Crossing swords with General Meade’s Secesh Sister


The close of the siege of Vicksburg in July 1863 did not end the small scale raiding and cavalry engagements in this section of Mississippi. Union and Confederate cavalrymen spent much of the resting of the war swiping at each other. 

During the Civil War, General George Meade commanding the Army of the Potomac earned a reputation with many of his men as being temperamental and irascible, or as one soldier said, “a goggle-eyed snapping turtle.” In October 1863, the troopers of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry learned that those strong personal characteristics ran in Meade’s family when they crossed swords with the general’s older sister Elizabeth Mary Meade Ingraham.

Elizabeth was the third born of Richard and Margaret Meade’s family of 11 children; George would be the 8th of 11. Born in 1805 ten years before her famous younger brother, Elizabeth married Maryland-born Alfred Ingraham on June 19, 1827, in Byberry, Pennsylvania. They had a family of six children, three boys and three girls: Francis, Edward, Thomas, Jane, Apolline, and Alice. By the mid-1840s, the Ingraham family moved from Pennsylvania to near Port Gibson, Mississippi and built Ashwood Plantation and enjoyed the life of wealthy and successful Southern planters.

At the outbreak of the war, the Ingraham family supported the Confederacy and two sons, although Pennsylvania-born, chose to wear the gray, and both were later killed in battle. Edward Ingraham went to war as a lieutenant in Co. A of the 1st Confederate Cavalry, sustaining a mortal wound at the Battle of Farmington, Mississippi on May 9, 1862, that resulted in his death a day later in Corinth. The oldest brother, Francis, served in the 21st Mississippi Infantry until he was killed in action May 3, 1863, at Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. As the youngest brother Thomas had died of yellow fever just before the war, the Ingraham family had now lost all three of their sons in a span of less than three years.

Ironically, Frank’s death in battle came only a few days after a battle raged on the front lawn of Ashwood Plantation back in Mississippi as General U.S. Grant’s army crossed the Mississippi River and fought the Battle of Port Gibson. The Ingraham’s abandoned their plantation before the battle and took refuge in Vicksburg where they remained until the surrender of the city in July 1863. Both General James B. McPherson and General John McClernand utilized Ashwood as headquarters during this time and by the end of the Vicksburg campaign, the plantation had been plundered and left a wreck.

The 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry at Benton Barracks, Missouri shortly after being mustered into service in March 1862. The Badgers saw service throughout the western theater including in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and eventually even Texas. (Wilson's Creek National Battlefield) 

In the months after Vicksburg, Federal cavalry made frequent raids into the interior of Mississippi and during one of those raids got into a scrap with Confederate troopers on October 10, 1863, near Big Black River where Corporal Charles B. Lafraniere of Co. B was killed.  “Coming back to where our man lay, a stretcher was improvised using two sails, a blanket, and four Rebel ramrods and he was borne along in the column by eight of his late comrades,” one trooper remembered. “It was the only casualty of the fight but we lamented even this for he was a brave fellow and had fought well.”

Captain Arthur M. Sherman of Co. L was sent ahead of the column with a detail to procure a wagon to bring Lafraniere’s body into camp. “The column marched to the Ingraham farm and found the captain expostulating with the sister of General Meade on the subject of transportation,” our correspondent continued. “That lady had a fine, roomy carriage, just the thing for a hearse, but she had safeguard also from General McPherson and it was death to violate she said. She would not listen to the proposition of lending the carriage for any such purpose.”

It goes without saying that the Ingraham family’s Secessionist sympathies were well known to the troopers; her stubborn refusal to allow the carriage to be used for hauling a dead Federal soldier to camp is understandable from the standpoint that the Ingraham’s had already lost so much in this war. Two sons dead on the field of battle, their plantation sacked and in ruins, and now their state occupied by the enemy. Now this request to use the family carriage to haul the bloody body of a dead enemy soldier was one more indignity that the proud Pennsylvanian with a famous brother could not stand.

General George G. Meade

“So, matters stood when Major Harry E. Eastman came up with the column and began scolding Captain Sherman for his tardiness,” our trooper continued. “Mrs. Ingraham wanted to know if he would support his officers in taking the carriage. She was the sister of Major General Meade and had protection papers from General McPherson and she ‘reckoned’ Major Eastman would not dare treat her so.” She had her protection papers and by no means would she consent to anyone using that carriage, last of all for hauling a dead Yankee.

Major Eastman, known by his men as “Fighting Harry,” had served as the third mayor of Green Bay, Wisconsin and apparently was not a man to be trifled with. The Badger quickly lost patience with Mrs. Ingraham.  

“You’re the sister of Major General Meade are you, Mrs. Ingraham?” Eastman asked.

“Yes, sir, I am and I’ve got Major General McPherson’s safeguard.”

“Well, I’m a brother of General Jesus Christ and by God if you don’t have that harness brought forth in less than two minutes, I’ll put you in that carriage with that dead Yankee and take you and your safeguard to Major General McPherson this night.” The lady retired and the harness appeared within the time specified.

Rather rough way to treat a lady? Especially one related to one of the highest-ranking commanders in the Federal army? Indeed, but the Federals soldiers would say her refusal of their humanitarian request reflected the hard-hearted hatred Southerners showed towards all Northern soldiers. That the refusal came from a Northern-born woman related to one of the top commanders in the U.S. Army made that refusal doubly difficult to swallow. However, Southerners would point to it as another example of Yankee brutality and disrespect towards Southern women.

I have no idea if word of this incident ever got back to General Meade, but Eastman’s army career ended soon after his promotion to lieutenant colonel in April 1864. The newspapers reported that he was captured a dozen miles west of Vicksburg near Redbone Church on July 5, 1864. The Janesville Daily Gazette later reported that Lt. Col. Eastman was “found guilty of several charges of dishonest and disreputable conduct and dismissed from the service in disgrace” on July 14, 1864. (Quiner’s history of the regiment says Eastman resigned due to illness and makes no mention of the court martial.) Col. Eastman would be reinstated by President Ulysses S. Grant 11 years later less than two months after the Federal government granted him a pension.

Elizabeth Ingraham and George G. Meade died within a few weeks of each other in 1872; Elizabeth passing on September 12th in New Orleans, Louisiana while George passed away November 6th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Interestingly, both Alfred Ingraham and Elizabeth died in New Orleans but were buried back home in Pennsylvania at All Saints Episcopal Church Cemetery in Torresdale.

 

Source:

“An Incident,” Cedar Falls Gazette (Iowa), November 27, 1863, pg. 4

“Lt. Col. Harry Eastman,” Janesville Daily Gazette (Wisconsin), August 26, 1864, pg. 1

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