April 13, 1864 (Wednesday)
“Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived,” wrote General George Meade of the Army of the Potomac to his wife – his most trusted confidant, “and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here.”
When he first received word that Grant was coming East, Meade was naturally a bit concerned that he would either be out of a job or fitted with a very short leash. But neither, it now seemed to him, were the least bit true. Meade was, if anything, enthusiastic and even excited about Grant’s arrival.
However, it was not without cost. “It is undoubtedly true that he will go with it [the Army of the Potomac] when it moves,” continued Meade, “and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operation, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present.”
Meade had to have realized that without Grant, there would be no large movement in the coming spring campaign, but still lamented that idea that “the press, and perhaps the public, will lose sight of me in him.”
In the end, of course, Meade was a soldier and truly believed this to be for the best. “He is so much more active than his predecessor,” said Meade, comparing Grant to Henry Halleck, the former General-in-Chief, “and agree so well with me in his view, I can not but be rejoiced at his arrival, because I believe success to be the more probable from the above facts.”
Grant and Meade had spoken at length about what what was expected from the coming campaign season. To him, Grant revealed a wider view, detailing his ideas for all of the Union armies, east and west. On April 9th, Grant wrote to Meade to set it all straight.
“So far as practicable,” related Grant, “all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre.” This was the very basis of his plan. No longer would armies act so independently that the Army of the Potomac’s movements had no effect at all upon the Army of Tennessee. Now, it would be a concert with Grant as the conductor.
In the far west, General Nathaniel Banks had been “instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General [Frederick] Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile.” Grant figured this would happen no sooner than May 1st.
But Banks’ move on Mobile would be more or less independent, at least when compared to the Army of the Tennessee under William Tecumseh Sherman. “Sherman will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim.” If Sherman was successful, he would then link up with Banks, who only then would become more important to the overall scheme of things.
Such was the overall picture. Meade, however, needed to be guided, and here is where Grant’s presence came into play. The Army of the Potomac was not the only force that would be operating in Virginia. General Franz Sigel was poised to move south, up the Shenandoah Valley with his 12,000 or so men. “Two columns of his command will make south at the same time with the general move,” Grant explained. Their objective would be the Tennessee & Virginia Railroad and Lynchburg. Once they’ve conquered all they could, it was probable that they would join with the Army of the Potomac.
There was also Benjamin Butler, commanding 23,000 on the Virginia Peninsula. He was to “seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the [James] river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours.”
Grant did not neglect to mention Ambrose Burnside, who, along with 25,000 “will reinforce you.” His troops had been gathering at Annapolis, Maryland, but were suspected to be ready to move out by April 20th. “I will give him the defense of the road [Orange & Alexandria Railroad] from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station.”
While Grant was certain of victory, he couldn’t be sure if it would be upon General Lee’s right or left flank, and made quick provisions for either. If Meade could turn Lee’s right, Grant wanted supplies to be forwarded to White House on the Pamunkey. If the left was turned, they would have to rely upon an overland route and carry much more ammunition with them, as naval transports would be out of the equation.
Grant put it plainly:
“Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.”
To General Meade, this all made the most perfect sense. Besides, if it should fail, he would not take the blame. “My position before,” admitted Meade to his wife, “with inadequate means, no power myself to increase them, and no effort made by others to do so, placed me in a false position, causing me to be held responsible, when in fact I could do nothing.”
While this wasn’t exactly true, Meade had been in well over his head, trying to deal with the fallout from the Gettysburg Campaign, as well as continued prodding and mixed signals from Washington. Now, however, all was clear. This arrangement really was so much simpler.
“My duty is plain, to continue quietly to discharge my duties, heartily co-operating with him and under him.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol.33, p828; Life and Letters by George Gordon Meade; Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S. Grant. [↩]