Visiting the Front (October 18, 1864)

"Admiral Porter and General Meade" (Library of Congress).

“Admiral Porter and General Meade” (Library of Congress).

Today George Meade notes the visitation from Washington, which Theodore Lyman wrote about more colorfully in yesterday’s letter. The admiral is David Dixon Porter, shown in a photograph above with Meade. I had believed this photo to be some sort of early composite, based on the way the background has clearly been cut away, but it appears genuine. An alternate version appears in volume six of the Photographic History of the Civil War.

The visitors would have traveled with Meade along the United States Military Railroad, a triumph of engineering that ran behind Union lines all the way from City Point, eventually extending 21 miles. The army used it to ship food, supplies and soldiers forward to the front and send the wounded back. Grant’s aide Horace Porter was struck by the way the line went up hills and down dales throughout its length. “Its undulations were so striking that a train moving along it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard,” he said. The stations were named after generals, including one that bore Meade’s name.

Yesterday General Grant came up in the morning with the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, the Collector of New York, Mr. Hooper, member of Congress from Boston, together with several military dignitaries. They spent a short time at my headquarters, from whence I took them to see a part of the lines, after which they returned to City Point, I accompanying them. At City Point I met Admiral Porter and Captain Frailey, each with his wife. As these ladies desired greatly to go to the front and see some rebels, I persuaded their husbands to return with me, and we stopped the cars near Hancock’s headquarters, inspected our line and the rebel works, and then went to Hancock’s headquarters, who got us up a comfortable supper, and after dark shelled the enemy’s lines. They seemed greatly delighted, and returned about 10 p. m. to City Point. Mr. Stanton was, as he always is, most kind and civil to 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. 234-5. Available via Google Books.

Peebles’ Farm (September 30, 1864)

Theodore Lyman provides a good description of the battle known as Peeble’s Farm. It was part of Grant’s strategy to force Lee to stretch his lines until they broke. While the Army of the James was attacking Lee’s left north of the James River, Meade’s Army of the Potomac hit the right. Fighting will continue on October 1.

If the General will ride out at 8.30 A.m., and get back at 10.30 P.m., and fight a good part of the day, how am I to feel wakeful and lively to write to you? I am very well and getting stronger; was in part of the battle beyond the railroad; but only had a few bullets and one solitary cannonball in my neighborhood. This going from Beverly to battle is quite a sharp contrast. Our advantage was signal and important if we have good luck in holding on, which I think we shall. There may be fighting to-morrow, but I incline to think not.

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade's headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

Globe Tavern, a landmark near the Weldon Railroad. The information for this image at the Library of Congress identifies the tavern as having been Meade’s headquarters at Malvern Hill, which is not true. Meade was sent home wounded before that battle (Library of Congress).

On October 4, Lyman wrote out a more complete account of the events of September 30. I include it here for the sake of chronological consistency. Gouverneur Warren commands the V Corps. John Parke had replaced Ambrose Burnside at the head of the IX Corps. Samuel Crawford and Charles Griffin command V Corps divisions. Griffin is the profane general whom Grant wanted Meade to arrest for insubordination at the Wilderness; Meade had assured him that Griffin’s intemperate speech was only “his way.”

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

General John G. Parke (Library of Congress).

At 8.30 in the morning, the General, with the combative [Andrew] Humphreys and all the Staff, rode towards the left, stopping of course at the irresistible Hancock’s. At noon we got to Globe Tavern, which is some six miles from our old Headquarters. [Samuel] Crawford’s division still held the works on the Weldon road, while Warren, with two divisions, followed by [John] Parke, with two divisions of the 9th Corps, had moved out to the west, and already we could hear the Rebel artillery shelling our advance. . . . . At the Poplar Grove Church the Rebels began to throw shells, with a good deal of accuracy, into the road; for they had the range, though they could not see for the woods. Near here was a swampy run, where our skirmishers drove those of the enemy across, and the division then got over and kept ahead. General Meade, meantime, staid at the Globe Tavern, waiting for the movement to develop. He sent out an aide or two, to tell Warren he was there and to bring news of the progress. Warren sent in word that; having got across the run, he would soon see what could be done. At 12.45 we could hear pretty brisk musketry, which continued a short time and then ceased. Some time after, an aide came in from General Warren, with news that Griffin had captured a strong line and a redoubt, in handsome style. Not long after, the General rode to the front, where we arrived at 2.45. Most of the road was through a pleasant wood, chiefly oak. Passing the “church” (a little, old, wooden building that might seat forty persons), we turned to the right and came out on a large, open farm. On a roll of land, just ahead, was the Peeble house (pretty well riddled with bullets), and hence you looked over more open land ending in a fringe of wood. Perhaps 400 yards in front was the captured line and the redoubt: the former very strongly and handsomely made; the latter not quite finished inside, wanting still the platforms for the guns; otherwise it was done, with a ditch outside and an abattis. So far as I can learn, the occupying force was about equal to the attacking; but they did not make as good a fight as usual. The two assaulting brigades advanced very handsomely and rushed over the works. The enemy began at once to draw off their cannon, but the horses of one piece were shot, and it fell into our hands. The loss was very small in the assault, not over 100, which shows how much safer it is to run boldly on: the enemy get excited and fire high. I went into the redoubt. A Rebel artillery-man lay dead on the parapet, killed so instantly, by a shot through the head, that the expression of his face was unchanged. In front they were burying two or three of our men and a corporal was marking their names on a headboard, copying from letters found in their pockets. Parke was now ordered to form on the left of Warren ([Romeyn] Ayres being on the right of Griffin), and it was understood that the whole line would then advance from its present position, near the Pegram house, and see if it were practicable to carry the second line, which lay perhaps three fourths of a mile beyond. As I understand it, General Meade’s orders were not properly carried out; for Griffin did not form, so as to make an extension of Parke’s line. At 5.30 we were sitting in the Peeble house, waiting for the development of the attack, when we heard very heavy musketry beyond the narrow belt of the woods that separated us from the Pegram farm; there was was cheering, too, and then more musketry, and naturally we supposed that Parke was assaulting. But presently there came from the woods a considerable number of stragglers, making their way to the rear; then came even a piece of a regiment, with its colors, and this halted inside the captured works. The musketry now drew plainly nearer, and things began to look ticklish. I watched anxiously a brigade of the 5th Corps that stood massed in the edge of the wood, beyond the redoubt. Suddenly it filed to the left, at a double-quick, the brigade colors trotting gaily at the head, then formed line and stood still. In another moment the men leveled their muskets, fired a heavy volley and charged into the wood. The musketry receded again; a battery went forward and added itself to the general crash, which was kept up till darkness had well set in; while we sat and watched and listened, in comparative safety, just beside the captured redoubt. [Robert] Potter had been taken in the flank by the Rebels charging, and had been driven back in confusion. Griffin had advanced and restored the retired line. And who rides hither so placidly? It is General Humphreys: he has stolen off and, bless his old soul, has been having a real nice time, right in the line of battle! “A pretty little fight,” said he gingerly, “a pretty little fight. He! he! he!” Poor Potter! it wasn’t his fault. Our extreme advance was driven back, but the day was a great success, with important strategic bearing.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 231 and 234-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Grand Movement (September 29, 1864)

"Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works"by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

“Capture of Fort Harrison on the Chaffins Farm line of Works”by William Waud. Sketched on September 29, 1864 (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman’ wrote this letter on October 3, but it covers the events of September 29. I thought I’d post it today.

The night of my arrival, curiously enough, was the eve of a grand movement. [ “The move now proposed consisted of an advance both on the right and the left flanks. On the right, towards Richmond, taking the north side of the river; on the left towards the Boydton plank road and southside rail. The strategic object was two-fold: first, to effect threatening lodgments as near as possible to these points, gaining whatever we could by the way; and, secondly, to prevent Lee from reinforcing Early.” — Lyman’s Journal. ] I never miss, you see. Rosey [aide-de-camp Frederick Rosencrantz]drew me aside with an air of mystery and told me that the whole army was ordered to be packed and ready at four the next morning, all prepared to march at a moment’s notice. Headquarters contented itself by getting up about half-past five, which was plenty early enough, as turned out. We rode down to General Hancock’s about 9.30. He was camped not far from us, or had been, for now his tents were struck and packed, and there lay the familiar forms of Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan and Major Mitchell, on some boards, trying to make up for their loss of sleep. The cheery Hancock was awake and lively. We here were near the point of the railroad, which excited General Meade’s indignation by its exposure. Now they have partly sunk it and partly built a bank, on the enemy’s side, so that it is covered from fire. Here we got news that Ord and Birney had crossed the James, the first near Dutch Gap, the other near Deep Bottom, and advanced towards Richmond. Birney went up the Newmarket road, took a line of works, and joined Ord, who took a strong line, with a fort, on Chapin’s farm, which is before Chapin’s bluff, which again is opposite Fort Darling. We got sixteen guns, including three of heavy calibre, also some prisoners. General Ord was shot in the thick of the leg, above the knee. There was another line, on the crest beyond, which I do not think we attacked at all. We went down then to the Jones house, where were Parke’s Headquarters, and talked with him. I saw there Charlie Mills, now on his Staff. Finally, at 1.30 we got to Globe Tavern where was the astute Warren. Everything was “set,” as he would say, for an advance by Griffin’s and Ayres’s divisions, while Willcox’s and Potter’s divisions of the 9th Corps were massed at the Gurley house, ready to support. General Gregg made an advance west of Reams’ station, and was heavily attacked about 5 p.m., but repulsed them. Their artillery blew up one of his caissons and we could see the cloud of smoke suddenly rise above the trees. This was all for that day in the way of fighting.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 232-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Every Satisfaction (August 26, 1864)

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

Winfield Scott Hancock (Library of Congress).

As mentioned yesterday, the Battle of Reams Station was an embarrassment for Winfield Scott Hancock and the II Corps. In his history of the II Corps, Francis A. Walker quoted Charles Morgan, Hancock’s chief of staff, as saying, “It is not surprising that General Hancock was deeply stirred by the situation, for it was the first time he had felt the bitterness of defeat during the war. He had seen his troops fail in their attempts to carry the intrenched positions of the enemy; but he had never before had the mortification of seeing them driven, and his lines and guns taken, as on this occasion. . . . Never before had he seen his men fail to respond to the utmost when he had called upon them personally for a supreme effort; nor had he ever before ridden toward the enemy followed by a beggarly array of a few hundred stragglers who had been gathered together and again pushed toward the enemy. He could no longer conceal from himself that his once mighty corps retained but the shadow of its former strength and vigor.” Walker, who was taken prisoner during the battle, blamed Meade, in part, for not reinforcing Hancock.

After the defeat, Meade sent a note to Hancock. “No one sympathizes with you more than I do in the misfortunes of this evening,” he wrote. “I am satisfied you and your command have done all in your power, and though you have met with a reverse, the honor and escutcheon of the old Second is as bright as ever, and will, on some future occasion, prove it is only when enormous odds are brought against them that they can be moved.

Don’t let this matter worry you, because you have given me every satisfaction.”

I have been for several days very much occupied, in the saddle all day, superintending the movements culminating in our securing a permanent lodgment on the Weldon Road. I think I wrote you of Warren’s movements and his fights, which, although attended with heavy losses in prisoners, yet resulted in our retaining our hold and eventually inflicting great damage on the enemy. Soon after Warren was in position, Hancock was brought from the north side of the James, and placed on the railroad, with two divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, and commenced the work of destroying the road. He had only destroyed about seven or eight miles, when the enemy, yesterday, attacked him with great vehemence and superior numbers. Hancock was in a good position, and repulsed all their attacks till about dark, when, becoming desperate, they hurled such masses against him, they were enabled to carry a small portion of his lines and a battery of eight guns. As soon as I found how heavily he was attacked, I hurried up reinforcements to him, but the distance was so great they did not arrive till after dark. Hancock’s object, the destruction of the road, being frustrated, he was withdrawn at night. This was the only unfortunate part of the affair, for we this morning ascertained from some of our men who remained on the field that the enemy retired also during the night, leaving their wounded, with their dead unburied. It is said to be one of the severest battles of the war, and the enemy, being the attacking party, suffered terribly, our losses being comparatively light. Still, the loss of guns and our withdrawal will tell against us, though I would do the same thing to-morrow, and willingly lose guns, to make the enemy lose five killed and wounded to our one. Hancock expressed himself as confident of maintaining his position, and did not call for reinforcements, which I nevertheless sent as soon as I found how heavily he was engaged, and he now says he ought to have kept his lines intact, and would have done so but for the bad conduct of a part of his command, giving away when there was no excuse for it. After withdrawing, the enemy retired within his lines at Petersburg, and will, I think, let us alone for some time, and will hardly try for some time the plan of attacking us. These frequent affairs are gradually thinning both armies, and if we can only manage to make the enemy lose more than we do, we will win in the long run, but unfortunately, the offensive being forced on us, causes us to seek battle on the enemy’s terms, and our losses are accordingly the greatest, except when they come out and attack, as recently, when they always get the worst of it.

In his journal entry from August 25, Theodore Lyman wrote that Meade and Hancock had “an almost sharp talk” about Hancock’s support at Reams Station and that Hancock had said, “I would never ask for reinforcements!” Lyman felt this was “a brave but not a soldierly remark.” In his notes for the book of Lyman’s journals (Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman), editor David W. Lowe cites Francis Walker’s criticism of Meade’s handling of Reams Station. “If Meade did not intend to fight, Hancock should have been withdrawn,” Walker had written. “If he did intend to fight, Hancock should have been powerfully reinforced.” Added Lowe, “In hindsight, the criticism holds weight; Meade was lulled by Hancock’s bravado.”

It may be laid down as a general principle, that it is a bad thing, in a musket or a man, to go off at half-cock. In some respects I may be said so to have done in my letter last night. Our information this morning shows that, after dark, while we marched off the ground one way, the enemy marched off the other, leaving their dead unburied and some wounded. Accounts of the field show their loss to have been fearful, much greater than ours, which was not serious either in killed, wounded or prisoners. Thus, all the strategic results lie with us, and we hold the Weldon road. But I would not have you believe I was disposed to turn about and crow. No! I do not so much mind the loss of the guns—a mere matter of prestige—but I do mind the fact that the 2d Corps men did not all fight as they should have fought; had they done so, the Rebels (who I suppose were about as three to two) could never have budged them. As Major Mitchell observed: “The Rebels licked us, but a dozen more such lickings and there will be nothing left of the Rebel army!” My gracious, what a donkey am I to be solemnly sending a telegraph, when I have not been in a single fight. I felt like a donkey at the time, but I thought you would be fussing and imagining, because there had been fighting in various directions. But I will not be so silly in future. And there is your mother, bless her heart! thanking God I am safe out of it, when I have not been in it! Really, I feel it almost my duty to go on the picket line and get shot at by a grey-back, for the sake of doing something! Yes, ma’am, thirty-one is quite an old man, but I am “so as to be about,” can ride a horse and hold up my head; and, as the late T remarked, when he proposed, “I am good for ten years,” which turned out to be true (to the regret of Mrs. T.), for he lived twenty-five years after and begat sons and daughters. You must thank Madre* from me for the present of “Forbes’s Naked-eyed Medusa.” Tell her, also, that, having neglected my natural history for three years, [much] of which has been devoted to becoming semi-idiotic from having nothing to do but listen to cannon and mortars and rifles, and associate with young gentlemen still further advanced in semi-idiocy, I have not a clear idea of what a Medusa is; but am impressed with the notion that it is something flabby that lives in the sea.
*Lyman’s mother-in-law

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. 224-25. 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. 225-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

A Daily Dose of Arsenic (August 25, 1864)

reamsThe Battle of Reams Station was a serious embarrassment for Winfield Scott Hancock and the II Corps. Hancock’s men were following up Warren’s capture of the Weldon Railroad by moving south down the line and tearing up the rails, when they received word that elements of A. P. Hill’s corps were heading their way. On August 25 the Federals managed to beat back the first attacks, but then their lines crumbled. The proud Hancock, humiliated by the behavior of his soldiers, told one of his staff officers, “Colonel, I do not care to die, but I pray to God I may never leave this field.” God must not have been listening, for Hancock was forced to retreat. Theodore Lyman wrote about the battle on August 25; we’ll see what Meade has to say tomorrow.

There has been more fighting to-day. Hancock, at Reams’ station, was destroying the railroad (Weldon) and holding a position, also, for defence, having two of his divisions of infantry, besides Gregg’s cavalry. The Rebels sent down a large force to drive him off. They began attacking say about one o’clock and were severely repulsed,. till evening; but the last news is, that they made a desperate attempt on all sides and broke through a part of our right, just at nightfall. Hancock hoped to retake the part of the line lost, with the reinforcements coming up; but we have not yet heard the result. I feel rather anxious, though I don’t fear for Hancock’s safety; but I like to see him fully successful. Oh, bah! Captain Miller is just in (this is eleven o’clock at night). Hancock has lost eight guns—among them, I am told, Sleeper’s battery. Poor Sleeper was here this afternoon, wounded in the arm. It is too much all one way in this business, it really is! I don’t like to complain, because it troubles you, but it must break out occasionally. I get so mad and so bothered. For, when we have no good chance, or almost none, when our best undertakings fall through, I lose confidence in each move, and, when I hear the cannon, I look for nothing but our men coming back and a beggarly report of loss of prisoners. It is not right to feel so, but I can’t help it. When a man gets knocked down every time, he expects to go down the next. Well, well, well, I feel already a little better at this grumbling. I must be a sorry eel if I am not yet used to this sort of skinning. I like to see General Meade. I think these contretemps rather rouse and wind him up; he doesn’t seem to be depressed by that sort of thing; perhaps three years of it have made it necessary to his life, just as some persons enjoy a daily portion of arsenic.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 224-5. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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.

Engineers (August 23, 1864)

George Cullum

General George Washington Cullum (Library of Congress).

James C. Duane, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, took a liking to Theodore Lyman and liked to spend time with him. Here he shares a story with Lyman about another army engineer, General George Cullum. The fort in question is Fort Trumbull, today a Connecticut state park. Cullum, who grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, served as the superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1864-1866. He later married Henry Halleck’s widow. Lyman also provides a quick glimpse of Meade in full “Great Peppery” mode. In his journal, Lyman wrote that Meade “was in a mood to ‘rake’ people.” He also noted that Butler’s assistant adjutant general, who was supposed to send coffee through enemy lines to prisoners Joseph Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick, never sent it and did not return Lyman’s money! In addition, the journal entry mentioned Winfield Scott Hancock and the II Corps preparing to march to Reams Station, some inadvertently ominous foreshadowing.

Major Duane, who visits me much of evenings, because he can’t use his eyes, told me a story of Captain Cullum (now General Cullum) that I thought eminently Cullumish. Cullum was building a small fort at New London and was visited by a country editor, whom he received with high state and gave a lecture on the principles of fortification, after showing the small work on which he was engaged. He took as an example a large bastioned fort, and showed how it could be breached in forty days; and how the defenders would then make an interior line and drive out the stormers when they got inside the first. The editor, taking all this as applicable to the New London work, went home and published a tremendous leader, in which he said that the talented Captain Cullum was erecting the largest bastion fort in the world; that it would take you forty days to get inside it, and, when you were inside, you were worse off than you were before! The General rode along a new line we had been making, principally the work of the nigs, who are very faithful at making a breastwork and slashing the timber in front. A colonel or two got well pitched into for not having their men with their belts on and ready for action. I do believe our soldiers would sooner run the risk of getting shot twice a day, than take any little precaution. To-day I performed an act of military charity, by sending, per flag-of-truce boat, some coffee and sugar to Joe Hayes and Arthur Sedgwick.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 223-4. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Hancock’s Cavalry (August 21, 1864)

In his letter of August 21, Theodore Lyman mentions an incident during the fighting along the Weldon Railroad in which Confederate General Johnson Hagood shot Colonel D.B. Daily when Daily was demanding his surrender. It was considered a treacherous act by those on the Union side but merely an incident of war for the Confederates. In his Memoirs of the War of Secession (published in 1910) Hagood recounted his version of the encounter (in the third person). He spells Daily differently. Dailey survived his wound. Hagood wrote that after the war Dailey published an account in the New York Herald clearing the former Confederate of murder. Furthermore, Hagood said, Daly contacted him in 1879 and asked for an affidavit about the action to support his pension request. Here’s Hagood’s account:

“General Hagood was with Major Wilds, commanding the Twenty-first, who was cheering on his men to renewed assault (success being now their only hope of safety), when looking to the right he saw a mounted Federal officer among the men on the left portion of the brigade to the right, with a regimental color in his hands, and a confusion and parleying immediately around him that betokened approaching surrender. The fight was still raging to Hagood’s right and left; there was no cessation on our part except in the squad just around this officer, and none whatever that was perceptible on the part of the enemy. They had pushed out from the right and left a line behind us to cut off our retreat, and this officer (Captain Daly of General Cutler’s staffs had galloped out of a sally port, seized a color from the hands of its bearer, and demanded a surrender. Some officers and men surrendered, but were not carried in; others refused, but just around him ceased fighting. General Hagood called to the men to shoot him and fall back in retreat. They either did not hear him or bewildered by the surrender of part of their number, failed to obey. It was a critical moment and demanded instant and decided action. In a few minutes the disposition to surrender would have spread and the whole brigade have been lost. Making his way across the intervening space as speedily as he could, exposed to a regular fire by file from the enemy’s line, scarce thirty yards off, and calling to his men to fall back—which they did not do—General Hagood approached the officer and demanded the colors, and that he should go back within his own lines, telling him he was free to do so. He commenced arguing the hopelessness of further struggle, and pointed out the lines in our rear. Hagood cut him short, and demanded a categorical reply—yes, or no. Daly was a man of fine presence and sat with loosened rein upon a noble-looking bay that stood with head and tail erect and flashing eye and distended nostrils, quivering in every limb with excitement, but not moving in his tracks. In reply to his abrupt demand, the rider raised his head proudly and decisively answered, ‘No!’ Upon the word General Hagood shot him through the body, and, as he reeled from the saddle upon one side, sprang into it from the other, Orderly Stoney seizing the flag from Daly’s falling hands.”

Last night, Hancock, with his two remaining divisions, marched from Deep Bottom and took position on our left, ready to support Warren. The long, rapid marches of this Corps have given it the name of “Hancock’s cavalry.” When a halt was ordered, one soldier said to the next: “O Jim, what er we a-stoppin’ for?” “The Staff is getting fresh hosses!” replied James. At 9.30 in the morning we again heard Warren’s artillery opening very heavily. I felt anxious on account of the nature of the last attack. This, however, turned out a very different thing. You saw my diagram of his position in my last letter. In addition he now had made a short exterior flank line. The enemy formed in the woods, out of sight, so as to envelop his flank defence, and coming partly in rear; the troops were those of Beauregard and A. P. Hill, many of which had been concentrated from Deep Bottom. They first opened a heavy artillery fire from behind the woods, throwing most of the projectiles into the angle of the line. Then their infantry advanced, in three lines of battle, and attempted to charge, but were received by such a discharge of all sorts of things that they broke and ran back before getting anywhere near. A South Carolina brigade coming out of the woods, saw that they were on the prolongation of our front flank line, and, thinking they had us foul, immediately charged, and caught an awful musketry fire on their flank, from our rear flank line, which they had not noticed. Immediately they began throwing down their arms and shouting, and an officer and some men from our front ran out to accept their surrender. The officer approached General Hagood and either demanded or seized the flag he held in his hand, when Hagood shot him mortally with a pistol, and shouted to his men to run. Some did so, others (about 300) gave themselves up, and others were shot down as they ran. The conduct of Hagood is denounced as treacherous, but this all depends on the details of the affair, which remain to be proved. The next time I think we shall go on shooting till some official announcement of surrender is made! Hagood’s flag we got, a new one, with fifty-seven bullet holes through it! Also three or four other flags, and some 400 prisoners in all. The total loss of the enemy in the day’s work must have been from 1500 to 2000.

We left at about one o’clock, and rode down, first to the stalwart Hancock, who was just then at the Jones house, and then kept on and saw Warren; for we expected another heavy fight, and General Meade wished to be present and see all the troops worked to proper advantage. Warren proposed to attack in his turn, but I am glad he did not, for there was no advantage to be gained that I could see, and we had all we could desire, the possession of the railroad. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 221-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

The Weldon Railroad (August 18, 1864)

An Alfred Waud drawing depicts Gouverneur Warren at the Weldon Railroad, supervising the construction of entrenchments by moonlight Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

An Alfred Waud drawing depicts Gouverneur Warren at the Weldon Railroad, supervising the construction of entrenchments by moonlight. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

In his letter of August 18, Meade mentions Winfield Scott Hancock’s battles north of the James as well as the start of a movement by Gouverneur K. Warren, commander of the V Corps. This is the beginning of the attack during which Warren will finally get a toe hold on the Weldon Railroad, one of the lines vital to supplying Petersburg. Here’s what I wrote in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

Samuel Crawford (Library of Congress).

“Warren and the V Corps attacked here near a local landmark called Globe Tavern early on the morning of August 18, fighting off a Confederate counterattack to keep their grip on the railroad. The rebels counterattacked through a driving rain the next day. It was a close fight for a time, with the rebels overrunning Samuel Crawford’s division of the V Corps, but the Union soldiers, reinforced by a division of the IX Corps, thrust the enemy back. The rebels attacked again on Sunday, August 21, but by then Warren had his men positioned behind entrenchments, and once again they repulsed the Confederate attack. This portion of the Weldon Railroad was now in Union hands, and the construction of Fort Wadsworth–named after the New York politician-turned-general who had fallen in the Wilderness–was built here to make sure the Confederates couldn’t take it back. Now Confederate supplies coming to Petersburg could travel only as far as Stony Creek station, where they had to be unloaded, placed on wagons, and transported to Dinwiddie Court House and then up the Boydton Plank Road to the city.”

Here’s what Meade wrote on August 18:

Hancock’s movement across the James has resulted in bringing on an action with a part of Lee’s army, which at first was in our favor, but from their reinforcing him I judge Hancock has come to a stand still, and will not probably be able to effect more. Warren has gone to-day on a similar mission on our left, to see if he can find a weak spot in the enemy’s line. His guns are now plainly heard. These movements are made by Grant, with a view to keep the enemy on the alert, prevent his detaching any troops to Early, and, if possible, compel his bringing back some of the troops in the Valley, and thus give Sheridan more chance.

Now it’s Theodore Lyman’s turn:

Last night I had got well into the first sound sleep, when images of war began to intrude on my dreams, and these, taking on a more corporeal form, gradually waked me enough to prove to my mind that there was a big racket going on. The noise of a few shells and many muskets I don’t mind, as I am used to it, but, when it comes to firing heavy mortar shells in salvos, one is authorized to sit up in bed, even if it is one in the morning. Once awake, I recognized the fact that the largest kind of a cannonade was going on. The still, damp air was filled with the detonations of all sorts of big guns and projectiles. It was quite as extensive as the firing on the morning of the mine and sounded very much louder, in the night. Our side replied rather moderately, but the enemy kept up one roar of batteries for some two hours, and the air was full of the humming and bursting of the shells. At the end of that time they stopped, rather suddenly. We expended some 1500 rounds of ammunition and they must have fired much more, and all to kill and wound thirty men. . . . The great joke of the matter was, that General Meade (who is a sound sleeper, and was a little deaf from a cold in the head) remained calmly in the arms of Morpheus, till a telegraph from Grant at City Point, came in, asking what all that firing was about! It so happened that the General woke just at a lull in the cannonade; so he didn’t understand the despatch, but called the officer of the night to know if he had heard any more firing than usual! You should have seen the deshabille parade of officers in the camp: such a flitting of figures in a variety of not much clothing! General Humphreys said: “Yes, perhaps it would be well to have the horses saddled; for,” he added with a hopeful smile, “we may have a scrimmage, you know.” But he was disappointed, and we all went to bed again.

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. 222. 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. 216-17. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

Fussell’s Mill (August 16, 1864)

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

In this image taken at Cold Harbor in 1864, Winfield Scott Hancock (seated) poses with (left to right) Francis Barlow, David Birney, and John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

In their letters of August 16, both Meade and Lyman mention the fighting being done by Winfield Scott Hancock and the II and X Corps on the north bank of the James River. These references are to the second campaign of Deep Bottom and the battle known as Fussell’s Mill. Despite initial successes, the campaign was a failure. According to Francis Walker’s 1886 history of the II Corps, “Although it is freely confessed that the attack of the Second Corps near Fussell’s Mill was not made with the vigor fairly to be expected, nothing better could have resulted had the troops there displayed their pristine enterprise and resolution. The fact is, the expedition across the James had been undertaken upon erroneous information. General Grant believed that three divisions had been sent to reinforce Early. Only one, however (Kershaw’s), had actually gone. Field’s division of Longstreet’s corps had remained in the Deep Bottom and Bailey’s Creek intrenchments; Wilcox’s division of Hill’s corps was at Chapin’s Bluff, near at hand, ready to move down and reinforce Field; while Mahone’s division, also of Hill’s corps, with Hampton’s and W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry divisions, were, on the first intimation of Hancock’s movement, sent across the James to meet the impending attack.”

Walker continued, “General Grant had now ascertained that his information regarding the strength of the enemy had been erroneous; and he had therefore no thought of further pursuing the enterprise on the north bank of the James. Inasmuch, however, as he was now preparing a movement, with Warren’s corps, against the Weldon Railroad, on the extreme left, below Petersburg, he determined to retain Hancock’s troops in their position, threatening Richmond, a few days longer, to hold the enemy’s attention and occupy their forces.”

I am right glad the dear children are enjoying themselves. I wish I could be with you and them; but this is out of the question, and there is no use thinking about it. I have made up my mind to stick it out here, regardless of every consideration, except that of doing my duty at all hazards. They shall not say that any personal considerations caused me to turn my back upon the enemy.

Hancock has been fighting for two days across the James, and though he has met with success, yet he has not been able to break through the enemy’s lines, he finding them everywhere in strong force. His demonstration, however, has undoubtedly prevented the sending of reinforcements to Early, as we had reason to believe they designed doing. Hancock, with his usual luck, has captured some guns and colors.

Now for Lyman’s account of the events of the day. The assault he mentions is the Battle of the Crater. Lyman the Boston Brahmin looked down on those he considered to be below him, and that included Germans, Irish (“bog-trotters”) and blacks.

I have been well content to get your letter this afternoon. In regard to what you say for the troops for the assault, it is true that General Meade should have ordered in the best—and so he did. Express orders were given to put in the best troops and have the division generals lead them if necessary. General Meade made examinations in person of the enemy’s lines, and the orders drawn up by General Humphreys were more than usually elaborated. People have a vulgar belief that a General commanding a great army can, and ought to arrange in person every detail. This is not possible, nor is it desirable; the corps and division commanders would at once say: “Very well, if you have not enough confidence in me to let me carry on the ordinary business of my command, I ought to be relieved.” I see great discussion in the papers as to the conduct of the negroes. I say, as I always have, that you never, in the long run, can make negroes fight with success against white men. When the whole weight of history is on one side, you may be sure that side is the correct one. I told General Meade I had expressed myself strongly, at home, against the imported Dutchmen, to which he replied: “Yes, if they want to see us licked, they had better send along such fellers as those!” As I said before, the Pats will do: not so good as pure Yanks, but they will rush in and fight. There was a report at first that Colonel Macy of the 20th Massachusetts was mortally wounded, but I have since heard that it is not so. On Sunday, he had command of a brigade, and had his horse killed: he then came back, got another horse from Barlow and returned to the front. This horse either was shot or reared over with him, frightened by the firing, and crushed him badly. Let me see, I told you this before; never mind, you will be sure now to know it. Sometimes I get rather mixed because I write often a few words about a day, on the eve of the same, and then detail it more at length afterwards. The Rebels got well alarmed about Hancock and sent reinforcements, recalling troops that had started to help Early in the valley; an important point gained. Hancock had some hard fighting to-day, with considerable success, taking several hundred prisoners and driving the enemy. The Rebel General Chambliss was killed, and we found on him a valuable map containing the fortifications of Richmond. They also are said to have killed a General Gherrard; but I have an idea there is no such General in their service.* Perhaps he was a new appointment, or a colonel commanding a brigade. As to giving you an account of the engagement, it would be out of the question; as it is a perfect muddle to me. I only know that Gregg, with a cavalry division, went out on the Richmond road, to within six and one half miles of the city, and encountered a big crowd of infantry and had to come back. Barlow had to leave his division, sick, and go to friend Dalton, at City Point.

*It was Brig. Gen. Victor J. B. Girardey.

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. 222. 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. 214-16. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.