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Union Leaders: George G. Meade

George G. Meade (1815-1872)

Meade’s first military assignment was to the 3d Artillery in Florida, at the outbreak of the Seminole War. After serving a year Meade was stricken with fever which rendered him unfit for active service, and he was sent to Watertown Arsenal, Mass., for ordnance work. There he resigned on 26 Oct ’36 to become assistant engineer of the Alabama, Florida & Georgia Railroad. Six years later, after marrying Margaretta Sergeant, Meade applied for reinstatement in the army and was appointed 2LT of Topographical Engineers on 19 May ’42.

As a military engineer Meade worked on the northeastern boundary survey until the end of 1843 when he was transferred to Philadelphia to work on the design and construction of lighthouses in the Delaware Bay. He was on that duty until Aug ’45, when ordered to Aransay Bay, Texas, with Taylor’s army of Occupation.

During the Mexican War, Meade, still with Taylor’s army, participated in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma and Monterey. He was later transferred to Scott’s army, and served on the general’s staff along with a number of other West Point graduates, including Robert E. Lee. After the war Meade then returned to Philadelphia and lighthouse construction and making surveys and maps of the Florida reefs. From 1849 to 1850 he again served in Florida in service against the Seminoles, before returning once more to Philadelphia.

On 4 Aug ’51 Meade was promoted 1 LT and returned to Florida, promoted CPT, 17 May ’56, and then ordered to Detroit on the Geodetic survey of the Great Lakes. When the Civil War broke out he was made BG of vols, 31 Aug ’61, and commanded a Pennsylvania brigade. Meade’s first duty was in the defenses of Washington where he assisted in the construction of forts. In Mar ’62 he transferred with his command to McDowell’s army, and after the evacuation of Manassas he was sent to the Department of the Shenandoah.

In Jun ’62 Meade was promoted MAJ in the R.A. and ordered to the Peninsula, commanding a brigade of the V Corps, Army of the Potomac. Participating in the battles of Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and Glendale, he was seriously wounded at the latter battle, an injury that would trouble him the remainder of his life.

Before he was fully recovered Meade returned to field service and commanded a brigade of the III Corps, Army of Virginia, at Second Manassas (29-30 Aug ’62). At Antietam (17 Sep ’62) he was in temporary command of Reynolds’ division, I Corps, Army of the Potomac, and when Hooker was wounded Meade assumed temporary command of the I Corps. On 29 Nov ’62 he was promoted MG of vols, and when Reynolds succeeded to the command of Hooker’s corps Meade was given command of Reynolds’ division.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg (13 Dec ’62) Meade’s command temporarily broke through the Confederate right at Hamilton’s Crossing, but was driven back. On 25 Dec ’62 he was assigned command of the V Corps. At Chancellorsville (1-4 May ’63) the V Corps formed the left of the army, but moved to the right flank after the rout of the XI Corps. Only a
portion of Meade’s command were engaged.

At the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign, while the army was moving northward, Meade was awakened in the early morning of 28 Jun ’63 by a messenger from the President. At first believing he was being placed under arrest, Meade was surprised to learn he had been placed in command of the Army of the Potomac. Three days later, at Gettysburg (1-3 Jul ’63), his army halted Lee’s second invasion of the North. On the last day of the battle he was promoted BG in the R.A. and pursued the enemy back to Virginia. In the fall and winter of ’63, Meade’s army maneuvered against Lee’s forces during the Rapidan and Mine Run campaigns before going into winter quarters.

When Grant, who had been made LTG in command of all Union forces in Mar ’64, chose to accompany the Army of the Potomac, Meade’s powers were mechanically curtailed and his work was relegated to the tactical rather than the strategical realm. He was promoted MG in the R.A. on 18 Aug ’64, and remained commander of the Army of the Potomac until Appomattox (9 Apr ’65). After the war he commanded the Military Division of the Atlantic and the Department of the East at Philadelphia. In 1868 he commanded the third military district of the Department of the South, comprising the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, and then, in 1869, was again assigned the Military Division of the Atlantic.

Note: Biographical information comes from the U.S. Army Center for Military History Gettysburg Staff Ride book.

Posted in Civil War.

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