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LT: August 16, 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 16, 1864

I have been well content to get your letter this afternoon. In regard to what you say for the troops for the assault,(1) it is true that General Meade should have ordered in the best — and so he did. Express orders were given to put in the best troops and have the division generals lead them if necessary. General Meade made examinations in person of the enemy’s lines, and the orders drawn up by General Humphreys were more than usually elaborated. People have a vulgar belief that a General commanding a great army can, and ought to arrange in person every detail. This is not possible, nor is it desirable; the corps and division commanders would at once say: “Very well, if you have not enough confidence in me to let me carry on the ordinary business of my command, I ought to be relieved.” I see great discussion in the papers as to the conduct of the negroes. I say, as I always have, that you never, in the long run, can make negroes fight with success against white men. When the whole weight of history is on one side, you may be sure that side is the correct one. I told General Meade I had expressed myself strongly, at home, against the imported Dutchmen, to which he replied: “Yes, if they want to see us licked, they had better send along such fellers as those!” As I said before, the Pats will do: not so good as pure Yanks, but they will rush in and fight. There was a report at first that Colonel Macy of the 20th Massachusetts was mortally wounded, but I have since heard that it is not so. On Sunday, he had command of a brigade, and had his horse killed: he then came back, got another horse from Barlow and returned to the front. This horse either was shot or reared over with him, frightened by the firing, and crushed him badly. Let me see, I told you this before; never mind, you will be sure now to know it. Sometimes I get rather mixed because I write often a few words about a day, on the eve of the same, and then detail it more at length afterwards.


The Rebels got well alarmed about Hancock and sent reinforcements, recalling troops that had started to help Early in the valley; an important point gained. Hancock had some hard fighting to-day, with considerable success, taking several hundred prisoners and driving the enemy. The Rebel General Chambliss was killed, and we found on him a valuable map containing the fortifications of Richmond. They also are said to have killed a General Gherrard; but I have an idea there is no such General in their service.(2) Perhaps he was a new appointment, or a colonel commanding a brigade. As to giving you an account of the engagement, it would be out of the question; as it is a perfect muddle to me. I only know that Gregg, with a cavalry division, went out on the Richmond road, to within six and one half miles of the city, and encountered a big crowd of infantry and had to come back. Barlow had to leave his division, sick, and go to friend Dalton, at City Point.1


(1) When the mine was exploded.

(2) It was Brig. Gen. Victor J. B. Girardey.




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