Meade’s Army

Edited by David Lowe, this book contains Theodore Lyman’s private notebooks.  This makes a superb companion volume to Lyman’s book of letters, Meade’s Headquarters.  Once again, we have an intimate window into the high command of the Army of the Potomac.

The book starts off with a short summary of Lyman’s life and how he became part of Meade’s staff, and a peek into what he saw during his time on the staff.  We read about Meade’s problems with the press, for example: “Meade compounded his difficulties by his patrician disdain for war correspondents in an era when newspaper editors and journalists were learning to mold and sway public opinion.  In June 1864, Edward Crapsey of the Philadelphia Enquirer was expelled from the army for writing that Meade had counseled retreat from the Wilderness and that if it were not for Grant, Meade would have retreated.  Meade’s provost marshal, Marsena Patrick, carried out the expulsion order in such a way as to humiliate the correspondent as much as possible.  Meade was blamed also for expelling Swinton of the New York Times some weeks later, although this largely was the work of Burnside and Grant.  The correspondents were outraged by this high-handed treatment of their colleagues.  In truth, few of the army’s leading generals cared much for journalists, but Meade was singled out for their disdain.  The New York Herald‘s Cadwallader wrote that ‘after the Crapsey affair at Cold Harbor all newspaper correspondents with the army (excepting myself) and those in Washington City united in ignoring Gen. Meade’s official existence.  His name never appeared in print of they could prevent it.’ ” [p. 19]  In April of 1866, we learn, Lyman and Charles Peirson, his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law, visited Virginia.  “Everywhere they went, they saw groups of men lounging idly about ‘still wearing the familiar gray jacket and metal buttons,’ while industrious emancipated slaves grubbed in the fields and labored to rebuild fences that had disappeared into the armies’ campfires.  It was a bittersweet pilgrimage.” [p. 21]

The book is an excellent primary source for what Lyman saw and heard from the latter part of 1863 through 1865.  In the entry for Wednesday, September 23, 1863, Lyman wrote, “There seems little doubt that [Maj. Gen. Henry W.] Halleck is a mediocre man.  Mr. Lincoln thinks he knows a great deal about War.  We have fuller advices of our disaster in Tennessee.  Rosecrans was attacked south of Chattanooga by Bragg, reinforced by Longstreet and a certain part of Johnston’s command.  They fought the 19th, 20th, and a little the 21st.  Rosecrans was driven back, with considerable losses in guns & prisoners, and is now in or near Chattanooga, waiting for Burnside.” [p. 41]  On Monday, October 5 of the same year, Lyman tells us he prepared a summary of Meade’s report of the Battle of Gettysburg for use by Edward Everett in his oration on the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19 [the date of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address].  He tells us that on October 16, a Friday, “Gen. Sickles came down, a well looking man, with a brisk gray eye, and a good tempered, dashing air.  He does not look his antecedents.  Gen. M[eade] told him he was not well enough, with his lost leg, for active service, which he took in good part and cleared out.” [p. 53]

In the entry for Monday, April 18, 1864, Lyman wrote, “Last night Gen. Meade showed me the photograph copies of the Dahlgren orders, said to have been found on his body.  There was an address and a sheet of memoranda.  In both, reference was made to killing Davis and cabinet and burning the city.  The address was signed ‘U. Dahlgren.’ With it was a letter from Lee asking if the U.S. or Gen. Meade gave or approved such orders?  The whole was dated Ap. 1 and sent by flag of truce, endorsed by J.E.B. Stuart, that a reply could be sent to Lightfood Ford.  Gen. Meade replied that no such orders had been given or were approved by him or the U.S. & enclosed was a letter from Kilpatrick saying that he had examined the men with Dahlgren who all denied hearing any such address.  Gen. K[ilpatrick] further stated that he had endorsed ‘approved’ in red ink on an address similar to this, but without the obnoxious passages.  Gen. Meade however told me he considered the weight of evidence in favor of the authenticity, and plainly said he did not consider Kilpatrick a trustworthy person.  The flag was sent by Cadwalader.  Kilpatrick has gone west, gloria!” [pp. 123-124]  In the entry for April 23, a Friday, describing a meal with Grant and his staff, Lyman wrote, “Grant drinks no wine or spirit; the moment the last man was through, he rose.  He is a very still, steady man, but evidently enjoyed a pleasant joke.  He also makes quiet, sarcastic remarks, without moving a line of his face.  He said (referring to Bank’s late fight on the Red River, where he lost 20 guns and some thousands of prisoners, though he at last drove the enemy back) that ‘Banks’ victories were of a kind that three or four of them would ruin anybody.’  He added that ‘there were some Generals who had not enough patriotism to resign.’ ” [p. 126]  For Thursday, May 26, he wrote, “They captured a female rebel soldier a day or two ago, and now she is here in the Provost Marshal’s hands.  She was an artillery driver, and had on a common, gray soldier jacket, and a U.S. forage cap.  Her hair was long and fell on her shoulders.  She seemed a common woman, but not wanting in decent modesty, and said she had enlisted because her only brother had gone.  She asked not to be mixed with the prisoners in going to Washington.” [p. 176]  In writing about the relation between Meade and Gouverneur K. Warren on Friday, June 3, Lyman said, “The friction increases between them.  Meade finds fault with Warren’s contradictory spirit which lives to do a thing by a different way from the one ordered.” [p. 190]

Lyman was not a fan of Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.  In the entry for Sunday, June 19, 1864, Lyman wrote about some fighting, after which he was sent with a flag of truce to arrange a truce for burial of the dead and rescue of wounded between the lines.  Lyman wrote, “But there came, just then, the answer from the enemy, which carried to Gen. Meade (7 P.M.).  It was signed by Beauregard, and was a specimen of his mean creole blood.–‘He did not know there had been any fight of consequence and should therefore refuse.  After any engagement of real moment, he should be glad to extend the courtesies of war!’  He lied; for he knew full well that there had been heavy fighting and that we at least had lost some thousands.  But he wished to show his dirty spite.  Lee does not such things.” [pp. 216-217]

On August 9, 1864, there was an explosion at City Point.  An ordnance barge had blown up.  Later, they would find out that it was sabotage from a confederate agent.  Theodore Lyman wrote about it in his journal: “This morning we heard a heavy explosion towards City Point, and there came a telegraph in few minutes that an ordnance barge had blown up with much loss of life. ‘Rosie,’ Worth, Cavada and Cadwalader were in a tent at Grant’s Headq’rs when suddenly there was a great noise, and a 12-pdr. shot came smash into the mess-chest! They rushed out–it was raining shot, shell, timbers and saddles (of which there had been a barge load near)! Two dragoons were killed near them. they saw just then a man running towards the explosion–the only one–it was Grant! and thus shows his character well. About 35, mostly negro lumpers, were killed, and 80 wounded. (The cause of this was never known. It was commonly thought, after, to have been a rebel torpedo.)” [p. 248]

On Sunday, November 27, Lyman wrote, “Gibbon is made, considering the appointment of Humphreys, to temporary command of the corps, a slight.  He’s a fool!  Gen. Meade has done everything for him, and now he sulks and asks to be relieved.  Roger A. Pryor, once noted as a brawling congressman, was captured while trying to exchange papers on the picket line.  He is only a private soldier, having fallen from his high estate as general.  Grant has promised Meade a Major Generalcy in the regular service.  In fact Meade went to him & said: ‘When you came first down, I said I was willing to resign and give my position to some other; but you replied you wished me to stay.  I have been overshadowed here by you, doing hard work; the success has always been laid to you, the failure on me.  You promised me long ago a Major Generalcy.  When Sherman was made you said you wished him to rank first–that was all well.  Then you wish to give me the Middle Department.  It slips through y our fingers and Sheridan has it.  Then he is made Major General and I am left out.  You continually profess to be my friend, but your friendship is the ruin of me.  You allow the papers to heap lies on me, when a word fro you would set it right;  you allow honors to fall to others while I am left to work obscurely.  This will debase me before my own army & if it is to go on I wish to be relieved.’ Grant was much moved thereat and went to Washington and had the matter arranged.” [pp. 300-301]  His entry for Sunday, December 4 reads, “Gibbon has gotten over his mad, on a complimentary endorsement from Grant, and will continue with his division.  Meade is rather indignant that his endorsement would not pacify Gibbon, who owes everything to him.  A telegraph came from Stanton announcing to the General that he had been made a Major General in the regular army, to rank next Sherman.  Whereat he was right content.” [p. 303]

This book is an excellent source for anyone interested in understanding the inner workings of the high command of the Army of the Potomac.  I highly recommend it for all serious students of the war.

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