The American Iliad: The Epic Story of the Civil War as Narrated by Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries

By Otto Eisenschiml; Ralph Newman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
Grant Takes the High Command

THE BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS AND THE SIEGE OF PETERSBURG

By his retreat after the battle of Gettysburg Lee had yielded the initiative to the Union side. The summer and autumn of 1863 passed quietly, however, thus enabling Lee to send help to Bragg at Chattanooga.

Some light is thrown on Meade's inactivity by one of his staff officers, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Lyman, in a letter he wrote at that time.

September 24, 1863 . I believe the whole of Lee's army should be either cut to pieces or put in precipitate flight on Richmond. I accuse nobody, but merely state my opinion. Bricks and mortar may be of the best, but if there are three or four architects . . .

"Why doesn't Meade attack Lee?" Ah, I have already thrown out a hint! Meade, though he expressly declares that he is not Napoleon, is a thorough soldier, who does not move unless he knows where and how many his men are; where and how many his enemy's men are; and what sort of country he has to go through.

Meanwhile the papers say, "The fine autumn weather is slipping away." Certainly; and shall we add, "Therefore let another Fredericksburg be fought?"

At the end of November 1863 Meade finally opened an offensive campaign. It began at Mine Run, a southern tributary of the Rapidan, and ended there without an attack when it became plain that it promised little hope for success.

Colonel Lyman explains and approves Meade's action.

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