No One Ever Received a More Important Command

Union General George Gordon Meade Monument, Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg National Military Park. A rainbow arches over the Meade atop Old Baldy after a severe July thunderstorm. Photo by Chris Heisey

Union General George Gordon Meade’s monument depicting him mounted on his beloved steed ‘Old Baldy’ peers over the crest of Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. This images was taken on a stormy July 1 a few years ago as the sun’s setting rays pierced a supercell thunderstorm that wrecked significant damage to the battlefield.

At 3 a.m. on June 28, 1863, just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg, General Meade was ordered by President Lincoln to take command of the Army of the Potomac thus reliving General Joseph Hooker.

In the note handed to the just awoken Meade in his tent at Acadia, Maryland, read these words written by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck quietly to himself.

General: You will receive with this order of the President placing you in command of the Army of the Potomac. Considering the circumstances, no one ever received a more important command; and I cannot doubt that you will fully justify the confidence which the government has reposed you. You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters.

Meade responded in writing back to Halleck, “As a soldier, I obey it.” Meade was not asked, but ordered to take command.

The just released, Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterton Brown is a masterful portrait of Meade’s first days of command and the scores of issues he faced prior to the clash at Gettysburg. And Meade’s handling of the Union’s crisis on the its left, July 2 and 3 is deftly chronicled in this richly detailed and telling book.

Old Baldy was wounded in the leg at Second Manassas but recovered quickly as Meade rode him into battle two weeks later at Antietam where he was severely wounded in the neck in the Miller Cornfield. Presumed dead by Meade, after the battle burial details found the white booted horse calmly grazing amidst the horrible carnage that lay upon the fields near the Dunker Church. It was Old Baldy who Meade summoned to take him to Gettysburg in the Summer of ’63.

5 Responses to No One Ever Received a More Important Command

  1. Speaking of masterful portraits, what a photo!

    So you wake up in charge of an army on the move, don’t know where everyone is or what they’re doing, have little to no idea where on the other side of the mountains the enemy is, have to come up with a strategy, no time to replace the chief of staff you inherited, then win the battle that sends the enemy on their heels back to rebeldom and what do you get? Stabbed in the back. Generals who don’t obey your orders (Sickles). A chief of staff loyal to the former commander (Butterfield). People saying your plan was to retreat (to Pipe’s Creek.) Know-it-all’s who blame you for not bagging the whole rebel army entrenched at Williamsport. Not that Grant had it any better in the West when he first achieved success. Just tons of opportunists everywhere ready to snatch your laurels. You’d be a snapping turtle, too.

    Meade’s statue in DC is a good statement of this moment, but that photo is a beauty. Author, try not to get struck by lightning.

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