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George Meade (1815-1872) was a U.S. Army general and civil engineer who served as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac during the Civil War (1861-65). Meade entered the Civil War as a brigadier general and first served during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. He was badly wounded at the Battle of Glendale during the Seven Days Battles, but recovered and went on to perform admirably at the Battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. Meade succeeded General Joseph Hooker as commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac in June 1863. Only a few days later Meade achieved a major victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his army repelled repeated assaults by General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces. While Meade’s victory crippled the Confederate Army, he was widely criticized for allowing Lee’s weakened force to escape into Virginia. Meade’s reputation for caution led to the appointment of the more aggressive Ulysses S. Grant as Union general-in-chief in 1864. Meade continued to lead the Army of the Potomac in a subordinate role until the end of the war, serving at the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.
George Meade: Early Life and Military Career
George Gordon Meade was born on December 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain, where his father worked as a U.S. naval officer. Following his father’s death in 1828, Meade’s family found itself on the brink of financial ruin and returned to the United States to settle in Pennsylvania. In 1831 Meade entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, in part because of his family’s tenuous financial situation. He graduated four years later, finishing 19th in a class of 56.
Meade initially had little desire for a military career, and he resigned from the army in 1836 after briefly serving in Massachusetts and Florida. For the next several years he pursued a civilian career in civil engineering, working for railroads and the U.S. War Department. In 1840 he married Margaretta Sergeant, the daughter of prominent politician John Sergeant, and the two eventually had seven children.
In 1842 Meade reenlisted in the Army and served as a junior officer in the Mexican-American War (1846-48). He spent the 1850s in the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers building lighthouses and breakwaters on the Atlantic coast, and also helped conduct the first geodetic survey of the Great Lakes.
George Meade: The Civil War
At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Meade was made a brigadier general of Pennsylvania volunteers after receiving a glowing recommendation letter from the state’s governor. Meade’s first experience as a combat commander came during General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in the spring and summer of 1862, when the Union Army of the Potomac attempted to move on the Confederate capital of Richmond. During the campaign’s culmination at the Seven Days Battles, Meade was badly wounded amid intense fighting at the Battle of Glendale. Although only partially recovered, he returned to action during the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862. He was given command of a division shortly thereafter, and served with distinction at the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of South Mountain during the Maryland Campaign.
One of Meade’s brightest moments came during the otherwise disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. During a large-scale offensive, Meade’s division was one of the only Union units to breach the Confederate’s well-fortified lines, earning him a promotion to major general of volunteers. He went on to command the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps under General Joseph Hooker during the Union defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.
George Meade: The Battle of Gettysburg
Meade was unexpectedly placed in charge of the Union Army of the Potomac in late June 1863 after Hooker resigned his post. Only three days into his new command, Meade was confronted near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Robert E. Lee’s forces, which had marched into the North in an attempt to shift the focus of combat away from war-ravaged Virginia.
On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863), Meade’s army suffered heavy casualties, including the death of respected Major General John Reynolds. Despite these losses, Meade was able to maneuver his army into secure defensive positions, which he held during repeated Confederate offensives on the second day of the battle. On the battle’s third day, Meade’s tactical positioning and marshaling of his forces proved invaluable when the Army of the Potomac repelled a massive attack on the center of its lines during “Pickett’s Charge.” This failed Confederate offensive resulted in massive casualties, and led to an immediate Confederate retreat from the North.
Despite having won the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Meade immediately came under harsh criticism—in particular from President Abraham Lincoln—for what was seen as his failure to destroy Lee’s battered army, which had escaped across the Potomac River before it could be intercepted. Meade even offered his resignation as a consolation, but it was denied. He continued to operate as commander of the Army of the Potomac for the rest of 1863 in spite of constant attacks—both in the Northern media and by his own subordinates—concerning his conduct at Gettysburg.
George Meade: Post-Gettysburg Civil War Service
Following the uneventful campaigns of Bristoe and Mine Run in late 1863, in the spring of 1864 Meade’s authority was superseded by the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as general-in-chief of all Union armies. Although he was still technically the commander of the Army of the Potomac, for the rest of the war Meade acted as Grant’s subordinate.
In this capacity, Meade participated in Grant’s aggressive Overland Campaign of 1864, in which the Union army absorbed staggering casualties during a dogged march toward Richmond. Meade took part in in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor throughout 1864, earning a promotion to the rank of major general. He was also instrumental in the prolonged Siege of Petersburg (June 1864-March 1865), which was launched after Meade’s early assaults on the city resulted in heavy Union casualties.
Due to his brusque personality and quick temper, Meade was never a popular figure with the media, and his contributions to later battles and the eventual Union victory were often downplayed in the Northern press. Despite his crucial role in cornering the Confederate Army, Meade was not present during Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, and most of the credit for winning the war was given to Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman.
George Meade: Post-Civil War Career
Meade remained in the U.S. Army after the end of the Civil War and served as the commanding officer of the Division of the Atlantic, headquartered in Pennsylvania. In 1868 Meade briefly served in Atlanta as the governor of the Third Military District, a temporary government that controlled Georgia, Alabama and Florida during Reconstruction. Meade spent most of his later life in Philadelphia, where he served as commissioner of the Fairmount Park Art Association. Having long suffered from complications caused by his war wounds, Meade died in 1872 at the age of 56 following a bout with pneumonia.
American History Blog
Early on the morning of June 28, 1863, General George Gordon Meade was awakened by a messenger with a letter from Abraham Lincoln. The President, the letter said, had appointed Meade the new commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac. Five days later, the general won the greatest Northern victory of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meade was born in Spain, where his father was a US naval agent, and graduated from the US Military Academy in 1835. The next year, he resigned from the army to become a civil engineer. But he returned to duty during the Mexican War of 1846-1848, and then the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was given command of the brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers. An able leader and brave soldier, Meade fought in many of the war’s early battles and was severely wounded in one of them. When Lincoln put Meade in command of the Union army in June, 1863, the South’s General Robert E. Leehad just invaded Pennsylvania. Meade and Lee met at the small crossroads town of Gettysburg on July 1.
There the battle raged for three days, after which the defeatedLee was forced to retreat. “I think I have lived as much in this time as in the last thirty years,” Meade wrote his wife about the fierce struggle at Gettysburg. He continued to lead the Armey of the Potamac until the Confederate surrdender in April, 1865.
Meade died in 1872 from complications related to wounds he received during the Civil War.
Early career in engineering
George Gordon Meade was born in Spain on New Year's Eve, 1815. His father, Richard Worsam Meade, was stationed in Spain as a naval agent for the United States government. The Meade family lived comfortably during young George's first years, but mounting debts gradually began to threaten their economic well-being. Richard Meade brought his family back to the United States in an effort to regain his financial footing. He died a short time later, however, leaving his family deeply in debt. The family's strained financial circumstances forced young George to withdraw from a public school in Philadelphia that he had been attending.
In 1831, Meade managed to gain admission into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. He did not have a driving desire to build a career for himself in the army. He studied hard, though, because he knew that a good performance at the academy would aid him in whatever career he decided to pursue. Meade graduated from the academy in 1835. One year later he resigned from the army and took a series of jobs in the area of civil engineering (design and construction of bridges, canals, forts, and other public works).
Meade's civil engineering career took him all around the country in the late 1830s and early 1840s. He performed engineering work for Southern railroad lines and assisted in surveying (determining the boundaries of) the Mississippi and Texas border. As time passed, however, he realized that much of the engineering work taking place across the nation was being handled by the U.S. Army. He decided to return to active military duty, and on May 19, 1842, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the army's Corps of Topographical Engineers.
Meade spent most of the next two decades working on various engineering projects along the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes coastlines. These projects ranged from conducting surveys of the Great Lakes boundaries to design work on coastal lighthouses. His only break from engineering work during this time came during the late 1840s, when he fought in the Mexican War (1846–48).
George Gordon Meade
George Gordon Meade (1815-1872), American Civil War general, is best remembered as the victor of the Battle of Gettysburg and as the last commander of the Army of the Potomac.
The son of an American merchant, George Gordon Meade was born on Dec. 31, 1815, in Cadiz, Spain. His early education was at Mount Hope Institution in Baltimore. At the age of 15 he received appointment to West Point he graduated in 1835. After serving for a year in Florida and Massachusetts he became disillusioned with Army life and resigned to pursue a civil engineering career. In 1842 Meade returned to the Army and won a brevet promotion for gallantry in the Mexican War. Until the outbreak of the Civil War, he served in the topographical engineers.
In August 1861 Meade was appointed brigadier general and given command of a Pennsylvania brigade. He served throughout the Peninsular Campaign. On June 30, 1862, in the Battle of Glendale, he was seriously wounded in the arm, side, and back. Nevertheless, he led divisions in the Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg campaigns and commanded a corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Meade was genuinely surprised when, on June 28, 1863, he was named to head the Army of the Potomac. Only 3 days later Robert E. Lee's army struck Meade's forces at Gettysburg, Pa. In spite of his newness to Army command, Meade demonstrated admirable skill in the bloody 3-day battle. However, when Lee's Confederates were allowed to retire virtually unmolested to Virginia, a storm of criticism descended on Meade. He tendered his resignation from the Army, but it was refused, and he continued commanding the Army for the remainder of the war. He is overshadowed in the climactic campaigns of 1864-1865 because General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac and supervised its principal operations. Meade's promotion to major general came embarrassingly late in the conflict.
After the war Meade commanded military departments in the South and East. He died of pneumonia on Nov. 6, 1872, in Philadelphia.
Gaunt and stern, Meade suffered from fits of nervousness. Although he was routinely competent, he lacked boldness and brilliance in action. His hot temper led the soldiers to nickname him "the old snapping turtle."
George G. Meade
A series of campaigns followed, as well as a war of attrition-the continuous wearing down of the enemy by overwhelming force, even at the cost of major losses on both sides-through the Overland Campaign (May-June 1864) and the Siege of Petersburg and Richmond (June 15, 1864-March 25, 1865). A small series of tactical errors during the Battle of Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12 1864), as well as the poorly executed Battle of the Crater in the midst of storming Petersburg slightly marred
History of George G. Meade Post No One: Department of Pennsylvania Grand Army of the Republic (Classic Reprint)
It gives me great pleasure to write a few words of introduction to this history of Gen. Geo. G. Meade Post, No. One, of Philadelphia, a Post that may properly claim possession of the oldest Post charter in this State, and which occupies an enviable position as one oft Excerpt from History of George G. Meade Post No One: Department of Pennsylvania Grand Army of the Republic
It gives me great pleasure to write a few words of introduction to this history of Gen. Geo. G. Meade Post, No. One, of Philadelphia, a Post that may properly claim possession of the oldest Post charter in this State, and which occupies an enviable position as one ofthe most influential in the Grand Army of the Republic.
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How Meade Won at Gettysburg
Detail from the Gettysburg Cyclorama, painted by Paul Philippoteaux.
Courtesy the Gettysburg Foundation
George Meade’s Mixed Legacy
The general won at Gettysburg. In spite of himself.
Gen. George Meade. (Fotosearch/Getty Images)
Meade’s father was a second-generation Philadelphia merchant with substantial investments in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars, investments that turned horribly sour and resulted in the elder Meade’s premature death in 1828. The U.S. Military Academy was the one place where the young Meade could obtain a free college education, so off he went to West Point, never intending “to remain in the army after his graduation, but merely to serve in it sufficiently long to warrant his resigning, as having afforded an equivalent for his education.” He graduated 19th in the 56-cadet Class of 1835, put in a year as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Artillery and then resigned his commission to become a civil engineer. Four years later he finally made up the social distance lost due to the bankruptcy and death of his father by marrying into Philadelphia’s Whig ascendancy. His bride, Margaretta Sergeant, was the daughter of Henry Clay’s running mate in Clay’s failed Whig Party presidential bid against Andrew Jackson in 1832.
But Meade does not seem to have prospered in civil employment, and in 1842 he took the unusual step of re-entering the Army, as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He served as a staff officer during the Mexican War, and by the time he made captain in 1856, his principal contributions were a series of lighthouses on the Jersey and Florida shores and a survey of the Great Lakes. He was still on duty in Detroit when, on August 31, 1861, he was summoned to report to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and take up a command in the Pennsylvania Reserve Division as a brigadier general of volunteers.
The figure of George McClellan looms large for Meade, a fact Meade’s biographers were not always eager to admit. Both were Philadelphians, from socially prominent Philadelphia families. Both families were also conservative Whigs until the mid-1850s, when the controversy over slavery drove conservative Whigs into the arms of the Stephen Douglas Democrats. Meade’s brigadier general’s commission “was due to him [McClellan], and almost entirely to him,” and Meade reciprocated McClellan’s endorsement. “I have great confidence personally in McClellan,” Meade wrote shortly before coming east in 1861, and “know him well—know he is one of the best men we have to handle large armies.”
Meade also had great confidence in McClellan’s politics, since McClellan stood for the idea of limiting the war strictly to the goal of national reunion, leaving the slavery question out of the picture entirely. He frankly hoped that “the ultras on both sides” would somehow “be repudiated, & the masses of conservative & moderate men may compromise & settle the difficulty.” If anything, Meade had an even greater stake in compromise than McClellan: Virginia Governor Henry Wise was one of Meade’s brothers-in-law on his wife’s side, and two of his sisters had married Southerners. His sister Charlotte, in fact, saw her Mississippi plantation pillaged by Union soldiers, and lost two of her sons fighting for the Confederacy. If Meade desired victory, it was a limited one that would either convince the South that “it is useless to contend any longer,” or one that induced “the people of the North…to yield the independency of the South on the ground that it does not pay to resist them.” It was not clear whether George Meade had a preference either way.
Meade performed well as a brigade commander on the Virginia Peninsula, and then as a division commander in the I Corps at Antietam. As he rose in rank, he also rose in notice, though not quite in the ways he might have wanted. Although everyone granted, as Charles Francis Adams did, that Meade was “a man of high character,” he frequently spoiled it by being “irritable, petulant and dyspeptic.” Theodore Lyman put it as diplomatically as he could when he said that Meade “is a man full of sense of responsibility”—in other words, he feared being in over his head—and anxiety gave Meade “the most singular patches of gunpowder in his disposition.” Alexander Webb, who carved out his own reputation at Gettysburg, described Meade as “a very irascible man” who “allowed his tongue to run away with him.” Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana found Meade “agreeable to talk to when his mind was free,” but also easily subject to “fits of nervous irritation” that could turn him into the general-from-hell, “totally lacking in cordiality toward those with whom he had business.”
Among the ordinary soldiers, Meade “might have been taken for a Presbyterian clergyman, unless one approached him when he was mad,” and then the unhappy messenger was liable to be the target of a livid stream of fury, impatience and arrogance. Behind his back, Meade was called “a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle,” and an officer in the 118th Pennsylvania, who called him “Old Four Eye” (from the pince-nez Meade wore on a ribbon attached to his uniform coat), thought that Meade “appears to be a man universally despised.”
This did not prevent Meade from finally winning corps command after leading the only near-successful Union attack at Fredericksburg in December 1862, and he continued to serve as commander of the V Corps throughout the dismal shambles of “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863. But the decision to appoint Meade as Hooker’s successor in command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, was anything but a foregone conclusion. Radical Republicans in Congress were convinced that Meade was just another politically unreliable McClellan Democrat, an impression Meade had unwisely made in the spring of 1861 when he refused Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler’s invitation to participate in a mass Union meeting in Detroit. In retaliation, Chandler tried to block Meade’s initial appointment as a brigadier general, under the assumption that Meade must have been born a Southerner, and “they would not trust the chicken hatched from an egg laid in that region.” After Chancellorsville, Lincoln bestowed command of the Army of the Potomac on George Meade—bestowed being the operative word, since (unlike Burnside or Hooker) Lincoln did not consult, request or beg Meade to take charge, but simply ordered him to take command.
The order came to Meade in the wee hours of the morning of June 28, 1863, a Sunday. The staff officer from Washington bearing the orders further startled Meade by woefully announcing, “General, I am the bearer of sad news.” This induced Meade to think for a moment that he was being put under arrest, since he and Hooker had been at violent loggerheads over the blame for Chancellorsville to the point where it was feared “a court martial might ensue.” The orders, when Meade tore them open, told an entirely different tale, and his first impulse was to rouse his staff with the injunction, “Get up! I’m in command of the Army of the Potomac.” The news, however, did not set off spontaneous demonstrations of joy in the army. In the III Corps, which was commanded by pro-Lincoln Democrat Dan Sickles, and which featured as its senior division commander the abolitionist David Bell Birney, Meade was “not liked…and is especially disliked by General Birney,” who understood the goal of the war as “first to abolish slavery—and second to restore the Union.”
Hooker, in fact, had been in mid-stride at the moment he was relieved of command, hoping to lunge westward from Frederick, Md., and strike the Army of Northern Virginia with the I, III and XI Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, as the Rebel army was strung out along the roads between the Potomac crossings at its rear and Harrisburg at its front. Swapping horses at full gallop like this would have given even the most aggressive general plenty of reason to pause and calculate, and it was characteristic of Meade, who had seen in his own family how precarious success could be, to play matters as safely as possible. Reynolds’ attack wing was recalled and redirected northward, while at the same time Meade selected a back-up defensive position at the Maryland–Pennsylvania border, along “the general line of Pipe-clay Creek.”
Meade’s plans for Pipe Creek were promptly interpreted by Sickles to mean that “the army was to fall back, and not to follow up the enemy any further the general regarding the objects of the campaign to be accomplished, and considering Washington, Baltimore and Pennsylvania to be relieved.” They were also met with a certain amount of quiet resistance from Reynolds, who actually outranked Meade in seniority on the U.S. Volunteers’ commissioning list, a subject that was going to provide yet another point of difficulty for Meade. Reynolds was dismayed at Meade’s “dilatory measures” and feared that Meade would permit Lee “either to have taken Harrisburg or gone on ad infinitum plundering the State of Pennsylvania.” And in large measure the decision to fight at Gettysburg was made by Reynolds, on his own hook, rather than by Meade, who was still trying to sort out the deployment of his own army and of Lee’s.
On July 1, when the Battle of Gettysburg opened west of Gettysburg, Reynolds simply sent back to Meade an aide, informing the new commander that “while I am aware that it is not your desire to force an engagement at that point, still I feel at liberty to advance and develop the strength of the enemy.”
From that moment, a long train of grievances and quarrels with Meade began to emerge from within the Army of the Potomac. Meade ruffled the feathers of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard by sending Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock ahead to take charge of the Gettysburg situation on July 1, despite Howard’s seniority to Hancock on the commissioning list, and it was only after Hancock’s report came back, “partially approving this line,” that Meade finally set off for Gettysburg, arriving at 1 a.m. July 2. Meade ruffled still more feathers by relieving Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday of I Corps command, which Doubleday had inherited after Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter on July 1, and replacing Doubleday with an even more junior officer, the colorless Maj. Gen. John Newton. Nor did it help matters that Howard and Doubleday were among the most senior Republican officers in the Army of the Potomac, and that Hancock and Newton were unapologetic McClellan Democrats.
But Meade was promptly paid in similar coin by Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, commander of the XII Corps and both Meade’s senior (again, by commission) and a Republican. Despite Meade’s instinct for caution, the new army commander hoped to throw some kind of offensive punch from Culp’s Hill on the morning of July 2 with the XII Corps and Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps. But Sedgwick was slow to reach Gettysburg that day, and Slocum dismissed Meade’s plans as impractical, preferring to fortify as best his men could the twin peaks of Culp’s Hill. Like the new manager of some particularly unhappy office full of suspicious old-timers, Meade had to cope with the fact that command was not the same thing as control.
In the meanwhile, Meade completely missed the darkening cloud of Confederate troops massing on his left flank, and left the III Corps and the much-despised Sickles dangling at the marshy end of the ridgeline that ran south from Cemetery Hill. Sickles, who returned Meade’s distaste, took his own counsel and posted the III Corps instead at the Emmitsburg Road—just in time for it to be overrun by James Longstreet’s fierce flank attack, and the battle brought within an ace of being lost.
It is difficult now to assess whether it was Sickles’ chicken-brained insubordination or Meade’s neglect of his left flank that was more responsible for the sorry results of July 2. But wherever the blame lies, it is reasonably certain that by the evening of the 2nd, Meade’s mind was turning to the safety of Pipe Creek. Eight months after the battle, the Army of the Potomac’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, testified before Congress that Meade had instructed him on the morning of July 2 “to prepare an order to withdraw the army… from the field of Gettysburg.”
Butterfield swore that the onset of Longstreet’s attack prevented any distribution of the order, but whether Butterfield was in fact inventing the story for the purpose of evening up grudges with Meade, the army commander does seem to have been ready to issue such an order by 9 o’clock that night, when he called a council of his corps commanders. Even the usually loyal Sedgwick told his VI Corps staffer Martin McMahon that he had been summoned to the council because “General Meade was thinking of a retreat.”
If so, Meade was rudely jolted by the unanimous protest of his subordinates that the Army stay put and fight. “We have been hunting Lee for weeks,” Sedgwick protested, “and now that we’ve got him here, don’t retreat.” Hancock agreed: “The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Meade was “greatly displeased with the result,” and only gave way grudgingly: “Have it your way, gentlemen, but Gettysburg is no place to fight a battle in.” No one doubted Meade’s personal courage, but they could not help noticing his risk-averse inclinations: “He thought it better to retreat with what we had, than run the risk of losing all.”
Twenty years after the battle, John Gibbon (who was in temporary command of the II Corps) remembered Meade warning him at the end of the council, “Gibbon, if Lee attacks me to-morrow it will be on your front.” This recollection, from the most ardently anti-abolitionist officer of his rank in the Army, has conferred on Meade the gift of rescience, especially since the great Confederate attack of July 3 fell exactly upon the two intact brigades of Gibbon’s old division at what is known to history as “the Angle.” It is curious, though, that if Meade really did prophesy to Gibbon, he did so little to reinforce Gibbon’s sector around the so-called “clump of trees” and the Bryan House. Of course, by the morning of July 3, Meade had comparatively little left on hand for reinforcing anything. In a note he dashed off to Margaretta at 8:45 a.m., Meade wrote, “We had a great fight yesterday…both armies shattered—Today at it again with what result remains to be seen.” Shattered indeed: The I, III, V and XI Corps had been wrecked in the previous two days’ fighting, as had two divisions of the II Corps and the XII Corps. Beyond Gibbon’s old II Corps division, Meade was left with only the VI Corps as a reserve.
Even so, Meade gave no sign of anticipating the fall of the Rebel hammer. When speaking to Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson, whose battered I Corps division was holding grimly onto the slopes of Cemetery Hill, Meade informed Robinson that he “anticipated an attack on the cemetery by the enemy’s forces massed in the town” rather than from Seminary Ridge. And when, near 1 p.m., the great preliminary barrage for Pickett’s Charge began raining down on Gibbon and on Meade’s headquarters just to Gibbon’s rear, Meade’s first move was to clear his staff from the line of Confederate fire and move his headquarters back to Powers Hill—the outpost where two batteries of 10-pounder Parrott guns (Joseph Knap’s Battery E, Pennsylvania Independent Artillery, and Charles Winegar’s Battery M, 1st New York Light Artillery) had been posted to cover the Baltimore Pike, and the obvious line of retreat from Gettysburg.
Meade was, in fact, nowhere near the apex of Pickett’s Charge when the high tide of the Confederacy struck the Angle, and he did not show up until his staffers were able to report the repulse of the Confederates. Surrounded by the milling flux of the wounded and the dazed, plus herds of Rebel prisoners, Meade could only ask in amazement: “What! Is the assault already repulsed?”
As evening approached on July 3, Meade moved to Cemetery Hill—still suspecting that a Confederate blow would fall there—and from there to Little Round Top, where he ordered Brig. Gen. Samuel Crawford and his old Pennsylvania Reserve division to launch a tentative sweeping operation toward the Confederate right flank, where John Bell Hood’s and Lafayette McLaws’ shredded divisions lay. James Longstreet fully expected “to see Meade ride to the front and lead his forces to a tremendous counter-charge.” But Meade had even fewer resources at his disposal now, and even less inclination to risk what now looked to be a resounding victory. Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the army’s chief engineer, conceded that “Meade ordered demonstrations in front of our line” on July 4, “but they were very feebly made.”
On July 14 Lee successfully got his survivors across the Potomac River, to fight another day. The Army of the Potomac was “incensed,” wrote the surgeon of the 77th New York. “The correspondents of the press misrepresent the facts nine times in ten when they assert that veterans are anxious to fight,” snorted Captain Henry Nichols Blake of the 11th Massachusetts, but in this case “the soldiers who bore muskets wished to hear the commands, ‘Take arms,’ and ‘Charge,’ because they knew then…that it would have captured all the cannon, materials, and men from the enemy and finished the Rebellion.” But those were not the commands Blake, or anyone else, would hear from George Gordon Meade.
And yet Meade did not lose the Battle of Gettysburg—if he had, the results would have been catastrophic for the Union, even with the offset of the fall of Vicksburg on July 4. But he allowed his own native instinct for risk aversion, his newness to overall command of the Army of the Potomac, and the shadow of McClellanite politics to keep him from turning it into a Waterloo victory.
Meade was acutely conscious that if he were successful at Gettysburg the rewards a Republican administration would offer him would probably be meager. If he should lose, his career would be destroyed beyond any hope of recovery. So if Meade failed to pursue Lee to destruction after Gettysburg, Meade could (with some justice) consider that Lincoln and the Republicans had no one to blame for it but themselves, for having made the conditions of command so politicized. Add to that his own instinct for caution, and it has to be said that Meade turned in a surprisingly fine performance at Gettysburg. But he was not a Wellington, and he was not a Grant, and it was the treasure and blood that two more years of war would demand from the nation that would forever mottle George Meade’s surprising victory with the historical ooze of disappointment.
Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and the author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf).
“Old Baldy” General Meade’s Warhorse
A brief history By Anthony Waskie, Ph.D.
‘Old Baldy’, the most famous of the war horses used by General George G. Meade was raised on the western frontier, and brought east as a U.S. Cavalry mount. At the outbreak of the Civil War ‘Baldy’ was ridden by General David Hunter, and at the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21st, 1861, Baldy was wounded on his nose by a piece of shell, and, perhaps also on his flank, as a scar was later visible there from an unknown action. He was returned to the Cavalry Depot at Washington, D.C. to recuperate and return to service. He was, however, afterwards purchased by General George G. Meade, from the Quartermaster Department at Washington, D.C. in September of 1861 for $150, and was ridden by Meade almost exclusively through actions and campaigns through the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the following actions:
Drainsville, Va. December 20th, 1861 Mechanicsville, Va. June 26th, 1862. Gaines Mill, Va. June 27, 1862 Groveton, Va. August 29, 1862 Second Bull Run, Va. August 30, 1862 South Mountain, Md. September 14, 1862 Antietam, Md. September 17, 1862 Fredericksburg, Va. December 13, 1862 Chancellorsville, Va. May 1 st , 2 nd , 3 rd , 4th, 1863 and Gettysburg, Pa. July 1st, and 2 nd , 1863 end of his combat service.
(The following actions are mentioned in the Meade Post #1, G.A.R. History, but are not accurate, as Meade reported sending Baldy home before the commencement of the 1864 Overland Campaign in late April, 1864. The horse confused with Baldy during this latter period, may have been his Brown Morgan): Bristoe Station, October 14, 1863 Rappahannock Station, November 7, 1863 Mine Run, November 26, 1863 Wilderness May 5, 6, 1864 Spotsylvania, May 8th to 20th, 1864 North Anna, May 23rd to 26th, 1864 Totopottomy, May 29th, 1864 Bethseda Church, May 30th, 1864 Cold Harbor, June 1st to 3rd, 1864 Petersburg, June 15th to 18th, 1864 Jerusalem Plank Road, June 22nd, 1864 Mine Explosion, July 30th, 1864 Weldon Railroad, August 18th to 25th, 1864.
General Meade’s comments on Baldy and his horses (from Life & Letters of General Meade):
Camp Pierpont, VA. November 14, 1861
To son John Sergeant Meade
“I am badly off for horses. The horse (Baldy) I first got has been an excellent horse in his day, but General Hunter broke him down at Bull Run. The other one has rheumatism in his legs, and has become pretty much unserviceable. This has always been my luck with horses I am never fortunate with them. I should like much to have a really fine horse, but it costs so much, I must try to get along with my old hacks.” (p.227)
Camp Pierpont, VA. November 22, 1861
To son John Sergeant Meade
“As to horses, I did the best I could. The truth is, the exposure is so great, it is almost impossible to keep a horse in good health….I have no doubt you can get me a good horse for $250. I can do that here but where are the $250 to come from? Remember, I have paid now $275 already.” (p.229)
Camp Pierpont, VA. December 2, 1861
“The most important piece of intelligence I have to communicate is that I have bought another horse. He is a fine black horse that was brought out to camp by a trader, for sale. I bought him on the advice and judgment of several friends who pretend a knowledge in horse flesh, of which I am entirely ignorant. I exchanged Sargie’s (son Sergeant) horse and gave a $125 boot. As Sargie’s horse cost me $125, it makes my Black (‘Blacky’) turn me out $250, a very high price. But Sargie’s horse was entirely broken down and worthless from exposure, and was pretty much a dead loss to me. I hope my Black will turn out well. Thus far he is very satisfactory, being full of spirit and quite handsome but there is no telling when you get a horse from a regular trader what a few days of possession may bring forth.” (p. 232)
Centreville, Va. August 31, 1862
“I write to advise you that after three days’ continuous fighting I am all safe and well. Old Baldy was hit in the leg, but not badly hurt.” (p. 306)
Field of Battle near Sharpsburg, Md. September 18, 1862
“I was hit by a spent grape-shot, giving me a severe contusion on the right thigh, but not breaking the skin. Baldy was shot through the neck, but will get over it. A cavalry horse I mounted afterwards was shot in the flank.” (p.310)
Camp near Sharpsburg, Md. September 23, 1862
“Old Baldy is doing well and is good for lots of fights yet.” (p. 314)
Camp opposite Fredericksburg, Va. December 16, 1862
“The day after the battle, one of their sharpshooters took deliberate aim at me, his ball passing through the neck of my horse. The one I was riding at the time was a government horse, so that Baldy and Blacky are safe.” (p. 338)
Camp opposite Fredericksburg, Va. December 31, 1862
To son John Sergeant Meade
“George (son of General Meade) has taken a great fancy to a little black mare I have, belonging to the government, which he has given me various hints he thought I might buy and present to him, and in this little scheme to diminish my finances to the tune of $120, he has the hearty cooperation of Master John (Marley) – General Meade’s valet, who informs me every morning he thinks the boy ought to have the black mare.” (p. 343)
Camp near Falmouth, Va. March 13, 1863
”Yesterday I put the ladies in an ambulance and mounted Captain Magaw (U.S. Navy) on Baldy, and we went over and took a look at Fredericksburg, and afterwards called on Hooker.” (p. 357)
Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac, Gettysburg, Pa. July 5, 1863
“Baldy was shot again, and I fear will not get over it. Two horses that George (General Meade’s son and aide de camp) rode were killed, his own and the black mare.” (p. 125, Vol. II)
Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac Frederick, Md. July 8, 1863
“Old Baldy is still living and apparently doing well the ball passed within half an inch of my (right) thigh, passed through the saddle and entered Baldy’s stomach. I did not think he could live, but the old fellow has such a wonderful tenacity of life that I am in hopes he will.” (p. 132, Vol. II)
Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac, April 24, 1864
“Yesterday I sent my orderly (George Melloy) with Old Baldy to Philadelphia. He will never be fit again for hard service, and I thought he was entitled to better care than could be given to him on the march.” (p. 191, Vol. II)
May 23, 1864 (not contained in Life & Letters) Thanks to Jim Hueting of Gettysburg
“You have never told me anything of Baldy- where he is and how he is getting on.”
Baldy reference June 27, 1864 (not contained in the Life & Letters) Thanks to Jim Hueting of Gettysburg
“John Marley” (his groom) is also well, but at present a little anxious about the black horse, whose wounded leg gives signs of again discharging. By the by, what has become of poor old Baldy? Your mother never writes about him and John is of the opinion he is being murdered. John says a closed stable, in his weakened condition, after the life he has led, will most certainly kill him. The last I heard of the poor old brute, he was still at Stetson’s (John Stetson?) and considered too weak to take out to Gerhard’s (Benjamin Gerhard, Meade’s brother-in-law). Do let me know something about him. I was very much distressed to hear of Mr. Gerhard’s death…”
Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac, July 7, 1864
“I am glad to hear the good news about Baldy, as I am very much attached to the old brute.” (p. 210, Vol. II)
At Gettysburg, General Meade’s famous war horse ‘Baldy’ received a ball in his right side, passing through the saddle flap of General Meade, just missing his right leg, and lodged in Baldy’s stomach. This incident occurred on the afternoon of July 2, 1863 on the left of the Union Army line along Cemetery Ridge. Upon being wounded, Old Baldy refused to move forward for the first time in his service, and had to be retired from the field. Later, Baldy was sent north in charge of George Melloy, of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, to Philadelphia, by rail, and then sent to Meade’s old friend and former staff quartermaster in the Pennsylvania Reserves, Capt. Samuel Ringwalt who agreed to care for him at his farm in Downingtown. Later, in the post war period, Baldy was found to be sound and was used by General Meade in Philadelphia. He was often seen riding Baldy through Fairmount Park accompanied by his daughters as he surveyed the landscape. (Life & Letters. P. 301) Later Baldy was conveyed to Meadow Bank Farm, where General Meade spent his summers and a country place owned by a friend of the Meade Family, John J. Davis, where he remained for several years. After the death of his master, the faithful old war horse was even able to march in the funeral procession of General Meade on November 11, 1872, when Meade was laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. At the grand parade held in Philadelphia in 1879 upon the return of former president Grant, an old comrade of Meade, ‘Baldy’ was a prominent marcher in the spectacle. ‘Baldy’ was then kept by Mr. John J. Davis, near Jenkintown, Montgomery County, Pa. who cared for him until he became too feeble to get up after lying down, and on December 16, 1882, with a dose of poison, laid him finally to rest. ‘Baldy’ was over 30 years old, and had lived ten years after his gallant master, General Meade. He was a veteran of many battles through which he safely carried General Meade. ‘Baldy’ was also wounded in the nose at First Bull Run, July 21st, 1861 when owned by General David Hunter at Second Bull Run, August 30th, 1862, he was wounded through the right hind leg at Antietam, September 17th, 1862 Baldy was wounded through the neck, and seemingly left for dead on the field and at Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863 he was shot through the body comprising four (4) major wounds.
From Meade’s personal letters, and the description of Col. Meade, the General’s son in 1883, it indicates, however, that he did keep Old Baldy with him after Gettysburg, hoping to see a recovery in his favorite horse, but despairing of improvement, did send him home at the start of the Overland Campaign (“before we crossed the Rapidan”)
The story of Baldy as quoted from the Meade G.A.R. Post #1History does list ‘Baldy’ at battles subsequent to his apparent removal from the front.
I suspect the later report of the veterans is incorrect and may reflect Meade’s use of his other ‘show’ horses: the brown Morgan, whom he calls a ‘racker’, or ‘Blacky’, who was wounded along with General Meade at the Battle of Glendale, June 30, 1862. (Life & Letters, p.298)
I included all the reports in my brief history in the interests of sharing the complete story.
There are also unpublished parts of Meade’s letters of the time of the Overland Campaign to his wife asking about ‘Baldy’ and of his progress.
The comrades of the Meade Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic in Philadelphia took the name of General Meade for their Post. At the muster of February 26th, 1883, a very interesting and minute report was presented by comrades Albert C. Johnston and H.W.B. Hervey, the committee, who upon their own responsibility, secured and presented to the Post that interesting and valuable relic “Old Baldy”–the head and neck of General Meade’s old war horse ‘Baldy’–and comrade G. Harry Davis, on their behalf, presented “Old Baldy” to the Post, it having been very tastefully placed upon a tablet, which contains briefly the services of the old horse and an account of the wounds he had received in battle.
The Post gave thanks to Mr. John J. Davis the owner of the horse, for his services in assisting the committee in procuring the relic, as the horse was already buried on his farm, and for a photograph of himself and the horse, which was granted.
Letter of General Meade to Capt. Sam Ringwalt, Quartermaster
Regarding handling of “Old Baldy”
Headquarters Army of the Potomac September 24, 1864
Mrs. Meade writes me that you have kindly consented to receive Old Baldy at your place and I hasten to express to you my very great thanks. The Old Fellow was wounded in the flank at Groveton (2 nd Bull Run) was shot through the neck at Antietam, and at Gettysburg a ball passed through the saddle and went into his body where it has remained ever since. I kept him with me until this spring in the hopes he would recover, but fearing he might be an embarrassment in the campaigns, I sent him to Philadelphia just before we crossed the Rapidan. I don’t want you to be bothered, and shall expect you to let me know what expenses he puts you to, that I may reimburse you. I told Mrs. Meade I wanted to have the old horse in somebody’s hands who knew something about him and would not let him be ill used, and I felt sure if you could look out for him, you would. If he continues to improve, and the war lasts, I will bring him into the field again next spring. The ‘Black’ is still my show horse. The wound in his leg which he got at Glendale kept open for about 18 months, but has finally healed up. It never lamed him for a day since Gettysburg, and Baldy’s being out of service, I have bought a large brown horse, said to be a Morgan—a fine strong horse and a great racker. He and the black are my standbys.
I should like very much to see you and have an old fashioned talk on all that has happened since you left. The old Reserves are pretty much all gone. The last that had reenlisted were mostly captured on the 19 th of last month in one of the fights on the Weldon Railroad. Major Baird and Captain Adair are the only officers left whom I can see. We have had some very severe fighting on this last campaign, harder and longer continued than any army ever had before. In the beginning and until we crossed the James River, our men behaved splendidly , but the continuance of the campaign, and the hot weather coming on, together with the great losses we have sustained took a little of the starch out of our boys, and they showed signs of fatigue. We have had showers, a good deal of rest, and the weather is getting cool. All we want is to have our thinned ranks filled up and we shall be ready to go at it again and stay at it until we have compelled the Rebels to say they have had enough. But to do this we must have men, and every one ought to use all their influence to send them to us. The Rebels are being exhausted and now is the time to strike the heavy blows.
When this war is over, I am coming up to Downingtown to see you.
The following article appeared in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph shortly after the death of Old Baldy, and at the time the head had been mounted and presented to the Meade Post #1, G.A.R. at their February, 1883 Campfire. The article contains a large number of factual errors as to the history of his service with General Meade, no doubt due to fading memories, but the article does detail some interesting anecdotes of Baldy’s post war life. It is obvious, that Baldy and his master were revered by the veterans, especially by the Post named in Meade’s honor in his own hometown, and the veterans sought to do both war horse and his master honor by preserving their memory.
The Daily Evening Telegraph Philadelphia, Tuesday, February 27th, 1883
A memento of General George Meade’s warhorse presented to Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic
At a meeting of George G. Meade Post #1, G.A.R. held on Monday, February 26, 1883 at the headquarters, Eleventh and Chestnut streets, Comrades Johnson and Hervey presented the head and neck of General Meade’s old war horse ‘Baldy’ beautifully mounted.
The history of this animal was somewhat peculiar, as he had first been the property of Colonel E. D. Baker, of the 71st California (Pennsylvania) regiment, and had been badly wounded in the nose at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, where his master at that time was killed. (This is obviously incorrect. The veterans have confused the wounding of horse and rider: General David Hunter at the First Battle of Bull Run with the death of Colonel Edward Baker at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, October 21, 1861). After the Pennsylvania Reserves took the field, the horse came into the possession of General George Gordon Meade, and was ridden by him, when circumstances would permit, throughout the entire war (sic). His wounds were six (sic) in number, and at the Battle of South Mountain he was shot and left on the field for dead (The author means: Antietam). Some two or three days after, when a burying party visited the field, Baldy was found grazing on the hillside, and but little hurt from his wound. On four other occasions was he hit, but survived each wound, and returned with his owner at the conclusion of the war. He was getting old, and for the good he had done, he was left on a farm in the vicinity of Jenkintown, to work no more until death released him. He was 30 years of age when he died. Many anecdotes are related of him, and to Mrs. Davis, under whose husband’s charge he had been for a long while, are we indebted for the following incident, which took place last Fourth of July (1882). He had long been stiff, and was seldom found standing up, but on the morning of the nation’s birthday, kicking was heard in the stable, and, on proceeding tither, Old Baldy was found standing up in his stall, and looking as though he would like to go out. The stable door was that once opened, and Baldy marched out. He looked around for a moment, and on seeing the flag which he had followed so long floating over him, he sprang like a colt from his halter, and for some minutes pranced up and down the lane, only to lie down with exhaustion at the end of his gallop.
At last old age overcame him, and for some weeks before his death it was necessary to carry his food to him. On the 20th of December (1882) (sic) he breathed his last and was buried. On Christmas Day comrades Johnson and Hervey visited the farm and were shown his grave.
Proceedings were at once instituted to exhume the body, and in a little while that portion of the noble animal which now adorns the post room was in the hands of the committee. After considerable labor the head and neck were mounted on a slab, with the name and history of the animal emblazoned on its sides, and a laurel wreath tastefully ornamenting the neck. The figure has been tastefully hung on the walls of the post room, and the presentation was made in a Campfire abounding with music and a drum recitative by Master Harry Wolfe, aged five years, a really fine affair. At the conclusion of the Campfire, an old-fashioned lunch was partaken of, consisting of hardtack, pork, beans, and coffee.
Account of ‘Old Baldy’s Death
Public Sprit of Jenkintown, PA December 23, 1882.
General Meade’s Warhorse – The Veteran Charger Killed by a Dose of Poison
After Gallantly Bearing His Master Through Many a Battle in Which He Received Honorable Wounds, the Old Horse Meets his Death.
Brave Old Baldy breathed his last on Saturday (December 16, 1882). He had attained a ripe old age, but with the autumn of his days came infirmities, the unfailing inheritance of horseflesh as of poor humanity. No roll of musketry pealed forth over his newly-made grave, no clang of arms or roll of cannon announced that the brave old war horse had been laid to rest beneath the gnarled apple tree that stands mute sentinel alongside his place of sepulchre.
After playing a prominent part in a score of deadly frays, oft wounded by bullets aimed at an even nobler mark, the veteran lived to survive his heroic master a full decade, and on Saturday (December 16, 1882) a dose of poison from a friendly hand laid General Meade’s favorite charger to rest.
It was in the rear of the blacksmith forge of John J. Davis, who plies his trade alongside his comfortable homestead near the old Abington (Friends) Meeting House that the curtain fell on the last scene of Baldy’s notable career. Before General Meade’s death he gave his old charger to the blacksmith on the condition that he would never sell him into servitude, and that when he was no longer able to perform the light duties that Davis imposed upon him, a friendly bullet or a dose of poison should lay him to rest.
The gift was the outcome of a flattering incident in Baldy’s career. General Meade often occupied during the summer months a house just outside of Jenkintown (Meadow Bank), and his old favorite was always stabled there. One day, a groom took the horse to Davis’ forge to be shod. The blacksmith’s daughters, hearing of the distinguished visitor to the smithy deftly twined a garland of flowers for the warrior horse, and decorated with a wreath, he returned to the general’s home. When returning to the city, he sought a home for his favorite charger, and as Davis had said he should be proud to take care of Baldy if ever his master parted with him, the old fellow found a home at Abington. He lived to be more than thirty years old, and but that of late an affliction of the forelegs has increased to such an extent that he could no longer get up without assistance, he would have been welcome to his comfortable stall until in the natural order of things he departed for the happy hunting grounds. A few days ago, however, it was decided that the kindest act that could be performed for Baldy was to put him quietly out of the way. The services of Dr. D. Davis, the well known veterinary surgeon of Jenkintown were called for and on Saturday at midday the old horse was led out of his stable for the last time. There was grief in the Davis household as Baldy stood shivering in the cold, peering curiously at Dr. Davis as he placed a halter around his head and proceeded to lead him to the place of execution. Mrs. Davis could not stand by and see the death of the brave old fellow, and as the mournful cortege composed of the veterinary surgeon, a well known physician, and a representative of the Public Press accompanied Baldy across a field to the rear of the forge to the foot of an apple tree beneath which a deep hole had been dug to receive his body. Not a work was spoken. True, it was only a dumb animal that was about to stagger, fall and die beneath the deadly action of the potent drug. Yet the mind would conjure up a widely different scene in which Baldy, gay in the trappings of war, with proudly arched neck, heaving flanks and panting nostrils bore amid the clashing of sabers and the hot fire of musketry, the Hero of Gettysburg – Pennsylvania’s noblest son!
The horse looked up with a puzzled air as Dr. Davis clambered up into the tree and made the halter fast to one of the branches, securing his head high up in the air. Baldy in life was as trustful as brave, and he swallowed with all confidence the two ounces of cyanide of potash that was poured down his throat. He took just as readily half a pint of vinegar. The latter liquid instantly freed the prussic acid in the first poison. Baldy braced himself fore and aft, shuddered twice convulsively, and then as the doctor loosened the halter he fell to the ground. A few more struggles and the old war horse stentorously breathed his gallant life away.
Baldy was bred in the ranks. He was a handsome brown horse with four white feet and a white blaze on his face. He was deep in the brisket, had a grand forearm, a rare set of legs and a small, well shaped head neatly set on an arched neck. If there was a fault in his formation, it was his unusual length of barrel, but his truly formed legs were in his best days well able to carry him to victory and glory. The horse was originally the property of General Baker (sic), who rode him in the engagement at Drainsville, Va. (sic), and in the First Battle of Bull Run (sic). General Meade bought him for $150 at Washington, D.C., and bestrode him on two days of the Seven Days Battles that began at Mechanicsville, Va. He carried the general in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and received a bullet in the near hind leg. At Antietam, he again carried his master bravely in the fight until felled by a bullet that passed clean through his neck. The general dismounted and left the charger, as he thought, dead upon the field. Later on, however, on again traversing the ground near the spot where the horse fell, the horse was found by John Marley, Meade’s body servant, quietly browsing on the field of battle. At Gettysburg, both Baldy and his rider (Meade) were wounded. A bullet pierced the saddle flap and lodged in the horse, passing between two of his ribs. An unsuccessful search was made for this bullet. The rib where the bullet had deflected was visibly chipped, and Dr. Davis gave it as his opinion that the missile had subsequently worked its way out though a saddle sore.
A Brief Account of the story of ‘Old Baldy’ by George G. Meade, Jr. the General’s son to the Meade Post #1, G.A.R. after the horse’s head had been presented to the Post.
Colonel Meade, who sent this letter to the Meade Post at the time of the publication of ‘Baldy’s’ record –
132 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA
To the commander of George G. Meade Post #1, Department of Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.)
I have noticed so many errors in the various accounts of General Meade’s old war horse, ‘Baldy’ that I have prepared for you, from my own personal knowledge, and from some data which I have, the following brief statement. So long as you have deemed him worthy, of the honors paid to him, it is just as well, that you should have his record correct.
Baldy’s first service was that the First Battle of Bull Run, where he was twice shot, one of the wounds being through the nose. He was ridden in this engagement by General David Hunter, Colonel of the Third U.S. Cavalry, commanding Second Division. General Hunter was himself badly wounded in this battle. At this time ‘Baldy’ was probably government property, as General Meade shortly after, in September 1861, purchased him from the Quartermaster Department. From this time on he followed the fortunes of General Meade in the Army of the Potomac.
He was shot in the leg at the Second Battle of Bull Run, though not badly hurt. He was also shot through the neck at Antietam, this wound also approved slight, and he soon recovered. The last and most serious wound he received, on the afternoon of the Second of July, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg, General Meade had first ridden up to the front, on the left center, as the reinforcements were being hurried up to the support of that part of the line, the bullet that struck Baldy, first passed through the right trouser leg of General Meade and the flap of his saddle, and then into ‘Baldy’s’ body where it remained. ‘Baldy’ on being hit, came to a standstill and staggered a little but soon recovered. He however could not be got to go ahead and endeavored to turn away to the rear. No amount of urging or coaxing on the part of the General could get him to move on. General Meade then remarked, “Baldy is done for this time this is the first time he ever refused to go under fire.”, or words to that effect. The general was promptly supplied with another horse, and ‘Baldy’ was led to the rear.
In hopes that Baldy would recover, the general kept him with him until the following spring, though he was never able to use him. Just before the army crossed the Rapidan in May, 1864, fearing ‘Baldy’ would be in the way in the coming campaign, he was sent to Philadelphia and shortly afterward placed in charge of Captain Samuel Ringwalt of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, an old friend of General Meade’s who had served with him in the early days of the war and knew all about Baldy, and who the general was certain would take good care of him. He remained with Captain Ringwalt until after the close of the war, when General Meade returned to Philadelphia in 1865. ‘Baldy’ was found to have entirely recovered and to be in as good condition as ever. The General constantly used him during the next few years, until from hard service and old age he became unsafe as a saddle horse.
He then presented him to John F. Davis, near Jenkintown, Montgomery County, Pa. who took the best of care of him until his death.
‘Baldy’ had another scar on one of his flanks which was either the second wound he referred to as received at First Bull Run, or was received in some other engagement, and no note made of. Those of your members, who have followed General Meade on his many battlefields from Mechanicsville to Gettysburg, can bear witness as to his being found where the fighting was the hottest, so that ‘Old Baldy’, whom he preferred to ride on such occasions, had plenty of opportunities of receiving any number of scars.
In November, 1872, ‘Baldy’ was present in the funeral cortege of General Meade and followed the body of his old master to his grave. He must have been at least eight years old when he came into the possession of General Meade in 1861, which would make him about thirty (30) at the time of his death.
Trusting that the above account will be of interest to you, I remain
From the souvenir booklet entitled “Historic Views of Gettysburg,” published in 1912:
“‘Old Baldy’ died December 16, 1882, and on Christmas day was resurrected by Albert Johnson and Harry W. Hervey, members of Meade Post #1, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. They had his head stuffed, mounted on an ebony shield, inscribed with a record of his service, and together with the front hoofs, which were made into inkstands, it was presented to their Post: Gen. Geo. Meade Post No. 1, G. A. R., of Philadelphia.”
Historic Views of Gettysburg – Illustrations in Half-Tone of all the Monuments, Important Views and Historical Places on the Gettysburg Battlefield
Text by Robert C. [Clinton] Miller
Published by J. I. Mumper and R. C. Miller, Custodian of the Jennie Wade House, Gettysburg, Pa.
Copyright, 1912, By J. K. Mumper and R. C. Miller
(as far as can be ascertained, the front hooves were never used as inkstands, and only one of the hooves is known to exist: the one in the collections of the Old York Road Historical Society, Jenkintown, PA. There is a written inscription on the hoof confirming its origin. The other missing hoof was last known to have been in the collections of the War Library (previously MOLLUS War Museum, then on 1805 Pine St, Philadelphia now the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia), but its present whereabouts are unknown.
An interesting incident at Gettysburg concerning General Meade and a ‘borrowed’ horse:
On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, General Meade reacting to a report that indicated that General Sickles’ III Corps, assigned to a position on the left flank of the Army of the Potomac along Cemetery Ridge onto Little Round Top, was out of position, caused Meade to call for his trusted war horse ‘Old Baldy’ to be brought to him, so that he could ride out to the area of contention, and view the lines for himself. Old Baldy was, however, not ready for immediate use, at which knowledge, General Pleasonton, the Cavalry commander, then serving at Meade’s HQ offered his own horse to Meade to use, since he was saddled and waiting. This horse is reported to be named ‘Bill’.
General Meade mounted ‘Bill’ quickly and proceeded to ride out to the new line of Sickles’ Corps to meet the III Corps commander and iron out any expected difficulties. The following episode was observed by a staff officer of Sickles: Major Henry Tremain, who wrote of the incident in his memoirs in 1905:
“Suddenly, a little to the north of where we (Sickles and staff) were standing (thought to be near the Peach Orchard), a small body of horsemen appeared to my surprise on our open field … and at a place of all others most tempting to the enemy’s guns…Rapidly approaching us the group proved to be General Meade and a portion of his staff.
General Sickles rode towards them, and I followed closely, necessarily hearing the brief, because interrupted, colloquy that ensued.
General Sickles saluted with a polite observation. General Meade said: ‘General Sickles, I am afraid you are too far out.’ General Sickles responded: ‘I will withdraw if you wish, sir.’ General Meade replied: ‘I think it is too late. The enemy will not allow you. If you need more artillery, call on the artillery reserve.’
“Bang!” a single gun sounded.
‘The V Corps and a division of Hancock will support you.’
His last sentence was caught with difficulty. It was interrupted. It came out in jerks, in sections between the acts, to speak literally. The conference was not concluded. No more at the moment was possible to be heard. The conversation could not be continued. Neither the noise nor any destruction had arrested it. Attracted by the group, it was a shot at them from a battery…The great ball went high and harmlessly struck the ground beyond. But the whizzing missile had frightened the charger of General Meade into an uncontrollable frenzy. He reared, he plunged. He could not be quieted. Nothing was possible to be done with such a beast except to let him run and run he would, and run he did. The staff straggled after him and so General Meade, against his own will, as I then believed and afterwards ascertained to be the fact, was apparently ingloriously and involuntarily carried from the front at the formal opening of the furious engagement of July 2, 1863.
In relating this incident to General Pleasonton, the cavalry corps commander then tarrying at Head-quarters, he told me that there was a simple explanation of the horse feature of this affair. General Meade has sent for his own horse and was impatient at the delay in bringing it to him. He had ordered it instantly. Pleasonton, who was standing near, said: ‘Take my horse, General. He is right here.’ With minds preoccupied in battle neither general stopped to “talk horse”. General Pleasonton never thought to caution General Meade not to use his curb rein. The men of the old regular army habitually used the curb. This was General Meade’s habit. This animal was bridled with a peculiar curb, which, as Pleasonton narrates, he seldom, if ever, used on this horse, reining him only by the snaffle. So it was probable that at his initial fright from the passing missile this horse suddenly felt an involuntary twitch of the curb (he was not accustomed to feel a curb bit) as the rider (Meade) may have carelessly seized his rein, and so the spirited animal made off with him.
There was no particular harm done by or to anybody in the whole affair, as far as I ever learned. But, it has always remained with me as a regretful thought that fifteen minutes longer of the presence that afternoon of the army commander near the lines, and upon the topography, which concerned the operations of the III Corps, might have made a great difference in the performances that day.”
“Two Days of War: A Gettysburg Narrative” by Henry E. Tremain. 1905 (pgs. 63-67)
During times of war, Fort George G. Meade was the morale booster
A few months before the United States was drawn into World War II, the U.S. Army created the Morale Branch, which was tasked with creating recreational diversions for soldiers. The branch was renamed Special Services a year later as it grew into a huge organization with branches responsible for athletics, entertainment, music, motion pictures, libraries, handicrafts and administrative functions.
In the 1990s, Roger White wrote a six-part series for the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society’s newsletter, about the Special Services Division and the role played by Fort Meade during World War II. As White put it, Special Services was needed to “fill the idle time of servicemen who were training in U.S. camps, stationed at isolated outposts overseas, or were pulled back from the front lines of battle for rest or reequipment. … Recreational programs were needed to occupy, strengthen, and refresh the fighting man.”
According to author Molly Guptill Manning, in “When Books Went to War,” “Although morale was severely challenged in the island battles, the Pacific theater, especially in the later years of the war, was not devoid of amusements for those out of the line of fire. Few newspapers and magazines gave credit to the important work done by the Special Services Division on behalf of the servicemen deployed in these remote regions.”
It succeeded to an astonishing degree around the world. In one instance, as described by Manning, “To temper the stress of battle and provide an escape from the death that surrounded the men, recreation and rest periods were critical. The Special Services Division worked miracles to try to get morale-boosting equipment onto each island in record time. Within four days of the first American landing on Saipan, the Marines were greeted with a boatload of books. Three days later, a library was established.”
Following the formation of the Morale Branch, the War Department directed regiments and battalions to have a full-time recreation officer. A training school was needed.
Special Services School
Fort George G. Meade was chosen as the site for the school for Special Services in 1942. The book “Maryland in World War II,” published by the Maryland Historical Society, described its purpose:
“Fort Meade’s Special Service Unit Training Center emphasized an entirely different phase of military life. Concerned with the soldier’s morale, the officials of this school turned out trained motion picture electricians and projection machine operators, radio engineers, theatrical, musical and athletic technicians, librarians, information and education officers and post exchange personnel. From the graduates of these courses, the center’s officials formed complete entertainment units and sent them to camps, posts and stations at home and abroad so that GI Joe and GI Jane would not be dull through lack of recreation.”
The initial curriculum for the school was created after analyzing the experiences of current recreation officers in camps and posts across the country. Each group of recreation officers took a month-long course and modifications were made on the fly. By the time the seventh group was seated, the course work had expanded to include theatricals, music, education and – lest anyone forget this was the military – unarmed defense.
The number of officer attendees was always increasing, as were instructors and civilian guest lecturers. The school became so popular that it outgrew Fort Meade’s facilities. It moved to Washington & Lee University in Virginia in December 1942. Many of its functions, and enlisted training for Special Services, however, remained at Fort Meade.
As described by White in his series, Special Services “trained enlisted men at Fort Meade to organize and implement entertainment and athletics activities, including live music, stage shows, songfests, motion picture shows, short-wave radio pickups, and games for and by GIs overseas. Some Special Service men were talented performers who had been professional entertainers in civilian life others had demonstrated their ability to manage or present various forms of entertainment in civilian life or in the Army.”
Entertainment in a box
One of the more impressive functions of Special Services at Fort Meade was the portable kits assembled and shipped to war zones.
“The kits reflected the need to provide something for every GI in a large, heterogeneous Army,” according to White. They certainly did, and then some.
Athletics kits provided equipment for baseball (including catchers’ gear and bases), football, boxing, horseshoes, softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, ping-pong and board games. Air pumps, laces and repair kits were included. Special Services soldiers were trained to act as officials in all sports.
Music kits provided everything needed to form a band: harmonicas, ocarinas, guitars, ukuleles, sheet music and a small upright piano custom-built for the military by Steinway & Sons. There were also phonographs, records and a radio.
Theatrical kits were designed for GIs to stage their own shows and included wigs, costumes, stage money, makeup, a public address system, books, microphones and a gas generator.
Library-publication kits contained magazines, newspapers and 2,000 books, along with a mimeograph machine, typewriter, pencils, paper and stencils to allow the soldiers (with help from Special Services) to print their own newsletter.
Post exchange kits were portable stores where soldiers could purchase razors, shoe polish, candy, beer, soft drinks, cigarettes, cigars, toiletries, towels, writing paper and envelopes, postcards, cards, dice, poker chips, wrist watches and dozens of other items. A special inventory for Army nurses was included, such as handkerchiefs, bobby pins, cleansing cream, toiletries and much more.
Movie kits enabled the GIs to watch first run movies – provided by Hollywood studios – close to the front by providing a movie projector and screen, along with the film reels, an amplifier, microphones, turntable, portable generator and spare parts and repair kits.
Special Service technicians trained at Fort Meade accompanied the kits to the war zones and assisted with their set-up and use.
Over the years and around the world (not including Fort Meade), Special Services boasted an impressive roster of celebrities in the military who entertained the troops, including:
Actor Ken Berry (“Mayberry RFD,” “F Troop”) served in Special Services under Sgt. Leonard Nimoy (“Star Trek”). Berry was a song-and-dance man for the troops and was also used for recruiting. Nimoy wrote, produced and starred in plays put on for the soldiers.
Sammy Davis, Jr. entertained troops during WWII, all the while enduring violent and constant racism.
Actor Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on the 1960s “Batman” TV show) served in Special Services for 18 months during the Korean War.
Actor Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink in “Hogan’s Heroes”) toured the Pacific theater with Special Services entertaining troops during WWII.
Burt Lancaster joined the Army in 1942 and toured Europe with Special Services.
Allan Ludden (host of the game show “Password)” commanded the Special Services Branch in Hawaii during WWII.
Singer Roger Miller (“King of the Road”) joined the military during the Korean War to avoid jail time for stealing a guitar. He played in a military music group.
Martin Milner (“Adam-12”) directed training films for Special Services and performed for the troops in the early 1950s.
Actor Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell on “Leave it to Beaver”) was in the Army Reserves during the last few years of the show. He was granted leave from the show’s final year in 1963 so he could make appearances with Special Services.
Carl Reiner was drafted into the Army in 1943. After auditioning for an acting role in an Army-produced play, he was transferred to Special Services.
Mickey Rooney toured the world entertaining troops for Special Services and worked as a radio announcer for the American Forces Network.
Actor Hal Smith (Otis on “The Andy Griffith Show”) served in Special Services during WWII.
Actor and comedian Rip Taylor entertained troops in Asia during the Korean War.
Dick Van Dyke was a radio announcer and entertainer for Special Services during WWII.
Fort Meade converted to POW camp in World War II [History Matters]
In 1943, the U.S. military found itself in a bind with thousands of captured POWs and nowhere to house them in Europe or Africa. The solution was to convert many of the internment camps on U.S. military bases, including Fort Meade, and former Civilian Conservation Corps camps for POWs.
Fort Meade housed an internment camp at the start of World War II for primarily German-American and Italian-American citizens and foreign nationals. In 1943, however, the military found itself in a bind with thousands of captured POWs and nowhere to house them in Europe or Africa. The solution was to convert many of the internment camps on U.S. military bases, including Fort Meade, and former Civilian Conservation Corps camps for POWs.
When World War II started, Fort Meade's mission was to train Army ground forces. According to "Maryland in World War II," published by the Maryland Historical Society, Fort Meade trained numerous Infantry Divisions and State Guard groups, as well as Medical Corps Signal Corps field, coastal or anti-aircraft artillery military police and Women's Army Corps.
Fort Meade was also assigned a top secret activity once the war began: formation of the Enemy Prisoner of War Bureau.
"The bureau's workers maintained records on all enemy prisoners of war captured by American forces," according to "Maryland in World War II.
"The file was complete from the first Japanese prisoner pulled from the waters of Pearl Harbor early in the morning of December 8, 1941, to the last enemy captured in 1945. All letters and packages addressed to German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war came to Meade for forwarding, the mail frequently running to a hundred and fifty bags a day."
There was also an interrogation center at the fort. It's unknown how much valuable information it uncovered, but one case had deadly consequences. U-boat prisoner Werner Drechsler collaborated with the intelligence branch at Fort Meade. When he was transferred to Camp Papago Park in Arizona, his fellow German POWs somehow found out and hanged him.
When the decision was made to convert the camps for POWs, internees were shipped out, security at the camp was reinforced, and temporary wood frame buildings were added to handle the increased population. New security regulations issued by post headquarters mandated that "all persons on foot, whether soldiers or civilians, are directed to keep at least 30 paces from the outer fence of the prisoner of war stockade, and to keep moving at all times. Guards have been instructed to fire on any person attempting to converse or otherwise make contact with prisoners."
In September 1943, the first POWs, mostly Italian but also a few dozen German, arrived. As the POWs began to filter in, the administrative burden kicked in. In her book, "Stalag: U.S.A: The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America," author Judith Gansberg wrote, "Their Hitlerite education had taught Germans that Americans were disorganized, undisciplined, and senile — characteristics Germans despised most. The Property Branch of the Enemy Information Bureau at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, did nothing to dispel that image. Medical instruments, watches, pens, eyeglasses, cash, cameras, and untold other items were 'misplaced.' Naturally, the sheer volume of property contributed to the confusion at Fort Meade. But, too often, tags were lost or items added to a G.I.'s 'souvenirs.'"
Like most POW camps across the country, Fort Meade was populated with German soldiers mostly from the Wehrmacht (army). Later studies would reveal that a small percentage of POWs, possibly no more than 10 percent, were Nazi diehards. The military sent the hard core Nazi sympathizers to special camps segregated from the regular POWs.
Even so, in an inspection report by the Red Cross, dated Sept. 6, 1944, the "Anti Nazi Section" of the Meade POW camp is described. This was a section that housed prisoners who "have provided very useful information since capture" and are segregated because "they would be in considerable danger from loyal Nazis." Among this population were some Polish citizens who "said that they accepted service in the German Army as the lesser of two evils and made efforts to be taken prisoner at the earliest possible moment."
In 1943, with so many American men off fighting the war, the sentiment to use the POWs as a labor force gained steam. The War Department relented and came up with new regulations for this. In Maryland, Fort Meade remained the main POW camp, but 18 smaller regional camps were set up across the state. Nationwide, 650 camps were constructed for approximately 400,000 German and 50,000 Italian POWs.
The Geneva Convention forbids forced labor by POWs, so participation was voluntary. Many POWs welcomed the opportunity to get out of the camp and keep busy, so participation was high. POWs worked at a variety of jobs, such as agriculture and manufacturing. The POWs from Fort Meade worked all over the area, including Howard, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Baltimore City.
In Howard County, POWs from the regional camp in Frederick helped with the construction of Brighton Dam. POWs doing agricultural work were dropped off at Hardman's Tourist Home, on Frederick Avenue and St. John's Lane, where the farmers would pick them up. This program was run by County Agent Warren Myers and civilian supervisor John Yingling, the former principal of Ellicott City elementary and high schools.
Meade itself benefitted from the labor pool. In addition to performing tasks like laundry, engineering, mail sorting and repair of base residences, German POWs built three stone bridges on base that are still in use.
The workforce was paid the equivalent of 80 cents a day in scrip that could only be used in the camp store. Employers paid the prevailing wage to the state for the labor, meaning that not only did the program pay for itself, the state of Maryland actually made a profit on the POWs. Employers also benefitted — state officials at the time reported that the POW labor created a 35 percent increase in Maryland's tomato crop in 1945.
When the POWs first arrived at Fort Meade, they had to be segregated from the hard-core Nazi crew of the S.S. Odenwald, who had been sent to the camp with the internees. The Odenwald crew intimidated and terrorized the internees until they were separated from the rest of the camp. Fort Meade officials were not going to make the same mistake again with German Wehrmacht troops who were mostly content to sit out the war. The ship's crew was transferred to New Mexico shortly after the POWs arrived.
Prisoners of war were issued denim shirts and pants with "PW" stenciled on them. They were allowed to keep their uniforms to wear to church and were escorted to the post chapel to attend Protestant or Roman Catholic services, which must have been a startling sight for Fort Meade families.
The German and Italian troops had to be segregated, since there was no love lost between the Axis partners. This was demonstrated after Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, and one month later declared war on Germany. According to the New York Times, "Italian hatred of the Germans unquestionably grew as the fighting spirit waned, and episodes between German and Italian soldiers and civilians before and after the armistice have shown pretty clearly a complete and incontrovertible end of all sympathy between the former Axis partners."
The Fort Meade Post reported the reaction of Italian POWs on Oct. 15, 1943: "Italian prisoners of war held at this post are ready right now to join in their country's fight against Germany." The Baltimore Sun reported a prisoner shouted "We Allies now, we Allies." In May 1944, the former Italian POWs at Fort Meade were activated in the Army as three Italian Service Companies with quartermaster duties at the fort.
At the conclusion of the war, the long process of repatriating the POWs began, and Meade's Enemy Prisoner of War Bureau played a major role. According to a Department of Defense report titled "Historic Context: World War II Prisoner-of-War Camps on Department of Defense Installations," some German POWs were dismayed by the U.S. policy of repatriation at the end of the war: "Some Germans liked America and even asked permission to remain in the United States and become citizens. All were denied. It was a firm American policy that all POWs must be repatriated back to the nation in whose army they were captured."
A small section of the post cemetery contains the remains of 33 German and two Italian POWs who died during the war. According to the Anne Arundel County Historical Society, the POWs died from a variety of causes, such as diphtheria, heart disease, meningitis, tuberculosis, skull fractures while working or suicide. But the grave of the only officer buried there doesn't tell his story.
German submarine commander Werner Henke was so highly decorated he received one of his decorations from Hitler himself in 1943. Henke's story is told in Timothy P. Mulligan's book, "Lone Wolf, The Life and Death of U-Boat Ace Werner Henke."
U-Boats under Henke's command sank 22 Allied ships, including the passenger liner Ceramic in November 1944. Allied propaganda about the incident alleged that Henke had the survivors gunned down in their lifeboats, which was not true. The rumors persisted that he was wanted as a war criminal.
His U-Boat was sunk and his crew captured in April 1944. Separated from his crew, Henke was sent to a highly classified interrogation center in Fort Hunt, Va., near Mount Vernon. He spent six weeks at Fort Hunt, and his interrogators used the rumors as leverage. Convinced that he would be hanged as a war criminal, Henke committed suicide by attempting to escape in front of the guards. Ignoring repeated commands to halt, Henke scaled the first barbed-wire fence and was climbing the second when the tower guards opened up on him with their machine guns. He died hanging from the top of the fence.
As Mulligan tells it in his book, "Even in death, Werner Henke remained a thorn in the side of the Allies." His death presented a problem: "even acknowledging the shooting would compromise the center's secrecy."
His body was transferred to Fort Meade for burial in the POW cemetery.
"Thereafter, all official records, including the formal response in November 1944 to German inquiries, testified to Henke's death at Fort Meade. Henke's internment there furthered the deception."
Laurel resident Mikolaj (Mike) Kogut's war experience proved fascinating and serendipitous. Kogut died in 2008, but his wife, Violette, still lives in their home in West Laurel.
Kogut, born in Ukraine, was captured by the Nazis when he was 15 and sent to a work camp. After being processed, Kogut was waiting in a packed railroad cattle car that was pointing west, toward the Black Forest where he was being sent. Everyone knew that was the direction you wanted to go because trains heading east, to Russia, were filled with people no one would ever see again. As Kogut's train pulled out, he looked at the train pointing east and caught a glimpse of the rest of his family in that cattle car. He never saw them again.
Kogut was put to work on a farm in the Black Forest. The farmer was in the German Army so Kogut never met him. The farmer's wife was very kind to Kogut and he never forgot it.
After the war, Kogut came to the United States and went to work for the Department of Defense, eventually at Fort Meade. Kogut and his wife settled in Laurel in 1971, and both their children are Laurel High School graduates.
On a trip to France, Kogut told Violette he wanted to go see the farm in the Black Forest. They drove to it and met the farmer, who still lived there. His wife had died, but the farmer recognized Kogut's name because his wife talked about him so much over the years. The farmer told Mike and Violette Kogut all about his wartime experiences and revealed that he had spent a few years as a captured POW — at Fort Meade.