Friday, August 17, 2007

George G. Meade: The "No respect General"

Last night as I continued my research on the 4th Alabama I came across a few lines about George Meade that caught my eye. It wasn't a fact that I was unaware of but have you ever been reminded of something and it clicked some information within your mind? General George G. Meade has never received his just due in history. Few historians rank him as a top General of the Civil War even though he commanded the Army of the Potomac longer than anybody and he defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg.
Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac in June of 1863 under extraordinary circumstances. The Army of Northern Virginia had just whipped the Union army at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and at Chancellorsville in May 1863. In fact, Lee had defeated or fought to a draw every Northern general to cross his path since taking command in June of 1862. So Meade had to face down the invincibility that Robert E. Lee had assumed in the the eyes of the public and foreign nations. Moreover, Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania was underway so he had the added pressure of beating an army that his forces had be unable to contain for nearly twelve months.
History tells us that Meade overcame these obstacles and Robert E. Lee was defeated on July 1-3 at Gettysburg. However, when you ask the common layman about the great generals of the Civil War they tend to mention Lee, Grant and Sherman. Meade is the forgotten man of the group, a great warrior and a tough soldier who doesn't get the credit that he so richly deserves. It should be noted that when Grant took command of all Union forces in 1864 he traveled with the Army of the Potomac to face Lee. General Grant kept Meade in command of the army but pulled all the strings. U.S. Grant's presence overshadowed Meade and helped make him a forgotten general.
Meade's military career was extraordinary because he served in three wars during his lifetime. During the Civil War he rose through the ranks from brigade command to army command in just two years. Meade had a terrible temper which earned little respect from the men serving in the ranks but amongst his fellow generals he was fairly respected. Many historians have accused Meade's lack of aggression but he preferred to calculate the risks and then make a decision. In many ways, Meade was the exact opposite of Robert E. Lee because he took his time and didn't over commit his forces. This lack of "aggression" emphasized Meades finest qualities as a commander which is the ability to adapt tactics.
I would argue that Meade was able to change with the times. During the Civil War the weapons had advanced warfare beyond the old style tactics that many officers still used. Just take a look at Picketts Charge and you will see Robert E. Lee using a strategy that was fairly outdated. The weapons were way ahead of the tactics. Military educators failed to emphasized Meade's unwillingness to attack fortified positions with frontal assualts as an intelligent decision. This could have been used during World War I when millions of Europeans and Americans were killed in attacks on fortifications.
Perhaps the thing that hurt Meade's image was his short lifespan after 1865. Meade died in 1872 after serving faithfully in various commands. These included; Military Division of the Atlantic, the Department of the East, and the Department of the South. Gettysburg didn't entrench itself within the national conscience until after Lee (who died in 1870) and Meade passed on into the next world. Therefore, Meade and his reputation didn't enjoy the celeberity that many Gettysburg heroes benefited from. Despite these facts there is one thing that the world cannot change and that is George G. Meade commanded the army that defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg and that victory helped pave the way for the defeat of the Confederacy. Meade might have summed up his own legacy in history when he discussed warfare itself by stating "War is very uncertain in its results, and often when affairs look most desperate they suddenly assume a more hopeful state." I hope that Meade's uncertainity in history has passed and that history will continue to view Meade in a postive light. I think it will.
More infomation on Meade can be found at
This is my 25th post. I hope that you have enjoyed all of my writings up to this point. More on the way.

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