Born Dec. 31, 1815 – Died November 6, 1872.
Though some of his subordinate officers considered him “a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle” because of his looks and short temper, George G. Meade was one of the most competent of the Civil War’s Union generals. An 1835 West Point graduate, Meade saw some action in the Mexican and Seminole Indian Wars and was a captain with the topographical engineer corps when the war broke out.
Promoted to brigadier general, Meade was given command of a Pennsylvania brigade and participated in the battles of Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and White Oak Swamp. He was not yet fully recovered from a severe wound received at White Oak Swamp when he resumed command of his brigade at 2d Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. His commendable service won him a promotion to major general and command of a division at the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg. Meade commanded the V Corps at Chancellorsville, and on June 28, 1862, while the Army of the Potomac was tracking the Confederate movement into Pennsylvania, Meade was surprised to be appointed to command the Army of the Potomac.
Three days later, at the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, the new army commander performed creditably in defeating Lee, but he was criticized for not being more aggressive. Newly appointed Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union forces and Meade’s immediate superior, decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac on its next drive toward Richmond. Meade remained in command, but Grant dictated the strategy and movements of the army. Meade faithfully carried out Grant’s orders and assisted in the ultimate Union victory.
After the war, Meade was given a series of difficult Southern commands in which he tried to administer reconstruction policies with fairness and sensitivity. He died in 1872 after succumbing to a combination of pneumonia and old war wounds.
Fascinating Fact: Like many generals, Meade did not get along well with journalists. After he had one run out of camp, sitting backwards on a mule and wearing a sign, the major Northern newspapers retaliated by never mentioning Meade’s name in a story unless it concerned a Union defeat.