Infobox Military Person
name= George Gordon Meade
born= birth date|1815|12|31
died= death date and age|1872|11|6|1815|12|31
caption=George Gordon Meade, portrait by
allegiance= United States of America
United States Army
rank= Major General
Army of the Potomac
Second Seminole War Mexican-American War American Civil War
George Gordon Meade (
December 31, 1815– November 6, 1872) was a career United States Armyofficer and civil engineer involved in coastal construction, including several lighthouses. He fought with distinction in the Seminole Warand Mexican-American War. During the American Civil Warhe served as a Union General, rising from command of a brigade to the Army of the Potomac. He is best known for defeating Confederate General Robert E. Leeat the Battle of Gettysburgin 1863.
In 1864–65, Meade continued to command the Army of the Potomac through the
Overland Campaign, the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and the Appomattox Campaign, but he was overshadowed by the direct supervision of the general in chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Meade was born in
Cádiz, Spain, eighth of eleven children of Richard Worsam Meade and Margaret Coats Butler Meade. His brother, Richard Worsam Meade II, was a future naval officer. His father, a wealthy Philadelphiamerchant serving in Spain as a naval agent for the U.S. government, was ruined financially because of his support of Spain in the Napoleonic Warsand died in 1828 while Meade was a young teenager. His family returned to the United States six months after his father's death, in precarious financial straits. Young George attended the Mount Hope Institution in Baltimore and entered the United States Military Academy(West Point) in 1831, chosen primarily for financial reasons. He graduated 19th in his class of 56 cadets in 1835. For a year, he served with the 3rd U.S. Artillery in Florida, fighting against the SeminoleIndians, before resigning from the Army, a career he had not intended to pursue, even while attending West Point. He worked as a civil engineerfor the Alabama, Georgia, and Florida Railroad and for the War Department. On December 31, 1840, he married Margaretta Sergeant, daughter of John Sergeant, running mate of Henry Clayin the 1832 presidential election. They had seven children together (John Sergeant Meade, Col. George Meade, Margaret Butler Meade, Spencer Meade, Sarah Wise Meade, Henrietta Meade, and William Meade). Finding steady civilian employment was difficult for the newly married man, so he reentered the army in 1842 as a second lieutenant in the corps of topographical engineers. [Tagg, p. 1; Warner, p. 315; Sauers, p. 1295; Eicher, p. 384; Hunt, p. 22; [http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~marshall/esmd29.htm rootsweb.com] .]
Meade served in the
Mexican-American War, assigned to the staffs of Generals Zachary Taylor, William J. Worth, and Robert Patterson, and was brevetted to first lieutenant for gallant conduct at the Battle of Monterrey. After that war he was chiefly involved in lighthouseand breakwater construction and coastal surveying in Floridaand New Jersey. He designed Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island, Absecon Lightin Atlantic City, Cape May Lightin Cape May, Jupiter Inlet Lightin Jupiter, Florida, and Sombrero Key Lightin the Florida Keys. [Dean, Love, "Reef Lights: Seaswept Lighthouses of the Florida Keys", The Historic Key West Preservation Board, 1982, ISBN 0-943528-03-8.] [McCarthy, Kevin M., "Florida Lighthouses". University of Florida Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8130-0993-6.] He also designed a hydraulic lamp that was adopted by the Lighthouse Boardfor use in American lighthouses. He was promoted to captain in 1856. [Eicher, p. 385; [http://www.nndb.com/people/589/000050439/ nndb.com] ; [http://www.angelfire.com/nj2/webby/njlighthouses/capemay.html Cape May Lighthouse history] ]
In 1857, Meade relieved Lt. Col. James Kearney on the Lakes Survey mission of the
Great Lakes. Completion of the survey of Lake Huronand extension of the surveys of Lake Michigandown to Grand and Little Traverse Bays were done under his command. Prior to Captain Meade's command, Great Lakes' water level readings were taken locally with temporary gauges; a uniform plane of reference had not been established. In 1858, based on his recommendation, instrumentation was set in place for the tabulation of records across the basin. In 1860, the first detailed report of Great Lakes was published. [Woodford, Arthur, "Charting the Inland Seas: A History of the U.S. Lakes Survey", Wayne State University Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0814324998.] . Meade stayed with the Lakes Survey until the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War.
Meade was promoted from captain to brigadier general of volunteers on
August 31, 1861, a few months after the start of the Civil War, based on the strong recommendation of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. He was assigned command of the 2nd Brigadeof the Pennsylvania Reserves, recruited early in the war, which he led competently, initially in the construction of defenses around Washington, D.C.His brigade joined Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomacfor the Peninsula Campaign. At the Battle of Glendale, one of the Seven Days Battles, Meade was severely wounded in the arm, back, and side. He partially recovered his strength in time for the Northern Virginia Campaignand the Second Battle of Bull Run, in which he led his brigade, now assigned to Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell's corps of the Army of Virginia. His brigade made a heroic stand on Henry House Hill to protect the rear of the retreating Union Army. At the start of the Maryland Campaigna few days later, he received command of the 3rd Division, I Corps, Army of the Potomac, and distinguished himself during the Battle of South Mountain. When Meade's brigade stormed the heights at South Mountain, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, his corps commander, was heard to exclaim, "Look at Meade! Why, with troops like those, led in that way, I can win anything!" In the Battle of Antietam, Meade replaced the wounded Hooker in command of I Corps, selected personally by McClellan over other generals his superior in rank. He performed well at Antietam, but was wounded in the thigh. [Tagg, pp. 2-3; Eicher, p. 385; Warner, p. 316.]
Battle of Fredericksburg, Meade's division made the only breakthrough of the Confederate lines, spearheading through a gap in Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's corps at the southern end of the battlefield. For this action, Meade was promoted to major general of volunteers, to rank from November 29, 1862. However, his attack was not reinforced, resulting in the loss of much of his division. After the battle, he received command of V Corps, which he led in the Battle of Chancellorsvillethe following spring. General Hooker, then commanding the Army of the Potomac, had grand, aggressive plans for the campaign, but was too timid in execution, allowing the Confederates to seize the initiative. Meade's corps was left in reserve for most of the battle, contributing to the Union defeat. Afterwards, Meade argued strongly with Hooker for resuming the attack against Lee, but to no avail. [Sauers, p. 1295; Eicher, p. 385; Tagg, p. 3.]
Army of the Potomac and Gettysburg
Hooker resigned from command of the Army of the Potomac while pursuing Lee in the
Gettysburg Campaign. [Coddington, p. 216. Hooker was disputing troop dispositions with General in Chief Henry W. Halleckand offered his resignation as a protest. Halleck and President Lincoln, dissatisfied with Hooker's performance at Chancellorsville and his lackluster pursuit of Lee in the current campaign, seized upon this opportunity and accepted his resignation.] In the early morning hours of June 28, 1863, a messenger from President Abraham Lincolnarrived to inform Meade of his appointment as Hooker's replacement. Meade was taken by surprise and later wrote to his wife that when the officer entered his tent to wake him, he assumed that Army politics had caught up with him and he was being arrested. He had not actively sought command and was not the president's first choice. John F. Reynolds, one of four major generals who outranked Meade in the Army of the Potomac, had earlier turned down the president's suggestion that he take over. [Coddington, pp. 37, 209.] Reynolds later died on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meade assumed command at
Prospect Hallin Frederick, Maryland. [ [http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=2775 Historical marker website] ] . Lee's Army of Northern Virginiawas invading Pennsylvania and, as a former corps commander, Meade had little knowledge of the disposition of the rest of his new army. Only three days later he confronted Lee in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1to July 3, 1863, where he won the battle that is considered a turning point of the war. The battle began almost by accident, as the result of a chance meeting engagement between Confederate infantry and Union cavalry in Gettysburg on July 1. By the end of the first day, two Union infantry corps had been almost destroyed, but had taken up positions on favorable ground. Meade rushed the remainder of his Army to Gettysburg and skillfully deployed his forces for a defensive battle, reacting swiftly to fierce assaults on his line's left, right, and center, culminating in Lee's disastrous assault on the center, known as Pickett's Charge. [Tagg, pp. 4-6.]
During the three days, Meade made excellent use of capable subordinates, such as Maj. Gens.
John F. Reynoldsand Winfield S. Hancock, to whom he delegated great responsibilities. Unfortunately for Meade's reputation, he did not skillfully manage the political manipulators he inherited from Hooker. Maj. Gens. Daniel Sickles, III Corps commander, and Daniel Butterfield, Meade's chief of staff, caused him difficulty later in the war, questioning his command decisions and courage. Sickles had developed a personal vendetta against Meade because of Sickles's allegiance to Joseph Hooker, whom Meade replaced, and because of violent disagreements at Gettysburg. (Sickles's grossly insubordinate actions as the commander of the III Corps almost lost the battle, and by extension almost the war, for the Union.) Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Warsuspected that Meade was a copperhead and tried in vain to relieve him from command. [Sears, pp. 215-22; Sauers, p. 1296.]
Following their severe losses at Gettysburg, General Lee's army retreated back to
Virginia. Meade was criticized by President Lincoln and others for not aggressively pursuing the Confederates during their retreat. At one point, the Army of Northern Virginia was extremely vulnerable with their backs to the rain-swollen, almost impassable Potomac River, but they were able to erect strong defensive positions before Meade could organize an effective attack. Lincoln believed that this wasted an opportunity to end the war. Nonetheless, Meade received a promotion to brigadier general in the regular army and the Thanks of Congress, which commended Meade "... and the officers and soldiers of [the Army of the Potomac] , for the skill and heroic valor which at Gettysburg repulsed, defeated, and drove back, broken and dispirited, beyond the Rappahannock, the veteran army of the rebellion." [Warner, pp. 316-17; Eicher, p. 385; Sauers, p. 1295.]
For the remainder of the fall campaigning season in 1863, during both the
Bristoe Campaignand the Mine Run Campaign, Meade was outmaneuvered by Lee and withdrew after fighting minor, inconclusive battles, because of his reluctance to attack entrenched positions. [Sauers, pp. 1295-96.]
Meade was a competent and outwardly modest man, although correspondence with his wife throughout the war suggests he was disguising his ego and ambition. A London newspaperman described Meade: "He is a very remarkable looking man—tall, spare, of a commanding figure in presence, his manner pleasant and easy but having much dignity. His head is partially bald and is small and compact, but the forehead is high. He has the late Duke of Wellington class of nose, and his eyes, which have a serious and almost sad expression, are rather sunken, or appear so from the prominence of the curve nasal appearance. He has a decidedly patrician and distinguished appearance." Meade's short temper earned him notoriety, and while he was respected by most of his peers, he was not well-loved by his army. Some referred to him as "a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle." [Tagg, pp. 1-4; Sauers, pp. 1295.]
Meade and Grant
When Lt. Gen.
Ulysses S. Grantwas appointed commander of all Union armies in March 1864, Meade offered to resign, but Grant refused and Meade and the Army of the Potomac became subordinate to him. Grant made his headquarters with Meade for the remainder of the war, which caused Meade to chafe at the close supervision he received. Following an incident in June 1864, in which Meade disciplined reporter Edward Cropsey from " The Philadelphia Inquirer" newspaper for an unfavorable article, all of the press assigned to his army agreed to mention Meade only in conjunction with setbacks. Meade apparently knew nothing of this arrangement, and the reporters giving all of the credit to Grant angered Meade.Sauers, p. 1296.]
Meade and Grant had various differences that caused additional friction between them. Grant was waging a war of attrition in his
Overland Campaignagainst Robert E. Lee, willing to suffer previously unacceptable losses with the knowledge that the Union Army had replacement soldiers available, whereas the Confederates did not. Meade, despite his aggressive performance in lesser commands in 1862, had become a more cautious general and more concerned about the futility of attacking entrenched positions. Most of the bloody repulses his army suffered in the Overland Campaign were ordered by Grant, although the aggressive maneuvering that eventually cornered Lee in the trenches around Petersburg were Grant's initiative as well. An additional frustration for Meade was the manner in which Grant sometimes gave preferable treatment to subordinates that he brought with him from the Western Theater. A primary example of this was Grant's interference with Meade's direction of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's Cavalry Corps. Meade had insisted that Sheridan's troopers perform traditional cavalry functions of reconnaissance, screening, and guarding the Army's trains, but Sheridan went directly to Grant and obtained permission to conduct a strategic raid against the Confederate cavalry and Richmond. [Jaynes, pp. 114-15. Sauers, p. 1296.]
Although Meade generally performed effectively under Grant's supervision in the
Overland Campaignand the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, a few instances of bad judgment marred his legacy. During the Battle of Cold Harbor, Meade inadequately supervised his corps commanders and did not insist they perform reconnaissance before their disastrous frontal assault. Inexplicably, Meade wrote to his wife immediately after the attack and expressed pride that it was he who ordered the attack. During the initial assaults on Petersburg, Meade again failed to coordinate the attacks of his corps before General Lee could reinforce the line, resulting in the ten-month stalemate, the Siege of Petersburg. He approved the plan of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnsideto plant explosives in a mine shaft dug underneath the Confederate line east of Petersburg, but at the last minute he changed Burnside's plan to lead the attack with a well-trained African-American division that was highly drilled just for this action, instructing him to take a politically less risky course and substitute an untrained and poorly led white division. The resulting Battle of the Craterwas one of the great fiascoes of the war. In all of these cases, Grant bears some of the responsibility for approving Meade's plans, but Meade was not performing to the level of competence he displayed at Gettysburg. [Jaynes, pp. 156-69; Davis, pp. 39-52, 64-88.]
After Spotsylvania, Grant requested that Meade be promoted to major general of the regular army. In a telegram to Secretary of War
Edwin Stantonon May 13, 1864, Grant stated that "Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations. He and [William Tecumseh Sherman| [William T.] Sherman] are the fittest officers for large commands I have come in contact with." [Grant, chapter LII. He further stated that "I would not like to see one of these promotions at this time without seeing both."] Meade felt slighted that his well-deserved promotion was processed after that of Sherman and Philip Sheridan, the latter his subordinate. [Eicher, p. 703; Warner, p. 644. Sherman was appointed on August 12, 1864, and confirmed on December 12with date of rank August 12. Sheridan was appointed November 14with date of rank November 8. Meade was not appointed until November 26, although his date of rank was established as August 18, meaning he technically outranked Sheridan, but was embarrassed that his name was not put forward first. The U.S. Senateconfirmed Sherman and Sheridan on January 13, 1865, Meade on February 1. Subsequently, Sheridan was promoted to lieutenant general over Meade on March 4, 1869, after Grant became president and Sherman became the commanding general of the U.S. Army.] However, his date of rank meant that he was outranked at the end of the war only by Grant, Halleck, and Sherman. [Eicher, pp. 701-02.] Although he fought during the Appomattox Campaign, Grant and Sheridan received most of the credit. He was not present when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
Meade's decisions in command of the Army of the Potomac have been the focus of controversy. He has been accused of not being aggressive enough in pursuit of Confederate forces, and being reluctant to attack on occasion. His reputation among the public and 19th century historians suffered as a result of his short temper, his bad relationship with the press, his place in the shadow of the victorious Grant, and particularly the damaging fallout from the controversies with Dan Sickles. Recent historical works have portrayed him in a more positive light. They have acknowledged that Meade displayed and acted upon an understanding of the necessary changes in tactics brought about by improvements in weapons technology. His decisions to entrench when practicable and not launch frontal assaults on fortified positions should have been more carefully studied; they were lessons that could have been used to great effect on the
Western Frontduring World War I. [See, for example, Gallagher, essay by Richard A. Sauers, pp. 231-44.]
General Meade was the commissioner of
Fairmount Parkin Pennsylvaniafrom 1866 until his death. He also held various military commands, including the Military Division of the Atlantic, the Department of the East, and the Department of the South. He replaced Maj. Gen. John Pope as governor of the Reconstruction Third Military Districtin Atlanta on January 10, 1868. He received an honorary doctoratein law(LL.D.) from Harvard University, and his scientific achievements were recognized by various institutions, including the American Philosophical Societyand the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. [Eicher, p. 385; Sauers, p. 1296; [http://www.nndb.com/people/589/000050439/ nndb.com] ; [http://www.civilwarhome.com/meadebio.htm civilwarhome.com] .]
Meade died in Philadelphia from complications of his old wounds, combined with
pneumonia, and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. [Eicher, p. 384.] There are statues of him throughout Pennsylvania, including a few in Gettysburg National Military Park. The United States Army's Fort George G. Meadein Fort Meade, Maryland, is named for him, as are Meade County, Kansas, and Meade County, South Dakota. The Old Baldy Civil War Round Table in Philadelphia is named in honor of Meade's horse during the war.
One-thousand-dollar Treasury notes, also called Coin notes, of the Series 1890 and 1891, feature portraits of Meade on the obverse. The 1890 Series note is called the Grand Watermelon Note by collectors, because the large zeroes on the reverse resemble the pattern on a watermelon.
In popular media
In the film "Gettysburg", an adaptation of
Michael Shaara's novel " The Killer Angels", Meade is portrayed by Richard Anderson. Other film, television, and video appearances:
* "The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln" (1924) — Alfred Allen
* "Virginia City" (1940) — Thurston Hall
* "The Blue and the Gray" (1982 TV miniseries) —
* "An American Story" (1992 TV) — Brad Johnson
* "Gettysburg: Three Days of Destiny" (2004) — Andy Waskie
* "Battlefield Detectives" (2004 TV) — Mike Brown
* "No Retreat from Destiny: The Battle That Rescued Washington" (2006 video) — Paul Bugelski [ [http://imdb.com/ Internet Movie Database] ]
Meade is a character in the alternate history novel "Gettysburg", written by
Newt Gingrichand William Forstchen.
* Coddington, Edwin B., "The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command", Scribner's, 1968, ISBN 0-684-84569-5.
* Davis, William C., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, "Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg", Time-Life Books, 1986, ISBN 0-8094-4776-2.
* Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., "Civil War High Commands", Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
* Gallagher, Gary W., ed., "Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership", The Kent State University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-87338-629-9.
* Grant, Ulysses S., [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/4367 "Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant"] , Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86, ISBN 0-914427-67-9.
* Hunt, Harrison, "Heroes of the Civil War", Military Press, 1990, ISBN 0-517-01739-3.
* Jaynes, Gregory, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, "The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor", Time-Life Books, 1986, ISBN 0-8094-4768-1.
* Sauers, Richard A., "George Gordon Meade", "Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History", Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
* Sears, Stephen W., "Controversies & Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac", Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999, ISBN 0-395-86760-6.
* Tagg, Larry, [http://www.rocemabra.com/~roger/tagg/generals/ "The Generals of Gettysburg"] , Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
* Warner, Ezra J., "Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders", Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.
* [http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~marshall/esmd29.htm Meade family genealogy at rootsweb.com]
* [http://www.nndb.com/people/589/000050439/ Meade biography at nndb.com]
* [http://www.civilwarhome.com/meadebio.htm Meade biography at civilwarhome.com]
* [http://www.angelfire.com/nj2/webby/njlighthouses/capemay.html Cape May Lighthouse history]
* [http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=2775 Historical marker website]
* Cleaves, Freeman, "Meade of Gettysburg", University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8061-2298-6.
* Meade, George Gordon (posthumous), "The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army", Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913.
* Sears, Stephen W., "Gettysburg", Houghton Mifflin, 2003, ISBN 0-395-86761-4.
* [http://www.generalmeade.com/ The General Meade Archive]
* [http://www.generalmeadesociety.org/ General Meade Society of Philadelphia]
* [http://www.civilwarmuseumphiladelphia.org/pages/collections_pages/Meade_Room.htm Philadelphia Civil War Museum Meade collection]
* [http://www.library.ci.corpus-christi.tx.us/MexicanWar/meadegg.htm Military biography of George G. Meade] from the Cullum biographies
* [http://www.frbsf.org/currency/metal/treasury/index2.html Pictures of U.S. Treasury Notes featuring George G. Meade, provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.]
*findagrave|702 Retrieved on
* [http://www.generalsandbrevets.com/ngm/meade.htm Photographs of Meade]
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