Major General George Gordon Meade (1815-1872)
The son of a U.S. consul and naval agent, George Meade was born in Cadiz, Spain, to a prominent and patrician Philadelphia family. Meade graduated from West Point in 1835, fought in the 2nd Seminole War in Florida, did considerable engineering work and served with distinction in the Mexican War. A captain of topographical engineers at the outbreak of the Civil War, Meade was appointed a brigadier general of Pennsylvania Volunteer troops on August 31, 1861. He commanded a brigade in the Seven Days' battles and was badly wounded at the battle of Glendale/Frayser's Farm/White Oak Swamp. He recovered to fight at Second Manassas, South Mountain and Antietam. In November 1862 he was promoted to major general and commanded a corps at Antietam and Chancellorsville.
On June 28, 1863, Meade was ordered to assume command and replace Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac at the most critical moment of the Civil War. He would ultimately secure the Union victory at Gettysburg. He took his army into the Rapidan, Mine Run and Petersburg Campaigns and was thereafter promoted a major general in the regular army by Ulysses S. Grant. At Appomattox Courthouse, he would ride to Robert E. Lee's camp on the day following the surrender and speak to his old friend and comrade. It's said Lee initially barely recognized his old army comrade and asked how he got all the gray hair in his beard. “Why General,” he replied, “you are responsible for most of it!”
Recognized as an exacting man for his coolness under fire and dedication to duty, he was also well known for his temper and impatience with stupidity, negligence or laziness. His senior aide from September 1863 through the end of the war, Colonel Theodore 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.”
In the post-war army, he served admirably as commander of the Division of the Atlantic with headquarters in Philadelphia, as commander of the Department of the South, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, during the early and difficult Reconstruction years of 1868-1869. Meade was most happy serving in his beloved Philadelphia where he was engaged in many civic functions, including working on engineering to establish Fairmount Park and serving as the first Commissioner of Fairmount Park. He died of the severe effects of his wound suffered during the war on Nov. 6, 1872. In a large state funeral attended by the president and former comrade, Ulysses S. Grant, and many admirers, Meade was laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Meade excelled as a man of peace and war. Trained as a civil engineer, he contributed greatly to his country's development; as a career U.S. Army officer, Meade served diligently in every command he held to protect and defend his nation. He loved his native Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and created lasting beauty at Fairmount Park. He loved his country, served her well and saved her at Gettysburg. As inscribed on his modest gravestone at Laurel Hill Cemetery: “He did his work well and is at rest”.
Information for this section was contributed by Andy Waskie, Ph.D.
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