July 25, 1864 (Monday)
Following Jubal Early’s raid to the suburbs of Washington, it was clear that something needed to be done to keep it from happening a second time. With that in mind, General Grant put pen to paper and jotted down a few suggestions for President Lincoln.
He was convinced that one of the failures was that around Washington there were four different departments that oversaw military operations in the region. These were the Departments of Washington, West Virginia, Susquehanna (mostly central Pennsylvania), and the Middle Department (mostly the Shenandoah Valley). All four were mostly independent and in Grant’s mind, their autonomy was their downfall.
As remedy, he had two suggestions. The first was that they all be combined into one department with one commander at their head. Grant thought that William Buel Franklin was the perfect choice, “because he was available and I know him to be capable and believe him to be trustworthy.”
General Franklin had once been a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac. There, he helped instigate a cabal against Ambrose Burnside, then leading the army. Once Joe Hooker took Burnside’s seat, however, Franklin excused himself and sat on the sidelines through the Gettysburg campaign. He had then showed up in the west, leading a corps in Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf during the ill-fated Red River Campaign. He was wounded, had escaped capture by Confederate raiders and was now in Washington, available for work.
His other suggestion was incredibly telling. “It would suit me equally as well to call the four departments referred to, a ‘Military Division,’ and to have placed in command of it General Meade.”
General George Meade was in command of the Army of the Potomac, the body with which General Grant was headquartered in the field. To replace Meade, Grant suggested Winfield Scott Hancock, one of the army’s corps commanders.
“With General Meade in command of such a division. I would have every confidence that all the troops within the military division would be used to the very best advantage from a personal examination of the ground, and [he] would adopt means of getting the earliest information of any advance of the enemy, and would prepare to meet it.”
This might have been the highest of praise for almost any other officer in the Federal armies. But that it was said of Meade, who would be effectively demoted if it went through, it could only be seen as a dismissal, a way to get him out of Grant’s beard.
In the Army of the Potomac, word of such a change might have been rampant. “The camp is full of rumors of intrigues and reports of all kinds,” wrote Meade to his wife the following day, “but I keep myself free from them all, ask no questions, mind my own business, and stand prepared to obey orders and do my duty.”
On July 27, the decision was made. The President had decided not to take Grant up on either of his suggestions. Instead, the four departments were placed under the command of Henry Halleck, former General-in-Chief and current Chief-of-Staff. This would not place Halleck in the field commanding troops, but it did put him in directly above those who were.
The appointment, arranged by Lincoln, was probably political in origin. The election was near and Grant was largely seen as a machine for churning out casualties. Now that his forces were stalled before Petersburg, and Sherman’s the same before Atlanta, not to mention Jubal Early’s late raid, it seemed as if the entire war had come to a halt. Perhaps in some attempt to appease the Democrats, especially those in Maryland in Pennsylvania, Halleck would now be their defense against another Confederate invasion. That said, Halleck would remain in Washington.
Halleck’s appointment, however, seemed more or less temporary as Lincoln wanted to meet with Grant at Fortress Monroe so they could talk it over. On the 28th, Grant called General Meade to his headquarters to offer him the job. “He said he wanted an officer to go to Washington to take command of the Department of West Virginia, Susquehanna, Baltimore and Washington,” wrote Meade to his wife. “That not wishing to take any one from the field, he had suggested Franklin, but they had declined to have Franklin. He then suggested my name, to which he had received no reply, but a message from the President asking him to meet him at Fortress Monroe.”
Meade did not give Grant an answer, but told him that he was “ready to obey any order that might be given.” Mulling it over, Meade decided that demotion or not, he would like the change. For starters, it would be an independent command, though he would have to be managed by Lincoln, Stanton and Halleck. In turn, he would have to manage the four commanders of the departments which he was overseeing in the new “Military District.” That didn’t sit well at all. Upon further thought, he concluded that it would be “a pretty trying position that no man in his senses could desire.”
By the time this would finally be decided (in the not distant future), much would be changed.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 37, Part 2, p433-434, 444, 478; Life and Letters by George Meade; Henry Halleck’s War by Curt Anders. [↩]