as he has since done. No injustice, therefore, has been done him, though when his appointment was announced in the theatrical manner it was, and mine not made, I felt called on to ask an explanation, which resulted in a disavowal to do me injustice, and the appointing me with a date which caused me to rank, as it was originally intended I should. So that, what ought to have been an acceptable compliment, became eventually a simple act of justice due to my remonstrance. Still, I ought to be and am satisfied and gratified, because I think it quite probable we are both of us placed far beyond our merits. I am afraid you will tire of so much personality and think I am greatly demoralized.

In his letter of December 12, Theodore Lyman provides an example of the Meade wit, which tended to be on the cutting side. Here his joke masks criticism of Grant. The raid to which Lyman refers is Warren’s expedition to destroy the Weldon Railroad.

Clear and cold we have had it this day, blowy this morning but still in the evening. Last night it blew in a tremendous manner. My tent flapped in a way that reminded one of being at sea, and my chimney, for the first time got mad and actually smoked. My only consolation was that the General’s smoked a great deal worse. He made quite a bon-mot at breakfast, despite the smoke: “Grant says the Confederates, in their endeavors to get men, have robbed the cradle and the grave; if that is the case, I must say their ghosts and babies fight very well!” I did not fail to ride out and see the raiders come in. The head of the column arrived about noon, or an hour before. I was much amused by a battery, the first thing that I met; one of the drivers was deeply intent on getting his pair of horses over a bad bridge, but, midst all his anxiety and pains on this head, he did not fail to keep tight hold of a very old rush-bottomed chair, which he carefully held in one hand! How far he had brought it or what he meant to do with it, I know not, but his face wore an expression which said: “You may take my life but you can’t have this very old rush-bottomed chair which I have been at much pains to steal.” Then came the infantry, with a good deal of weary straggling, and looking pretty cold, poor fellows; then another battery spattered with mud; then a drove of beef cattle, in the midst of which marched cows, calves, and steers that never more will graze on Rebel farms. Finally a posse of stragglers and ambulances and waggons, all putting the best speed on to get to a camping-place. I pitied the poor bucks who, for six days, had endured every fatigue and hardship.

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. 250-2. 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. 297-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

The Evils of War (December 11, 1864)

George Meade weighs in on Gouverneur Warren’s expedition to tear up the Weldon Railroad. Following Meade’s letter, Theodore Lyman fills in some of the details.

Five days ago I sent Warren, with a large force, to destroy the Weldon Railroad, which the enemy continue to use up to a certain point. It was expected Lee would send a force after him, and that we should have some sharp fighting, but to-day Warren is returning, having, undisturbed, effectually destroyed some twenty miles of the road. During Warren’s absence we have had a violent storm and the poor men have suffered a great deal, but this is one of the evils of war and must be borne.

Lyman adds to Meade’s dutiful account and provides a quick overview of Union concerns around the country. General Potter is Robert Potter, who commanded a division in the IX Corps. In his letter yesterday, Lyman mentioned that Potter had been sent to support Warren.

Gen. Robert Potter.(Library of Congress).

Gen. Robert Potter.(Library of Congress).

Weather as before—only a little more so. I suppose they have a good deal such in England. If so, don’t want to live there. Pretty times for half the army, off and on, to be marching and reconnoitring and expeditionizing about the country, as if it were picnic season! And still stranger is it to be sitting quiet in my tent when so many people are running round loose. Our affairs are rather mixed up, you see. So are those of everybody. Sherman has disappeared in Georgia and nobody knows what awful strategy he contemplates. Not so Hood: he is poking about in a manner I don’t at all like: jamming Thomas up in Nashville, and now I fancy he is just marching round the city and into Kentucky. That won’t do! Old Lee don’t let us march round towns unless he chooses, or has at least a hard fight for it. However, I can’t think Hood can do severe damage with so powerful an army as that of Thomas in his neighborhood. Well, we will hope for a big thing, of some sort, somewhere, for there are a number of irons, small and great, in the fire, and as much activity prevails as if we were not near the real winter. One thing I am sure of, that, what with expeditions little and big, threatenings and reconnaissances, the Rebels must be kept in quite an active state of simmer. Poor General Potter! He had a frightful night march and was doubtless buoyed up by the feeling that he had a separate command and could distinguish himself if there was a fight, and slam in on Hill’s left flank, and win a great name for himself. What then was his disgust to see, about noon, the head of Warren’s column trudging peaceably back, on the other side of the river! There were two decent-sized armies staring at each other, across the stream, each wondering what the other meant by being there; and both wondering why so many men were concentrated against nobody. General Potter philosophically shrugged his shoulders, gave the word to face about, and put his best leg forward for home, where he arrived a little after dark. It was a terrible night for a bivouac, with an intensely piercing cold wind and everything frozen up. Warren crossed the river and spent the night on this side of it.

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. 250. 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. 296-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Looking for that perfect holiday gift? What could be better than Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg? (You can order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.) Or maybe a 2015 George Gordon Meade calendar–the perfect way to commemorate the general’s bicentennial year! You can get the calendar right here.

The Vexed Question (December 4, 1864)

In this print, titled "Grant and his Generals," George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant's right (Library of Congress).

In this print, titled “Grant and his Generals,” George Meade does make an appearance off to Grant’s right (Library of Congress).

The “vexed question” of Meade’s promotion has been settled (although he will have to wait until February before the Senate gives its official seal of approval). In his notebook entry December 4, 1864, Theodore Lyman noted, “A telegraph came from [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton announcing to the General that he had been made a Major General in the regular army, to rank next to Sherman. Whereat he was right content.” Meade is now the country’s ’s fourth highest ranked officer, with only Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Halleck, and William T. Sherman ahead of him.

I send you a telegram from the Secretary and my reply, which will show you the vexed question is at last settled. Much of the gratification that ought justly to accompany such a reward has been destroyed by the manner of doing it; so that what might have been a graceful compliment became reduced to a simple act of justice. Well, let us be satisfied with this, and believe it was more a want of knowledge how to do such things than any unfriendly feeling which caused it.

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. 249. Available via Google Books.

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A Man of Character and Honor (August 24, 1864)

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

William T. Sherman (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Philip Sheridan (Library of Congress).

Meade receives what he perceives as a figurative slap in the face when he hear that William T. Sherman, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Phil Sheridan have all received promotions, while his own promised advancement to major general in the Regular Army remains stalled. He fumes about the slight and once again confronts Grant, as you can read in his letter of August 24.

I see you have heard of the promotion of Sherman, Hancock and Sheridan, and noted the absence of my name. I cannot tell you how I felt when I first heard this, but I determined to keep quiet till I could obtain some explanation from General Grant. To-day was the first time I have seen him since I learned the intelligence. On my asking him the reason of my name being omitted when those recommended at the same time had been appointed, he answered it was his act; that he had asked for the immediate appointment of the others, but had not asked for mine; and the reason he had not asked for mine was, that if Sherman and myself had been appointed on the same day, I would rank him, and he wished Sherman to rank me. That neither his opinion nor that of the President and Secretary had changed with regard to me; that it was still a settled thing that I was to have the vacancy; and that he proposed to have me appointed, when I should be assigned to the command of the Middle Division, which he said he would have done before now, but for the peculiar position Sheridan was placed in, having to fall back, and if superseded now, it would be construed into a disapproval of his course, which was not the case. Of course to all this I had nothing to say. My object was to ascertain whether any fault was found with me, or whether any change of opinion had taken place since the last time he had assured me I was to be appointed when the others were. As he had disclaimed any such reasons, I did not care to know why I had been left out. I never expected, nor did I much care about, the appointment except to prove to the ignorant public that they had been imposed upon by a lying press. Nothing more was said upon the subject. The whole substance of the explanation was that he desired to advance his favorites, Sherman and Sheridan. I was left out because it would interfere with Sherman’s rank to have me in, and Hancock was brought in because he could not appoint Sheridan before Hancock, not having recommended him when he did Hancock. Of course I could say nothing to this explanation. It would not do for me to claim promotion or express dissatisfaction at not receiving it. I had the right to ask why, after telling me I had been recommended, and would be appointed, I found I was not, but when the above explanation was made, however unjust I may have deemed such reasoning to be, I could take no notice of it, and could not with propriety complain. It is the same old story, an inability to appreciate the sensitiveness of a man of character and honor. Grant really thinks he is one of my best friends, and can’t conceive why I should complain of a little delay in giving me what he tells me I am certainly to have. It is rather hard to have denied me the vindication which the Government might give to my course, by conferring a promotion that I have the most positive evidence it, the Government, has acknowledged I merited and should have. However, I suppose this, like all else, must be borne with patience.

We have had some pretty hard fighting to secure our lodgment on the Weldon Railroad. Grant and Warren are the heroes of the affair. I must confess I do not envy either of them their laurels, although in the Weldon Railroad affair Grant was sixteen miles away, and knew nothing but what was reported to him by myself. We lost a good many men in killed and wounded, but principally in prisoners. Our army is becoming much weakened by these repeated losses, and our only hope is that the enemy suffers proportionately. Their papers acknowledge in their last affairs a loss of five general officers.

Theodore Lyman, in the meantime, takes a look at Meade’s record. When he says “those men are on the ground” I assume he means “in.”

What you say of Meade’s want of success is, as a fact, true; but what I don’t understand is, that the successes are Grant’s but the failures Meade’s. In point of reality the whole is Grant’s: he directs all, and his subordinates are only responsible as executive officers having more or less important functions. There have been cases where they might be said to act alone; for instance, the assault of the 18th of June, though under a general permission from Grant, was strictly an operation of Meade. He felt badly about that failure, “Because,” said he, “I should have taken Petersburg. I had reason to calculate on success. The enemy had no defences but what they had thrown up in a few hours; and I had 60,000 men to their 25,000.” All of which was true and the result showed the difference of morale. The men who stormed the Rappahannock redoubts in November ‘63 would have walked over the breastworks and driven Beauregard into the Appomattox; but those men are on the ground between here and the Rapid Ann, or fill the hospitals in the North. Put a man in a hole and a good battery on a hill behind him, and he will beat off three times his number, even if he is not a very good soldier.

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. 223-24. Available via Google Books.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 224. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

At Church (May 22, 1864)

Timothy O'Sullivan took those photograph of New Bethel Church on May 23, 1864. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Timothy O’Sullivan took those photograph of New Bethel Church on May 23, 1864. Burnside had departed earlier that morning. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman takes up his pen on a warm Sunday evening and writes home about the war. In his journal entry for today Lyman wrote, “Reviewing the progress of the campaign, Gen. Meade said to me at breakfast: ‘I am afraid the rebellion cannot be crushed this summer!'”

New Bethel Church today (Tom Huntington photo).

New Bethel Church today (Tom Huntington photo).

I don’t know when I have felt so peaceful — everything goes by contrast. We are camped, this lovely evening, in a great clover field, close to a large, old-fashioned house, built of bricks brought from England in ante-revolutionary times. The band is playing “Ever of Thee I’m Fondly Dreaming”—so true and appropriate—and I have just returned from a long talk with two ultra-Secessionist ladies who live in the house. Don’t be horrified! You would pity them to see them. One, an old lady, lost her only son at Antietam; the other, a comparatively young person, is plainly soon to augment the race of Rebels. Poor creature! Our cavalry raced through here yesterday and scared her almost to death. Her eyes were red with crying, and it was long before she fully appreciated the fact that General Meade would not order her to instant death. To-night she has two sentries over her property and is lost in surprise. Have I not thence obtained the following supplies: five eggs, a pitcher of milk, two loaves of corn bread, and a basket of lettuce—all of which I duly paid for. I feel well to-night on other accounts. If reports from the front speak true, we have made Lee let go his hold and fall back some miles. If true, it is a point gained and a respite from fighting. Hancock had got away down by Milford. Warren had crossed at Guinea Bridge and was marching to strike the telegraph road, on which the 6th Corps was already moving in his rear. The 9th Corps would cross at Guinea Bridge, last, and follow nearly after the 2d Corps. We started ourselves not before noon, and crossed the shaky little bridge over the Po-Ny (as I suppose it should be called), and so we kept on towards Madison’s Ordinary, crossing, a little before, the Ta, a nice, large, clear brook. An “Ordinary” in Virginia seems to be what we should call a fancy variety store, back in the country. Madison’s is a wooden building, just at cross-roads, and was all shut, barred, and deserted; and, strange to say, had not been broken open. On the grass were strewn a quantity of old orders, which people had sent by their negroes, to get—well, to get every conceivable thing. I saved one or two, as curiosities, wherein people ask for quarts of molasses, hymn-books, blue cotton, and Jaynes’s pills! The 5th Corps was passing along, as we stood there. After a while we went across the country, by a wood road, to the church you will see south of Mrs. Tyler’s. Close to Madison’s Ordinary was one of those breastworks by which this country is now intersected. A revival of the Roman castrum, with which the troops of both sides protect their exposed points every night. This particular one was made by the heavy artillery, whose greenness I have already spoken of. When they put it up the enemy threw some shells. Whereupon an officer rode back in all haste to General Hancock, and said: “General, our breastwork is only bullet-proof and the Rebels are shelling us!” “Killed anybody?” asked the calm commander. “Not yet, sir,” quoth the officer. “Well, you can tell them to take it comfortably. The Rebels often throw shells, and I am sure I cannot prevent them.” We passed, on the wood road, some of the finest oak woods I have seen; nothing could be finer than the foliage, for the size, fairness, and rich, polished green of the leaves. The soil, notwithstanding, is extremely sandy and peculiarly unfavorable to a good sod. At the church (do I call it Salem? I am too lazy to hunt after my map; no, it is New Bethel), the 9th Corps was marching past, and Burnside was sitting, like a comfortable abbot, in one of the pews, surrounded by his buckish Staff whose appearance is the reverse of clerical. Nothing can be queerer (rather touching, somehow or other) than to see half a dozen men, of unmistakable New York bon ton, arrayed in soldier clothes, midst this desolated country. I am glad to see that such men have the energy to be here. They are brave and willing, though, like your hub, their military education has been rather neglected.

And this leads me to remark that it is a crying mistake to think, as many do, that an aide is a sort of mounted messenger—an orderly in shoulder-straps. An aide should be a first-rate military man; and, at least, a man of more than average intelligence and education. It is very difficult, particularly in this kind of country, to deliver an order verbally, in a proper and intelligent way; then you must be able to report positions and relative directions, also roads, etc.; and in these matters you at once see how deficient some men are, and how others have a natural turn for them. To be a good officer requires a good man. Not one man in ten thousand is fit to command a brigade; he should be one who would be marked anywhere as a person (in that respect) of superior talent. Of good corps commanders I do not suppose there are ten in this country, after our three-years’ war. Of army commanders, two or three. When we had seen enough of the 9th Corps and had found out that Hancock had mistaken Birney’s line of battle (down by Milford) for that of the enemy,—whereat there was a laugh on the chivalric H.,—we departed for the Tyler house. In one of Burnside’s regiments are a lot of Indian sharpshooters, some full, some halfbreeds. They looked as if they would like to be out of the scrape, and I don’t blame them. . . .

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff at Cold Harbor, June 11 or 12, 1864. That's photographer Matthew Brady in the straw hat (Library of Congress).

Ambrose Burnside (reading paper) and staff at Cold Harbor, June 11 or 12, 1864. That’s photographer Mathew Brady in the straw hat (Library of Congress).

Grant’s aide Horace Porter also wrote about his encounter with the Tylers and published it in his book Campaigning with Grant. It’s an interesting tale. I quote it (from pages 137-9 in Porter’s book).

Early in the afternoon General Grant decided to halt for a couple of hours, to be in easy communication with the troops that were following. He selected for the halt a plantation which was beautifully situated on high ground, commanding a charming view of the valley of the Mattapony. A very comfortable house stood not far from the road along which Burnside’s corps was marching. In making halts of this kind a house was usually selected, for the reason that good water was easily obtainable, and facilities were afforded for looking at maps and conducting correspondence. General Grant never entered any of the houses, as they were usually occupied by ladies, and he did not wish to appear to invade their dwellings; he generally sat on the porch. When we reached this plantation, the escort and the junior staff-officers lounged about the grounds in the shade of the trees, while General Grant, accompanied by two or three of us who were riding with him, dismounted, and ascended the steps of the porch. A very gentle and prepossessing-looking lady standing in the doorway was soon joined by an older woman. General Grant bowed courteously and said, “With your permission, I will spend a few hours here.” The younger lady replied very civilly, “Certainly, sir.” The older one exclaimed abruptly, “I do hope you will not let your soldiers ruin our place and carry away our property.” The general answered politely, “I will order a guard to keep the men out of your place, and see that you are amply protected”; and at once gave the necessary instructions. The ladies, seeing that the officer with whom they were conversing was evidently one of superior rank, became anxious to know who he was, and the older one stepped up to me, and in a whisper asked his name. Upon being told that he was General Grant, she seemed greatly surprised, and in a rather excited manner informed the other lady of the fact. The younger lady, whose name was Mrs. Tyler, said that she was the wife of a colonel in the Confederate army, who was serving with General Joe Johnston in the West; but she had not heard from him for some time, and she was very anxious to learn through General Grant what news he had from that quarter. The general said, “Sherman is advancing upon Rome, and ought to have reached that place by this time.” Thereupon the older lady, who proved to be the mother-in-law of the younger one, said very sharply: “General Sherman will never capture that place. I know all about that country, and you haven’t an army that will ever take it. We all know very well that Sherman is making no headway against General Johnston’s army.”

We could see that she was entertaining views which everywhere prevailed in the South. The authorities naturally put the best face upon matters, and the newspapers tried to buoy up the people with false hopes. It was not surprising that the inhabitants of the remote parts of the country were in ignorance of the true progress of the war. General Grant replied in a quiet way: “General Sherman is certainly advancing rapidly in that direction; and while I do not wish to be the communicator of news which may be unpleasant to you, I have every reason to believe that Rome is by this time in his possession.” The older lady then assumed a bantering tone, and became somewhat excited and defiant in her manner; and the younger one joined with her in scouting the idea that Rome could ever be taken. Just then a courier rode up with despatches from Washington containing a telegram from Sherman. General Grant glanced over it, and then read it to the staff. It announced that Sherman had just captured Rome. The ladies had caught the purport of the communication, although it was not intended that they should hear it. The wife burst into tears, and the mother-in-law was much affected by the news, which was of course sad tidings to both of them.

The mother then began to talk with great rapidity and with no little asperity, saying: “I came from Richmond not long ago, where I lived in a house on the James River which overlooks Belle Isle; and I had the satisfaction of looking down every day on the Yankee prisoners. I saw thousands and thousands of them, and before this campaign is over I want to see the whole of the Yankee army in Southern prisons.”

Just then Burnside rode into the yard, dismounted, and joined our party on the porch. He was a man of great gallantry and elegance of manner, and was always excessively polite to the gentler sex. He raised his hat, made a profound bow to the ladies, and, as he looked at his corps filing by on the road, said to the older one, who was standing near him, “I don’t suppose, madam, that you ever saw so many Yankee soldiers before.” She replied instantly: “Not at liberty, sir.” This was such a good shot that every one was greatly amused, and General Grant joined heartily in the laugh that followed at Burnside’s expense.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 118-21. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.