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With permission from Home Town magazine, Summer 1991 – copyright Ohnick Enterprises 

Our Namesake, General George Gordon Meade

by Nancy Ohnick

 

Somewhere it must be written how Meade got its name, but at this point in time we can only guess at how it came about. Everyone we asked seemed to know that our county (and town) was named for a famous general from the Civil War, but couldn’t tell us much more about the man, so we decided to search him out.

General George Gordon Meade was born in Spain, December 31, 1815. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1835, and served as a second lieutenant in Florida during the Second Seminole War. After serving a year in the Army he resigned and worked as a civil engineer, mainly in survey work. Rejoining the Army in 1842, he was put into the topographical engineers and assigned to a survey of the northeastern boundaries. This was followed by service in the Mexican War (1846-1848), during which he was cited for gallant conduct at Monterey. After the war he returned to military engineering and survey work, becoming a captain in 1856.

In 1861, when the Civil War began, Meade was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers and put in charge of a unit assigned to help build the defenses of Washington, D.C. Under Gen. George B. McClellan, in the Peninsula Campaign in late June 1862, he led his brigade in the Seven Days’ Battles at Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and Frayser’s Farm (Glendale), where he was badly wounded.

Barely recovered, he rejoined his brigade in late August, just in time to take part in the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). He distinguished himself in temporary command of a division at South Mountain, and when Gen. Joseph Hooker was wounded a few days later at Antietam,  Meade led the 1st Corps for the rest of the battle. In November he was made major general of volunteers, and after the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, he was given command of the 5th Corps, which he led effectively at Chancellorsville in May, 1863.

When Hooker resigned his command of the Army of the Potomac June 28, 1863, Meade was named to succeed him and retained this command for the remainder of the war. Meade was forty-seven years of age at this time, described as tall, gaunt, bearded and balding, with wire-rimmed glasses that failed to conceal the dark pouches beneath his eyes. He was ordinarily of a quiet, bookish nature, yet noted more than anything else for his hair-trigger temper. He had risen to a reputation of toughness and reliability and admired for his courage and leadership skills.

Meade’s greatest military achievement was his victory over Gen. Robert E. Lee in the crucial Battle of Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863. Though he later was criticized for allowing Lee to escape, he had won a major battle in a command new to him with hastily gathered forces on an unplanned site. The Battle of Gettysburg is said to have been the greatest single battle of the war, a terrible and spectacular drama, costing the lives of twenty-three thousand on the Union side and almost as many in the southern army.

Somewhat overshadowed thereafter by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who led the pursuit of Lee through Virginia as commander in chief of all Union forces, Meade served him with skill. He and the Army of the Potomac fought under Grant through the Battle of the Wilderness (May 1864), the 10-month siege of Petersburg, and on to Appomattox and the end of the war. On Grant’s recommendation, he was made a major general in the Regular Army in August 1864. After the war, except for a year in Atlanta, Ga., he commanded the Military Division of the Atlantic, with headquarters in Philadelphia, where he remained until his death, November 6, 1872.

Meade County was established March 20, 1873. It disappeared on February 22, 1883, when it was absorbed by Finney, Ford and Seward Counties. It was re-established March 13, 1885, with the same boundaries it has today. The town of Meade Center, established in 1885, derived its name from the county, and later was shortened to “Meade.”

We assume that the county was named by the surveyor or other planners who laid out the southwest portion of Kansas. The Civil War was fresh on everyone’s mind at this point and those who named the counties in our portion of the state were obviously “pro-union.” William Henry Seward was a Cabinet Officer during the war years, Ulysses S. Grant, of course, a famous general. Horace Greeley was the famous editor of the New York Tribune which brought details of the war to every part of the nation. James H. Lane was a senator from Kansas was an early Unionist leader, Edwin Stanton was Secretary of War, Oliver P. Morton was “Indiana’s alarmist war governor.” Winfield Scott was another Union General and Thaddius Stevens was a radical representative from Pennsylvania instrumental in forming the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. All famous names far removed from the Kansas prairie where they were eventually planted.

Although General George G. Meade (in all likelihood), never sat foot in our county, he seems a noble namesake; one who should serve as a fine example to our leadership and an inspiration to our citizens.

 

 

 

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