Two Generals

Outside the Eisenhower's house in Gettysburg

Outside the Eisenhowers’ house in Gettysburg

While spending the day at Gettysburg last week, Beth Ann and I decided to visit the Eisenhower farm. We had been there several years ago but back then we had two young children in tow and that meant we had to move pretty quickly through the place, prodded along by incessant queries of “Can we go now?” This time we had no kids to nag u,s but we were on the last tour of the day so we still had a deadline.

Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower bought the house and farm on the western edge of the battlefield in 1950 but couldn’t make it their permanent home until after Ike finished his second term as president. Ike did know the area fairly well, having served during World War I as the commander of Camp Colt, the army’s training center for the tank corps, which was actually on part of the battlefield. After he bought the house he liked to take visiting dignitaries on battlefield tours.

The sitting room, stuffed with framed pictures, bric a brac and glass cases with ceramic figures. No wonder Ike found it stuffy.

The sitting room, stuffed with framed pictures, bric a brac and glass cases with ceramic figures. No wonder Ike found it stuffy.

In the sitting room (which Ike didn’t like because it was so stuffy) I spotted matching Meade and Lee figurines, both on horseback, atop one of the display cabinets. The fireplace in the room was one that Ulysses S. Grant had taken from the White House in 1873, which Ike later acquired. I also spied a framed print of John Batchelder’s map of Gettysburg hanging in one of the rooms.

Overall the place seemed like something that would have been occupied by slightly stuffy grandparents. I got the sense that it probably wasn’t a lot of fun for the grandkids to hang around—I bet there were lots of rules, spoken and unspoken, about how to behave around the general and ex-president. But, furnished as it was with original belongings, it had real feeling of having been lived in. It was almost like the Eisenhowers had just stepped away for the afternoon while we visited.

I found another Meade reference in the gift shop, when I was thumbing through Ike’s book At Ease. In it he writes a bit about the Battle of Gettysburg and talks about Meade’s reactions when he arrived on the field late on the night of July 1, after having been in command for only three says. “No council of war could be called,” wrote Ike. “No delay for a leisurely study would be permitted by Lee. The decision had to be made. And the decision was solely Meade’s responsibility. As he turned his horse, he is quoted as saying, almost to himself: ‘We may fight it out here just as well as anywhere else.’ Then he quietly rode away to issue the orders that would make his decision operative.

“In all this, there is neither visible drama nor glamour; only the loneliness of one man on whose mind weighed the fate of ninety thousand comrades and of the Republic they served. Meade’s claims to greatness in that moment may very well be best evidenced by the total absence of the theatrical. When thousands of lives were at stake there was no time for postures or declamations.”

I thought this was especially interesting because it was a general writing about another general. Not a lot of people knew what it was like to bear that kind of leadership burden. Ike certainly did. I wonder if, as he wrote that, he cast his thoughts back to June 5, 1944, when he had to decide whether to go ahead with the D-Day landings or wait for better weather. Ike wasn’t a man who liked posturing and declamations; I guess he liked that about George Gordon Meade.

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