George Gordon Meade

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Meade, George Gordon (1815–1872), Union Civil War general.Born in Cadiz, Spain, Meade, the son of an American naval agent, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1835 and served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War.

Appointed brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers when the Civil War began, Meade fought in most of the Army of the Potomac's main battles. Daring at the Battle of Fredericksburg won him a corps command. When Gen. Robert E. Lee moved his Army of Northern Virginia north in June 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave Meade command of the Army of the Potomac (nearly 88,000 men) with orders to stop the Confederates. Three days into his new assignment, Meade faced Lee's army of some 75,000 near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A three‐day, nearly decisive, battle began on July 1. Meade's steady command contributed greatly to a vital Union victory. Although criticized for permitting Lee's retreat to Virginia, Meade kept his command of the Army of the Potomac.

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, appointed to head all Union armies in March 1864, put his headquarters near Meade's. Both generals handled this potentially awkward command situation tactfully and cooperated well to war's end. Meade correctly tried to stop Grant's front assaults in the Wilderness campaign.

After the war, Meade's outspokenness hurt his reputation, and he sank into undeserved obscurity. He died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
[See also Gettysburg, Battle of; Union Army.]


Freeman Cleaves , Meade of Gettysburg, 1960.
Herman Hattaway and and Archer P. Jones , Why the North Won the Civil War, 1983.
Joseph T. Glatthaar , Partners in Command: The Relationship Between Leaders in the Civil War, 1994.
Charles F. Ritter and Jon Wakelyn, eds., Leaders of the American Civil War, 1998.

Frank E. Vandiver

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George Gordon Meade

George Gordon Meade (1815-1872), American Civil War general, is best remembered as the victor of the Battle of Gettysburg and as the last commander of the Army of the Potomac.

The son of an American merchant, George Gordon Meade was born on Dec. 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain. His early education was at Mount Hope Institution in Baltimore. At the age of 15 he received appointment to West Point; he graduated in 1835. After serving for a year in Florida and Massachusetts he became disillusioned with Army life and resigned to pursue a civil engineering career. In 1842 Meade returned to the Army and won a brevet promotion for gallantry in the Mexican War. Until the outbreak of the Civil War, he served in the topographical engineers.

In August 1861 Meade was appointed brigadier general and given command of a Pennsylvania brigade. He served throughout the Peninsular Campaign. On June 30, 1862, in the Battle of Glendale, he was seriously wounded in the arm, side, and back. Nevertheless, he led divisions in the Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg campaigns and commanded a corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Meade was genuinely surprised when, on June 28, 1863, he was named to head the Army of the Potomac. Only 3 days later Robert E. Lee's army struck Meade's forces at Gettysburg, Pa. In spite of his newness to Army command, Meade demonstrated admirable skill in the bloody 3-day battle. However, when Lee's Confederates were allowed to retire virtually unmolested to Virginia, a storm of criticism descended on Meade. He tendered his resignation from the Army, but it was refused, and he continued commanding the Army for the remainder of the war. He is overshadowed in the climactic campaigns of 1864-1865 because General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac and supervised its principal operations. Meade's promotion to major general came embarrassingly late in the conflict.

After the war Meade commanded military departments in the South and East. He died of pneumonia on Nov. 6, 1872, in Philadelphia.

Gaunt and stern, Meade suffered from fits of nervousness. Although he was routinely competent, he lacked boldness and brilliance in action. His hot temper led the soldiers to nickname him "the old snapping turtle."

Further Reading

Much of Meade's own correspondence is in The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade (2 vols., 1913), edited by his son, George Gordon Meade. The best study of Meade is Freeman Cleaves, Meade of Gettysburg (1960), which concentrates heavily on the famous battle. More sympathetic biographies are Richard Meade Bache, Life of General George Gordon Meade (1897), and Isaac R. Pennypacker, General Meade (1901). □

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George Gordon Meade, 1815–72, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Cádiz, Spain. Graduated from West Point in 1835, he resigned from the army the next year and became a civil engineer. In 1842, Meade reentered the army in the corps of topographical engineers. He served in the Mexican War and on various engineering projects. In the Civil War he was made a brigadier general of volunteers (Aug., 1861). In the Seven Days battles (1862), he was severely wounded at Frayser's Farm (or Glendale), but he recovered in time to lead his brigade ably at the second battle of Bull Run. In the Antietam campaign, in the battle of Fredericksburg (1862), and in the battle of Chancellorsville (1863) he distinguished himself further. Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863. Several days later he won the important battle of Gettysburg (see Gettysburg campaign). This brought him a brigadier generalcy in the regular army. He was criticized, however, for not following up his victory. Meade commanded the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war, but Ulysses S. Grant really directed his army in the Wilderness campaign and subsequent operations. He was promoted to major general in the regular army on Grant's recommendation in Aug., 1864. After the war Meade commanded various military departments.

See G. Meade, The Life and Letters of General George Gordon Meade (2 vol., 1913); biography by F. Cleaves (1960).