LT: June 16, 1864 Theodore Lyman

   

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in Lyman Theodore

Editor’s Note: Theodore Lyman was General George G. Meade’s aide-de-camp from the fall of 1863 through Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  An intelligent and outspoken individual, Lyman’s letters to his wife provide great insight into the happenings at Meade’s headquarters.  These letters, taken from the now public domain book Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865; Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox and written by Lyman to his wife, appear here at the Siege of Petersburg Online exactly 150 years to the day after they are written.  Since this site is concerned solely with the Siege of Petersburg, the letters start on June 12, 1864 and end on April 3, 1865.  See the bottom of this and every other letter for a list of all the letters which have appeared to date.

June 16, 1864

At four in the morning they began to ferry over the 5th Corps; of this, two divisions were loaded from Wilcox’s wharf and two from a wharf near the bridge; the bridge itself being in constant use for the passage of the main train. The 5th Corps would then march on Petersburg and take position on the left of the 9th. . . . Our information was that part of Lee’s army, quitting Malvern Hill, had crossed at Drury’s Bluff and was moving on Petersburg. About nine o’clock the General, with Sanders and myself, went on board the ironclad Atlanta. The Captain sent a boat ashore and took us out in state. How sailor-like the Americans look, with their blue shirts and flat caps! And these poor infantry, artillery, and cavalry of ours, why, the more they serve, the less they look like soldiers and the more they resemble day-laborers who have bought second-hand military clothes. I have so come to associate good troops with dusty, faded suits, that I look with suspicion on anyone who has a stray bit of lace or other martial finery. . . .

At 10.30 General Humphreys and General Meade, taking only Sanders and myself, embarked on a boat with General Ingalls, for City Point. The boat started up the river with us, and we found it an hour’s trip to City Point. The river is very pretty, or rather fine, with banks that remind one of Narragansett Bay, going to Newport, only they are, I think, higher. . . . City Point is a jut of land at the junction of the Appomattox and the James. It must once have been a quite pretty place, and consisted of a large number of scattered private houses, several of them very good ones; especially that near which General Grant had his camp, which is just on the river. . . . Grant had gone to the front, some seven miles away, and we presently rode out on the Petersburg road, and met Grant returning,(1) a couple of miles from the Point. It was on going out of the place that it occurred to me that someone had said that Hal’s(2) regiment was there; so, as I passed a shipshape-looking camp, I asked, “What regiment is that?” “Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry,” said the darkie. “Is Colonel Russell there?” “No, sa-ar. He’s in der hospital. He was wounded yesterday!” I felt a quite cold perspiration, as I asked if he were badly hurt. The man thought not, but said he was hit in two places. It was tough to ride right past him so, but the General had but two aides; we were expecting a fight, and I had no business to stop in a road where I could not again find him. Meeting Colonel Rowley, however, I asked him to see that Hal had everything and to say that I would be in that night to see him. We rode on along an almost deserted road, till we crossed the rail, when we came on Burnside’s column, moving wearily along. The men had done awful marching in a dry country, with a hot sun and midst a stifling dust. I hate to see troops so used up. Passing through some woods, we again got to an open country, then went a little way more in woods, and came full on an open space in front of the captured line of works. . . . Just here Hancock had his flag and General Meade was soon busy consulting about an assault, which finally was ordered for six P.M. … From the place we then stood I could see two or three spires of the town. Of this attack I saw more than of most previous fights, or rather of the cannonade. The line of our batteries was in plain sight, a little in front of where General Meade took his stand, because the Rebels had long since cut down a wide zone of timber in their front, to get a good field of fire. It was a most striking sight! The air, hazy with dust, gave a copper-red color to the declining sun, which was soon heightened by the powder-smoke that rose from the batteries. The firing was very heavy and there was the continual whiz of our shells or those of the enemy. It is curious, but the scene reminded me of one of those stiff but faithful engravings of Napoleon’s battles that one sees in European collections; especially the artillerists loading and discharging their pieces. The musketry was pretty heavy too. Birney and part of the others carried the first line, but the assault was not a success such as we wanted; however, General Meade ordered a column of 5000 men to be prepared for a moonlight attack, which, as you will learn, took place at daylight next morning. The General had a quite narrow escape, as we stood watching; for a round shot came bounding over the country and hopped right in front of him and General Humphreys. The attack over, I asked leave to go in and see Harry, and the General told me I could have stopped when we came through had I asked then. So I got a fresh horse and two men and started. It was an elegant night, with a fine moon — quite perfect indeed. You could never have supposed yourself near a great army, after getting past the railroad. There was scarcely a soul on the route. As I got near the village there were some waggons going out to Butler, but these were pretty much all. Nobody halted me, though I rode past a picket guard and through the breastworks. It was not till I drew near Hal’s camp that his sentry roared out in a military voice, indicating much study of phonetics: “Halt! Who goes there?” Then came a corporal of the guard in due style. … I ascended the stairs of what had been a private house. It was about ten at night when I got in. There were a number of cots arranged in a large upper room, each occupied by a wounded officer. On the mantelpiece were medicine bottles, a pitcher of lemonade and a candle; and this was a ward. Master Hal lay fast asleep on one of the cots, quite unconscious of dusty brothers-in-law. . . . He was mightily glad to see me, and we talked some time, in a low voice, not to disturb others. I remember there was a wounded lieutenant next us, a good deal under morphine, who had a great fancy that Lee had captured our whole supply train. Finally I departed with a humble gift of two oranges and some tea, which I had brought in my holsters. . . .

Then to Headquarters and found General Grant just going to bed. He sat on the edge of his cot, in shirt and drawers, and listened to my report. I told him the General would put in a column of 5000 men of the 9th Corps, by moonlight. He smiled, like one who had done a clever thing, and said, “I think it is pretty well to get across a great river, and come up here and attack Lee in his rear before he is ready for us!” He prepared a despatch to General Meade, which I took back.1

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(1) “Presently we met Grant and his Staff coming back. ‘Well,’ he said; ‘Smith has taken a line of works there, stronger than anything we have seen this campaign! If it is a possible thing, I want an assault made at 6 o’clock this evening!'” — Lyman’s Journal.

(2) Mrs. Lyman’s brother.

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