George G. Meade Appointed Commander of Army of Potomac

June 28, 1863

Just three days before the upcoming Battle of Gettysburg, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Joseph Hooker, is relieved of command.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “The President convened the Cabinet at 10 A.M. and submitted his reply to the Vallandigham committee.  Save giving too much notoriety and consequence to a graceless traitor who loves notoriety and office, and making the factious party men who are using him for the meanest purposes that could influence men in such a crisis conspicuous, the letter is well enough, and well conceived.

After disposing of this subject, the President drew from his pocket a telegram from General Hooker asking to be relieved.  The President said he had, for several days as the conflict became imminent, observed in Hooker the same failings that were witnessed in McClellan after the Battle of Antietam,–a want of alacrity to obey, and a greedy call for more troops which could not, and ought not to be taken from other points.  He would,  said the President, strip Washington bare, had demanded the force at Harper’s Ferry, which Halleck said could not be complied with; he (Halleck) was opposed to abandoning our position at Harper’s Ferry.  Hooker had taken umbrage at the refusal, or at all events had thought it best to give up the command.

Some discussion followed in regard to a successor. The names of Meade, Sedgwick, and Couch were introduced.  I soon saw this review of names was merely a feeler to get an expression of Opinion–a committal–or to make it appear that all were consulted.  It shortly became obvious, however, that the matter had already been settled, and the President finally remarked he supposed General Halleck had issued the orders.  He asked Stanton if it was not ordered to Baltimore and Meade to succeed him.  We were consulted after the fact.

Welles adds: “Chase was disturbed more than he cared should appear. Seward and Stanton were obviously cognizant of what had been ordered before the meeting of the Cabinet took place, — had been consulted. Perhaps they had advised proceedings, but, doubtful of results, wished the rest to confirm their act. Blair and Bates were not present with us.

Instead of being disturbed, like Chase, I experienced a feeling of relief, and only regretted that Hooker, who I think has good parts, but is said to be intemperate at times, had not been relieved immediately after the Battle of Chancellorsville. No explanation has ever been made of the sudden paralysis which befell the army at that time. It was then reported, by those who should have known, that it was liquor. I apprehend from what has been told me it was the principal cause. It was so intimated, but not distinctly asserted, in Cabinet.

Nothing has been communicated by the War Department, directly, but there has been an obvious dislike of Hooker, and no denial or refutation of the prevalent rumors. I have once or twice made inquiries of Stan ton, but could get no satisfactory reply of any kind. . . . The War Department has been aware of these accusations, but has taken no pains to disprove or deny them, — perhaps because they could not be, perhaps because the War Department did not want to. The President has been partial to Hooker in all this time and has manifested no disposition to give him up, except a casual remark at the last Cabinet-meeting.

Whether the refusal to give him the troops at Harper’s Ferry was intended to drive him to abandon the command of the army, or is in pursuance of any intention on the part of Halleck to control army movements, and to overrule the general in the field, is not apparent. The President has been drawn into the measure, as he was into withholding McDowell from McClellan, by being made to believe it was necessary for the security of Washington. In that instance, Stanton was the moving spirit, Seward assenting. It is much the same now, only Halleck is the forward spirit, prompted perhaps by Stanton.

Of Meade I know very little. He is not great. His brother officers speak well of him, but he is considered rather a “smooth bore ” than a rifle. It is unfortunate that a change could not have been made earlier.

Chase immediately interested himself for the future of Hooker. Made a special request that he should be sent to Fortress Monroe to take charge of a demonstration upon Richmond via James River. The President did not give much attention to the suggestion. I inquired what was done, or doing, with Dix’s command, — whether that con

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: The President has been partial to Hooker in all this time and has manifested no disposition to give him up, except a casual remark at the last Cabinet-meeting.”   General James A. Hardie, chief of staff to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, was detailed to deliver the news to both the deposed Hooker and the incoming Meade.  He awakened a very reluctant Meade around three in the morning.  At first, he thought he was being placed under military arrest.  Snappish under the best of circumstances, Meade demands to know why General John Reynolds had not received the appointment of command. Historian Charles F. Benjamin wrote that “Meade was asleep, and when awakened was confounded by the sight of an officer from the War Department standing over him. He afterward said that, in his semi-stupor, his first thought was that he was to be taken to Washington in arrest, though no reason occurred to him why he should be. When he realized the state of affairs he became much agitated, protesting against being placed in command of an army that was looking toward Reynolds as the successor, if Hooker should be displaced; referring to the personal friendship between Reynolds and himself, which would make the President’s order an instrument of injustice to both; urging the heaviness of the responsibility so suddenly placed upon him in presence of the enemy and when he was totally ignorant of the positions and dispositions of the army he was to take in charge; and strenuously objecting to the requirement that he should go to Hooker’s Headquarters to take over the command without being sent for by the commanding general, as McClellan had sent for Burnside6 and Burnside for Hooker.  Meade proposed to Hardie that he should telegraph to Stanton to be relieved from taking the command, but Hardie told him that in the council it had been assumed that he would wish to be excused, that he would prefer Reynolds first and anybody else but himself afterward, and that he might even deem it too late to displace Hooker; but that, notwithstanding, it had been determined that Hooker should be relieved, and by Meade alone, and that it should be done immediately upon Hardie’s arrival. It was a mental relief to the stern Secretary of War, when General Meade’s spontaneous utterances were reported to him, to note that he had uttered no protest against Hooker’s being relieved of the command, even in what might almost be called the presence of the enemy. This silence on the part of a man so regardless of himself, so regardful of others, Mr. Stanton accepted as being, in itself, his complete vindication.

After taking General Hardie’s opinion, as a professional soldier, that he had no lawful discretion to vary from the orders given, horses and an escort were ordered out and the party proceeded to general headquarters, some miles distant.7 Hardie undertook to break the news to Hooker, who did not need to be told anything after seeing who his visitors were. It was a bitter moment to all, for Hooker had construed favorably the delay in responding to his tender of resignation, and could not wholly mask the revulsion of feeling. General Butterfield, the chief of staff, between whom and General Meade much coldness existed, was called in, and the four officers set themselves earnestly to work to do the state some service by honestly transferring the command and all that could help to make it available for good. During the interview Meade unguardedly expressed himself as shocked at the scattered condition of the army, and Hooker retorted with feeling. Tension was somewhat eased by Meade’s insisting upon being regarded as a guest at headquarters while General Hooker was present, and by his requesting General Butterfield, upon public grounds, not to exercise his privilege of withdrawing with his chief; but Hooker’s chagrin and Meade’s overstrung nerves made the lengthy but indispensable conference rather trying to the whole party.

After conferring with General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff,  about the positioning of troops, Meade telegraphs General-in-chief Henry W.  Halleck

The order placing me in command of this army is received.  As a soldier I obey it and to the utmost of my ability will execute it.  Totally unexpected as it has been, and, in ignorance of the exact condition of the troops and position of the enemy, I can only now say that it appears to me I must move toward the Susquehanna, keeping Washington and Baltimore well covered…If the enemy is checked in his attempt to cross…or if he turns toward Baltimore, [I intend] to give him battle.  I would say that I trust every available man that can be spared will be sent me, as from all accounts the enemy is in strong force.  So soon as I can post myself up I will communicate more in detail.

President Lincoln responds to a telegram from former Secretary of War Simon Cameron asking that military uniforms be provided to state militiamen called up to defend Pennsylvania – even though uniforms are normally restricted to U.S. soldiers: “I think the Secretary of War better let them have the clothes.”

President writes to General Darius N. Couch in Harrisburg: “hat news now? What are the enemy firing at four miles from your works?”  Couch replies: “They have not up to this time made any show of attack in force. They are burning bridges on the Northern Central road. I may have lost 400 men in the vicinity of York and Gettysburg. Probably 15,000 men within a short distance of my front.”

Published in: on June 28, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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