John Segeant Meade, 1841-1865 (February 21, 1865)

Over the past few months, George Meade has agonized over the health of his oldest son, John Sergeant, who was dying of tuberculosis back in Philadelphia. Even 150 years later, you can still feel the anguish in this letter, as the general communicates his sense of being pulled between his duty to his position, and the duty to his family.

On the day that his father wrote this, John Sergeant Meade died of his disease.

I told George last evening to write to you and acknowledge the receipt of your letters of the 17th and 18th, also your telegram of the 20th. The latter I did not understand until this evening, when George received a letter from Jim Biddle, of the 19th, from which I infer Sergeant was considered sinking on Sunday, and finding him better on Monday, you telegraphed. George will leave to-morrow, and will take this. It is impossible for me to go to you, unless I resign my command. If I left for a short time, I should undoubtedly be recalled almost as soon as I reached there. Besides, to be with you for a few days would be but little satisfaction to you; and as to dear Sergeant, his condition is such that I presume it does not make much difference who is with him. For your sake I should like to be home, and for my own, but it is God’s will, and I must submit.

My duty to you and my children requires I should retain the high command I now have. My reputation and your interests are involved, and I cannot shut my eyes to these considerations, however cruel may be the conclusion that I cannot be at your side and that of my dear boy in this hour of agony and trial. We must all endeavor to be resigned to God’s will. We cannot avert the severe affliction with which it has pleased Him to visit us, doubtless for some good purpose. All we can do is to bear it with humility and resignation, and endeavor to profit by it, in preparing ourselves, as I believe my beloved son is prepared.

Dear Margaret, let me rely on your exhibiting in this, the greatest trial you have had in life, true Christian fortitude. Bear up, in the consciousness that you have ever devoted all the energy of a tender mother’s love to check and avert the fatal disease that is carrying off our first born; all that human power could do has been done. Our boy has had warning, and not only his good life, but the consciousness that he knew and was prepared for the change, should sustain us in that parting which had to be encountered one day, for we all must die in time.

George will tell you all about me.

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. 263-4. 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.

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