In The Wilderness

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So much has been said and written of the widespread desolation the war caused in Virginia, that it may not be out of place to state some facts which came under my observation. From Spotsylvania to North Anna we marched through a section of country abounding in large farms, with elegant residences and commodious outbuildings. Many of these plantations were under a high state of cultivation. The soil was rather light and sandy in the lowlands along the watercourses, and seemed nearly worthless on the ridges and highlands that intervened. Yet even the latter were sown and planted, and promised to yield a handsome reward for the labor. Fields of waving grain, stretched away from the roads for miles. Wheat stood thin on the ground, but was well advanced for the season. But little rye, oats or clover was seen, but a large acreage of corn was planted. The fencing was better than expected. Every farmhouse had an extensive kitchen garden well filled with growing esculents, and the people in general did not have the starved and destitute appearance of those in parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia where I had previously campaigned. Ice houses and ice plentiful. Old corn fodder at every house not on some main road. Livestock and poultry were abundant, the scarcity of mules and horses only being apparent. The finest natural leaf Virginia tobacco abounded, and our soldiers no longer had to pay two dollars a plug for it. Each had his pockets and pouches crammed with it, and hundreds had bundles of it dangling to their muskets as they trudged along.

[Swinging southward across the Pamunkey River, Grant found Lee strongly posted at Cold Harbor. On June 3, he hurled his army forward in one of the most desperate assaults of the war, and within a few hours had lost 10,000 men. A lull in the fighting followed.]

Taking advantage of a few days of foreseen inaction after our last assault on Cold Harbor I made a hurried trip to Washington and back by steamer. During my absence a circumstance transpired that caused considerable comment. It seems that Mr. Edward Crapsey, correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer , made some remarks about Gen. Meade in his published accounts about the battle of the wilderness, to which Meade, and staff, took great exceptions. I cannot give the exact language, but its substance was, that at the end of the second day’s fighting there, Gen. Meade was in favor of withdrawing the Union army back to the north bank of the Rapidan; and that this would have been done, had Meade been in supreme control, instead of Grant.

[On June 7, when Meade learned that Crapsey had rejoined the army after an absence in the North, he ordered that the correspondent be arrested, marched through the camp wearing a placard marked “Libeller of the Press,” and then put outside the army lines and forbidden to return.]

Perhaps nothing in this campaign was so pleasing and so gratifying to the whole nature of the man, as the execution of this order was to the brutal, tyrannical nature of Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal-General. That the order was executed far beyond its letter need not be said to those who knew this “Squeers” of the military profession. To its letter was added every indignity and insult, which Patrick could devise. Crapsey was mounted and tied on the sorriest looking mule to be found, with his face to the mule’s tail; when preceded by a drum corps beating the “Rogues March,” he was literally paraded for hours through the ranks of the army. . . . Previous to this Patrick caused Gen. Meade’s order to be read to every regiment he could reach, and the affair was treated with as much importance as if it had been the announcement of the collapse of the rebellion.

The consequences of Meade’s act extended farther than he expected. Every newspaper correspondent in the Army of the Potomac, and in Washington City, had first an implied, and afterward an expressed understanding, to ignore Gen. Meade in every possible way and manner. The publishers shared their feelings to a considerable extent, and it was soon noticed that Gen. Meade’s name never appeared in any army correspondence if it could be omitted. If he issued an official or general order of such importance as to require publication, it would be printed without signature, prefaced with the remark: “The following order has just been issued,” &c. From that time till the next spring, Gen. Meade was quite as much unknown, by any correspondence from the army, as any dead hero of antiquity.

He was not slow to observe this, and first treated the neglect contemptuously. But at length it became irritating—then serious, but irremediable. The dignity of a major-general forbade complaints, and his individual pride prevented any acknowledgements. But some of his staff, who must rise or fall with their chief in public estimation, made some overtures towards a reconciliation. But nothing was accomplished. I had protested—mildly—against this conspiracy, for it was a conspiracy, on the ground that the position was entitled to more respect, if the man was not. I finally wrote privately to the Herald , recalling and recounting all the facts, and stating that I thought it had been carried far enough. Mr. Hudson replied, saying that he felt as I did, and hoped I would treat Gen. Meade with the consideration his military services and present position deserved. This was during the winter of 1864-5, and circumstances soon enabled me to “abandon the blockade” against him, without solicitation from myself, or any friend of his.