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Military Career of General Meade

Meade's Military Career - An Overview

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, 1963, 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 in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Click here to view information on General Meade at Prospect Hall.

Antebellum Years

George Gordon Meade was one of 11 children and was born on December 31, 1815 of American Parents then living in Cadiz, Spain. His father, Richard Worsam Meade, a wealthy merchant, ran into financial and legal difficulties there as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, (1804-1815). After returning to Pennsylvania, he went to school at Mount Hope Institution in Baltimore, Maryland. On September 1, 1831, at the age of 16, he entered the US Military Acadamey. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the Academy, he did well, graduating four years later, ranking 19th in a class of 56 members.

On a brief leave, after graduation, he aided in the survey for the Long Island Railroad. Upon returning to duty he was at once sent to Florida as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Artillary for service in the Seminole Wars (1834-1842). After contracting a fever he was assigned to ordnance duty at the Watertown, Mass. Arsenal. At this time he had no desire to remain in the army and so he resigned on October 26, 1836 to persue a career in civil engineering, engaging in work on the Alabama/Georgia/Florida Railroad; then survey work on the Mississippi/Texas border. On December 31, 1840, he was married to Margaretta Sergeant. They had two children: a son, George, born on November 2, 1843; and a daughter Sarah, born on September 26, 1851. After some difficulty in finding employment, he reentered the army on May 18, 1842 as a Second Lieutenant in the topographical engineers. In 1843 he was assigned to North east border survey, and later to work on lighthouse construction in the Delaware Bay kuntil his transfer to Texas for the Mexican War.

He served in the Mexican War (1846-1848) where he was present at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma and Monterey, and was breveted to First Lieutenant for his service there. After the war, until 1861, he continued in the construction of lighthouses and breakwaters and in coastal and geodetic survey work, being promoted to Captain on May 19, 1856.

Civil War Years

Meade was serving on survey duty of the Great Lakes when the Civil War broke out. On August 31, 1861, he was appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers and given command of the second brigade of Pennsylvania troops just then organized. He spent that Fall, and the winter of 61/62 working on the Defenses of Washington. On June 18th he was promoted to Major in the Regular Army and joined McClellan in the peninsula commanding the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac (A.O.P.). He fought at Mechanicsville, Gaines Mills, and Glendale. On June 30th he was severely wounded in two places and went on sick leave. Partially recovered, he returned to command the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Army of Virginia on August 26th. On September 12th he was transferred to command the 3rd Division of the 1st Corps, which he led at South Mountain and Antietam and eventually at Fredericksburg. On November 29th he was promoted to Major General of Volunteers, and on December 25th he was given command of the 5th Corps which he led at Chancellorsville. On June 28, 1863, Meade was given command of the A.O.P. After the Battle of Gettysburg, he was promoted to Brigadier general in the Regular Army for his actions and given the Thanks of Congress. In the next six months the A.O.P. participated in only two indecisive campaigns: Bristoe Station and Mine Run. In the following Spring (1864), U.S. Grant elected to make his headquarters with the A.O.P. From this time unitl Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Meade was Grant's subordinate, although nominally in command of the A.O.P.

He fought at Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. On August 18, 1864, he was promoted to the rank of Major General in the Regualar Army.

At the end of the war, Grant said that Meade "was the right man in the right place" and would "defy any man to name a commander who could've done more than Meade did with the same chances".

Meade was mustered out of the Volunteer Service, but he continued in the Regular Army.

Post Civil War

Meade was then assigned to command the Division of the Atlantic, headquartered in Philadelphia, where at his own request, he could remain with his family in his native city, while overseeing all military affairs. He held his post until his death. He was also active in Civic Affairs in Philadelphia, overseeing charity work and service to veterans, their widows and orphans. In 1866, he became Commissioner of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, a post that he held till his death. On January 2, 1868, he was called to Atlanta to handle Reconstruction, performing his duties with sensitivity and fairness.

One of his last acts was on May 31, 1872, when he spoke at the dedication of the monument to the Civil War dead of the 21st Ward (Roxborough/Manayunk) of Philadelphia.

He died on November 6, 1872, at the age of 57, a result of his old war wounds, complicated by pneumonia. He was laid to rest with fanfare in Laurel Hill Cemetary. In attendance were the President, his cabinet, numberous civil and military dignitaries, as well as ordinary citizens and old comrades.

Biography of Major General George Gordon Meade

Born of American parents in Cadiz, Spain, December 31, 1815 while his father served there as American consul and merchant, Meade returned to his ancestral home in Philadelphia with his family at an early age and was raised and educated in the "City of Brotherly Love."

Meade entered the US Military Academy at West Point graduating in the class of 1835, demonstrating high aptitude for academic pursuits, especially in science and mathematics. He was assigned to the 3rd US Artillery then serving in Florida fighting the Seminole Indians. After a year of service, Meade resigned to pursue a career in civil engineering and service with the U.S. Coastal Survey. He became a noted expert in lighthouse construction and boundary and coastal surveys. In 1842 he re-applied for, and was awarded a commission in the Corps of Topographical Engineers and continued his distinguished career in the Coastal Survey, interrupted only by the Mexican War.

Meade was assigned to the staff of Gen. Zachary Taylor, where he was the only topographical engineer, and saw service in a number of battles. He was promoted for gallantry at the Battle of Monterey. Later, assigned to Gen. Winfield Scott's command, he took part in the siege of Vera Cruz. He was relieved in 1847 and returned to Philadelphia to resume his engineering duties. He was honored for his service in the Mexican War with the presentation of a bejeweled sword by the city.

With his assignment as superintendent of the Geodetic Survey of the Great Lakes and promotion to Captain in 1856, Meade seemed to have reached a high point of his long and distinguished career. But greater feats awaited this remarkable, though humble man.

At the outbreak of the Rebellion, Meade was promoted Brigadier General of Volunteers and assigned to command of the 2nd Brigade of the "Pennsylvania Reserves", an entire division of Pennsylvania volunteers destined for hard fighting in many eastern battles, and a glorious record of bravery and devotion to duty.

Gen. Meade saw his first major action in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 where he gave exemplary service at Mechanicsville and Gaines' Mill and was severely wounded (almost mortally) at Glendale. He recovered quickly from his wound and in a brief time returned to the army in time to lead his men with distinction at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run.

Quickly afterwards followed the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, where Meade successfully commanded the division of Pennsylvania Reserves and the 1st Corps replacing Gen. Hooker on the field when Hooker was wounded.

In December, 1862 at Fredericksburg, Meade led his Pennsylvania Reserves into the teeth of Rebel resistance and remarkably was able to make a breakthrough, though unsupported, resulting in a forced retreat, but after having broken the enemy lines, achieving the only success the Union Army would enjoy that bitter day. As a reward for his gallantry, and superb leadership, Meade was promoted to command the 5th Corps. Meade's Corps was chosen by the army commander, Hooker to lead his assault at Chancellorsville in May, 1863. Despite a demoralizing loss there, Meade was outstanding in his efforts to defeat the enemy.

After Chancellorsville, Lee and his Confederate army invaded Pennsylvania. The Union Army of the Potomac followed several days behind. On June 27, 1863, Gen. Hooker resigned his command, and much to his surprise and against his wishes, Gen. Meade was promoted to command of the army on the very eve of the most critical battle of the war, and indeed of American history.

Under Meade's inspirational leadership, the Army of the Potomac defeated Lee in three of the bloodiest days of the war and turned aside any Southern dreams of independence, thus saving the Union from division. After Gettysburg, Meade continued in command of the army even to the end of the war. He was superseded in command in the spring of 1864, when the new General-In-Chief, Grant chose to place his headquarters with Meade's army in the field.

Though still in tactical control, Meade was never the less relegated to a secondary position, while still performing the role of commander of the premier Army of the Potomac.

Meade was present at Appomattox, and was largely responsible for cornering Lee there, but was not invited to the surrender ceremony. After the Grand Review in Washington, May 23- 24, 1865, Meade oversaw the disbanding of his army, and was then assigned to command of the Department of the Atlantic headquartered in Philadelphia, where at his own request he could remain with his family in his native city, while overseeing all military affairs.

Meade was called upon several times in the post-war period to quell disturbances and soothe the transition to peace in Canada and in the Deep South, for example. He also was quite active in Civic Affairs in Philadelphia overseeing Fairmount Park as one of its first Commissioners, founding and presidency of a noted school, the Lincoln Institution for the orphans of his veterans, charity work and service to veterans, their widows and orphans. Meade was an admired and esteemed citizen of his native city, occupying a high place in the social circles of Philadelphia.

For distinguished service in the Civil War, Meade was promoted to Major General in the regular army ranked third in seniority, received a gold medal from Congress and a Doctor of Law's degree from Harvard. He was also active in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion serving as its 2nd commander, and many other awards were conferred upon him.

George G. Meade, scientist, inventor, scholar, warrior, diplomat, gentleman of highest virtue, a true patriot and hero of his country died of pneumonia brought on by the lingering effects of that wound on November 6, 1872, and passed to his reward. He was still serving on active duty with the Army.

He was laid to rest with much fanfare in Laurel Hill Cemetery in his beloved Philadelphia among his family. In attendance were the President (Ulysses S. Grant), his cabinet, numerous dignitaries from civil and military spheres as well as the ordinary citizens who loved and admired him, as well as the veterans, his old comrades who valued him most.

His grave is marked by a small, unobtrusive stone of simple white marble inscribed with the essence of this remarkable, though humble man: “He did his work well, and is at rest”

(Anthony Waskie, Ph.D.)

General Meade At Gettysburg

360 guns/90,840 men

Before sunrise on June 28, 1863, three days before the opening shots of the crucial battle of the war, a messenger woke George Meade in his tent and informed him that he was now commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade was so surprised by the visit that when he first awoke to find the man in his tent, his first thought was that he was being placed under arrest, and he tried foggily to remember what he could have possibly done to deserve it. He tried to decline the promotion, but was told that it was impossible--the army was now his whether he liked it or not.

The common response among the men, when they heard the news, was "What's Meade ever done?" On horseback, he was not a figure that brought forth wild waves of cheering. He was utterly lacking in charisma, incapable of arousing men's enthusiasm by his mere presence as McClellan and Hooker had done; even the incompetent Burnside looked downright Napoleonic next to Meade. He gave more the impression of a dried-up professor than the leader of a volunteer army. Tall and thin, near-sighted and rather ungainly, at age forty-seven he looked considerably older. He was thin-faced with a "small and compact" balding head, a grizzled beard, large pouches under bespectacled blue eyes that were "serious, almost sad," a great hawkish nose, and a broad high forehead. The total effect was thoughtful and patrician.

And Meade was patrician, in a nineteenth-century Philadelphia sort of way. Born in Cadiz, Spain of a prominent Philadelphia family with international mercantile interests, he attended West Point, graduating in 1832 in the upper third. On his twenty-fifth birthday he married Margaretta Sergeant, daughter of John Sergeant, running mate of Henry Clay in the 1832 presidential election. Meade was, however, a completely unassuming man. Col. Philip DeTrobriand, a brigade commander in the III Corps, wrote that he "was more reserved than audacious, more modest than presumptuous, on which account he treated his corps commanders more as friends than as inferiors." Gen. Henry J. Hunt, his chief of artillery, though never his close friend, was pleased to have him as a commander because, in Hunt's opinion, Meade was a gentleman. There was no trace of self-seeking in Meade's letters to his wife, such as one written shortly before his promotion to command of the army. In it he soberly analyzed his chances for appointment, and concluded, "I do not . . . stand any chance, because have no friends, political or others, who press or advance my claims or pretensions, and there are so many others who are pressed by influential politicians that it is folly to think I stand any chance upon mere merit alone. Besides, I have not the vanity to think my capacity so pre-eminent, and I know there are plenty of other equally competent with myself, though their names may not have been so much mentioned."

One of Meade's qualifications was coolness under fire. On one occasion, mounted with his staff, he surveyed the situation through field glasses, while Rebel bullets whizzed and buzzed all around and the staff wished he would find what he was looking for so they could all scramble back to safety. He lowered his glasses slowly at last, and looked around at his nervous staff, and remarked dryly that perhaps they had better retire: "This is pretty hot; it may kill some of our horses." His fearlessness had resulted in being wounded twice almost simultaneously at the Battle of Glendale during the Peninsula campaign, once in the fleshy part of the forearm, the other by a bullet which entered his right side and exited an inch from his spine, just above the hip. At Fredericksburg two bullets pierced his hat. At South Mountain, a spent grapeshot badly bruised his thigh. His horse, "Old Baldy," was wounded under him at 2nd Bull Run and again at Antietam.

In his letters to his wife Meade showed a willingness to comment frankly on every facet of the war effort. This love of truth and dedication to duty may help explain an element of his nature which was universally remarked upon by his contemporaries--his temper. An energetic, exacting man, Meade was well known for his violent impatience with stupidity, negligence, or laziness. He would erupt quickly in outbursts of rage or annoyance, especially under the stress of active campaigning or a pitched battle. As his aide Theodore Lyman expressed it: "I don't know any thin old gentleman . . . who, when he is wrathy, exercises less of Christian charity than my well-beloved chief!" Another who worked with him put it this way: "I never saw a man in my life who was so characterized by straightforward truthfulness as he is. . . and woe to those, no matter who they are, who do not do it right!" Though irritable and peppery under stress, his decisions were "always founded in good reason," and while his manner was hard on people, it did get results. Lyman wrote that Meade was "always stirring up somebody. But by worrying, and flaring out unexpectedly on various officers, he does manage to have things pretty shipshape."

Though too sparing of in his praise of the work of his subordinates--partly out of a reluctance to show his feelings and partly out of an Old Army sense that total effort was each man's duty in such times--there were signs of a pleasanter side. When not absorbed with his work, Meade was a different person, telling funny stories with "great fluency and . . . elegant language," and on occasion would sit by the campfire "talking familiarly with the aides." However, he usually kept himself apart and made no effort to make himself popular. He made it a rule not to speak to members of the press, and in retaliation journalists agreed among themselves not to mention him in dispatches except in reference to setbacks.

Soldiers depended on the newspapers for news as much as anybody, so his blacklisting by the reporters probably explains why Meade's ascension to command came as such a surprise to the rank and file. Their superior officers, however, were better acquainted with Meade's record: In the first months of the war he was named brigadier general of volunteers and given a brigade in the Pennsylvania Reserve division. In the Army of the Potomac's first action on the Peninsula in the summer of 1862, his Pennsylvania Reserves saw more action than any other division in the army, and he rendered heroic service and was twice wounded amid the hottest of the fighting, returning to duty forty- two days later before he had fully recovered his strength. At the end of that summer, he was again commanding his brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run, where the Pennsylvania Reserves had been one of the few formations which kept their discipline in the disastrous loss, and, in a heroic stand on Henry Hill, provided a rear guard which protected the army against Confederate pursuit.

In September he was in command of the division when it stormed the heights at South Mountain, so exciting the admiration of his corps commander that the man was heard to exclaim, "Look at Meade! Why, with troops like those, led in that way, I can whip anything!" A few days later at the battle of Antietam, General McClellan himself had selected Meade, in preference to others who were superior in rank, to replace Joe Hooker, his wounded corps commander. After the battle, President Lincoln and his entourage rode over the field with a dozen generals, including Meade. While they rode, General McClellan described the battle for Lincoln, according to Meade in a letter to his wife, "saying it was here that Meade did this and here that Meade did that. It was very gratifying." It acquainted the Commander in Chief with him, probably for the first time.

The next December, at Fredericksburg, Meade at the head of his division had provided the only success of the day for the army, briefly breaking through the Confederate line before he was forced back for want of reinforcements. This famous exploit on the worst day in the history of the Army of the Potomac certainly further recommended Meade to Lincoln. Finally, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Meade was the general who argued most vigorously for an attack when Hooker convened his meeting of generals; Col. Alexander Webb of Meade's staff reported, "I have never known anyone so vehemently to advise an attack on the field of battle." Meade was very assertive (as Reynolds put it) "in favor of an advance in the direction of Fredericksburg at daylight the next morning. . . ." Meade thought the issue of Washington's safety had become a cliche for this army, and "threw that out of the question altogether." Commanding general Joe Hooker lacked the nerve to make the attack, and subsequently forfeited the battle.

Much of the talk in the officers' tents after the disappointment at Chancellorsville, then, revolved around Meade. Three corps commanders who were senior to Meade in rank--Generals Couch, Slocum, and Sedgwick--all sent word to him that they were willing to serve under his leadership. Couch, who was actively seeking the replacement of Hooker, mentioned only Meade for the post when questioned by an official from Washington. Sedgwick was also heard to say, when interviewed, "Why, Meade is the proper one to command this army." Finally, the able General John Reynolds, also an early commander of the Pennsylvania Reserves, when asked after Chancellorsville if he would command the army, declined and suggested Meade as the best fitted for the command. At this point Meade's lack of flamboyance was undoubtedly in his favor, after the failure of a string of prima donnas. The President was also swayed by the fact that Meade made his home in Philadelphia, thinking that as a Pennsylvanian he would "fight well on his own dunghill." Thus it was that the early-morning messenger from Washington appeared suddenly in Meade's tent.

Through it all, George Meade was very much a family man, uneffusively devoted to his wife and seven children. If he was known as "a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle" to his men, his temper never appeared in his letters home. Here he is, for instance, in a letter to his daughter in the spring of 1862:

I think a great deal about you, and all the other dear children. I often picture to myself as I last saw you--yourself, Sarah, and Willie lying in bed, crying, because I had to go way, and while I was scolding you for crying, I felt like crying myself. It is very hard to be kept away from you, because there is no man on earth that loves his children more dearly than I do, or whose happiness is more dependent on being with his family. Duty, however, requires me to be here, to do the little I can to defend our old flag, and whatever duty requires us to do, we should all, old and young, do cheerfully, however disagreeable it may be.

His second son, George, was with him as an aide at Gettysburg, having joined his staff one month before.

Having only been in command of the army for only three days when Gettysburg opened, Meade was handicapped by his uncertainty about what it could be realistically called upon to do. This consideration affected his style of command, which, in decided contrast to his opponent Robert E. Lee, was to be actively and directly involved in the events on the battlefield. He had been a division and a corps commander too long and too recently to stand aloof at headquarters while others moved the army's huge formations across the landscape, and his nervous energy required that he be active. He was constantly in the saddle, issuing orders and seeing that they were obeyed.

Haskell, in his Gettysburg sketch of Meade, wrote, "His habitual personal appearance is quite careless, and it would be rather difficult to make him look well dressed." At Gettysburg his dress was perfectly in keeping with his personal lack of airs--he wore the familiar dark blue flannel blouse with two-star shoulder straps, field cap, light blue pantaloons tucked into his high-top boots, an officer's leather belt and the regulation sword.

At Gettysburg

A little after midnight on July 1, Meade sent out the day's marching orders for the Army of the Potomac from his headquarters at Taneytown, 12 miles south of Gettysburg. Those orders moved the army forward on a broad front, to prevent Lee from slipping around either flank and threatening Washington or Baltimore. On the left, Reynolds would advance the First Corps to Gettysburg, followed closely by the Eleventh, with the Third Corps within supporting distance at Emmitsburg. In the center, the Twelfth Corps would advance to Two Taverns (also within supporting distance of Gettysburg), while the Second Corps would remain in reserve at Taneytown. On the right, the Fifth Corps would move to Hanover, supported by the Sixth Corps moving to Manchester. Thinking that Lee slightly outnumbered him, Meade also sent out a second, conditional plan, a defensive fall-back called the Pipe Creek Circular, before he went to bed.

Meade remained at Taneytown on July 1, and his first news from the front came about 11:30 A.M. This was a message from Reynolds at Gettysburg, informing Meade that the Rebels were advancing in strong force, and he (Reynolds) would do everything possible to keep them from seizing "the heights beyond the town." Meade's first fear was that Reynolds would fail to hold the town, retreat toward Emmitsburg, and uncover the road to Taneytown, exposing the army's center. He thus immediately ordered Hancock to begin marching the Second Corps from Taneytown toward Gettysburg.

At 1:00 P.M., Meade received word of Reynolds's death. Rather than go to the front himself, he preferred to remain in the rear and send his trusted friend Hancock to take command of the fighting. Since this involved placing Hancock over two officers who outranked him--Sickles and Howard, both of whose corps Meade assumed to be on or near the scene--Meade gave Hancock written authority and had him on his way to Gettysburg by 1:30 P.M. At 6:00 that evening, reasoning that two of his corps (the First and Eleventh) were already there on good ground, two more (the Third and Twelfth) were close by, two more (the Second and Fifth) could reach the field by the next day, and believing that the enemy was caught without Longstreet's corps, Meade announced in a telegram to Washington his decision to concentrate the army and fight at Gettysburg. A flurry of orders followed: at 7:00 he ordered Sykes to march the Fifth Corps to Gettysburg, at 7:30 he sent similar orders to Sedgwick (Sixth Corps) and Sickles (Third Corps). Meade's only negligence on July 1 consisted in believing Slocum would be governed by events and move his Twelfth Corps forward the short distance to Gettysburg to reinforce the embattled defenders--this Slocum had, as it turned out, refused to do until after the fighting was over. Meade arranged the movements of the supply train and the artillery reserve during the evening, then headed toward the battlefield at 10:00 P.M. with a small party.

During the dark night ride on the Taneytown Road, Meade's glasses were swept from his face by a low-hanging branch and lost; fortunately, he had another pair. After an hour, the party reached the bivouac of the Second Corps, where Meade stopped briefly and gave orders to push it forward at daylight. Continuing, Meade arrived on Cemetery Hill about 11:30 P.M., greeted the assembled generals, and informed them that the rest of the army was moving up and that it would fight there. He then made a walking survey of the Union position in the moonlight. Just before dawn, he mounted and rode south along the line of Cemetery Ridge, then to Culp's Hill, making sketches of the terrain and indicating the positions he wished each corps to take. He then established his headquarters in a farmhouse centrally located on the Taneytown Road, eight hundred feet in the rear of Cemetery Hill.

All morning of July 2 there was a flow of orderlies and aides through the farmhouse dashing up with reports and off with orders in preparation for a major battle. Meade, despite his lack of sleep, was alert, and firm and pleasant in his manner. By noon the corps were all present (except the Sixth Corps, still marching hard) and in their positions, from left to right: Third Corps on the southern half of Cemetery Ridge near Little Round Top, Second Corps on the northern half of Cemetery Ridge, Eleventh Corps on Cemetery Hill with remnants of the First Corps immediately behind in reserve, and Twelfth Corps on Culp's Hill. The Fifth Corps had just arrived and was resting in the rear near Power's Hill.

Although Meade was expecting an attack on his right where the enemy was visible, he had trouble on his left in the form of General Sickles, who in the early afternoon had expressed agitation about where, exactly, he should put his corps. Staff members had shuttled back and forth--at one point Sickles himself appeared at headquarters for clarification. Meade's attention was drawn to the other flank, however. In mid-afternoon, as soon as received word that the Sixth Corps was approaching the field, he dispatched orders to the Fifth Corps to move to the left to support Sickles, but it was not until around 4:00 in the afternoon that Meade rode in person to the left to examine Sickles's position for himself. Here he made the jaw-dropping discovery that Sickles had, without permission or even informing anyone else, advanced his line a full mile to the high ground along the Emmitsburg Road. Before any remedy could be considered, the boom of cannon announced the beginning of Longstreet's attack on Sickles's exposed line. Sickles would have to remain where he was.

Recognizing Little Round Top, which was uncovered by Sickles's advance, as the key to the Union left, Meade sent General Warren to the hill to investigate the situation. When Warren sent back word that there were no troops there, Meade ordered Sykes to throw his Fifth Corps immediately in that direction. This was the first in a series of improvisations Meade ordered by the Third, Fifth, and Second Corps on the afternoon of July 2. Meade was near the battle line the whole afternoon, so near that his horse was badly wounded. At one point he rode forward with the skirmish line, waving his hat and yelling "Come on, gentlemen!" He timed his orders for reinforcements precisely; hard-pressed units consistently received support at just the right moments. In the end, Longstreet's all-out assault was turned back, but at the cost of thirteen of Meade's brigades badly battered, some shattered so completely they could not be used again. Meade had gone to the extent of pulling the Twelfth Corps off Culp's Hill to reinforce the left, a questionable decision which resulted in the capture of friendly lines on Culp's Hill when Johnson's Confederate brigades attacked there later in the evening. At the end of the day, however, even with his left battered and his right partially in enemy hands, Meade could take satisfaction in the first success the Army of the Potomac had enjoyed against Lee since Malvern Hill a year earlier. At 9:00 that evening until midnight Meade met in his cramped headquarters with eleven of his top generals, who echoed Meade's resolve to "stay and fight it out."

Meade rose before dawn on July 3. At daybreak, heavy fighting broke out on Culp's Hill. Meade had confidence in the ability of Twelfth Corps leaders Slocum and Williams, and did not go in person to supervise their conduct of the battle, but sent a fresh Sixth Corps brigade to Culp's Hill as a reinforcement, and advised Howard on nearby Cemetery Hill to have his men stand by to be ready to move there. The battle raged all morning until 11:00 A.M., when the last of the Confederates on the hill had successfully been driven off, and it provided a backdrop to Meade's activities that morning. Witnesses described Meade as appearing confident, "more the General, less the student" than before, but retaining his "quick and nervous" manner. After the fighting ceased on Culp's Hill, Meade accepted Gibbon's invitation for lunch, seating himself on an empty cracker box in the company of some of his fellow generals. About noon, he rode along the length of Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, then returned to headquarters.

When the roar of the 150-gun Confederate cannonade started around 1:00 P.M., Meade's headquarters, situated directly behind Cemetery Ridge (which was the target of the Rebel guns), became a very dangerous place to be. Shells hit the house numerous times; a fragment wounded Meade's chief of staff. Sixteen horses were killed while tied to the fence rail in the yard. Nevertheless, Meade was reluctant to move, afraid couriers with important news would be unable to locate him if he shifted his headquarters. He eventually relented and briefly rode to Slocum's headquarters on Power's Hill, then changed his mind and returned. Meanwhile, receiving reports that his own artillery was doing the enemy little harm, Meade ordered the Union guns to cease fire, hoping their Rebel counterparts would follow suit and let the smoke clear so that enemy infantry could not approach unseen.

When the long ranks of Pickett's Charge appeared around 3:00 and headed toward the Clump of Trees on Cemetery Ridge, Meade did not react quickly to the danger, and though he eventually busied himself sending for supporting columns from other parts of the line, they arrived too late to help. The thin blue line on the ridge, outnumbered two to one, beat back this desperate assault--the grandest attack in the history of the war--by themselves. When Meade rode up to the ridgeline in the swirling smoke and was told the enemy had been turned, he said simply "Thank God." A second later, he made a motion as if to take off his hat and wave it in the air, but he remembered himself, and merely waved his hand and cried, "Hurrah." He then spurred his horse and made a triumphal ride along the ridge all the way to Little Round Top.

All eyes were now turned to Meade to see if he would attempt a war-winning counterattack. He did not. The lateness in the day, the absence of the wounded Hancock, the fatigue of the men, the disorganized patchwork quilt of command that existed after three days of carnage, the long casualty lists, and the still-fearsome reputation of Lee all militated against a bold move at that hour. Meade had won the crucial contest in Pennsylvania and saved the country; he now prudently refused to jeopardize that victory.

For that hesitation, and for allowing Lee's bloodied army to escape across the Potomac in the following days, Lincoln never forgave Meade. Although he continued to command the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war, Meade, after March 1864, would labor in the shadow of the killer-arithmetician who Lincoln found to make the brutal decisions necessary to crush the rebellion--U.S. Grant.

For further reading: Bache, Richard M. Life of General George Gordon Meade. Philadelphia, 1897
Coddington, Edwin, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. New York, 1968
Cleaves, Freeman, Meade of Gettysburg. Norman, 1960
Lyman, Theodore. With Grant and Meade from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Lincoln, 1994
Meade George G. Jr. The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade. 2 Vols. New York, 1913
Pennypacker, Isaac R. General Meade. New York, 1901
Trudeau, Noah A. "I Have a Great Contempt for History." Civil War Times Illustrated, Sept/Oct 1991

Excerpted from "The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America's Greatest Battle" by Larry Tagg

“Old Baldy” General Meade’s Warhorse
A brief history of General Meade's Warhorse "Old Baldy"

By Anthony Waskie, Ph.D.

'Baldy' was raised on the western frontier, and at the breaking out of the war was owned by General David Hunter. At the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21st, 1861, Baldy was wounded in the nose by a piece of shell. He was afterwards purchased by General George G. Meade, at Washington, in September of 1861 for $150. , and was ridden by Meade almost exclusively through most of the war, and in the following battles: Drainsville, Va.. December 20th, 1861; Mechanicsville, June 26th, 1862. ; Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862; Groveton, August 29, 1862; Second Bull Run, August 30, 1862l; South Mountain, September 14, 1862; Antietam, September 17, 1862; Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862; Chancellorsville, May first, second, third, and fourth, 1863; Gettysburg, July 1st, 2nd and 3rd 1863; Bristoe Station, October 14, 1863; Rappahannock Station, November 7, 1863; Mine Run, November 26, 1863; Wilderness; May 5, 6, 1864; Spotsylvania, May 8th to 20th, 1864; North Anna, May 23rd to 26th, 1864; Totopottomy, May 29th, 1864; Bethseda Church, May 30th, 1864; Cold Harbor, June 1st to 3rd, 1864; Petersburg, June 15th to 18th, 1864; Jerusalem Plank Road, June 22nd, 1864; Mine Explosion, July 30th, 1864; Weldon Railroad, August 18th to 25th, 1864.

At the latter battle, General Meade was wounded in the leg by a piece of shell, though not badly. Baldy was then sent north in charge of George Melloy, of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, to Philadelphia, by rail, and then sent to Meade’s old friend and former staff quartermaster, Capt. Sam Ringwalt who agreed to care for him at his farm in Downingtown. Later, in the post war period, Baldy was conveyed to Meadow Bank Farm, General Meade's Country Place owned by a friend of the Meade Family, where he remained for several years. Old Baldy was even able to march in the funeral procession for his beloved master, General Meade on November 11, 1872, when Meade was laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. At the grand parade held in Philadelphia in 1879 upon the return of former president Grant, an old comrade of Meade, Baldy was a prominent marcher in the spectacle. Baldy was later presented to Mr. John J Davis, a blacksmith near Jenkintown, Montgomery County, Pa. who kept him until he became too feeble to get up after lying down, and on December 16th, 1882, a dose of poison laid him finally to rest. Baldy was over 30 years old, and had lived ten years after his gallant master, a veteran of many battles through which he safely carried General Meade. Baldy was also wounded in the nose at First Bull Run, July 21st, 1861 when owned by General David Hunter; at Second Bull Run, August 30th, 1862, he was wounded through the right hind leg; at Antietam, September 17th, 1862 Baldy was wounded through the neck, and left for dead on the field; and at Gettysburg, July 3rd, 1863 he was shot through the body comprising five (5) major wounds.

The comrades of the Meade Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic in Philadelphia took the name of General Meade for their Post. At the muster of February 26th, 1883, a very interesting and minute report was presented by comrades Albert C. Johnston and H.W.B. Harvey, the committee, who upon their own responsibility, secured and presented to the Post that interesting and valuable relic “Old Baldy”--the head and neck of General Meade’s old war horse ‘Baldy’--and comrade G. Harry Davis, on their behalf, presented “Old Baldy” to the Post, it having been very tastefully placed upon a tablet, which contains briefly the services of the old horse and an account of the wounds he had received in battle. The Post gave thanks to Mr. John J. Davis the owner of the horse, for his services in assisting the committee in procuring the relic, as the horse was already buried on his farm, and for a photograph of himself and the horse, which was granted. from: the History of the Meade Post #1, G.A.R. Philadelphia. Oliver Bosbyshell. 1889; and from Life & Letters of Gen. Meade by Col. Meade; Meade letter to Capt. Ringwalt, Sept. 24, 1864; Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph, Feb. 27, 1885.

Letter of General Meade to Capt. Sam Ringwalt, Quartermaster

Regarding handling of “Old Baldy”

Army of the Potomac
September 24, 1864

My Dear Friend,

Mrs. Meade writes me that you have kindly consented to receive Old Baldy at your place and I hasten to express to you my very great thanks. The Old Fellow was wounded in the flank at Groveton (2nd Bull Run); was shot through the neck at Antietam, and at Gettysburg a ball passed through the saddle and went into his body where it has remained ever since. I kept him with me until this spring in the hopes he would recover, but fearing he might be an embarrassment in the campaigns, I sent him to Philadelphia just before we crossed the Rapidan. I don’t want you to be bothered, and shall expect you to let me know what expenses he puts you to, that I may reimburse you. I told Mrs. Meade I wanted to have the old horse in somebody’s hands who knew something about him and would not let him be ill used, and I felt sure if you could look out for him, you would. If he continues to improve, and the war lasts, I will bring him into the field again next spring. The ‘Black’ is still my show horse. The wound in his leg, which he got at Glendale, kept open for about 18 months, but has finally healed up. It never lamed him for a day since Gettysburg, and Baldy’s being out of service, I have bought a large brown horse, said to be a Morgan—a fine strong horse and a great racker. He and the black are my standbys. I should like very much to see you and have an old fashioned talk on all that has happened since you left. The old Reserves are pretty much all gone. The last that had reenlisted were mostly captured on the 19th of last month in one of the fights on the Weldon Railroad. Major Baird and Captain Adare are the only officers left whom I can see. We have had some very severe fighting on this last campaign, harder and longer continued than any army ever had before. In the beginning and until we crossed the James River, our men behaved splendidly, but the continuance of the campaign, and the hot weather coming on, together with the great losses we have sustained took a little of the starch out of our boys, and they showed signs of fatigue. We have had showers, a good deal of rest, and the weather is getting cool. All we want is to have our thinned ranks filled up and we shall be ready to go at it again and stay at it until we have compelled the Rebels to say they have had enough. But to do this we must have men, and every one ought to use all their influence to send them to us. The Rebels are being exhausted and now is the time to strike the heavy blows. When this war is over, I am coming up to Downingtown to see you.

Very Truly Yours
Geo. G. Meade

Capt. Sam Ringwalt

The following article appeared in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph shortly after the death of Old Baldy, and at the time the head had been mounted and presented to the Meade Post #1, G.A.R. at their February, 1885 Campfire. The article contains a large number of factual errors as to the history of his service with General Meade, no doubt due to fading memories, but the article does detail some interesting anecdotes of Baldy’s post war life. It is obvious, that Baldy and his master were revered by the veterans, especially by the Post named in Meade’s honor in his own hometown, and the veterans sought to do both war horse and his master honor by preserving their memory.

The Daily Evening Telegraph
Philadelphia, Tuesday, February 27th, 1885

"Old Baldy"

A memento of General George Meade's warhorse presented to Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic At a meeting of George G. Meade Post #1, G.A.R. held at the headquarters, Eleventh and Chestnut streets, last evening, Comrades Johnson and Hervey presented the head and neck of General Meade's old warhorse 'Baldy' beautifully mounted.

The history of this animal was somewhat peculiar, as he had first been the property of Colonel E. D. Baker, of the 71st California (Pennsylvania) regiment, and had been badly wounded in the nose at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, where his master at that time was killed. After the Pennsylvania Reserves took the field, the horse came into the possession of General George Gordon Meade, and was ridden by him, when circumstances would permit, throughout the entire war. His wounds were six in number, and at the Battle of South Mountain he was shot and left on the field for dead. Some two or three days after, when a burying party visited the field, Baldy was found grazing on the hillside, and but little hurt from his wound. On four other occasions was he hit, but survived each wound, and returned with his owner at the conclusion of the war. He was getting old, and for the good he had done, he was left on a farm in the vicinity of Jenkintown, to work no more until death released him. He was 30 years of age when he died. Many anecdotes are related of him, and to Mrs. Davis, under whose husband's charge he had been for a long while, are we indebted for the following incident, which took place last Fourth of July. He had long been stiff, and was seldom found standing up, but on the morning of the nation's birthday, kicking was heard in the stable, and, on proceeding tither, Old Baldy was found standing up in his stall, and looking as though he would like to go out. The stable door was that once opened, and Baldy marched out. He looked around for a moment, and on seeing the flag, which he had followed so long floating over him, he sprang like a colt from his halter, and for some minutes pranced up and down the lane, only to lie down with exhaustion at the end of his gallop.

At last old age overcame him, and for some weeks before his death it was necessary to carry his food to him. On the 20th of December he breathed his last and was buried. On Christmas Day comrades Johnson and Hervey visited the farm and were shown his grave.

Proceedings were at once instituted to exhume the body, and in a little while that portion of the noble animal, which now adorns the post room, was in the hands of the committee. After considerable labor the head and neck were mounted on a slab, with the name and history of the animal emblazoned on its sides, and a laurel wreath tastefully ornamenting the neck. The figure has been tastefully hung on the walls of the post room, and the presentation was made in a Campfire abounding with music and a drum recitative by master Harry Wolfe, aged five years, a really fine affair. At the conclusion of the Campfire, an old-fashioned lunch was partaken of, consisting of hardtack, pork, beans, and coffee.

You can contact The General Meade Society by:

E-mail: The General Meade Society
or by snail mail:
The General Meade Society of Philadelphia
PO Box 45556
Philadelphia, PA 19149