Sunday, January 12, 2014

January 8, 1864 (Thursday): A Slur Denied (After A Fashion)

General William Henry French

January 8, 1864.
Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS,
Asst. Adjt. General, Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac:
   GENERAL: Inclosed is a copy of the New York Tribune of the 7th instant, to which I respectfully invite the attention of the major-general commanding the army to request to be informed whether the statement made by a Rev. Mr. Hall, set forth in the paragraph marked, particularly that italicized, were furnished and sanctioned by him.
    I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    WM. H. FRENCH,
    Major-General of Volunteers.


The Rev. S. A. Hall, of Dover, N. H., recently visited the Army of the Potomac and called upon General Meade. He writes to a New Hampshire paper that he asked General Meade to explain his last campaign, and the general was kind enough to do so, as follows:
    I went over the river to fight, and if my orders had been obeyed, I am confident that Lee's army might have been defeated. My plan was to cross at Germanna Ford, take the road to Orange Court-House, and push on rapidly. If Lee should send forces to stop me, to attack him in force and destroy that portion of his army before he could concentrate the whole of it to oppose me. But one of my corps commanders failed me. He was commanded to march at 6 o'clock in the morning, but did not move until 8 o'clock. He was directed, if Lee sent forces to oppose him, to attack at once. Lee did send Ewell down the Orange Court-House road, just as I expected, but my general stood and looked at him all day and did not fight. So we lost twenty-four hours, and that gave Lee notice and time to concentrate his army, and take so strong a position that it could not be carried without great loss and a risk of losing our army. Such a fight would have damaged us and encouraged the rebels, and prolonged the war, and I gave the order to retreat. The corps commander referred to was General French, who was probably too drunk to know or do his duty.

JANUARY 8, 1864.
Commanding Officer Third Corps:
     I am directed by the commanding general to acknowledge the receipt of your note of this date, inclosing a copy of the New York Tribune, and calling his attention to an article therein.
    The commanding general desires me to say to you that he has no recollection of ever having had any conversation with the Rev. Mr. Hall, though, as he receives numerous visitors, it is not impossible this gentleman may have called on him. The commanding general is, however, quite positive he never authorized that part of the article in italics, nor does the rest of the article accurately convey his views; if, however, the commanding general had any conversation with Mr. Hall, he thinks it probable he may have told him what he has officially reported to the War Department, that it was the delay in the movements of the Third Corps, and particularly the failure to effect a junction at Robertson's Tavern on the 27th of November, which was one of the primary causes of the failure of the recent movement across the Rapidan.
     The commanding general presumes this statement will not be a surprise to you, inasmuch as he directed Major-General Humphreys, chief of staff, to inform you officially that your explanation of the delay in the movements of the Third Corps was not satisfactory, and that the matter would have to be the subject of official investigation.
      Very respectfully, &c.,

     Assistant Adjutant-General.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 1, Pages 747-748.

A tall, heavy set man, it was said of him he resembled "one of those plethoric French colonels, who are so stout, and who look so red in the face, that one would suppose someone had tied a cord tightly around their neck."  Meade blamed French for the aborted Mine Run campaign through his slowness to move on the 27th.  His denial here, through his AAG Williams, is specific only to his remembering a specific conversation with the Reverend Mr. Hall.  Meade clearly did believe, and took pains to point out, that French's performance was unacceptable.  The matter of drunkeness is not touched upon.  French would shortly be separated from the army and placed on garrison duty.


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