General George Meade at Gettysburg
In the summer of 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia entered the Battle of Gettysburg with a high degree of confidence. Its commander, General Robert E. Lee believed, “There never were such men in an army before. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly lead.” Lee had reason to feel this assurance as his forces had proven themselves once again by defeating the larger Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. General Joseph Hooker had presided over the Union defeat and soon resigned from command of the army. On June 28, 1863, General George Meade was selected as Hooker’s replacement and entrusted with command of the Army of the Potomac.
General George Meade. (Photo: civilwar.org)
Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg. The stakes could not have been higher for him as he took over when General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was carrying its momentum from Chancellorsville into Pennsylvania. Despite being new to the command of his army, Meade was able to repulse Lee’s attacks at Gettysburg and delivered a blow to the Army of Northern Virginia that it would never recover from.
In its weakened state, Lee’s army was able to retreat from Gettysburg back into Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln harshly criticized Meade for not pursuing Lee to deliver the final blow. In response, Meade offered his resignation, but it was denied. On July 7, 1863, he was promoted to brigadier general.
General Meade's Monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.
154 years after emerging victorious in the defining battle of the American Civil War, Meade is still very much a part of the historic battlefield at Gettysburg. His monument stands on Cemetery Ridge, close to The Angle, which was the focal point of Pickett’s Charge. The monument features Meade seated on his horse, Old Baldy, surveying the battlefield like he did during those critical three days in 1863.
Meade’s horse has a unique story of its own. Old Baldy was a cavalry mount ridden by General David Hunter at the Battle of Bull Run. He was wounded during the clash, but recovered enough to return for service. In the fall of 1861, Meade purchased Old Baldy and went on to ride him at Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, Old Baldy was wounded again. This time, a ball entered his stomach after passing through Meade’s trouser leg and within a half inch of his thigh. The horse survived his injury at Gettysburg, but suffered another wound later in the war. By August of 1864, Old Baldy was considered unfit for service. After all that he had endured, Meade sent his remarkable animal back to Philadelphia. Old Baldy’s war days were behind him and he recovered well from the wounds that he sustained. Meade was even able to ride his trusty horse again after the war was over. Old Baldy went on to outlive General Meade by ten years. He took part in Meade’s funeral procession as the riderless horse. Old Baldy died in 1882, but there is no question that he lived quite a remarkable life.