Historical Markers
George Gordon Meade Historical Marker
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George Gordon Meade

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
1836 Delancey Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
November 6, 1999

Behind the Marker

When an officer from the War Department came into his tent and awakened Major General George G. Meade just after midnight on the morning of June 28, 1863, Meade surmised that Major General Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, was having him arrested for the squabbling in which these two officers had engaged since the Chancellorsville Campaign in early May. Instead, the order that Colonel James A. Hardie handed the surprised Meade placed him in command of the army! The order was specific; Meade could not reject the appointment. After taking command he was to protect Washington and to give battle to Robert E. Lee if the Confederates moved against either Baltimore or Philadelphia.

The son of a Philadelphia merchant, Meade was born in Spain in 1815. He had graduated from West Point in 1835, then resigned his commission after a brief army career to work as a civil engineer. Recommissioned prior to the Mexican War, Meade served briefly in that conflict, and from 1847-1856, supervised the construction of lighthouses on the East coast from Delaware to Florida. In 1856, Meade became the officer in charge of the Great Lakes survey.
<i>Meade at Gettysburg</i>, by Daniel Ridgeway Knight. Oil on canvas portrait of George Meade in uniform, standing next to his horse. A soldier holds the reins of the General's horse.
Meade at Gettysburg, by Daniel Ridgeway Knight.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Meade was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves. He saw action at Gaines' Mill, Glendale, where he was wounded, and Second Manassas. Elevated to command of the Pennsylvania Reserves, he then led with distinction at South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. During the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, Meade who led the Fifth Corps, was quite vocal in his opposition to General Hooker's decision to go over to the defensive, and then extremely angry when Hooker refused him permission to counterattack.

By the summer of 1863, then, Meade had earned a reputation as a competent, but temperamental general officer. Behind his back soldiers called him the "old snapping turtle." But he also genuinely cared for his soldiers and refused to waste lives in needless attacks to please the politicians in Washington.

Only three days after taking command, Meade brought his army to the battlefield of Gettysburg and defeated Lee's troops. His seemingly lackluster pursuit of Lee back into Virginia, however, led some to call for his resignation. Meade, whose army had suffered more than 23,000 casualties, offered to step down. But President Abraham Lincoln, although discouraged by the general's slow pursuit of the enemy after the battle was over, continued to back him and Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac until it was disbanded in June 1865.

Overshadowed by Ulysses S. Grant during the 1864 campaign, Meade has remained an under appreciated general in the annals of Civil War history. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the general never wrote his memoirs; indeed, he thought little of those generals who sought glory and exaggerated their tales of bravery. "I don't believe the truth will ever be known," wrote Meade, "and I have a great contempt for History."

After the war, Meade made his home in Philadelphia and received numerous honors from the city, including his residence on Delancey Street. Today his dress uniform, presentation swords, and the stuffed head of his favorite war horse, Old Baldy are housed at the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum (1805 Pine Street). The Grand Army of the Republic Museum in the city's Frankford section (4278 Griscom Street) has one of Meade's prayer books, a camp stool, and other related memorabilia. George G. Meade died in 1872 and is buried in Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery, next to his wife Margaret Sergeant. On his tombstone are the words: "He did his work bravely and is at rest."
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