Part 4. civil War letters, 1861-1865
To Mrs. George G. Meade:I hope you will not be very much put out at not receiving a letter earlier from me, but I have really been very much occupied, and yesterday, in addition to other duties, we had a grand division review for the Prince de Joinville1 and others. I was so sorry you and Sergeant2 had gone. The review passed off very well, pretty much the same as you saw, except that, having been advised of the arrival of the distinguished strangers only the night before, Gauttier did not have the privilege of sticking McCall for a fine collation. McClellan, however, took the Frenchmen over to the Chain Bridge and by Ball's Cross-Roads. I felt very sad when you drove off, and could hardly shake off the idea that I was looking on you perhaps for the last time—at any rate, for a long while; but I trust matters will be more favorable to us, and that it will please a just and merciful Providence to permit us to be happy once more, united, and free from immediate trouble. There has been nothing new since you left. We have daily the usual announcement that the enemy have been seen somewhere above us, on the opposite side; but they confine their operations to letting us see them. What they are going to do, no one without the gift of second sight can possibly imagine. In the meantime we are becoming better prepared to meet them, and after awhile if they don't show themselves, I presume we shall have to hunt them up. I find camp life agrees very well with me, and the active duties I have entered on are quite agreeable. Sometimes I have a little sinking at the heart, when I reflect that perhaps I may fail at the grand scratch; but I try to console myself with the belief that I shall  probably do as well as most of my neighbors, and that your firm faith must be founded on some reasonable groundwork. William Palmer brought Kuhn3 out to see me, who presented letters from Harrison Smith4 and Henry Fisher, asking me to assist him in procuring a staff appointment. He said he supposed my staff was full, but would be glad to serve on it as a volunteer, as pay was no object to him, but simply a position and a chance to see service. While I was talking to him I received Charley Cadwalader's letter. I then told him C.'s declination made a vacancy, but I did not know whether I could appoint a civilian, not commissioned in the volunteers; that McClellan, McCall and myself were trying to have young Watmough5 appointed in this manner, which if we succeeded in would be a precedent. He expressed himself greatly pleased, and said he would await the result in Washington.
in camp, September 22, 1861.
in camp, September 22, 1861.
Dr. Stocker is caterer, and I have a young man from one of the regiments acting as my adjutant general, till the arrival of Captain Baird. Captain Ringwalt, a Chester County farmer, has been assigned to me as quartermaster. He is said to be a most respectable and wealthy farmer of Chester County.
Tenallytown, September 26, 1861.Yesterday, Baldy Smith6 made one of his reconnoissances, and our division was held in readiness all day to move at a moment's notice to support him, in case of emergency. He returned, however,  without encountering any force of consequence, though we could see him from my tent firing his artillery at small bodies hovering around him. To-day being the day set apart by the President for fasting, humiliation and prayer, all duties were suspended and the day observed as Sunday. I have a letter from Willie,7 written in good spirits, and saying he expects to take the field in a few weeks, with the First Battalion of his regiment.
Tenallytown, September 30, 1861—3 P. M.We have been under arms all day, and once started for up river, believing the enemy were crossing some fifteen miles above us. The report proved erroneous, but we keep all ready to move at a moment's notice. They have retired from our front on the other side of the river, and are showing themselves above and below. We cannot tell what they are about, but I believe we are ready for them, let them come in what direction they choose.
Tenallytown, October 6, 1861.I have not written you since the few lines the day we expected to have a fight. The stampede lasted for thirty-six hours. I believe it is now generally known that McClellan had planned a surprise, which, if he had succeeded in, would have brought on a big fight, in which our division was to have a part; but the sudden disappearance of the enemy frustrated the plan. There is no doubt they were apprised of it, though McClellan asserts he did not tell even the generals who were to share in it till the very moment of action, and that he is now convinced it is impossible to do or attempt anything without their knowing it. At present all is quiet, the enemy having retired to his old lines about Manassas. His threatening Washington was a bravado, hoping to draw McClellan out. Failing in this, he has fallen back, thinking we would rush after him, and thus give them a chance to get us at a disadvantage. They are, as Woodbury said, great on strategy, but I guess they will find after awhile that our movements are not to be governed by theirs, and that McClellan is not going to move until he is ready, and then not in the direction they want him. Macomb has been made a lieutenant colonel, as chief Topographical Engineer of McClellan's staff—the least they could do for him, as all the rest of the chiefs have been made generals and colonels.
West Point. I was sure you would be delighted with the scenery, which is said of its kind to be unequaled. I agree with you that the student at West Point has every advantage in his favor in the regularity of the hours there and the absence of distraction. Still, you must remember, a great deal more is required of them than at any of our colleges, and that without a mathematical turn of mind, which is a decided gift of nature, no advantages such as above mentioned will enable a student to overcome all the difficulties in his path, though, undoubtedly, they render his task easier than it otherwise would be. Day before yesterday we were moved across the Potomac, and are now in position some four miles in advance of where you saw John Markoe,9 being just beyond Langley, where Baldy Smith had his skirmish. Hamilton Kuhn did get a commission from the Governor of Pennsylvania, but it was not the right kind. He has been again to Harrisburg and procured another, and is now in Washington, qualifying himself, so that I expect him to join me every day. He appears a very gentlemanly fellow, and is so anxious to see service, that I doubt not I shall find him very useful.
To Mrs. George G. Meade:The enemy have appeared in our vicinity, and we have as much reason to believe they are going to attack us as we ever can have with an enemy as alert as they are and whose movements are wrapped in such mystery. Perhaps their movements to-day are like many preceding ones, only feints, either to harass us or draw us out. If they ever are going to attack us, now is their time, as General McClellan has advanced some miles beyond his line of entrenchments and is on comparatively new ground, where every day will enable him to make himself stronger and their probability of success less. My own opinion has hitherto been that they would act on the defensive and await our attack, but the movement of McClellan has possibly caused a change in their tactics, and they may have made up their minds to accept his offer of battle and try their chances at the offensive.  For my part, I hope it is so. We have a strong position, in its natural character; we are near our reserves in Washington, and we have strong lines to fall back upon in case we cannot hold our present advanced lines. In other words, the advantages are as great on our side as we can ever expect to have them. The whole question turns upon the behavior of our men. If they stand up to their work like men, and really fight with a determination to do or die, I think there is no doubt of our triumphant success. Of course, if they cannot be brought to this point, all plans and calculations must fail. You will doubtless be anxious to know what is my private opinion of our force, and I would not hesitate to tell you if I had a decided opinion. Much, as I have always told you, will depend on the turn events take. If we are successful in the beginning in repelling the attack, I think they can be kept up to the work; but if by any accident the fortune is against us in the commencement, I fear they will become demoralized. They do not any of them, officers or men, seem to have the least idea of the solemn duty they have imposed upon themselves in becoming soldiers. Soldiers they are not in any sense of the word. Brave men they may be, and I trust in God will prove themselves; but at this very moment, when we have every reason to believe by to-morrow's dawn our lives may be imperiled, if not taken from us, I doubt if any of the numerous living beings around me realize in the slightest degree what they may have to meet. For myself, I await calmly the decree of an over-ruling Providence. I am here from a sense of duty, because I could not with honor be away, and whatever befalls me, those of my blood who survive me can say, I trust, that I did my duty.
camp Pierpont, Va., October 12, 1861—9 P. M.
camp Pierpont, Va., October 12, 1861—9 P. M.
camp Pierpont, Va., October 14, 1861.We see their pickets and lookouts on all prominent points in front of us, and this afternoon towards sunset they opened a battery on our left (I mean by ours, McCall's Division). I saw the flash of the guns, but could not see where the shot fell, or at what part of our line they were firing. I think we are on the eve of important events, and that it will not be long before we have a struggle. For my part, I do not desire it postponed, and was quite disappointed they did not attack us. The country is becoming impatient at the apparent inactivity of our troops, and I have no doubt, if the enemy afford McClellan any chance which he deems favorable, he will attack them.  I went over to-day to see our friend W. F. Smith, commanding the division next to us. Madame was there, and I went over by invitation to luncheon and to see her. She asked where you were, and I said in Philadelphia, at which she expressed a little surprise, when I told her you had a brigade of infantry that required as much talent to command and as close attention to duties as our brigades. I heard