George Gordon Who?

Major General George Gordon Meade (1815-1872). Library of Congress photo.

History has pretty much given George Gordon Meade a bum deal. He helped save the Union as the commanding general at Gettysburg, but no one has written a major biography of him in years. Sure, he has a statue atGettysburg, but the memorial to the man he whipped, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, stands atop a pedestal that looks to be twice as high as Meade’s. In fact, history has been pretty good about putting Lee atop pedestals, despite the facts that he fought against a country to which he had sworn loyalty, to sustain a government that considered human slavery as its cornerstone. For many, Lee will always be the greatest general of them all. Except Meade beat Lee at Gettysburg.

Meade, it seems, is the Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War generals. He gets no respect. Ulysses S. Grant became president and occupies the $50 bill. Civil War soldiers Hayes, Garfield and McKinley also reached the White House. As for Meade: after the battle of Gettysburg President Abraham Lincoln wrote him a letter to chide him about not immediately counterattacking Lee’s army.

Adding insult to injury, later in the war Meade had to testify about his generalship at Gettysburg before a Congressional Committee, mainly because the man who had almost cost him the battle—General Daniel Sickles—was busy spreading rumors that Meade had intended to retreat from the battlefield.

In the last year or so of the war Meade also had Grant, now the general-in-chief of the Union armies, looking over his shoulder. And he had to deal with a conspiracy among newspaper reporters, who banded together and agreed not to mention Meade in their dispatches.

Meade didn’t get a statute in Washington, D.C., until 1927. It was one of the last Civil War memorials erected in the nation’s capital, and it got there only after years of bureaucratic wrangling.

There just ain’t no justice.

In Searching for Meade, I will combine travel and history into an engaging mix that will inform and entertain as I investigate the life and times of George Gordon Meade. Stackpole Books will publish it in February 2013, just in time for the 150th anniversary of Meade’s greatest triumph, the Battle of Gettysburg.

On this blog I’ll share a few of the things I learn as we build up to the book’s publication.

You can also find a preview of the book in this article from the June 2011 issue of Civil War Times magazine.

To find the blog posts from June 2012, go here.

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