The Grand Review

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPS, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwiin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quatermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress).

Detail of a photograph of the reviewing stand in front of the White House shows a number of VIPs, including (left to right) Ulysses S. Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (as commander of the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence, he sat next to the president as his corps passed), George Gordon Meade, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Postmaster William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs (Library of Congress. Thanks to Garry Adelman for discovering this detail.).

One hundred and fifty years ago today, a triumphant Army of the Potomac marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. Here’s how I described the event in Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:

May 23 dawned with the promise of perfect weather, with just enough rain early in the morning to keep the dust down. The Army of the Potomac began forming around the Capitol building in the early hours. At 9:00 a cannon shot from Capitol Hill announced the parade’s start, and the long blue lines of men began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol toward the White House, Meade astride his horse Blackie proudly at their head. “The plaudits of the multitude followed him along the entire line of march; flowers were strewn in his path, and garlands decked his person and his horse,” wrote Horace Porter. His staff—minus Theodore Lyman, who was back in Boston—followed behind him. When he reached the reviewing stand in front of the White House, Meade turned, drew his sword, and saluted. He then joined the dignitaries to watch his army pass.

An artist's conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

An artist’s conception of the reviewing stand (Library of Congress).

Sheridan was absent. Grant had sent him west to deal with matters there. However, Charles Wainwright suspected that Sheridan had left early because he did not want to appear in the Grand Review under Meade. Wesley Merritt led the cavalry in Sheridan’s absence. When Custer passed the reviewing stand, a spectator tossed him a wreath, which made his horse bolt. Custer went galloping past before he could regain control and wheel back into position. Some people suspected that Custer was showing off for the crowd.

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The photograph of the reviewing stand from which the top image was taken. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The cavalry followed Meade, then the IX, V, and II Corps. Cannons rumbled down Pennsylvania Avenue, and engineers hauled pontoon boats along the parade route. “The men preserved their alinement and distances with an ease which showed their years of training in the field,” Porter noted with satisfaction. “Their movements were unfettered, their step was elastic, and the swaying of their bodies and the swinging of their arms were as measured as the vibrations of a pendulum. Their muskets shone like a wall of steel. The cannon rumbled peacefully over the paved street, banks of flowers almost concealing them.” No African American soldiers were in the parade, as the black units were going west with Sheridan. The entire VI Corps was still in Virginia and unable to attend. But even with these absences, it took six hours for the eighty thousand men from the Army of the Potomac to pass in review.

Washington’s residents had draped the buildings along the parade route with flags and banners, replacing the black symbols of mourning that had gone up following Lincoln’s assassination. Charles Wainwright noticed one banner in particular: “The only debt we can never repay,” it read; “what we owe to our gallant defenders.” Wainwright eyed it cynically. “I could not help wondering whether, having made up their minds that they can never pay the debt, they will think it useless to try.”

But this was not a day for cynicism. “Everything went off to perfection,” said Wainwright, who had his men shine their artillery until it gleamed and paid particular attention to the appearance of the horses. Of all the brigades in the army, Wainwright thought his artillery looked best.

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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2015 Meade Symposium

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Armies. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan's absence), George Meade, Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

This is one of the images I used in my talk. Garry Adleman of the Center for Civil War Photography tipped me off about it. This is a detail from a photograph of the reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the armies in Washington. It was probably taken on May 23, 1865, the day the Army of the Potomac marched. In it you can see Ulysses Grant, the blurred figure of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, Wesley Merritt (commanding the cavalry corps in Philip Sheridan’s absence), George Meade, Secretary of the Navy Sumner Wells, Postmaster General William Dennison, William T. Sherman, and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Quite extraordinary. As far as I know, this is the only photo in which Grant and Meade appear together. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The man of the hour.

The man of the hour.

It’s safe to say that the 2015 Meade Symposium was a great success. There must have been at least 60 people present, despite severe cold and strong winds. The weather had been so bad, in fact, that one of the speakers, Ralph Peters, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia from his home in Virginia. Held in the beautiful conservatory building at West Laurel Hill Cemetery on Sunday, February 15, the symposium featured four speakers (myself included) who provided a cradle-to-grave summary of George Gordon Meade’s life. Dr. John Selby of Roanoke College spoke about Meade’s life up until the Civil War; Jerry McCormick picked up the story through the Battle of Chancellorsville; and Dr. Andy Waskie, the founder and president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, stood in for Col. Peters and covered the rest of the Civil War. I wrapped things up by talking about the last seven years of Meade’s life, which included incidents of murder, torture, armies of Irishmen, and the difficulties of Reconstruction.

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

Of course, I had to get a Meade bicentennial tee shirt!

If that weren’t enough, Jim Schmick of Civil War and More was there with a large selection of Civil War books for sale, and the Kearney Kommissary was on hand to provide a delicious lunch (plus wine and beer).

The conservatory provided an extremely picturesque setting for the day’s events, with large windows looking out over the cold and windswept cemetery. Just 200 yards away was the grave of Meade’s West Point classmate Herman Haupt, the Union’s railroad mastermind (and one of Meade’s critics). I wish I had the time to find his grave, as well as those of other notables buried there. One of those eternal residents is Francis Adams Donaldson, who journal of his experiences in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry provided the material for the book Inside the Army of the Potomac. I had used that book when I researched Searching for George Gordon Meade. It’s fascinating. Donaldson hated his commanding officer, so he contrived to get kicked out of the army, with the plan of visiting Abraham Lincoln in Washington and having the president give him an honorable discharge. It sounded like a far-fetched plan, but that is exactly what Donaldson did.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

And we also bought a couple of Meade bicentennial champagne glasses. They will be perfect for the birthday celebration on December 31.

Other celebrity residents include musicians Grover Washington, Jr., and Teddy Pendergrass. West Laurel Hill is a big, sprawling cemetery, with dozens of elaborate mausoleums, and I hope to go back on a warmer, greener day and explore.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade.

As the last speaker of the day, I am about to kill off George Gordon Meade. The general watches me with trepidation.

As I said, this was a great event. It’s truly gratifying to see so many people with this kind of interest in history. And it wasn’t all seriousness, either. There were plenty of laughs and a sense of camaraderie. History should always be so much fun!

This is George Meade’s bicentennial year and I have a lot of talks scheduled. Next up are appearances before the round tables in Milwaukee and Chicago, and then talks at Pamplin Historical Park outside Petersburg, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Later in the year I’m scheduled to speak in Richmond, at a Meade bicentennial event in Gettysburg, and at the Civil War Round Table at Philadelphia’s Union League in December. The year will end at the Meade 200th birthday commemoration at Laurel Hill Cemetery on December 31. Check out the event calendar for details.

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.