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Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Union Military
Full name: George Gordon Meade
Born in Cadiz, Spain, in 1815 George Meade moved to the United States in 1817. Although the family was wealthy when his father was living, after his father died in 1828 the family had little to live on. George attended a school near Philadelphia run by Salmon P. Chase. College was no longer affordable for the Meade family, so his mother sought an appointment to West Point for George. After graduation (19th out of 56 in the Class of 1835), George Gordon Meade joined the Topographical Corps. One of his first assignments was the survey of the Long Island Railroad. After a trip to the West Indies he landed in Tampa just after the massacre of Francis Langhorne Dade and 200 men by Micanopy, a Seminole. Meade joined a company as Lieutenant and served shortly, but was forced to leave following a prolonged low-grade fever. He was assigned to lead a group of Seminole Indians to Arkansas before he resigned his commission on October 26, 1836.
Strangely, he returned to Florida and accepted a position surveying the Alabama, Florida and Georgia Railroad. After completing this work Meade mapped the mouth of the Sabine River in 1840, continuing north to establish the border between the Republic of Texas and the United States. After marrying his wife, Margaretta, on his 25th birthday, Meade returned to the military as a lieutenant, resurveying the border between Canada and the United States in the Northeast, to establish a boundary negotiated by Winfield Scott. Although still a civilian, Meade decided to reenlist, mostly because of the depressed economy following the Panic of 1837. After completing the survey in the Northeast United States, he returned to Philadelphia where he was reassigned to mapping coasts and building lighthouses.
In August, 1845, Meade was reassigned to Zachary Taylor, then commanding an occupation force in South Texas (Taylor was ordered to occupy disputed land north of the Rio Grande). Arriving at Corpus Christie on September 14, Meade performed reconnaissance missions while under the command of Taylor, including Pal Alta, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterey. He was reassigned to join Winfield Scott at Vera Cruz, also as an engineer, but following the surrender of the garrison by the Mexicans, Meade requested reassignment.
Once again returning to Florida, Meade selected a site for a fort on the west coast of the peninsula near present-day Port Charlotte on the Peace River (known as Pease Creek in the 1840's). He would become First Lieutenant in May, 1851. In 1856, following a promotion to captain, Meade was given his biggest assignment to date, a survey of the entire Great Lakes. With Lieutenant Orlando Poe, Meade set out for Detroit. The survey would be completed just prior to the outbreak of The Civil War.
Returning to his wife in Philadelphia, Meade was offered command of a brigade in the Pennsylvania Reserves, a division being formed by George McCall at the request of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Although he was a brigadier general of volunteers, Meade did appreciate the jump in rank. He also knew his fellow commanders, John Reynolds and Edward O. C. Ord. The Reserves, intended to defend Pennsylvania should the state be invaded, were called to Washington following the disaster at Bull Run.
Guarding southwest of Washington, McClellan slowly moved the Pennsylvania Reserves west as he got more comfortable. They established a camp at present-day Langley, Virginia and patrolled as far west as Dranesville. Although they missed the Battle of Ball's Bluff, when General McCall received reports of foraging near Dranesville two months later he detached one of Meade's regiments and sent it and Ord's brigade to meet the enemy. The battle is considered indecisive, but Meade's men had performed well.
During the advance on Richmond, Virginia in the Peninsula Campaign, Meade's brigade did not see action. About the middle of June, 1862, McCall's Division was ordered to protect communication with White House, McClellan's supply port on the York River. McCall established an entrenched line east of Beaver Creek. Held in reserve by Fitz-John Porter, commander of the Fifth Corps, at the start of the Battle of Beaver Creek Dam, George Meade's men were inserted into the Union line where needed by his commander, McCall. Although many of his men were engaged during the battle, they were not under his command at the time.
During the battle of Beaver Dam Creek, three of Meade's regiments were preparing Porter's fallback position at Gaines Mill. After the battle, Porter began moving his corps to the new location and discovered something unusual about George Meade - his ability to navigate at night. Meade had learned to read the stars to determine his position and since much of the Seven Days Retreat marching would be at night, the brigadier general was invaluable. Meade led the Pennsylvania Reserves from Beaver Dam to Gaines Mill.
Chosen by Chief Engineer John Barnard, Gaines Mill represented one of the strongest positions held by the Union army in the entire Civil War. McCall's division, including Meade's Brigade was held in reserve about half-a-mile behind the front line near Powhite Creek. When fighting started, Meade and Truman Seymour, the commander who replaced Edward Ord, moved forward as brigades but their men were inserted into the lines as regiments. This time, Meade chose to join a regiment that was inserted into George Morrell's line near the Watt House. While this regiment benefited from Meade's advice, two other regiments were captured when Rebels got behind them after being inserted further north.
During the Battle of Glendale, Meade's brigade was covering Long Bridge Road just west of the town. James Longstreet and A. P. Hill came down this road to attack the Army of the Potomac's line. Much of the fighting centered on Meade's artillery battery commanded by Lieutenant Alanson Randol, where Meade lost an entire regiment trying to protect the position. Meade's brigade was then nearly destroyed by repeated assaults of A. P. Hill and James Longstreet, he was wounded and his commanding officer was taken prisoner. For George Meade, the Seven Days was over, but at Glendale, his brigade played a key role in protecting McClellan's retreat to Harrison Landing.
Badly injured in the arm and torso, Meade was taken to Haxall's Landing and he sailed north in Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore, then further north to Philadelphia. With his wife helping, George Meade recovered in time to join his men near Fredericksburg, Virginia on August 21, 1862. John Reynolds had been assigned command of the Pennsylvania Reserves in Meade's absence, and they were marching to join Irwin McDowell's corps. Now as part of John Pope's Army of Virginia, Meade's brigade would be among those trapped by the Confederates at Second Bull Run. They fought on Henry Hill, securing for the Army of Virginia an escape route from the vise James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson were trying to close around Pope. As the Union Army withdrew towards Washington D. C., Robert E. Lee moved west to the Shenandoah Valley before turning north into Maryland and Pope's army was combined once again with the Army of the Potomac.
McClellan, who had a copy of Lee's orders, split his army in three to defeat the Rebel invaders. George Meade's brigade was assigned to Joe Hooker's corps. Hooker had been given Turner's Gap in South Mountain to capture and on the approach, Fighting Joe saw the weak spot in Daniel Harvey Hill's position, a knoll to the north of the National Road (called the National pike in orders) overlooking the gap. From there, the Yankees could control most of the gap with artillery.
Hooker chose George Meade for the task. On the knoll sat Robert Rodes brigade, reinforced with regiments from Nathan Evans. While the position was strong, it would be impossible to maintain a line of retreat against a superior Union force, and both Rodes and Meade recognized the weakness. Rodes placed the men of Shanks Evans to his right to protect against such a maneuver, so Meade decided to make a general advance against the outnumbered enemy. After coming out of some woods into an open field, Meade's division moved up the knoll slowly but steadily. As Truman Seymour's brigade gained the top of the knoll, Confederate reinforcements counterattacked but failed to dislodge the Pennsylvanians. At nightfall Meade controlled the knoll, forcing Daniel Harvey Hill to withdraw from Turner's Gap.
In writing about that day 30 years later in The Century magazine, Hill would recall, "Meade was one of our most dreaded foes..." His own commander, Joe Hooker, who he would replace in the field as commander of the Army of the Potomac less than a year later wrote "I desire to make special mention of Brigadier-General Meade for the great intelligence and gallantry displayed by him."
At Antietam, Meade was in the front of Hooker's Corps as it marched down the Hagerstown Pike towards Sharpsburg late in the day on September 16. He engaged forward elements of John Bell Hood's Division in a sharp skirmish and withdrew at dusk. The following day, with Hooker's two other division's and Joseph Mansfield's 12th Corps supporting him, George Meade's division led the attack on Rebel positions in the Cornfield. When Hooker was shot in the foot, George Meade assumed command of the corps. As Edwin Vose Sumner and Joseph Mansfield moved on the battlefield with the 12th Corps, Meade withdrew his men to regroup and was injured when a ricochet grapeshot stuck his leg. From this point on the fighting moved south, west of Antietam Creek. George Meade became a division commander again on September 29 when John Reynolds returned from detached service.
Under the uninspiring command of Ambrose Burnside, Major General George Meade was assigned to Joe Hooker's Center Grand Division. During the battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862 Meade's division came up against Stonewall Jackson's men and made the best show during the Union disaster, coming close to turning the Confederate right.
As Robert E. Lee moved north into Pennsylvania in June, 1863, the Army of the Potomac was in turmoil. Abraham Lincoln responded to Lee's movement with a dramatic reorganization of his largest army, the third in 9 months. Joe Hooker was gone and George Meade, his able lieutenant from Pennsylvania stood ready to impose his army between Lee and Washington while trying to save his state from the Rebel invasion. The order appointing Meade (dated June 27, arrived June 28, of rank, June 29) gave him broad powers to reorganize his command and he did just that, relieving Cavalry commander Major General Julius Stahel and replacing him with Alfred Pleasonton.
From June, 1863, George Gordon Meade commanded the Army of the Potomac in every battle. General Ulysses S. Grant, as General-in-Chief, U. S. Army kept his field office with Meade's Army of the Potomac and the two devised strategy together. Meade had angered reporters assigned to cover his army, so they informally agreed to credit Grant with good things that happened while they blamed Meade for the bad.
According to Phil Sheridan, Meade had a "peppery temper."
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George Meade was last changed on - October 23, 2007
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