After superb academic preparation, Meade entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1831 and was graduated four years later, ranking 19th in a class of 56 members. In 1836 he resigned to pursue a career in civil engineering. In 1842, however, he sought restoration to the army and on May 19th was appointed 2nd 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 geodetic survey work. Soon after the beginning of the Civil War on August 31th, 1861, Meade, now a Captain, was made a brigadier general and given command of one of three Pennsylvania brigades then organized. Later he commanded a division in the First Corps, and still later, he commanded the Fifth Corps. On June 28, 1863, Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac, which he held until the end of the war. After the disbanding of this army, he was assigned to the Dept. of the Atlantic, headquartered in Philadelphia.

He died on November 6th, 1872, and is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.