Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

"Rarely Has More Skill, Vigor,
or Wisdom Been Shown"

George G. Meade on July 3
at Gettysburg

Richard A. Sauers

THE CONDUCT OF THE FEDERAL ARMY OF THE POTOMAC at Gettysburg has received increasing attention in recent years. So too has the generalship of its commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Historians have scrutinized his actions on the field and have reached a wide variety of conclusions. Meade's role on July 3, however, has received less attention than have other aspects of his service at Gettysburg. In contrast, historians have examined in great detail Robert E. Lee's decisions and movements of that day. The result has fostered the impression that Lee stood at the center of events while Meade lurked somewhere in the background. In fact, Meade remained active throughout July 3, rendering excellent service to the army and the republic. This essays seeks to place Meade in his proper position as a crucial actor in the final day's fighting at Gettysburg.

Five days after taking charge of the army on June 28, Meade found his command battered into the fishhook-shaped line extending from Culp's Hill on the right to Round Top on the left. Two days of fighting had resulted in more than eighteen thousand Union casualties, a figure exceeding the butcher's bill at Chancellorsville (the total would rise to 23,049 officers and men for the entire battle). Losses among general officers had been very heavy. Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, commander of the First Corps, had been killed on July I, and Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, the former politician in charge of the Third Corps, had been severely wounded on July 2. The First,

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