Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > World History Forum > American History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

American History American History Forum - United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old September 6th, 2012, 11:27 AM   #1

Salah's Avatar
Unchained
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Baltimorean-in-exile
Posts: 18,923
Blog Entries: 166
What did Meade actually do at Gettysburg?


George Meade took command of the Union Army of the Potomac after Joseph Hooker's resignation was accepted, on the eve of the Gettysburg Campaign. He had only been in command of the Army for several days when the great battle was fought, July 1st-3rd of 1863. Despite achieving their famous victory over Robert E. Lee, Meade and his Army were largely inactive for the rest of the year. Though Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac for the rest of the War, he was mostly overshadowed by Ulysses S Grant in the Overland, Petersburg, and Appomattox campaigns.

Most accounts of Gettysburg, however, pay little attention to George Meade, which leads me to wonder, what exactly was he up to on those three fateful days? Or rather - was Gettysburg Meade's victory, or simply the Army of the Potomac's victory? Has he just been overlooked in popular memory because his opponent on the other side of the field became one of the most famous figures in American history?

Likewise, did Meade accomplish anything noteworthy during the Overland Campaign and afterwards? In the 1864-1865 period I seldom see him mentioned except where he was being a pain in the rear for Grant.

And, some more food for thought...

Could Meade have pursued the Army of Northern Virginia after Gettysburg? Should he have, and would it be fair to consider him another failed commander of the Army of the Potomac for his inactivity?
Salah is offline  
Remove Ads
Old September 6th, 2012, 12:47 PM   #2

diddyriddick's Avatar
Forum Curmudgeon
 
Joined: May 2009
From: A tiny hamlet in the Carolina Sandhills
Posts: 13,137

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
Most accounts of Gettysburg, however, pay little attention to George Meade, which leads me to wonder, what exactly was he up to on those three fateful days? Or rather - was Gettysburg Meade's victory, or simply the Army of the Potomac's victory? Has he just been overlooked in popular memory because his opponent on the other side of the field became one of the most famous figures in American history?
While I think very highly of Meade, and he was the commander of record at Gettysburg, It's hard to give him that much credit for the victory at Gettysburg. He didn't arrive on the field until Hancock (IIRC) had already ordered the defensive positions on Cemetary Ridge. To be clear, he did manage the AoP as well as can be expected once he was there, it's hard to give him the "win."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
Likewise, did Meade accomplish anything noteworthy during the Overland Campaign and afterwards? In the 1864-1865 period I seldom see him mentioned except where he was being a pain in the rear for Grant.
I'm not sure this is entirely fair. With Grant moving with his Army, and Grant's well deserved reputation, Meade was in an impossible position.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
Could Meade have pursued the Army of Northern Virginia after Gettysburg? Should he have, and would it be fair to consider him another failed commander of the Army of the Potomac for his inactivity?
Many did and do today think that Meade failed. Lincoln was notably disappointed that Meade didn't pursue Lee as aggressively as he might have. Moreover, much of the discontent was fomented by Daniel Butterfield, whom Meade had inherited as chief of staff from Hooker. Butterfield despised Meade and spread nasty rumours. Meade should have court-martialed him, but didn't for a number of reasons.

Again, though, I don't think the "Meade-wasn't-aggressive-enough-chasing-Lee-after-Gettysburg" position is entirely merited. Meade was new to command. He had lost 4 of 7 corps commanders WIA or KIA, not to mention countless divisional, brigade, and regimental commanders. The AoP may have won at Gettysburg, but they were pretty badly beaten up. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a more vigorous pursuit of the retreating Lee would have had the desired results anyway. Attacking a retreating opponent is a dangerous and difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. To do it with a bloodied army could have been REALLY nasty for the AoP-especially when that opponent was commanded by the wily Lee.
diddyriddick is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 01:01 PM   #3
Historian
 
Joined: Jun 2012
Posts: 1,765

Indeed. Given Lee/Longstreet's proven ability in defensive battles that might have turned a major victory into a new defeat. Was Meade aware of how disastrous the battle had been in weakening Lee's forces?
zincwarrior is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 03:22 PM   #4

Viperlord's Avatar
Scalawag
 
Joined: Aug 2010
From: VA
Posts: 6,098
Blog Entries: 12

As a Grant man, I have my criticisms of Meade's management of the Army of the Potomac, but much of the criticism he gets is unfair. I'll take Salah's points one at a time here.


Quote:
Most accounts of Gettysburg, however, pay little attention to George Meade, which leads me to wonder, what exactly was he up to on those three fateful days?
If you haven't read it, Coddington's classic study of the battle has as one of it's main points, a greater focus on the Union high command than previous works. I'll paraphrase from it briefly here. An unusual power Meade was granted was the ability to ignore seniority and promote as he saw fit, much as Grant would later do. Meade made frequent use of this ability, first granting Hancock command at Gettysburg until he got there, although Hancock was the most junior corps commander behind George Sykes at this point. He also told Hancock to make Gibbon the temporary II Corps commander while Hancock played wing commander, although Gibbon did not possess seniority among the II Corps division leaders. Meade attempted to replace Hooker's controversial chief of staff, Daniel Butterfield, whom he privately detested, but to no avail, and did his best to work with the man for the rest of the campaign. Butterfield was actually efficient, but a Hooker crony and a backbiter, who would later join Sickles in bitterly criticizing Meade.

Meade almost immediately formulated a general plan of action; he told Halleck he would move towards the Susquehanna, screening Washington and Baltimore, and that he would give Lee battle if he didn't cross the Susquehanna or attempted to move on Baltimore. Meade promptly began concentrating and coordinating his scattered army, moving most to the general vicinity of Frederick, except for the Sixth Corps which lagged behind a bit. Meade consulted with his cavalry commander, Pleasonton, and wired Halleck a unheard-of request; he wanted cavalry captains George A. Custer, Wesley Merritt, and Elom Farnsworth promoted to brigadier generals. Either Halleck complied immediately, which would have been unusual, or Meade went ahead and assigned brigades to these young officers. Merritt would become one of the best cavalrymen of the war, Custer would prove effective and aggressive, and Farnsworth would die at Gettysburg.

When he learned of Stuart's raid, Meade dispatched some cavalry to go out after Stuart, and suggested preparing defenses at some key locations, but otherwise ignored him. Meade also made use of the inexperienced Union troops formerly stationed at Harper's Ferry to protect the army's rear, while he moved with his veterans to confront Lee.

During the first-twenty four hours of his command, Meade effectively concentrated his army, prepared an advance of over twenty miles the next day, and got the men started early, as well as making other preparations. Andrew A. Humphreys, Meade's future chief of staff and not an easy man to impress, stated, after discussing the difficulty of moving a great army, "I take it too that this army has never been moved so skillfully before as it has been during Meade's command".

After a grueling march the next day, Meade fanned out his army in a manner that protected his wings and let him concentrate the army in case of emergency. On June 30th, Meade learned that Longstreet and Hill were near Chambersburg, moving in the direction of Gettysburg, and Ewell was at York. Meade concluded that the Confederates would advance towards Gettysburg, and sent the II and III Corps to back up Reynolds. Meade assigned Reynolds temporary command of about a third of his army to watch the left flank, the point of danger. With Buford in position, Reynolds possessed good information about the enemy's movements.

Around this time, Meade slowed his march to spare his men, ordered the army to rid itself of unnecessary baggage, and ordered his corps commanders to familiarize themselves with the roads. He also kept his corps commanders in the loop, unlike Hooker. Meade warned Pleasonton that the cavalry's first job was to get him information, not fight battles, although the unsavory Pleasonton essentially disregarded this. Meade issued two important orders; one for a general advance on July 1st, in the direction of Gettysburg, and the infamous Pipe Creek Circular, which was a contingency plan for a withdrawal to a very strong position just across the Maryland border.

Meade definitely factored in Gettysburg in his plans; he sent First and Eleventh Corps to the town, the Second to Taneytown but with the option of moving to Gettysburg or Emmitsburg as the situation dictated, the Fifth to Hanover, the Third to Emmitsburg, and the Twelfth to Two Taverns. Two corps to Gettysburg and four within supporting distance on roads that lead into Gettysburg. Coddington calls Meade's movements and plans a beautiful strategic pattern. In April 1864, a military historian called John Ropes discussed the Gettysburg Campaign with Meade, and concluded that Meade had acted with prudence but sufficient boldness. And this is to say nothing of his work in the battle itself.
Viperlord is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 03:46 PM   #5

Viperlord's Avatar
Scalawag
 
Joined: Aug 2010
From: VA
Posts: 6,098
Blog Entries: 12

Quote:
He didn't arrive on the field until Hancock (IIRC) had already ordered the defensive positions on Cemetary Ridge.
Oddly, none other than Oliver Otis "Uh-Oh" Howard deserves a bit of credit here; he positioned his reserve division on Cemetery Ridge before Hancock even arrived.
Viperlord is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 03:54 PM   #6

Viperlord's Avatar
Scalawag
 
Joined: Aug 2010
From: VA
Posts: 6,098
Blog Entries: 12

As for Meade's performance during the retreat from Gettysburg, I firmly believe he did as well as humanly possible. I've posted this before, and I shall undoubtedly post it again.

1. The poor performance of his cavalry commander, Alfred Pleasonton. Pleasonton, who often turned in mixed performances, was also acting in effect as Meade's chief of staff at this time, so it's not surprising perhaps that his job wasn't performed well. Nevertheless, Pleasonton effectively moved an entire Union cavalry division (Gregg's) to a location where it would be of no discernible use to the immediate pursuit, and failed to make a concerted effort to block the Confederate withdrawal.

2. A magnificent performance by the Confederate cavalry in screening the retreat. Some historians have called the retreat "Stuart Redeemed", and while how much he really did wrong during his infamous ride is questionable, his performance during the retreat was unquestionably excellent. The performance of cavalry brigade commander John Imboden at Williamsport effectively saved the Confederate army. By stalemating Buford for long enough, Imoboden gained Lee the time to turn Williamsport into a virtual fortress, not to mention protecting the army's ambulance train.

3. Meade's orders to screen Washington constrained him to a less direct route to the Potomac than the one Lee took.

4. The damage to the Union command structure at Gettysburg. He had lost Hancock and Reynolds, his two most able subordinates, and Sickles, while a debatable loss, was at least aggressive. As he had been stuck with Daniel Butterfield, whom he privately loathed, as his chief of staff for the campaign, staff work was not at it's best following the battle either. His corps commanders following Gettysburg were were Sedgwick, Slocum, Howard, Newton (I Corps), Sykes, Hays (To eventually be replaced by G.K. Warren in temporarily leading II Corps) and Birney (III Corps acting commander, replaced by the considerably worse William French, a major thorn in Meade's side). This was not an aggressive bunch of commanders. Sedgwick was the best of the lot, and his performance at Salem Church in independent command could hardly be called aggressive.

5. State of the Union army. Entire formations such as the Union III Corps had been heavily damaged. The only entirely unhurt formation was the Union VI Corps, and this infantry corps along with Buford and Kilpatrick's cavalry were the main spearheads of the pursuit that began on July 5th.

6. The situation at the end of the pursuit. Union forces destroyed Lee's pontoon bridge across the Potomac, and in fact had him cornered at Williamsport with his back to the river. However, Lee had had time to entrench, very heavily. Meade called a council of war, and many of his generals opposed an attack under those circumstances. Meade decided to send a reconnaissance in force the next day to see if a full-scale attack could be successful. Before he had the chance, Lee managed to slip away the next day.

7. Logistical factors. Meade was moving away from his supply trains, and Lee towards his. Meade had ordered the rear areas of his army cleared of obstruction during the battle; this facilitated the rapid movement of troops on interior lines, but didn't aid the pursuit. There's a myriad of logistical factors that hampered Meade, some covered in Kent Masterson Brown's work on the retreat from Gettysburg.

8. Lack of aggression from Meade? An examination of the army's movement and particularly the dispatches between Meade and Washington refute this notion. Indeed, Meade crossed the river in pursuit of Lee and became so aggressive that Halleck and the War Department reined him in! The New York draft riots occurring shortly after Gettysburg resulted in the transfer of veterans from the Army of the Potomac, weakening Meade's army. Modern Gettysburg retreat scholars Kent Brown, Eric Wittenberg, and J.D. Petruzzi all conclude Meade did about as well as possible under the circumstances during the pursuit, though he did make mistakes. Even Coddington's seminal work on the battle of Gettysburg, though not uncritical, sympathizes with Meade's difficulties during the retreat. Meade did not deserve the criticism he got for Lee's escape.
Viperlord is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 04:16 PM   #7

Hopeforus's Avatar
Archivist
 
Joined: Aug 2011
From: Where I retired.
Posts: 209

Quote:
Originally Posted by Viperlord View Post
As for Meade's performance during the retreat from Gettysburg, I firmly believe he did as well as humanly possible. I've posted this before, and I shall undoubtedly post it again.

1. The poor performance of his cavalry commander, Alfred Pleasonton. Pleasonton, who often turned in mixed performances, was also acting in effect as Meade's chief of staff at this time, so it's not surprising perhaps that his job wasn't performed well. Nevertheless, Pleasonton effectively moved an entire Union cavalry division (Gregg's) to a location where it would be of no discernible use to the immediate pursuit, and failed to make a concerted effort to block the Confederate withdrawal.

2. A magnificent performance by the Confederate cavalry in screening the retreat. Some historians have called the retreat "Stuart Redeemed", and while how much he really did wrong during his infamous ride is questionable, his performance during the retreat was unquestionably excellent. The performance of cavalry brigade commander John Imboden at Williamsport effectively saved the Confederate army. By stalemating Buford for long enough, Imoboden gained Lee the time to turn Williamsport into a virtual fortress, not to mention protecting the army's ambulance train.

3. Meade's orders to screen Washington constrained him to a less direct route to the Potomac than the one Lee took.

4. The damage to the Union command structure at Gettysburg. He had lost Hancock and Reynolds, his two most able subordinates, and Sickles, while a debatable loss, was at least aggressive. As he had been stuck with Daniel Butterfield, whom he privately loathed, as his chief of staff for the campaign, staff work was not at it's best following the battle either. His corps commanders following Gettysburg were were Sedgwick, Slocum, Howard, Newton (I Corps), Sykes, Hays (To eventually be replaced by G.K. Warren in temporarily leading II Corps) and Birney (III Corps acting commander, replaced by the considerably worse William French, a major thorn in Meade's side). This was not an aggressive bunch of commanders. Sedgwick was the best of the lot, and his performance at Salem Church in independent command could hardly be called aggressive.

5. State of the Union army. Entire formations such as the Union III Corps had been heavily damaged. The only entirely unhurt formation was the Union VI Corps, and this infantry corps along with Buford and Kilpatrick's cavalry were the main spearheads of the pursuit that began on July 5th.

6. The situation at the end of the pursuit. Union forces destroyed Lee's pontoon bridge across the Potomac, and in fact had him cornered at Williamsport with his back to the river. However, Lee had had time to entrench, very heavily. Meade called a council of war, and many of his generals opposed an attack under those circumstances. Meade decided to send a reconnaissance in force the next day to see if a full-scale attack could be successful. Before he had the chance, Lee managed to slip away the next day.

7. Logistical factors. Meade was moving away from his supply trains, and Lee towards his. Meade had ordered the rear areas of his army cleared of obstruction during the battle; this facilitated the rapid movement of troops on interior lines, but didn't aid the pursuit. There's a myriad of logistical factors that hampered Meade, some covered in Kent Masterson Brown's work on the retreat from Gettysburg.

8. Lack of aggression from Meade? An examination of the army's movement and particularly the dispatches between Meade and Washington refute this notion. Indeed, Meade crossed the river in pursuit of Lee and became so aggressive that Halleck and the War Department reined him in! The New York draft riots occurring shortly after Gettysburg resulted in the transfer of veterans from the Army of the Potomac, weakening Meade's army. Modern Gettysburg retreat scholars Kent Brown, Eric Wittenberg, and J.D. Petruzzi all conclude Meade did about as well as possible under the circumstances during the pursuit, though he did make mistakes. Even Coddington's seminal work on the battle of Gettysburg, though not uncritical, sympathizes with Meade's difficulties during the retreat. Meade did not deserve the criticism he got for Lee's escape.
Good post, Viper.
Hopeforus is offline  
Old September 6th, 2012, 04:23 PM   #8

Viperlord's Avatar
Scalawag
 
Joined: Aug 2010
From: VA
Posts: 6,098
Blog Entries: 12

Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah
In the 1864-1865 period I seldom see him mentioned except where he was being a pain in the rear for Grant.
"Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations. He and William T. Sherman are the fittest officers for large commands I have come in contact with"-Ulysses S. Grant

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hopeforus
Good post, Viper.
Thank you.
Viperlord is offline  
Old September 7th, 2012, 03:12 AM   #9
Archivist
 
Joined: Jun 2012
From: San Jacinto
Posts: 244
Meade, Sheridan & Bragg


Quote:
Originally Posted by Viperlord View Post
"Meade has more than met my most sanguine expectations. He and William T. Sherman are the fittest officers for large commands I have come in contact with"-Ulysses S. Grant
VL, Do you know when Grant said the above?

The following is from Wheelan's 2012 bio of Sheridan:

". . . Grant and Sherman, believed there was no better military leader than Sheridan. In 1876, then president Grant spoke to Representative George F. Hoar of Massachusetts with unusual feeling on the subject: 'I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal. People think he is only capable of leading an army in battle, or to do a particular thing when he is told to.' According to the president, however, those people were wrong. Sheridan was capable of directing 'as large a territory as any two nations can cover in a war.'"

As to Meade, I've been reading Sauers Meade, Victor of Gettysburg (pub 2003). He is very much a Meade advocate. I've also been reading Woodworth who is a Bragg advocate. Both historians present their subjects as superb generals with phlegmatic personalities. When Meade learned from Halleck that Lincoln was unhappy with him for not pursuing Lee after Gettysburg, he requested that he be relieved of command. "Meade recognized," Sauers tells us, "that his own 'phlegmatic' disposition would get in the way of working with those who misunderstood military matters."

Meade had one career advantage over Bragg, however. He knew how to keep his mouth shut. But as to history, Sauer says that Sickles' self-serving view of the battle at Gettysburg ended up being the accepted one by historians because Meade kept his mouth shut. Sauer's has looked at the evidence and believes the record can be (and is being) set straight: Meade was indeed the Victor of Gettysburg and deserves to be seen as such.

Lawrence
Lawrence Helm is offline  
Old September 7th, 2012, 04:39 AM   #10

Viperlord's Avatar
Scalawag
 
Joined: Aug 2010
From: VA
Posts: 6,098
Blog Entries: 12

Quote:
VL, Do you know when Grant said the above?
I believe it was around the time of Spotsylvania Court House, which wouldn't contradict with the Sheridan comment, since he was still leading cavalry at the time.

Quote:
ut as to history, Sauer says that Sickles' self-serving view of the battle at Gettysburg ended up being the accepted one by historians because Meade kept his mouth shut. Sauer's has looked at the evidence and believes the record can be (and is being) set straight: Meade was indeed the Victor of Gettysburg and deserves to be seen as such.
I agree entirely on Sickles' version; other genuine heroes of the battle such as Hancock and Warren firmly defended Meade. Unfortunately, Meade's chief of staff at the battle, a Hooker holdover by the name of Daniel Butterfield, joined in Sickles' attacks, and the Radical Republicans on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War suspected Meade of not being politically aligned with them. Unlike his predecessor Hooker, Meade possessed neither the talent or inclination for self-promotion.
Viperlord is offline  
Reply

  Historum > World History Forum > American History

Tags
gettysburg, meade


Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
George Meade - 'the Old Snapping Turtle' Salah American History 16 April 4th, 2012 01:07 PM
gettysburg Vintersorg History in Films and on Television 6 August 29th, 2011 10:13 AM
Meade, Fine Wines, and all historical things alcoholic Richard Stanbery Art and Cultural History 23 April 4th, 2011 05:51 AM
Gettysburg Commander American History 7 July 2nd, 2006 05:35 PM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.