George G. Meade collection
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
George G. Meade was born in 1815 in Cadiz, Spain to an American merchant and naval agent. Meade's family returned to the United States after financial problems made it impossible for them to remain in Spain. Meade graduated from West Point in 1835 and enlisted in the 3rd U.S. Artillery regiment, with which he served in Florida during the Second Seminole War. Meade's service with the 3rd U.S. Artillery was short; for several years after his resignation, he worked as a civil engineer on survey teams that were scouting new railroad routes. His marriage to Margaretta Sergeant in 1840, and their growing family, encouraged Meade to seek steadier and better paying employment. He reinlisted in the military in 1842, joining the Corps of Topographical Engineers. He served in the Mexican-American War, surveying borders and battle sites in Texas and Mexico from 1845 through 1847. After the war, he designed and built lighthouses along the eastern coast of the United States, including New York, New Jersey, and Florida. He later went on to survey Lake Huron as part of the Great Lakes survey during the 1850s until the Civil War began.
Meade's military career was moved to greater heights when he began to distinguish himself as a soldier in battles at Gaines' Mill and Frazier Farm (Glendale), and later at South Mountain and Antietam. He commanded the Pennsylvania Reserves and the Fifth Corps before he was nominated to command the Army of the Potomac in 1863, a post he held until the end of the Civil War. Meade's most famous victory was at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he won both praise for defeating Lee's forces and blame for not acting aggressively enough. His reputation was not always a positive one, as he had many quarrels with the press and with the men under his command.
After the Civil War, Meade went on to act as the governor of the Reconstruction Third military district in Atlanta, Georgia. He commanded the military departments of the East and the South. In Philadelphia, he also served as a Fairmount Park commissioner, a position he held until his death in 1872. George G. Meade is buried at Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia. After General Meade's death, his son George, who served under his father during the Civil War and rose to the rank of Colonel, took on the task of rehabilitating his father's reputation with a biography that highlighted Meade's talents and triumphs. While not fully successful in changing the public perception of George G. Meade, the biography The Life and Letters of General Meade offered another perspective on Meade's strengths as a military commander.
This collection is made up primarily of the papers of General George G. Meade, but also includes papers collected by his wife Margaretta and his son George Meade. Meade's letters to his wife Margaretta, which he wrote during the Mexican-American and Civil wars, make up the bulk of his personal correspondence, though they contain as much military information as private discussion. These letters elucidate his thoughts about his experiences in the military and reveal aspects of Meade's personality and family relationships.
The Family series provides additional context for understanding Meade's relationships with his wife and children. Included in the Family series are letters responding to Margaretta Meade's call for autographs and photographs for the Sanitary Fair in 1864, correspondence to both Margaretta and George Meade upon the death of General Meade, and letters addressed to George Meade while he was compiling information for his father's biography, The Life and Letters of General Meade, the manuscript of which is also contained in this collection.
The maps and drawings that make up Series 3 of the Meade collection offer a rich perspective on nineteenth century military surveying and cartography. Beginning with Meade's student drawings of fortifications and architectural elements, this series illustrates his growing skill in mapmaking. There are representative maps and drawings from his work on the United States coastal survey, his service on the topographical team during the Mexican-American War, and his service as commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. The maps created to track troop movements during the Civil War make up the deepest group of materials in this series. These maps focus on the conflicts in Virginia; some of the campaign maps are printed, but a large number of them have notations in watercolor, ink, or pencil, which illustrate movements of the Union and Confederate forces.
The majority of the collection documents the military career of George G. Meade, from his education as a cadet at West Point through his death in 1872. Meade's military papers include appointments, assignments, commissions, correspondence, orders, field reports, official telegrams, surveys made in Mexico, and excerpts from Meade's diary. In addition to the 31 volumes of official military correspondence and reports, there are also several volumes that document military hearings--one concerns a meeting in St. Louis to discuss promotions of high-ranking military personnel; the other is Meade's testimony about the Battle of Petersburg.
This collection is arranged into four series:
Series 1. Correspondence, 1845-1872; 0.6 Linear feet
Series 2. Family, 1862-1897; 2.3 Linear feet
Series 3. Maps, 1811-1884; 1.1 Linear feet
Series 4. Military, 1831-1878; 5 Linear feet
This collection was a gift of George Meade. At least a portion of the collection was donated in 1945.
This collection merges two groups of Meade family papers (formerly Collections 410 and 1407) into one (Collection 410). While there is a distinct group of George Meade (son of George G. Meade) materials, most of it relates to the life of his father, and so the decision was made to combine the collections and arrange the papers about General Meade into a series called Family.
Some items that were formerly housed in scrapbooks were removed and placed into folders to improve ease of access and care of materials. In particular, the Mexican War letters scrapbook was transferred to Correspondence, but was labeled to reflect the previous grouping. Similarly, Colonel George Meade's scrapbook on Gettysburg was transferred to folders in the Family series and labeled "George Meade letters on Gettysburg." These materials should now be more accessible due to their greater stability.
- Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885.
- Humphreys, A.A. (Andrew Atkinson), 1810-1883.
- Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
- Meade, John Sergeant, 1840-1863.
- Meade, Margaretta Sergeant, 1815-1886.
- Taylor, Zachary, 1784-1850.
- Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863
- Mexican War, 1846-1848--Campaigns--Maps
- Spouses--Correspondence--19th century
- Topographical surveying--United States
- United States. Army of the Potomac
- United States. Army. Corps of Engineers--History--19th century
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Cathleen Miller
- Finding Aid Date
- This collection was processed as part of the Digital Center for Americana pilot project, which was funded by the Barra Foundation and individual donors.
- Use Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
George G. Meade's personal correspondence is only a small segment of the total correspondence included in this collection. This group of materials offers deep insight into Meade's thoughts and reflections on his military service and his family life. The majority of letters are addressed from Meade to his wife, Margaretta (who he calls "Margaret"). He writes to her from the field, often shortly after the completion of battles, to report on his welfare and the health of their son George, who served alongside his father at Gettysburg and during other conflicts.
Meade's letters to his wife are often tender, yet they frequently contain detailed descriptions of military strategies and conditions on the front. The letters are vivid, and illustrate Meade's attention to detail and planning. He evaluates other military leaders and discusses strategic successes and losses. He describes his life as a soldier during the Mexican-American and Civil wars, and laments his distance from his family for prolonged periods. The stress of distance is pronounced in the letters from Meade to Margaret during the final illness and death of their son John Sergeant ("Sergie") in 1864-1865.
This correspondence includes a group of letters that were formerly pasted into a scrapbook titled "Mexican War letters." The majority of these letters are addressed to Margaretta Meade, but there are two folders that contain miscellaneous letters and an index from the old scrapbook.Physical Description
0.6 Linear feet
The Family series is comprised of the papers of Colonel George Meade (General Meade's son) and Margaretta Meade, with some memorabilia from General Meade's career. The memorabilia includes Meade's honorary degree from Harvard University and various membership certificates. The series includes two scrapbooks--one documenting the life and service of General Meade (Volume 35), and the other compiled at the death of his son George in 1897 (Volume 36). The scrapbook about General Meade's life contains clippings about his accomplishments, obituaries, and commemorative writings upon his death. The other scrapbook, compiled by Colonel Meade's family, contains clippings, letters of sympathy, and calling cards from mourners.
Included in George Meade's papers are manuscripts and typescripts for his book The Life and Letters of General Meade (Boxes 5-7); correspondence from military figures and friends about his father's life and service in the Civil War (Boxes 2-3); and general correspondence, both incoming and outgoing (Box 2). His outgoing correspondence is primarily composed to his mother Margaretta during the Civil War, though there are a few letters to his brother "Sergie". These letters report on his health, the welfare of his father, and general military matters. Like his father, George uses his correspondence to update his family about the outcome of battles and to inform them of his and General Meade's safety after intense conflicts.
Margaretta Meade's papers are a smaller segment of this series, and are made up of several folders of incoming correspondence (Box 4). There are a group of letters written on the death of General Meade, and a few folders that contain correspondence praising her husband's service to the country. There is also a folder of letters in response to a request Mrs. Meade had put out to military figures for their photographs and autographs, which were intended for use at the 1864 Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia.Physical Description
2.3 Linear feet
This significant group of drawings and cartographic materials represents the scope of George G. Meade's careeer as a topographical surveyor and mapmaker. Meade's student drawings from West Point include carpentry and architectural drawings, drawings of fortifications and batteries, and a perspective portfolio. His works from the 1840s and 1850s include surveys from the Mexican-American War along the Nueces River and the Texas coast; maps and drawings of Florida, some of which include designs for light houses to be constructed; and coastal surveys from Massachusetts, South Carolina, San Francisco, and Lake Huron. There are a number of printed maps of Florida, Texas, Mexico, Virginia, and other southern states included in this series.
The largest group of maps in this series are military maps from campaigns during the Civil War. These maps document the movement of the Army of the Potomac between Pennsylvania and Virginia. Some provide position markers showing where Union and Confederate troops marched, and they often highlight significant battles along the lines. Box 10 contains maps produced or used by the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War campaigns from Pennsylvania to Virginia. Box 11 contains a wider array of maps, including coastal surveys, manuscript and printed maps of Texas and Mexico, as well as maps of Florida, Virginia, and Georgia. Oversize maps housed in flat files are listed by folder title below.Physical Description
1.1 Linear feet
George G. Meade's military papers are the largest group of documents in the collection. They cover the span of his career, but highlight Meade's work as a commanding officer in the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with the bulk of the materials falling between the years 1863 and 1868. The appointments, assignments and reports in Box 7 document Meade's various appointments to survey and reconnaissance missions. Meade's reports offer brief glimpses into his work, and include some drafted during the Mexican-American and Civil wars. In these reports, Meade provides detailed descriptions of conditions on the ground, suggests areas for military encampments, and offers information about troop movements. Box 8 contains correspondence, orders and reports from the Civil War and Reconstruction. Much of the correspondence is between Meade, Ulysses S. Grant, and other high-ranking military officials in the Union Army. Some of these documents discuss strategies for attack, court martial hearings, and other sensitive topics. Box 8 also includes excerpts from Meade's field diary during the final year of the Civil War, field returns from various battles, operational reports, a list of losses sustained by the Army of the Potomac, and a survey notebook from Florida.
The volumes in this series are the most comprehensive record of Meade's military command. They contain official military correspondence, orders, reports, and sketches of troop positions from the Civil War and during the early years of Reconstruction. They are organized chronologically, and each volume is devoted to either incoming or outgoing correspondence (with a few noted exceptions; see list below for title and date range of each volume). Volume 1 documents a wide span of time, from a few days before the Battle of Gettysburg to the beginning of May 1865. This volume contains some telegrams from President Lincoln pardoning soldiers who deserted, along with correspondence from Ulysses S. Grant and Edward Stanton. Volume 2 covers the Maryland and Pennsylvania campaigns, including the Battle of Gettysburg and reconnaissance of Williamsport. Volume 3 documents the march to Centreville, actions taken at James City and Bristoe Station, and the Army of the Potomac's advance to the Rappahannock. Volume 4 covers the period immediately before, and a few months after, the Battle of Gettysburg, with several maps showing troop positions, correspondence from President Lincoln, and news of Lee's retreat. Volume 5 contains reports from Gettysburg and documents troop movements between Gettysburg and Virginia. Some of the reports discuss the dead buried at Gettysburg, including Confederate soldiers.
Volume 6 discusses the Army's advance to and crossing of the Rappahannock, actions at Kelly's Ford and Rappahannock Station, their advance on Mine Run, and an action at Locust Grove. Volume 7 contains correspondence received about these same actions, as well as about the campaign of 1864. This volume includes reports from the field and drawings of troop locations. Volume 8 contains communications related to the advance to the Rapidan and conflict at Spotsylvania, as well as the establishment of a hospital at Fredericksburg. Volumes 9-12 deal with the Army of the Potomac's advance on Richmond, including the crossing of the Rapidan, Pamunkey, Tolopotomy, Chickahominy, and James Rivers. Also included are reports about the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Coal Harbor, Bethesda Church; and actions at Meadow's Bridge and Trevillian Station, on the Potomac and New York rivers, and the Weldon Railroad. Volumes 13-21 document the Petersburg operations leading up to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. These volumes cover the operations at Deep Bottom; the battles at Petersburg mine, Reams Station, Hatcher's Run; and numerous enemy attacks. Volumes 22-24 cover the attack on Petersburg and the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, including the movement to the Battle of Hatcher's Run, the rebel attack on Fort Stedman, the capture of Petersburg, and the Battle of Sailor's Creek. Volumes 25-29 document the promotion of Reconstruction governments in the southern states. These materials discuss the Reconstruction Acts; votes in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida regarding the adoption of new constitutions; complaints about voting inequities; and tallies of votes for and against ratification of the state constitutions. The sheets tallying votes are broken into votes by white and "colored" voters. Volume 29 describes a "breach of peace in Atlanta"; the narratives include discussions of violence in racially divided groups.Physical Description
5.0 Linear feet