One page LS on imprinted letterhead, dated February 21st, 1863 and signed by General Seth Williams as adjutant-general of the Army of the Potomac.
Addressed to Provost Marshal General Patrick, Williams asks Patrick to investigate three situations reported by the Third Army Corps, the most interesting being the use of signal lights from a house in Virginia and the suspicious behavior of a man outside the lines.
An interesting look at the management of the war from the headquarters level. It appears no detail was to small to investigate!
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He entered the academy at West Point in July, 1838, at sixteen years of age, and, after the usual four years of study and discipline, he was honorably graduated in July, 1842. In 1845 he was ordered to Texas, and was actively engaged in the war with Mexico in 1846, 1847 and 1848. He was in the heat of the terrible conflicts of Palo Alto and Cerro Gordo, and was at the siege of Vera Cruz, and, for "gallant conduct in the battle of Cerro Gordo," he was made brevet captain.
Not long after the Mexican War closed, Captain Williams was called to West Point, as adjutant at the military academy, which position he acceptably filled until September, 1853, when he was made assistant adjutant-general, and (with but slight intermission) was occupied in the adjutant-general's office at Washington until December, i860, when he was assigned to the Department of the West. The firing on Fort Sumter - that dread opening of the Rebellion - caused his recall to Washington, and his assignment as adjutant-general on Major-General McClellan's staff, in which position he served in the Virginia campaign ; after which he was again occupied in the department at Washington, where he labored day and night in systematizing the varied information received by the department, and preparing himself to give, at all times, reliable information to military officers and others upon all subjects within his domain, where such information was needful. In this service he remained until March, 1862, after which time he was in the field at headquarters, as adjutant-general of the Army of the Potomac, serving in the Peninsular and Maryland campaigns with General McClellan; in the Rappahannock, Pennsylvania and Rapidan campaigns with Generals Burnside, Hooker and Meade, successively. Upon General Grant's accession to the chief command he was made a member of his staff, acting as adjutant-general for a time, and until, as a relief from his long-continued service in this class of duties, whereby his health had been seriously impaired, he was appointed as
inspector-general, which position afforded him a change from severe local duty. In this official duty he continued upon General Grant's staff until nearly the close of his life. Thus he served during the entire Civil War, under the various commanders, each succeeding commander resting with entire faith and security on him, who recognized duty only, and gave unquestioning obedience to his superior officers. To him there was no question of expediency, no friendship, no antipathy that for one moment influenced him in regard to the ready, full and perfect performance of the service due to his country. He might truly have said, with the young Prince of Tyre,
"Like a bold champion I assume the lists,
Nor ask advice of any other thought
But faithfulness and courage."
His position, during all the years of our Civil War, was such that a failure in the performance of duty, or even a mistake on his part, might - nay, would, have jeopardized the great cause of the Union, for which so many lives were at stake, and upon the issue of which hung the destinies of so many millions of people.
In August, 1864, he was commissioned as brevet major-general of volunteers, "for highly meritorious and faithful service in the field in the several campaigns from Gettysburg, Pa., to Petersburg, Va." In the spring of 1865 he was further promoted to brevet brigadier-general of the United States army "for gallant and meritorious services in the campaign terminating with the surrender of the insurgent army under General Robert E. Lee," upon which promotion immediately followed his commission as brevet major-general of the United States army " for gallant and meritorious services in the field during the Rebellion." General Williams accompanied General Grant to Appomattox Court House, and was one of the few officers on that memorable occasion to witness the final surrender of General Lee. Indeed, it has been said that at that interview the first words spoken were those of recognition between
General Lee and General Williams, who were former friends, and had at one time had been associated together at West Point. Thus was it permitted to him as the crowning gratification of his life to participate with those three or four other officers present, in that great closing scene of the Rebellion. Louis Phillippe D' Orleans, the Comte de Paris, who was for a time with the Army of the Potomac and closely associated with General Williams, writes to him thus, under date of York House, Twickenham, S. W., May 7, 1865: "When I saw that you had accompanied the Lieutenant General at that memorable interview at Appomattox Court House, I thought that my former relations with you authorized me to address you my hearty congratulations for having been witness of one of the greatest military and political events of our century. But what I congratulate you most upon is to have been at work, and at the same work from the first days of the Army of the Potomac to its final triumph. When I think of how many times as adjutant-general you began that work anew, I realize the immense satisfaction you must feel to-day."
General Williams continued upon the staff of the general-in-chief as inspector-general to February 9, 1866, from which time to March 1st of that year he nominally served as adjutant-general of the military division of the Atlantic, having his headquarters at Philadelphia; but the head of the strong man was bowed, and the vigorous mind, resolute during all the excitement and necessities of the war, gave way from the reaction, when the days of battle were ended. Such, in brief, is the military history of this accomplished, valuable and valued officer in the army of the United States, who, acknowledging his obligation, amply repaid to his country all that he had received at its hands, even to the yielding of his life in its behalf, which event occurred March 23, 1866, when he lacked but a single day of attaining forty-four years of age. But "life is not always measured by the lapse of years; that life is long;that answers life's great end."
The newspapers of the country paid due tribute to his memory. The Nation said of him; "The memory of none who have yet to die will be held more sacred by soldiers than his. Painfully/ diffident of his own merits, in all duty- he was great, comprehensive, resolute, and untiring." The whole press at Washington concurred in the sentiment that "no officer, of any grade, bore a higher character for integrity, honor, and unflagging zeal for the success of our arms; few officers were more generally known, and no one was more universally beloved." The New York Times closed its obituary notice with these words: "Hundreds of thousands of the living heroes of this war will heave a deep sigh of regret as they read of the death of Major General Seth Williams." The New York Evening Post, after a touching and beautiful tribute to his worth, said in conclusion: "So modest was he, of such a delicate and gentlemanly spirit, and, while so able, unwearied, unrelaxing in his own duties, so generous in his judgment as to the duties and services of others, that to know him made it necessity to love him. No one could name his name, at least to any army officer, without meeting the warm answer, and even exclamation of attachment and respect, as if this one man was the common and beloved property of all."
General Grant ordered flags at half-mast at his quarters and other military stations, and requested, by telegram, that West Point might be made the final resting place of General Williams' body - a request with which his family was unwilling to comply, though fully appreciating the tender kindness which prompted it - and he was laid at rest by the side of his mother, at Forest Grove Cemetery, in Augusta, Maine, with that simplicity he would himself have desired.
It was not his to die upon the battlefield. He lived to realize that the battle had been fought, and the victory won. Then, having faithfully done his duty, and no longer able to resist the disease brought on by nearly superhuman efforts during the four years of civil strife, he yielded up his life as an offering to his country, amid loving friends, honored and beloved by all who knew him, mourned by the army,and by all patriotic hearts, which felt and could appreciate the "true and laudable service," he had rendered to the great cause of the Union. So fell this Christian gentleman and soldier.
It may be truly said of him:
"His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, - This was a man!"