The AoP Settles into Winter Camp, 1863

As the Army of the Potomac settled into its winter quarters around Brandy Station and Culpeper in December 1863, Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman—George Gordon Meade’s aide-de-camp—toured the camps with the Army of the Potomac’s chief of staff, Andrew A. Humphreys. Perhaps it was the frustrations of the recent, impotent fall campaign or perhaps the unusually harsh early winter weather, or maybe even the fact that his boss, Meade, “has been rather sad, of late,” but Lyman seemed in a dour mood. “There is much, very much, of detail that is neglected in this army,” he wrote in his journal on Dec. 10:

No offal or dead horses buried. Then men usually as raw in manners as if they had never been soldiers. Too much familiarity among officers of different grades, and too much “boyishness,” absence of strict accountability as gentlemen.

Then the plundering they do, especially cavalry, is not to be excused; buildings are gutted and burned, at once, or piece-meal, without official authority. This would not be if punishment were severe & sure. The men are eminently tractable and reasonable, and can be managed easily. One has only to look at the 6th Corps to see how neatness among officers & man may be made a general thing. One has only to look at the cavalry to see, how, (in most cases) slovenliness and want of order can become the rule.

These details, trifling in appearance, assume great importance when added together. When officers buy clothing, not regulation, soldiers do the same, and soon a regiment gets to look mottled; then the men lose pride in their uniform, then in the cleanliness of their weapons, & so they go. All this need not be. . . .

On the other hand there are a great features that are admirable. The thorough manliness of the men; their extreme patience; their courage; their intelligence; their real skill in the military work of a campaign; their civilization, as shown in the respect for the Dead, and the kindness to women & children; and an absence of anything like ferocity.

from Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David Lowe—must-read material for anyone interested in the Eastern Theatre.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!