Friday, November 19, 2010

Meade Reacts to the Grand Review

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the famous Grand Review at Bailey's Crossroads on November 20, 1861.  Not everyone in the Union Army appeared as impressed with the day's event as was General McClellan.  General George G. Meade, commander of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves and future leader of the Army of the Potomac, was less than satisfied.  I recently came across the following letter written by General Meade at Camp Pierpont to his wife, dated November 21, 1861: 

I intended to have written to you last evening, but came back so tired from the grand review that I went right to bed. I have no doubt the papers will give you a glowing description of this event, so long talked about. For my part, all I can say is that I got up at half-past 3 A. M., the morning very cold, with a heavy frost lying on the ground. At 6 o'clock we moved and marched nine miles to the ground, at Bailey's Cross-Roads, where we arrived about 10 o'clock, and were posted in a field where the mud was six inches deep, and where we stood for four hours, after which we marched past General McClellan, and then home, where we arrived, tired, hungry and disgusted, at about 7 P. M. The day was cloudy, cold and raw, and altogether the affair as a "spectacle" was a failure. I understand the object of the movement was to show the soldiers what a large and well disciplined army had been collected together, and thus give them confidence in themselves. I fear standing in the mud for four hours and marching nine miles there and back took away greatly from the intended effect. My own brigade did very well going to the review and on the ground, but returning I found it utterly impossible to keep the men in the ranks. I used all my influence with the officers first, and afterwards with the men, but ineffectually, and at last abandoned it in disgust, one regiment being by the time it reached camp pretty much all broken up and scattered. I felt annoyed when I got back, and wearied at the fruitless efforts I had made. There was a notion that the Grand Review was to be converted into a fight by making a dash at Centreville, ten miles distant from the ground, but, instead of this, the enemy made a dash at us, driving in our pickets on several parts of the line and killing several of them. They also kept up a practicing with their heavy guns all the afternoon, as if in defiance of our parade. General Smith required his division to cheer McClellan. He passed our division front, but, not being posted in the programme, we were silent.
From The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Volume I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913 (available on Google Books).

General George G. Meade (courtesy of Wikipedia/Library of Congress)

What a way to rain on Little Mac's parade! Meade's foul reaction to the review stands in contrast to the attitude of some soldiers in his own division  of Pennsylvanians, who were moved by the display of military might and proud to participate in such an event.  (See previous post.)  Meade would one day have a chance to lead his own parade when he marched at the head of the Army of the Potomac, 80,000-strong, in the Grand Review of May 1865.


MarianneMeyers said...

This is one of the things I love most about history - just when you think you've gleaned an understanding of an event, another opinion appears that is completely different! I rather think Meade's is more realistic - cold, mud, and standing around - not much fun from his perspective. However, it sounds like McClellan didn't have to stand around in mud, he got to parade around cleanly and show off. It makes me wonder - was the spectacle needed for morale or was it just an unneeded exercise? I try to envision both sides when I drive on route 7, past the markers at Baileys Crossroads each week.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Great point. I love doing this blog because I am continually uncovering new perspectives on events!

I am sure that for many it wasn't enjoyable to be standing around in the mud, although some soldiers were likely enthralled to be part of the event for all its downsides. I guess there are always two sides to a story, and leave it to Meade, who always struck me as a bit of a grump, to give the negative view.

Knowing McClellan, this parade was primarily for show. He hadn't taken any action yet against the Confederates, but surely wanted to demonstrate to his critics that he had assembled a formidable fighting force. This was one of a few reviews that were held before the army headed off to the Peninsula in spring 1862. None, however, was a large as the one at Bailey's Crossroads.

Dick Stanley said...

Too bad (or good, depending on your view) that the Confederate artillery didn't have greater range and wasn't more accurate. They could have rained more than mud on Little Mac's political parade.

Ron said...

Dick-- Now that would have been a sight to behold! Of course, I am sure that Pinkerton provided him with top-notch intelligence on any possible threats.... Joking aside, it is interesting that 80,000 were amassed in one area, along with the nation's political elite. I guess ever-cautious McClellan was pretty sure that the Rebs wouldn't try some type of surprise raid or attack.

Ron said...

Make that 50-70,000!