Thursday, January 2, 2014

Brigadier General George G. Meade to Margaretta Sergeant Meade, June 18, 1862

CAMP NEAR “NEW BRIDGE,” June 18, 1862.

Late last night orders came for our division to march at early daylight this morning, which we did, arriving here about 11 A. M., and relieving Slocum's (formerly Franklin's) division, being thus posted on the extreme right flank of our army and in the front. The enemy are in plain view of our picket line, we holding here the left bank of the Chickahominy, and they the opposite one. There is quite a wide bottom and swamp between the two banks, but our respective pickets are within musket range of each other. But shots are not exchanged unless there is a collection on either side, looking like an advance or a working party. The “New Bridge,” as it is called, you have doubtless seen mentioned and referred to in the newspapers. It is the bridge by which one of the main roads into Richmond crosses the Chickahominy. We hold the approaches on this side, the enemy on the other. They are throwing up earthworks to prevent our crossing, and all the afternoon our batteries have been shelling their working parties, and they have been shelling our batteries, with I fancy no damage on either side. The "New Bridge" is only five miles from Richmond, and from the high grounds near our camp we can plainly discern the spires of the Sacred City. To-morrow Reynolds and Seymour go to Mechanicsville, which is a little higher up the river and about four and a half miles from the city. Immediately adjoining our camp we have Fitz-John Porter's corps, in which General Morell now commands a division. Stoneman's division of cavalry is also in our vicinity, as well as Sykes's brigade of regulars. Willie1 has been with me all the afternoon. He looks very well — better than he did at Alexandria.

Did you see in the papers of the 12th the instructions of Joe Johnston to Stonewall Jackson? I hope you have, for they most singularly confirm my expressed views of the object of Jackson's raid. Johnston tells him that anything he can do, either to prevent reinforcements reaching McClellan or to withdraw any portion of his force, will be of inestimable service; suggests his attacking either McDowell or Banks — whichever he thinks most practicable — and says it is reported McDowell is about advancing on Richmond, which he, Johnston, thinks extremely probable. You see how completely Jackson succeeded in carrying out these, by paralyzing McDowell's force of forty thousand men, through the stupidity of the authorities at Washington becoming alarmed and sending McDowell on a wild-goose chase after a wily foe, who never intended to be caught in a trap, and was prepared to back out so soon as his plans proved successful. I must do McDowell the justice to say that he saw this himself, but no protest on his part could shake the strategy of the War Department.

We are so near the enemy that we hear their bands distinctly at tattoo and parade. On our side no drums, bugles or bands are allowed, except to announce the approach of the enemy. I can hardly tell you how I felt this afternoon, when the old familiar sound of the heavy firing commenced. I thought of you and the dear children — of how much more I have to make me cling to life than during the Mexican War; I thought, too, of how I was preserved then and since in many perilous times through God's mercy and will, and prayed He would continue His gracious protection to me, and in His own good time restore me to you, or if this was not His will, and it was decreed that I was to be summoned, that He would forgive me, for His Son's sake, the infinite number of sins I have all my life been committing. You see, I do not shut my eyes to the contingencies of the future, but I look upon them with a hopeful eye and a firm reliance on the mercy of my heavenly Father. It is now 10 o'clock at night, dark and rainy. All is quiet in both camps, and the immense hosts arrayed against each other are, doubtless, quietly and peacefully sleeping, unless some one with thoughts like those I have expressed has a disturbing conscience.

1 William Sergeant, brother of Mrs. Meade.

SOURCE: George Meade, The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Vol. 1, p. 275-7

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