Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Booknotes: Meade

New Arrival:
Meade: The Price of Command, 1863–1865 by John G. Selby (KSU Press, 2018).

Most Civil War army commanders have modern admirers and detractors, but reviews of George Gordon Meade's leadership qualities remain perhaps more mixed in nature than most. No one will dispute that Gettysburg was his finest moment and more recent assessments of his handling of the post-battle pursuit have trended in a much more positive direction. Nevertheless, Meade was unable to bring Lee's army to battle under favorable circumstances throughout the rest of the summer and fall months, and he was heavily criticized for it. 

While retained as army commander by Grant, the awkward high command arrangement that existed between them for the duration of the conflict understandably grated on Meade. Possessing nebulous authority certainly restricted his effectiveness, but he generally failed to distinguish himself when opportunities arose, and the manner in which he alienated his chief subordinates has led the most recent chronicler of the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign to conclude that Meade outlived his usefulness long before Appomattox.

However, it's probably safe to say that the latest dissection of Meade's career directing the Army of the Potomac, John Selby's Meade: The Price of Command, 1863–1865, rates the general's strengths higher than what most of the author's colleagues would be willing to entertain. "This first full-length study of Meade’s two-year tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac brings him out of Grant’s shadow and into focus as one of the top three Union generals of the war." Interesting. You certainly won't find too many people bold enough to rank Meade in the same company with Grant and Sherman. More from the description: "By basing his study on the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, original Meade letters, and the letters, diaries, journals, and reminiscences of contemporaries, Selby demonstrates that Meade was a much more active, thoughtful, and enterprising commander than has been assumed. This sensitive and reflective man accepted a position that was as political as it was military, despite knowing that the political dimensions of the job might ultimately destroy what he valued the most, his reputation."

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