The (Secret) Life and Letters of General George Gordon Meade

By Major General George Gordon Meade
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: In the more than 100 years since his decease, the General has been busy reconstructing from memory his secret, lost letters which shed new light on topics of great interest to the members of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. He currently is living in Bloemfontein South Africa working on a complimentary biography of General D. E. Sickles (decs’d).

Act Natural Lee

May 2, 1869

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Today I accompanied General Howard, whom you will remember from West Point, to attend services at his church, the First Congregational at 10th and G streets. The regular minister preached his final sermon on Sunday last and has since departed under a cloud, taking half the congregation with him and alleging many improprieties by Howard who claims the cause of the split is to be found in their different desires for the future of the negro race, a question of integration versus independent development. He has always been quite the radical and remains a familiar of the Grant administration, for whom he heads the Bureau of Freedmen.

Speaking of Grant, I shall not soon forget the events of yesterday morning. The President was ensconced in the lobby at Willard’s and somehow espying me through the fog created by cigars and brandy even at such an early hour, insisted that I accompany him to the White House as he was expecting a person of great importance and of both our acquaintance. As we walked the two blocks of the city, Grant confided in me that the best of his former army staff such as Rollins, Dent, Porter, and Badeau were either with him at the White House or were named Sherman, which he found vastly amusing. Upon reaching his new home he inadvertently called the doorkeeper “Meade,” although that worthy servant politely corrected him to “Pendel” more than once as he slipped the chain to allow us entry to the second floor.

Leaving me quite alone in the secretary’s anteroom, Grant went into his office and closed the door. To my surprise, only one hour later John Motley, our former Ambassador to the Austrians, came into the room followed within a few minutes by none other than General Lee and a civilian couple. I rose at once and held out my hand, but he only gave me his hat, understandably confusing me with the absent secretary. All four personages then entered Grant’s office, and the door was once again closed. Grant made loud and boisterous sallies about destroying southern railroads, the inexplicable result at Gettysburg, had Lee visited the new cemetery at Arlington and the like, but Lee is soft-spoken and I was unable to hear his necessarily brief replies if any.

After no more than ten minutes, a visibly embarrassed General Lee and his party took their leave and he his hat from me with a brief word of thanks. Grant emerged, also flushed in the face, to say that he’d forgotten my presence but hoped I had enjoyed almost catching up with Lee for a change, before once again vanishing into his office. I sat for a time bemused by his behavior and then left to return to the hotel and my abandoned breakfast plans.

As I walked I fell to pondering why a subordinate commander humiliated at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg should obtain the honor of having a university named after him and a good position within a presidential administration, while another and more significant leader who shone at those same battles may receive no more recognition than a gold medal of Congress, an honorary law degree from Harvard, and an onerous military department.

My business here in that most tiresome matter of Reconstruction being almost concluded, I anticipate returning to Philadelphia on Tuesday next.

March Meadness

March 1, 1862

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Yesterday was a very disagreeable day, extremely cold, with a very high wind, and blustering weather. I was obliged to expose myself, standing in the wind from 9 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon, mustering the several regiments of my brigade.

We are all in the dark as to where or in what direction we march. I surmise (this is entre nous) that a force will be crossed below Alexandria, while Banks threatens Winchester and we advance on Centreville. If we can once get in their rear, I think we will have a comparatively easy victory, and we have so large a force that I do not see any difficulty in effecting this operation.

The morale of the men is superior to that of the rebel army, which remains in positions that are quite untenable in face of our overwhelming resources of men and materiel. Despite the grimness of the elements, our forces retain a cheerful disposition, though with overmuch gambling at cards and rather less thankfulness to our Maker than is appropriate. Your ears would blush to hear some of the language with which they chafe each other.

This very morning a group of cavalry from New York passed nearby and was treated to the usual disdain with which our infantry regards the beau sabreurs. “Come out from under those hats!” they shouted, “we can see your legs a-dangling down!” and other less salubrious comments. I had to send Kuhn to prevent fisticuffs, but such was the animosity of the rivals that it was necessary to divert them into less warlike competition.

Since the men have become fond of a game I invented called “peach basket,” I had each group form teams representing New York and Pennsylvania. The object of the game is to throw a gutta percha ball through a peach basket with the bottom removed, which is nailed high in a tree. In no time the men largely forgot their hostility and entered into the full spirit of healthful exercise. One cavalryman caused great hilarity when he wrapped a towel around his head and used some half-burnt sticks from last night’s fires to blacken his face and hands. He solemnly declared that he was a wizard from Araby, by name Kowell Abdul Jabar, which no amount of infantry could overwhelm. Despite this amusing performance, the man played the game most indifferently and retired in the early minutes, claiming injury.

I am proud to tell you that after an hour of exertion, my men outscored the cavalry by 22 peach baskets to 17. Regrettably, after the troopers rode off, some of our soldiers discovered that valuables had dislodged from their jackets, which they had carelessly cast aside during the game. Kuhn and I were puzzled that a diligent search of the ground yielded not so much as a penny piece.

However, I noted that these jackets were much smudged by charcoal, indicating too close a proximity to the campfires in these cold nights. I had Kuhn publish an order for the men to maintain a distance of 6 feet from any blaze, as the expense of replacing burned uniforms is an imposition upon government, to be recouped by subtraction from their pay.

Gone But Not for Cotton

February 13, 1865

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

There is no chance for peace now. The South has determined to fight another campaign, and it is to be hoped the North will be equally united, and turn out men to fill up all our present armies and form others at the same time. Grant returned from Washington today. He forgot to say anything about the court of inquiry into the Mine affair, so I have today telegraphed Mr. Stanton, asking him to have the proceedings published though without hope as to the result.

Mr. Stanton indeed is more adept at suppressing information that hurts his friends than in making public that which might aid those whom he does not favor, of which I may be counted one. I have it on excellent authority that a certain former cabinet member now occupying a most supreme judicial bench was revealed in December last to have secretly facilitated the cotton speculations of his son-in-law. Warren has it that this New England nabob, despite fabulous wealth, was trading contraband for cotton to the great benefit of the rebels in Texas and evading the blockade to keep his mills supplied. It was a captured blockade-runner who revealed his duplicity to the War Department.

Since this would embarrass the Administration, Mr. Stanton immediately sequestered the fellow and by some means not only ensured his silence but also caused government files on the matter to vanish. I do not say that either was destroyed but conclusions may be drawn. His methods ensured that the cabinet member concerned was confirmed in his new position, to the delight of his daughter whose higher ambitions have been thwarted at every step.

Had the member been brought to justice rather than elevated to it, no doubt Mr. Stanton would have urged a defense of insanity, which he invented some years prior to acquit a foul murderer who then repaid him by doing his best to lose the battle at Gettysburg. The outworking of the mighty Hand of Providence enabled me to overcome that impediment and defeat Lee, only for Mr. Stanton to deny me a court of inquiry in that matter also.

While his place at the War Department could scarcely be filled, I now wish that Mr. Stanton had accepted the President’s offer in November to become the new Chief Justice, as that would have filled a court vacancy now occupied by another. All of this of course must be held in strictest confidence. It would not do to have a repetition of the Johnson matter just a year ago, since which time Mr. Stanton, while cordial to my face, has given credit for all movements of this army to Grant and mentions my name not at all.

The Waring of the Green

Culpeper C.H.
October 4, 1863

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I have been very busy writing my report of the Battle of Gettysburg, which has been delayed till this time by the want of the reports of my subordinate commanders. I have at last got through with it and feel greatly relieved, although I have made it as short and simple as possible.

I find it most vexing that so many reports press upon me the necessity of recommending this or that man for commendation and promotion, particularly those written by mere captains and lieutenants in place of a wounded or dead colonel. The former give every appearance of believing my vocation to be the filling of such vacancies by elevating their particular friends. The examples to hand are those written from two New York regiments, which Kelly pressed upon me at the end of August. It is certainly the case that their losses at Fredericksburg and again in the wheat field at Gettysburg have left them with little other than vacancies, but I fear such will not be filled.

These same regiments were and remain, even in their decline, the most disorderly and contentious of my army, being composed of Irishmen of the lowest sort, imbued with the notion that the Federal government is engaged in training them up to return to their homeland and fight the English. Their bravery is beyond question; it is their intelligence of which I despair. I speak of the enlisted men only, as several of the officers are quite tolerable.

A story that Lyman related this afternoon is typical of the breed. During my vigorous pursuit of Lee after the battle, I had issued orders that any person found wandering out of camp after 7 p.m. should be presumed a rebel and shot. Lyman says that a sentry from one of the Irish regiments met up with an intoxicated fellow from the other regiment at about 6:30, and they conversed for quite a time until the man realized that he needed to get back to his tent lines at once. He turned to leave and the sentry shot and wounded him. When the duty sergeant asked why he fired on his friend when it was still but ten minutes before seven, the sentry replied, “Sure, I was just obeying orders. I know where his tent is and in his condition he could never have got there in less than twelve.”

Lyman laughed, but I saw nothing amusing in this act of illogic. The sentry clearly should have let the man proceed with a caution to beware. Over Lyman’s protests I ordered him to look into the affair and ensure that the sentry has been suitably punished. I believe I shall recommend only Gibbon and Buford for preferment.

Fire Down Pillow

May 1, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I am sorry for your trouble about the generals. Augur happened to be in my tent when I received your letter, and I told him of your distress. He said if you would send him the names of those you wished, he thought he could get their photographs for you. I will ask Sheridan for his. He is our new cavalry commander, and quite distinguished.

Grant is just now returned from Washington and confirmed to me the facts of the terrible massacre that your letter describes, as spoken of by the President as mere rumor when he addressed the Baltimore Sanitary Fair. The cabinet will now be forced to address the issue of retribution. Grant reminded me that the fort at which this occurred was constructed and named for Gideon Pillow, with whom we shared acquaintance in Mexico. Pillow escaped Grant at Donelson, having determined in his own mind that Grant wanted to capture him more than any man of the Confederacy. Grant says that had Pillow been taken, he would have released him at once since he would do the Union more good if he continued leading rebels in battle.

The same Pillow it was who attempted to take the credit for General Scott’s success and opposed his presidential aspiration so venomously. I remember that Scott said the man is entirely indifferent to matters of truth and falsehood. It is to be doubted that events at a fortress so associated with his name will differ in character from its creator.

Your raising the matter of Dahlgren and the unfortunate business at Richmond is not at all the same thing as a shameful massacre of unarmed prisoners, which will strenuously be denied by the Confederate authorities. It is true that I reluctantly but necessarily threw odium on Dahlgren. However, I was determined my skirts should be clear, so I promptly disavowed having ever authorized, sanctioned, or approved of any act not required by military necessity, and in accordance with the usages of war.

Should you send a list of generals to Augur, I do trust that the name of Hooker shall not appear within it. In the first instance, he has been with the Army of the Cumberland in the West for some time, and procuring his photograph is neither easy nor desirable. In the second, I remind you of his association in Mexico with Pillow and his clique, an odious connection. It is perhaps where Hooker learned to be seduced by flattery, even that kind encouraged by requests for personal items, and to blame others for his own failures at Chancellorsville.

I have to-night a note from a Mrs. Brown, 1113 Girard Street, on the Dry Goods Committee, asking for a lock of my hair, but I have been compelled to decline on the ground of the shortness of my locks. Perhaps you would be sufficiently kind as to send her my photograph in its stead.

Flash Back

Appomattox C.H.
April 10, 1865

To Mrs. George G. Meade

The telegram will have announced to you the surrender of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. I have been to-day in the rebel camp; saw Lee, Longstreet, and many others, all affable and cordial, and they uniformly said that, if any conciliatory policy was extended to the South, peace would be at once made. It seemed impolitic to draw attention to the reality and magnitude of my victory, so I drew aside with Gen’l Gordon who seemed desirous of private communication.

He pointed out a Union officer standing at some distance and enquired as to his name. I could barely make out the man’s features through the malarious catarrh, which has given me such a great deal of trouble. It is I am convinced aggravated by the reading of newspapers, which since this movement commenced are full of falsehood and of undue and exaggerated praise of certain individuals who take pains to be on the right side of the reporters.

The unknown officer, said Gordon, must be of importance for he was present in the house during the writing and signing of the surrender document. This does not at all follow, for Sheridan was there and I myself was not, the catarrh having prevented me from accepting Lee’s surrender earlier in the day, and which he was thus forced to offer to Grant in my stead. Gordon went on to say that the self-same officer, an Englishman by his accent, had attempted to surrender himself and the entire Union army in the early dawn this very day, claiming to believe that his (Gordon’s) assault had defeated me. Had that been, asked Gordon, some kind of subterfuge on my part? I looked more carefully at the man and there was in his bearing and the set of his whiskers, that which brought to mind Stuart or Custer at his most effulgent. But no name came to me.

Instead, it brought to mind an incident at Gettysburg so long ago that I had quite neglected to tell you of. After Lee’s futile charge on the third day, I found a brave colonel in gray laying almost at the entrance to my headquarters. He had reached farther than any other in that doomed assault by Pickett and lay like one dead. My orderly, Kowell, was removing his boot, the left I fancy, which seemed to rouse the fellow at once, kicking and struggling enough to earn himself the point of the bayonet had I not intervened. “Let loose this gallant colonel” I said “And be about your business!” The private moved off, and you may remember that I later found him greatly changed for the better by my comradely chastisement, saving the effects of young Wesley Culp on behalf of a sister.

The rebel colonel, miraculously recovered from his ordeal, told a wild tale of secret operations and produced a commission as major in the U.S. Army from inside the left boot, which lay now beside him. He was an Englishman as well, although the name escapes me. He was most anxious to report to authorities in New York City, so I sent him there with an escort and heard no more of him. He, too, had impressive whiskers. That was I suppose the connection made in my mind. It could not have been the same man at the surrender. As is the case with my victory over Lee, I don’t believe the truth ever will be known, and I have a great contempt for History. Only let the war be finished, and I returned to you and the dear children, and I will be satisfied.

Privacy Pleas

July 29, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Your letters of the 24th and 27th are written in very bad spirits, and I am tempted to scold you. I want you to recover your original elasticity of spirits which characterized the early days of our married life, when you were always sure something was going to turn up. I remember with much fondness those halcyon nights upon which something most definitely did. Perhaps when next I am allowed leave from this army to visit Philadelphia, I shall see to the scolding in person.

I thank heaven you never published any of my letters, and I trust your discretion will ever continue. It is the more appreciated, as many good people similarly situated have not exercised the same discretion, and many letters have been published which their authors would have given a great deal to have revised. There is that which is repugnant in the thought of privacies entre nous being subjected to the prurient gaze of sensationalists and grubbing journalists. Contrarily it may be that certain politically ambitious men and their wives, intent upon glossing their campaigns, will so shape their correspondence as to cause history to reflect more favorably upon them than do the bald facts. The truth of whom in reality has directed this army on the battlefield, except at Cold Harbor of course, will doubtless suffer from such revisions.

In writing to you, the wife of my bosom and the only confidential friend I have in the world, I have without doubt at times expressed opinions about men and things that would not be considered orthodox. It would perhaps be advisable to review your collection of my letters and expunge certain imprudencies, especially all mention of our dear old leather saddle and the incident involving Kilpatrick, molasses, and undergarments. Of course, this very letter should be irrevocably disposed of once you have read it.

I can hardly believe our letters are opened en route, as you suspect. I can see no object to be gained, and the crime is so heinous I cannot believe any one would be guilty of it. I recall there was much excitement among the army in January last year upon a report prevailing that the provost marshal of Washington, or rather the head of the detective police in his department, is in the habit of systematically opening the letters received and written by officers. I cannot believe that any government in the world would take advantage of such confidential intercourse. But what are truths and facts against political and personal malice and vindictiveness above which some persons are unable to rise?

To-morrow we make an attack on Petersburg. I am not sanguine of success as my orderly brought rumor of our great leader scouting the enemy fortifications through the lens of a bottle rather than that of a telescope. We must hope for the best.

Born to Rum

January 14, 1865

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I am sorry to hear what you write people say of Grant, because it is unjust, and I do not approve of injustice to any one. Indeed, I have heard of no scandal involving cigars and one of his admirers, though many such present boxes to him, just as I told you Mrs. Lyman had recently supplied me. I can scarce imagine of what these rumors consist, since your circumlocutory enquiry offers no guidance. The public obsession with gossiping Grant’s every move or utterance, and now his smoking habits, is entirely repugnant to me.

I have observed that of late he has managed to seat himself on horseback without undue incident, insofar as this year is concerned at least. Warren passed on to me that during my absence in Philadelphia, Grant has much improved his manufacture of toothpicks. He applies his knife and reduces any handy piece of wood to splinters, all the while muttering under his breath and glancing malevolently at Rawlins. I begin to doubt Warren, for he also is the source of a story that Grant, returned briefly home for Christmas, nailed to his mantelpiece an empty whisky crate. This is patently ridiculous and baseless, for Mrs. Grant would never countenance such damage to the furnishings.

Grant undoubtedly has lost prestige, owing to his failure to accomplish more, but as I know it has not been in his power to do so, I cannot approve of unmerited censure, any more than I approved of the fulsome praise showered on him before the campaign commenced. It is clear that Fortune attends him in this campaign. Even his frequent tendency to stagger to his left has served him well, as Lee, being a gentleman, has not yet determined this to be a permanency of Grant’s locomotion. He is forced to maintain a watch also upon our right flank, not crediting that a lurch in that direction is as little likely as Senator Chandler embracing me in the second parlor at Willard’s.

It is hardly necessary I should tell you how much I have suffered since I left you. All I can do is earnestly to pray God to have mercy on dear Sergeant and yourself, and to give you strength to bear up under the affliction you are visited with. My heart is too full to write more.

Incoming Attacks

9 A.M., May 25, 1864

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

I received your note in due course of mail, but was so busy at the time I could not reply. It was hardly necessary for you to write that you would do anything in my defense, because I always fully count on you. I do not anticipate any repercussions from the affair of the house, but should such occur I shall certainly apprise you at once. Mrs. Meade, abetted by her mother, has disregarded my decision and accepted the gift of the house at DeLancey Place, not upon my behalf but upon her own. I acted on the general principle that a public man makes a mistake when he allows his generous friends to reward him with gifts, but the affair is settled, and it is too late to decline.

What think you of this doggerel that another anonymous friend proposes to publish in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, which is the very sort of thing that I feared? Upon the soil which he did save, From ravages of Rebel hate, A mansion, well adorned they gave, Unto the hero’s mate, etc. etc. It is to be hoped that the commissioner of Internal Revenues in Washington City does not take up that same newspaper, as I have heard it bruited about that even an undesired gift may attract taxation, as if the current 3% is not contribution enough. I hasten to add that it is of course a great pleasure to financially support the just cause upon which we are engaged.

Even so, a brigadier on regular army pay can scarce afford the upkeep of mansions. To this end I have negotiated with Old Baldy, and he has agreed to contribute 3% of his forage allowance of $16 per month. Upon my long overdue promotion to major general, his pay would increase to $20, and he shall keep the difference, in oats at least.

If our friends in Congress achieve compromise in the promised new revenue act, my own emoluments may be free of tax entirely. I understand that it was Justice Taney who last year gave his opinion, though not ex cathedra so to speak, that the taxing of judges and federal officers violates the separation of powers established by the Constitution. I suppose holders of a commission in the Federal Army are counted officers, and on this rest my hope and expectation.

It is a matter of great regret to me that Sheridan will not be so fortunate, for although he is an officer, there is another category under which he will remain exposed, as jugglers are a taxable class. The current code states quite clearly that every person who performs by sleight of hand shall be regarded as a juggler. How else can one explain the accidental death of Stuart as Sheridan blundered around Virginia trying to find his way home?

The weather is beginning to be hot, but I keep in the saddle during the day and sleep soundly at night.

Whoopee Cushing

January 17, 1865

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Today we have the news that the second expedition has succeeded in taking Fort Fisher, which is a most important and brilliant success. Of particular interest to you will be the activity of William, brother of young Alonzo Cushing, who died so gallantly at Gettysburg. I still dream occasionally that had things been different, it may have been I in that stark tableau, the bullet-wracked hero supported in the arms of that German as they fought their gun on and on. I would be the German of course.

Fort Fisher will have a most damaging effect on Butler’s case and Weitzel’s. Butler’s report on the first fiasco, that they were not commanded to siege, is contradicted by Grant’s written orders that if the assault proved impracticable, they should entrench and hold on. There will, no doubt, be bitter controversy on these points, as Butler will not permit his dismissal to go unchallenged.

Terry’s lengthy telegraph, which I happened to glance at today on Grant’s desk during his absence, will materially injure Cushing’s reputation. I must confess that Terry spoke fulsomely of him in every particular except two. First, Cushing failed to rally his sailors, who scuttled all the way back to the shoreline despite the availability of breastworks they had themselves constructed. Second, the storied hero of the Albemarle remained on the beach for hours nursing wounded men and complaining of back trouble. He was challenged by an officer of infantry and thereupon made great demonstrations of gathering sailors for a final desperate assault, but the sight of our flag erected over the fallen works by the Army relieved him of this expedient.

Cushing’s position as darling of the newspapers and of Mr. Lincoln will no doubt result in the suppression of that report. It is mere repetition of the Albemarle, where he had two killed, all the rest taken prisoner and himself the only one who returned from the expedition with news of his tremendous skill and bravery. I say no more, but conclusions may be drawn. Upon crushing Lee in Pennsylvania, had I stood alone on the cemetery heights with the loss of 100% of my force, the talk would all be of Committees and not commendations.

I made no mention of it before, but on my return to City Point on the 9th, the night was dark and foggy, and we were run into by a schooner. Fortunately, the damage was confined to the upper works, and although four men died, we received no important injury and our boat continued on. Grant has been away for three days, to parts unknown, though I suppose Wilmington.

Anglos Aweigh

February 11, 1862

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

Some few days ago I had an invitation from General McCall to lunch with him, which I accepted. McCall thinks France and England will recognize the Southern Confederacy and interfere in their behalf. I was not of his opinion, unless we should fail in the next six months to make any further progress in suppressing the revolution. McCall responded that he doubted it would not take longer than six months or less for such a General-in-Chief as McClellan to fail, which I found most encouraging.

Indeed, last evening I called with a friend at McClellan’s house, but we were told at the door that he was indisposed. We then repaired to a liquor store kept by the author Mr. Fred. S. Cozzens, who finds liquor selling more profitable than literature. Having read his work, I confess to an unworthy hope that he should not sire any offspring with literary pretensions, as such a small talent is sure to peter out in successive generations.

At Cozzen’s I was introduced to a member of Congress and others, discussed a bottle of champagne and then another of claret, and talked over the affairs of the day. Much interest in regard to foreign intervention was expressed. It was soon merrily resolved that when the present rebellion was dealt with, an invasion of Canada would be mounted. This being preferable to a repeat of our Mexican adventure, should the truculence of the French lead to their intervention there.

As to the British, we have had one or two John Bulls visit our camps. You would have been delighted to see the admirable display of whiskers, fine clothes, etc. Entre nous, the accents and attitudes of these worthies render their disastrous perambulations in the Crimea more readily understandable.

It seems we have little to fear from such dandies, whereas their navy may be composed of more resolute and dangerous stalwarts. I recall your enthusiasm for the “Jolly Jack Tars” whom you met when one of Her Majesty’s ships was berthed in Brooklyn Yard. Do you not think they are altogether harder men than their counterparts of the army?

The feeling here is one of hope despite the aching of certain heads this morning. There, I have told you the whole of my town spree.

No Woman, No Spy

April 24, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Cram and John Cadwalader arrived yesterday afternoon. To-day Cram went to church with me, where we heard an excellent sermon from a Mr. Adams, a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman from New York. He spoke of Rahab and the spies sent into Jericho by the Jews, which quite put me in mind of that Annie Jones of whom I recently wrote. Perhaps there is something about the most ancient profession that lends itself to such intrigues.

Cram believes that his deep acquaintance of the city of New York has fitted him to discern the baser motives behind female wiles. He spent much of the evening subjecting each passing soldier to intense scrutiny to discover any disguised members of the fairer sex. One of these men took to passing slowly back and forth with such suspicious regularity that I considered sending for the provost. However, he eventually spoke closely to Cram, placing his arm around Cram’s shoulders in that rough comradely fashion I have often observed amongst the men in the dim light of dying campfires. Cram appeared embarrassed and refused to divulge the conversation other than to report his certainty that the soldier was neither woman nor spy.

Providentially, at that moment the pickets passed on to me a negro woman who had endeavored to pass through the camp quite openly carrying a basket of flowers, vegetables, and eggs. Obviously she had not expected to be confronted by Cram and myself, engaged in a deadly spy hunt, and she became almost incoherent with fear. She confessed to bearing messages for one Vanloo of Richmond, and since it was clear she had no choice in the matter, I merely confiscated her basket and sent her back toward Richmond with a stern warning to her master.

The edibles I gave to the cook for my mess table, although he later reported one or two of the eggs quite useless, probably to cover the fact that he ate them himself. Cram took the flowers and decided to go alone for a late night walk around the camp. I had never before known him interested in blossoms.

Tomorrow I will send my orderly, Kowell, with old Baldy to Philadelphia. He will never be fit again for hard service, and I thought he was entitled to better care than could be given to him on the march. I refer of course to the horse.

Forrest Cump

August 24, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I see you have heard of the promotion of Sherman, Hancock, and Sheridan, and noted the absence of my name. I determined to keep quiet till I could obtain some explanation from General Grant, the substance of which is that he desired to advance his two favorites. He had only three places to give, and having recommended Hancock before Sheridan, he could not now hitch the latter’s train to a different Pennsylvania engine. Personal ambition forming no part of my character, I shall say no more of this matter.

I know nothing of Sherman other than what I read in the papers. Early in the war he became so distempered by imaginary rebels that he returned to Ohio to rest his nerves. Under his wife’s care he achieved such calmness of mind that he ignored dire warnings at Shiloh, left his lines unprotected, and was overwhelmed by real rebels. That was followed by failures at Chickasaw Bayou and Missionary Ridge before he engaged upon his campaign to frighten Joe Johnston back to Atlanta.

Entre nous, Warren alleges that the debacle at Kennesaw was undertaken to distract attention from Grant’s bungling at Cold Harbor. I feel almost certain this is but a malicious jest. In any event, there can be no doubt of the outcome. Sherman will wrest Atlanta from Hood, whereupon Grant may bring him east to this army as he did Sheridan.

I have taken the liberty of sending Sherman a box of English chocolate sweets and a few lines of congratulation on his promotion. I also urged upon him that once Atlanta is ours and fairly won, he should relinquish his communications and drive one of his armies through Georgia to the sea. He is skilled at marching where Confederates are scarce to be found. He is unlikely to take the bait, but one never knows what one might get.

We have had some pretty hard fighting to secure our lodgement on the Weldon Railroad. Grant and Warren are the heroes of the affair, although Grant was sixteen miles away and knew nothing but what was reported to him by myself.

In Order of Disappearance

Burkettsville, VA
April 27, 1865

To Mrs. George G. Meade

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.

Before this arrives, you shall have heard the news received this morning of the capture and untimely demise of John Wilkes Booth, the actor, after desperate chasings through the mud of Maryland and Virginia. Should the lesser conspirators maintain silence, we may never know the impulses of that rich and handsome young man. I cannot imagine the motives of the perpetrators of such foul deeds, or what they expect to gain.

You must remember meeting him at a rather desperate soiree of Canning’s, who found it more lucrative to be Booth’s agent than to improve upon his practice of law in Philadelphia. How providential that I did not take up Booth’s offer to join him and his musical friend from Cleveland, whose name I have misplaced, in the Dramatic oil company. You chided me upon their early success, but remained quite silent when they accidentally exploded their only well, the Wilhelmina, in November last. Booth lost his entire investment. Perhaps there is a connection between the oil business and the mad assassination of the President. The whole affair is a mystery. Let us pray God to have mercy on our country and bring us through these trials.

I may tell you of an odd occurrence last night. A disreputable character was escorted to my tent shortly after one in the morning. He was clad in farmer’s rags, leaning heavily on a stick, for his leg was injured, and gave altogether the impression of a man anxious to avoid prolonged examination. Not yet having word of Booth’s fate, there was much excitement spread through the camp that this was the fugitive. Crowds of soldiers gathered to hear my stern interrogation.

The man said he was a Union soldier, medically discharged at Petersburg, by name John St. Helen from Texas. This accounted for his southern accent, but he was unable to explain why his left hand bore a tattoo, which I made out as JWB, though it was recently much scratched about and scarred. Unaware that Booth was already dead, I sensed that a great and signal triumph was to be mine. I was saved from embarrassment by Private Kowell, who astutely observed that the tattoo might not read JWB if examined from another angle. I saw at once that 8MI could indicate the confederate 8th Mississippi. Taxed with this, St. Helen admitted that I was too sharp. He was a sergeant of that regiment, of company K, the Ellsler Invincibles, he said with a curious smile. Something about that name was strangely familiar but, given my successful closure of the war, I graciously dismissed him to continue his forlorn journey to Texas.

I hope I may not one day regret promoting Kowell to sergeant for his deed. This morning’s telegraph confirms Booth’s death, but also lists the 8th Mississippi as giving their parole just yesterday at Greensboro, North Carolina. A man without a wounded leg could not reach Burkettsville from there so swiftly, and it is not at all on the way to Texas. It must be that he made an early exit when it was clear that all was lost, and that at first he went quite in the wrong direction, until I set him properly on the road.

Purple Hayes

April 18, 1864

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

You would be amused to see the worshipping of the rising sun by certain officers in this army, but Grant behaves very handsomely and refers to me all the communications he gets from my axe-grinding subordinates. He also passed to me a letter from General Lee, endorsing photographic copies of papers found on Colonel Dahlgren, and asking whether Dahlgren’s superior officers authorized “the burning of Richmond, or killing Mr. Davis and Cabinet.” I, however, returned him a letter from Kilpatrick, in which the authenticity of the papers was impugned. But I regret to say Kilpatrick’s reputation, and collateral evidence in my possession, rather go against this theory. Kilpatrick, along with Custer, represents much that is wrong with our cavalry leadership.

Private Kowell recently brought to my tent one Rutherford Hayes of Ohio, found wandering sans jacket, trousers, and wallet. The General was visiting Washington from the Kanawhans and claims to have fallen in with Kilpatrick outside Ford’s Theatre, where he habitually escorts a certain kind of woman. Evidently Hayes partook of liquor, quite without intent, and slept in the arms of someone other than Morpheus. He awoke on a railroad car not far from Culpeper, lacking in certain personal articles.

Hayes claims to be a teetotaler and of high moral standard, having designs on the Senate and perhaps the presidency. One may think such attributes would rather disqualify him from either situation, whereas Grant might eminently suit. I provided Hayes with trousers from Lyman’s chest, along with a few dollars in the pockets, and sent him back to George Crook on a pony that Kowell swears he also found wandering loose near camp. Should this tale ever be told publicly, and I adjure you to keep it secret between us, it is quite likely that Hayes’ ambitions in Washington will be as undone as his nether garment.

I cannot think what persuaded me to reinstate Kowell as my orderly. Hayes believes, though he could not swear to it, that Kowell was present at Ford’s and carried bottles on behalf of the officers. It was Kilpatrick who suggested Kowell as my orderly in 1862, assuring me of his probity. But it was rumored soon after Gettysburg that the private was instrumental in introducing a certain Annie Jones to the General.

This female person, of less than twenty years, was seen dressed in the uniform of a major, and in a strange reversal of roles rode a little mare provided her by Kilpatrick. There was intrigue between her and other offices including Custer, and even allegations of nocturnal contact with rebels. Kilpatrick reported her to me as a rebel spy. I had the woman arrested by the provost, wailing that she was falsely accused by Kilpatrick, because she had broadcast that Custer was bigger than he. Such a patently ridiculous story was quite rightly dismissed, because the relative heights of the two men are clearly evident and could be no possible cause of any ill-feeling.

Sully Last Summer

March 6, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I returned from Washington to-day. The night before I left here I saw Mr. Wilkeson’s attack on me in the Senate and Reverdy Johnston’s reply and defense. When I reached Washington I was greatly surprised to find the whole town talking not of the conspiracy against me but of certain grave accusations against a General Sully made in a periodical. It appears that in September last, Sully led cavalry against a Siouxan village in the Dakotas and is said to have killed women and children with as little regard for decency as Sickles has for the truth.

I would not mention this to you except that some years ago we made acquaintance with Sully’s father, Thomas Sully, the English artist. You will recall that painful moment in July 1855, when he was first introduced to you as a painter. You enquired innocently whether he had been engaged to improve the color of the homes of any in our circle. The gentleman with him, his son-in-law John Wheeler of North Carolina, was most amused by your “fox-paw.” However, he was not laughing later that evening when the abolition fellow Williamson and his ultra friends went down to Bloodgood’s1, and made off with his slave woman and her children. I think this proves my contention that nothing good comes of frequenting hotels of a lesser class.

The woman, whose name I cannot recall, later lodged with Lucretia2 and made quite a fool of Kane3, much to the annoyance of The Pennsylvanian and the democratic element. As you know, I have ever desired to sail between the whirlpool of those who would have slavery everywhere and the rock of those who would have none anywhere. After two years of this bloody rebellion, having seen the condition of these poor creatures for whom we now fight, I incline to the opinion that Williamson had the moral, if not the legal, right to do as he did.

The negro has quite earned the sympathy of many middle people such as myself, and will, after suitable training and discipline, make a creditable soldier. I doubt that any, having themselves experienced loss of wives and children, would so readily execute the judgment of battle upon sleeping innocents in Indian tipis. For my part, I now believe that negroes have earned the same respect due to all humankind as equal partners in God’s creation.

I suppose you have seen by the papers that I have been confirmed as a brigadier general in the regular army. Following a modest celebration tonight, we shall go over to one of the neighboring camps, where the soldiers are going to have a negro minstrel exhibition.

1. Bloodgood’s Hotel in Camden Ferry, PA.
2. Lucretia Mott lived at 338 Arch St., Phila., PA.
3. John Kane, Federal Judge, sentenced Williamson to jail.

Mumms the Word

March 2, 1865, late P.M.

To Mrs. George G. Meade

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. He has been gone since the week before Christmas and brings with him a case or two of champagne, by way of apology for neglecting my birthday.

There is nothing new in the camp, except you may tell George the Third Infantry has reported and is doing guard duty at headquarters in place of the “red legs,” as he dubbed them last year. Lyman was so taken by this inventive naming that he spent some considerable portion of his leave devising a new amusement, the collection and listing of curious names for regiments. With no more pressing matters to hand, these he read out tonight in my mess, asking our visitors their opinion as to the derivation of these names.

There are no less than three regiments which rejoice in the appellation “Persimmon,” including the 100th Indiana. That unfortunate state also boasts a 1st Artillery known as the “Jackass” regiment, which one trusts is rather more to do with their beasts than with their brains. Lyman placed my own 13th Pennsylvania “Bucktails” on his list, but remembering with affection their two weeks in my first command at the start of the rebellion, I banned their continued inclusion.

I allowed him to retain the 140th Pennsylvania infantry, who were once so burdened by huge Vincennes rifles that they were unable to discard the cruel jibes of “Walking Artillery.”

Iowa laid claim to two fine candidates, viz. the 24th “Temperance” and the 37th “Graybeards,” the latter of which Lyman avers are required to be above the age of 45 years, limiting their active service to guarding railroads close to home.

From his own part of the world, Lyman has collected the 16th Connecticut “Plymouth Pilgrims” and the 10th Light Artillery of Massachusetts, known as “Sleeper’s.” I did not find this at all amusing, especially as he tiresomely repeated that they must be the “Light Sleeper’s.” We worked our way through a mixed bag of New Jersey Third Cavalry “Butterflies” and 8th Wisconsin “Eagles,” with every one guessing that the first was once gaudily uniformed. No one deduced that the latter proudly display an imprisoned bald eagle, disrespectfully named “Abe,” as it appears to me.

The sensation of the evening came when Lyman gave the nom de guerre of the 26th Ohio, to wit, the “Ground Hogs.” He says the regiment is so taken with its ability to dig tremendous holes without tools that they see no shame in boasting a similarity to a verminous rodent. Such a sentiment is of course unremarkable in the western armies.

Warren surprised our party by declaring it local lore in Pennsylvania, though how he heard of it I cannot speculate, that at about this time of year, if a ground hog sees its own shadow it presages six more weeks of winter. Perhaps, he announced to a general silence, if the boys from Ohio see their shadows there will be six further weeks of conflict, with the greatest event of the century to be expected on April 15th. I am determined that Lyman’s champagne is to be strictly rationed at table in future.

The Overland Campaign: A Stud In Command

August 9, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I had a letter to-night from Cortlandt Parker reporting that Stanton, who is an enthusiastic admirer of Grant, says that Grant has a most exalted opinion of me. Grant told Stanton that when he first came east he thought Sherman was the first soldier in the country, but now he believed I was Sherman’s equal, if not superior. I certainly think Grant has a queer way of showing his appreciation, and I learn only at third hand of these improvements in his powers of reasoning. Contemplating the past months, despite the ignorance of journalists, reflected among certain Senators at Washington, I really do believe that I have wrought a change in Grant.

Entre nous, at supper last Wednesday, Warren made an obscure remark that Sherman and Sheridan were Grant’s favorites simply because their names commenced with the ‘sh’ sound that Grant found so congenial. Upon my enquiry, nothing would do for Warren but to sit at table muttering “shertainly shir,” which convulsed the table but left me nonplussed, as to my knowledge Grant does not number a speech impediment among his weaknesses.

Have you ever thought that since the first week after Gettysburg, now more than a year, I have never been alluded to in public journals except to abuse and vilify me? And why this is I have never been able to imagine. Grant and Sherman are puffed up in periodicals, but it cannot be argued that either of them has achieved success against a foe remotely comparable to Lee. No other commander has so mauled and baffled the famous Lee, a task which my army continues even now, with Grant taking all the credit of course.

Who after all is Beauregard, and who are Pemberton and Bragg? True, Grant has a certain plodding tenacity and a disregard for withdrawal and defeat, words which, like temperance and grace, are not within his lexicon. As for Sherman, he is opposed by a man indelicately referred to by some as “Littler Mac Joe,” against whom I venture even Butler would shine. Were it not for an accident at Pittsburgh Landing, which removed the somewhat capable General A. S. Johnston at the very moment he was sweeping them from the field, our two lions would today be roaring even further to the west, escorting government incompetents to defraud the Indian tribes.

Whatever is said today, you can be sure that time and history will vindicate my reputation. Future generations will debate the facts of our various campaigns with dispassion. They cannot fail to acknowledge that Grant and Sherman, measured against lesser foes, are not at all of the same quality as the victor at Gettysburg. Indeed, if Lee is lauded as the finest general of the Confederacy, and yet it is my army that drives his to its death, then there is only one candidate for recognition as the preeminent commander of this entire rebellion.

There was an awful explosion to-day at City Point of a powder and ammunition vessel. It is said sixty were killed and one hundred and fifty wounded. The weather continues awfully hot, but the army is in good health.

Free Soldiers and the Negro

June 12, 1846

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Since the date of my last letter but little has occurred worthy of remark, and I have time to reflect upon the country and peoples with which I have recently become acquainted. The Mexicans are much as anticipated. Though claiming origin from a country where-in a most superior sort of person may be born, they are a very different race from the hardy mountaineers of Spain. Their mixture with the Indian and negro race render them listless, destitute of the energy necessary for any useful employment. I have not much to say of Indians, for these are well content to maintain distance from our pickets and vedettes. There is a large number of negroes around this place, of which a surprising proportion are desirous of being recruited to our 2,000 volunteers, which is quite impossible.

The latter had hardly been on the ground three days before the men began to mutiny at their legitimate duty. Gentlemen from Louisiana, owning plantations and negroes, came here as common soldiers, and then revolt at the idea of drawing their own water and cutting their own wood. They would make use of the natural ability of negroes as servants, but even to permit such to wear a uniform would be inimical to good order.

We have learned that an ignorant and shiftless people taken from the practices of their usual life and given license by the government to wear uniforms and bear arms are not to be trusted. Every day complaints are made, of this man’s cornfield being destroyed, or another man’s fences being torn down for firewood, or an outrage committed on some inoffensive person, by drunken volunteers, and above all those from Texas are the most outrageous.

I met a young German, Count Blucher, the nephew of the old Field Marshal, who expressed the greatest disgust for Texas due to the people you are obliged to associate with. He describes Texans as having all the bad traits of the Spanish and Italian banditti without their amenity of manners and partial refinement. I fancy his account is very nearly true, and they constitute about the very worst specimen of our population.

Such persons, whether unschooled Texans or refined Louisianans, should not hold negroes in any form of servitude and must learn, sooner or later, to perform their own labor. Soldiering is no play, and those who undertake it must make up their minds to hard times and hard knocks.

To-day a number of the officers of the army got up a dinner in town, and you may be assured it was a most jolly time. A great quantity of wine was imbibed, and an infinite amount of patriotism resulted, besides the most gracious and insincere compliments of Volunteers to Regulars and Regulars to Volunteers, etc., etc.

Copper Headcase

Sunday, August 9, 1863

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

I note what you report as the secession talk of New York; the same thing has been said in the Times, Tribune, and Herald. If the draft is not heartily responded to, the Government had better make up its mind to letting the South go. Don’t misunderstand me; I am nothing of a copperhead. I am for a vigorous prosecution of the war as evidenced by my pursuit of Lee.

Up to the present time over twenty regiments have left this army, and recruited by only one hundred and twenty miserable creatures, a dozen of whom were discharged from old regiments for physical disability. Four of them had mental incapacity and delirium tremens the day they joined, presumably having served in the western armies, where alcohol and breakdowns of nerves are not uncommon.

I hear from officers who have been in Washington that the President offered the command of this army to Grant, who declined it, but recommended Sherman. Thus the lion of the hour avoids trying his mettle against competent Confederate generals and soldiery, even though near annihilation after their salutary defeat in Pennsylvania. Should the President determine to bring Sherman to this army, it is to be expected that I shall be sent west. Grant shall be superseded, for I shall require sufficient elevation in rank as to make no doubt in any mind as to the rights of command.

Grant would be a suitable replacement for Halleck, whose abilities were never in question, and whose performance met my full expectation of him, as evidenced by the offensive telegraphs sent me after Gettysburg. As opposed to Halleck’s running of messages on behalf of the President, I have received very handsome letters from Generals McClellan and Pope. They thoroughly endorse my strategy against Lee, which both assure me comports with their own analysis of the situation. Having experienced myself the distortions of reality suffered by a commanding general, I really begin to believe that Pope may have been ill-served by some of our eastern officers. However that may be, he remains proof that a fine reputation is more easily gained on the Ohio than on the Potomac.

In relation to fine reputations, I have had Warren made a major general and George’s friend, Colonel Canard, a brigadier. The latter may have cause to regret this honor as it occasions some merriment in the ranks. Instigated by that rascal Kowell, who is rumored to have befriended a certain French woman amongst the followers, the men have taken to yelling out “Duck!” every time Canard rides past. The poor fellow has begun flinching, even though far from any hostile activity, and gives every evidence of an imbalance of the brain. Perhaps the President can be prevailed upon to transfer him to Grant’s army, where he shall find his companions more congenial.

Seen Two, Took One

December 3, 1863

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I enclose you a curious correspondence just received to file among the historical papers of the war. Poor Mr. Holstein has committed a very bold act, and I fear it will not be long before he will have to repent. I have written him a letter of thanks and sent him my photograph, my hair being too gray to display in Bridgeport and my coats requiring all the buttons they have on them. Is not this a funny world?

You may wonder from what source I obtained the likeness of myself, knowing as you do my settled antipathy to any form of self-publication. You may recall my habit of late to go afoot incognito amongst the men in the evenings. Accompanied only by Lyman and a half-dozen other members of my staff, I am thus permitted free and unrecognized access to the common soldiers. On occasion, which would amuse you to hear, I adopt a kind of Scottish brogue, asking questions of the soldiers to discover their morale. Last night I approached a huddled group of men staring fixedly at something flickering in the firelight, held by one of them. They were breathing hard as if from long exercise, perhaps a healthful dash around the perimeter. “Och noo. What is this?” I asked, in genial fellow-warrior tones.

The group practically collapsed around me in various stages of terror until they recognized that myself and my seven companions were of their own kind. One of them, which turned out to be private Kowell, had been holding some pieces of paper, evidently the object of their fascination, which he had immediately thrust into his pocket. “Hello Jock” he said to me, with a broad wink, and thus you will note the splendid effectiveness of my persona! I asked him to share his amusement with me, whereupon he cast a peculiar glance at his companions and produced the small sheaf of papers, although it did appear to be from a differing pocket. Firelight is notoriously deceptive, which I am sure is a great aid to my mummery. He showed me the papers, which were a mixture of a few photographs and several rather poorly executed sketches of myself. Holding these firmly in his left hand, he used the fingers of his right hand to riffle through the pictures, to amazing effect. For all the world there was the similitude of movement as this “General Meade” doffed his hat, bowed, and then replaced the hat upon his head.

“Splendid fun,” I said, “but surely at first you had a different set of papers which from a distance looked like pictures of a lady, och noo?” Kowell said he was showing his friends a similar moving picture of his mother back in Ireland, a subject in which I had no interest. He gave me one photograph of myself as a token of friendship to a comrade, saying “Here is a picture of the best commander the Army of the Potomac currently has.” Really he may deserve some elevation from the ranks, and I shall consider what may be his reward.

You will be intrigued to learn that Lyman, no mean sketcher himself, speculates that one day there will come a public lantern show, a kinegraph he called it, depicting important events such as the battle at Gettysburg. I fear that if such should come to pass in our lifetimes, then a devotee of Sickles will influence the manufacture, so that I shall nowhere be found within it.

Maligned and Blame

December 7, 1863

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I am yet on the anxious bench. To-day I have sent in my official report, in which I have told the plain truths, acknowledged the movement of November 26th to December 1st was a failure, but claimed the causes were not in my plans, but in the want of support and co-operation on the part of subordinates. It was the same lack of tenacity shown by certain corps commanders after the battle in Pennsylvania. In fact, the general* who claimed to have saved the army there by standing without movement is one and the same who ruined my perfect plans to bring Lee to battle last week by once again standing still!

I have received by special courier a few lines from General Lee in which he sympathizes with me in the failure, but says he is satisfied I have done right, and he hopes I will not resign but hold on till the last. It would not be wise for us to advert to such an indorsement, so this must remain entre nous. Gettysburg was not good to Lee either. His note reminded me that we were both hampered in the execution of our strategy by a lack of intelligence. Lyman explains that this is a reference to Sickles on the one side and to Jeb Stuart on the other, with which I heartily concur.

I have often wished that the geographic positions of those two persons on July 2nd last had been reversed, as our gallant soldiery stifled Stuart with greater ease than I have yet managed with Sickles. Neither of them was where their General ordered, and so two great army commanders to this very day must contend with ignorant criticism of their dispositions. This especially from those who never were on such a field of battle, but instead chew their fictions over dinner and employ their pens to excuse the errors of mediocrities while condemning their superiors, such as Lee and myself, who are blameless.

Even so, Lee is too discretionary in much of his orders and thereby Stuart wandered somewhat further than either intended. Such will never happen to me, as I am much accustomed to keeping tight control over my cavalry. I should perhaps not offer Lee advice on this in reply to his note, as it would improve his generalship to my detriment and to that of the country.

This reminds me that the Herald is constantly harping on the assertion that Gettysburg was fought by the corps commanders and the common soldiers, and that no generalship was displayed. I suppose after a while it will be discovered I was not at Gettysburg at all!

The lies of the Herald are totally scotched by some rather illiterate lines penned by Private Kowell, in which he earnestly assures me that the rank and file has as much confidence as ever in my ability to command. They at least know where blame for failure and delay is to be spread.

*General G.K. Warren

Too Many McCooks

August 19, 1862

To Mrs. George G. Meade

My yesterday’s letter announced to you my arrival at this place and my being once more in harness. Burnside also returned this morning and received me very cordially. He is quite different from McClellan in his manners, having great affability and a winning way with him that attracts instead of repelling strangers.

He is brim full of the exploits of his “army” at New Bern, in March, and is most handsome in the giving of credit to others, particularly Rodman. Burnside declares the mud and fog were more annoying than the Confederates, and says he learned much from it and will never so struggle against the elements again.

Burn was amused by the exploits of a sailor, one Roderick McCook, a lieutenant off the Stars and Stripes, who bravely trundled various pieces of naval ordnance through the mire the infantry had created. McCook is from a large Ohio tribe, of which some two or three dozen have taken up arms, almost sufficient to invest Richmond upon their own.

This McCook lays claim to the capture of an entire rebel regiment at New Bern. If true, he has outdone McClellan, and he and his guns should be seconded at once to Pope, who should be grateful to have a man who can identify the frontal elevation of the enemy.

Pope continues his fearsome advance upon Richmond in the apparent belief that it is somewhere north of Baltimore. Sturgis has taken to referring to him as “McPope,” declaring that the man must have Scotch-Irish ancestors, for his performance is first cousin to that of McDowell and McClellan. Sturgis has a habit of collaring those he believes to be sound and exclaiming that he would not exchange a pinch of owl business for Pope. He claims Porter quipped it would be a fair exchange for whoever ended up with the owl waste. I fear their wit may soon be recorded against them.

The mention of worthless Irish puts me in mind of Kilpatrick and a gift I received of him before his most recent departure to Pope. He has bequeathed me an orderly, an Ohio man, enlisted in the Second New York, although Kilpatrick says that he doesn’t know one end of a horse from the other.

He must be mistaken, for Private Kowell shows an excessive interest in officers’ horses, filling a notebook with the names and locations, how well they are guarded &c. When I asked his purpose, he blurted out that he has never, even once, assisted Kilpatrick to misappropriate a horse!

One has so little evidence of coherent thought in the ranks, but this particular non sequitur left me breathless. It is too early to know whether I shall keep him with me, having been quite satisfied with John thus far. However that may be, I must now replace several officers and many men killed and wounded on the Peninsula, but no one that you know particularly. The health of the army, at least of our division, is very fair — some little bilious attacks and diarrhea, but nothing serious.

Shaw to Shore

10 P.M., July 18, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

We were quite on the qui vive last night from the reports of deserters, who said we were to be attacked early Monday. We considered this great news and most impatiently awaited the assault, feeling confident we can whip twice our numbers if they have the hardihood to advance. Lyman slept badly in half his clothes and very nearly shared a tent with his horse, so anxious was he to miss nothing. He was chagrined to have had nothing to miss! The thing was given up it appears, for so many deserters had told us of it.

Rode out to Spicer’s early this morning to inspect the new flank defenses and met up with General Ferrero and his colored troops of the ninth corps, who have the task of building the slashings and parapet. They are to guard the works until such time as we find it necessary to place reliable soldiers to man them. Ferrero and I share a common birth place, although he came to Spain from Italy, for which he cannot be blamed. Lyman naughtily refers to the general as “Boss Fero,” and it has been necessary to caution him against excessive humor regarding the man’s past as a dancing teacher.

Indeed, scarcely had we returned to camp at dusk after finishing our inspection of Devin’s lines, than Lyman, much excited by a felicitous meeting with William Waud, brother of Alfred, began to regale the staff at Ferrero’s expense. Of a sudden, in the midst of waltzing a mock attack on “Battery Vienna,” Lyman became lachrymose and withdrew to his quarters where I followed after and found him collapsed on his new bed. He does not appreciate this device put together by the men, preferring to sleep upon the ground, but it did give him rather less distance to fall and myself a superior seat.

Upon my enquiry, it transpires that today is the first anniversary of the death of his relative, Col. Shaw, who gave his last full measure of devotion (how I wish I had never given that speech gratis to Mr. Lincoln!) while encouraging his wavering colored infantry in some obscure assault on a sea-shore in the Carolinas. Shaw’s father, Frances, is the brother of Howland Shaw, to whom Lyman’s sister, Cora, is espoused, thus Lyman was by way of being an uncle to the deceased colonel.

However that may be, the poor fellow was so cut-up that he begged me on his knees to promise him that I would never place Ferrero’s colonels in a similar position by permitting them to lead similarly untested troops against rebel works, not even if some immense explosion should first breach them. He is full of such feverish imaginings and perhaps is being worked too hard.

The only cure for his melancholy was to remind him of the public gift to me of a new sword from the City Council, which needed some suitable response, and I left him huddled in near darkness over his desk, drafting a reply on my behalf. I shall copy it in my own hand tomorrow, as it is certain to be too stained for direct use.

A Sworded Affair

June 21, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

My last letter was written on the 17th, during the battle, which lasted off and on from 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 16th to dark of the 18th, day and night. Hearing of this struggle, Mr. Lincoln honored the army with his presence outside Petersburg this afternoon, and was so gracious as to say he had seen you in Philadelphia at the Sanitary Fair on the 16th, etc., etc. Mr. Lincoln brought with him the Monday edition of the New York Times with news of the Fair and the sword contest vote thus far. My total votes are 2,419 with Hancock at 1,402. Sadly, Grant has only 130 votes and even McClellan has more.

I have seen a report of the President’s speech at the Fair, in which he mistakenly quotes Grant as saying he will fight on this line if it takes all summer. You may be unsurprised to learn that it was I, and not Grant, who first gave such determined voice to this martial strategy. It appears that Grant sent it by telegraph to Washington, with full credit to me, not himself, intending the President should use it in his speech at the Fair to honor Philadelphia’s greatest warrior son.

Grant gives it as his belief that the telegrapher confused the morse signal for Meade with that for Grant, M E being dash dash and then dot, whereas the G is dash dash dot, etc. He will take care soon to correct the record for the sake of history, by which assurance I am most gratified.

This may be some compensation for learning that on the opening day of the Fair, Grant’s name was the very first appended to the Roll of Honor for the Philadelphia Library, thus showing he has one acquaintance in town more ready to spend a dollar than any of our circle.

It is most galling, for in all the recent fighting I had exclusive command, Grant coming on the field for only half an hour on the 17th, and yet in Mr. Stanton’s official despatch he quotes General Grant’s account, and my name is not even mentioned. I cannot imagine why I am thus ignored, unless the same telegrapher remains undeservedly at his post.

It is only from my pen that you will learn that I have been aggressively attacking with my whole force, but could not break through their lines. Our losses in the three-days’ fight under my command amount to nine thousand five hundred, killed, wounded and missing.

Your accounts of the Fair are quite amusing. Hancock and myself have much fun over the sword contest, and are both quite sorry to see we stand no chance for the five thousand dollar vase.

Shame and Abe L

Sunday, December 8, 1861

To Mrs. George G. Meade

My last letter was written on Thursday evening. The next day I went, in command of my brigade, on a foraging expedition to the farm of a man named Gunnell. We stripped his place of everything we could use ourselves and have imprisoned some civilians without recourse to law. It made me sad to do such injury, and I really was ashamed of our cause, which thus required war to be made on individuals.

Ord argues that Mr. Lincoln has himself dispatched such scruples in a thoroughly legal manner, and we should be reassured by the President’s long experience as a lawyer in Illinois. As recently as July, Mr. Lincoln addressed the legislators and said that his suspension of habeas corpus is entirely consistent with the Constitution. Contrarily, Reynolds maintains that Mr. Lincoln is dissembling, for Justice Taney declares firmly that the Constitution speaks of it only in Article 1, Section 9 dealing with congressional, and not executive, powers.

McCall was determined to quash such dissension amongst his brigadiers by quoting from Mr. Lincoln’s speech to a young men’s Lyceum in Springfield as long ago as 1838, in which the future president declared “to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.”

Therefore, says McCall, since the President believes what he said in 1838, and he says he didn’t violate the Constitution in 1861, then he indeed did not and that is all there is to it, regardless of Taney’s notions. It is gratifying to have such fine logic enlighten these complicated matters.

It is coincidence that on Saturday my pickets brought me an intoxicated person, found wandering down the Georgetown pike. He identified himself somewhat incoherently as Ward Lamon, federal marshal, former legal partner, and particular confidant of Mr. Lincoln. He was seeking Chief Justice Taney on a matter of some urgency, to do with a warrant that Lamon cared not to show me, save the signature by A. Lincoln which appeared quite genuine. All I could get out of the fellow was that it was something to do with needing Justice Taney to closely inspect the interior of a jail cell at Fort McHenry on behalf of a man named Merryman.

I had the men keep him under watch until he recovered command of his faculties, whereupon he apologized for his behavior and tore up the mysterious paper, claiming that it was merely an old relic of no current relevance. He then made off at speed for the Chain Bridge to go into Washington City and I trust it is the last we shall hear of him. I had some men pick up his discarded papers and toss the pieces on a campfire.

We continue to forage and drill, conduct reviews, and make no advance whatever. It appears unlikely that anything of interest to posterity will ever happen in this place. I am very much pleased with my new horse, all except the price, which is pretty digging.

Banny On the Run

February 4, 1865

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I hear from Washington the vote on my confirmation was thirty-two to five. I have not heard the names of my opponents, but I have no doubt they are of Chandler’s ilk, men whose opposition is rather creditable to one than the reverse.

As to the Peace Commissioners, three distinguished gentlemen, Mr. Alexander Stephens (Vice President of the Confederacy), Mr. R. M. T. Hunter (formerly United States Senator from Virginia), and Mr. Campbell of Alabama (formerly Judge, United States Supreme Court), were sent forward by me on the 1st to Fortress Monroe to meet the President and Secretary Seward.

No sooner had they departed than I was much surprised to receive at headquarters a heavily disguised Mr. Ward Lamon, bodyguard to President Lincoln. He had traveled up from the South through our lines on a pass from Grant and was closely accompanied by another man, so muffled in overcoats and scarves that his face and form were not easily determined. The stranger had a definite southern accent and reminded me of someone, but I know not who.

Lamon said he was on his way to Fortress Monroe on a most delicate matter, but that the President had charged him to seek my advice on what should be his answer to the commissioners when they met, for Mr. Lincoln did not have any idea what to do. The other gentleman mumbled that he too was meeting the President, and was anxious to hear from a real general what the attitude of the soldiers and people at the North might be to peace. You will understand that up until now they had met only Grant.

I told them very plainly what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace, namely, the complete restoration of the Union and such a settlement of the slavery question as should be final, removing it forever as a subject of strife. At this, Lamon expressed himself delighted and relieved to be able to give Mr. Lincoln strong encouragement not to waver, as the President is apparently wont to do in private, though his public face is firm.

The other man muttered he’d be d—-d if he’d sign any accord with Lincoln that elevated Jim Limber above Tippy. With that obscurity, they left me and I heard no more from either, I am pleased to say. I understand the Commissioners returned to Richmond today, but what was the result of their visit no one yet knows. At the present time, 8 p.m., the artillery on our lines is in full blast, clearly proving that at this moment there is no peace. I fear there is not much chance of any agreement between the contending parties until more decided successes, such as those of Gettysburg and Mine Run, are gained on our side.

The recent losses have not been so great as in many previous engagements, and I hear of but few officers killed or severely wounded. I have been in the saddle each day from early in the morning till near midnight and was too much exhausted to write. Colonel Lyman sent me a box, which he said contained books and pickles. I find, on opening it, that there are about a dozen nice books and a box of champagne, so you can tell dear Sergeant he is not the only one that gets good things.

A Salt and Battery

April 16, 1862

To Mrs. George G. Meade

As to ourselves, we are in statu quo. You have seen in the newspapers that before our long-awaited grand advance through Centerville to this place, the rebels had quite vanished, leaving behind them quantities of cannon which were manufactures of pine wood, not brass or iron. It remains uncertain for how long McClellan may be delayed by real cannon.

It is surmised that we are kept here for fear the Merrimac may run the gauntlet and pen McClellan in on the peninsula, and then they could detach a force to threaten Washington. I guess they will, as Woodbury said, find after awhile that McClellan is not going to move until he is ready, and then not in the direction they want him, which Mr. Greeley and Mr. Lincoln may vouchsafe.

The disastrous naval conflict at Newport News, and the loss of the Cumberland and Congress, was a very serious blow, not only to our material interests, but to our pride and naval forces. Our naval neighbor, Lt. Dahlgren, believes that, had his own outdated ordnance regulations not forbade the use of sufficient powder in the Monitor guns, the enemy would have been quite sunk in the first exchanges. He designed the guns himself and is confident they would have held up.

He says that Ericsson, who designed the ironclad, is immobilized by fear of the bursting of guns. Twenty years go, Stockton, the same that became a senator, designed a gun placed alongside another type of Ericsson’s invention. Stockton’s gun exploded, killing the Secretaries of State and of the Navy, and the late President Tyler’s prospective father-in-law, yet somehow he was able to blame the entire affair on the unfortunate Ericsson! His Accidency was less than pleased at the loss of his fiancée’s papa, and ensured that the Swede was never paid for his excellent work. Entre nous, Mr. Ericsson is rumored to suffer from premature explosions of another nature, the issue of which is kept secret and well hid in Scandinavia.

During Ericsson’s Washington travails, his fiercest champion was Stephen Mallory of Florida, who was then on the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, and who now sits in Richmond as Secretary of their navy. It is supposed that he is responsible for the rebel ironclad, and thus perhaps Ericsson’s work influenced both combatants at Hampton Roads.

I hope McClellan shall be successful in driving them from Yorktown. Owing to the fear of the Merrimac, the gunboats will not leave Fortress Monroe to ascend the York River and take their batteries in the rear. This is a mirror to McClellan’s concern that, owing to the obdurate refusal of the rebels to surrender at the sight of his horse, neither should those same batteries be assailed from the front.

It is the reverse to the battle at Pittsburg Landing, where it would appear the plan of the rebels would have been successful, but for the presence of our gunboats. Finding they could not get to the river in consequence of these vessels, they very properly retired to their fortifications at Corinth. Had the gunboats not been present, they would have destroyed Grant the first day and Buell the second. But as it was, the latter was enabled to rescue the former. Buell has learned the risk of surprise while separated from one’s brigades, and will probably now become the lion of the Federal armies, while Grant fades into obscurity.

I have not time to write you much. I have been in the saddle all day, posting troops and pickets and making all the preparations to meet the enemy, though from the reports in existence and believed, there is not much probability of his showing himself about here. I fear it probable that General Magruder is reporting in a similar vein from Yorktown to his masters in Richmond.

Nitpickers of the Round Table

P.M., August 10, 1864

To Mr. Henry A. Cram; New York

The Washington papers of yesterday announce Sheridan being temporarily assigned to the military division which Grant told me was intended for me. Grant has been back two days and has not vouchsafed one word in explanation, and I have avoided going to see him, from a sense of self-respect, and from the fear I should not be able to restrain the indignation I hold to be natural at the duplicity some one has practiced. 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.

Speaking of such, a vile article has been sent to me in the new paper in your city called the Round Table. It is entirely of a piece with those published after Gettysburg in the Herald, and another earlier this year by Cropsey. It is filled with false and perverted statements, which have astonished even myself and those around me, who have great respect for the capacity, adroitness, and skill in this respect of my opponents. Were this new attack signed Historicus I could not be less surprised.

This new calumny says that I approached Grant in panic during the May battle in the Wilderness, and incurred his wrathful reply that officers of the Potomac army always seem to think Lee will suddenly turn a double somersault and land in rear and on both flanks at the same time. There is some truth that these words are attributed to Grant, for I was present at the time along with General Horace Porter, but he spoke them to Brigadier ________, of Ohio.

However false the story may be, and however much akin to the work of Sickles, I cannot make out who the source is. If it were from Grant, it would perhaps be more apropos to say sauces, since overindulgence in those often leads to gross error, such as Cold Harbor or a preference for Sheridan. I prefer that you not divulge this last to any other but keep it private.

I wish, if you know the editors, you would in my name give them the strongest rebuke and demand a full retraction, and that the whole subject may be thoroughly investigated and the truth made known. I think my evidence will pull the lion’s skin off of some of my disguised foes, and that they will perhaps, before the thing is over, repent they ever meddled with it. Already the liars have disclaimed any intention to attack me.

I have been very much occupied for several days past in some very pretty little fights, in all of which we have whipped the enemy, though we have suffered a good deal in casualties. Give my love to Kate, and tell her I shall come out of this latest newspaper attack with flying colors.

Penn is Mightier with the Sword

Berlin, MD
July 18, 1863

To Mrs. George G Meade

I try to send you a few lines every chance I can get, but I find it very difficult to remember when I have written. The loss of Reynolds and Hancock is most serious; their places are not to be supplied. However, with God’s help, I will continue to do the best I can. You ask me about Grant and the manner in which his victory at Vicksburg is lauded above my own at Gettysburg. It is difficult for me to reply. There is a tendency at Washington to elevate the reputations of certain Ohio men, which is at variance to facts.

Wade of Ohio, from his lofty perch on the Committee on the War, considers that victory relies upon him alone, a view shared by Secretary Stanton of Steubenville, Ohio except that his name be substituted for Wade. It was our fellow Philadelphian, McClellan, who built the army in the East, saving Washington, and was never defeated by Lee, whom the western commanders have not yet faced. I saw no Ohio politicians in the Peninsula nor yet at Antietam.

Worthy as Grant is, he would still be scratching moskeeto bites at Yazoo Pass, were it not for Admiral David Dixon Porter, of Chester PA, who opened the Mississippi for him. His vessels were fitted with the gun invented by Philadelphian John Dahlgren, whose genius equipped the entire navy, making possible the blockade of the South and the control of all the waters.

Lancaster, Ohio may have produced Sherman, but there can be no-one to deny that Lancaster, PA had the better of it in John Reynolds, who prepared the ground for my victory at Gettysburg, and who could have supplied almost my own place in command. No army of ours could last but a week if not for the brilliant achievements of Herman Haupt, another Philadelphian, and the scrupulous honesty of Quartermaster Meigs, born in the South but raised in our own fair state.

I have heard of an Ohio man named McCook, a Major General called a fighter, but the record shows near-route at Perryville and route at Stones River, both times as part of armies poorly lead by Ohioans, Buell and Rosecrans. Among the more successful generals from Ohio must be counted Bushrod R. Johnson, who fought bravely at Donelson, Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River, proudly wearing his Confederate gray uniform.

The army is moving to-day over the same road I took last fall under McClellan. The Government insists on my pursuing and destroying Lee. The former I can do, but the latter will depend on him as much as on me, for if he keeps out of my way, I can’t destroy.

I don’t think I told you that on my way here, three days ago, I stopped and called on Mrs. Lee (Miss Carroll that was), who lives about six miles from this place. Mrs. Lee received me with great cordiality, insisted on my dining with her and daughter, which I did, and had a very nice time, it being quite refreshing to be once more in the presence of ladies, surrounded with all the refinements and comforts of home.

Where Legals Dare

November 6, 1871

To General W. S. Hancock; St. Paul, Minnesota

On the question of presidential ambitions, the issue is surrounded by so many difficulties and blended so intimately with questions, not only of politics, but of party, that I have esteemed myself fortunate in being hitherto permitted to remain where I am.

Besides, certain ill-disposed persons have put it about that the Court would rule that my birth in Cadiz, Spain renders me not “native born” and hence disqualifies me, constitutionally, from seeking the highest office, as would be true had I been born on the isthmus of Panama or in tribal lands in east Africa. Vice-presidency of the Fairmount Park Commission is sufficient preferment for myself.

As to your own position, I fear that your narrow defeat in 1868 which resulted in Seymour’s selection as democrat candidate against Grant, the galvanized republican, has shown that our people are not yet reconciled to one who believes in the principles of states’ rights and limited government. Then, your public characterization of Sheridan’s interference in your Department last year as resulting in the “Baker massacre” has cemented his enmity. He is more concerned with rushing about Chicago saving his home and his friends from fire than he is about the death of hundreds at the hands of an alcoholic. How true it is that the acorn falls not far from the tree.

Your mention of Canada in connection with the arrest of O’Neil in St. Paul, and my own musings on Supreme Court involvement in presidential matters, bring to mind Vallandigham in 1863, whom I feel sure you recall. The justices were between the Scylla of the Constitution and the Charybdis of Mr. Lincoln. Chief Justice Chase sidestepped the question by making the un-surprising discovery that extra-legal tribunals were not listed amongst those over which the Supreme Court had any authority.

Democrats claimed this will permit a future administration to incarcerate citizens as well as non-citizens without protection of our Constitution. I cannot credit that any such emergency as the recent sectional conflict could arise that would require such draconian measures.

By the by, had you learned of the death of Vallandigham this past June? He was busily engaged in defending one accused of murder, and had formed the theory that the victim discharged his own gun by accident. He invited other attorneys to his hotel room, and illustrated his notion by seizing a convenient pistol and entangling it in his clothing. The unfortunately loaded weapon performed admirably, and Vallandigham shot himself to death. The client was acquitted. Grant has been heard to say that more lawyers should be encouraged to go thus far for justice.

Pale In Comparison

April 9, 1863

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I have omitted writing for a day or two, as I have been very much occupied in the ceremonies incidental to the President’s visit. I was invited on Monday to a very handsome and pleasant dinner with General Hooker. The President and Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Stoneman, wife of Major General Stoneman, besides the corps commanders, constituted the party.

Hooker says that the vacant brigadiership in the regular army lay between Sedgwick and myself. However, the President intends to leave this position open till after the next fight. I declared to Hooker that I had no pretensions upon it.

I have ventured to tell the President one or two stories, and I think I have made decided progress in his affections. Also, I have been making myself very agreeable to Mrs. Lincoln, who seems an amiable sort of personage. Her people in Kentucky are respectable. Her father was a Senator, but his mercantile background is offered in mitigation.

Mrs. Lincoln is excessively fond of a free negro woman, who is seamstress to her now, as well as to Mrs. Varina Davis before the war. This Mrs. Keckley claims that Mrs. Davis offered to employ her at Richmond upon the outbreak of hostilities, that it would be for mere months, after which the Davis family would be back in Washington, living at the White House in place of the Lincolns.

Strictly entre nous, having seen the likeness of Mrs. Davis in the newspapers, in comparison to the present incumbent’s companion, you must forgive me for observing that the difference is almost sufficient to wish that Mrs. Davis had it half right.

While it is not relevant in the making of brigadiers, Presidents would be advised to choose their mates with more regard to comeliness.

Brown Paper Tiger

9 P.M., June 9, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I have noticed what you say about the Inquirer, but, as you observe, it is no worse than the other papers. I don’t know whether you saw an article of the 2d inst. on me, which declared that Grant had saved the life of the nation when I desired to destroy it.

The author, one Edward Cropsey, said to my very face that it was the talk of the army that after the Wilderness, I had urged on General Grant a retreat across the Rapidan, but Grant had firmly resisted my protestations, and thus the country was saved. Prompt as I am in pursuing the enemy, I immediately had Cropsey drummed out of camp on a boney mule, mounted backwards, with a placard declaring “Libeler of the Press.”

My orderly, Kowell, suggested that Williams spell the name as ‘Crapsey’ in General Orders, which is perhaps indelicate of me to relate, for it has reference to gaming with dice. I know not why Kowell thought it humorous, but I allowed his petty amusement. Grant approved my order but keeps muttering that he knew the offender, and that his family was a respectable one in Illinois, propositions which appear to me to be mutually exclusive.

I have suspicions over the true source of the entire affair. Grant, himself, was employed at Galena, Illinois before the rebellion and obtained preference from Washburn and Yates, although Lincoln and McClellan had both ignored his urgent representations. Grant’s most political act until then had been to serve oysters and liquor at a Lincoln victory party given by his brother Orvil at the family leather store. No doubt, he served himself rather too well.

During the Mexican War he carried a message to Twiggs, riding the whole way slid sidewards, with one foot hooked on the cantle of the saddle and an arm around the neck of his horse. He pretended it was a famous trick of the Indians, but those in the know say that it was more rye than riding. I shall not expect to see the truth of that in the papers.

Journalists are a verminous breed and seem bound to discourage our soldiers with calumnies against the leadership of this army. Even Henry Coppee, in the June number of his United States Service magazine, shows he, too, is demoralized, he having a flaming editorial notice of the wonderful genius of Grant. Now, to tell the truth, the latter has greatly disappointed me, and since this campaign I really begin to think I am something of a general.

We find Lee’s position again too strong for us and will have to make another movement, the particulars of which I cannot disclose, for Grant has not yet apprised me of it.

The Turtle and the Hair

October 9, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

We have at last heard of the fate of poor young Parker, who was on my staff. An officer recently returned from Richmond was captured by guerrillas near Bristol Station, a few days after Parker’s disappearance. They cautioned him not to attempt to escape, for if he did they would be obliged to serve him as they had done General Meade’s aide a few days before, who in spite of their cautions tried to get away, and they were forced to shoot him.

Mr. McGrath, a Commissioner from Pennsylvania, was here when the news arrived. It reminded him to tell us of a horrible massacre in September in Missouri, in which some two dozen of our defenseless soldiers, out of uniform and on leave, were shot down in a calculated murder by irregulars led by one Anderson, known there as Bloody Bill.

As if that were not enough, a superior force of 150 cavalry under a Major Johnson sent to punish the marauders was itself ambushed by the outnumbered guerillas with the loss of two-thirds of the command. The major, himself, was shot in the back by a mere youth, a dirty little coward. Forgive me for indelicacy in relating that most of our dead were beaten over the head before being shot. One man had his nose cut off, while another was mutilated in such a manner as I may not properly describe. Seventeen men had been scalped, a trophy that these monstrous rebels regard as gifts to their horses.

By-the-by, talking of presents, I have never suitably acknowledged Mr. Tier’s handsome present of a box of tea. I wish you would tell him it is most excellent, just the kind I like, and that all the members of my mess are equally delighted with the flavor and hold him in most honorable and grateful remembrance.

Flighting Joe

May 19, 1863

To John Sergeant Meade

I am sorry to tell you I am at open war with Hooker. He yesterday came to see me and said that Reynolds and myself had determined him to withdraw from Chancellorsville. He acknowledges that I favored an advance, but claims it was only because I thought it impracticable to withdraw the army. Since he knew it was perfectly practicable to withdraw, he counted my urging our advance as an endorsement of retreat.

This is all of a piece for the man who began his campaign announcing he would have no mercy on Lee and who told Mr. Lincoln that there was no “if” in regard to getting to Richmond. Yet once we were fairly on our way to achieve both of his boasts, he pulled our triumphant divisions back to that fatal tavern and had the blind gall to tell Couch that now he had got Lee just where he wanted him. Apparently he intended to lure our enemy into a drinking contest at the bar.

I would have you keep from your mother what I am about to relate. Hooker’s men frequented an unsavory area of our capital so often in their pursuit of fallen women that the place received the name Hooker’s Division. Hooker maintained his own headquarters as what amounted to a brothel for the savage amusement of himself and his particular cronies, Sickles and Butterfield. Hooker, it has been said, is a quarrelsome drunkard without respect for his superiors.

Before the battle he announced that he would play with the enemy, these devils he called them, before springing into action. Couch swears that he used his breath to inflate those balloons that he caused to be elevated above the army to observe their positions. Couch also says that Hooker forswore liquor after he got across the Rappahannock, which perhaps is what caused the shaking of his nerve. Heretofore, Hooker has always been steadfastly brave, one must say.

I asked my orderly, Private Kowell, what was the opinion of the men. His baffling reply was that having become supine, Hooker got from Lee exactly what Hooker always got when in that position. This common soldier is an ignoramus on the war, and I may have to replace him. He should have known that Hooker never was before in the vicinity of Chancellorsville.

The battle was a miserable failure, in which Hooker disappointed me greatly. His plan was admirably designed, but he delayed and failed to take advantage of enemy errors. He then assumed the defensive, doing nothing for two days. One cannot comprehend such a reaction from a commanding general on a field of triumph, when one determined push would have settled this war in our favor. Now you see that he attempts to place upon me the blame for his failure to advance.

The entente cordiale is destroyed between us. Still, I should be sorry to see him removed, unless a decidedly better man is substituted.


November 24, 1861

To Mrs. George G. Meade

To-day has been raw and disagreeable; this afternoon we had a slight spit of snow. The men are good material, and with good officers might readily be molded into soldiers; but the officers, as a rule, are ignorant, inefficient, and worthless. We have been weeding out some of the worst.

Our troubles in McCall’s division are however but slight when compared to those of the so-called Excelsior regiments under Hooker at Liverpool Point. The principal difficulty is the number of lawsuits filed against their own general, D. E. Sickles, by disgruntled officers and men who allege that he lied in order to engage their loyalty and services. Writs of habeas corpus are flying “ever higher” than anything that the enemy has yet launched.

Sickles is a person with whom one would hope never to have intercourse. He murdered the son of Francis Scott Key outside the White House and then prevailed upon Stanton, the same that became our attorney general, to plead mitigation on grounds of temporary insanity.

There appears nothing temporary about it, as he was and remains a New York democrat. May God never allow such a creature to enter the White House as president, nor yet as vice president for fear of the next assassination.

Heintzelman has circulated privately a most amusing anecdote regarding Sickles, which I ask you to hold in strict confidence. It appears that in order to impress his young wife, Sickles reported that he had been slightly struck by a shell fragment. She repaired immediately to Washington City and eventually found him quite unhurt and in his usual place at the oyster bar at Willard’s, where shell fragments are a common hazard. Unfortunately for him, this came to the notice of Hooker, who could distinctly recall ordering Sickles to guard the left flank some distance away from any hostelry. You may be certain Sickles will better obey orders in the future and maintain his proper place, should he survive both mollusks and lawyers.

I had a visit to-day from Mr. Henry of the Topographical Bureau, who says he saw the review on Wednesday and thought our division looked and marched the best of all. I have always been excessively fond of Mr. Henry.

Arson Around

June 7, 1866

To John Sergeant Meade

It is most vexing to have been ordered away from organizing the burial of the Old General at West Point on the 1st merely to deal once again with Fenians. Of course, in my absence it was Grant that became the inappropriate focus of attention at Scott’s interment, contrary to my plan.

Yesterday I was forced to address the bedraggled sons of Erin to persuade them to abandon their persistent attempts to die in Canada at the hands of British provincial forces. Since my small force had earlier confiscated all their weapons and supplies, they voted to disperse. Sherman, who of all men should know, says that the collective term for Fenians is “a futility of Irish.”

At dinner I was regaled by former Governor J. G. Smith, a native of St. Albans, with the story of the rebel bank robbers at this place in October of 1864. He was not at home when the marauders set about their cowardly business, but his noble wife stood ready with an empty horse pistol to defend the mansion. Fortunately, the rascals did not make good on their threats to burn the town, setting fire to only one small shed as they absconded.

Sergeant Kowell had come to attend to my horse, and with duties done I unwisely permitted him to stand near the table while I and Governor Smith ate a fine meal and conversed. Afterward, Kowell presumed upon his prior years of service under me to offer the unsolicited opinion that, “Which engagement of the recent war was the furthest north?” would make a capital question for one of his quizzical games.

Not wishing to further engage in conversation with a common soldier, I am still puzzling out what may be the answer.

Cedar Crook

October 22, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Since I wrote to you we have received the news of Sheridan’s last victory – this time over Longstreet, and with an army that had been surprised and driven in disorder for four miles. Unless modified by any later intelligence, this will place Sheridan in a position that will be difficult for any other general to approach.

Comly reports Sheridan so anxious to return to Petersburg that he quite neglected to consider the possibility of a rebel attack. He fell fast asleep in Winchester, leaving his friend George Crook in charge near Cedar Creek. Having been given the left flank to safeguard, Crook failed to remedy what he rightly saw as Sheridan’s faulty dispositions.

After some desultory throwing up of entrenchments facing the wrong way, Crook and his men gave it up as a bad piece of work and went to sleep themselves. The enemy thereupon greeted Crook with an early alarum call and pounced upon the slumbering camp, much as they had done at Shiloh and with similar result. Crook’s men leaped first to their guns and then thought better of it and headed north and west with great dispatch.

Speaking of Shiloh, this new debacle afforded Sheridan the bizarre opportunity to play both Grant and Buell upon one and the same occasion. Having first abandoned his army near to destruction, he rushed into the panicked mob and acted as his own rescuer. No doubt he thanked himself profusely and modestly replied that he should “think nothing of it… all in a day’s work.” The man positively talks to himself.

We are now anxiously waiting to hear of his having followed up his success and taken Gordonsville. However, Lyman says that Sheridan will be too occupied in providing Harper’s with fulsome depictions of his heroics with overmuch rearing of horses and waving of swords. You may confidently expect that art and poetry will not stint their praise of him and his preposterous nag. They will doubtless gloss the details of his nap.

You may be sure that Crook, who earlier devised the victories at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill only to learn afterward that the tactics were actually Sheridan’s, will be given full credit for the disaster. I can only sympathize with him, knowing that his loss is my own. I had rather it were Crook that saved Sheridan’s skin and perhaps not being quite in time to do so.

Really this whole affair is almost as disappointing as Yellow Tavern.

Dancing with the Stars (and Stripes)

December 20, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

I have had a hard day to-day. This morning Messrs. Chandler and Harding, of the Senate, and Messrs. Loan and Julian, of the House, all members of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, made their appearance to investigate the Mine affair.

I fear their purpose is to exonerate Burnside for the failure of the attack. From the Rapidan down to this place, all success has belonged to Grant and none to myself, whereas now, despite his support and approval of my dispositions at Petersburg, the responsibility for failure will not be laid at his door.

Burnside had planned to lead the attack with his pet dance-master Ferrero and his colored division. (I do not know how he retained that division when Butler was so busily engaged in gaining all such for himself.) I feared that these poor colored soldiers would, in the event of difficulty, be shot down as mercilessly as Gen’l Forrest murdered those at Pillow.

With no wish to bring down the censure of the Committee upon myself, I ordered Burnside to use white troops to absorb the first risk of attack and retain the terpsichorean Ferrero as support. In the event, Burnside tossed a coin and thereby allowed Ledlie, a graduate of John Barleycorn University as is our illustrious commander, to “lead” the attack. Ledlie (whom I have this week removed) and the ballroom brigadier Ferrero took refuge in a bottle and allowed their men to be serially slaughtered.

Thus am I now to be calumniated by Sen. Chandler as “Nathan Bedford Meade.” Who will remember that it was Burnside, Ledlie, and the eminently unsaltatory Ferrero who created in excess of 5,000 casualties with Grant’s full consent? I may never recover from the grief I feel for those boys.

Mrs. Lyman has sent me a Christmas present of a box of nice cigars.

Mac ‘n Cheese

November 17, 1864

To Mrs. George G. Meade

Well, the election is over and nobody hurt. In the army it passed off very quietly; Mr. Lincoln received two votes to McClellan’s one. This result was fully anticipated by me – indeed, McClellan’s vote was larger than I expected. However, had the result been reversed, one can well believe that McClellan would have considered his numbers insufficient to advance upon Washington.

Indeed, while I remain favorably disposed toward Mr. Lincoln and his resistance to the ultras, I found myself unable to vote for either candidate. McClellan was responsible for my elevation at the beginning and deserved abstention at the very least. Even democrats, nearly all of the general officers, including Grant, did not cast a ballot.

McClellan would not have made a sufficiently clear-thinking and resolute president. I am reminded of our situation on the Peninsula when McClellan transferred his base east often enough to reach salt water, becoming almost an honorary Liberian, as Mr. Lincoln once remarked to me. McClellan thereupon awaited positive orders to withdraw before issuing thunderous suggestions that he should instead advance, as he had always intended.

Further, you may recall my writing from Sharpsburg that McClellan told me he did not intend to cross the Potomac to attack Lee unless the waters rose sufficiently to prevent Lee from attacking him. I ventured that if Lee could not cross in the one direction, then we certainly could not cross in the other. McClellan was amazed.

Of course, his failure then to immediately pursue Lee went far towards taking away from him the prestige of his victories. He always erred on the side of prudence and caution. I give thanks to that Great Providence that there are no generals of that ilk now with the army.

The men are prepared for a thanksgiving on the 24th, and I shall think of you in particular on that day as the staff and I enjoy the excellent cheese which you caused Henry to send from New York.

Chattanooga Boo Boo

March 15, 1866

To Mrs. George G. Meade

You may recall, when we were at West Point, meeting Mrs. Thomas, who was at the hotel? He was then in Texas, and she was expecting him home. She was a tall good-natured woman and was quite civil to us. Thomas is quite well thought of amongst the army, at least the better elements of it such as Rosecrans and myself.

It is a matter of record that his performance at Chickamauga, which he persists in mispronouncing as Chickamagwa, was sufficient to have him christened “The Rock of… .” The fact is that Old Thom, as we prefer to call him, was about to be stampeded by Old Pete in the same fashion as Old Rosie before him. He was providentially saved at the final moment by the unlooked for arrival of young Steedman, while Thomas was still casting aside his telescope and complaining of water in the eyes, because he feared they were rebels. How tragic that a person of far greater achievement, and especially as it may be a person victorious in decisive battle outside a small south-central Pennsylvania college town, might acquire a lesser name such as “Old Snapping Turtle.”

Why are you so astonished that the third member of our board is not a regular guest at our luncheons? Sherman is a poor stick even though, or perhaps because, Grant leaned upon him so often. He will not speak of it of course, but Thomas is not so reticent. He has a low opinion of Grant, which feeling was heartily reciprocated.

He pointed out to me in all confidence the odd disparity between Grant’s sterling reputation for horsemanship (viz. Longstreet’s Gorgian encomium while at West Point) and the man’s contrary propensity to fall off his horse at every opportunity. At Shiloh Grant’s horse “slipped” and hurt his leg. Shortly before Chattanooga, again his horse “slipped” in New Orleans, and Grant could only suppose that it had rolled upon him for he remained prostrate in the street, insensible to all that happened. Conclusions may be drawn, but I shall refrain.

Apparently, entre nous, the entire reason that Grant had such animus against Thomas is that on Orchard Knob when Grant had drawn off some distance, no doubt to pray that Sherman would stop dithering, Old Thom, who had no important role to play, speculated aloud that U.S. stood for “Utterly Soused.” Unfortunately for Old Thom, Rawlins was within earshot, and you can imagine the consequence.

How are the children…….

Blazing Cheeks!!

September 27, 1863

To Mrs. George G. Meade

We are having lovely weather at present; our camps are beautifully situated at the foot of the Blue Ridge, with the mountains in view, with pure air and plenty of good water; the best country in Virginia we have yet been in.

Yester-eve at about dusk, I took a turn about the camp accompanied by Lyman to ascertain the mood of the men as they amused themselves variously around their fires. In the gloom we were simply two fellow soldiers a-wander, and the men, having no idea of us, spoke freely. At one fire I was attracted by recognition of the voice of Pvt. Kowell, whom you may recall from my correspondence was removed as my orderly after the July battle. He was diverting the men with a “quiz” about the present conflict.

Being completely oblivious of my presence, Pvt. Kowell asked several questions of the men, which were never intended for my reddening ears. Modesty forbids me from providing you with the answers to such as “Who is the greatest general of the Union and Hero of Gettysburg?” or “Who is chasing Bobby Lee to the death like a bulldog?” and “Is anyone of more handsome appearance than General M_____?” although you may perhaps hazard a guess at each.

Becoming embarrassed, Lyman and I began to withdraw at some distance, whereupon Pvt. Kowell, in a most unnecessarily loud voice, asked that which caused gales of laughter, convulsing his audience beyond coherence, and yet which baffled us entirely, viz. “How were General Phil Kearny and Jennie Wade shot in the same place?”

Lyman and I walked back to the tent in puzzlement. After all, the first was shot at Chantilly in 1862 while posting his horse away from rebel lines into which he had blundered, whereas the unfortunate lady was killed in her own Gettysburg kitchen in 1863 while bending down to perform some simple culinary chore.

While their sense of current events and history is obviously of the highest quality, I do sometimes think the men too ignorant of the geography of their own country. We may perhaps, while waiting patiently but eagerly for Lee to do something, get up some lectures for the men upon the subject.