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Distorted Reality: The Legacy of George Gordon Meade


Regardless of the vital function Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade performed within the Civil Struggle, his historic legacy sometimes downplays or ignores his success on the battlefields upon which he bettered the Confederacy’s legendary Common Robert E. Lee. An clever, hard-working, and brave commander, Meade was wounded twice on the June 1862 Battle of Glendale, in the course of the Seven Days Marketing campaign, and later within the yr he was within the thick of the preventing at Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. After his fast predecessor in control of the Military of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, was humiliated on the Could 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville—spurring Lee to invade Pennsylvania—President Abraham Lincoln nearly actually “dumped” military command in Meade’s lap—solely three days earlier than Union and Accomplice armies collided on the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade, nevertheless, would show he was as much as the problem, main the Union victory over Lee at Gettysburg.

Meade remained in control of the Military of the Potomac by the tip of the struggle, preventing in all its main battles in the course of the 1864 Overland Marketing campaign, on the Siege of Petersburg, and, lastly, victory at Appomattox. Given such notable accomplishments, why is Meade not higher identified and revered? Maybe most vital have been the calculated efforts of Union Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles and his subordinates to strip him of credit score for defeating Lee at Gettysburg—a scheme magnified by anguish that Meade had missed a golden alternative to destroy Lee’s military with a cautious post-battle pursuit because the Confederates retreated to Virginia. Furthermore, the choice by Union Military commander-in-chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to determine his headquarters with Meade’s military on the outset of the Overland Marketing campaign—Grant thereby taking direct operational in addition to strategic management of the Military of the Potomac in 1864 and 1865—inevitably solid the impression that Meade was serving merely as a figurehead.

George Meade (Library of Congress)

The seed for Meade’s adversity was planted on July 2, 1863—Gettysburg’s second day—when he made an enduring enemy of his third Corps commander, Sickles, the disgraced however nonetheless influential congressman from New York. Disliking the contour of the land alongside Cemetery Ridge that Meade had assigned the third Corps to defend, Sickles marched his males to what he believed was higher floor three-quarters of a mile in entrance of the remainder of Meade’s defensive position. By doing so, Sickles positioned the Military of the Potomac in nice peril, as his remoted corps now had each flanks unsecured, and his advance additionally meant that Little Spherical Prime—vital floor on the Union’s left flank—was unprotected.

Often called “Outdated Snapping Turtle” for his customary dour look and unstable mood, Meade rebuked Sickles for the insubordination. However earlier than Sickles might even contemplate retracing his steps, Confederates in Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s Corps attacked and the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield have been embroiled in livid preventing. Meade didn’t hesitate to reply, and gaps have been plugged at a number of key factors. Regardless of resilient Accomplice pushes throughout the southern finish of the battlefield, the Federals succeeded in stopping a Insurgent breakthrough.

Famously, Sickles would quickly be out of the preventing, as he was struck in the correct leg close to the Trostle Farm by a Accomplice cannonball, necessitating its amputation.

Earlier than Gettysburg, Meade, an 1835 graduate of the U.S. Navy Academy, was comparatively unknown. Abruptly he was a nationwide hero, lauded in newspapers throughout the North for delivering an excellent Union victory. Simply 11 days later, nevertheless, the platitudes had turned principally to outrage. Meade was being pilloried for permitting Lee’s battered and retreating military to recross the Potomac River to Virginia on July 14. It later turned identified that Lincoln was himself distraught at Meade’s “hesitant” pursuit of Lee and had composed a vital letter to the overall that he determined to maintain in his desk.

Meade could be additional criticized later within the yr for the result of the Mine Run Marketing campaign, basically a bloody stalemate that successfully concluded the 1863 marketing campaign season in Virginia. In the meantime, as he recuperated in Washington, the one-legged Sickles instructed as many as he might—together with the president—that he had been the actual hero of Gettysburg and that his unapproved advance had finally spoiled Lee’s battle plans, thereby saving the Military of the Potomac from destruction.

When Meade denied a request by Sickles to return to command, Sickles sought revenge. In February 1864, he went earlier than the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Struggle, a extremely influential committee dominated by Radical Republicans, and gave distorted testimony that Meade had dealt with the military ineptly at Gettysburg—that the Union military had received a fantastic victory regardless of Meade. Notably, Sickles alleged that on the battle’s second day Meade had been a coward, desirous to retreat somewhat than battle.

Grant and Meade within the Wilderness. (Web Archive Guide)

Main Common Abner Doubleday supported Sickles’ egregious claims by testifing that Meade had performed favorites in command assignments. Doubleday particularly was bitter that Meade had ignored military seniority and never promoted him to command of the first Corps after its commander, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, was killed early on July 1—as an alternative selecting Maj. Gen. John Newton as Reynolds’ substitute.

It was no secret that the Joint Committee’s Radical Republicans desperately wished “Combating Joe” Hooker again in control of the Military of the Potomac. The committee’s leaders, Chairman Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, demanded Lincoln dismiss Meade even earlier than he had a chance to testify.

On March 6, 1864, Meade’s concern for the Sickles-led injury to his status was obvious in a letter to his spouse, Margaret:

After I reached Washington, I used to be enormously stunned to search out the entire city speaking of sure grave fees of Generals Sickles and Doubleday, that had been made towards me of their testimony earlier than the Committee on the Conduct of the Struggle….Mr. [Edwin M.] Stanton [Secretary of War] instructed me…there was and had been a lot stress.…to get Hooker again in command…however there was no likelihood of their succeeding….The one evil that may result’s the spreading over the nation of sure mysterious whisperings of dreadful deficiencies on my half, the reality regarding which is able to by no means attain the thousandth a part of those that hear the lies….It’s a melancholy state of affairs…when individuals like Sickles and Doubleday can, by distorting and twisting info, and giving a false coloring, induce the press and public…to remove the character of a person who as much as that point had stood excessive of their estimation.

Sickles elevated his assault on Meade when he (or an in depth affiliate) penned an nameless article by “Historicus” within the March 12, 1864, version of The New York Herald, the nation’s largest newspaper. Historicus condemned Meade’s dealing with of Gettysburg whereas praising the courageous and sensible Sickles. The article claimed Meade had ordered his chief of employees, Maj. Gen. Dan Butterfield, to arrange an order of retreat on July 2, the battle’s second day. The Historicus piece set off a firestorm, and tales of Meade’s alleged inadequacies appeared in papers nationwide.

Meade was a proud Philadelphian, and was infuriated having his public standing shredded by Sickles, whom he thought-about a scoundrel. Outraged by the Historicus article, the Military of the Potomac commander wrote to the Struggle Division on March 15, 1864, requesting an investigation:

For the previous fortnight the general public press of the entire nation has been teeming with articles, all having for his or her object assaults upon my status as an officer, and tending to throw discredit on my operations at Gettysburg.…The prominence given to Common Sickles’ operations within the enclosed communication, the labored argument to show his logic and my failings, all lead me to the conclusion he’s both instantly or not directly the writer….Because the communication incorporates so many statements prejudicial to my status, I ask that the Division verify whether or not Common Sickles has licensed or endorses this communication and within the occasion of his replying within the affirmative I request of the President of the U.S. a court docket of inquiry that the entire topic could also be totally investigated and the reality made identified.

Meade’s effort to clear his title by a Struggle Division investigation was thwarted when Lincoln declined to order a Court docket of Inquiry. The president wished Meade preventing Confederates, not a fellow common, and wrote him on March 29, 1864:

The Secretary of Struggle has requested me to think about your request for a Court docket of Inquiry regarding an article that appeared within the Herald. It’s fairly pure that it is best to really feel some sensibility on the topic; but I’m not impressed, nor do I feel the nation is impressed, with the assumption that your honor calls for, or the general public curiosity calls for such an Inquiry. The nation is aware of that, in any respect occasions, you’ve gotten achieved good providers; and I consider it agrees with me that it’s a lot better so that you can be engaged in attempting to do extra, than to be diverted, as you essentially could be, by a Court docket of Inquiry.

Lincoln’s refusal to convene a army court docket meant that the investigation of Sickles’ accusations could be the one one performed by the Joint Committee. Meade monitored the continuing hearings and was dismayed when Butterfield, an in depth buddy of Sickles’ and Hooker’s, falsely testified in regards to the claimed July 2 order to retreat.

Meade knowledgeable Margaret in an April 6, 1864, letter of his despair with the bias of the Joint Committee:

Common [Henry] Hunt has been as much as Washington and earlier than the Committee. He says, after questioning him in regards to the well-known order of July 2, and his telling them he by no means heard of it, and from his place and relations with me he will surely have heard of it, they went to work and…tried to get him to confess such an order may need been issued with out him realizing something about it. This after my testimony, and that of [Generals Gouverneur] Warren, [Winfield S.] Hancock, [John] Gibbon and Hunt, evidently proves that they’re decided to convict me, despite testimony, and that Butterfield’s perjury is to outweigh the testimony of all others.

As he ready for the 1864 marketing campaign season, Meade apprehensive about how Sickles’ assaults would have an effect on his place in historical past. He entrusted a household buddy to move his sworn testimony to Margaret, telling her in an April 26, 1864, letter: “You could preserve this personal and sacred. If something ought to occur to me, you’ll have the technique of exhibiting to the world what my protection was.”

In early Could 1864, the Military of the Potomac commenced its spring marketing campaign on the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant, whom Lincoln had made lieutenant common in control of all U.S. armies, arrange his headquarters inside strolling distance of Meade’s. As such, Grant started making strategic selections for the Military of the Potomac. Meade didn’t confront Grant over management of his military, realizing that such infighting could be injurious to the Union trigger.

Gen. Daniel E. Sickles famously photographed along with his lacking appendage. (Library of Congress)

Because the press started writing about “Grant’s Military” and his public star pale, Meade soldiered on, working carefully with Grant and doing what he might to win battles and shorten the struggle. Margaret, it must be no shock, was sad with Grant’s ascendency over her husband.

Meade, nevertheless, defended Grant, writing her on Could 23, 1864:

I’m sorry you’ll not change your opinion of Grant, I feel you anticipate an excessive amount of of him. I don’t suppose he’s a really magnanimous man, however I consider he’s above any littleness, and no matter injustice is completed to me, and it’s idle to disclaim that my place is a really unjust one, I consider it isn’t intentional on his half, however arises from the pressure of circumstances, and from weak point inherent in human nature which compels a person to look to his personal pursuits.

Meade’s uneasy relationship with the press turned toxic when he expelled a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter from the Military of the Potomac camp for falsely writing that he had wished to retreat after the Battle of the Wilderness. In retaliation, AOP struggle correspondents banded collectively and agreed to disregard Meade and solely write articles that put him in a nasty gentle. This press hostility additional darkened Meade’s status. He poured out his frustration in a July 17, 1864, letter to Margaret.

I had a go to as we speak from Common Grant, who was the primary to inform me of the assault within the Instances based mostly upon my order expelling two correspondents. Grant expressed himself very a lot irritated on the injustice achieved to me, which he stated was obvious, as a result of my order distinctly states that it was by his route that these males have been prohibited from remaining with the military. He acknowledged there was an evident intention to carry me accountable for all that was condemned and to reward him for all that was commendable.

The press was fast guilty Meade solely for the Battle of the Crater catastrophe on July 30, 1864. A mine had been dug beneath the Accomplice fortifications at Petersburg, full of gunpowder, and spectacularly exploded beneath Brig. Gen. Stephen Elliott Jr.’s South Carolina Brigade. Union troops beneath ninth Corps commander Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside delayed advancing past the large crater created by the explosion and have been savagely counterattacked by the Confederates.

On August 9, 1864, Meade wrote Margaret of his exasperation with the press:

The try to implicate me within the latest fiasco was really ridiculous. Nonetheless the general public should in time be influenced by these repeated and fixed assaults, nevertheless unfaithful and unjustifiable they might be. Have you ever ever thought that for the reason that first week after Gettysburg, now greater than a yr, I’ve by no means been alluded to in public journals besides to abuse and vilify me?

The Crater debacle attracted the eye of Congress, and 4 members of the Joint Committee descended on Meade’s headquarters close to Petersburg to research. It was removed from an goal inquiry. On December 20, 1864, Meade wrote Margaret:

Members of the Committee on the Conduct of the Struggle made their look to research the Mine affair. They gave me a listing of witnesses to be referred to as, from which I noticed without delay that their object was to censure me, as all of the officers have been Burnside’s buddies….I requested the committee to name earlier than them Common Hunt and Colonel Duane; these officers got here out laughing, and stated as quickly as they started to say something that was unfavorable to Burnside, they stopped them and stated that was sufficient, clearly exhibiting they solely wished to listen to proof of 1 sort.

The press assaults continued unabated. On October 13, 1864, The New York Unbiased harshly blamed Meade for Grant’s incapability to defeat Lee:

The advance was arrested, the entire motion interrupted, the protection of a military imperiled, the plans of the marketing campaign pissed off—and all as a result of one common, whose incompetence, indecision, half-heartedness within the struggle have time and again been demonstrated….Allow us to chasten our impatient hope of victory as long as Common Meade retains his maintain on the gallant Military of the Potomac. He holds his place by advantage of no private qualification, however in deference to a presumed, fictitious, perverted, political necessity, and who hangs upon the neck of Common Grant like an Outdated Man of the Sea whom he longs to be rid of, and who he retains solely in deference to the weak complaisance of his constitutional Commander-in-Chief.

The Unbiased’s assault deeply troubled Meade, who discovered it “fiendish and malicious.” By the point he met with Grant, he was contemplating leaving the Military of the Potomac. On October 29, he wrote Margaret:

I instructed him that…I didn’t need to embarrass Mr. Lincoln, nor did I want to retain command by mere sufferance; and that, until some measures have been taken to fulfill the general public and silence the persistent rumors towards me, I ought to desire being relieved….In all profitable operations I’m ignored, and the second something went incorrect I used to be held wholly accountable.

To handle Meade’s request for a present of public assist, Grant urged Lincoln to maneuver ahead with Meade’s nomination to main common of the Common Military. Grant had proposed William Tecumseh Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and Meade on the identical time for promotion, however later requested the president to delay Meade’s promotion so he wouldn’t rank Sherman. Meade was upset when his promotion was delayed, significantly as a result of Sheridan, whom he had clashed with when Sheridan was his Cavalry Corps commander, would rank him. At Grant’s request, Lincoln went ahead with Meade’s nomination, including a sweetener by post-dating it to August so Meade would rank Sheridan. He was pleased with the president’s public endorsement, writing Margaret on November 25, 1864:

Common Grant instructed me that…the President…had hesitated when appointing Sheridan on the very floor of its seeming injustice to me, and…at Common Grant’s suggestion, ordered the Secretary to make out my appointment to August nineteenth, the date of the seize of the Weldon Railroad, thus making me rank Sheridan….As justice is thus lastly achieved I’m glad….At one factor I’m significantly gratified, and that’s at this proof of Grant’s truthfulness and sincerity….I’m glad that he’s actually and really pleasant to me.

The Senate confirmed Meade’s nomination to main common, however that public acknowledgment of his deserves as a army chief didn’t enhance his standing with the press. He grew despondent with the unfair protection of the climactic Appomattox Marketing campaign, writing Margaret on April 10, 1865:

I’ve seen however few newspapers since this motion commenced, and I don’t need to see any extra, for they’re stuffed with falsehood, and of undue and exaggerated reward of sure people who take pains to be on the correct aspect of reporters. Don’t fear your self about this, deal with it with contempt. It can’t be remedied, and we must be resigned. I don’t consider the reality ever shall be identified, and I’ve a fantastic contempt for historical past. Solely let the struggle be completed, and I returned to you and the expensive kids, and I shall be glad.

Grant didn’t embody Meade, or anybody from the Military of the Potomac, within the Appomattox Court docket Home give up assembly with Lee on the McLean Home. The newspapers ignored his function in forcing Lee’s give up whereas extolling Sheridan’s. Meade was enormously embittered on the unjust press protection, writing Margaret on April 12, 1865:

Your indignation on the exaggerated reward given to sure officers, and the ignoring of others is kind of pure. I’ve totally carried out my obligation and have achieved my justifiable share of sensible work simply accomplished, but when the press is set to disregard this, and the folks decided, after 4 years’ expertise of press mendacity, to consider what the newspapers say, I don’t see there may be something for us however to submit and be resigned. Grant, I don’t contemplate so legal. With Sheridan, it isn’t so. His dedication to soak up the credit score of all the things achieved is so manifest as to have attracted the eye of the entire military, and the reality in time shall be identified.

Meade died at age 56 in 1872, with out writing a memoir or publicly rebuking Sickles’ falsehoods and distortions about Gettysburg. Sickles lived to 94 and continued to his demise in 1914 heralding his heroics at Gettysburg whereas disparaging Meade’s generalship. The Joint Committee’s stories on Gettysburg and the Battle of the Crater have been vital of Meade and negatively impacted his status. In an effort to have their ancestor’s voice heard and to stability the historic report, Meade’s son and grandson, George Meade and George Gordon Meade, printed his letters in 1913 in The Life and Letters of Common George Gordon Meade.

Meade along with his employees in Culpeper, Virginia, 1863. (Library of Congress)

In a 1961 article, The Unusual Popularity of Common Meade, famous historian Edwin Coddington wrote that Sickles’ assaults on Meade “enormously contributed to an unfavorable opinion of him as a commanding common, which has persevered to at the present time.” Coddington concluded that, “Sickles’ persistence in persevering with his feud lengthy after Meade’s demise in 1872 had deep and lasting results on publicists and historians of the battle,” and that “Sickles achieved a big measure of success” in his marketing campaign to sully Meade’s title.

Bruce Catton’s ebook Glory Street is however one instance of Sickles’ success at making a narrative the place some historians deny Meade credit score for his Gettysburg victory. Catton wrote that when Lincoln positioned Meade in command, the troops, “in impact…had no chief,” and that Meade received the battle “mainly as a result of his males have been incomparably good troopers.” Historians akin to Coddington and Stephen W. Sears acknowledge of their Gettysburg books Meade’s important and energetic function in successful the battle. Sears wrote that Meade reacted to “Sickles’ folly” by making “two vital, rapid-fire selections,” ordering reinforcements to assist Sickles and dispatching Brig. Gen. Gouverneur Warren to Little Spherical Prime to see if it was protected. Sears praised Meade for “anticipating the wants of his generals, then performing decisively to fulfill them.”

There are causes apart from Sickles’ vendetta that contribute to Meade not being a extra outstanding historic determine, together with his cautious pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg, Grant’s immense presence and his unfair remedy by the press. However Coddington’s scholarship exhibits the paramount motive that Meade’s contributions are sometimes missed was Sickles’ success in tarnishing his status.

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