‘The Only Question is Who is to Succeed Me’ – Meade Prepares for the Worst

December 11, 1863 (Friday)

Meade: Hello? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?
Meade: Hello? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?

When last we left General George Meade, he had more or less come to terms with the fact that he could do little against General Lee along the Rapidan River. He and his Army of the Potomac slipped to the north and waited for some word from Washington. But this word was long in coming.

On the 3rd of December, Meade wrote to his wife. “Two days have now elapsed since I officially announced the return of the army,” said the General, “and yet not a word or line has been vouchsafed me from Washington. I am somewhat at a loss to know what the silence of the authorities means.”

Meade had communicated only with General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. He had, for a time, entertained the thought of writing to President Lincoln himself, but gave up the idea, deciding instead to write and submit his official report of the ill-fated Mine Run Campaign.

The day following, Meade broke the silence by asking Halleck by wire if he might visit Washington. Before the end of day, Halleck replied: “You have my permission to visit Washington whenever you deem proper, reporting to the Adjutant-General at the War Department.” That was, of course, protocol, but wasn’t at all what Meade was actually requesting. He never made the trek.

After writing his report and submitting it on the 7th, he again wrote his wife, and explained the strange communication. “I telegraphed General Halleck that I desired to visit Washington,” he explained, “but his reply was couched in such terms that, though it gave me permission to go, clearly intimated that my presence was not desired, so far as he was concerned.” Meade resolved not to go unless he was called upon to be there.

The next four days passed slowly. Meade deployed cavalry and some infantry here and there, but for the most part remained. Still, there was no real word from Washington. The only communication occurred on the 9th, when Meade asked if he might grant soldiers furloughs – Halleck merely replied that he already had that authority.

Halleck: ...
Halleck: …

And so on this date, the 11th, George Meade once more wrote his wife. Though still no word had arrived from Washington, newspapers and fellow officers who had been given leaves were returning. “I take it my supersedure is decided upon,” he told her, “and the only question is who is to succeed me.”

As Meade understood it, both Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase were “very anxious to bring Hooker back,” but Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton stood in their way. Meade figured that in the spirit of compromise they would settle upon General George Thomas, who was now commanding the Army of the Cumberland.

“I will not go to Washington to be snubbed by these people,” he wrote in closing. “They may relieve me, but I will preserve my dignity.”1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 29, Part 2, p540, 553; The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade by George Gordon Meade. []
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‘The Only Question is Who is to Succeed Me’ – Meade Prepares for the Worst by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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