The Commanders of Gettysburg: The Lives and Careers of Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade

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However, his attack was not reinforced, resulting in the loss of much of his division.

Thought Leadership

After the battle, he received command of V Corps , which he led in the Battle of Chancellorsville the following spring. General Hooker, then commanding the Army of the Potomac, had grand, aggressive plans for the campaign, but was too timid in execution, allowing the Confederates to seize the initiative. Meade's corps was left in reserve for most of the battle, contributing to the Union defeat. Afterward, Meade argued strongly with Hooker for resuming the attack against Lee, but to no avail.

Hooker resigned from command of the Army of the Potomac while pursuing Lee in the Gettysburg Campaign. Meade was taken by surprise and later wrote to his wife that when the officer entered his tent to wake him, he assumed that Army politics had caught up with him and he was being arrested. He had not actively sought command and was not the president's first choice. John F.

Reynolds , one of four major generals who outranked Meade in the Army of the Potomac, had earlier turned down the president's suggestion that he take over. Meade assumed command at Prospect Hall in Frederick, Maryland. Lee was aware of Meade's inexperience and wanted to exploit it. The battle began almost by accident, as the result of a chance meeting engagement between Confederate infantry and Union cavalry in Gettysburg on July 1.

By the end of the first day, two Union infantry corps had been almost destroyed, but had taken up positions on favorable ground. Meade rushed the remainder of his army to Gettysburg and skillfully deployed his forces for a defensive battle, reacting swiftly to fierce assaults on his line's left, right, and center, culminating in Lee's disastrous assault on the center, known as Pickett's Charge. During the three days, Meade made excellent use of capable subordinates, such as Maj.

Reynolds and Winfield S. Hancock , to whom he delegated great responsibilities. Unfortunately for Meade's reputation, he did not skillfully manage the political manipulators he inherited from Hooker. Daniel Sickles , III Corps commander, and Daniel Butterfield , Meade's chief of staff, caused him difficulty later in the war, questioning his command decisions and courage. Sickles had developed a personal vendetta against Meade because of Sickles's allegiance to Joseph Hooker, whom Meade had replaced, and because of controversial disagreements at Gettysburg.

Sickles had either mistakenly or deliberately disregarded Meade's orders about placing his corps in the defensive line, which led to that corps' destruction and placed the entire army at risk on the second day of battle. Radical Republicans , some of whom like Thaddeus Stevens were former Know Nothings and hostile to Irish Catholics like Meade's family, in the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War suspected that Meade was a Copperhead and tried in vain to relieve him from command. Following their severe losses at Gettysburg, General Lee's army retreated to Virginia.


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Meade was criticized by President Lincoln and others for not aggressively pursuing the Confederates during their retreat. At one point, the Army of Northern Virginia was extremely vulnerable with its back to the rain-swollen, almost impassable Potomac River , but was able to erect strong defensive positions before Meade could organize an effective attack. Lincoln believed that this wasted an opportunity to end the war. Nonetheless, Meade was rewarded for his actions at Gettysburg by a promotion to brigadier general in the regular army and the Thanks of Congress , which commended Meade " Yesterday I received an order to repair to Washington, to see the President.

The President was, as he always is, very considerate and kind. He found no fault with my operations, although it was very evident he was disappointed that I had not got a battle out of Lee.

Thank you!

He coincided with me that there was not much to be gained by any farther advance; but General Halleck was very urgent that something should be done, but what that something was he did not define. As the Secretary of War was absent in Tennessee, final action was postponed till his return. Meade was a competent and outwardly modest man, although correspondence with his wife throughout the war suggests he was disguising his ego and ambition. His head is partially bald and is small and compact, but the forehead is high. He has the late Duke of Wellington class of nose, and his eyes, which have a serious and almost sad expression, are rather sunken, or appear so from the prominence of the curve nasal appearance.

He has a decidedly patrician and distinguished appearance. Some referred to him as "a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle. When Lt. Grant was appointed commander of all Union armies in March , Meade offered to resign. He stated the task at hand was of such importance that he would not stand in the way of Grant choosing the right man for the job and offered to serve wherever placed. Grant assured Meade he had no intentions of replacing him. Grant later wrote that this incident gave him a more favorable opinion of Meade than the great victory at Gettysburg.

Grant made his headquarters with Meade for the remainder of the war, which caused Meade to chafe at the close supervision he received. Following an incident in June , in which Meade disciplined reporter Edward Cropsey from The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper for an unfavorable article, all of the press assigned to his army agreed to mention Meade only in conjunction with setbacks.

Meade apparently knew nothing of this arrangement, and the reporters giving all of the credit to Grant angered Meade. Additional differences caused further friction between Grant and Meade. Waging a war of attrition in his Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee, Grant was willing to suffer previously unacceptable losses with the knowledge that the Union Army had replacement soldiers available, whereas the Confederates did not. Meade, despite his aggressive performance in lesser commands in , had become a more cautious general and more concerned about the futility of attacking entrenched positions.

Most of the bloody repulses his army suffered in the Overland Campaign were ordered by Grant, [ citation needed ] although the aggressive maneuvering that eventually cornered Lee in the trenches around Petersburg were Grant's initiative as well. Meade was additionally frustrated by the manner in which Grant sometimes gave preferable treatment to subordinates that he had brought with him from the Western Theater. A primary example of this was Grant's interference with Meade's direction of Maj.

Philip Sheridan 's Cavalry Corps. The Army of the Potomac had used cavalry for couriers, scouting, and headquarters guards for most of its existence. Only Joe Hooker had contemplated using them in an aggressive fashion, and Meade had largely continued established practice. Sheridan objected and told Meade that he could "whip Stuart " if Meade let him.

Meade reported the conversation to Grant, who replied, "Well, he generally knows what he is talking about. Let him start right out and do it. Although Meade generally performed effectively under Grant's supervision in the Overland Campaign and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign , a few instances of bad judgment marred his legacy. During the Battle of Cold Harbor , Meade inadequately supervised his corps commanders and did not insist they perform reconnaissance before their disastrous frontal assault. Inexplicably, Meade wrote to his wife immediately after the attack and expressed pride that it was he who had ordered the attack.

During the initial assaults on Petersburg, Meade again failed to coordinate the attacks of his corps before General Lee could reinforce the line, resulting in the ten-month stalemate, the Siege of Petersburg. He approved the plan of Maj. Ambrose Burnside to plant explosives in a mine shaft dug underneath the Confederate line east of Petersburg, but at the last minute he changed Burnside's plan to lead the attack with a well-trained African-American division that was highly drilled just for this action, instructing him to take a politically less risky course and substitute an untrained and poorly led white division.

The resulting Battle of the Crater was one of the great fiascoes of the war. In all of these cases, Grant bears some of the responsibility for approving Meade's plans, but Meade's performance was not at the same level of competence he displayed on other occasions. After Spotsylvania, Grant requested that Meade be promoted to major general of the regular army. In a telegram to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on May 13, , Grant stated that "Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations.

He and [William T. He was not present when Robert E.


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  8. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Meade's decisions in command of the Army of the Potomac have been the focus of controversy. He has been accused of not being aggressive enough in pursuit of Confederate forces, and being reluctant to attack on occasion. His reputation among the public and 19th century historians suffered as a result of his short temper, his bad relationship with the press, his place in the shadow of the victorious Grant, and particularly the damaging fallout from the controversies with Dan Sickles. Recent historical works have portrayed him in a more positive light.

    They have acknowledged that Meade displayed and acted upon an understanding of the necessary changes in tactics brought about by improvements in weapons technology, such as his decisions to entrench when practicable and not to launch frontal assaults on fortified positions. In addition, the Army of the Potomac had suffered very heavily at Gettysburg, with over 20, casualties and the loss of many of its best officers and enlisted men, including three corps commanders, and Meade may have been fully justified in not attempting a rapid pursuit with his army in such a battered condition.

    In , Meade was admitted as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. Meade was a commissioner of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia from until his death.

    George Meade

    The people of Philadelphia gave his widow a house at Delancey Place Philadelphia , where he lived. The house still has the word "Meade" over the door, but it is now used as apartments. He also held various military commands, including the Military Division of the Atlantic , the Department of the East , and the Department of the South. Meade received an honorary doctorate in law LL.

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    Having long suffered from complications caused by his war wounds, Meade died on November 6, at the age of 56, still on active duty, following a battle with pneumonia. General Meade lived at Delancey Place, Philadelphia, and died in the house, , according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker in front.

    Meade was named in his honor. One-thousand-dollar Treasury notes , also called Coin notes, of the Series and , feature portraits of Meade on the obverse. The Series note is called the Grand Watermelon Note by collectors, because the large zeroes on the reverse resemble the pattern on a watermelon. Other film, television, music, and video appearances:.