LT: November 10, 1864 Theodore Lyman



in Lyman Theodore

November 10, 1864

They have been singularly niggardly to us about election returns; but we have reliable intelligence to-night that Lincoln is re-elected, the coarse, honest, good-natured, tolerably able man! It is very well as it is; for the certainty of pushing this war to its righteous end must now swallow up all other considerations. I am still more content that there has been a powerful opposition to him, even from respectable men, an opposition strong enough to carry several states. This will caution him, or better, his party, to proceed cautiously and to make no fanatical experiments, such as we too often have seen, but to proceed firmly, and according to rule and law. Lincoln has some men of ability about him — pre-eminent, Mr. Seward, whom the ultras have thrown over, but whom I think the strong man of the cabinet. Mr. Fessenden is said to be a very superior person, and his face is certainly a bright one, very. There is another important advantage in keeping on as we are: the machine is in running order and it is always a drawback to change midst a season of public trial. And again we have done with Lincoln what the Rebels have successfully done with their generals, let him learn from his own misfortunes and mistakes; not a bad school for a sensible man. So you see, I am inclined to make the best of what I deem is the best, albeit not very good. . . .

Have you read an article from Fraser, in Littell’s, called “Concord Transcendentalists.” It is a singular production, rather entertaining some of it, and interspersed with the weakest, sweetened warm milk and water. The place where it says that Theodore Parker hid two slaves in his study, and nightly sat writing at the door of it, with several pistols and the gun that had belonged to his grandfather, would be a funny passage at any time, but, written so gravely in these war days, it is quite irresistible! If you see any number, in future, containing the tale of Tony Butler,(1) you might send it to me, though it is no great matter. I have read a number or two, the last chapter being in this very number where the Transcends flourish. Which reminds me of what a West Point professor said, according to the solemn Duane. He was hearing a recitation in philosophy, and would fain illustrate how the body might slowly change, yet the individual remain the same. “Now,” said he, “if I have a knife and lose a blade and get it replaced, it is still the same knife.” “Well,” said a stupid-looking cadet, “and suppose you lose the other blades, one after another, and get them replaced, is it the same knife?” “Certainly,” replied the Professor. “And suppose the handle should get rather ricketty and you replaced that?” “Yes, it would be the same knife.” “Well, now,” cried the stupid one, suddenly brightening up amazingly, “suppose you took the old handle, and found the old blades, and put ’em all together, what would you call that, hey?” Poor Major Duane! he can’t do much but talk and tell stories, for he is quite miserably yet and is not fit for duty, though he is improving. . . .

Last night, with a mild south wind, we had a singular example of the stopping of sound. Our batteries near the plank road, some three miles off, may usually be heard with perfect distinctness; not only the guns, but the explosion of the shells; and the replies of the Rebels also. At night we can see the shells going over, by the burning fuse, that looks like a flying spark. The deception is very singular in the dark, for, though the shell may be passing at the rate of 1200 feet a second, in the distance the fuse seems to go slowly and in a stately curve. This is because 1200 feet looks very small, three miles away, and the eye gets an idea of rapidity by the space travelled over in a given time. Well, last night, they opened a somewhat brisk discharge of mortar shells from both sides; but though we could see them go through the sky and burst below, not the faintest sound reached the ear! At other times these same guns will sound quite close to us. I could cite many such contrasts.

I rode forth with good Duke [Andrew A.] Humphrey[s] [Meade’s Chief of Staff, and later Second Corps commander], to see the dress-parade in the 9th Corps. That and the 5th, not being in the immediate presence of the enemy, have a good chance for drill. The 9th Corps, in particular, have gone into the evolutions to an alarming extent, an exercise which, like Wistar’s balsam of wild cherry, can’t do harm and may do good. Around General Parke’s Headquarters there is a chronic beating of drums and fifing of fifes and playing of bands. We sat some time and watched the drilling; it was quite fun to see them double-quicking here, and marching there, and turning up in unexpected positions. At last the gallant Colonel [Napoleon B.] McLaughlen [commander of 3/1/IX/AotP], after many intricate manoeuvres, charged and took a sutler’s tent, and the brigade was then marched to its quarters. As we returned, there was a nig brigade [undoubtedly one of the USCT brigades from Edward Ferrero’s Third Division, Ninth Corps.], having its dress parade in fine style. They looked extremely well and marched in good style. The band was a great feature. There was a man with the bass drum (the same I believe that so amused De Chanal) who felt a ruat-coelum-fiat-big-drum sentiment in his deepest heart! No man ever felt more that the success of great things lay in the whacking of that sheepskin with vigor and precision! Te-de-bung, de-de-bung, bung, bung! could be heard, far and near. . . . The nigs are getting quite brisk at their evolutions. If their intellects don’t work, the officers occasionally refresh them by applying the flats of their swords to their skins. There was a Swede here, who had passed General Casey’s board for a negro commission. He was greatly enraged by a remark of the distinguished Casey, who asked him what Gustavus Adolphus did, meaning what great improvements he introduced in the art of war. To which the furriner replied: “He was commander-in-chief of the Swedish army.” “Oh, pooh!” said Casey, “that’s nothing!” Which the Swede interpreted to mean that Gustavus was small potatoes, or that the Swedish army was so. Really, most foreign officers among us are but scapegraces from abroad. The other day the Belgian Minister Sanford sent a letter asking for promotion for private Guatineau, whose pa had rendered us great service by writing in the French press. The matter being referred to his commander, the reply was: “This man deserted to the enemy from the picket line.”1,2


(1) By Charles James Lever, and then running in Blackwood’s Magazine.




  1. SOPO 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.
  2. Agassiz, George R. Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865; Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1922, pp. 259-262


What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: