Posts Tagged ‘General George B. McClellan’

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

On this bike ride, I stopped by the Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, which is located on a median at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue, Columbia Road, and California Street (MAP), directly in front of The Washington Hilton in northwest D.C.  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.

After being named General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan drew praise for his military initiatives. However, he also quickly developed a reputation for his arrogance and contempt toward the political leaders in D.C., including toward the President who had named him to the top army post. The general began openly associating with Democratic leaders in Congress and showing his disregard for the Republican administration. In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that Lincoln was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

During McClellan’s brief tenure as General-in-Chief, Lincoln made frequent evening visits to the general’s house to discuss strategy.  The most famous example of McClellan’s cavalier disregard for the President’s authority occurred on a day in 1861 when Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay stopped by to see the general. McClellan was out, so the trio waited for his return. After an hour, McClellan came in and was told by a porter that the guests were waiting. McClellan headed for his room without a word, and only after Lincoln waited another half-hour was the group informed that McClellan had retired for the evening and had already gone to bed. Hay felt that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln replied that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

Lincoln made no more visits to the general’s home. However, approximately four months later, the President removed McClellan as General-in-Chief of the army. How much the general’s abrasiveness played a part in his removal is open to debate. Many regarded McClellan as a poor battlefield general. Others maintain that he was a highly capable commander, whose reputation suffered unfairly at the hands of pro-Lincoln partisans who needed a scapegoat for the Union’s setbacks. His legacy therefore defies easy categorization. After the war, Ulysses S. Grant was asked to evaluate McClellan as a general. He replied, “McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war.” But Robert E. Lee, on being asked who was the ablest general on the Union side during the late war, replied emphatically: “McClellan, by all odds!”

Interestingly, McClellan later ran as the Democrat party’s nominee for the 1864 presidential election against Lincoln. He was soundly trounced in the election, obtaining only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212 electoral votes. McClellan subsequently held several positions, including governor of New Jersey, before retiring to spend his final years traveling and writing his memoirs.

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The George Gordon Meade Memorial

The George Gordon Meade Memorial

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.