Copy of a letter from Chas. F. Benjamin to J.G. Rosengarten
Piney Point, Md.
Aug. 13th 1883
My dear Sir,
Will you be good enough to thank Mrs. Landis in my behalf for a copy of the Reynolds memorial addresses sent me?
Until the receipt of your second letter a few days ago, I should have been ready to swear that the interview of Meade and Reynolds was later than Sunday; but even before the appearance of my letter in The Nation (which I wrote hurriedly before going out of town for a day or two) had about convinced myself that it was at the camp near Frederick and not at Taneytown that the interview occurred.
From a variety of circumstances it has happened that since the battle of Gettysburg I have read almost nothing in print about it, and the little data I possessed, which might have refreshed my memory as to dates and places, were lost by some petty robberies in the building where I have my office, two or three years ago.
Our headquarters camp near Frederick was established Saturday afternoon, June 27th. Early on Sunday morning the change in command was known at head-quarters and I saw Meade for the first time since my division (Birneys) acted, or was supposed to act, as the support of his gallant but disastrous attack at Fredericksburg, Dec. 13th 1862. From breakfast time that Sunday morning till 2 or 3 P.M. I did not see him, but heard of his being in the tent with Hooker, receiving the latter’s explanations of the position of the troops and his plans. About 2 or 3, Meade and Hardie took possession of Genl. Williams’ desk in our officer tent, and there drew up the general order assuming the command. I know this, because I made one or two experimental copies of it for them before the terms were finally settled—the nice point being the expression of the fact that Meade took the command for the same reason that he would have obeyed any other lawful order of a superior. He had his own way of saying this much, but Hardie had to consider the account he would have to render to Mr. Stanton, a stern judge and critic, and Meade felt obliged to suit Hardie’s ideas as well as his own. In the memoir of Hardie, which I have mailed to you, I have intimated the unusual scope of advisory power given to him. The instructions given to him by Mr. Stanton in the presence of President Lincoln and Halleck might be thus summarized: “You must find Meade; you must take him privately to Hooker; you must effect an instant and absolute transfer of the command; you must make Meade understand what our views are, and you must bring us back assurances that he understands the situation, that he has definite ideas of how to meet its exigencies, and that he intends to be loyal to our general policy.” (To us now the anxiety about getting the command transferred looks absurd, but the authorities were afraid that Hooker with such confidants as Butterfield & Sickles might make mischief. Hardie, a very discreet man, told me his journey home with Hooker was a painful one, and that when the train drew out from Frederick, he breathed easier than at any time since his arrival. So there must have been something in the air).
Hooker and Hardie left head-quarters early on Monday morning, I think, but it may have been late on Sunday night. My recollection is that it was early in the morning when the attachés at headquarters shook hands with him in front of Butterfield’s tent. I have no recollection of our being at the Taneytown headquarters earlier than Tuesday evening, and I do recollect being in Frederick on Monday night, which would indicate that headquarters were not moved till Tuesday morning. I remember distinctly the coming of the news of the death of Reynolds and its effect upon Meade, and I remember writing in his presence the order sending Newton to command the First Corps, because, as he told “Seth” in his blunt way, he had “no confidence in Doubleday.” Meade was very much in our tent those two or three days. His orders had to be transmitted either by the Chief of Staff, or the Adjutant-General. Ordinarily the Chief of Staff made out the military orders and sent them to us to copy for preservation—but Meade and Butterfield were not on good terms and tho’ Meade could not at the moment afford to part with Butterfield, he resorted to Williams (with whom he was already on affectionate terms) and kept away from Butterfield, as much as possible.
To come, however, to the point of the present letter, it may have been Sunday when the interview occurred and if so, it was between the time when I first saw Meade and his coming into the tent with Hardie. On Sunday Meade had no tent of his own, being merely the guest of Hooker and Butterfield. That may have caused his bringing Reynolds to our quarters and he took the office tent in that case because Williams and Hardie were probably sitting together in the former’s sleeping tent. If on Sunday morning, it is easy to account for my being alone in the office tent. Williams was a strict Sabbatarian and permitted no routine work or lounging on Sunday, and required the office tent to be left vacant and quiet. The other clerks habitually went visiting on Sundays on saddle horses from the corral, but I didn’t ride horseback. I was a good deal of a book worm. I kept the run of the dispatches from Washington, and the corps commanders, and knew just what kind of a letter Seth (who was horribly precise) wanted written upon any possible occasion. And so it came about, by a process of natural selection, that I habitually spent my Sundays in the office tent and Williams and my fellow clerks anticipated my always being there on that day. I am very positive of the accuracy of what I have given you as Meade’s opening words to Reynolds, and that is all that you are concerned to know, as you say. I am positive too, about Reynolds being in neat attire, while Meade was as I have described. The contrast in dress was the first thing that struck me. If I were to venture to make a change in phraseology, it would be that Meade said: “I have been very anxious to see you,” instead of “to talk with” or “to you.” In my letter to The Nation I purposely said “when you get to Gettysburg” for “when you get there,” which was the true word used, because I wished to avoid the awkwardness of an explanation that the preceding conversation had reference to Gettysburg.
Signed, Chas. F. Benjamin
Extract from p. 40 of C.F. Benjamin’s memoir of Genl. James A. Hardie, Washington, 1877. Privately printed. “Genl. Meade had shared the opinion of the whole army, that if Genl. Hooker were to be superceded, Genl. Reynolds, Commander of the First Corps, should and would be appointed to the chief command, and as they were devoted friends, his anxiety to confer with Reynolds was intense, but had to give way to the imperative orders to assume command of the army at once.” An extract is given at p. 33. of the letter written by Genl. Reynolds of Gettysburg (that implies the highest compliment, as showing how the battle always will be remembered as his), recommending Hardie’s promotion.