If Meade had Known….

Traveling along the park road that runs along the south edge of the North Woods at Antietam, I thought about George Gordon Meade, leader of the Pennsylvania Reserves, and wondered what he would think if he knew what lay ahead beyond the day’s fighting….

Specifically, what would he have thought if someone told him on the morning of September 17, before he ever sent his men forward across the Cornfield, that in nine-and-a-half months he would be commander of the Army of Potomac? And what if that same person told Meade that he’d be the fourth such commander?

How would he, as junior as he was, come to command? Under what circumstances? Who were the other commanders before him and what happened to them? What calamities befell them? Had any of them died? Were there others who might’ve risen to command instead of Meade but couldn’t because of various reasons?

How would he do as commander? What would happen to him?

Hindsight gives us answers to all these questions. It also helps me appreciate the crushing weight they’d have placed on Meade should he have ever been faced with even the tiniest bit of fore-knoweldge. Such speculation is completely hypothetical, of course, but it helped me better appreciate the position Meade found himself in at the very end of June 1863 when Lincoln promoted him.

As he sent his men forward through the Cornfield of Antietam, all that lay ahead of him. He had to worry about getting his men through that September day first. Time enough for all the rest later.

Time for us, too–to wonder and remember and reflect.

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