The Second Battle of Gettysburg, Part Six

By Lewis Trott, Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gettysburg National Military Park

On March 13, 1864 Maj. General Hooker told the committee “So far as my experience extends, there are in all armies officers more valiant after the fight than while it is pending; and when a truthful history of the rebellion shall be written, it will be found that the army of the Potomac is not an exception.” [1] Hooker’s insight was on full display during the hearings into the Army of the Potomac’s operations under its’ two commanders since January 1863. The effort to have Maj. General Meade removed would ultimately fail, although the damage was done when it came to his reputation. Meade did receive some support, and some witnesses who offered a straightforward account of the actions taken during the battle of Gettysburg. Brigadier General’s James Wadsworth, John Gibbon and Samuel Crawford, along with Major General’s Winfield Hancock, John Sedgwick and Andrew Humphries all gave rather even handed testimony.

If there was any humor to be had during the hearings, it was provided by Maj. General Gouverneur Warren, Meade’s chief of engineers. When questioned about the condition of the Union army after the final repulse of the Confederates on July 3, Warren somewhat amazingly stated that the army was “in splendid spirits; they were not fatigued then. Those three days had been days of rest for most of them; but we had lost a great many of our most spirited officers. General Reynolds was dead, and General Hancock was wounded and carried to the rear.”[2] Senator Wade had to remind Warren that Maj. General Sickles was also among the wounded officers who was forced to leave the field, thus another “spirited officer’ missing in the mind of Wade. Warren would also give some insight as to the condition of many of the decision makers during the battle of Gettysburg after two days of fighting. When asked if he remembered the council of war held on the evening of July 2, Maj. General Warren responded “No sir; but a part of that evening I was asleep, being very tired, as we all were, of course.”[3]

Maj. General Meade was forced to defend himself in front of the committee, and made attempts with individuals to respond to the more public attack of Historicus that appeared in the New York Herald on March 12, 1864. To his brother in law Henry Cram Meade would write “Already the liars have disclaimed any intention to attack me, and in evidence produce the article in the Herald signed Historicus, which you have doubtless read, and which is filled with false and perverted statements”[4]. But Meade was apparently confident that “I shall come out of this last battle of Gettysburg with flying colors.”[5] Whether or not he actually came out of it as breezily as he said he would, he did remain in command of the Army of the Potomac for the duration of the war, although very much under the shadow of Lt. General Ulysses Grant.

The committee would not release their final report on that portion of their investigation of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg campaign through the Mine Run campaign until May 22, 1865, at which point it’s only impact was towards historical posterity. The report is an exercise in cherry picking, sifting through the various testimonies, although it does cover in detail the issue of the order to retreat on the morning of July 2, 1863. The report states that Meade’s testimony regarding the reasons why Lee was not attacked before his army re-crossed the Potomac River and the difficulty in doing so was not supported by the testimony of any other witness, including Major General Abner Doubleday, who wasn’t at Williamsport on July 14, 1863. One of the most astounding statements in the final report regarding the battle of Gettysburg was “The three days of battle had been for the most of them comparatively days of rest”[6]. It is unknown what the soldiers who held on desperately on July 1, or those that stood up against the Confederate assaults of the subsequent two days of battle thought about such a sentiment. All things remaining the same, perhaps if Maj. General Sickles had done a better occupying his assigned line, allowing what would have been a devastating enfilading fire into the right flank of the attack of Lt. General Longstreet’s attack on July 2, the Army of the Potomac may have indeed had a less stressful time of it. But to describe their experience as days of rest is absurd.

But the testimony and the final report, along with other commentary such as the Historicus article would all play a part in shaping the opinions people would hold of Maj. General Meade, which continues to this day. In a footnote to a letter from his father written on July 7, 1863, in which Judge Thomas Anderson from Ohio wrote “We expect to destroy or capture the Rebel army before it gets back to Va.”[7] James Anderson wrote “A capable general in the place of Gen. Meade, would have captured Lee’s rebel army, and probably then ended the war. Failing to do so was the gigantic blunder of the war.”[8] This was written in 1904, so clearly people still had strong feelings well after the war about what happened in the summer of 1863. Maj. General George Meade was correct when he wrote his wife “The only evil that will result is the spreading over the country certain mysterious whisperings of dreadful deficiencies on my part, the truth concerning which will never reach the thousandth part of those who hear the lies.”[9] And we still debate his performance today, although we also recognize more clearly the motivations and actions of those who sought to bring him down after the Battle of Gettysburg. If there is some semblance of justice though, at the usual last tour stop at Gettysburg National Military Park around that area called the High Water Mark, visitors can look east of Hancock Avenue towards Cemetery Hill and see a majestic equestrian statue of Major General George Meade. It stands in honor of that commander who was first able to defeat Lee’s army and that honor is beyond dispute.


[1] Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War at the Second Session Thirty-Eighth Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office,1865, page 136. Accessed through

[2] Ibid, 378.

[3] Ibid 379.

[4] The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General U.S .Army, Vol. 2., New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 180. Accessed through

[5] Ibid.

[6] Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, LXIX.

[7] Life and Letters of Judge Thomas J. Anderson and Wife, edited and annotated by James H. Anderson. Press of F.J.Heer, Columbus Ohio, 1904. Page 291. Accessed through

[8] Ibid.

[9] Meade, 169.

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