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LT: August 8, 1864 Theodore Lyman

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.

August 8, 1864

“What do you think of filling up with Germans?” you ask. Now, what do you think of a man who has the toothache — a werry, werry big molar! — and who has not the courage to march up and have it out, but tries to persuade himself that he can buy some patent pain-killer that will cure him; when, in his soul, he knows that tooth has to come out? This is what I think of our good people (honest, doubtless) who would burden us with these poor, poor nigs, and these nerveless, stupid Germans. As soldiers in the field the Germans are nearly useless; our experience is, they have no native courage to compare with Americans. Then they do not understand a word that is said to them — these new ones. So it has proved with the Massachusetts 20th (which has a perfection of discipline not at all the rule). Under the severe eyes of their officers the German recruits have done tolerably in simple line, mixed with the old men; but they produced confusion at the Wilderness, by their ignorance of the language; and, only the other day, Patten told me he could not do a thing with them on the skirmish line, because they could not understand. By the Lord! I wish these gentlemen who would overwhelm us with Germans, negroes, and the offscourings of great cities, could only see — only see — a Rebel regiment, in all their rags and squalor. If they had eyes they would know that these men are like wolf-hounds, and not to be beaten by turnspits. Look at our “Dutch” heavy artillery: we no more think of trusting them than so many babies. Send bog-trotters, if you please, for Paddy will fight — no one is braver. It should be known, that ill-disciplined, or cowardly, or demoralized troops may be useful behind walls, but in open campaigning they literally are worse than useless; they give way at the first fire and expose the whole line to be flanked. At the Wilderness the 6th Corps would have been stronger without Ricketts’s division; at Spotsylvania the whole army would have been stronger without Mott’s division. Howland(1) has influence in recruiting; impress upon him, therefore, that every worthless recruit he sends to this army is one card in the hand of General Lee and is the cause, very likely, of the death of a good soldier. The trouble is this: we have not the machinery to work up poor material. They won’t let us shoot the rascals, and few regiments have the discipline to mould them into decent troops; the consequence is, they are the stragglers, pillagers, skulkers and run-aways of the army. If you had seen as many thousands as I, you would understand what sort of fellows they are. I don’t believe in recruiting another man! We have recruited already more volunteers than any country ever saw. Volunteers are naturally exhausted; and now we pay huge bounties to every sort of scoundrel and vagabond and alien. These men will not fight and you can’t make ’em fight. But draft men and you will get good ones, without bounty. They will not want to go, but they have the pride of native-born Americans, and they fight like devils. The very men that desert the next day will fight the day before, for sake of avoiding shame. I have written quite a disquisition, but the topic is an important one, and I have the honor, in conclusion, to suggest to the honorable City of Boston that, when the Germans arrive, they should be let out as gardeners, and the poor remnants of the old regiments should be allowed to fight it out alone.1


(1) His brother-in-law.




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