In a recent article for this blog I posted two contemporary depictions of President Abraham Lincoln’s Grand Review of part of the Army of the Potomac on April 8, 1863: a stunning, panoramic sketch by Harpers Weekly special artist Alfred R. Waud and a map by an unidentified cartographer. These are among the many new records appearing over the past year or two in the Library of Congress’ online collections. Here again are the map and sketch:
Each is an extraordinary document of the April 8 reviewing but is baffling for its apparent incompatibility with the other, as I described in that earlier blog-post.
Since the time of that post, additional, related mysteries have suggested themselves. Although the 8th was but one of four days in April 1863 that saw Lincoln review troops assembled in complete corps for inspection—at various locations in Stafford County—it was the only day that saw him review more than two corps. He reviewed the Second, the Third, the Fifth, and the Sixth (as well as the army’s artillery reserve). Yet the editors at Harper’s did not select Waud’s panoramic sketch of April 8 for conversion to a woodcut.
Instead of focusing on that day’s blockbuster event and Waud’s breathtaking depiction of it, Harper’s pictorial reporting on the April review—pictures published in its issue of May 2, 1863—consisted of two woodcuts based on Waud’s sketches of smaller spectacles that occurred on other days: the Cavalry Corps passing in review before the President on April 6 (sketch at top in John Hennessy’s post here), and Lincoln and others watching the First Corps pass on April 9 (below):
While I understand the appeal of a close-up woodcut of the faces of Lincoln and the other decisionmakers, I’m puzzled by the Harper’s editors passing-up, for the companion “spectacle” woodcut, the visual power of the converging infantry columns and the incredible vista in the sketch of April 8. Perhaps Waud’s Cavalry Corps sketch of April 6 recommended itself through the dynamism of the horses and the smaller space required to publish its more limited vista. (At the bottom of my list of mysteries is the disappearance of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s head from Waud’s April 9 depiction, above. Hooker’s penciled cranium remained attached long enough for the engravers to create the woodcut published on May 2 but vanished sometime later.)
Perhaps, however, we can remove what I believe is the most vexing of the mysteries—that seeming incompatibility of the map and the April 8 sketch, appearing at the top of this post. In commenting on my earlier post on the subject, historian John F. Cummings III suggested that the terrain being traversed by the troops in Waud’s sketch actually matches an area separate from and southeast of the troop-positions shown on the map–an area closer to Army of the Potomac Headquarters near the Curtis and King houses at lower right on the map. Over the course of our friendship, John has demonstrated great instincts in matching Civil War-era sketches and photographs to modern terrain, and I often agree with his interpretations.
Yet I was unwilling to discard the map’s plotting of troop positions as a document of Lincoln on-the-spot, in the act of reviewing soldiers on April 8, 1863. My faith in the map was sustained by another friend, D.P. Newton of the White Oak Museum, reminding me of a sketch map found previously in the collections of the New York Public Library. That map, possibly a preliminary version of the Library of Congress map reproduced above, shows the exact same troop positions for the four army corps around the Burton, Sthreshly, Little, and Fitzhugh houses. Unlike the more finished (and larger) Library of Congress map, the New York Public Library version bears the specific legend “Map showing review of the 2d, 3d, 5th, + 6th Corps by the President April 8. 1863 scale 3 inches to the mile.”
And not long after D.P. reminding me of this document, I found another, which may render my beloved maps and John Cummings’ beloved sketch compatible: a letter penned the day after the April 8 review by Captain Charles A. Phillips of Battery E, Massachusetts Light Artillery:
The troops were drawn up…each corps in three lines of a division each,
each division of three brigades in line of battalions and each battalion
in column closed en masse.
About 11 o’clock the President and General Hooker rode up
with the usual cavalcade behind, and Scott, Spear, and I fell in
with the staff, having made up our minds that this was the only way
to see the review. The President rode a dark bay horse, which he
has ridden all the time. General Hooker on his usual, tall, white
horse. Two little boys about 8 and 12, I suppose junior Lincolns,
followed the President. The 2d Corps was the
first reviewed, and the President rode down in front of the 1st
Division, and we pelted after him. As we rode along, I began to
have some idea of the pleasure of riding in a cavalry charge. Half
way down the line we came to a ditch and mud hole, and I expected
to see somebody stuck, but the cavalcade all got through somehow,
and away we went down the line, round the flank, and up the second
line. More ditches and mud, but we pelt along up this line, down
the third and round in rear, and the Corps is reviewed. Then we
travel through the 5th Corps in the same way; the cavalcade
diminishing in numbers all the time; then the 3d Corps was finished
up in the same way. Then the President and
General Hooker took position by the colors, and we, the staff,
formed behind them…. [W]e sat patiently for two hours, while three
corps passed in review. There was the usual variety of officers and
men, but a description would be uninteresting unless from a better
pen than mine.
Phillips’ letter provides confirmation, from the perspective of a member of Lincoln’s extended entourage on April 8, of the three-division alignment for each corps shown on the maps. The letter also suggests a key point that to my knowledge has never been made before now in interpretive discussions of that day’s review: it was a two-phase event composed, first, of Lincoln reviewing troops while he was in motion and they stationary, and then, after he moved to some geographically separate point at or near a flag, of the troops in motion before the now-stationary President. Here he is on horseback, I think, in a detail from the Waud sketch of April 8:
In this interpretation of Lincoln reviewing the Second, Third, and Fifth Corps, the map would document the first half of the event, while the sketch would document the second half. By day’s end, Lincoln would have likely reviewed the component-units of each corps twice. The President had reviewed the Sixth Corps and the Artillery Reserve earlier that morning (an event not witnessed by Captain Phillips). Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick’s diary records that the Sixth and the artillery were reviewed “at Sickles Head Quarters”—the Fitzhugh family’s “Boscobel” estate (map-detail below). A New Jerseyan in the Sixth penned this description of the event after the war, confirming that Lincoln also reviewed that corps in two phases:
The reviewing ground was a plateau, slightly
rolling but sufficiently level to admit of good marching. The
reviewing stand, a knoll somewhat elevated, could be seen by the
Confederates…. After the President and General Hooker and staff had
ridden down the front of the line and returned by the rear, they
took position on the rise selected for the reviewing stand, which
was about the centre of the line. The ladies who accompanied Mrs.
Lincoln were grouped about her in carriages to the left of the
stand. When all were satisfactorily placed, the march past began.
When the signal was given the brigade on the extreme right marched
by platoon to the front, and, wheeling to the left, marched down
past the President…. As each brigade marched to the front its place
was immediately filled by the next in line, so that one line was
moving to the right while the other was moving to the left past the
Hopefully, I made two key documents of the April 8 review less conflicting. Also, it seems that a landmark event in the developing relationships between countless Federal soldiers and their Commander-in-Chief was more protracted, or immersive, than we thought previously. A Vermonter in the Sixth Corps would write of seeing that day an “unusual paleness” on Lincoln’s cheek, and an “expression of care…as he passed by where we were standing…I had a chance to see his face fully.”
I close with a rarely seen illustration of one of Lincoln’s Stafford County reviews (below) by William Robinson Leigh, best known as an artist of Southwest landscapes, a fashion designer, and an implacable foe of Modernist painting. While Leigh’s picture lacks both the eyewitness immediacy of a wartime sketch and identification with a specific day of the April 1863 reviewing, it is notable for accompanying a May 1899 McClure’s Magazine article by Ida M. Tarbell. (Her extensive historical work on Lincoln preceded her more famous efforts as a muckraking journalist and critic of the Standard Oil Company.) Tarbell’s interpretation of the Stafford County reviews emphasized Hooker’s disappointing performance in the upcoming campaign, of which, she wrote, Lincoln had a “foreboding” that allowed for “no rejoicing in his face” as he watched the troops pass in April 1863.
Noel G. Harrison
Sources: the published version of Marsena Patrick’s diary, quoted above, is well-known and needs no further explanation. The other citations, in order of appearance above, appear in: the History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery (1902); the History of the First Brigade, New Jersey Volunteers (1910); and Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865 (1992).
For a recent interpretation of the events of April 8, 1863 in the context of Lincoln’s other reviews that month, and his visits to the Fredericksburg area during the war overall, I recommend Jane Hollenbeck Conner’s book, Lincoln in Stafford (2006).