LT: March 1, 1865 Theodore Lyman

   

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SOPO Editor’s Note: Lyman letter editor George Agassiz provides a short narrative to touch on what Lyman was away, when he returned, and the strategic situation upon the ADC’s return to the front.  Today’s entry does not contain any words written by Theodore Lyman.

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As the Army of the Potomac was now settling down to winter quarters before Petersburg, Meade chaffingly remarked to Lyman one day toward the end of December: “I have a Christmas present for Mrs. Lyman — a certain worthless officer whom I shall send home to her.” And that evening he gave him a 300-day leave, with the understanding that Lyman was to return with the opening of the active campaign in the spring.

Toward the end of February, Lyman became restless, and fearing that operations might start in his absence, turned up at Headquarters on March 1. On going into dinner, he was kindly greeted by General Meade, who, poor man, although he had just come back from burying his son, managed to say playfully that he would have Lyman court-martialed for returning without orders.

The Appomattox campaign opened in the spring, with the forces under Grant numbering 113,000, while those under Lee were only 49,000.(1) The resources of the North were unimpaired, those of the South were rapidly vanishing. On March 25Lee made an energetic but unsuccessful sortie.1 On April 1, Sheridan won a brilliant victory at Five Forks. Grant followed this up by attacking all along the line the next day. The result of the engagement was that the Confederate Army was cut in halves, and Grant established himself between the two parts.

Lee’s position was untenable; Richmond and Petersburg were abandoned that night. Retreat was still open toward the westward. Accordingly, Lee withdrew along the line of the Richmond and Danville railroad, hoping to join Johnston, who was opposing Sherman’s advance from the south. As a last resort, Lee planned to retreat to the mountains of Virginia, where he thought he might continue the war indefinitely. The Union Army followed close on the heels of the retreating southerners. The chase was continued for eighty miles. In the neighborhood of Appomattox Court House, the cavalry under Sheridan got across the railroad in front of the enemy. Lee was unable to break through. Hemmed in, with his men worn out and starved, Lee surrendered the remnant of his army, less than 27,000 men,(1) on April 9. This virtually ended the war.2,3

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(1) T. L. Livermore, Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America, 135-137. Lyman’s estimate at the time was 122,000 and 50,000.

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Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Agassiz is referring to the Battle of Fort Stedman.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 303-304

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