April 19, 1864 (Tuesday)
While the Confederates invested Plymouth, North Carolina, General Benjamin Butler, commanding at Fortress Monroe, was growing a bit concerned, asking General Grant what might be done. Plymouth was within Butler’s department, but over the district, General John Peck was in command. Butler reported that thus far the Rebels had been repulsed, but warned that the CSS Albemarle had not yet joined the battle (to the best of his knowledge, anwyay). “I have directed General Peck to make such disposition of the forces in his district as best to repel this movement.” Butler figured that Peck probably had around 10,000 men in his command, and wondered to Grant, “Shall I do anything more?”
“General Peck should be able to hold Plymouth with the force he has,” replied an overly optimistic Grant. “You, however, will have to be the judge of what is best to do. The moment you move from Fort Monroe all rebel forces threatening along the North Carolina coast will be withdrawn, and you can then bring away surplus troops to re-enforce your moving army.”
Butler’s roll in Grant’s spring campaign was simple. He was to take as many troops as he could up the Virginia Peninsula to demonstrate along the south bank of the James River before Richmond. “This will give Butler thirty-three thousand men to operate with,” wrote Grant in an early April letter explaining his plan. “W. F. Smith commanding the right wing of his forces and [Quincy Adams] Gillmore the left wing.”
Grant’s optimism was more than likely due to the fact that he was about to launch the largest orchestrated campaign of the war, and things were perfectly falling into place.
While Butler’s troops would make up the extreme left of the Federal surge, those under Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia would make up the left. “Sigel collects all his available force in two columns,” continued Grant, “one, under [Edward] Ord and [William] Averell, to start from Beverly, Virginia, and the other, under [George] Crook, to start from Charleston on the Kanawha, to move against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Crook will have all cavalry, and will endeavor to get in about Saltville, and move east from there to join Ord. His force will be all cavalry, while Ord will have from ten to twelve thousand men of all arms.” By this date, Sigel had formulated a plan and submitted it to Grant. “I approve your plan of operations,” wrote Grant to Sigel. “Make your preparations for executing it with all dispatch.”
An additional force was being collected by Ambrose Burnside at Annapolis, Maryland, but on this date, Grant wanted him to “divert all troops you may now have on the way to Annapolis or yet to start, to Alexandria, and send a general there to take charge of them.” Burnside’s Ninth Corps was to follow Meade’s Army of the Potomac.
Earlier, Grant has told Meade: “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” And Meade was now making plans to move with the beginning of May on the minds of all.
The men, however, were growing restless. Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, Meade’s aide-de-camps, was visiting several other officers, and was returning to his own camp when a crowd of men once belonging to Dan Sickles old corps came upon the scene: “They are a dirty minded set, those 3rd Corps men – of the stamp that keep indecent photographs in their baggage. Some of these nowadays from France, are of an extraordinary depth of foulness.” These were the so-called “Bowery Boys” who seemed to bask in the glory of their own depravity.
But a campaign was coming soon, all knew. And soon the lewd photographs might be tossed by the way, lest one be killed with such ribaldry upon their person, and their effects sent home to mother.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 33, p278, 911, 913, 914; Life and Letters by George Meade; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant; Meade’s Army by Theodore Lyman; Back Door to Richmond by William Glenn Robertson. [↩]