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That Goggled-eyed Snapping Turtle

As Mark noted a while back in response to query, I was tasked by Steve a (long) while back to write the essay on the Meade-Grant relationship for Grant’s Lieutenants, vol. 2. The most important source for any writing on Meade is, of course, the two-volume Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, edited by the general’s son George. However, Joe Glatthaar and others advised me to be sure to check out the original manuscript letters at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania from the period I was studying (roughly December 1863-April 1865). I recently did this and found, as they said, there is a lot of good and important stuff in the letters that was edited out for the published work.

For the benefit of the many fans of George Meade and anyone else with an interest in him and the war in 1863-65 out there, as my schedule permits and/or until the HSP issues something along the lines of a cease and desist, I plan to post here some material from the originals that were edited out of Life and Letters. Since my focus was the Grant-Meade relationship, I only looked at materials between December 1863 and May 1865. These will not be complete letters, but only excerpts that were not in the printed Life and Letters that provide insights into military related topics. The expressions of concern over the health of his son during much of this time and other purely personal stuff will not be posted. While the handwriting was fairly clear, there were points where I could not make out the exact wording, so if anyone familiar with this letters sees an error, please do not hesitate to point it out. There is a lot, so have no illusions that what is posted is at all comprehensive. Unless otherwise noted, the letters are to his wife Margaret.

7 December 1863 – . . . . The papers of course you have seen, but there was one article in the Washington Star, said to have been inspired from high official quarters, which was very severe on me. It was headline “Hesitating Generals” and referred to my failure at Williamsport, to my running away from Lee with double the number of men, and my recent fiasco, as all contributing to show I was not competent to command an army. I should hardly suppose any official claiming respect would choose as a medium for conveying his ideas to the public such a disreputable sheet as the Star, whose drunken editor is the horror of all who know him. Still other indications that have reached me would confirm the report that the article was by authority & it is a premonition of my approaching fate. I understand from an officer just returned from Washington, that on meeting an prominent member of the Govt, he was asked if the Army of the Potomac has stopped running yet? And whether there were any fighting men in it among the Generals? Today I sent in my official report . . . I am only concerned for my reputation as a soldier. If I can preserve that they are at liberty to deprive me of command & even of rank. I see the Herald, inspired by my friend Dan Sickles, is constantly harping on the assertion that Gettysburgh was fought by the corps commanders (ie D.S.) . . .

11 December 1863 – . . . . A compromise may perhaps be made by bringing Thomas here & giving Hooker Thomas’s army. I am glad you are reconciled to my approaching fate. . . Willie (your brother) told me the other day that Curtin on returning from the sword presentation told him Stanton did not like me. This was before I had done anything that M. Stanton could possibly take exception at. Yet at the same time he was telling Harding & Cortlandt Parker that he thought the hero . . . To serve under such people & where the army [?] as it is, takes away all the satisfaction of commanding it and prevents one from doing justice to himself or gaining any . . .

12 December 1863 – . . . From the long continued silence at Washington I begin to think that perhaps they may not deem my removal so expedient a measure. . . I am quite confident both the Sect & Genl in chief were in favor of relieving me. What the President views were I do not know, tho’ the newspapers said he was in favor of restoring Hooker to the command, which I think extremely probable from what I know of his friendship for H and his desire to give him a command under me. It must appear strange to them that with the exception of my official report, not a word has emanated from me either in writing or thro’ a friend to stay their proceedings. Indeed I do not know that I have a friend in Washington, either in the admn or in either house of Congress, unless it be an old acquaintance in Detroit, M. Howard, who I believe does stand up for me. I don’t think it is fair to keep me thus in the dark as to my fate. They might at least give me some intimation of what they intend doing, and let me know either they do or do not prefer to relieve me. If I was only sure, as you write that my being relieved will make me greater than ever, I should earnestly pray for it, but I fear it would be the end of me. Even now I expect to hear of my name being withdrawn as a Brig Genl in the regular army, or of its being rejected. Did you note in the Sect report his expression in speaking of Gettysburgh: “the forces under Genl. Meade & c.” intending a la Herald to indicate the battle was fought & won by the soldiers & the Comd. Genl. Had little to do with it. Now Halleck in his report speaks out handsomely & truthfully. I think however it will take more than the Sect. can well accomplish to separate me from the battle of Gettysburgh and its results. . . . I can not say I am delighted [at a newspaper report he would not be relieved], for the hope & yearning I have to return to you & the children, had quite reconciled me to being relieved, particularly as I was conscious there was no great and good ground for the act. I have received a letter . . . asking my influence to have her husband promoted. She little knows the small amount of influence I possess. . .

18 December 1863 – . . . I think you are plainly disappointed, that I have not been relieved & made a martyr. I must confess I was greatly reconciled myself to the idea, at the prospect of getting home & being quiet for a little while. Nevertheless, it is perhaps all for the best, as if I had been permitted to come and go without even the ordinary attention which my vanity led me to favor my services entitled me to. . . I have never seen the “age” or the articles you refer to. But I have regretted the very friendly tone towards me recently adopted by the “World” as it looks as if I was lending myself to any party. . .

24 December 1863 – . . . I can’t make out what they are going to do in Washignton. I send you a letter received yesterday from Hancock. It seems very significant to me. Hancock says as late as the 21st Dec. that he is of the same opinion as when he last wrote on the 8th viz, that my removal was a foregone conclusion. At the same time he disclaims having heard anything from any one in authority, who he says are singularly reticent about me. Now Hancock knows that it has been announced I am not to be removed & that most persons think the storm has blown over & yet he is still of the same opinion . . . I have never myself had but one expectation, and that was that Stanton and Halleck would not let me stay if they could help it—Stanton particularly, so that the blow when it does come will not be unexpected. . .

Comments (6) to “That Goggled-eyed Snapping Turtle”

  1. Ethan,

    Did you happen to take a look at Mrs. Meade’s letters at the same place? Her high place in Phila. society resulted in the preservation of much of her wartime correspondence with her husband, affording us the very rare opportunity to “listen in” on both sides of the conversation, something vital for context.

  2. An ideal documentary editing project.

  3. Harry:
    Given the space limitations I am working under and the fact that my essay is already considerably over the length asked for by the editor and publisher, I think I will leave that task to those working on a full Meade biography. I know of one that is already in the works, Stowe’s with Kent State–do you or anyone else know of any others?

    Are you volunteering?

  4. Hi Ethan & all,

    Sounds like the theme of a paper someone presented at the SMH a month back! . . . :)

    Regrettably, it seems as if Margeretta Sergeant Meade’s letters to her husband no longer survive. There are none at HSP, anyhow. Indeed, I have only come across one letter of interest emanating from her pen in my decade or so of Meade study — a note to a Detroit friend explaining George’s recovery from his 1862 Glendale wound.

    Ethan: I’ve pretty much got Meade’s handwriting down after all these years. If you have any questions on his hurried scrawl, please let me know (though my opinion cannot be be judged definitive by any means). I have a copy of Meade’s HSP manuscripts (Scholarly Resources microfilmed & marketed these about a decade back) and can get an answer back to you in a reasonable amount of time.

    I am likely going to take a stab at editing the Meade manuscripts (I’ve talked with Mark Snell for a number of years now about collaborating on this proposed project). But it may be some years down the road yet — I’ve got to finish volume two of the bio before taking on this particular gorilla . . .

    Joe Glaatthar is absolutely correct: I find that the manuscript papers are simply essential in developing an objective appraisal of not only the general, but the man. I argue that Meade’s son & grandson, in compiling the Life & Letters, presented a Meade fit for public consumption in an age when a didactic approach to history & biography was the norm. The original letters in Philadelphia (and microfilm copies at Harvard, Carlisle Barracks, the Univ. of Toledo, and elsewhere) present a far more nuanced — and sometimes unflattering — Meade, one with very telling views on wartime politics/policy, the changing face of war, his careerist goals, etc. Moreover, his unvarnished look at brother officers Halleck, Meigs, Franklin, Baldy Smith, Reynolds, and others make fascinating reading. Finally, his mortification at losing prestige during the 1864-’65 campaigns just *oozes* from the manuscripts — far more so than is portrayed in the L & L.

  5. I’m aware that there’s a microfilm edition of these papers, and I think a letterpress copy would be in order. I would not again embark on quite the full-scale enterprise of the Sherman letters, but I’d like to see Meade (and Theodore Lyman, plus other Meade staffers) done. Someone ought to do it, and if Chris is, fine. But someone’s going to have to commit to this idea, because it’s a good one. I can’t tell you the number of Sherman wannabe editors who popped up when I started the project.

  6. Christopher,

    Check with Frank O’Reilly at Fredericksburg re: Margaretta’s letters. Perhaps I got the repository wrong.