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Part 7. narrative from the end of the civil War to General Meade's death 1865-1872

A few days after the date of the preceding letter General Meade was joined in camp by his whole family, who had come to be present in Washington at the Grand Review, on May 23d, of the Army of the Potomac, preceding the disbandment of the troops.

The principal reviewing stand was erected in front of the White House and occupied by the President, the members of the Cabinet, and other distinguished persons. At nine o'clock the head of the column, led by General Meade, who commanded in person, accompanied by his Staff, started from the Capitol, followed by the Cavalry Corps, Major-General Merritt, commanding; the Provost-Marshal-General's Brigade, Brevet Brigadier-General Macey, commanding; the Engineer Brigade, Brigadier-General Benham, commanding; the Ninth Army Corps, Major-General Parke, commanding (to this last corps was attached a division of the Nineteenth Corps, commanded by Brigadier-General Dwight); the Fifth Army Corps, Brevet Major-General Griffin, commanding; and the Second Army Corps, Major-General Humphreys, commanding; and marched through Pennsylvania Avenue, which was thronged with people gathered from all parts of the country to witness the spectacle of veterans returning from the war.

The weather proved propitious, and the spectacle of sixty-five thousand men marching, who constituted that grand old army with whose deeds they had been so long familiar, awakened an enthusiasm among the people, which found vent in the tumultuous cheering of an ovation that knew no bounds. The troops, having marched through the avenue, then returned to their encampment on the opposite side of the Potomac.

On the following day the Armies of Georgia and Tennessee, under [282] command of General Sherman, were reviewed in the same manner and had a similar reception.

For some time after this event General Meade was busily engaged in issuing the necessary orders for the disbandment of the troops of his army. In consequence he was still obliged to remain in the field, making only one short visit to Philadelphia, where, on June 10th, he participated in the reception and parade of the returned Philadelphia regiments.

On June 28th, he issued the following farewell address to the army:

Headquarters army of the Potomac, June 28, 1865.

This day, two years, I assumed command of you, under the order of the President of the United States. To-day, by virtue of the same authority, this army ceasing to exist, I have to announce my transfer to other duties, and my separation from you.

It is unnecessary to enumerate here all that has occurred in these two eventful years, from the grand and decisive Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war, to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Suffice it to say that history will do you justice, a grateful country will honor the living, cherish and support the disabled, and sincerely mourn the dead.

In parting from you, your commanding general will ever bear in memory your noble devotion to your country, your patience and cheerfulness under all the privations and sacrifices you have been called upon to endure.

Soldiers! having accomplished the work set before us, having vindicated the honor and integrity of our Government and flag, let us return thanks to Almighty God for His blessing in granting us victory and peace; and let us sincerely pray for strength and light to discharge our duties as citizens, as we have endeavored to discharge them as soldiers.

Geo. G. Meade, Major General, U. S. A.

Thus closed the career of the grandest army that this continent has ever seen. When its history shall have been one day faithfully and well written it will be seen that, with all due justice to the other heroic armies of the North, its record stands pre-eminent as the most heroic of them all. It was engaged in more difficult campaigns, fought [283] more hard-contested battles, and suffered more severely than any other army. If, with the double task of guarding the capital of the nation, and of confronting the flower of the Southern armies, it was not always successful, it never failed to respond to the call of duty, and cheerfully to bear the dangers, hardships, and fatigues incidental to active campaigning even under the most trying circumstances of leadership.

It was in existence within two months of four years. General Meade was continuously with it from within a few days of its organization to its final disbandment. He was absent from it, during those four years, but one hundred and nine days, forty-two of which he was recovering from a wound. He was present in every campaign of the army, and in all its engagements, save three. He was its commander for more than half the term of its existence, and as such fought and gained in the greatest battle of the war its most important and signal victory.

Upon the disbandment of the large armies and the assignment of the general officers to new fields of duty, General Meade was given the command of the Military Division of the Atlantic, headquarters at Philadelphia. No one in all those great armies hailed the return of peace more sincerely than he. Rejoicing at the successful issue of the war, and at his return from the weighty care inseparable from the command of a large army, he fully appreciated the opportunity of once more returning to his family, separation from which had been one of his severest trials.

Upon his return to Philadelphia he was received with the greatest distinction. Public and private receptions and entertainments were given in his honor, and wherever he went on tours to inspect his command, he was warmly greeted and similar honors were paid to him by a grateful people. At the invitation of citizens of Boston he visited that city in July, and was present at the laying of the corner-stone of Memorial Hall, at Harvard College, erected in memory of her graduates who had fallen in the war. Among other distinguished marks of appreciation shown him at this time was the conferring upon him at the commencement exercises of the college, through its president, Dr. Hill, the honorary degree of Ll.D.

In obedience to instructions from the War Department, General Meade made in August of this year an extended tour of inspection through Virginia and North and South Carolina, which States then formed part of his command. [284]

As part of his duty he examined carefully into the working of both the civil and military governments. His report on the subject is a clear and comprehensive statement of the condition of affairs as he found them, coupled with his views and suggestions on many of the complicated questions which had arisen in the Southern States, owing to the changed circumstances immediately following the war. He personally conferred with the provisional governors of those States, and in his report refers to the harmonious action then existing between the civil and military authorities. After expressing his approval of the discretion of the three department commanders, Generals Gilmore, Ruger, and Terry, he concluded as follows: ‘I have to report the condition of affairs as on the whole satisfactory. The people are slowly recovering from the shock of war. Everywhere the most earnest professions of submission to the result of the war were made, and I am disposed to give credit to their assertions within the limits of what may be presumed natural. But it must be remembered that it is not natural to expect a sudden revolution in the ideas in which a people have been always educated. The great change in the labor question will require time for both races to realize and conform to, and until this period arrives, it will undoubtedly be necessary to retain such military control as will compel mutual justice from both parties. This control should be exercised with judgment and discretion, and every effort made to convince both races that it is exercised only for their mutual benefit. Instructions were given to this effect to Department Commanders, and I am satisfied there need be no apprehension of any improper interference of the military with the civil authorities.’

In March, 1866, General Meade was selected as one of a board to make recommendations for brevets to the grade of general officers in the regular army, the other members of the board being Major-Generals W. T. Sherman and George H. Thomas. The board met at St. Louis, Missouri, and remained in session for about two weeks, during which time General Meade's stay in the city was made as agreeable as possible. He met many old friends who received him most cordially, and many entertainments were given to these three distinguished guests.

It was while absent on this duty that General Meade received intimation of the projected invasion of Canada by the Fenians, an organization just then looming into prominence and composed principally of old soldiers of both North and South. The board having [285] adjourned and he returned to Philadelphia, he found the threats of the Fenians becoming more and more serious, and the report went that they were assembling at various points on the Canadian frontier, within the limits of his command. In consequence, under instructions from Lieutenant-General Grant, orders were issued to the commanding officers of that district, ‘to use all vigilance to prevent armed or hostile forces or organizations from leaving the United States to enter British Provinces.’ Receiving information that quite a large force of Fenians had rendezvoused at Eastport, Maine, the general proceeded early in April to the place, picking up on his way one or two companies of artillery to reinforce the small garrison at Fort Sullivan, and on his arrival found collected about three hundred Fenians and the place filled with all sorts of rumors as to their intentions. After a careful disposition of his small force, and the adoption of every other precaution to prevent any hostile demonstration, he at once placed himself in communication with the leaders of the Fenian expedition and gave them clearly to understand that any breach by them of the neutrality laws would be instantly followed by the arrest of every one of them. Owing to these prompt and energetic measures, it became evident to the ‘Liberators of Ireland,’ as they styled themselves, that any hostile demonstration on their part would be defeated, and in a short time their forces gradually melted away and disappeared from that part of the country.

While on this tour of duty General Meade visited Calais, Maine. Here, as well as at Eastport, he had reason to be gratified at the honorable reception accorded him by the citizens. The general here availed himself of being in the vicinity to pay his respects to his friend, Major-General Sir Hastings Doyle, of the British Army, who was in command of the lower provinces of Canada, and in that capacity watching the movements of the proposed invaders.

During the general's stay in Maine he caught a severe cold and was threatened with pneumonia, leading to his detention in Eastport for some weeks, to be confined to his bed. Thanks, however, to the medical skill of Assistant Surgeon Milhau, of his staff, and the considerate attention of many of the citizens, the attack was warded off, and he returned safely to his home in Philadelphia.

In June of the same year, whilst at West Point, New York, where he had gone to command the escort at the funeral of Lieutenant-General Scott, General Meade received notice from both State and War Departments that the Fenians were again collecting on the [286] Niagara frontier, and was instructed to take measures to prevent the carrying out of their purposed invasion of Canada.

This second threatened invasion of the soil of a neighboring and friendly power was a much more serious affair than the one at Eastport had been, and called for the exercise of the utmost judgment so to conduct matters that, while preventing any breach of the neutrality laws, all risk of collision of our own forces with the Fenians should, if possible, be avoided. The government at Washington was solicitous that these troubles should be speedily adjusted so as to remove any cause of difference between the United States and Great Britain. At the same time that it was desirable this should be accomplished, the importance of not losing sight of the fact that the Fenians included a large number of voters from the United States, of a class which represented an important factor in the petty politics of the country, was so evident to the authorities at Washington that they were content to leave in the hands of a man who was no aspirant for political preferment the delicate task of dealing with them, and to commit the whole management and responsibility of the affair to his discretion.

General Meade at once proceeded to Buffalo, where he found that a body of the invaders had crossed to the Canadian shore, had had a skirmish with the Canadian militia, and in endeavoring to recross had been captured by the United States steamer Michigan, their arms taken from them, and they held subject to the orders of the civil authorities. After taking due precautions to prevent any recurrence of this kind, he hastened to Ogdensburg, New York, at which place, and at St. Albans, Vermont, it was reported that the Fenians had collected in large force and that their chief demonstration was to be made.

The great extent of frontier to be guarded, in view of the small means at his disposal, rendered it impossible for General Meade to do more than make a show of force. Under the circumstances, he recommended the government to proclaim martial law, and to empower him to call for troops upon the States in which the disturbances were threatened. These suggestions were not fully complied with by the government, but finally the President issued a proclamation, warning all good citizens against taking part in this unlawful proceeding of invasion, and authorizing General Meade to employ the land and naval forces of the United States, and also the militia, to frustrate the intention of the expeditions. This was exactly what General Meade was already doing. [287]

The general had found, on his arrival at Ogdensburg, that the principal force of the Fenians was collecting at Malone, New York, and at St. Albans, Vermont. There were already several thousand at those places, constantly receiving accessions, regularly organized and under command of general officers of the so-called ‘Army of Ireland.’ To elude observation and avoid being arrested on their way, they had proceeded to those points in squads of a hundred at a time, without arms or ammunition, which were to be forwarded to them afterwards. The general, learning that these arms were on their way and had reached Watertown, New York, and other places, gave orders and despatched emissaries to have them seized, and several car-loads were in this way secured. At the same time the prominent Fenian officers were arrested, and under the authority of the President's proclamation, the railroad companies were forbidden to transport any more men, arms, or ammunition.

Thus deprived of leaders and arms, the remainder of the invaders became helpless and were soon ready to submit. General Meade thereupon had several interviews with the leaders and represented to them the utter folly of their attempting to carry out plans opposed by the power of the United States. He counselled them to return quietly to their homes and induce those under them to do the same. At length, after much trouble and vexatious delay, partially caused by the introduction of a resolution in Congress for the repeal of the neutrality laws, the Fenians agreed to disperse.

The difficulty now arose as to how they were to get away; the majority of them were entirely without means and had for some time been living on the people of the surrounding country. The general suggested to the War Department, as the speediest method of getting them away, that it furnish them transportation to their homes. This expedient being adopted, he issued a proclamation calling on them to disperse, and offering to send them home. The official returns show that over seven thousand men were then sent away, and by June 15 the general reported to the department that the Fenians had dispersed, and that the thousand miles of frontier under his command was perfectly quiet.

This affair had been admirably conducted. Its entire management had been left in the hands of General Meade, and his action had in every instance been approved by the government, which was well satisfied to be rid of what promised at one time to be a serious complication between the United States and Great Britain, and likely, without adroit management, to be politically injurious to those who [288] might appear prominently as instrumental in effecting a peaceable solution of the difficulty. In one of his despatches from Washington, the secretary of war, Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, thus wrote to General Meade: ‘Your calm, patient and firm method of dealing with this matter, so as to avoid any possible collision or bloodshed, renders it needless to make any suggestions on the subject beyond approval of your actions.’ The British authorities, although unable to make any formal recognition of its obligation to General Meade's wise course, nevertheless caused to be unofficially communicated to him an expression of its appreciation of his trying position and difficult task, in which his action, at the same time conciliatory and determined, had averted the possibility of war between the two countries.

On the fourth of July, 1866, on the occasion of the reception in Philadelphia of the State flags belonging to Pennsylvania regiments, General Meade, by request, made in Independence Hall the presentation address when these battle-worn colors were returned to the hands of Governor Curtin. Major-General Hancock was commanding officer of the day, and in the procession, commanding divisions, were many distinguished Pennsylvania generals of volunteers, General Robert Patterson, D. McM. Gregg, J. R. Brooke, S. W. Crawford, and others.

During the——Congress the reconstruction acts for the government of the Southern States were passed and those States divided into military districts. In this way Virginia and North and South Carolina were, in August, 1866, taken from the Military Division of the Atlantic, and that division discontinued. General Meade was then assigned to the Department of the East, his Headquarters remaining in Philadelphia. During the same session of Congress the rank of general was created, and Lieutenant-General Grant promoted to fill the position, and Major-General Sherman to fill that of lieutenant-general; these promotions leaving General Meade the second major-general in seniority in the army, General Halleck being the only major-general who ranked him.

In August, 1866, under special orders from Mr. Stanton, secretary of war, General Meade received President Johnson in Philadelphia with military honors, and escorted him in his passage through the city on his way to Chicago to lay the corner-stone of the Douglas monument. At the special request of President Johnson he joined the party, which, however, on account of the pressure of public duties in Philadelphia, he was able to accompany only as far as West Point, [289] rejoining it later at Chicago, and assisting at the ceremonies in that city.

The general returned to Philadelphia by way of Canada, stopping at one or two points, where he was received with the greatest distinction by the military authorities. After being handsomely entertained by the garrison at Kingston, one of Her British Majesty's gun-boats was placed at his disposal, and, accompanied by a number of the officers stationed at that place, he was escorted down the St. Lawrence River to the head of the rapids. On his arrival in Montreal he was waited upon by the commander-in-chief of the British forces, every attention was shown him, the various regiments stationed there giving entertainments and a review of the regular troops being held in his honor. The authorities, both civil and military, and the citizens generally, took every opportunity to show their appreciation of his services in the recent Fenian raids, and their recognition of his rank and record in his own army.

In June, 1867, General Meade was appointed by the Court of Common Pleas for the City and District of Philadelphia one of the commissioners of Fairmount Park, and was elected by that body to fill the position of vice-president of the Commission. He early took the deepest interest in the embellishment of the park, bringing to bear upon this object all his energy and well-known engineering skill, so that much of its excellent plan and present beauty are owing to his individual efforts.

While inspecting the forts within his command, along the northern frontier, in the autumn of this year (1867), General Meade was induced again to visit Canada. Going to Montreal and Quebec, he was received with the same hospitality that had attended his former visit. At Quebec he was the guest at a state dinner of the governorgeneral, Lord Monk, and was otherwise handsomely entertained by the officers of the army in garrison there. Both on this visit and the preceding one he carefully examined into the system of military prisons as established by the British Government, in which our own government was at that time entirely deficient. His observations and suggestions on this subject were embodied in several communications to the War Department, and attention was repeatedly called in his annual reports to the importance of some such system as the British being adopted for the army of the United States.

Among the many rumors during the autumn of 1867 as to changes contemplated by President Andrew Johnson in the commanders of [290] certain of the military districts into which the Southern States had been divided by the reconstruction acts of Congress, was one that General Meade had been favorably mentioned by him for one of the commands. This was a sphere of action to which, in the existing condition of political affairs, the general was peculiarly averse, and which nothing but the highest sense of duty, in obedience to orders, could have induced him to occupy. His views and feelings in regard to the matter are so fully set forth in the answer which he made to a letter from a Southern friend, which, after referring complimentarily to his past services, expressed the hope that he would be selected for one of the commands, that they will be most fitly conveyed in the words of his own in reply. He wrote:

I thank you most sincerely for the kind and complimentary terms in which you speak of my services. My conscience tells me that, whilst I never swerved from what I considered my duty, during the trying times of the war, I never felt called on in the discharge of my duty to entertain or exhibit feelings of hatred against those who, whilst I knew they were acting wrongly, and were without justification, yet I acknowledged were acting upon what they considered their rights. And I am very sorry to see, now that the conflict of arms is over, that political passion is again assuming the ascendency, and that, blinded by this malign influence, both sides are plunging into the same evil courses which originated the war, and which I had hoped the expenditure of blood and treasure which the war cost would have taught both sides to avoid. However, these are things that neither you nor I can control, however much we may deplore. Whilst it would be a gratification to me to aid in any way to restore the wounds of my bleeding country, the problem is one surrounded by so many difficulties, and blended so intimately with the questions, not only of politics, but of party, that I have esteemed myself very fortunate in being hitherto permitted to remain where I am. Besides, considerations of a domestic character render my present command much more desirable than any other.

I sincerely trust the future will be more bright than present appearances would indicate. We have a magnificent country, more blessed by Providence than any other on the face of the earth, and if we are not the happiest of people it is our own fault.

The general's preference for remaining where he was stationed, in Philadelphia, was known in Washington, but it was understood that his assignment, which was made by General Orders of the 28th of December, 1867, to the command of the Third Military District, was [291] brought about through the President's personal selection of him for this frontier. It was a wise selection, but not, in all probability, for the reasons which had induced the President to make it.

On the 2d of January the general left Philadelphia to assume command of the Third Military District, composed of the States of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, Headquarters at Atlanta, Georgia; and staying on his way only a few hours in Washington, solely for the purpose of seeing General Grant, he arrived in Atlanta on the 5th of January.

Under the general's predecessor in command of the Third Military District, Brevet Major-General John Pope, the reconstruction laws had been in force for nearly a year, and great dissatisfaction existed on the part of those opposed to their proper construction. The substitution of General Meade for him was looked upon with evident satisfaction by this class of the community, which had been led to believe that he was in sympathy with the peculiar views of President Johnson. In this they were doomed to disappointment. The province of a general in command of the district did not embrace the question of the right or wrong, the constitutionality or unconstitutionality, of the reconstruction acts of Congress. His duty was simply to execute those laws with even-handed justice. General Meade at once addressed himself to the task before him, and succeeded in it, as the result of his administration will bear testimony. The limitations of this work do not admit of a detailed account of his services during his command in the South. It is only necessary to make, in this connection, the following brief reference to the work accomplished, as gathered from his annual report for 1868, which cannot fail to be interesting to those desirous of knowing his connection with the historical events of the period.

On the general assuming command of the district, the political situation then existing was, that in Georgia a convention, elected under the reconstruction acts of Congress, was in session, but embarrassed for want of funds; that in Alabama a convention had met, founded a constitution, nominated State officers, and adjourned; that in Florida an election had been held for members of a convention which was to meet on the 20th of January.

In order to relieve the Georgia convention from its financial embarrassment the general felt constrained to depose the provisional governor of the State, who held the reconstruction acts to be unconstitutional, and had refused to acknowledge the authority of the [292] district commander; and subsequently, for the same reasons, to depose the State treasurer and the comptroller. He assigned to these positions officers of the army, his reasons for this course being, as thus expressed in his report: ‘I consider it judicious policy to avail myself of the authority granted in the reconstruction laws, to detail officers of the army to perform these duties, as in this way I gave evidence to the people of the State and of the country that my only object in making the removals was the execution of the law, and that the same was free from any personal or political bias.’

When the officers appointed entered upon their duties they found that all the important books and the records with the State seal had been removed, and that the treasury was without funds. In this condition of affairs they went to work, and with the moneys derived from the net income of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, belonging to the State, and from taxes due and uncollected for 1867 met all demands for the charitable institutions, the civil-list appropriations, and the constitutional convention; and in the meantime the interest on the State debt was met by payment from funds in New York belonging to the State of Georgia. When relieved from their duties, which naturally terminated by the appointment of officers elected under the new constitution of the State, they had the gratification of turning over a handsome balance remaining in the treasury, thus ending an administration of affairs which had proved not only creditable to themselves, but most satisfactory to the people of all parties of the State.

The convention, after being in session for several months, adopted a new constitution, which, with nominations for State officers, was submitted to the people in April, and was ratified by a large majority of the registered voters, all parties attending the polls. This constitution was, with some modifications, accepted by Congress, and the State formally admitted to representation in July, 1868.

In Alabama a constitution had been framed before the arrival of General Meade, and the vote as to its ratification or rejection and the election for officers of the State took place after his arrival, in February. This constitution was fairly rejected by the people, chiefly on account of the fact that, as framed, it was not agreeable to a large number of the friends of reconstruction, but partly on account of the circumstance that the constitutional convention had made to all State offices nominations which were not acceptable to them. General Meade had advised against holding the election for State [293] officers at the same time that the new constitution was being voted upon. After the rejection of the new constitution, he was in favor, and so reported, of the reassembling of the convention to revise the constitution. As events turned out, however, Congress accepted the new constitution as framed and admitted the State to the Union.

In Florida the election of members for the constitutional convention had taken place while General Meade's predecessor was in command of the district, and under advice given by him at that time; the convention met in January.

After the arrival of General Meade, at the beginning of January, and prior to the assembling of the convention, communications from the provisional governor and many other prominent citizens of the State were forwarded to him by the President, making the gravest charges against the managers of the election for delegates to the convention, even that of fraudulent execution of districting and registration, and urging him to postpone the assembling of the convention and examine into these charges. But General Meade, having carefully examined into the law, found no remedy short of congressional action, even if the charges should be proved, and he decided not to interfere with the meeting of the convention. He, however, ordered a board of officers to investigate the charges, and notified the memorialists of his action; and he pledged himself to place before Congress all the testimony they might produce before the board. This board, after remaining in session for some weeks, and calling without avail on the memorialists for their evidence, closed its session without having any charge proved of all those made.

Scarcely had the convention met when endless dissensions and bickerings ensued, terminating in a split, each side claiming to be the legitimate convention. At this point of time General Meade saw his way clear to interfering, with propriety, by proposing certain compromise measures, which being accepted, the two sides coalesced and reorganized the convention, the constitution framed by it being ratified by the people and the State admitted by Congress.

Thus the three States composing the Third Military District having been admitted to representation in Congress, General Meade at once issued orders declaring the cessation of all intervention in civil affairs by the military power. ‘The inauguration of civil government,’ he remarks in his report, ‘was to me, personally, a source of great relief, charged as I had been with almost unlimited powers.’

This duty of the civil rehabilitation of States through military [294] agency, which, however necessary, was naturally repugnant to General Meade, yet found in him one admirably fitted in mind and character for the duties which devolved upon him. Upon the numerous intricate and delicate questions that came before him he brought to bear a quick perception and clear insight which enabled him in a wonderfully short space of time to reach conclusions that would bear the test of the soundest legal judgment. Added to this qualification was his unflagging energy and almost unlimited capacity for work, emanating from and exemplifying only a small portion of which are his orders, reports, and communications, all models of clearness and all breathing the most impartial and liberal spirit.

The power of disapproving the acts of the district commanders had by the reconstruction laws been vested in the general-in-chief, to whom General Meade submitted his views and proposed course of action before carrying it into effect in any important case, and the instances are rare where his judgment was overruled.

In August the Second and Third Military Districts were abolished and consolidated into the Department of the South, to the command of which General Meade was assigned. This added the States of North and South Carolina to his command and greatly increased his duties.

Soon after taking command of this department, he was constantly urged by the governors of the various States to use troops to sustain the civil governments. But he invariably refused compliance with these solicitations, holding that the State governors must endeavor to stand by themselves, and that it was his duty not to interfere until after it had become evident that the State had exhausted all its efforts to preserve the peace between rival factions, or in its own protection, and only then when it had called on him in the manner prescribed by law.

His report, after expressing thanks for the prompt and efficient co-operations always received from the various subordinate district commanders, the staff, and the officers and men of the several commands, concludes as follows: ‘No army in previous history was ever called on to discharge such delicate and responsible duties, involving powers that, if abused, might have led to the most serious consequences; and yet the transition from military to civil power was so imperceptible as to have passed unnoticed but for the special means, by way of proclamations, orders, etc., to make it public. I do not mean to deny but that there were individual exceptions, and that in some cases bad judgment, political bias, or personal feelings, may have [295] influenced the course of some individual officer or soldier—this is no more than is to be expected from our nature—but I do maintain that, taking the large force, extending over such an extent of territory and vested with supreme power, that instead of the few instances where, perhaps, criticism might be appropriate, the wonder was—and it is to be said to the credit of the army—that so little abuse was made of a power by those who might very readily be supposed difficult to restrain and control.’

General Meade, being obliged in the performance of his duties to make extended journeys to different parts of his command, incidentally endeavored through personal intercourse to cultivate friendly relations with the people. At his headquarters at Atlanta he entertained as far as his means would allow, seeking to promote pleasant social relations with the citizens. Becoming greatly interested in the Protestant Episcopal Church in that city, which he regularly attended, and finding it a small frame building, very much out of repair, and not by any means furnished as was desirable, the poverty caused by the war having rendered it impossible for the congregation to repair or furnish it properly, he, through his own personal solicitation and the active interest of his wife among their friends at the North, raised a sum of money sufficient not only to defray the expense of the desired repairs, but to purchase a new organ for the church. By those benefited this act was held in grateful recognition, and to him it was a source of the deepest satisfaction, when he came to leave those parts, to see the church established on a prosperous footing.

During the general's residence in Atlanta, he made many warm friends. That he did not make more was owing on his part not to any unfriendly feelings or to remitting any proper efforts, but to the unhappy condition of the country. His course from first to last of his civil administration, although marked by the absence of all avoidable interference, met with the most violent abuse, his motives were impugned and his character bitterly assailed. His was necessarily the fate of all who hold in troublous times the scales with even-handed justice. Sharing the animosities of neither side they must necessarily offend both. From the first he consistently ignored all partisan considerations and faithfully executed the law, without regard to personal or political preferences. As the inevitable consequence he encountered the enmity of both sides without receiving any sympathy from either. Placed in position by a President who probably thought that in him he had found a representative of his own policy toward [296] the South, backed by a Congress whose policy leaned to the other extreme, he found his duty performed simply in the execution of the law, and in the display of temperate and conciliatory conduct to both sides and to all shades of party alike. Time will bring to all fairminded citizens of those States included in his command some appreciation of the immense difficulties that surrounded him, and the embarrassing positions in which he was often placed. They will come perhaps to recognize the purity of motives that had never before been impugned, the soundness of judgment, the liberal and friendly policy, and the conscientious discharge of duty, displayed by the general in his administration of both district and department.

During General Meade's service in the Southern States, General Grant had been nominated by the Republican party for the office of President of the United States, and in November, 1868, he was elected.

General Grant's occupation of the presidential chair, which was regarded as a foregone conclusion, would necessarily vacate his position as general of the army, thus causing vacancies in the higher grades. The approaching change, therefore, naturally excited much speculation in and out of the army, as to who would be promoted to fill the positions. It seemed to be well understood that General Grant would not resign his position in the army, but that it would lapse when he assumed the duties of chief magistrate of the nation, and thus also the opportunity and power to make these promotions would be in his hands. It was on all sides conceded that Lieutenant-General Sherman, the next in rank to General Grant, had indisputable right as well as likelihood of succeeding to the generalcy. The position of lieutenant-general then becoming vacant, it was believed by General Meade and his friends that, providing General Halleck, the senior major-general, should not be selected, General Meade, the next in rank, was in justice entitled to the commission.

As, however, the time of General Grant's inauguration as President approached, it was rumored that he intended to disregard the claims of General Meade to the position and to promote one more congenial to him personally. This was intimated to General Meade, and he was advised to take action in the premises. But he was now, as he had been on the occasion of a former promotion, without politically influential friends, and he was also loath to credit that the services, hitherto acknowledged by General Grant, would now be ignored by him. He had served his country faithfully as an officer of the [297] army for more than twenty-seven years; had by his talents and energy steadily risen from the lowest commissioned grade to within two of the highest; and had gained his various promotions as a general officer, both in the volunteer and regular army, by his universally acknowledged skill and indomitable bravery on the field of battle. He had, at the most critical period of the war, while commanding the largest independent army in the service of the government, wrested its greatest victory from the ablest commander of the South. He had afterward commanded that same army under the very eye of General Grant, when, as the latter had said, ‘confronting the strongest and best appointed army of the South,’ led by the same renowned commander, who for the first time had been by him defeated.

No one, apparently, up to a certain point of time, had appreciated these facts more strongly than had General Grant, certainly no one could have recognized them in stronger language than he had used. In recommending General Meade for promotion while the war was still in progress, he had described him as one ‘who had more than met his most sanguine expectations’; whom he considered ‘one of the fittest officers for a large command he had come in contact with,’ and regarding whom he ‘defied any man to name a commander who would do more than he had done, with the same chances.’ And these were General Grant's pronounced opinions, to continue in his own words, ‘after a campaign the most protracted and covering more severely contested battles than any of which we have any account in history.’

In the brief campaign which took place immediately after these expressions of opinion by General Grant, which campaign ended with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, there had been no opportunity for any other general to show greater ability than General Meade had displayed, even assuming that another who possessed it had been present with the army; but whatever did occur in that campaign had only served to add increased lustre to the reputation of General Meade. Then, as if it had been ordained that this patriotic soldier should successfully fill every allotted sphere of duty, General Meade had just completed a trying and disagreeable tour of service in the civil administration and reconstruction of the South, which, for its firm, temperate, and wise course, will bear favorable comparison with any similar service, and which received the full approval of General Grant.

It is hard to conceive, therefore, in view of General Grant's recognition [298] of General Meade's brilliant services, that he could have meditated wrong against him, when gratitude, it should seem, would have prompted the deepest consideration of one who by conscientious and earnest discharge of duty in carrying out his plans had, more than any one else, conduced to their success and enabled him to gain the highest honors in the gift of the nation.

It so happened that a short time before the inauguration of General Grant, General Meade was paying a flying visit to his family in Philadelphia. The rumors as to General Grant's contemplated action had by this time become so prevalent and so positive in their character that, despite the assertion of some of General Grant's friends that he would never dream of committing such a gross act of injustice as overlooking General Meade, the latter felt it to be due to himself, in order to forestall any possible pretence of misunderstanding as to his claims, to express his views clearly to General Grant. He, therefore, on his return to his post in the South, stopped in Washington, and in an interview with General Grant referred to the various rumors which were rife, and stated explicitly what he regarded as his due, and the grounds upon which he founded his claim. General Grant listened to what was said, but made no direct reply, intimating neither by word nor act what his intentions were.

But this imperturbable silence was in itself a full reply, and General Meade for the first time knew that his expectations were not to be realized. Although he had been repeatedly warned by his friends that this was to be the end, he, with a firm faith that justice would at last be done, for justicea sake, had not faltered in his belief. But, although still clinging to the hope that lingers, despite a man's conviction, he was now prepared for the worst. He returned to his post and there quietly awaited the course of events.

If he could not then divest himself of all hope that mature reflection would bring justice in its train, Grant's later course of action, far wider-reaching than that which merely affected Meade personally, must have disabused his mind of the idea that there had ever been the least warrant for the hope. Times had greatly changed from those when he was living the life of camps, in front of the capital in constant jeopardy. His chief, once installed in the presidential office, might well forget the man who, equally strong in council and in action, was in the field, but not now indispensable. The military intimacy that had subsisted between them had ceased with the war. Their training, habits, tastes, all pointed to different paths, far asunder. [299] There were no more armies to be extricated from difficult positions, no more battles to be fought. General Grant may have felt then, what he had said a few months before to General Meade, that ‘he had been pained at the persistently unfair and bitter attacks on him [Meade] by a portion of the press of the country.’ He might have acknowledged, as he did personally to General Meade, his regret at the unjust treatment he [Meade] had received at the hands of the committee on the conduct of the war. He might have deplored, as he did, that his own presence as general-in-chief within the same theatre of military operations should have had the unavoidable effect of overshadowing the general commanding the army. But when the time came to rectify all these slights of fortune, to rebuke injustice, to stamp with approval service which a republic, of all governments, is presumed to recognize—that of the most deserving—he was not equal to the deed.

On the 4th of March, 1869, General Grant was inaugurated President of the United States, and almost his first act was the appointment of Major-General Sheridan, General Meade's junior in rank and years, to the position of lieutenant-general of the army. Promotion is a soldier's highest ambition, and General Meade had every right to expect it, but he who knew justice required it and in whose power it lay did not see fit to give it to him.

General Meade's opinion of this action is tersely expressed in the following letter written to Mrs. Meade immediately after his learning of his having been passed over in the promotion:

To Mrs. George G. Meade:
Atlanta, March 6, 1869.
dear Margaret:
The blow has been struck and our worst fears realized. Yesterday I received late in the afternoon a telegram directing me to turn over the command of this department to the next in rank, and proceed to Philadelphia to take command of the Military Division of the Atlantic. This despatch was from the Adjutant General, but signed by order of the General commanding the army. I at once saw that Sherman had been made General, and inferred Sheridan was Lieutenant General, and that Sherman, in the goodness of his heart, sympathizing with me in my affliction, had sent me at the earliest moment to Philadelphia. About nine o'clock came the despatch that Sheridan's name had gone in and been confirmed. [300]

My own sweet love, you can imagine the force of this blow, but it is useless to repine over what cannot be remedied, and we must find consolation in the consciousness we have that it is the cruelest and meanest act of injustice, and the hope, if there is any sense of wrong or justice in the country, that the man who perpetrated it will some day be made to feel so. Dearest, I hope you will take this blow with resignation, and be satisfied that I am coming to you, and in each other's society try to find that calm, dignified, protest which such low conduct alone merits.

I shall be detained here about a week, but will leave no time in getting home. I cannot write all I feel; indeed it is as well I should not. God has thought proper to give us a grievous burden to bear, and it is our part to endeavor to be submissive. Love to all; I shall soon see you.

Ever yours, George G. Meade.

Conscious of right and of his deserts, General Meade bore the stroke unflinchingly in the bosom of his family with Christian fortitude and resignation, and abroad with the calmness of a gentleman. He had, in the fulness of his powers, spent his best thought and energy and blood for a cause which, successfully upheld, had failed to bring in its train for him the only just recognition. He, however, believed the day would come when men in their hearts would do him justice, a justice of which he was defrauded and of which the rank denied him was but the outward symbol. The degree to which he felt the injustice that had been done him few even of his intimates ever suspected, so jealously did he guard the secret of his heart. Cast in a fine mould, he did not wear his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at, but buried his grief deep in his own bosom, satisfied that when petty, jarring interests had had their little day history would do him justice, and from a pinnacle on which he defied the assaults of evil fortune he looked down on the meaner men below.

On the 12th of March, 1869, General Meade turned over the command of the Department of the South to the next officer in rank, Brevet Major-General Ruger, and, proceeding direct to the North, assumed command of the Military Division of the Atlantic, headquarters in Philadelphia.

In April he was seized with an acute attack of pneumonia, and for many days his life was despaired of. The disease, however, finally [301] yielding to medical skill and careful nursing, the summer found him, although recovering slowly, almost restored to his usual health.

From this time forward his life, so far as concerned his military career, was uneventful. Nothing occurred to disturb the routine of office duty except an occasional inspection of his command. His active interest continued in all matters connected with the city not conflicting with his military duties. His position as vice-president of the Fairmount Park Commission had been kept vacant for him during his absence in the South, and it was in acting in this capacity that he found his chief occupation and pleasure, rarely a day passing that did not find him either riding or driving through the vast extent of the park, with every nook of which he was familiar. His presence there never ceased to excite pleasurable emotion in those who chanced to catch a glimpse of him who, as soldier, had spent so many weary years amid the din of battle and the turmoil of civil affairs. Now on horseback, often accompanied by one of his daughters, occupied with inspecting improvements, with planning bridle-paths, and otherwise contributing to the beauties of the grounds, he was to be seen almost daily, like any private citizen, enjoying these quiet scenes.

Naturally, the prominence which he had achieved could not fail to be evidenced on all public occasions. But not only in these, but in many others, such as where difficult questions arose in the affairs of the city, his advice was much sought. Never overburdened with worldly goods, he yet gave freely to all charitable works. He was identified with many institutions for relief, notably with the Lincoln Institution, for the care and education of soldiers' orphans, a work in which he was deeply interested. This institution he had been chiefly influential in founding and organizing in 1865, and was continuously the president of it from that time until his death. The general's military duties were now of such a nature that he was rarely called from home. He, however, made a point of attending the various soldiers' reunions whenever it was possible, for his heart always warmed toward and he had always a kind word for a good soldier. He regarded it as the duty of those who had acquired rank and distinction in the war to prove by their presence and encouragement to those who had served under them, now that their services were no longer needed, that they were still thought of and held in respect by their former commanders and a grateful country. He was a regular attendant at the annual meetings of the Society of the Army of the Potomac. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than [302] to meet his old comrades of the army and to talk over with them their campaigns together.

He occupied a prominent place in all social gatherings in Philadelphia. His genial manners, conversational powers, consummate tact, and wide experience as a man of the world commanded the respect and admiration of all whom he met, and few entertainments were considered complete without his presence as an honored guest.

He continued in the enjoyment of this tranquil existence during the next three short years that were to close his well-rounded life. The winters were spent in Philadelphia, occupying the house presented to his wife during the war by his personal friends, and the summers at a country residence about ten miles from the city. It was here that he was living in the summer of 1872, which had been to him a period of the most thorough enjoyment. With all his family gathered around him, the centre of a refined and cultivated circle sojourning in the midst of a beautiful country, with nothing to disturb his wellearned ease, he had passed the entire summer at Meadow Bank, in the calm enjoyment of a serene existence. The great contentment with which his heart had been filled found expression as the time approached for his return to the city, when he often regretfully spoke of the summer being over and of its having comprised the happiest days he had passed for many a long year.

In October he was again at his home in the city preparing for the winter season, everything around him still bright and prosperous, himself in the enjoyment of perfect health, and his children advancing and settling comfortably in life, his friendly relations with the generalin-chief of the army, General Sherman, rendering highly probable his security in his present command, which, representing to him his home, was naturally the command he desired. As a quiet spectator he maintained his wonted interest in public affairs, although latterly somewhat withdrawn from active connection with those in power at the seat of government. And thus, from every point of view, a long, unclouded future seemed assured. His last official letter notified the department of the death of Colonel Hartman Bache, of the engineers, one of his earliest commanding officers, and no one who saw him at the funeral of that officer dreamed that within a month they would be called upon to perform the same sad rites for him.

He was, as usual, in his office on October 31, attending to his duties and seemingly in excellent health. About noon Mrs. Meade [303] called for him, and they left the office together for their daily walk. They had gone but a short distance when the general complained of severe pains in his side, which increasing in violence, he went directly home. By the time he had reached home his suffering had become so intense that the family physician, Doctor John Neill, was summoned, and pronounced the attack a severe case of pneumonia.

Whilst those around him fondly hoped that medical skill and a constitution fortified by temperate living would suffice to carry him safely through the danger, he himself from the first had a premonition that he would not recover, and therefore, whilst never becoming depressed, but resolutely following out all the directions of his physicians, he yet made every preparation and took every precaution looking toward a fatal end. His instructions and wishes were conveyed to his family calmly, as from one who would not unduly alarm and, on the other hand, one who would not permit a sentiment to stand in the way of a duty, not only to prepare the minds of those whom he loved for the worst, but to give them the benefit of his advice for a possible future when his voice should have become silent forever. This done, the day before his death he requested to see the Reverend Doctor Hoffman, from whose hands he received the holy communion. ‘His heart,’ as Bishop Whipple said later, in his beautiful address, ‘was in the country whither he was going. He looked to the Saviour, who was the only one in heaven or earth who could help him. He asked for the holy communion, and by the Lord's table gathered manna for the last journey; the words of penitence and the look of faith were blended with his dying prayers, and he fell asleep.’

On the 6th of November, six days from the time when he had been stricken, he passed away. To those about him to whom he was so dear, whose support and guide he had been through life, his calm and resigned departure was a close in keeping with his well-spent life. His last thoughts and words were for those whom he had cherished throughout life. With a loving look of recognition toward each member of his sorrowing family, and gently murmuring, ‘I am about crossing a beautiful wide river, and the opposite shore is coming nearer and nearer,’ he died.

The funeral services, conducted by the Right Reverend Bishop Odenheimer, assisted by the Reverend Doctor Hoffman, were held on November 11, in Saint Mark's Church. Thirty-two years before, in [304] the same city, the bishop had joined him in wedlock to her who was now left to mourn his loss. The Right Reverend Bishop Whipple, of Minnesota, whose visits to him when in camp had been so full of solace, made a touching address to the crowded congregation. He said:

I do not come to-day to lay a tribute of affection on a great soldier's grave; the city, the State and the nation have done this. So long as our country lives, these names which are inwrought in her history will be household words. I stand by the grave of one I loved. My thoughts can only be of the One on whom he leaned as he went down into the dark valley, and of the land of beauty which is afar off. How poor are words of praise! How empty are the honors of the world beside the grave! Far sweeter to the ear are the words from heaven, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

If I asked any of you to describe our brother's character, you would tell me he had a woman's gentleness with the strength of a great-hearted man. I believe it was the lessons of faith, inwrought into a soldier's life, which made him know no guide but duty, which made him so kind to the helpless, which placed him foremost in all public works, and made his name a household word in all your homes. During the dark days of our Civil War I happened to be in Washington. He telegraphed me to come and celebrate Easter in his camp with the holy communion. It was a strange place for Easter flowers and Easter songs, and the story of the Resurrection, but I do not recall a sweeter service or one more redolent of the peace of heaven. Of the bronzed veterans who knelt beside the Lord's table, some, like Williams and Meade, are sleeping with the dead, others are scattered far and busy in life's work.

That day I knew that we had in our camps centurions who feared God and prayed always.

The solemn service ended, the congregation rose, while the coffin was borne from the church, followed by the male relations of the general, his intimate personal friends, the President of the United States, the general of the army, and many other distinguished officers both of the army and navy. It was placed, covered with the national flag, upon the caisson upon which it was to be transported. The funeral escort, consisting of regular troops and the national guard of Pennsylvania, commanded by Major-General McDowell, closed around the caisson, which was followed by General Meade's faithful old horse, Baldy, who had carried him through many a hard-fought field, and by a long line of carriages containing his male relations, personal [305] friends, officers of the general, State and city governments, and took up the line of march for Laurel Hill, through a city in which business was suspended, the public offices closed, and many private residences draped in mourning.

Impressive as the services in Saint Mark's had been, rapt the attention and evident the grief of those who had formed that congregation, they paled before the significance of the silence of the vast multitude through which the procession took its way towards East Fairmount Park. It seemed as though it were marching through the city, not of one, but of many dead, so silent were the masses of people through whom it passed. Not an unseemly sight or sound occurred to mar the solemnity of the occasion. The respectful attitude, the uncovered heads, the perfect silence of the crowds, bore testimony far beyond even the powerful words which but a few minutes before had been uttered at the church. Arrived within the inclosure of East Fairmount Park, the effect was intensified. It was an autumn day, cloudy, calm, the foliage changed to sombre hues, the whole landscape breathing of sadness and peace, but more than all, upon it seemed to have descended, as if from heaven, a solemn stillness among the masses of people who filled and crowded the hill-sides.

A brief halt ensued, until regiments, drawn up in line on the broad level expanse between the hills, for the first time broke the silence by volleys of musketry, when the remains were borne to the steam-boat, followed by the small party and the guard of honor who were to accompany them to the grave, and who having embarked, the boat pushed out into the stream amid a final volley of musketry from the regiments on shore.

Draped in a deep pall of black, noiseless and without jar, she passed up the river, opening to view its beautiful banks, clothed in autumnal foliage, and the stillness, gone for a moment in the crash of musketry, came back and continued to accompany the dead soldier, as he was borne to his last resting-place past banks on which, drawn up at intervals in line, stood regiment after regiment, with its band playing a dirge as his requiem, the notes of one becoming fainter and fainter as those of the next were wafted down the stream. And so, to the landing at Laurel Hill, the strange stillness, broken only by the sad music, followed the dead as his mortal remains were borne near to their resting-place through the scenes which he had loved so well.

They laid to rest with the last sad rites, beside his eldest boy, [306] called away in the dark hours of the war, the hero of Gettysburg, the record of whose simple tombstone reads:

George Gordon Meade, Major-General U. S. Army. Born in Cadiz, Spain, Dec. 31st, 1815. Died in Phila., Pa., Nov. 6th, 1872. ‘He did his work bravely and is at rest.’

So lived and died one who, according to those who knew him best, whether parent, brother, sister, wife, child, friend, or fellow-soldier, bore himself nobly.

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