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Appendix F

Extract from newspaper article, attack on General Meade, mentioned in letter of September 5, 1863: see page 147, Vol. II

Wilkes' Spirit of the Times of August 29, 1863)

Singular revelations

in regard to> the army of the Potomac
(The following letter comes from a distinguished military writer who has had much observation in the Army of the Potomac, and whose opinions we can assure the readers of the Spirit are well worth noting. It was written to a personal friend in this city, and from his hands we obtain it.)

Washington, August 16, 1863.
my dear Sir:

The Army of the Potomac—that army which has so often elevated men from mediocrity into greatness — that army which has marched, fought and bled to no purpose—now lies in sweet repose along the line of the Rappahannock, patiently waiting, as Micawber says, ‘for something to turn up.’ The history of this army is one of barren toil, suffering and death. Its successes are magnified by venal letter-writers into great victories, and its defeats are represented as splendid strokes of strategy. It is thus that a confiding people have been humbugged from month to month, and year to year. History can furnish no instance that will even remotely compare with this army for gross ignorance and mismanagement. In no instance has success been followed up with vigorous and rapid blows; on the contrary, the enemy have been allowed to retreat without molestation, until they had time to rally their scattered forces and fortify themselves. The battle of Gettysburg was purely defensive, and our success was mainly due to the natural strength of our position, to our artillery, and the firmness of a portion of the troops, but in no degree to the strategy or ability displayed by any of the generals, from the senior down.

Here indeed, was an opportunity for a general to have shown the qualities of an able commander, if he possessed them. His troops, however decimated, had, by his own account, suffered far less than the enemy. But his army, flushed with victory, was not permitted to follow up and harass a beaten, dispirited and demoralized enemy, hampered with a vast amount of plunder, thousands of wounded, and an impassable river obstructing their retreat; and while letter-writers were announcing their hopelessness of its escape, Lee's army was quickly making arrangements for crossing without the slightest interruption from Gen. [317] Meade, or serious effort to penetrate his design. Suggestions were made and heard, to send a force above the rebel position, when by cutting trees and throwing them into the river, his pontoons or other bridges might be swept away. But Gen. Meade's frequently declared belief was, that Lee could cross when he pleased; that he did not intend to cross, but meant to fight. The sequel shows how completely he was deceived. Had Gen. Meade possessed the activity of either Grant or Rosecrans, and, I may add, of Hooker, he could, by a cavalry reconnaissance on the south side of the Potomac, and a forced one on the Maryland side, have easily discovered Lee's true intentions; and had he attacked him with his army divided by that river, he must have inevitably destroyed or captured one half of it. But blinded and deceived by Lee, timidity ruled the hour, and the golden opportunity, that is only to be seen and grasped by genius, was lost forever. Here, then, we have a commander but a few days previous magnified into a great general, for his success in a battle which he was forced, in defence, to fight; which was due alone to the natural strength of his position, and the courage of the rank and file, and not, as I have before said, to any display of his military abilities. And yet, when an occasion was subsequently presented for the exercise of his qualities as a commander, he tranquilly sits down before a hastily constructed gutter (miscalled entrenchments) for a week, and quietly permits the enemy to prepare for and cross a formidable stream that barred his retreat. Who can estimate the future sacrifice of life that must ensue from this terrible mistake?

The public must have news to feed upon. It matters not, it would seem, whether it be true or false; and hence they will hear before long of some remarkable things that are soon to take place, which they are not at liberty to reveal. But it may as well make up its mind that the Army of the Potomac will never accomplish anything. With some few exceptions, it is the worst handled body of men, so far as the general officers are concerned, that the world has ever seen. This is, in a great measure, due to the accursed political influence that has blighted and almost destroyed its energy and efficiency. It is due, also, to the many commanders outside the army proper, who have restrained and controlled its action on more than one important occasion, from the President down; and above all, it is due to the many ignorant and self-sufficient politicians who have been appointed to high commands, and the large infusion of foreign adventurers into the different staffs.

* * * * * * * * *

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George Gordon Meade (4)
Custis Lee (4)
Charles Wilkes (1)
W. S. Rosecrans (1)
Joe Hooker (1)
Ulysses S. Grant (1)
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