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II. in winter quarters

[toward the end of December, the army being then well settled in winter quarters, Lyman obtained leave of absence, passed Christmas at home, and returned to the army about the middle of January. He found Headquarters almost deserted, General Meade sick in Philadelphia with an attack of inflammation of the lungs, General Humphreys, and his tent-mate Rosencrantz, away on leave of absence, and Barstow sick and weak, with a cold on the lungs.]

Headquarters, Army of Potomac January 23, 1864
Yesterday came General Humphreys, to my great content. His son, with Worth and myself, rode down to bid him welcome. Such a sea of mud round Brandy Station was enough to engulf the most hardy. There is no platform to get on; nothing but the driest spot in the mud. You should have seen the countenances of the unfortunate officers' wives, as they surveyed, from the height of the platform, this broad expanse of pap! Then the husband would appear, in great excitement, and encourage them to descend, which they presently would do, and dab across to an ambulance, seeming mutely to say, that this wasn't quite what they expected. The neat General (who left in hard weather) was entirely aghast, and said, in painful accents, “What! must I get down there? Oh, the deuce!” I do believe that officers will next be trying to bring down grand pianos. You needn't talk of coming here with [65] “small hoops.” I have too much respect for you to allow the shadow of such an idea. As Frank Palfrey sensibly observed: “I think I should consider some time before I brought my wife to a mud-hill.” . . . The whole country, besides the mud, is now ornamented with stumps, dead horses and mules, deserted camps, and thousands upon thousands of crows. The deserted camps (than which nothing more desolate) come from the fact that several divisions have lately changed position. General Meade has been seriously ill at home; but we have a telegraph that he is much better, and I have forwarded him, for his edification, a variety of letters, opened by me at General Williams's request.

Headquarters Army of Potomac January 29, 1864
If you saw the style of officers' wives that come here, I am sure you would wish to stay away. Quelle experience had I yesterday! I was nearly bored to death, and was two hours and a half late for my dinner. Oh, list to my harrowing tale. I was in my tent, with my coat off, neatly mending my maps with a little paste, when Captain Cavada poked in his head (he was gorgeous in a new frockcoat). “Colonel,” said he, “General Humphreys desires that you will come and help entertain some ladies!” I held up my pasty hands in horror, and said, “What!” “Ladies!” quoth Cavada with a grin; “a surprise party on horseback, thirteen ladies and about thirty officers.” There was no moyen; I washed my hands, put on the double-breaster, added a cravat, and proceeded, with a sweet smile, to the tent, whence came a sound of revelry and champagne corks. Such a set of feminine humans I have not seen often; it was Lowell factories broken loose and gone mad. They were all gotten up in some sort of long thing, to ride [66] in. One had got a lot of orange tape and trimmed her jacket in the dragoon style; another had the badge of the Third Corps pinned all askew in her hat; a third had a major's knot worked in tarnished lace on her sleeve; while a fourth had garnitured her chest by a cape of grey squirrel-skin. And there was General Humphreys, very red in the face, smiling like a basket of chips, and hopping round with a champagne bottle, with all the spring of a boy of sixteen. He spied me at once, and introduced me to a Mrs. M----, who once married somebody who treated her very badly and afterwards fortunately went up; so Mrs. M----seemed determined to make up lost time and be jolly in her liberty. She was quite bright; also quite warm and red in the face, with hard riding and, probably, champagne. Then they said they would go over to General Sedgwick's, and General Humphreys asked if I would not go, too, which invitation it was not the thing to refuse; so I climbed on my horse, with the malicious consolation that it would be fun to see poor, modest Uncle John with such a load! But Uncle John, though blushing and overcome, evidently did not choose to be put upon; so, with great politeness, he offered them sherry, with naught to eat and no champagne. Then nothing would do but go to Headquarters of the 3d Corps, whither, to my horror, the gallant Humphreys would gang likewise. Talk about cavalry raids to break down horses! If you want to do that, put a parcel of women on them and set them going across the country. Such a Lutzow's wild hunt hath not been seen since the day of the respected L. himself! Finally one lady's horse ran away, and off went the brick, Humphreys, like a shot, to stop her. Seeing her going into a pine tree, he drove his horse between the tree and her; but, in so doing, encountered a hidden branch, which [67] slapped the brisk old gent out of his saddle, like a shuttlecock! The Chief-of-Staff was up in a second, laughing at his mishap; while I galloped up, in serious alarm at his accident. To make short a long story, the persistent H. tagged after those womenfolk (and I tagged after him) first to Corps Headquarters, then to General Carr's Headquarters, and finally to General Morris's Headquarters, by which time it was dark! I was the only one that knew the nearest way home (we were four miles away) and didn't I lead the eminent soldier through runs and mud-holes, the which he do hate!

To-day we have had a tremendous excitement: a detail of 250 men to “police” the camp, under charge of Biddle, just appointed Camp Commandant. They have been sweeping, cutting down stumps, burning brush, and, in general, making the worst-looking camp in the army neat and respectable.

Headquarters Army of Potomac January 31, 1864
As I was riding the other day, I came on a rare bird, a real old family nigger; none of your lying, stealing, camp contrabands, but a real, grey-headed, old-fashioned Virginian nigger. He seemed to be living in a little log hut. His battered, white broad-brim, and coat of faded snuffcolor, did speak of days before the war, when Master lived in the big house, now burned flat. “Good morning, Uncle!” said I, after the manner of our Southern brethren. The ancient darky looked up in surprise, at this once familiar greeting, and then, taking his hat off in a way that knocked Louis XIV entirely, he replied, “Good mornina, saar! a beautiful mornina, saar!” I asked where Beverly Ford was, and thanked him for his information. Whereupon I was favored with more of the Great Monarch, and [68] retired much impressed with him. His day is gone. More houses and better houses will be built in Culpeper country, and a few years will leave no trace of the war, but the decaying head-board, here and there, of some poor chap, and the bits of shell that the farmers will sometimes pick up. But Master, who lived in the big house, is shot, long ago — he and his regime both.

February 5, 1864
General Humphreys sent for me and showed me a cipher correspondence between Butler and Halleck, and Halleck and Sedgwick. B. telegraphed that large reinforcements had been sent from the Rapid Ann to North Carolina, and that he wished a demonstration to “draw their forces from Richmond.” S. replied that, with the exception of some two or three brigades, nobody had been sent to that place from the army in our front. B. then said he was going to move on Richmond, or something of the sort, and would like a demonstration not later than Saturday (to-morrow). S. said it was too short a time to make any great show and that it would spoil our chances for a surprise on their works, in future. H. then telegraphed to do, at any rate, what we could. So Kilpatrick has been sent to their right via Mine Ford, and Merritt is to threaten Barnett's Ford; and to threaten Raccoon Ford, while the 2d will make a stronger demonstration at Morton's Ford. Old Sedgwick and General Humphreys are cross at the whole thing, looking on it as childish.

February 7, 1864
It is one in the morning and I have, so to speak, just taken a midnight dinner, having come in from the front between 11 and 12 oclock. Well, who would have thought of marching out of comfortable winter quarters, to go [69] poking round the Rapidan! . . . Only last night orders were suddenly issued to the 1st and 2d Corps to march at sunrise, the one on Raccoon, the other on Morton's Ford; where they were to make a strong demonstration and perhaps cross at Morton's (Raccoon being too strong). Certain cavalry, also, were to go to other points, with special orders. The whole thing was very sudden, all round, and none of our fish. This morning we took an early breakfast, which, with the ready horses, quite reminded one of campaigning times. General Sedgwick was over, being in command, as viceroy. At 10.30 we began to hear the cannon, but General Humphreys would not stir, as he said he must stay to attend to the despatches and telegraph. However, at 3 P. M., he suddenly did start, with his own aides and Biddle, Mason, Cadwalader and myself, de la part de General Meade; also Rosencrantz. To Morton's Ford is some ten miles, but you might as well call it fifty, such is the state of the roads. Mud, varying from fetlocks to knees, then holes, runs, ditches and rocks — such was the road. With utmost diligence it took fully two hours. . . . Here we had thrown across a division, and General Warren was with them. The enemy had offered a good deal of opposition, with a skirmish fire and with artillery; despite which the whole division had waded the stream, up to their waists (cold work for the 6th of February!), and were now in line, behind some ridges; while a heavy skirmish line covered their front. Enclosing them, almost in a semi-circle, were the Rebel earthworks. It looked a shaky position for us! All was quiet; the men were making coffee, and nothing broke the stillness but an occasional shot from the sharpshooters. “Well,” said General Humphreys, “I must go across and look about, while there is light left. I don't want many to [70] go. McClellan, you will come; and Major Biddle and Colonel Lyman, if you would like, I shall be glad of your company.” So off we four rode, and met Warren coming back, before we got to the river. But he at once turned horse and kept on with us. The ford was very bad, deep and with steep sides, but we floundered over, and I was once again south of the Rapid Ann. . . . As we got to the main line, “Now,” said General Warren, “get off here and I will take you as far as you can go, very soon.” We dismounted and remained, while the two Generals went some 150 yards to Morton's house on the crest of the ridge, where they no sooner got than a sharpshooter fired at them and the ball flew harmless over our heads, though it came close to General Warren. But hang it all! We had not been there five minutes when that infernal old sound came, whing-z-z-z-z, and over went a spherical case! “Fall in, fall in!” shouted the colonels, and the men took their arms. Whing-z-z! Bang! came another, right into the infantry, killing a poor man. “Steady! Steady!” roared the colonels. Whing-z-z-z-z! Bang! and one of the pieces struck close to me, while one of the bullets struck the scabbard of the orderly next me, who coolly picked up the missile. We were a little sheltered by the road, but, I don't care who knows it, I did duck when that spherical case came over. By this time the Generals got back and mounted, the enemy continuing the fire but throwing their shot too high. We had not got far towards the river, when they began with musketry, a very heavy skirmish fire, and seemed about to make a general attack; but it turned out to be a strong attempt to drive back our skirmish line from a favorable fence they had secured; and the artillery was a cover for their advance. When we got back to the high ground by Robinson's, we could look across [71] and see the fight, though it was growing dark and the air was very foggy. Our artillery opened on them also, and, in course of an hour or so, night set in, and the firing ceased, our line holding its own everywhere. And now the poor wounded fellows began to come in, some alone, some supported, and some in ambulances. The surgeons were numerous and all that could be wished for. Except one or two mortally hurt, there was nothing sad in it, so manly were the men and so cheerful. Not a groan, not a complaint. I asked one man who was staggering along, if he were much hurt. “Very slightly,” he remarked, in a lively tone. I found what he called “very slightly” was a musket-ball directly through the thigh. These men are wonderful, much more so, I think (proportionately), than the officers. There was a whole division wet to the waist, on a rainy February day, exposed each instant to attack, and yet making little pots of coffee, in the open air, as calmly as if at Revere House.

Oh! what a ride had we home! It took us over three hours, with the help of a lantern. . . .

Headquarters Army of Potomac February 12, 1864
In this epistle I shall describe to you the whirl of fashion, the galaxy of female beauty, the grouping of manly grace. Behold, I have plunged into the wild dissipation of a military dinner-party. The day before yesterday, there appeared a mysterious orderly, with a missive from Colonel Hayes (my classmate) saying that he should next day entertain a select circle at dinner at five of the clock, and wouldn't I come and stay over night. To which I returned answer that I should give myself that pleasure. The gallant Colonel, who commands the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 5th [72] Corps, has his Headquarters on the north side of the river, about half a mile from Rappahannock station. At 4 P. M. I was ready, very lovely to look on, with full tog and sash, neatly finished by white cotton gloves and my thick laced shoes. With great slowness did I wend on my sable mare, for fear of splashing myself in a run or a puddle. On the other side of the pontoon bridge I fell in with Lieutenant Appleton wending the same way — he splashed his trousers in Tin Pot Run, poor boy! The quarters were not far, and were elegantly surrounded by a hedge of evergreen, and with a triumphal arch from which did float the Brigade flag. Friend Hayes has an elegant log hut, papered with real wall-paper, and having the roof ornamented with a large garrison flag. The fireplace presented a beautiful arch, which puzzled me a good deal, till I found it was made by taking an old iron cog-wheel, found at the mill on the river, and cutting the same in two. Already the punctual General Sykes, Commander of the Corps, was there, with Mrs. S., a very nice lady, in quite a blue silk dress . . . . Also several other officers' wives, of sundry ages, and in various dresses. Then we marched in and took our seats, I near the head and between Mrs. Lieutenant Snyder and Mrs. Dr. Holbrook. Next on the left was General Bartlett, in high boots and brass spurs. There must have been some twenty-four persons, in all. The table ran the length of two hospital tents, ingeniously floored with spare boards from the pontoon-train and ornamented with flags and greens. The chandeliers were ingeniously composed of bayonets, and all was very military. Oyster soup had we; fish, biled mutting, roast beef, roast turkey, pies, and nuts and raisins; while the band did play outside. General Sykes, usually exceeding stern, became very gracious and deigned to laugh, when one of his captains said: “He was [73] the mildest-mannered man that ever cut a throat or scuttled ship.”

After dinner, songs were encouraged, and General Sykes told two of his Staff, if they didn't sing immediately, he would send them home at once! I sang two comic songs, with immense success, and all was festive. I passed the night there, and took breakfast this morning, when Albert came down with the horses. Joe Hayes is a singular instance of a man falling into his right notch. In college he was not good at his studies at all; but, as an officer, he is remarkable, and has a reputation all through the Corps. Though only a colonel, he was entrusted, at Mine Run, with bringing off the picket line, consisting of 4000 men, which he did admirably . . . .

Headquarters Army of Potomac February 2, 1864
General Meade is in excellent spirits and cracks a great many jokes and tells stories. You can't tell how different he is when he has no movement on his mind, for then he is like a firework, always going bang at someone, and nobody ever knows who is going to catch it next, but all stand in a semi-terrified state. There is something sardonic in his natural disposition, which is an excellent thing in a commander; it makes people skip round so. General Humphreys is quite the contrary. He is most easy to get on with, for everybody; but, practically, he is just as hard as the Commander, for he has a tremendous temper, a great idea of military duty, and is very particular. When he does get wrathy, he sets his teeth and lets go a torrent of adjectives that must rather astonish those not used to little outbursts. There came down with the General (who returned yesterday from Washington) a Mr. Kennedy, Chief of the [74] Census Bureau, a very intelligent man, full of figures. He can tell you how many people have pug noses in Newton Centre, and any other little thing you want. There was a bill passed in the House of Reps to raise 100,000 negro troops, from the free colored men of the North. When the bill came before the Senate, Mr. Kennedy sent in word that there were less than 50,000 colored men who were free and capable of bearing arms in the whole North, which rather squelched the bill! He says that the free negroes South increase hardly at all; while those in the North even decrease, but the slaves increase more than any other class. So I think it will be best to free the whole lot of them and then they will sort of fade out.

There are perfect shoals of womenkind now in the army — a good many, of course, in Culpeper, where they can live in houses. The rest of them must live a sort of Bedouin life. The only one I have seen of late is Mrs. Captain Commissary Coxe, for behold we had a service al fresco, near General Patrick's tent. There was Mr. Rockwell as clergyman, quite a good preacher, and very ready to speak, nevertheless not too long in his remarks. I marched over with a camp-stool very solemnly. There were quite a collection of officers from the Headquarters, also a company of cavalry, which was marched down dismounted and stood meekly near by; for this cavalry belongs to General Patrick, and the General is pious, and so his men have to be meek and lowly. Likewise came some of the red-legs, or Zouaves, or 114th Pennsylvania, who finally had an air of men who had gone to a theatre and did not take an interest in the play. There too were some ladies, who were accommodated with a tent open in front, so as to allow them to see and hear. The band of the Zouaves sang the hymns and were quite musical. . . . To-night is [75] a great ball of the 2d Corps. The General has gone to it; also General Humphreys. None of the Staff were invited, save George Meade, to the huge indignation of the said Staff and my great amusement.

Headquarters Army of Potomac February 24, 1864
. . . I went yesterday to a review of the 2d Corps gotten up in honor of Governor Sprague. It was some seven or eight miles away, near Stevensburg, so that it was quite a ride even to get there. General Meade, though he had been out till three in the morning at the ball, started at eleven, with the whole Staff, including General Pleasonton and his aides, the which made a dusty cavalcade. First we went to the Corps Headquarters, where we were confronted by the apparition of two young ladies in extemporaneous riding habits, mounted on frowsy cavalry horses and prepared to accompany. General Meade greeted them with politeness, for they were some relations of somebody, and we set forth. The review was on a large flat (usually very wet, but now quite dry, yet rather rough for the purpose) and consisted of the Corps and Kilpatrick's division of cavalry. When they were all ready, we rode down the lines, to my great terror, for I thought the womenkind, of whom there were half a dozen, would break their necks; for there were two or three ditches, and we went at a canter higglety-pigglety. However, by the best of luck they all got along safe and we took our place to see the troops march past. We made a funny crowd: there were the aforesaid ladies; sundry of whom kept chattering like magpies; then the Hon. Senator Wilkinson of Minnesota, in a suit of faded black and a second-hand felt that some officer had lent him. The Honorable rode bravely about, [76] with a seat not laid down in any of the textbooks, and kept up a lively and appropriate conversation at the most serious parts of the ceremony. “Wall, Miss Blunt, how do you git along? Do you think you will stan‘ it out?” To which Miss Blunt would reply in shrill tones: “Wall, I feel kinder tired, but I guess I'll hold on, and ride clear round, if I can.” And, to do her justice, she did hold on, and I thought, as aforesaid, she would break her neck. Then there was his Excellency, the Vice-President, certainly one of the most ordinary-looking men that ever obtained the suffrages of his fellow citizens. Also little Governor Sprague, a cleanly party, who looked very well except that there is something rather too sharp about his face. Likewise were there many womenkind in ambulances discreetly looking on. The cavalry came first, headed by the valiant Kilpatrick, whom it is hard to look at without laughing. The gay cavaliers themselves presented their usual combination of Gypsy and Don Cossack. Then followed the artillery and the infantry. Among the latter there was a good deal of difference; some of the regiments being all one could wish, such as the Massachusetts 20th, with Abbot at its head; while others were inferior and marched badly. Thereafter Kill-cavalry (as scoffers call him) gave us a charge of the 500, which was entertaining enough, but rather mobby in style. And so home, where we did arrive quite late; the tough old General none the worse.

Headquarters Army of Potomac March 1, 1864
. . . For some days General Humphreys has been a mass of mystery, with his mouth pursed up, and doing much writing by himself, all to the great amusement of the bystanders, who had heard, even in Washington, that [77] some expedition or raid was on the tapis, and even pointed out various details thereof. However, their ideas, after all, were vague; but they should not have known anything. Que voulez-vous? A secret expedition with us is got up like a picnic, with everybody blabbing and yelping. One is driven to think that not even the prospect of immediate execution will stop Americans from streaming on in their loose, talking, devil-may-care ways. Kilpatrick is sent for by the President; oh, ah! everybody knows it at once: he is a cavalry officer; it must be a raid. All Willard's chatters of it. Everybody devotes his entire energies to pumping the President and Kill-cavalry! Some confidential friend finds out a part, tells another confidential friend, swearing him to secrecy, etc., etc. So there was Eleusinian Humphreys writing mysteriously, and speaking to nobody, while the whole camp was sending expeditions to the four corners of the compass! On Saturday, at early morn, Uncle John Sedgwick suddenly picked up his little traps and marched with his Corps through Culpeper and out towards Madison Court House, away on our right flank. The next, the quiet Sabbath, was broken by the whole of Birney's division, of the 3d Corps, marching also through Culpeper, with the bands playing and much parade. We could only phancy the feeling of J. Reb contemplating this threatening of his left flank from his signal station on Clark's Mountain. Then the flaxen Custer, at the head of cavalry, passed through, and wended his way in the same direction. All this, you see, was on our right. That night Kilpatrick, at the head of a large body of cavalry, crossed at Ely's Ford, on our extreme left, and drew a straight bead on Richmond! At two oclock that night he was at Spotsylvania C. H., and this is our last news of him. He sent back word that he would attack Richmond [78] at seven this morning. The idea is to liberate the prisoners, catch all the rebel M. C.'s that are lying round loose, and make tracks to our nearest lines. I conceive the chances are pretty hazardous, although the plan was matured with much detail and the start was all that could be asked. . . .

Headquarters Army of Potomac March 5, 1864
I found myself late and galloped four miles in about twenty minutes, only to find I had heated the mare for nothing, insomuch that the venerable Humphreys had put off dinner to six P. M. That young man of fifty has gone in his ambulance to see, I presume, some ladies, and I will here and now wager that we don't dine till eight P. M. Sich is his nature. Really he should be dismissed the service for conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Au reste, there never was a nicer old gentleman, and so boyish and peppery that I continually want to laugh in his face. I am in fear he won't be confirmed as major-general. There are some persons, the very dregs of politicians, whom he tried by court-martial, when under him, that now do all they can against his promotion. I find that politicians, like Sumner and company, have a way of saying of officers who have had their very clothes shot off their back and have everywhere displayed the utmost skill and courage, that “their hearts are not in the cause,” or “they are not fully with us” ; meaning that these officers do not happen to fully agree with every political dogma the party may choose to enunciate. I am of the opinion that the question is: Does such and such an officer fight bravely and with skill? Anyone who has been under fire will be ready to acknowledge that it is a pretty good place to test principles; and [79] if a man goes into the thick of it time and again, I do not ask any better proof of his earnestness. However, it would appear that Washington people often think the best test of faithfulness is to stay away from the fighting and make a good many speeches to people who entirely agree with your sentiments. To my certain knowledge, great exertions are now making to put a man at the head of this army who has made one of the most bloody failures of the War, and who is utterly incompetent to the post. Why is he pushed? Because he professes to be an ultra-Republican, ah, voila! . . .

Pa Meade is at Washington but I hope to have him back to-morrow. Behold my prophecy in regard to Kill-cavalry's raid fulfilled. I have heard many persons very indignant with him. They said he went to the President and pressed his plan; told Pleasonton he would not come back alive if he didn't succeed; that he is a frothy braggart, without brains and not over-stocked with desire to fall on the field; and that he gets all his reputation by newspapers and political influence. These charges are not new and I fancy Kill has rather dished himself. It is painful to think of those poor prisoners hearing the sound of his guns and hoping a rescue was at hand! Now all that cavalry must be carried back in steamers, like a parcel of old women going to market! Bah! Pour moi, I say nothing, as I never criticize superior officers; but I have mine own opinions, quite strong. However, these raids and the like do not much affect the War one way or the other. Nor does such a thing as the Florida reverse. Things have narrowed down now to two or three great centres, and upon large operations there depends the result. It is a favorite remark of General Meade, that “there is but one way to put down this rebellion, namely, to destroy the [80] military power of the Rebels.” Their great armies must be overwhelmed, and there will end their hopes. . . .

[A few days later Lyman left for the North on a three weeks leave. While he was dining in Washington, at Willard's, “General Grant1 came in, with his little boy; and was immediately bored by being cheered, and then shaken by the hand by οἱ πολλοὶ! He is rather under middle height, of a spare, strong build; light-brown hair, and short, light-brown beard. His eyes of a clear blue; forehead high; nose aquiline; jaw squarely set, but not sensual. His face has three expressions: deep thought; extreme determination; and great simplicity and calmness.”]

Headquarters Army of Potomac March 30, 1864
I am pretty well, I thank you, and not so blue as when I came back the other time, perhaps because the generals are here and it is not so utterly triste. However, I am fain to say I draw invidious comparisons between it and home, mais that helps nothing. There have been marvellous changes within these three weeks. Generals Sykes, Newton, French, and Pleasonton are ordered off. I do feel sorry for Sykes, an excellent soldier, always sure to do his duty, and with this army for a long time. I fear they displaced him at Washington because they disliked his rough manners. General Pleasonton was always very civil to me [81] and I am sorry therefore to see him go. I have not yet got it clearly in my head how the corps have been shifted about, but I suppose I shall in a few days . . . .

The latest joke is the heavy sell that has been practised on some regiments of “Heavy artillery,” which had reenlisted and had been sent home to recruit. Now these gentry, having always been in fortifications, took it for granted they should there continue; consequently the patriotic rush of recruits (getting a big bounty) was most gratifying; one regiment swelled to 1900; another to 2200, etc., etc. Bon! Then they returned to the forts round Washington, with the slight difference that the cars kept on, till they got to Brandy Station; and now these mammoth legions are enjoying the best of air under shelter-tents! A favorite salutation now is, “How are you, heavy artillery?” For Chief of Cavalry we are to have a General Sheridan, from the West. He is, I believe, on his way. If he is an able officer, he will find no difficulty in pushing along this arm, several degrees . . . .

Headquarters Army of Potomac April 12, 1864
Yesterday we all rode to Culpeper, and saw General Grant, who went last night to Washington, and did go thence to Annapolis. I was well pleased with all the officers down there; among others was a Lieutenant-Colonel Comstock, a Massachusetts man. He had somewhat the air of a Yankee schoolmaster, buttoned in a military coat. Grant is a man of a good deal of rough dignity; rather taciturn; quick and decided in speech. He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it. I have much confidence in him.


April 13, 1864.
We went to a review of Birney's Division near J. M. Bott's house. The two brigades are under H. Ward and Alex. Hays. About 5000 men were actually on the ground. Here saw General Hancock for the first time. He is a tall, soldierly man, with light-brown hair and a military heavy jaw; and has the massive features and the heavy folds round the eye that often mark a man of ability. Then the officers were asked to take a little whiskey chez Botts. Talked there with his niece, a dwarfish little woman of middle age, who seems a great invalid. She was all of a tremor, poor woman, by the mere display of troops, being but nervous and associating them with the fighting she had seen round the very house. Then there was a refreshment at Birney's Headquarters, where met Captain Briscoe (said to be the son of an Irish nobleman, etc., etc.); also Major Mitchell on General Hancock's Staff. The Russ was delighted with the politeness and pleased with the troops. Introduced to General Sheridan, the new Chief of Cavalry--a small, broad-shouldered, squat man, with black hair and a square head. He is of Irish parents, but looks very like a Piedmontese. General Wilson, who is probably to have a division, is a slight person of a light complexion and with rather a pinched face. Sheridan makes everywhere a favorable impression.

Headquarters Army of Potomac April 18, 1864
I have seen some high-bush blackberries that already had wee leaves, just beginning to open; and the buds of the trees are swelling; and hundreds of little toads sing and whistle all night, to please other hundreds of Misses toads. The sap is rising so in the oak trees that the wood won't [83] burn without some trouble. It really looks like a beginning of spring; and everything is so quiet that it is quite amazing; whether it is that old soldiers get lazy and sleep a good deal during the day, I don't know, but really just a short way from camp, it is as still as if not a human being were near; and here at Headquarters, the only sounds are the distant car-whistles and the drums and trumpets sounding the calls; except, indeed, the music of the band, which is hardly a noise and is very acceptable. I suppose we may call this the lull before the hurricane, which little short of a miracle can avert. There is Grant, with his utterly immovable face, going about from Culpeper to Washington and back, and sending no end of cipher messages, all big with strategy. He evidently means to do something pretty serious before he gives up. To-day was a great day for him; he reviewed the entire 6th Corps, which, as you know, has been strengthened by a division of the late 3d Corps. The day has been fine, very. At eleven o'clock we started and rode towards Culpeper, to meet General Grant, who encountered us beyond Brandy Station. He is very fond, you must know, of horses, and was mounted on one of the handsomest I have seen in the army. He was neatly dressed in the regulation uniform, with a handsome sash and sword, and the three stars of a lieutenant-general on his shoulder. He is a man of a natural, severe simplicity, in all things — the very way he wears his high-crowned felt hat shows this: he neither puts it on behind his ears, nor draws it over his eyes; much less does he cock it on one side, but sets it straight and very hard on his head. His riding is the same: without the slightest “air,” and, per contra, without affectation of homeliness; he sits firmly in the saddle and looks straight ahead, as if only intent on getting to some particular point. [84] General Meade says he is a very amiable man, though his eye is stern and almost fierce-looking.

Well, we encountered him, as aforesaid, followed by three or four aides; one of whom, Lieutenant-Colonel Rowley, was oblivious of straps, and presented an expanse of rather ill-blacked, calfskin boots, that took away from his military ensemble a good deal. When a man can ride without straps, he may do so, if he chooses; but, when he possesseth not the happy faculty of keeping down his trousers, he should make straps a part of his religion! We took our station on a swell of ground, when we could see a large part of the Corps in line; but there was so much of it, that, though drawn up by battalions (that is, ten men deep), there could be found, in the neighborhood, no ground sufficiently extensive, without hollows. At once they began to march past — there seemed no end of them. In each direction there was nothing but a wide, moving hedge of bright muskets; a very fine sight. . . . General Grant is much pleased and says there is nothing of the sort out West, in the way of discipline and organization. . . .

May 3
At last the order of march, for to-morrow at 5 A. M.! Of it more when it is over — if I am here to write. Only spring waggons go for our little mess kits and baggage; other things go with the main train. May God bless the undertaking at last and give an end to this war! I have made all preparations for the campaign.

1 On February 29 Congress revived the grade of Lieutenant-General, and Lincoln had appointed Grant, much in the public eye since his successful campaign in the West, to that rank, and to command the Armies of the United States. Motley writes at the time: “In a military point of view, thank Heaven! the coming man, for whom we have so long been waiting, seems really to have come.”

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