Happy Birthday!

WreathYesterday (December 31, 2012) marked General George Gordon Meade’s 197th birthday and the General Meade Society of Philadelphia once again commemorated the event at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, where Meade is buried. About 150 people braved the cold to march in a procession through the snowy cemetery to the general’s grave for the 22nd annual birthday celebration. Dr. Andy Waskie, the Meade Society’s founder and president, served as the event’s organizer and master of ceremonies. The commemoration led up to a champagne toast at the gravesite and then the somewhat numbed attendees returned to the cemetery gate house for a buffet luncheon, beer, wine and birthday cake.

The procession forms up at the Laurel Hill Cemetery gatehouse for the march down to Meade's grave.

The procession forms up at the Laurel Hill Cemetery gatehouse for the march down to Meade’s grave.

In his talk, Waskie read a portion of a letter that Meade had written to his eldest son, John Sergeant, exactly 150 years earlier, on December 31, 1862. The Army of the Potomac had only recently suffered its terrible repulse at Fredericksburg. Meade wrote:

Your kind letter, dated Christmas, was received yesterday, and I am very much obliged to you for your affectionate remembrance of me. You say truly, we have a great deal to be thankful for, and when we consider the distress and mourning that is around us, our hearts ought to be filled with gratitude for the mercy that has been extended.

John is very much pleased at George’s being here, and takes great interest in all that relates to him. George has taken a great fancy to a little black mare I have, belonging to the Government, which he has given me various hints he thought I might buy and present to him, and in this little scheme to diminish my finances to the tune of one hundred and twenty dollars, he has the hearty co-operation of Master John, who regularly informs me every morning he thinks the boy ought to have the black mare.

I have sent George’s name to the President for appointment as one of my aides, with the rank of captain.

To-day is my wedding and birthday. To-day I enter on the forty-seventh year of my life and the twenty-third of my wedded existence. I had hoped to spend this day with your dear mother and my darling children, but my promotion to the Fifth Corps and the number of generals that have been sent to testify before the Porter and McDowell courts have prevented my getting away. Should it be decided the army is to go into winter quarters, I may yet have a chance, though I hardly have much hope.

The John whom Meade mentions was his servant. George was Meade’s son, who was serving with the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Rush’s Lancers). The Porter and McDowell courts were those investigating the conduct of generals Fitz John Porter and Irvin McDowell at Second Bull Run. It’s just one sign of the dysfunction that plagued the Army of the Potomac only five months before Meade would take command.

Living historians prepare to fire a salute at Meade's gravesite.

Living historians prepare to fire a salute at Meade’s gravesite.

The cold weather kept me from taking any notes about what the other speakers said. I preferred to keep my hands in my pockets, especially when a wintry wind blew across the Schuylkill River and over the cemetery. Al Willis, one of the few African-American Marine veterans of World War II, made some brief remarks, leading to recognition of the living historians of the 3rd United States Colored Troops. Today (January 1) is the 150th anniversary of the day Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and 2013 will mark the USCT’s 150th anniversary as well.


Dr. Andy Waskie speaks at the General Meade Society’s 22nd annual birthday celebration at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

The birthday commemoration is always a fun and memorable event and I salute those people who show up each year to pay tribute to George Gordon Meade, the victor of Gettysburg.


The playing of “Taps” (a bugle call written by Meade nemesis Daniel Butterfield) ends the graveside ceremony.

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  1. Michael Wunsch

     /  January 1, 2013

    Another great tribute to Gen. George Gordon Meade upon his birthday and wedding anniversary, please everyone join in the effort to remember and honor General Meade’s memory and service to the nation.

    Michael Wunsch Philadelphia, PA

    Secretary, General Meade Society of Philadelphia mwungms@aol.com

  2. Jim Cooke

     /  January 3, 2013

    Sorry I couldn’t attend this year. Thanks to the General Meade Society for enlivening the legacy of George Gordon Meade.

    Jim Cooke
    Laurel, MD


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