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George Gordon Meade

By John T. Marck

Born to American parents, George was born in Cadiz, Spain while his father, Richard Worsam Meade was a naval agent for the United States. Living abroad, the Meade family lived well, however, their financial situation soon changed when George's father died in Washington, D.C. and the family was unable to collect on a debt owned them by the government.

Now without the resources he once had, George was forced to leave the school he was attending in Philadelphia to attend another one in Washington, D.C. managed by Salmon P. Chase. He then was able to attend West Point, entering on September 1, 1831. Although not exhilarated in attending he nonetheless did well, graduating nineteenth in a class of fifty-six in 1835. After graduation Meade took a short leave from the military to work as an aide in surveying the Long Island Railroad. Returning to the army during the Seminole War, he then went to Florida as a 2nd lieutenant serving the 3rd Artillery Regiment. While there he contracted the fever, and was sent to the North, where, upon his return to duty, served in Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts.

On October 26, 1836, he resigned from the army to pursue a career in engineering, accepting a position with the Alabama, Florida & Georgia Railroad. During this time away from the army, Meade also did some work as a surveyor on the Mississippi and Texas borders.

Now married, Meade rejoined the army and was appointed a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers on May 19, 1842. Originally assigned to the northeastern border survey, he was transferred in 1863 to Philadelphia to work on the construction of the lighthouse in the Delaware Bay. When the Mexican War began Meade was sent to Texas then saw action at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. At the Battle of Monterrey, on September 23, 1846, Meade was promoted to 1st lieutenant for heroism. He concluded his service in the Mexican War serving under General Winfield Scott at Vera Cruz. After the war he returned to engineering, working on coastal lighthouses as well as surveys of the Great Lakes.

When the Civil War began, Meade was a brigadier general of volunteers on August 31, 1861, and commanded the 2nd brigade, one of three Pennsylvania brigades with Brigadier Generals John F. Reynolds and E.O.C. Ord. His first assignment during the war was as commander of the Washington defenses and in the construction of Fort Washington.

His numerous other assignments and commands during the war included:

Commander, 2nd Brigade, McCall's Division, Army of the Potomac (October 3, 1861 - March 13, 1862);

Commander 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac (March 13 -April 4, 1862);

Commander, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Department of the Rappahannock (April 4 - June 12, 1862);

Commander, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac (June 18 -30, 1862);

Major, Topographical Engineers (June 18, 1862);

Commander, 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 3rd Corps, Army of Virginia (August 26 - September 12, 1862);

Commander, 3rd Division, 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac

(September 12 -17, & September 29 - December 25, 1862);

Major General, US Volunteers (November 29, 1862)

Commander 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac

(December 25, 1862 - January 26, 1863 & February 5-16 & February 28 - June 28, 1863);

Commander Center Grand Division, Army of the Potomac (January 1863);

Commander, Army of the Potomac

(June 28, 1863 - December 30, 1864 & January 11 - June 27, 1865);

Brigadier General (July 3, 1863);

Major General (August 18, 1864).

Due in part to his aggressive nature and strategies, he was appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade was not especially pleased when he received this promotion, but accepted it as his duty to do so. He then concentrated his forces, but did not make any advances toward General Lee and the Confederates. To his disadvantage, three days after assuming command, his army met with Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Although Meade is remembered for his action at Gettysburg, he did receive some criticism for not reinforcing his flanks, as well as not be aggressive enough. Meade had opportunities to strike at Lee's forces on July 2 and 3, but did not do so. Still, he was responsible in repulsing General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia in the war's most costly battle to both sides, and the Union's greatest victory of the war. As a result, Meade received his promotion to brigadier general.

After the war, Meade was given the command of the Military Division of the Atlantic and the Department of the East in Philadelphia. During the Reconstruction period, Meade was assigned to Atlanta where he administered set forth policies, doing so in a sensitive manner, in spite of regulations that were most times unethical and unjust.

In 1866, Meade accepted a position as the commissioner of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. He held this position until his death in Philadelphia on November 6, 1872; the result of old wounds received in the war, complicated by pneumonia.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.