This Army Ceasing to Exist (June 28, 1865)

George Gordon Meade and his staff, photographed outside Washington in June 1865 (library of Congress).

George Gordon Meade and his staff, photographed outside Washington in June 1865 (library of Congress).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, the Army of the Potomac was officially disbanded. General George Gordon Meade had commanded the army longer than anyone else had—in fact, longer than all three of his predecessors combined. The army ended its existence exactly two years to the day after Meade had assumed command. The order he issued on June 28, 1865, follows, plus some commentary that appeared in Meade’s Life and Letters.

Headquarters Army of The Potomac, June 28, 1865

Soldiers:

This day, two years, I assumed command of you, under the order of the President of the United States. To-day, by virtue of the same authority, this army ceasing to exist, I have to announce my transfer to other duties, and my separation from you.

It is unnecessary to enumerate here all that has occurred in these two eventful years, from the grand and decisive Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war, to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Suffice it to say that history will do you justice, a grateful country will honor the living, cherish and support the disabled, and sincerely mourn the dead.

In parting from you, your commanding general will ever bear in memory your noble devotion to your country, your patience and cheerfulness under all the privations and sacrifices you have been called upon to endure.

Soldiers! having accomplished the work set before us, having vindicated the honor and integrity of our Government and flag, let us return thanks to Almighty God for His blessing in granting us victory and peace; and let us sincerely pray for strength and light to discharge our duties as citizens, as we have endeavored to discharge them as soldiers.

Geo. G. Meade, Major General, U. S. A.

Thus closed the career of the grandest army that this continent has ever seen. When its history shall have been one day faithfully and well written it will be seen that, with all due justice to the other heroic armies of the North, its record stands pre-eminent as the most heroic of them all. It was engaged in more difficult campaigns, fought more hard-contested battles, and suffered more severely than any other army. If, with the double task of guarding the capital of the nation, and of confronting the flower of the Southern armies, it was not always successful, it never failed to respond to the call of duty, and cheerfully to bear the dangers, hardships, and fatigues incidental to active campaigning even under the most trying circumstances of leadership.

It was in existence within two months of four years. General Meade was continuously with it from within a few days of its organization to its final disbandment. He was absent from it, during those four years, but one hundred and nine days, forty-two of which he was recovering from a wound. He was present in every campaign of the army, and in all its engagements, save three. He was its commander for more than half the term of its existence, and as such fought and gained in the greatest battle of the war its most important and signal victory.

From The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), pp. 282-3. 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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