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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1835

Vol. I

(Born Spain)

George G. Meade

(Ap'd Pa.)


George Gordon Meade: Born Dec. 31, 1815, Cadiz, Spain.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1831, to July 1, 1835, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 3d Artillery, July 1, 1835.

Served: in the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1835‑36;

(Second Lieut., 3d Artillery, Dec. 31, 1835)

and on Ordnance duty, July 11, 1836, to Oct. 26, 1836.

Resigned, Oct. 26, 1836.

Civil History. — Asst. Engineer in the service of the United States, on Survey of the Delta of the Mississippi, 1837‑38, — of Texas Boundary, 1838‑40, — and of Northeastern Boundary of the United States, 1840‑42.

Military History. — Re-appointed in the U. S. Army with the rank of

Second Lieut., Top. Engineers, May 19, 1842.

Served: as Asst. Top. Engineer on Survey of the Northeastern Boundary Line between the United States and British Provinces, 1842‑43, — and in Delaware Bay, 1844‑45; in Military Occupation of Texas, 1845‑46; in the War with Mexico, 1846‑47, being engaged in the Battle of Palo Alto, May 8, 1846, — Battle of Resaca-de‑la‑Palma, May 9, 1846, — Battle

(Bvt. First Lieut., Sep. 23, 1846,
for Gallant Conduct in the several Conflicts at Monterey, Mex.)

of Monterey, Sep. 21‑23, 1846, — and Siege of Vera Cruz, Mar. 9‑29, 1847; in the construction of Light-houses in Delaware Bay, and mapping surveys of Florida Reefs, 1847‑49; in Florida Hostilities against the Seminole Indians, 1849‑50; in construction of Light-houses in Delaware Bay, 1850‑51, — and of Iron Screw-pile Light-house on Carysfort Reef,

(First Lieut., Top. Engineers, Aug. 4, 1851)

Fla., 1851‑52, and on Sand Key, Fla., 1852‑56; and on Geodetic Survey

(Captain, Top. Engineers, May 17, 1856, for Fourteen Years' Continuous Service)

of the Northwestern Lakes, 1856, — and in charge of all the Northern Lake Surveys, 1857‑61.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: in command

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Aug. 31, 1861)

of brigade of "Pennsylvania Reserve Corps," on the right of the lines before Washington, D. C., Aug. 31, 1861, to June 9, 1862, being present at the Action of Dranesville, Va., Dec. 20, 1861; in the Virginia Peninsular Campaign, June, 1862, being engaged in the Battle of Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862, — Battle of Gaines' Mill, June 27, 1862, —

(Major, Top. Engineers, June 18, 1862: Corps of Engineers, Mar. 3, 1863)

and Battle of Glendale, June 30, 1862, where he was severely wounded;  p602 on sick leave of absence, disabled by wound, July‑Aug. 1862; in Northern Virginia Campaign, Aug.‑Sep., 1862, being engaged in the Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, 1862; in command of division, 1st Corps, except Sep. 17‑29, while temporarily commanding Corps (Army of the Potomac), in the Maryland Campaign, Sep.‑Nov., 1862, being engaged in

(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Nov. 29, 1862, to Aug. 18, 1864)

the Battle of South Mountain, Sep. 14, 1862, — Battle of Antietam, Sep. 16‑17, 1862, — and pursuit of the enemy, and march to Falmouth, Va., Oct.‑Nov., 1862; in command of division, 1st Corps, Dec., 1862, and of 5th Corps, Dec. 25, 1862, to June 28, 1863 (Army of the Potomac), — in the Rappahannock Campaign, being engaged in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, — and Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2‑4, 1863; in command of the Army of the Potomac, June 28, 1863, to July 1, 1865; in the Pennsylvania Campaign, commanding the Army of the Potomac, June‑July, 1863, being engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg,​1 July 1‑3, 1863, — and pursuit of the enemy to Warrenton,

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, July 3, 1863)

Va., July, 1863; in the Rapidan Campaign, commanding the Army of the Potomac, which was engaged in the Combat of Bristoe Station, Oct. 14, 1863, — Actions at Kelly's Ford and Combat of Rappahannock Station, Nov. 7, 1863, — and Mine Run Operations, Nov. 26 to Dec. 3, 1863; in the Richmond Campaign (May 4, 1864, to Apr. 9, 1865), commanding the Army of the Potomac, which was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5‑6, 1864, — Battles about Spottsylvania, May 8‑20, 1864, — Battles of North Anna, May 23‑26, 1864, — Combat of Tolopotomy, May 29, 1864, — Combat of Bethesda Church, May 30, 1864, — Battle of Cold Harbor, June 1‑3, 1864, — Assaults on Petersburg, June 16‑18, 1864, — Movement and Action on Jerusalem Road, June 22, 1864, — Petersburg, Mine Assault, July 30, 1864, — Actions for the Occupation of the Weldon Railroad, Aug. 18‑25, 1864, — Reconnoissance and Combat

(Major-General, U. S. Army, Aug. 18, 1864)

of Peeble's Farm, Sep. 30, 1864, — Movement and Action on Boydtown Road, Oct. 27‑28, 1864, — Combat of Hatcher's Run, Feb. 5‑6, 1865, — Combat of Ft. Steadman, Mar. 25, 1865, — Assault and Capture of Petersburg, Mar. 29‑Apr. 2, 1865, which had been besieged since June 18, 1864, — Pursuit of Rebel Army, Apr. 3‑9, 1865, — Battle of Sailor's Creek, Apr. 6, 1865, — and Capitulation of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee with the Army of Northern Virginia, at Appomattox C. H., Apr. 9, 1865; and in command of the Military Division of the Atlantic (embracing the Atlantic States to include South Carolina), July 1, 1865, to Aug. 6, 1866;​2 as President of Board for Retiring Disabled Officers, Nov. 27, 1865, to Jan. 2, 1868, — of Board to make recommendations for Brevets to the grade of general officers, Mar. 14‑24, 1866, — and of Board to select depots for Army Clothing in New York city, 1867.

Served: in command of the Department of the East, headquarters, Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 6, 1866, to Jan. 2, 1868, — of Third Military District, Jan.‑Aug., 1868, — of Department of the South, Aug., 1868, to Mar. 12, 1869, — and of Military Division of the Atlantic, Mar. 12, 1869, to Nov. 6, 1872.

Civil History. — Degree of LL. D. conferred by Harvard College, Cambridge, Mas., 1865. Commissioner of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pa., 1866‑72.3

Died, Nov. 6, 1872, at Philadelphia, Pa.: Aged 57.

Buried, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.

 p603  Biographical Sketch.

Major-General George Gordon Meade was born, Dec. 31, 1815, under the American flag, at Cadiz, in Spain, his father being the United States Consul at that port. Shortly after his birth, with his parents he went to Philadelphia, where his early boyhood was spent, and while quite young was sent to a school at Georgetown, D. C., then taught by the late Chief Justice Chase. Thence he went to a military school near Philadelphia, his parents having determined that he should enter the service of his country, for which he received the appointment of Cadet, was graduated from the U. S. Military Academy, and promoted in the Army, July 1, 1835, to be a Second Lieutenant in the Third Artillery. Upon joining his regiment in Florida, he served a short time against the Seminole Indians; then, for a few months, was on Ordnance duty; and, Oct. 26, 1836, resigned his commission on account of his ill health.

After leaving the Army, he entered the civil service of the United States as an Assistant Engineer, first under Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Talcott, engaged upon a hydrographic examination of the Delta of the Mississippi, and then on the Surveys of the Texas and Northeastern Boundaries of the United States.

Meade, being somewhat recovered in health, in 1842 re-entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant of Topographical Engineers; joined General Taylor in 1845, while occupying Texas; in the Mexican War participated in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca-de‑la‑Palma, and Monterey, being brevetted for his gallantry in the latter conflict, and accompanied the mass of the regular forces to General Scott's line of operations, serving under him in the Siege of Vera Cruz.

Subsequently he was the Superintending Engineer of Light-house constructions on the Florida coast, having charge of the important screw-pile lights on Sand Key and Carysfort Reef; and, from 1857 to 1861, was Chief Engineer of the great Geodetic Survey of the Northern Lakes, in conducting which he won a deservedly high reputation, and acquired that fertility in expedients, habit of quick decision, and method of careful observation which prepared him for the practice and responsibilities of higher command.

Meade was a Captain in his corps when the cry of Secession rang throughout the South; immediately upon President Lincoln's call for Volunteers, being then on duty at Detroit, he offered his services as Colonel of a Michigan regiment, a position he was not allowed to accept; however, in August, 1861, he was appointed a Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, and placed in command of the Second Brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, stationed at Tenallytown, D. C., where he assisted in the construction of Ft. Pennsylvania, one of the works for the defense of the Capital.

The Pennsylvania Reserves, in March, 1862, crossed into Virginia and were incorporated with the Army of the Potomac, becoming the second division of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McDowell's First Army Corps. After the evacuation of Manassas, Meade held command of his brigade in the Department of the Shenandoah, whence he was transferred to the Army on the Peninsula in time to participate in the Seven Days' operations before Richmond, being engaged in the conflicts of Mechanicsville, June 26, and Gaines'  p604 Mill, June 27, and in the Battle of Glendale, June 30, where he was severely wounded while commanding his division after the capture of his seniors, Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McCall and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Reynolds.

The urgency of the military situation did not allow Meade to remain long absent; hence, before he fully recovered from his wound, he rejoined the Army of the Potomac, then being reorganized for the Maryland campaign, in which, at the head of his division, he gallantly participated in the Battle of South Mountain; and, when General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hooker was wounded in the Battle of Antietam, he assumed command of the First Corps, fighting bravely during the remainder of the day. He had two horses killed under him, and was himself slightly wounded, but never left the field. After Hooker's return to the head of his corps, Meade resumed command of his division in the Army of the Potomac, then under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Burnside, and was, Nov. 29, 1862, promoted to be a Major-General of Volunteers for his past meritorious services.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, in command of 4,500 of the left grand division of the Army, Meade led his men boldly up to the enemy's works, broke through the Confederate lines, reached the heights they had occupied, and got into the presence of their reserves; but for want of support, and having lost more than one third of his whole force, including a large proportion of officers, he was reluctantly compelled to abandon an almost attained victory and withdraw to the left bank of the Rappahannock.

After these brilliant services as a division commander, Meade was placed at the head of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, of which, Jan. 26, 1863, Hooker became General-in‑Chief. Confronting it, upon the opposite side of the Rappahannock, lay the victorious Confederate army in strong intrenchments, extending twenty-five miles from Port Royal to Banks Ford, the left of which position, at the end of April, Hooker made a well-designed but badly executed attempt to turn by crossing the upper Rappahannock and moving down the right bank of the stream to engage the enemy. The mass of the Army of the Potomac, on the first of May, was out of the "Wilderness" in clear, open ground, where every arm could freely act in the accomplishment of the proposed turning movement. Everything presaged a complete success, but, though out of the woods in one sense, the sequel proved the reverse to Hooker, who, unexpectedly to every one, gave orders to return to Chancellorsville, from which fated field, after a long series of blunders and disasters, the proud Army of the Potomac recrossed the Rappahannock. In these operations Meade bore a conspicuous and daring part, and was assigned to the responsible duty of covering the retreat of our forces while recrossing the swollen river, a task he accomplished with masterly movements and soldierly skill, winning the highest commendations.

The Confederate sortie to the Susquehanna followed early in June, Lee's victorious columns designing to advance to Philadelphia, and perhaps even to New York, to dictate terms of separation of the States. Hooker, lingering a short time on the Rappahannock in doubt as to the enemy's intentions, followed in pursuit on an interior line east of the Blue Ridge, so as to cover the Capital, both armies crossing the Potomac simultaneously, at far-separate fords. Hardly were the armies across the river when Hooker asked to be relieved of his command, a request instantly granted, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Buckingham being sent as a special messenger with the President's order of June 28 to General Meade to assume the command of the Army of the Potomac, an honor so little anticipated by him that, when suddenly awakened in his tent in the vicinity of Frederick, Md., he supposed that Buckingham had been sent by the War Department to arrest him for some unknown offense. Upon assuming command, the new chief, in modest terms, issued an appropriate order to the army,  p605 in the organization of which he made few changes, and at once vigorously combined his movements to intercept the enemy and fight a decisive battle.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Buford's cavalry, on the first of July, encountering the enemy's advance, was driven back to Seminary Ridge; Reynolds was killed; and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood, unable to oppose the strongly re-enforced Confederates, retreated to Cemetery Hill, where the over cautious foe fortunately did not attack him that night. Meade was fourteen miles away, bringing order out of confusion, and arranging his defensive lines at Pipe Creek for the ultimate struggle, when, at one o'clock that afternoon, hearing of Howard's perilous position, he immediately sent forward Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hancock to assume the command, and soon after hastened himself to Gettysburg. At midnight Meade reached his destination, and deep in thought stood on that lone Cemetery Hill among its sepulchral monuments, dimly visible in the misty moonlight. O'erburdened with fearful responsibility in this crisis of the nation's fate, his perturbed imagination might have pictured stalking among the tombs the spectre of the gasping Union; but shadows vanished with the early dawn of the coming morn, which saw posted all the various corps of the brave Army of the Potomac, except the Sixth, which, hurrying in hot haste all night, after a forced march of thirty-two miles, reached its goal at 3 P.M.

That daybreak of the second of July was the culminating moment of Meade's life, for his was the Atropos sword which was to sever or preserve the Union. Crowning the crest from Culp's Hill to Round Top lay his embattled army, wedded to disaster by is late commanders; and before him, along Seminary Ridge, was the invader of our free soil, equal in numbers, superior in discipline, enthusiastic with hope, elated with victories, anticipating a new triumph, assured of insurrection in our rear, sanguine of establishing the Confederacy of Slavery, and by one brave blow setting at naught the President's immortal Proclamation of Emancipation.

It is unnecessary here to repeat the moving incidents and disastrous chances of the bloody battle which followed: how Sickles was rescued from his perilous position by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Humphreys' resolution and valor; how Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Warren's quick eye saw and seized the Little Round Top, the flanking key to our front; how the exterior defenses of Culp's Hill were lost and won; how both armies unflinchingly withstood the terrible cannonade of the opposing hosts; how that mile-wide column of the best Southern infantry charged across the rain-soaked valley to Hancock's serried lines, rooted to the rugged height; how the annihilating artillery of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hunt and Tyler swept away thousands with the besom of destruction; how those three young heroes, Gibbon, Hays, and Webb, repulsed the furious melee of the desperate advances; how most of that courageous column of 18,000 was utterly crushed, all of its brigade commanders killed or mortally wounded, and only a single field officer escaping unhurt; and how two long summer days of reckless assaults and fierce conflict had ended in Lee's utter defeat. The Confederacy, sanguine of success, had fallen under a Thor thunderblow; Freedom was triumphant, and "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people" had not perished "forever from the earth."​a The following day, July 4, 1864, while the Southern army lay torn and bleeding on the field of its overthrow, the loyal North, with wild rejoicings, celebrated the Anniversary of our insured Independence, made doubly glorious by the twin victories of Gettysburg in the East and Vicksburg in the West.

The Confederates, who in their ill-judged attack on Cemetery Ridge had shown much valor and little general­ship, in a pitiless storm rapidly retreated, cautiously followed by the cavalry and Sixth Corps to the Potomac, which they safely recrossed on the night of the 13th, much to the  p606 President's disappointment, who had anticipated their virtual destruction. Lee now continued his retreat through the Shenandoah Valley and the gaps of the Blue Ridge till he had interposed the Rappahannock between him and his pursuers.

During the autumn, heavy draughts were made upon both armies to reenforce those in Georgia; various manoeuvres followed on either side, resulting in nothing decisive; several brilliant combats between detached forces were fought; the well-devised plan to surprise the divided enemy at Mine Run failed of success; and finally, on the approach of winter, Meade recrossed the Rapidan, thus terminating his campaign.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant being appointed, Mar. 2, 1864, Lieutenant-General, took personal command of all our forces in Virginia, including the Army of the Potomac, which continued under the immediate control of Meade, who, for his brilliant services at Gettysburg, had been promoted in the regular army from a Major of Engineers to a Brigadier-General.

With over 100,000 men, of which the Army of the Potomac constituted more than three fourths, Grant opened the Richmond campaign, May 4, 1864, designing to fight the smaller Army of Northern Virginia where it could be met, crumble it to pieces by steady pounding, and thus destroy the Confederacy. For this purpose our forces moved by their left, resulting, as we all know, in the conflicts and carnage of the battles of the Wilderness, the attacks at Spottsylvania, the operations on the North Anna, the assaults at Cold Harbor, the passage of James River, the siege of Petersburg and Richmond, the breaking of the Confederate intrenchments, the swift pursuit of the flying foe, and the final capitulation of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

In these campaigns of 1864 and 1865 the position of Meade, responsible for the conduct of his command, but controlled by a superior in rank, was very embarrassing; yet he performed his delicate part with high honor to himself, secured the respect and esteem of his chief, gained the promotion of Major-General, and won unfading laurels for the Army of the Potomac.

After the war, Meade, with headquarters at Philadelphia, commanded successively the Department of the East, the Third Military District, the Department of the South, and the Military Division of the Atlantic, embracing the Coast States from Maine to South Carolina inclusive, and was also at the head of several important Army Boards. Except while temporarily detached during the reconstruction of Georgia, he remained at his headquarters till he died, Nov. 6, 1872.

During the progress of the war, General Meade was presented with a magnificent sword and accoutrements by the division of the Pennsylvania Reserves which he had commanded; and a gold medal was bestowed, July 4, 1866, by the Union League of Philadelphia, as a token of the gratitude of his countrymen, to the "Victor of Gettysburg, the Deliverer of his State, and the Faithful Soldier of his Country." He also received the Thanks of Congress, Jan. 28, 1864, "for the skill and heroic valor which, at Gettysburg, repelled, defeated, and drove back, broken and dispirited, beyond the Rappahannock, the veteran Army of the Rebellion."

Besides these honors for his military achievements, he received civic testimonials to his high intellectual endowments, and liberal scientific and literary culture, by being made a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1863, and of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 1865; receiving also this latter year the degree of LL. D. from Harvard University, Mas.

General Meade, though not perhaps handsome, had a commanding appearance, being tall in stature with small compact head, high, broad forehead, prominent nose, and a mouth of firmness. He was of quick, sensitive, and impetuous temper, and, to those who thwarted his wishes,  p607 even irascible and imperious; but to all treating him with consideration he was gentle, polished, and courteous, for by nature he was a genial-hearted gentleman. He had an excellent, well-poised mind, disciplined by education, cultivated by study, and strengthened by reflection: hence whatever he undertook was well if not brilliantly done; and with quick perceptions, clear comprehension, and sound judgment, all his faculties were under his ready command for instant use. Fortunately he chose the profession of a soldier, for which he had a decided aptitude; but, had he become a lawyer, his judicial character of mind, his keen sense of justice, and his nice discrimination between right and wrong, would have made him eminent at the bar. This was conspicuously shown in his administration of civil affairs, and yet more in his military decisions, which were free from prejudice and personal jealousy, he ever to subordinates giving the just credit for meritorious services, and from superiors withholding nothing for himself which was not truly his own and fairly won. In these, as in all other respects, he had the strictest integrity of character.

Meade was also a vigorous writer, a fluent talker, and, judging from his brief addresses, might have become a conspicuous speaker. His conversation, easy and graceful, showed his nice intuition and judgment, his close observation of passing events, his knowledge of men and books, his keen perception of character, and his cultivated taste in art. None of our officers made a better impression on the many foreign soldiers who visited his camp, or upon the distinguished civilians who after the war enjoyed his society.

But it was in his military sphere that Meade was most eminent. In the Army he always commanded the high respect of his superiors, and, though a strict disciplinarian, was very popular with his subordinates. Of others, however, he required no more than of himself, and, without seeking to ingratiate himself with his command, he always possessed its confidence and esteem. He sought not the bubble reputation at the cannon's mouth, but aimed at solid results from studied plans carried out by cautious Fabian movements. Though as brave and impetuous as Murat, he never trusted to dash and audacity for success; hence he was seldom a hero with the masses. He believed in perseverance and hard pounding; among our generals most resembling, though not the equal of, "sure and steady Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas," who afterwards won in the West as Meade gained in the East the turning victory of the war. Immortal twin triumphs, Gettysburg and Nashville!

Had Meade been more trustful of fickle fortune, after Gettysburg he would have vigorously pursued and possibly have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia before it crossed the Potomac; but, with his methodical habits, and oppressed with the fearful responsibility resting upon him, he was unwilling to risk another great battle, which if lost might have jeopardized our cause, at least for a season. He felt that he had done his best, and was deeply stung by the President's dissatisfaction, to which he proudly replied, "Having performed my duty conscientiously, and to the best of my ability, the censure of the President is in my judgment so undeserved that I feel compelled most respectfully to ask to be immediately relieved from the command of this Army." The President, though grieved that the enemy had escaped from the Caudine Forks, was not disposed, in his generous nature, to be unjust to Meade, who of course was continued in his command. It should be borne in mind, in this connection, that Meade was totally unprepared to assume the high responsibility when suddenly thrust upon him; that he did not know the full capacities of his Army; that he was unfamiliar with supreme command; that in less than a week after assuming it he had fought a great and success­ful battle; and that, under all these circumstances, he was  p608 unwilling to risk his laurels in a doubtful contest with a well-trained antagonist driven to desperation.

The victory of Gettysburg over the largest and best appointed army of the Confederacy was the culminating glory of Meade, who from the beginning of the Civil War had been constantly in the fore-front; had given his best energies to the great cause; had at no time shrunk from a duty; had never sought a preferment; had cheerfully obeyed every order; and had borne without a murmur every responsibility imposed upon him.

General Meade was in every sense a true man, with no Janus sides of character to be worn to suit occasion. He was a gallant, chivalrous soldier, a wise and judicious counselor, a true and steadfast friend, the soul of highest honor, and to wife and children the devoted husband and affectionate parent.

He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, his funeral being attended by the President of the United States, his Cabinet, and many members of Congress; the Governor, Judiciary, and Legislature of Pennsylvania; the Mayor and Corporate authorities of Philadelphia; Officers of the Regular and Volunteer Army and Navy, Marine Corps, and Army of the Potomac; numerous Military and Civic Associations; and a large concourse of friends, associates, and citizens.

The Author's Notes:

1 Received the thanks of Congress, Jan. 28, 1864, "for the skill and heroic valor which, at Gettysburg, repelled, defeated and drove back, broken and dispirited, beyond the Rappahannock, the veteran army of the Rebellion."

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2 Received, July 4, 1866, from the Union League Club of Philadelphia, Pa., a gold medal, as a token of the gratitude of his countrymen to "The Victor at Gettysburg, the Deliverer of his State, the Faithful Soldier of our Country;" and swords of honor from various places.

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3 An equestrian statue, to the memory of General Meade, was unveiled, Oct. 18, 1887, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pa., of which, till his death, he had been the most active commissioner in the laying out and adorning this spacious public pleasure ground.

Thayer's Note:

a A corrective from the pen of H. L. Mencken:

"The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history . . . the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves."

There was, at any rate, not the slightest sign that the governments of the Confederate States were any less democratic than those of the Northern States; instead of one democratic country, had the South won, there would have been two, and the world would have been quite as safe for democracy. (The repulsive evil of slavery is another matter altogether: if people want a repulsive system, let them have it; yet slavery would have died out quickly enough, as it has thruout the civilized world.)

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