On this day (March 4) in 1864, Major-General George Meade submitted this request to Army Headquarters in Washington:
Washington, D.C., March 4, 1864.
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,
Sir: I beg leave to submit for your consideration and that of the honorable Secretary of War the following plan for the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac:
I propose to reduce the number of corps, now five, to three. In doing this I propose to retain the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps, educing the three divisions now in each to two divisions. I then propose to consolidate the two divisions of the Third Corps (constituting the old corps) into one division and transfer it temporarily to the Fifth Corps; this division to retain its corps badges and other distinctive marks, and having understood that when the accession of recruits shall justify the organization of another corps, this division shall resume its position as the Third Corps with such additions as can be made.
In the same manner I propose to consolidate the First Corps into a division, and, with its distinctive marks, &c., assign it to the Second Corps. This would leave the Third Division of the Third Corps, which did not belong to the original corps, but joined after Gettysburg, under Major-General French, which I propose to transfer to the Sixth Corps.
The Second and Sixth Corps, being now commanded by officers assigned by the President of the United States, will continue to be so commanded. The Fifth Corps I propose to have commanded by Major-General Warren, by the assignment of the President.
Of the two corps temporarily broken up, I propose to assign the officers of the general staff to vacancies that may exist in the other corps.
After the above general organization is decided on, general officers will be assigned to divisions and brigades on consultation with corps commanders. The present temporary commanders of the First, Third, and Fifth Corps, it is understood, the Department has decided to relieve. A list of general officers whom in my judgment it is expedient to relieve is herewith furnished, viz: Brig. Gen. J. R. Kenly, Brig. Gen. F. B. Spinola, Brig. Gen. Sol. Meredith.
I should be glad, if this organization is decided upon, that those general officers belonging to the Army of the Potomac and now absent on detached duty be ordered to rejoin, as well as such forces as may have been detached for special purposes.
Geo. G. Meade, Major-General, Commanding, Army of the Potomac.
From the pure military perspective, the consolidations made sense. On the battlefield (or even in garrison), the smaller number of subordinate headquarters allowed for simplified control and communication. Instead of dispatching five sets of orders, Meade could get away with only three. And much easier to track the progress of three corps when the shooting started.
We also see Meade’s deft handling of personnel matters here (or maybe “command arrangements” would be a better way to put it). He easily rid himself of some troublesome senior leaders, just by re-arranging the chairs. Major-Generals John Newton and George Sykes? Gone, along with three brigadiers. And so long as the President assigned Major-General Gouverneur Warren to the Fifth Corps post, Dan Sickles … a.k.a. Historicus… was left to pen letters to the newspaper.
Though unlikely, the wording of Meade’s submission allowed for reconstitution of the First and Third Corps. The men even kept their original badges for symbolic purposes. Again, shrewd positioning by Meade. With the leadership at the head of the U.S. Army changing, such allowed the facility to expand the Army of the Potomac. At the same time, leaders in Washington would find it difficult to pull troops from the Army of the Potomac short of removing an entire Corps.
On the same day, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton inquired if Major-General Winfield Scott Hancock was ready to resume his duties leading the Second Corps. Hancock responded, “I consider myself able to take the field when ordered,” though he related that his wound had not completely healed. With Hancock returning, Warren to be assigned permanently to Fifth Corps, and steady Major-General John Sedgwick leading the Sixth Corps, Meade had three solid corps commanders and a favorable command climate.
One other change was taking place that day. Major-General Ulysses S. Grant sent a telegraph from Nashville, Tennessee indicating, “I will leave Louisville on Monday for Washington.” Congress had already approved Grant’s promotion to Lieutenant-General and overall command of the Federal armies. The pieces for the 1864 campaign season were falling into place.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 638-40.)