By Steven Garrett
Cory M. Pfarr. Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019.
If you are a student of the Battle of Gettysburg, or an admirer of General James Longstreet, then this is a book you must read. Every student of the Civil War knows that according to the revisionist history written by the “Lost Cause” authors, and perpetuated in history books in our schools and colleges for well over one-hundred years, General James Longstreet was the reason Robert E. Lee lost at Gettysburg. The question is, was that view of history—Lee’s decisions and Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg—true as presented? That is the subject of this book that is described by William Garrett Piston as: “The most detailed analysis to date of James Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg, the motivations of his critics, and the bias against him down to the present day . . .” (William Garrett Piston is the author of Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History.)
Pfarr’s book is relatively short, including the Foreword and Prologue, yet it covers its subject in detail using many first-person sources to counter the “Lost Cause” arguments. The book is organized into sections that relate to: Pre-Campaign and Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.
Each day’s section is broken down by chapters that correspond to key issues and historical arguments presented by Longstreet’s distractors. For example, “Pre-Campaign and Day One:”
The Quibbling of Historians
The Indispensable J.E.B. Stuart Roams East
Lee Hesitates Without Stuart
Lee and Longstreet Deliberate Tactical Offensive
An Unfortunate Position Considered … and Reconsidered
You will have to read the book for the content of Day Two and Day Three.
Some of the key issues addressed were:
What had Lee and Longstreet agreed upon for the invasion as far as strategy and tactics?
Why did Stuart make the ride? Was it authorized?
Why did Lee not use the calvary he had at his disposal to gain necessary intelligence on the location of the Union Army?
Why did Lee essentially ignore Harrison’s intelligence on the location of the Union Army?
What role did Lee’s orders to General Ewell have?
Did Lee spend extra time with Generals Hill and Ewell as they were new to corp command?
Was Longstreet’s attack too late?
Why was the reconnaissance of the Union position so wrong?
Was Hood’s and Longstreet’s idea to flank the Union Army possible?
Why did Lee insist on Pickett’s charge?
What caused the lack of artillery support for the infantry during “Pickett’s Charge?”
This is a detailed book that while full of detail is very readable. It breaks down the arguments and attacks upon General James Longstreet using facts. This book is well worth your time.
Note: Bill Attick is working to have the author come to the Chamberlain Round Table. Maybe you can have your copy signed in the near future.
Roger Lowenstein. Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Penguin Press. New York, 2022.
Let me be up front. This is a book every student of the Civil War and student of Abraham Lincoln must read. “Why?” do you ask. This book covers in detail how the U.S. government funded the Union Army and Navy and how it overcame various obstacles such as no national currency, no central bank, existing banks that were hostile to change, a widespread belief that gold and silver should back all currency, and a federal debt when Lincoln was inaugurated.
Roger Lowenstein is a student of banking and Wall Street. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal prior to striking out as a full-time writer. (His earlier books are listed below.) He is well prepared to provide this study of an aspect of the Civil War and Lincoln history that has been overlooked.
Lowenstein begins his book with an excellent “Introduction: Revolution Completed,” which presents the issues facing Lincoln’s administration. The former administration, Buchanan’s, had run the government on a credit card (Lowenstein’s wording), overspending relative to its income. There was no central currency; banks printed their own currency and were not controlled by federal regulations, but were state regulated. Only the eastern banks were regulated in a way that resembles our modern regulations. The federal government depended on two means of funding; from tariffs on exports, the greatest of which was cotton, controlled by the seceded states, and from borrowing by selling bonds. There was no income tax. In response, Lincoln turned to a political rival, Salmon P. Chase, to lead the Treasury Department. Like President Washington, Lincoln was confident that he could manage his political opponents for the nation. As a counter-point to the federal government’s issues, Lowenstein also describes the Confederacy’s financial difficulties in supporting the Confederate Army and Navy.
The following chapters and structure of the book are:
Two Crises – The crises of the secession Confederate states and the state of the government’s finances.
Exigencies of War – The view that each side saw as their strengths to support the war. The South believed they could leverage cotton to fund and pressure the Union. The North believed in their greater resources in men and manufacturing.
Ways and Means – How Secretary Chase, with aid from former political Whigs, began the enormous task of raising the finances to support the war.
The Window Shuts – The links between the army’s performance and the ability of the federal government to raise money using the Bull Run disaster as an example.
Legal Tender – The development of legal tender, including the selling of the idea of one legal tender backed by the federal government and not backed by gold or silver.
Forgotten Congress – A description of the Thirty-Seventh Congress no longer controlled by the southern democrats who had previously controlled the government by limiting its power. It could be stated that the Thirty-Seventh Congress implemented the ideology of the failed Whig party to create a more perfect Union which, in Lincoln’s words: “every man (might) have a chance.”
Proclamation – The efforts of the government to begin procuring and selling cotton in the captured portions of the South to generate income for the government and the impact of that effort. The impact of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on the war effort and the war’s finances are also discussed.
Chase’s Plan – The five-twenty bonds and the role Jay Cooke played in marketing the bonds. Cooke argued that General McClellan must be sent away to increase northern morale, his real interest being to sell the five-twenty bonds to the citizens of the North. In this chapter Lowenstein also describes the cabinet members competition and influence upon President Lincoln and the political jockeying for the future election. Lastly, Lowenstein covers Chase’s plan for a national currency and a central bank.
Cotton For Cash – Covers the South’s failed economy and their failure to use cotton in a positive manner to support their government and their military. The inflation caused by this failure is covered in detail.
Gettysburg Summer – The impact of the victory at Gettysburg and the unrest in the northern cities due to the draft, especially in New York. The “copperhead” influence and the draft law that allowed paying for substitutes are also discussed.
Chase For President – How Secretary Chase’s pursuit of the presidency was derailed by his involvement in bonds for railroad expansion by his political and financial supporters.
Roast Mutton and Partridge – The Confederate government’s efforts to stabilize their currency and economy. Jefferson Davis came to rely upon more and more on central control to hold the Confederate government together—turning from states’ rights to a more Whiggish approach of central control and later printing money to “solve” financial problems.
Exit Secretary – Chase’s loss of influence due to the distrust brought about by his efforts to be president and that some of his supporters had become liabilities. The impact of Chase’s efforts to hold down the value of gold to support the “greenbacks,” the national currency, while individual banks were still printing their own currency is discussed in detail. There is also a description of Secretary Chase’s exit.
Staggering Transformation – On the last day of Chase’s tenure as Secretary of Treasury President Lincoln signed a tax bill creating an income tax and increased tariffs that solved many of the issues Chase had wrestled with during his term. The new Secretary, William P. Fessenden, a former senator from Maine, failed to take advantage of the Union’s advantages and Lincoln again pursued the sale of captured cotton. Lincoln and the Union Army’s victories helped stabilize the financial situation. Congress passed a law taxing bank printed currency that had the practical effect of eliminating bank-printed currency. Now the federal government had taxing power, a banking system, and a viable currency.
Epilogue – This well-written chapter describes the evolution from the laws to support the war to the acceptance of government currency, strong central banking, federal tax powers, and how the federal government, turned from the government of the middle class, agrarian, and small businesses, to the government of the eastern banking investors and elites.
This is a book to read, and reread, to gain an understanding of how finance and government centralization evolved. It is a history that is often overlooked, but has had an enormous impact on every American. It will be worth your time.
Roger Lowenstein. Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist. Random House, New York, 1995.
Roger Lowenstein. When Genuis Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management. Random House, New York, 2001.
Roger Lowenstein. Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing. Penguin Press. New York, 2004.
Roger Lowenstein. The End of Wall Street. Penguin Press, New York, 2011.
Roger Lowenstein. While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis. Penguin Press, New York, 2008.
Roger Lowenstein. America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve. Penguin Press, New York, 2016.
William H. Armstrong. Warrior in Two Camps: Ely S. Parker, Union General and Seneca Chief. Syracuse University Press. Syracuse, New York, 1978.
Ely Samuel Parker was born on the Seneca Tonawanda reservation near Buffalo, New York. His Seneca name as a youth was Ha-sa-no-an-da and was given the name Do-ne-ho-ga-wa after he became Sachem and Chief. He is not considered by history as one of our most famous Native Americans—Tecumseh, Brandt, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Geronimo or Chief Joseph—but he may well be the most influential one. All the above were famous Native-American battle leaders. Ely was not a battle leader, but a staff officer and preserver of his Seneca traditions. He served as the military secretary for Ulysses S. Grant from Vicksburg until Appomattox, where he wrote out the surrender agreement between Generals Grant and Lee. During that period Ely S. Parker was a member of General Grant’s staff and, along with John Rawlins, the staff member always near.
Born in 1828, the exact date is not known, he was educated from an early age as his mother believed it was foretold that he was to be skilled in two cultures. While he was in his early teens his language skills led his Seneca elders to bring him to New York and Washington as an interpreter during their preparation and pursuit of a new treaty. He read law, but was denied a law license as Native Americans were not citizens. He continued his education and soon became an engineer. This led to assignments to multiple government projects including canal projects, one of which took him to Galena where he was tasked with being the superintendent for the construction of a new custom house. There he met a quiet clerk working in a leather goods store, Ulysses S. Grant. One might say: “and the rest is history.” The quiet clerk and the equally reserved Seneca became friends as they saw more of each other, sharing their mutual rural and farming backgrounds.
While employed by the government, Ely Parker was becoming involved in treaty disputes. He repeatedly travelled to Washington and to the Seneca Tribes as part of the Seneca delegation meeting and negotiating their legal treaty issues. There he met congressmen and senators both supporters and non-supporters of Native-American issues. This knowledge of the movers and shakers would serve him well in the future.
Ely Parker responded to President Lincoln’s call for volunteers when Fort Sumter was fired upon, but he was told by the governor of N.Y. and the Secretary of War: “It is a white man’s war and Indians are not needed.” Undeterred, he called on his Galena friends and was finally commissioned captain and sent to join General Grant, John Rawlins, and other Illinois friends as an engineer and then the assistant adjutant in General Grant’s staff at Vicksburg. Quickly promoted, his language skills and penmanship lead him to become General Grant’s secretary, writing his orders and performing other staff tasks. His engineering talent led him to participate in a number of engineering projects in addition to his assigned adjutant and secretarial tasks. He was with General Grant at: Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Overland Campaign, Petersburg and finally the Appomattox Campaign, ending in the McLean home where he wrote the document of surrender.
But in many ways Ely S. Parker’s public life was just beginning. General Grant took his staff with him to Washington where Parker worked on Native-American issues, including travel to conferences with various tribes. As a member of Grant’s staff and inner circle, Parker actively participated in Washington social circles, which is where he met his future wife, Minnie Orton Sackett. Minnie’s mother was a well-known socialite. Minnie was an outgoing young woman who also traveled the Washington social circles. The match caused a stir about his heritage, their differences in age, and their seemingly dissimilar personalities. When he missed their scheduled wedding date his absence was never publicly explained, but they were married the next week with General U. S. Grant as best man.
After U. S. Grant was elected president, he appointed Ely as the first Native-American Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Taking over a corruption-laced organization whose political appointees used it as a means to personal gain, he was faced with a daunting task—to provide promised supplies to Native Americans and clean up the corruption. This did not make him popular with some, but he moved ahead getting the supplies to the tribes, honoring their treaties and commitments, and working to bring those not honoring their treaties back to the table. In that he was successful, but he made decisions that avoided gaining approval from political appointees and self-appointed watch dogs of his policies, which made powerful enemies. Ely S. Parker was put on trial by congress and was found not guilty, but the scandal destroyed his career in Washington and his desire to serve in Washington.
In order to get on with his life Parker moved his family to New York City and Fairfield Connecticut, first as a businessman and later on the commission for the New York Police Department. Life became more difficult, but he persevered. Minnie and Ely became parents in 1878 when Maude Theresa Parker was born in Fairfield. Ely was 50 and Minnie was 28. Maude became their treasure.
Ely’s health was beginning to be an issue and he returned to his heritage, visiting the Parker family home on the reservation and participating in documentation of Seneca culture and traditions. Eventually, all his family members passed leaving him as the sole family member. Meanwhile, the family’s finances fell more and more. Ely S. Parker continued working for the commission in NYC each day until three days prior to his death on August 30, 1895.
This is a well-researched and written biography of an amazing American. He overcame bias and many roadblocks, but persevered to become an example for all Americans, all while living his mother’s dream, to be a man of two cultures. This book includes one of the best bibliographies and indexes you will see. We owe William H. Armstrong a debt for his biography of this amazing American. It is a book you ought to read, it is well worth your time.
Bret Baier with Catherine Whitney. To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, The Fragile Union and the Crisis of 1876. Harper Collins Publishers. New York, 2021.
This is an interesting book. There have been numerous new books written about U. S. Grant in the last few years. This book focuses on President Ulysses S. Grant’s participation in the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Baier’s thesis is that U. S. Grant fought for what he saw as a threat to the Union three times; the Civil War, his election to replace Andrew Johnson in order to save the Union from the Democrats dismembering the hard won victory over the Confederacy, and again over a threat of civil war over the disputed election of 1876.
This book is organized into five parts:
Part One: Seasoned by Struggle
Part Two: The Making of a General
Part Three: The Political Journey
Part Four: A Grand Bargain
Part Five: The Final Battle
Parts One, Two, Three and Five reflect Grant’s well-known life. Baier and Whitney’s presentation is well written, very readable, and a positive biography. The strength of this book is Part Four. It goes into depth to explain the compromise reached by the Congressional Electoral Commission to resolve the disputed election for president between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden. Essentially, three southern states had disputed gubernatorial elections. In all three cases the opposing parties had separate results, each claiming the opposite party had corrupted the ballot counts. There was also a disputed election for president in Oregon. The winner of the presidential election depended upon the results of these four sets of electors as neither Hayes nor Tilden had the required number of electoral votes. The Democrat Party leadership was sensing victory, but making threats in congress if they did not win, to include taking up arms to defend their perceived victory. President Grant feared the potential of having to use the army against the south again as well as a Tilden administration’s plans for reconstruction, freedmen’s rights, and the reestablishment of the old aristocracy returning to control in the South. Hence, Grant supported the compromise created by the electoral commission.
This is a good narrative that focuses on a key and significant event in our history. The book is well written and is a detailed addition to the literature on Ulysses S. Grant. It is well researched, including a valuable set of footnotes and bibliography for the historian. Go get this book, read it, and enjoy a very interesting thesis.
Edward Achorn. Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Grove Press. New York, 2020.
Last year we were treated to Edward Achorn’s presentation at our March meeting. I have to admit Mr. Achorn’s book exceeded what I remembered of his presentation—probably due to my distractions, but that is not the author’s issue. The title, as most of you know, is drawn from the famous quote from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:
“…until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…”
Lincoln was making the point that our nation’s sin of slavery would be paid for by both North and South.
Achorn’s book, unlike a number of other studies on the Second Inaugural Address, is not only an analysis of the speech, but a presentation of the inaugural, the key players, and associated events that preceded or followed the address. He does an outstanding job of recreating the atmosphere and experience of being in Washington on the day prior to and day of Lincoln’s inaugural. Using primary sources, newspapers, letters, diaries, etc., the author places the reader in the moment as the events evolve.
Key players that Achorn uses to weave this very readable history are: Frederick Douglass, John Wilkes Booth, Lucy Hale (New Hampshire Senator John Hale’s daughter and one of Booth’s love interests), Walt Whitman, Sheldon Connor and his younger brother Virgil, Salmon P. Chase and his daughter Kate, Edwin Stanton, Dorothea Dix, and many others. The weather and environment of the day prior also helps set the stage. It rained the entire day prior to the day of the inauguration creating a muddy mess up and down Pennsylvania Avenue making travel, even walking miserable; yet, the sun came out just prior to Lincoln rising to speak. Achorn very successfully sets the stage so clearly that you are placed in Washington D. C. on Saturday, March 3 and 4, 1865.
This is a well written, enjoyable history of a dramatic time in our history. Abraham Lincoln presents what many believe was his greatest address. Achorn explains why the Civil War had to be fought and why the sacrifices had to be made. It was an argument that our nation had to be punished for not living up to our highest ideal expressed in our Declaration of Independence:
“All men are created equal.”
Frederick Douglass believed and expressed that it was a sermon to the nation. Abraham Lincoln believed it would not be well received initially, but it would “. . . wear well . . . .” It is now considered the greatest speech by a sitting president.
Get a copy of this book and read it. It will be well worth your time. Edward Achorn has given us a splendid book to read and consider.
Brian Kilmeade. The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul. Sentinel, an Imprint of Penquin Random House LLC. New York, 2021.
Brian Kilmeade, author of George Washington’s Secret Six and Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, turns to two other heroes of the nation: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. If you want a good read, well written with information about the two giants of the events that led to the freeing of enslaved people and the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, you need to look no further. Is this a read that would satisfy every student historian of the events of that time? Probably not, but you would search for a long while for as good an introduction to the events and the relationship between these two giants.
Kilmeade begins by introducing the reader to his two subjects. Lincoln has hundreds of books written about him to the point he may be more myth than reality. Douglass was nearly lost, partly due to the domination of the “Lost Cause Myth” in our history books, and partly because of underlying racism.
Kilmeade opens the discussion by providing side-by-side biographies of the two characters and their impact on the pursuit of freeing enslaved people and their influence upon each other. One was white, born into poverty, who worked on the family farm and/or farmed out for income. That income was paid to his father as the law prescribed. Lincoln’s father believed education was not required for a farmer so he received less than one year of education. But his stepmother encouraged his desire to learn and he read anything he could get his hands on. Our other character, black and born into slavery, received no formal education because educating enslaved people was against the law. He did not know for certain his father’s identity and, since his mother had been hired out to another plantation, he only saw her during a few brief visits at night. Douglass had no memory of his father, and his mother was a vague memory as he was raised by his grandmother. During his early life, he was moved from the plantation to be the companion of Daniel Lloyd. Lloyd introduced him to proper English and shared what he learned in school. This fed his hunger for learning. Soon Douglass was sent to Lloyd’s brother in Baltimore to be the enslaved companion of their son Tommy. Initially, he was treated well and was reintroduced to learning from Tommy’s mother, until Tommy’s father forbade his wife from continuing any educational efforts to an enslaved person. But the seed had been planted. Douglass learned that words had power and he learned that he had to be free to pursue his dreams.
Both men shared a love of education, love of the power of language, and polemics. In fact, both studied the same little book titled The Columbian Orator, which taught how to speak and how to hold an audience. Both men were rarely without a book as they pursued self-improvement and learning. But one started with the cultural beliefs of a poor white and the other started with the beliefs of an enslaved person. Both raised themselves with an unbending ambition to advance themselves—one to be a successful citizen, the other to pursue freedom for himself and for the emancipation of enslaved people. Both grew into their roles.
Lincoln was a pragmatic politician who moved carefully. As he said: “I may walk slowly but I don’t walk backwards.” Douglass was the flaming torch, pushing the abolition movement and government to work faster. He often was critical of how slowly Lincoln pursued his goal, but gave him credit when Lincoln acted. Lincoln worked hard to prevent the forthcoming civil war, but Douglass welcomed it if it meant freeing enslaved people. They nonetheless became friends and fellow warriors in the pursuit of the same goal. Douglass was invited to the White House by Lincoln, a radical move at the time, to be the first black man to be invited to discuss issues openly with a president, thus making the ideal expressed in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” a reality. They managed to lead the country to eliminate slavery.
Brian Kilmeade’s book deserves to be read and discussed. This is a book with amazing amounts of detail. It is well written, concise, and well researched, just look at the bibliography and the additional reading list provided. It challenges us to learn more about the events that Lincoln and Douglass participated in and led. What more could you ask? Go to your local bookstore, library, get a printed copy or kindle version online—just get a copy. You will not regret it.
Mac Smith. Siege at the State House: The 1879 Coup That Nearly Plunged Maine into Civil War. Downeast Books, 2022.
Most students of Maine history know of the election of 1879 and Joshua Chamberlain’s involvement. But most do not know the details of how near one political party came to steal an election. Mac Smith provides a reporter’s details that describe the players and events that came very close to launching a civil war in our home state of Maine. It was conducted by a small number of ambitious politicians who worked diligently to overturn the election of the governor, state representatives, and senators, all in the name of reform.
First, some background. The presidential election of 1876 was concluded by a vote of a congressional commission along party lines. This commission was created to resolve disputes on the votes from three southern states and Oregon. The commission voted along party lines
and made Rutherford B. Hayes president. Hayes did not win the popular vote and was behind in the electoral vote until the commission’s vote awarded him all four states with their twenty electoral votes. As a result, all remaining U.S. Army troops were removed from the former
Confederate states. This agreement was known as the “Compromise of 1877.” Many Democrats, especially in the north, argued the election was stolen.
In Maine, the Greenback Party had become the most successful third party in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Democrat Party (being smaller than the Republican Party) and the Greenbacks joined to form the Fusion Party, with the goal to take control of the state
legislature and the governorship away from the Republicans. The Maine constitution required the governor be elected with more than 50% of the votes. In the absence of a majority, the house and senate determined the winner. In 1878 the state house of representatives was controlled by the Fusionists and the senate was controlled by Republicans. The Republicans did not have the votes to elect a Republican, so they supported Dr. Alonzo Garcelon, a Democrat, as the least troubling of the two opponents. Unfortunately for the Fusion Party, Governor Garcelon’s leadership was not successful, and it looked bleak for them in the coming election.
Why was the election in Maine so important to both the Fusion Party and the Republicans? Both parties were looking ahead to the presidential election of 1880. The Fusion Party had been successful in several states, had elected U. S. congressmen and, as a new party, was focusing on electing a president. Governor Garcelon had ambitions in that direction. The Republican Party was led by James G. Blaine, who also had his eye on the presidency and needed to deliver in Maine as a show of his political power.
At that time Maine had an executive committee, elected by the state house of representatives and senate, as leaders of the administrative branch of the state government. The Fusion Party controlled the house and, with its members in the senate, had a majority. Hence, the executive committee was made up of leaders of the Fusion Party.
State law required that each of Maine’s towns certify their election votes on a state form which was sent to the secretary of state. The certification was accomplished locally at an open town meeting and the form was then signed by the selectmen or town officials. The governor and the executive committee would meet at an open public meeting to certify the votes and tabulate the total votes for each state representative, each senator, and for governor. The winners were then invited to be sworn into their positions. In 1877 a new law was passed to prevent local and state officials from tossing out votes for minor issues (minor misspellings, missing middle initials, etc.) when the intent of the voter was clear.
Mac Smith’s book addresses the many questions that emerged out of the entire process: Why did the executive committee have a new form printed for the towns to use to report their votes? Why were two individuals allowed to work with the executive committee without public
notification? Why did the final tally not match what was sent to the state? Why were the votes of entire towns or cities tossed out? What role did Joshua L. Chamberlain play in resolving this issue? These and many more questions are answered in this excellent book.
The one criticism I have is the absence of footnotes and bibliography. Smith references his sources in the text, but footnotes/bibliography would have been helpful. Otherwise, it is a detailed telling of the story of a unique part of our state’s history. Get a copy of this book and learn how politics and corruption is not new. This is an excellent read.
Tom Huntington. Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA, 2013.
This has become one of my favorite reads. Huntington’s book resembles Tony Horwitz’s A Confederate in the Attic. As one of the reviewers states on the back cover of the paperback edition:
“. . . Tom Huntington’s gripping personal ‘search’ for George Gordon Meade is unique and irresistible: A combination life story, military history, travelogue, and cultural Commentary.”
Huntington writes Meade’s history and follows his paths from his hometown, Philadelphia, throughout his military career, to his death in 1872 in Philadelphia, while trying to answer these questions:
Who was George Gordon Meade?
What did he accomplish?
Why was he forgotten while other less qualified and successful generals were given much more credit?
Along with writing about Meade, Huntington traveled the paths of Meade’s career. The commentary on what he found, and his sense of humor about the locations and present situations, make this an enjoyable and entertaining read. (For example, his description of Meade’s headquarters between a McDonald’s and the Comfort Inn.) This is especially true if you enjoy visiting Civil War sites and try to grasp what was there at the time of a battle. Tom Huntington’s commentary is true to the struggles of our time while educating the reader on the historical events.
Huntington became an admirer of Meade. Yes, old “google eyes” was a good general, but with little appreciation for the role of reporters and politicians. He had Edward Crapsey, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, drummed out of camp with a sign around his neck “libeler of the press” to the tune of “Rogues March.” This did not endear him to Crapsey or his fellow reporters. While other generals had similar feelings about reporters, few went as far as Meade to embarrass them. Meade’s punishment was to be denied credit for his accomplishments and to be ignored in their reporting—a persona non grata.
There were several other factors that shaped Meade’s historical legacy. Meade believed his accomplishments would lead to promotions and he did not need to be a self-promoter to get his due. Sadly, he was naive in this regard. Compare Meade to Generals Phil Sheridan, Custer, and many others.
General Meade’s success at Gettysburg alone should have made him one of the most respected generals of the Civil War. After all, he had just received the command of the Army of the Potomac just a few days prior and received little help to organize the army. He had but one order, do not leave Washington unprotected. After Gettysburg he had to command the Army of the Potomac with his superior looking over his shoulder. Most of his plans and accomplishments were awarded to others, such as Grant and Sheridan.
It is also important to note that Meade did not write an autobiography praising his own accomplishments. Biographies are few and his personal letters were not published until his grandson did so years after his death, after he was all but forgotten.
Late in his career Meade was put in command of the Atlantic District and had to deal with the “Fenian Affair.” The Fenian Affair involved Irish soldiers, veterans of the Union Army organizing to invade Canada to force Britain to free Ireland. Meade handled this diplomatically to stop and prevent the “Fenians” planned success, proving he was a much better politician and diplomat than even he suspected. The “Fenian Affair” is a forgotten part of our history that is intriguing and deserves our study.
You will enjoy this read. Huntington provides a sympathetic history of George Gordon Meade in a very readable and enjoyable presentation. If you want to know more about the “Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg” this is an excellent book to start. It is well written, well researched, and includes an extensive bibliography. Go get this book at your library, bookstore, kindle, or online bookseller.
U.S. Civil War Museum
By Steven Garrett
The U.S. Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is a stop each Civil War buff ought to put on their bucket list. Located at 1 Lincoln Circle in Harrisburg and associated with the Smithsonian it is a very worthwhile stop on your way to Gettysburg or other distinctions south. Stopping in the gift shop to purchase tickets we were presented with the sales display shown below.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is everywhere. This is just an indication of the popularity of JLC. We can argue about whether all the attention is appropriate, but for the round table and Pejepscot Historical Center it is positive.
The museum is organized by rooms by timeline following the history of the Civil War beginning with:
On the Second Floor
A House Divided: A Clash of Cultures
American Slavery: The Peculiar Institution
First Shots, 1861
Making of Armies
Weapons & Equipment
Campaigns and Battles of 1862
Battle Map 1861-1862
Why Men Fought, 1861-1863
Civil War Music
On the First Floor
Costs of War
Woman in the War
Campaigns and Battles of 1864-1865
Lincoln: War and Remembrance
This museum will take from two to four hours of your time not counting pondering in the gift shop. One of my favorite rooms was “First Shots.” It placed you within Fort Sumter as the first shots were fired.
This is a very well-presented museum where there is something for everyone’s interest. In the room “Making of Armies” is the below picture of the 19th Maine.