General Meade's temper.
Its peculiarities made him an enigma.What Dana wrote about It—a note from Mr. Lincoln—General Halleck and the Testy Commander—Took his own course.
The late Federal General Meade's peculiarities of temper, to draw it mildly, were such as to make him something of an enigma, even to his closest associates in the Army of the Potomac, which he commanded from Gettysburg to the close of the war. He was a singularly fretful man—a most trying characteristic always—and especially in one occuping a high command—and often indulged on the slightest provocation in very unpalatable language toward those with whom he came in contact. This irascibility of temper made him many enemies in the army. It is generally understood that at one period personal dislike of General Meade was almost universal  among the officers of higher rank. Hon. Charles A. Dana, who as Assistant-Secretary of War was with the army during the early days at Petersburg, in one of his reports to Secretary Stanton, made the following vigorous statements concerning General Meade's faults of temper:
In deep anxiety to impress General Meade with the importance of immediately attacking General Lee, the President's letter was transmitted by Halleck to the front by special messenger, Colonel Cutts, of his staff. As the President and his military advisers at Washington could have had but little accurate knowledge of what was passing with great rapidity from hour to hour at the front, and hence were in a measure incapable of judging of the chances of success in a collision; and, therefore, declined to assume the responsibility of making a direct order for an attack, this urgency on the part of his superiors must have been excessively exasperating to the Union commander, the more so because it was his distinct purpose to deliver battle upon the first favorable opportunity. But General Lee had projected his movement so unexpectedly and prosecuted it with such energy and  rapidity as to leave General Meade for a time in almost complete darkness as to his enemy's whereabouts and ultimate purpose. He was unwilling, therefore, through undue precipitation, to take any chances of repeating the appalling Federal blunders and disasters of the preceding year on this very ground. The war records make it perfectly clear now that General Meade lost a great opportunity in this short campaign, for it appears that General Lee was far inferior in strength to the Union army. The very boldness of his movements was calculated to conceal his numerical weakness. But with the meagre knowledge Meade possessed of Lee's movements he was undoubtedly justified in a line of action which had the appearance of timidity. If General Pope, in the campaign of 1862, also several days in ignorance of his enemy's whereabouts and intentions, had followed the wise policy of General Meade and fallen back behind Bull Run, there safely awaiting the development of General Lee's purpose, it is unquestionable that he could have received the Confederate attack on his own ground with a force nearly double his enemy, for in that campaign Lee was on the offensive in dead earnest. The result would, doubtless, have been very much more favorable to the Federal cause, as well as to General Pope's personal fortunes.
Followed his own judgment.So, notwithstanding his President's evident willingness to shoulder the blame for a possible failure, General Meade imperturably followed his own judgment regarding such movements as the military situation seemed to require. He contented himself with calmly replying to the President, through General Halleck, that it was, and had been, his intention to attack when the whereabouts of the enemy was discovered; that only lack of information on this head and fear of jeopardizing his communications with the capital had prevented his doing so thus far. And that was all. But the pressure from Washington continued, and resulted in the second episode to which I have alluded, two days later. On the 18th of October, from the vicinity of Centerville, General Meade telegraphed Halleck asking for information of General Lee's movements, and announcing that ‘it is impossible to move this army until I know something more definite of the movements of the enemy.’ Everything indicated that the Confederate army was between Bull Run and the Rappahannock, but a rumor had reached  General Meade that its head had appeared again in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Upon this, General Halleck, seemingly having lost all patience with his subordinate's ignorance of the situation in which he was a chief factor, and manifest inability to procure accurate information of General Lee's movements, or divine his intentions, answered him in the following tart strain:
The sneering tone of this dispatch was of itself sufficient to arouse the temper of a much more placid man than General Meade under normal circumstances; but at this juncture there were two extraordinary considerations which made it to him peculiarly aggravating. As shown above, the peppery Union commander was already chafing under the knowledge that his movements of the previous ten days had been unsatisfactory to his superiors, and that his falling back upon Washington before an inferior enemy, with whom he had been seeking a general engagement ever since Gettysburg, had caused distrust of his capacity, as well as desire to again meet his able Confederate antagonist; secondly, Halleck, of all the others, had been most urgent for an offensive stand against General Lee from the inception of his movement, as well as a covert critic from day to day of the continued retreat of the Federal army from the Rapidan.