Birthday: December 31, 1815
Nationality: American, Spanish
Died At Age: 56
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: George Gordon Meade
Born Country: Spain
Born in: Cádiz, Spain
Famous as: Army Officer
Spouse/Ex-: Margaretta Sergeant (m. 1840)
father: Richard Worsam Meade I
mother: Margaret Coats Butler
siblings: Richard Worsam Meade II
children: George Meade, Henrietta Meade, John Sergeant Meade, Margaret Butler Meade, Sarah Wise Meade, Spencer Meade, William Meade
Died on: November 6, 1872
place of death: Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
education: United States Military Academy
George Meade was a United States Army officer and civil engineer who, while commanding the Army of the Potomac, earned a decisive victory over Confederate Army led by Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, turning the tide of the American Civil War. Early on in his career, he had proved his worth in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. However, he was a civil engineer for a large portion of his adult life, during which period he worked for railroad corporations, helped in the construction of lighthouses and conducted surveys of the Great Lakes. Returning to military service during the Civil War, he participated in several major encounters, both before and after the Gettysburg Campaign, and swiftly rose to the rank of major general. However, his contributions to the later campaigns were downplayed by the media due to his poor relationship with the press.
Childhood & Early Life
George Meade was born on December 31, 1815, in Cádiz, Spain, as the eighth of eleven children and second son of Richard Worsam Meade and Margaret Coats Butler.
His father was a US naval officer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who had amassed wealth in the American–Spanish trade, but lost his fortune after Spanish government imprisoned him instead of repaying his contributions in the Peninsular War.
The family returned to the US two years after his father was released in 1818, following which his father unsuccessfully pressed his claim in American courts.
After attending a private boarding school for three years, George Meade was sent to the military boarding school Mount Airy Seminary (later renamed American Classical and Military Lyceum) in Germantown, once the family relocated there.
His father died in 1828, before his thirteenth birthday, without recovering any money, which thrust the family into severe financial crisis. His older brother had already joined the US navy to support the family a couple years back, while several of his sisters were married to military men.
Because his mother could not afford his education at Lyceum, George briefly attended two boarding schools in Washington and Baltimore, and was eventually accepted into the West Point Military Academy in 1831. After graduating 19th among 56 cadets in 1835, he worked as assistant surveyor on the Long Island Railroad before joining as a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery in Florida.
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George Meade, who became a full second lieutenant in late 1835, suffered from fever for a time and was reassigned to escort some Seminole Indians to the west of the Mississippi in spring 1836. He was assigned to Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts shortly after, but retired from the military on October 26, 1836.
He worked as a civil engineer for the Alabama, Georgia, and Florida Railroad for six months and then surveyed the Mississippi river delta until 1839. He surveyed the border between Texas and the US through the early 1840 and was then appointed to the northeastern border with Canada as an assistant by the Secretary of War.
With a lack of steady civilian employment, he rejoined the army amidst rumors of retrenchment and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers on May 19, 1842. He served under Generals Zachary Taylor, William J. Worth, and Robert Patterson in the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and was brevetted to first lieutenant for his gallantry at the Battle of Monterrey.
Returning to topographical work, he largely contributed to lighthouse and breakwater construction and was involved in coastal surveying in Florida and New Jersey. The lighthouses he designed include Barnegat Light, Absecon Light, Cape May Light, Jupiter Inlet Light, and Sombrero Key Light, and his hydraulic lamp model was adopted for use by the Lighthouse Board.
Joining the Lakes Survey mission of the Great Lakes in 1857, he completed the survey of Lake Huron and extended the scope of Lake Michigan surveys. He helped set a uniform plane of reference for the tabulation of records across the basin in 1858 and published the first detailed report on the lakes in 1860.
George Meade, who became first lieutenant in 1851 and captain in 1856, was appointed brigadier general of the Second Brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves on August 31, 1861, following the outbreak of the Civil War. He first saw combat in March 1862 with the Army of the Potomac under Major General George B. McClellan at the Peninsula Campaign, which culminated in the Seven Days Battles.
He sustained severe injury at the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862 and upon partial recovery, led his brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run in heroically protecting the retreating Union Army. Commanding a division of I Corps, he fought with distinction at the Battle of South Mountain and was personally selected by McClellan to replace wounded Major General Joseph Hooker at the Battle of Antietam.
Despite the disastrous outcome at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1962, Meade's division achieved the only significant tactical success by breaching through Lt. Gen. Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson's corps. Promoted to major general of the volunteers, he next commanded the V Corps in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, but General Hooker mostly kept his corps in reserve, contributing to another Union defeat.
After Hooker resigned, President Abraham Lincoln put George Meade in charge of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, after his senior John F. Reynolds refused. When the Battle of Gettysburg began three days later following a chance encounter, initial loss forced Meade into defensive, but he decisively crushed Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Pickett's Charge.
While he pursued Lee's army into Virginia, he was not quick enough to take advantage of the enemy's vulnerability, for which he was criticized by many, including Lincoln. However, he was promoted to brigadier general, and later his offer for resignation was denied after Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant became commander of all Union armies in March 1864.
Still commander of the Army of the Potomac, he served under Grant in his aggressive Overland Campaign and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, both of which inflicted heavy casualties to the Union army. He was promoted to major general in May 1864, but was not present at Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, for which Grant and General William T. Sherman received most of the credit.
Personal Life & Legacy
During his repeated visits to Washington, George Meade courted Margaretta Sergeant, the eldest daughter of politician John Sergeant who helped the family in the past. Despite initial opposition from her father, they got married on December 31, 1840, and went on to have seven children.
He became an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati in 1865 and a commissioner of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia the next year. Still in command of his troops despite suffering from complications of his war wounds, George Meade died on November 6, 1872, following a bout of pneumonia.
George Meade was particularly known for his short temper which often caused altercations with his subordinates. While he was well-respected by his peers, his attitude towards his army and even civilians had earned him the nickname 'Old Snapping Turtle'.