Because George Gordon Meade fought on almost all of the major battlefields of the Civil War’s Eastern Theater—First Bull Run being the exception—the story of his Civil War service also provides a good overview of the fighting in the East. And you can cover First Bull Run sites when you visit the Second Bull Run battlefield.
There is no better way to learn about a Civil War battle than walking across the ground where it took place. Here are some links to the battlefield sites and a few additional resources that will help you plan your visits.
Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma
But before he fought in the Civil War, Meade earned his bapteme de feu, as he put it, at the battle of Palo Alto in the Mexican-American War. The next day he was under fire at the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Both sites are administered by the National Park Service as Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in Brownsville, Texas.
The Seven Days’ Battles
As a brigade commander in Major General George McCall’s division of the Pennsylvania Reserves, Meade fought in the Seven Days’ Battles outside Richmond. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Glendale. The Richmond area has a plethora of Civil War battlegrounds, but the best place to begin would be with the National Park Service’s Richmond site. The Civil War Trust also has a great deal of information on its website about the battles of Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, and Glendale.
Second Bull Run
Although not completely recovered from the wounds he received at Glendale, Meade returned to the army in time to participate in the Union disaster of Second Bull Run (known to the South as Second Manassas). The National Park Service has a Bull Run site, as does the Civil War Trust.
The Maryland Campaign
George McClellan pursued Robert E. Lee into Maryland and their armies clashed at South Mountain and at the Battle of Antietam near the town of Sharpsburg. (The NPS site is here; Civil War Trust is here.)
With Ambrose Burnside in command of the Army of the Potomac, the Union blundered into a disaster at Fredericksburg. Meade’s division, however, managed to briefly pierce the Confederate line at Slaughter Pen Farm.
The big one. Meade receives command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28; on July 1 the Battle of Gettysburg begins. The Civil War Trust has more information here. You can find other resources at the Gettysburg Foundation.
Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns
Meade and Lee dueled with each other throughout the rest of 1863, during the Bristoe and the Mine Run Campaigns. (There’s more about Bristoe Station here, and about Mine Run here.)
The Wilderness and Spotsylvania
With new general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant looking over his shoulder, Meade and his army started the Overland Campaign at the bloody Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. (The Civil War Trust Wilderness site is here and Spotsylvania is here.)
Grant wisely pulled back and continued his flanking movement rather than risk a full battle against Lee’s entrenched position behind the North Anna River. The battlefield still has beautifully preserved trenches.
“I always regret that the last assault on Cold Harbor was ever made,” said Ulysses S. Grant. As well he should. The attack was a disaster, leaving thousands of Union dead and wounded in front of the Confederate defenses. Today Cold Harbor is part of the NPS’s Richmond unit.
The Overland Campaign ended in the trenches before Petersburg, where the Union and Confederate forces settled in for long months of sporadic warfare. The Petersburg Campaign encompasses many forts and battlefields.
The Appomattox Campaign
The struggle with the Army of Northern Virginia finally came to a close at the hamlet of Appomattox Court House, but only after more fighting at White Oak Road, Five Forks, Sailor’s Creek, and elsewhere. You can discover the history for yourself by taking the State of Virginia’s Lee’s Retreat tour.