Three Distinguished Gentlemen (February 1, 1865)

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy (Library of Congress).

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy (Library of Congress).

George Meade has just returned to the army after a short leave in Philadelphia His letter back home from February 1 is a very interesting one. In it, he tells his wife about his encounter with three peace commissioners sent by the Confederacy to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. The commissioners were Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice president; assistant secretary of war John A. Campbell; and Robert M. T. Hunter, a Confederate senator. Their mission ended in failure because Lincoln stuck to his position that the requirements for peace included reunification of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

Clearly, Meade feels that he should not have spent time talking with the commissioners. I have even read an interview with one historian who says Meade’s actions here were treasonous. I can’t agree with that assessment at all. In his conversations with the rebels, Meade said nothing contrary to Lincoln’s stand that the only want to end the war was for the seceded states to return to the Union and for slavery to end, nor did he offer suggestions for ways in which the commissioners could circumvent Lincoln or suggest negotiating tactics. I think the charge of treason is ludicrous. Perhaps Meade transgressed the bounds of propriety, but he was not doing anything to undermine Lincoln, or to provide “aid and comfort to the enemy.”

In anyone went outside the boundaries, it was Grant. He knew that Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were both wary of meeting with the commissioners, whose instructions including making peace between the “two countries.” “At this point Grant, who was increasingly eager to finish off the war and who was not attuned to the niceties of diplomatic negotiations, intervened,” wrote Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald. “He persuaded the commissioners to delete from their instructions the reference to two separate countries and wired to Washington that he hoped Lincoln would meet with them.”

After Meade’s letter, I include Grant’s view of the delegation.

I reached City Point at twelve o’clock last night, having had a very comfortable journey via Annapolis. We found a good deal of ice in the Chesapeake Bay and considerable in the James River; but to-day has been so mild and pleasant I think the ice will disappear.

From all I can gather, the Secretary’s telegram must have been based on something Ord sent to Washington; for Grant did not return till Monday night, and in ignorance of Mr. Stanton’s telegram, sent me one himself, yesterday morning.

I found on my arrival, last night, that three distinguished gentlemen, Mr. Alexander Stephens (Vice President of the Confederacy), Mr. R. M. T. Hunter (formerly United States Senator from Virginia), and Mr. Campbell, of Alabama (formerly Judge United States Supreme Court), were in our lines, having been passed in by General Grant, on their expressing a wish to go to Washington. After Grant had admitted them, he received a telegram from Washington directing they be retained outside our lines until a messenger despatched from Washington could arrive. They are now awaiting this messenger. They do not profess to be accredited commissioners, but state they are informal agents, desiring to visit the President and ascertain if any measures are practicable for the termination of the war. I called this morning, with General Grant, on them, and remained after General Grant left, and talked very freely with them. I told them very plainly what I thought was the basis on which the people of the North would be glad to have peace, namely, the complete restoration of the Union and such a settlement of the slavery question as should be final, removing it forever as a subject of strife. Mr. Stephens suggested that, if we could stop fighting, the matter might be discussed. I told him promptly that was entirely out of the question; that we could not stop fighting unless it was for good, and that he might be assured any proposals based on a suspension of hostilities would not be received. Mr. Stephens then said they did not consider the slavery question as so formidable a difficulty, but they feared the difficulty would be to obtain such modification of the old Constitution as would protect the States, in case of other questions arising to produce strife. I said if you mean to propose a reorganization and change in our Government, I don’t think you will meet with any success. We are satisfied with our Constitution, and you seem to be, since yours is identically ours, excepting the protection you give to slavery. Mr. Hunter then asked me what we proposed to do with the slaves after freeing them, as it was well known they would not work unless compelled. I replied this was undoubtedly a grave question, but not insurmountable; that they must have labor, and the negroes must have support; between the two necessities I thought some system could be devised accommodating both interests, which would not be so obnoxious as slavery. They then said they thought it a pity this matter could not be left to the generals on each side, and taken out of the hands of politicians. I answered I had no doubt a settlement would be more speedily attained in this way, but I feared there was no chance for this.

We then conversed on general topics. Judge Campbell asked after your family, and Mr. Hunter spoke of Mr. Wise, and said he had brought two letters with him, one of which I herewith enclose.

I judge from my conversation that there is not much chance of peace; I fear we will split on the questions of an armistice and State rights. Still, I hope Mr. Lincoln will receive them and listen to all they have to say, for if it can be shown that their terms are impracticable, the country will be united for the further prosecution of the war. At the same time the selection of three most conservative of Southern men indicates most clearly to my mind an anxiety on the part of Mr. Davis to settle matters if possible. All this I have written you must be confidential, as it would not do to let it be known I had been talking with them, or what I said.

I do most earnestly pray something may result from this movement. When they came within our lines our men cheered loudly, and the soldiers on both sides cried out lustily, “Peace! peace!” This was intended as a compliment, and I believe was so taken by them.

I am sorry I could not stay longer with you, but I don’t believe I should have had any satisfaction, as every report brought in would have a recall telegram.

Here are Grant’s recollections of the peace commission, taken from his memoirs (Vol. II, pp 420-3, available via Google Books):

On the last of January, 1865, peace commissioners from the so-called Confederate States presented themselves on our lines around Petersburg, and were immediately conducted to my headquarters at City Point. They proved to be Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, Judge Campbell, Assistant-Secretary of War, and R. M. T. Hunter, formerly United States Senator and then a member of the Confederate Senate.

It was about dark when they reached my headquarters, and I at once conducted them to the steamer Mary Martin, a Hudson River boat which was very comfortably fitted up for the use of passengers. I at once communicated by telegraph with Washington and informed the Secretary of War and the President of the arrival of these commissioners and that their object was to negotiate terms of peace between the United States and, as they termed it, the Confederate Government. I was instructed to retain them at City Point, until the President, or some one whom he would designate, should come to meet them. They remained several days as guests on board the boat. I saw them quite frequently, though I have no recollection of having had any conversation whatever with them on the subject of their mission. It was something I had nothing to do with, and I therefore did not wish to express any views on the subject. For my own part I never had admitted, and never was ready to admit, that they were the representatives of a government. There had been too great a waste of blood and treasure to concede anything of the kind. As long as they remained there, however, our relations were pleasant and I found them all very agreeable gentlemen. I directed the captain to furnish them with the best the boat afforded, and to administer to their comfort in every way possible. No guard was placed over them and no restriction was put upon their movements; nor was there any pledge asked that they would not abuse the privileges extended to them. They were permitted to leave the boat when they felt like it, and did so, coming up on the bank and visiting me at my headquarters.

I had never met either of these gentlemen before the war, but knew them well by reputation and through their public services, and I had been a particular admirer of Mr. Stephens. I had always supposed that he was a very small man, but when I saw him in the dusk of the evening I was very much surprised to find so large a man as he seemed to be. When he got down on to the boat I found that he was wearing a coarse gray woollen overcoat, a manufacture that had been introduced into the South during the rebellion. The cloth was thicker than anything of the kind I had ever seen, even in Canada. The overcoat extended nearly to his feet, and was so large that it gave him the appearance of being an average-sized man. He took this off when he reached the cabin of the boat, and I was struck with the apparent change in size, in the coat and out of it.

After a few days, about the 2d of February, I received a dispatch from Washington, directing me to send the commissioners to Hampton Roads to meet the President and a member of the cabinet. Mr. Lincoln met them there and had an interview of short duration. It was not a great while after they met that the President visited me at City Point. He spoke of his having met the commissioners, and said he had told them that there would be no use in entering into any negotiations unless they would recognize, first: that the Union as a whole must be forever preserved, and second: that slavery must be abolished. If they were willing to concede these two points, then he was ready to enter into negotiations and was almost willing to hand them a blank sheet of paper with his signature attached for them to fill in the terms upon which they were willing to live with us in the Union and be one people. He always showed a generous and kindly spirit toward the Southern people, and I never heard him abuse an enemy. Some of the cruel things said about President Lincoln, particularly in the North, used to pierce him to the heart; but never in my presence did he evince a revengeful disposition—and I saw a great deal of him at City Point, for he seemed glad to get away from the cares and anxieties of the capital. Right here I might relate an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln. It was on the occasion of his visit to me just after he had talked with the peace commissioners at Hampton Roads. After a little conversation, he asked me if I had seen that overcoat of Stephens’s. I replied that I had. “Well,” said he, “did you see him take it off?” I said yes. “Well,” said he, “didn’t you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that ever you did see?” Long afterwards I told this story to the Confederate General J. B. Gordon, at the time a member of the Senate. He repeated it to Stephens, and, as I heard afterwards, Stephens laughed immoderately at the simile of Mr. Lincoln.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 258-60. Available via Google Books.

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And don’t forget the 2015 George Meade seminar in just two weeks. Click here for more details.

Now Available in Paperback!

paperback scanThe paperback edition of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg is now available! You can purchase it through Stackpole Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Here’s what the critics say:

“Despite his great victory at Gettysburg and his command of the army that forced Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, George Meade saw his fame eclipsed by that of Lee, Grant, and other Civil War generals. This book does a great deal to redress that historical injustice. Tom Huntington has invented a new genre of biography that shifts between past and present as he tells the story of Meade’s life and describes his own pilgrimage to the key sites of that life. The result is an engrossing narrative that the reader can scarcely put down.” –James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“Searching for George Gordon Meade is a splendid book! Well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-written, it’s a timely and vital addition to the all-too-meager literature on this neglected American hero. Strongly recommended for serious historians as well as for a general readership. Excellent!” –Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg

“Much more than another Civil War biography, Tom Huntington’s gripping personal ‘search’ for George Gordon Meade is unique and irresistible: a combination life story, military history, travelogue, and cultural commentary that brings us closer than ever to the old general and his strange reputation–and also opens new windows to our own unending search for an understandable national identity.” –Harold Holzer, author and Chairman of Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

Very Little Going On (January 22, 1865)

After writing this letter, General Meade left for Philadelphia. He reached there on January 28 and left to return to the army two days later. The main purpose for his visit was his oldest son, John Sergeant, who was near death with tuberculosis. Markoe Bache is Meade’s nephew and serves on the general’s staff; we have had of him before.

Markoe Bache, Meade's nephew (Library of Congress).

Markoe Bache, Meade’s nephew (Library of Congress).

Theodore Lyman remains in Boston. On January 18 he had received a letter from Meade, giving him permission to stay there indefinitely. “He is low in spirits, being anxious about his confirmation, and what is worse is eldest son is very low,” Lyman noted. The general also asked his aide to use what influence he had in Massachusetts to move Meade’s promotion forward, so Lyman wrote to Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson and businessman John Murray Forbes and met personally with Governor John A. Andrews. Lyman also noted that Seth Williams, the extremely capable assistant adjutant-general for the Army of the Potomac, had been promoted by Grant to be the army inspector general. You can read all of Lyman’s journal entries in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David W. Lowe (Kent State University Press, 2007). Highly recommended!

There is very little going on here. We have had a violent storm of rain. Grant is still away, and I have heard nothing from Markoe Bache, so that I am ignorant of what turn affairs are taking in Washington. I received a letter yesterday from Cram, enclosing me one from a correspondent in Washington, who advises him (Cram) that he has been reliably informed that I am likely to be rejected. Still, this may be a street rumor, circulated by those who want this result.

To-day Bishop Lee, of Delaware, held service in the chapel tent at these headquarters, and gave us a very good sermon. He came here with Bishop Janeway, of the Methodist Church, and a Mr. Jones, a lawyer from Philadelphia, who were a commission asking admission into the rebel lines, to visit our poor prisoners in their hands to relieve their spiritual wants; but I believe the Confederate authorities declined.

The Richmond papers are very severe on Davis, and there is every indication of discord among them. I hope to Heaven this will incline them to peace, and that there may be some truth in the many reports in the papers that something is going on!

(General Meade left head-quarters for Philadelphia where he arrived January 28. He left Philadelphia on the 30th.)

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 257-8. Available via Google Books.

Mortifying (January 21, 1865)

Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. Meade considered him a supporter in Washington (Library of Congress).

Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. Meade considered him a supporter in Washington (Library of Congress).

Although George Meade had received word that he would be promoted to major general in the regular army, the U.S. Senate has still not given its approval. The politicians in Washington had handled Meade roughly in the past, so he remains wary of the way he will be treated again. That is evident in this letter he wrote to his wife’s brother-in-law, Henry A. Cram, about the situation in Washington. Republican Senator Morton S. Wilkinson of Minnesota had already displayed his hostility toward Meade when he made a speech on the Senate floor in March 1864 alleging that the general had intended to retreat from Gettysburg. Word of this speech had been Meade’s first warning that the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had him in its sights. Henry Wilson was a Republican Senator from Massachusetts. Earlier in the war he had briefly served as an aide-de-camp to George McClellan, which may have made him less hostile than other Republicans to Meade’s former ties to McClellan. Wilson’s Senate Committee on Military Affairs was separate from the Joint Committee, and it acted with less hostility toward Union generals. Wilson later served as Grant’s second vice president.

Following Meade’s letters are the ones that Ulysses S. Grant wrote to further Meade’s cause. The Washburne to whom Grant wrote was his political patron, Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois.

Senator Morton S. Wilkinson. He was no friend to Meade  (Library of Congress).

Senator Morton S. Wilkinson. He was no friend to Meade (Library of Congress).

I have received yours of the 18th, with enclosures. The intelligence conveyed in Mr._____’s letter is not news to me, except that I have not been able to believe I was in danger of rejection. I, of course, expected opposition, and that it would be violent and malignant, being based on falsehood and personal hostility; but I did not suppose it would be formidable in numbers, and I have been relying on the truth, my record, and the fact that I was sustained by the Administration and Grant. I have, I know, some friends in the Senate, but they are few in number, being only such as I have accidentally met in the few visits I have paid to Washington. The Military Committee reported favorably on my nomination, but it is a rule of the Senate, when acting on nominations, to lay aside any name as soon as objection is made, so as to avoid discussion until they get through the list of those names to whom there is no objection offered. One man can thus postpone action in any case, and I take it this is all that has yet been done with me. Undoubtedly, when my name came up, either Mr. Wilkinson, of Minnesota, or Anthony, of Rhode Island, has objected, and under the rule I was laid aside. I expect to meet the opposition of the Tribune and Independent clique, then all such as can be influenced by ____, ____, ____,and others, each one of whom, of course, has some friends.

Whether they can concentrate enough votes to defeat me, remains to be seen. Grant is now in Washington. He promised to see Wilson, the Chairman of the Military Committee (who is friendly), and write a letter, to be read in the Senate, urging my confirmation. One difficulty I have to contend with is that those who are disposed to hit the President, Secretary or Grant, think they are doing so in hitting me. The nomination is, after all, only a compliment, and of no real practical value, as it will not deprive me of my superior rank in the volunteer service or my present command, the largest in the field. It is, nevertheless, mortifying to have a compliment thus detracted from.

LETTERS FROM GENERAL GRANT TO MR. WILSON, CHAIRMAN OF THE MILITARY COMMITTEE, AND MR. WASHBURNE, AT WASHINGTON, D. C., URGING GENERAL MEADE’S CONFIRMATION AS MAJOR-GENERAL IN THE REGULAR ARMY, MENTIONED IN LETTER OF JANUARY 21,1865.

Grant to Wilson:

City Point, Va., Jan. 23, 1865.

I see that Generals Thomas and Sheridan have been confirmed as Major Generals in the Regular Army, whilst no mention is made of General Meade’s confirmation to the same rank. From this I infer objections have been raised. This I regret.

General Meade was appointed at my solicitation after a campaign the most protracted, and covering more severely contested battles, than any of which we have any account in history.

I have been with General Meade during the whole campaign, and not only made the recommendation upon a conviction that this recognition of his services was fully won, but that he was eminently qualified for the command such rank would entitle him to.

I know General Meade well. What the objections raised to his confirmation are, I do not know. Did I know, I would address myself directly to these objections.

Hoping that your Honorable Body will consider this case favorably, etc.

Grant to Washburne (in part):

City Point, Va., Jan. 23, 1865.

I see some objections are raised to Meade’s confirmation as Major-General in the regular army. What the objections are I do not know and cannot therefore address myself to them. General Meade is one of our truest men and ablest officers. He has been constantly with that army confronting the strongest, best appointed and most confident army in the South. He therefore has not had the same opportunity of winning laurels so distinctly marked as have fallen to the lot of other Generals. But I defy any man to name a commander who would do more than he has done with the same chances.

I am satisfied, with a full knowledge of the man, what he has done, and the circumstances attending all his military acts, all objections would be removed. I wrote a letter to Senator Wilson to day in his behalf, which I hope will have some weight. If you can put in a word with some of the Senators particularly those who oppose his confirmation and are willing to do it, I will feel much obliged.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 256-7. Grant’s letters are from pp. 343-4. Available via Google Books.

A Most Important and Brilliant Success (January 17, 1864)

A Currier & Ives print depicts the capture of Fort Fisher. The caption read: "Both the Army and Navy were engaged in this great exploit, the most terrific of its kind on record. The Iron clads and Frigates under command of Rear Admiral Porter poured in a most destructive fire of shot and shell; while the gallant Soldiers under Genl. A.H. Terry rushed to the assault, and after a bloody contest of several hours, drove the Rebels out of their strong hold, capturing over 2000 prisoners, the rebel Genl. Whiting, and 75 Guns of large calibre; many of them of 'celebrated English make'. Three cheers for the Army and Navy!" Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A Currier & Ives print depicts the capture of Fort Fisher. The caption read: “Both the Army and Navy were engaged in this great exploit, the most terrific of its kind on record. The Iron clads and Frigates under command of Rear Admiral Porter poured in a most destructive fire of shot and shell; while the gallant Soldiers under Genl. A.H. Terry rushed to the assault, and after a bloody contest of several hours, drove the Rebels out of their strong hold, capturing over 2000 prisoners, the rebel Genl. Whiting, and 75 Guns of large calibre; many of them of ‘celebrated English make’. Three cheers for the Army and Navy!” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The reason Meade believes the fall of Fort Fisher will be bad news for Benjamin Butler is because Butler lost his command of the Army of the James because of his failure to take the fort back in December. The fort, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, controlled access to Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open port for the Confederacy. Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel’s XXV Corps (African-American troops led by white officers) had made the unsuccessful land attack. When the attack stalled, Butler had pulled out rather than follow Grant’s orders to place the fort under siege. A second attack, led by Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry (with support, once again, by a naval force under Adm. David Porter) captured the fort on January 15.

The interior of Fort Fisher (Library of Congress).

The interior of Fort Fisher (Library of Congress).

To-day we have the news that the second expedition has succeeded in taking Fort Fisher, which is a most important and brilliant success. It will, however, have a most damaging effect on Butler’s case, and will also materially injure Weitzel’s reputation. I must confess I thought Butler’s report cleared him in every particular except two. First, he should not have wasted three days, waiting for the enemy, when he knew the fort was weakly garrisoned. Secondly, he should not have left there because an assault was impracticable; and his statement that a siege was not within his instructions, is contradicted by Grant’s written instructions, which say that, if a landing is effected, and the work not carried, he is to entrench and hold on. There will, no doubt, be bitter controversy on these points.

Grant has been away for three days, to parts unknown, though I suppose Wilmington.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 256. Available via Google Books.

Unmerited Censure (January 14, 1865)

The relationship between George Meade and Ulysses Grant is often portrayed as antagonistic, with Meade complaining about the general-in-chief. That wasn’t always the case. Here we have another example of Meade defending Grant against charges he hadn’t done enough. Meade, of course, knew all too well what that kind of criticism felt like.

John Gibbon had commanded a division in the II Corps. Webb is Alexander Webb, who had commanded a brigade under Gibbon at Gettysburg and had been serving as Meade’s chief of staff.

John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

John Gibbon (Library of Congress).

I am sorry to hear what you write people say of Grant, because it is unjust, and I do not approve of injustice to any one. Grant undoubtedly has lost prestige, owing to his failure to accomplish more, but as I know it has not been in his power to do more, I cannot approve of unmerited censure, any more than I approved of the fulsome praise showered on him before the campaign commenced. Butler’s removal has caused great excitement everywhere. He will have some very powerful influences exerted in his favor, and he will use them efficiently. I see Wilson has moved in the Senate that the Committee on the Conduct of the War enquire and report on the Wilmington fiasco. This is the beginning of a war on Grant.

Gibbon has been assigned to the Twenty-fourth Corps, in Ord’s place, who takes Butler’s army. This has pleased him very much, and when here to-day to say good-by he was in quite a good humor. I shall probably have to send Webb to Gibbon’s division, although I believe he would prefer remaining on my staff.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 256. Available via Google Books.

Recalled (January 10, 1865)

One of the wharves at City Point, in a photograph taken during January 1865 (Library of Congress).

One of the wharves at City Point, in a photograph taken sometime in January 1865 (Library of Congress).

General Meade has returned to camp. He left the army for Philadelphia on December 30 and stayed there until he received a message recalling him on January. The visit home was tinged with sadness because of the failing health of his oldest son, John Sergeant. The return trip was not uneventful, as Meade describes in his letter of January 10. He also mentions the dismissal of Benjamin Butler. Grant had long longed to rid himself of the cockeyed political general, and Butler finally gave him the opportunity the general-in-chief sought by bungling an attack on Fort Fisher in North Carolina. Grant sent him packing.

I reached City Point at 6 p.m. to-day. I found the cause of my recall to be as I expected. General Grant had received information of Lee’s sending off two divisions of troops, and was, and is, under the impression that it is the commencement of the evacuation of Richmond. Should this prove to be the case, or should Lee materially weaken his force, we will take the initiative, and for this contingency I was required. I explained to General Grant Sergeant’s condition and my earnest desire to remain with him. He expressed regret he had not known all I told him, and promised to let me return to Philadelphia as soon as this affair was settled. As I do not believe Lee is going to give us any chance, I am in hopes it will not be long before I return. I telegraphed you this morning from Fortress Monroe, because we had last night an accident on the bay, which I feared might be exaggerated in the papers, and you alarmed. The night was dark and foggy, and we were run into by a schooner. Fortunately the damage was confined to the upper works, and although four lives were lost, and several bruised, we received no material injury, and our boat continued on. For a time, however, before the extent of the injury was known, there was much alarm and excitement on board our boat, which was unusually crowded, owing to the ice on the Potomac.

The great subject of discussion in the army is the recent relieving of General Butler. He was relieved by the President, on Grant’s request. The particular cause had not been made public.

It is hardly necessary I should tell you how much I have suffered since I left you. All I can do is earnestly to pray God to have mercy on dear Sergeant and yourself, and to give you strength to bear up under the affliction you are visited with. My heart is too full to write more.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 255. Available via Google Books.

An Action-Packed Bicentennial Year!

The cover of the paperback edition.

The cover of the paperback edition.

With George Meade’s 199th birthday ceremony rapidly receding in the rear view, it’s time to look forward at the next big events in the Meade universe. There are several coming right up. The first will take place way across the Atlantic Ocean on January 30, when the city of Cadiz, Spain will unveil a plaque on the house where the future general was born on December 31, 1815. The event, sponsored by the Literary, Artistic and Scientific Athenaeum of Cadiz, will take place at noon at the Plaza de España n.4. The American ambassador to Spain, the mayor of Cadiz, and the U.S. Naval commander at Rota will attend. I wish I had the budget to get there myself! I will try to obtain some photos from the ceremony and post them here.

The next big event—from my standpoint, anyway—will be the paperback publication of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. That will be available on February 1, for the very affordable price of $19.95. If you don’t already have the book, here’s your chance to correct the oversight.

February is also the month for the annual Meade Symposium, sponsored by the General Meade Society of Philadelphia. The date this year will be Sunday, February 15, and the venue West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. Bad snowstorms last year forced the cancellation of the event, so keep your fingers crossed that the weather goods are feeling more beneficent in 2015. It should be a fun and fascinating day (I’ve posted the program below. Click on the image to enlarge.) Dr. Andy Waskie will talk about Meade’s early life, Jerry McCormick will discuss Meade’s military career through Fredericksburg, Ralph Peters will handle the rest of the Civil War, and I’ll talk about Meade’s post-war life. Jim Schmick of Civil War and More will be on hand with a fine selection of books, and the always dependable Kearney Kommissary will provide food. Make your reservation now!

The program for the 2015 Meade Symposium. Click to enlarge.

The program for the 2015 Meade Symposium. Click to enlarge.

2015 is, of course, Meade’s bicentennial year, and already my calendar is filling with Meade-centric events. I have talks scheduled for Chicago, Milwaukee, Petersburg, Chambersburg, Richmond, Gettysburg and Philadelphia. You can keep abreast of events right here.

And if you want a place to write things down, boy, do I have a calendar for you!

2014 Birthday Celebration

The scene at the Meade family plot on December 31, 2014 (Tom Huntington photo).

The scene at the Meade family plot on December 31, 2014 (Tom Huntington photo).

There are a few people who, when asked the musical question “What are you doing New Year’s Eve,” will answer, “Standing in a cemetery drinking champagne.” Those people are the folks who go to Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery each December 31 to drink a champagne toast at General George Gordon Meade’s gravesite on the general’s birthday.

Dr. Andy Waskie makes some opening remarks, helped by Jerry McCormick, the Meade Society treasurer (Tom Huntington photo).

Dr. Andy Waskie makes some opening remarks, helped by Jerry McCormick, the Meade Society treasurer (Tom Huntington photo).

I guess technically it’s not really New Year’s Eve. It’s really the day of New Year’s Eve, but why quibble? It is the last day of the old year, and the event definitely takes place in a cemetery. This year a good-sized group gathered on a bright but cold and blustery afternoon to commemorate the generals 199th birthday. Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, once again served as the master of ceremonies for the event, the 24th annual. After making some introductory remarks by the cemetery’s gatehouse, he led the procession of reenactors, VIPs, and ordinary civilians through the cemetery down to the gravesite.

A visitor holds a brochure about the 2014 event (Tom Huntington photo).

A visitor holds a brochure about the 2014 event (Tom Huntington photo).

Living historians prepare to fire volleys over Meade's grave (Tom Huntington photo).

Living historians prepare to fire volleys over Meade’s grave (Tom Huntington photo).

A cold wind blew across the Schuylkill River as speakers made short remarks. Beck’s band played a few numbers, including the “General Meade Funeral March.” (It could not have been easy to play brass instruments in the cold!) then there was a wreath-laying ceremony and the champagne toast. Back at the gatehouse, the visitors enjoyed a buffet luncheon and socializing.

The speakers at this year's graveside ceremony (Tom Huntington photo).

The speakers at this year’s graveside ceremony (Tom Huntington photo).

Mark your calendars for next year, which will be Meade’s bicentennial birthday celebration. It’s sure to be a big event, capping a year that will also mark the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War.

Volley

Instrument

Happy 199th Birthday, General Meade!

A wreath at General Meade's gravesite, from the 2013 birthday commemoration (Tom Huntington photo).

A wreath at General Meade’s gravesite, from the 2013 birthday commemoration (Tom Huntington photo).

George Gordon Meade was born on this day 199 years ago. (December 31 is also his wedding anniversary.) It has become an annual tradition for the General Meade Society of Philadelphia to hold a commemorative ceremony at the general’s grave at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. I encourage anyone in the Philadelphia area to attend. I plan to be there, and I will have copies of my books and the 2015 George Gordon Meade Calendar available for purchase. It’s always a fun event and a great opportunity to spend the last day of the year in a cemetery! Here’s the society’s announcement:

GENERAL MEADE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
The annual General Meade Birthday Celebration will mark the 199th anniversary of the birth of General George G. Meade, commander of the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg. A parade of Civil War re-enactors, civilians in period attire, special dignitaries, heritage groups and participants will advance to Meade’s final resting place and memorialize his services to his nation. A 21-gun salute and champagne toast will cap off the program at graveside, and will be followed by a reception in the Cemetery Gatehouse. A tour of historic Laurel Hill will be offered following the festivities (weather permitting). This year holds special significance as we continue to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.
The event will take place on Wednesday, December 31 at 12:00pm, departing from Laurel Hill Cemetery’s Gatehouse entrance at 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19132. Free parking is located in the lot across the street from the Gatehouse.
Free and open to the public; a $10 donation in support of Laurel Hill Cemetery’s work and preservation is suggested and would be much appreciated. Additional information can be found by calling (215) 228-8200.
I intend to post photos from this year’s event today or tomorrow, so stay tuned!
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