The George Gordon Meade Memorial is a public artwork by American artist Charles Grafly, and is located at 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C. Residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania commissioned the sculpture to commemorate the man who is best known as the Union General who defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, which not only involved the largest number of casualties of the Civil War, but is considered a major turning point of war. The statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.
Born the eighth of eleven children, George Gordon Meade was born in Cadiz, Spain, where his father worked as a U.S. naval officer. Following his father’s death when he was only 13 years old, Meade’s family found itself on the brink of financial bankruptcy and returned to the United States in 1828 to settle in Pennsylvania. In 1831, at the age of 16, Meade received an appointment to the United State Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1835. He then served in the U.S. Army briefly during the Seminole War before retiring. He worked in the private sector as a civil engineer until 1842, when he asked to be reinstated to the Army. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, and served constructing lighthouses and breakwaters in New Jersey and Florida. Four years later during the Mexican-American War, he was present but saw no major combat at several major battles. He returned to topographical work after the war in near the Great Lakes until his services were again called upon at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Despite being one of the few Union generals who began his life and career in a foreign country, Meade quickly rose through the ranks. Meade was promoted from captain to brigadier general, and helped work on the defenses of Washington before joining the army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan. He was involved in the Seven Days battles at Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and Glendale, where he received several serious wounds. After recuperating, he went on to fight at the battle of Second Manassas, the battle of South Mountain, Antietam, the battle of Fredericksburg, and the battle of Chancellorsville. By 1863, Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac, succeeding General Joseph Hooker just one month before meeting and defeating General Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. Subsequent to his victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army, and went on to be involved in the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns, and the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. General-in-Chief of Union Forces Ulysses S. Grant requested that Meade be promoted to major general, which was approved by President Abraham Lincoln. Meade served under General Grant for the last year of the war, but was not present at the surrender of Lee’s army in Appomattox, and was largely overshadowed by Grant.
After the war, Meade returned to Pennsylvania and held several military commands. While still on active duty, he died in1872 in Philadelphia, from complications of his old wounds combined with pneumonia.
The D.C. memorial to Meade consists of a cylinder shaped statue featuring a figure of the General on the front. Meade stands in front of six allegorical figures standing side by side. They represent Loyalty, Chivalry, Fame, Progress, Military Courage and Energy, and were thought by the artist as the traits needed to make a “great” general. Loyalty and Chivalry are shown removing Meade’s cloak, which symbolizes the “cloak of battle.” Loyalty also holds a wreath and garlands above Meade’s head, representing the Meade’s deeds. There is also a figure representing War featured on the back of the memorial. Atop the monument is a gold finial with the state seal of Pennsylvania, and an inscription at the base of the monument reads, “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Major General George Gordon Meade, who commanded the Union forces at Gettysburg.”
The memorial was originally installed in 1922 at Union Square near the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, but was moved into National Park Service storage in 1966 due to construction. In 1983 it was finally installed at its current location.