Guess The Commander For The War’s End?

William B. Franklin

The following excerpt is from James A. Scrymser’s reminiscence about the Civil War. Scrymser was a member of the 7th New York and, postwar, a telegraph cable pioneer. I’m very curious to see what readers think about the incident and what might have been evident in December 1861 that led to the leadership prediction…or was it just a lucky guess?

General Franklin’s Prophecy

In December, 1861, General “Baldy” Smith, had for his headquarters the Smoot House, a substantial double brick building about eleven miles from Washington, near a place called Lewinsville, Va.

On the second Saturday in December, as I remember, there was an impromptu luncheon party at these headquarters. The luncheon was attended by General McClellan, General Meade, General McCall, General Fitz-John Porter, General Hancock, General W. T. H. Brooks and General Franklin, General Smith acting as host. After the luncheon, I, with other members of General Smith’s staff, was invited to join the party, and I recall the discussion which ensued as to the probable duration of the war. It appeared to be the unanimous opinion that the war would last for some years.

It was then that General Franklin vouchsafed a remarkable prophecy, substantially as follows:

It is my opinion that the war will continue for several years and, before the war is over, every one present, with one exception, will be laid away on the shelf. That exception will be General George G. Meade; he will come out on top at the close of the war.

It was, as I have said, a remarkable prediction, inasmuch as it proved to be such a true one.

It is regrettable that General Meade himself was so over shadowed by General Grant that Meade’s great services as Commander of the Army of the Potomac were never fully appreciated, and that Meade never received the recognition to which he was so justly entitled.


Personal Reminiscences of James A. Scrymser, In Times of Peace and War – James Alexander Scrymser. Accessed at Google Books:

8 Responses to Guess The Commander For The War’s End?

  1. Scrymser’s recollections were published in 1915, so unless this story is corroborated elsewhere and especially during the lifetimes of the parties involved, I would treat it as suspect. What was Franklin’s relationship with Meade? Reads like an agenda to rehabilitate a reputation or salve a bruised ego. I am skeptical.

  2. I’m skeptical as well. I’d be tempted to track down record of where all these generals were at the time of this meeting to make sure they were actually together. Also, at what point did they switch from “this war will be over and done soon” to everyone agreeing it would be “several years”? I understand this is after Manassas where that theory was shattered, but how long did they hold onto hope? And I agree with David. It sounds like this was written to promote Meade or even downplay the successes of the other generals present. Interesting story, but I’d need more background.

  3. Definitely right for people to be skeptical about what was said at the dinner meeting, but also saying that it was more than possible for such a meeting to have taken place. Looking at the names listed, we see that they were in close contact throughout the fall of 1861. McClellan was the army commander and frequently visited Camp Griffin, located at Lewinsville. Meade commanded a brigade in Gen. McCall’s division of PA Reserves, located at Langley, just down the road from Lewinsville. Hancock and Brooks both commanded brigades in Baldy Smith’s division, which was encamped at Lewinsville, thus making sense that Smith hosted the party. FJ Porter and Franklin both commanded divisions in the area. So was it possible that the people above got together for lunch? More than possible, probable even, considering how many were friends and close contacts before the war.

  4. I was going to mention the possibility that this was, shall we say, “interpolated,” but others have beaten me to it.

    There is, IMO, a more remarkable “early war prediction.” In his biography of Grant, Ron Chernow mentions an interview that a Galena newspaper editor did with Grant (I think this is before he had any rank at all; not sure) and published at the time, in which he (the editor) expressed his very high opinion of the young former captain. I have a very busy day ahead of me, but if a block of time opens up I’ll try to post more details from Chernow’s book, here.

  5. Might have happened, but there is reason to be skeptical. On the plus side, Meade and Franklin, both engineers, knew each other as their paths had crossed in the old army, most notably during an inspection trip to St. Louis in 1859 to assess damage to a bridge. However, on the negative side, Scrymser’s reminiscence was published in 1915 long after the principals in the story were dead. There is no mention of the incident in Mark Snell’s biography of Franklin and no mention of such a luncheon in the 13 published letters that Meade wrote to his wife in December. If you have read Meade’s letters, you know that Meade shares every compliment with his wife, and it is difficult to believe he would have passed up this one.

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