Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A visit to modest grave of George Meade, 'hero of Gettysburg'

                 Panoramic view from behind Meade family plot in Laurel Hill Cemetery.
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
George Meade's modest gravestone in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

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ABOUT THIS PLACE:  On a slope 100 feet above the Schuylkill River, the body of former Army of the Potomac commander George Meade, the "hero of Gettysburg," rests under a modest gravestone. In eternity, he has plenty of army company: the remains of 40 other Union generals and Confederate General John Pemberton also are buried in Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery, once located in a rural setting but now in a dense, urban area.

As Meade's funeral cortege wound through the beautiful grounds on Nov. 11, 1872, "the sides of the avenues were lined with people anxious to get a glimpse of the distinguished gentlemen in the procession," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Among them was President Ulysses Grant, Meade's Civil War comrade and one-time superior officer. The graveside service was brief, the newspaper reported. No prayers were read, and no speeches were delivered.

George Meade died on Nov. 6, 1872.
(Library of Congress)
NOTABLE: Meade died at his home in Philadelphia on Nov. 6, 1872, reportedly from complications of pneumonia and the effects of wounds suffered during the Civil War. At the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, a bullet tore into Meade's arm and another penetrated just above the hip bone, "and, passing round the body, made its exit just before reaching the spine," an obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted.

The general's funeral procession through Philadelphia was, according to the Inquirer, "one of the grandest ever witnessed in the country." Headlines in the newspaper trumpeted, "The Day an Epoch in the City's History" and "An Immense Funeral Cortege." Grant and former Union generals Phil Sheridan, William Sherman and Winfield Hancock were among the thousands who came to honor the 56-year-old war hero.

A massive Norway maple once stood near Meade's grave, providing shade for Sheridan, Grant, Sherman, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Dan Sickles and other famous visitors to the general's grave over the years. On Memorial Day weekend 2016, the treasured, 160-year-old tree was removed, a victim of old age.

Every New Year's Eve -- the general's birthday -- members of the General Meade Society hold a ceremony at the grave to honor him. Meade was born in Cadiz, Spain, on Dec. 31, 1815. A docent in the cemetery gift shop told me as many as 400 people have attended the annual event at Meade's gravesite.

QUOTABLE: "Philadelphia yesterday, in a manner that greatly honored it, testified to its regard for simple manly worth. Its places of trade were closed, its looms and hammers were still, its streets were filled with crowds, and yet were hushed with a stillness that was full of gloom. Only one man gone from among her million of people; but he was a soldier who had swept back forever the enemy that marched across the mountain wall to threaten commonwealth and city alike with carnage and plunder. George Gordon Meade was the hero of Gettysburg, who, called at a moment's notice, while on the march, to take command of a vast army, commanded it so well that the final conquest of the foe whom he met and defeated at Gettysburg was but a matter of time."

 -- Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 12, 1872

In mid-February, wreaths remained from the Meade Society New Year's Day remembrance ceremony.
Meade family plot in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

-- See Then & Now of Meade's Gettysburg headquarters here.


  1. Paula G10:30 PM

    I have attended many of General Meade's birthday celebrations at Laurel Hill Cemetery. It is actually held at noon on Dec 31st every year. It has gotten bigger every year with hundreds attending. All are welcome to come. We always toast the good General with his favorite drink, champagne.

  2. Frank McManus8:07 AM

    How wonderful to remember Gen Meade in such a way.

  3. A great article; was in Cadiz not so long ago and was wondering where in the city he was born ...

  4. Some day I'll get there...

  5. Good post. Good to honor our nation's military leaders. Too often their graves are forgotten and/or neglected.

  6. I feel like I’ve been there now. Thanks for your words and images.

  7. Great article, a true hero who is not forgotten.

  8. RIP General Meade