George Gordon Meade

George Gordon Meade was born December 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain. His father, a wealthy American merchant, was financially ruined by his adherence to the cause of Spain during the Napoleonic wars. While his sisters and brothers married into high stations both in the North and South, Meade was found an appointment to West Point.  After preparatory work at Mount Hope Institution in Baltimore, he entered the Military Academy in 1831 and was graduated four years later, ranking nineteenth in a class of fifty-six members. At this time he had no desire to remain in the army, and after some service in Florida and at the Water-town (Massachusetts) Arsenal, he resigned in 1836 to pursue a career in civil engineering. In 1842, however, he sought restoration to the army and on May 19 was appointed a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. From then until 1861, with an interlude of Mexican War service, Meade was continuously employed as a military engineer in the construction of lighthouses and breakwaters and in coastal and geodetic survey work. During the war with Mexico he was present at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterey and was awarded the brevet of first lieutenant. Soon after the beginning of the Civil War on August 31, 1861, Meade, by then a captain in his corps, was made a brigadier general of volunteers at the instance of Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania and was given command of one of the three Pennsylvania brigades then organized. After a winter spent in work on the Washington defenses, he joined George B. McClellan on the Peninsula in June and fought during the Seven Days battles at Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, and Glendale where he was severely wounded in two places almost simultaneously. Partially recovered, he led his brigade in Irvin McDowell's corps at Second Manassas; at South Mountain and Sharpsburg he commanded a division in Hooker's I Corps, succeeding John F. Reynolds who had been ordered to Harrisburg to enlist and train men for defense against the threatened invasion of the state. At Fredericksburg Reynolds commanded the I Corps and Meade its 3rd Division in Franklin's "Left Grand Division." A few days later Meade was appointed to the command of the V Corps which he led at Chancellorsville. After this Federal debacle the administration decided not to risk another battle under Joseph Hooker, who had replaced Ambrose E. Burnside after Fredericksburg. Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, after Reynolds had taken himself out of competition for the position, Darius N. Couch had been transferred at his own request, and John Sedgwick and Henry W. Slocum had agreed that they would willingly serve under their junior. Meade was immediately confronted with Robert E. Lee's ragged and hungry legions who were fanned out over the Pennsylvania countryside. In the ensuing Gettysburg campaign, the Army of the Potomac prevailed under his leadership even though on the first day Reynolds was killed and the I and XI Corps were badly mauled and driven through the town to the heights beyond. On July 2 and 3 successive Confederate assaults on the right, left, and center were repulsed with the infliction of frightful losses on attackers and attacked alike. Nevertheless, the decimated Southerners were compelled to retire toward the Potomac on July 5; they crossed the river on the night of July 13. That they were permitted to "escape" brought a torrent of criticism upon the head of Meade, including a message from Henry W. Halleck indicating President Lincoln's "dissatisfaction." Meade at once offered to resign, but the administration beat a hasty retreat, and he was appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army on July 7, 1863, to rank from July 3. He was awarded the thanks of Congress by resolution the following January 28. In the next six months there occurred in the eastern theater of war only the rather indecisive campaigns of Bristoe Station and Mine Run—neither showered any particular glory on either Meade or Lee. The following spring U. S. Grant, newly appointed lieutenant general and general-in-chief, elected to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. Since Burnside had been restored to the command of his old IX Corps, which was to operate with the Army of the Potomac, an awkward arrangement developed: Grant gave orders to Meade governing the movements of his army but separately to Burnside, who ranked Meade by seniority, although he was only a corps commander. From this time until Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Meade was Grant's subordinate, although nominally in command of the Army of the Potomac until the end. He fought the army through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the long months in front of Petersburg. He was finally rewarded with the grade of major general, U. S. Army, after both W. T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, the latter his subordinate, had been appointed. At the close of the war he was assigned, successively, to the command of departments and divisions in the East and South and was in charge of the military Division of the Atlantic, headquarters at Philadelphia when he died on November 6, 1872, from pneumonia. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.