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Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



George Gordon Meade was 47 years old the morning of June 28, 1863, when command of the Army of the Potomac was unceremoniously dumped into his lap by General in Chief Henry Hallcck, and there is no reason to doubt Meade's protest that the move rendered him the most surprised man in the entire Union Army. Meade had never wanted to be a soldier in the first place, much less take direction of an army that at that moment was facing perhaps its most daunting challenge. But compared to his immediate predecessors, Maj. Gens. Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker, what Meade accomplished with that army was simply extraordinary -- he won the Battle of Gettysburg. Even more extraordinary, he defeated the supposedly invincible Robert E. Lee and the vaunted Army of Northern Virginia, And yet the mention of Meade has always been met with a certain degree of pause -- surprise that an officer with such modest credentials could manage to pull off such a mammoth victory as Gettysburg, and then chirping criticism that, having triumphed as he did, Meade failed to do more, failed to stop Lee from escaping back into Virginia and thus end the Civil War right there and then. ¸ Although both of those reactions are unfair, they are also accurate. And together, they have come to define George Gordon Meade's long-term reputation. [excerpt]

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