Camp near Stevensburg, Virginia: 1864. Envelope or Cover. This lot contains a letter written by a soldier in the 126th New York Infantry and a clipping of an illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated newspaper, both enclosed in the letter’s original mailing envelope. All are in nice shape.
The four-page letter, written in light pencil, is datelined “Camp near Stevensburg, Va. March 13th 1864. It was sent by Private George S. Young to his sister, Louisa, at Waterloo, New York.
The mailing envelope bears a double-ring Washington, DC postmark dated March 13 and is franked with a 3-cent Washington stamp (Scott #65) that has been canceled with a target handstamp.
The wood-engraved newspaper illustration measures approximately 9½” x 6½” and pictured hundreds of dancers in a huge hall festooned with flags and garlands. It is captioned, “Washington’s Birthday in the Army – Ball at the Second Corps Headquarters – From a sketch by our Special Artist, E. [Edwin] Forbes.” Although the illustration is enclosed in the letter, it must have been placed there later by Louisa, as it was not published in Leslie’s newspaper until March 19th
Young’s letter reads in part:
“All passes on in the same old monotonous way, but it is highly probable that this will not long continue. . .. It is reported that Gen. Grant has been – or is now – paying a visit to the Army of the Potomac and that it will be reorganized and improved under his supervision. . . . A company of sharpshooters is being organized from each regiment in the corps. Three men are detailed from each company and a captain, first and second lieutenants, from each regiment. It is probable that these sharpshooters will do most of the skirmishing in the “Coming Campaign. . ..The Ball that was held at Corps Headquarters on the 22nd passed off to the satisfaction of all concerned. . .. It was intended for the officers and not for privates. Tickets were only ten dollars. There were quite a number of Ladies present from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York & other places. . . . I shall not be able to get my photograph taken as they will have to be sent to Washington to be finished, but . . . I will send an ambrotype. If I had some taken a week ago, perhaps you might have seen some change in me but since then I have taken my whiskers off and look the same as of old. All the boys remarked that they greatly improved my appearance. . .. I have just heard of some changes and promotions in the regiment but will not mention them until confirmed.”. Very good. Item #010145
Young was correct about Grant’s visit to the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters and its reorganization. The letter was written only a few days after Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General and placed in charge of the entire Union Army. Although the organizational changes that subsequently took place had been planned before he took charge, at the meeting Grant and Meade established a working cordial if not entirely pleasing command relationship. Grant would primarily concentrate on overall strategy and Meade on tactical operations.
The ball was a magnificent affair. As reported by a Second Corps Surgeon, William Warren Porter:
“The Second Corps gave a grand ball at the headquarters of the corps near Stevensburg, or, to be more precise, at the Thom House on Cole’s Hill. Adjoining the house a dancing hall was built, which required 12.000 feet of lumber to floor . . . smoothed and fitted by carpenters detailed from the ranks. The sides of the building were constructed of green hemlock which our sawmills furnished, and the roof was of canvas. It was lighted with 600 adamantine candles, the holders for which were espeocially made in Washington. The supper was furnished by Gautier, a Washington caterer, for which we paid him $2,200 and furnished transportation for it to the camp. It was a subscription ball . . . and no officer outside of the corps being allowed . . . in other words, every visitor was considered the guest of the managers. Officers in the Secnd Corps who were solicited, subscribed according to rank or position, and my subscription was $20.00.
“General Meade, General Sedgwick, General Pleasanton, and other high officers were present, besides Vice-President Hamlin and daughter, Governor Sprague and wife . . . and other distinguished civilians. The distinctive flags of the corps’ and the camp, and garrison flags, were festooned in an artistic way about the room. An orchestra was built up across one end of the hall, upon which were mounted two brass Napoleon guns with the requisite ammunition, and three bands [from the Corps] furnished uninterrupted music till morning. The pickets at the Rapidan were doubled that night, and a Brigade was sent down within supporting distance of the picket line, so as to be in readiness in case of a surprise; but, happily, there was no attack, and all went off in splendid style. This was, undoubtedly, the largest strictly miliary ball ever given in this country, a pleasure to the participants and a credit to the managers.” General Meade reported that “There were present about three hundred ladies [and] the next day I reviewed the Second Corps for the benefit of our lady guests. . ..” and his aide, Theodore Lyman, expanded, “We were confronted by the apparition of two young ladies in extemporaneous riding habits, mounted on frowsy cavalry horses and prepared to accompany. General Meade greeted them with politeness, for they were some relations of somebody, and we set forth. The review was on a large flat . . . rather rough for the purpose and consisted of the Corps and Kilpatrick’s division of cavalry. When they were all ready, we rode down the lines, to my great terror, for I thought the womenkind, of whom there were half a dozen, would break their necks; for there were two or three ditches, and we went at a canter higglety-pigglety. However, by the best of luck they all got along safe and we took our place to see the troops march past. . .. Thereafter Kill-cavalry (as scoffers call [Kilpatrick]) gave us a charge of the 500, which was entertaining enough, but rather mobby in style.”
(For more information, see “Ball of 2nd Corps--Washington's birthday” at the Library of Congress website, the 19 March 1864 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper at The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection website, Porter’s Three Years with the Army of the Potomac, Huntington’s “A Ball and a Review (February 24, 1864)” at the Searching for George Gordon Meade website.)
Uncommon. At the time of listing, no other first-hand manuscript accounts of the Second Corps ball are for sale in the trade. None have appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub, and OCLC shows none held in institutional collections. Even contemporary printed accounts are scarce..