Major General George Meade was given command of the Union army of the Potomac just 3 days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg on June 28, 1863. Meade succeeded General Joseph Hooker after he resigned while shadowing the Confederate army up through Virginia. Lincoln had first offered the command to Major General John F. Reynolds who outranked Meade, but he turned the appointment down. General Reynolds was later killed on Gettysburg day 1.
General Meade barely had time to acquaint himself with his position before the Union army was engaged at the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade arrived on the scene around midnight after the first day of battle and assumed command from General Winfield S. Hancock.
He asked about the ground they held at Gettysburg and Hancock assured him it was "very good ground". Rather than making plans to attack the Confederate army, Meade decided to take advantage of the heights on which the Union army was situated and created fortified defensive positions with strong interior lines with Cemetery Ridge as the center.
Meade faced some difficult decisions during the battle at Gettysburg including the handling of General Daniel Sickles unfortunate breach of orders in moving his men forward and compromising the integrity of the Union left.
It was no secret that Meade and Sickles did not get along as Sickles was an ardent supporter of General Hooker. Meade skillfully shifted troops to the Union left on Gettysburg day 2 to face the main attack by General James Longstreet on the Union left.
He made good use of his subordinates and allocated responsibility when needed over the course of the 3-day battle. General Winfield S. Hancock performed admirably under Meade and repelled the ill-fated Pickett's Charge on the Union center on Gettysburg day 3.
George Meade commanded well at the Battle of Gettysburg and under his leadership, the Union won the most pivotal battle of the Civil War. He was however criticized by Abraham Lincoln for not pursuing the Confederate army aggressively as they retreated back to Virginia.
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