Connections

Detail of the monument to William Worth in New York City’s Worth Square.

I was up in New York City the other day, and the visit made me wonder if the entire world has invisible connections  to George Meade, if only you know where to find them. While my wife visited foodie heaven of the Eataly in the Flatiron District, I wandered around the neighborhood where, much to my surprise, I discovered the granite obelisk that rises above the gravesite of Major General William Worth at the aptly named Worth Square.

The tall column bore the names of the various battles in which Worth fought, starting with the War of 1812’s battles of Lundy’s Lane and Chippawa. It also included the names of several battles from the Mexican-American War, including Monterrey. That’s why I knew Worth’s name—because George Meade fought with Worth during the Mexican-American War.

Like Meade, Worth served with Zachary Taylor’s army. During the long buildup to war Worth became involved in a testy fight over the status of his brevet rank. A brevet rank is purely honorary, the equivalent of the government’s pat on the back for a job well done. Meade once described a brevet as a “fictitious rank.” A colonel who gets a brevet promotion to general is technically still a colonel. Colonel Worth received the brevet rank of brigadier general for his service in the Seminole War in Florida. Colonel David Twiggs did not have a brevet rank but his rank as colonel predated Worth’s. Worth insisted his brevet made him senior to Twiggs. “The question then arose who would command in case of the death of General Taylor, and after much discussion and excitement, numerous petitions were sent to the President and Congress, and finally the President made a decision adverse to the brevet,” Meade explained in a letter to his wife. Worth resigned from the army in a huff and set off on the long trip back to Washington to complain.

General William Worth.

Meade believed Worth’s actions were “most ill-judged and unfortunate” and that he should have waited until all possibilities of conflict had passed before leaving. “There are many points in General Worth’s character that I admire exceedingly,” Meade wrote. “He is a gallant and brave soldier, but he wants ordinary judgment; he is irritable and deficient in self-command.” (One could apply those last complaints to Meade—and some people did.)

Fortunately for Worth, the war with Mexico unfolded very slowly. He managed to reach Washington, repent his decision, and return to Mexico before Taylor was ready to advance on Monterrey.  (He did, however miss the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.) Meade was assigned to accompany the general to build a depot at Seralvo, Mexico, on the route Taylor’s army would be taking from Camargo to Monterrey. He did not want to leave Taylor, but later admitted to his wife that he had been “agreeably disappointed in my service with General Worth, having been treated with all possible courtesy and kindness, and I hope I shall remain with him so long as he is in the advance.”

A depiction of Worth at the Battle of Monterrey. (Library of Congress)

In fact, Meade was back with Worth’s command during the fighting for Monterrey. Unlike Meade, who got sent home, Worth fought all the way to Mexico City. (He then fought with General Winfield Scott, with the two generals, once fast friends, filing charges and countercharges against each other.) Worth died in San Antonio in 1849 while commanding the army’s Department of Texas. His body was reinterred in New York City in 1857. The historical marker on the cast-iron fence informed me this is the city’s second oldest monument (the oldest being the George Washington  at Union Square). It is also one of only two monuments in the city that are also mausoleums, the other one being Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb. Meade, of course, served with both men.

When I rounded the corner in New York City and came face-to-face with this memorial to General Worth, I felt like I had suddenly bumped into an old acquaintance. I took out my camera phone and was snapping some photos when a white-bearded man, his face red from the sun and a large camera bag hanging from his shoulder, approached me. “So you’re interested in General Worth, are you?” he asked.

I told him I was actually more interested in George Meade and explained that Meade had known Worth during the Mexican War. We then had a nice chat about Worth and war and cannons and all sorts of things. Turns out my new friend was working on a history of the army’s Fort Slocum in New Rochelle, New York. “Ah! Named after one of Meade’s corps commanders!” I said.

“It’s all gone now,” he told me. Still, we agreed that history is all around us—you just need to know where to look. And when you find it, don’t be surprised if you also discover a connection to George Gordon Meade.

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