Victorious commander at the Battle of Gettysburg, Major General George G. Meade commanded the Army of the Potomac throughout the Gettysburg, Bristoe, Mine Run, Overland, Petersburg, and Appomattox Campaigns.
George Gordon Meade was born on December 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain. Meade was the eighth of eleven children of Richard Worsam Meade and Margaret Coats Butler Meade. Meade's father was a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, who was serving as an agent for the U.S. Navy at the time of Meade's birth. When Meade's family returned from Spain, he attended Mt. Airy School in Philadelphia, until he was forced to withdraw because his father suffered serious financial problems. Meade subsequently attended various schools as his family moved several times. Meade's aspirations of attending a private school were dashed when his father died while Meade was a teenager, leaving the family challenged financially. Instead, Meade accepted an appointment in 1831 to the United States Military Academy. Although he did not relish military life, Meade performed well academically and graduated in 1835, nineteenth in his class of fifty-six cadets.
After graduation, Meade was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery and sent to Florida, where he participated in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). While in Florida, Meade contracted a prolonged fever, and he was transferred to the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts to recover. While convalescing, Meade resigned his commission on October 26, 1836 to pursue a civilian engineering career with a railroad company. In 1840, Meade's job duties brought him to Washington, DC, where he met Margaretta Sergeant, the daughter of U.S. Congressman John Sergeant. After a brief courtship, the couple married on December 31, 1840 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1842, Meade returned to the army as a second lieutenant in the corps of topographical engineers. He served in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and was brevetted to first lieutenant for gallant conduct at the Battle of Monterrey. After the Mexican-American War, Meade remained in the military working as an engineer on the East Coast, in Florida, and in the Great Lakes areas. On May 19, 1856, Meade was promoted to captain.
When the American Civil War began, Meade was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given command of the second brigade of Pennsylvania troops on August 31, 1861. For the next several months, he worked on constructing the defenses around Washington, DC. In March, Meade's command was attached to the Army of the Potomac and participated in General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in Virginia. During the Battle of Glendale (June 30, 1862), Meade was seriously wounded by a musket ball that struck him above his hip, nicked his liver, and just missed his spine as it passed through his body. Meade spent the next two months recovering in a Philadelphia hospital. He returned to action on August 26, in time to lead a brigade of the Army of Virginia that performed admirably at the Battle of Manassas II (August 28-30, 1862).
On September 12, 1862, Meade was promoted to a division command with the Army of the Potomac. His division performed well at the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) and at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862). At Antietam, McClellan chose Meade to temporarily command the Union 1st Corps after Major General Joseph Hooker was injured. Meade proved equal to the task, but he also was injured during the battle.
Three months after Antietam, Meade's division created a gap in Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's line at the otherwise disastrous Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862). For that accomplishment, Meade was promoted to major general of volunteers, effective November 29, 1862, and placed in command of the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), commanding General Joseph Hooker left Meade's corps in reserve throughout the engagement, contributing to another Federal defeat.
Following the loss at Chancellorsville, Hooker resigned his command, and President Lincoln placed Meade in charge of the Army of the Potomac on June 27, 1863 (General Orders, No. 194, U.S. War Department). Only six days later, Meade's army defeated General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). Despite the victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln criticized Meade for not pursuing Lee's army as it retreated to Virginia. Nevertheless, Meade was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army, and he was voted the "Thanks of Congress" on January 28, 1864.
On March 12, 1864, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant brought with him, from his successes in the Western Theater of the war, a reputation for the doggedness Lincoln was seeking. Unlike previous Union generals, whose leadership was marked their own timidity, Grant was tenacious. Upon his arrival in Washington, Grant drafted a plan to have the various Union armies to act in concert. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia. Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac, but Grant chose to make his headquarters with Meade's army, thus limiting Meade's independence. Despite chafing at Grant's close supervision, Meade served Grant dutifully and performed effectively, for the most part, throughout the remainder of the war. Despite Meade's private reservations about fighting a war of attrition and the unprecedented casualty totals Grant was amassing, Grant recommended Meade's promotion to major general of the regular army on August 18, 1864, the rank he held at the war's conclusion.
After the Civil War, Meade remained in the regular army. Living in Philadelphia, he commanded the Military Division of the Atlantic until August, 1866, when he took command of the Department of the East. During that time, Meade was chosen as a commissioner of Philadelphia's Fairmont Park, a position he held until his death. On January 10, 1868, Meade replaced Major General John Pope as governor of the Reconstruction Third Military District, comprising Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, with headquarters at Atlanta. In 1869, Meade returned to Philadelphia, where he lived for three more years.
George Gordon Meade died from pneumonia, at the age of fifty-seven years, on November 6, 1872 in Philadelphia. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
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- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of Virginia
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Battle of South Mountain
- Benjamin F. Butler
- General Orders, No. 194 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 316 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 41 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 67 (Army of the Potomac)
- General Orders, No. 96 (U.S. War Department) (1863)
- John Pope
- Joseph Hooker
- Mexican-American War
- Overland Campaign
- Peninsula Campaign
- Robert E. Lee
- Thomas J. Jackson
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