LT: June 24, 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 24, 1864

It is praise not to be pitched into by the Great Peppery: and he is very kind to me. To be sure, I watch him, as one would a big trout on a small hook, and those who don’t, catch volleys at all hours! Poor Biddle, for instance, an excellent, bettyish sort of man, with no fragment of tact, when the General is full of anxiety for something that is not going right, is sure to come in, in his stuttering way, with “Ah, aw, hem, aw, General, they are going to pitch camp in a very sandy, bad place, sir; you will not be at all comfortable, and there is a nice grassy —” “Major Biddle!!!” — and then follows the volley.

James C. Biddle, Meade' s ADC

Sometimes it is very effective to contradict the General, provided you stick to it and are successful. I came in last night, feeling cross and not at all caring for commanders of armies or other great ones of this earth. “Well, Lyman, you’re back, are you?” “Yes, sir: I reported that the enemy were moving along our rear, but they got no further than —” “Rear! not at all! they were moving along the front.” “No, sir, they were not, they were moving along our rear.” “What do you mean by that? There is Russell, and there is Ricketts, and here is Wheaton; now of course that’s your front.” “Russell isn’t in such a position, sir, nor Wheaton either. They face so (dabs with a pencil), so that is our rear and can’t be anything else.” Whereupon the good chief graciously said no more. I do not know that he ever said anything pleasant about me except the day after the Wilderness battles, when I heard Hancock say that “Colonel Lyman had been useful to him, the day before.” To which the General replied: “Yes, Lyman is a clearheaded man.” I have heard him volunteer several favorable things about Captain Sanders; also he has remarked that Old Rosey (my tent-mate) was good at finding roads; and that is pretty much all of his praises, whereof no man is more sparing. By the way, old Rosey has his commission as captain. One thing I do not like — it is serious — and that is, that three years of bitter experience have failed to show our home people that, to an army on active campaign (or rather furious campaign), there must be supplied a constant stream of fresh men — by thousands. What do we see? Everyone trying to persuade himself that his town has furnished its “quota.” But where are they? We have large armies, but nothing compared with the paper statements. No! The few produced by drafts in good part run away; so too many of the “volunteers” — miserable fellows bought with money. None are shot — that is unmerciful — but the Powers that Be will let brave, high-toned men, who scorn to shirk their duty, be torn with canister and swept away with musketry, and that is inevitable.

This morning appeared General Grant with two French officers, who since have taken up their quarters with us and mess with us. They are two artillery officers, the elder a Colonel de Chanal, the other a Captain Guzman, both sent as a commission to observe the progress of the campaign. The Colonel is a perfect specimen of an old Frenchman, who has spent most of his life in provincial garrisons, in the study of all sorts of things, from antiquities down to rifled projectiles. He has those extraordinary, nervous legs, which only middle-aged Frenchmen can get, and is full of various anecdotes. Many years he has lived in Toulouse. The other is young and little and looks like a black-eyed and much astonished grasshopper. He is very bright, speaks several languages, and was on the Chinese expedition. General Grant staid some time in council, and took dinner with us. I was amused at him, for, the day being warm, he began taking off his coat before he got to the tent; and by the time he had said, “How are you, Meade?” he was in his shirt-sleeves, in which state he remained till dinner-time. He attempted no foreign conversation with the Gauls, simply observing; “If I could have turned the class the other end to, I should have graduated at West Point, very high in French”!1

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