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One of a handful of surviving battlefield-issued copies of the Gettysburg victory message that infuriated Lincoln. GEORGE MEADE.
Broadside, General Orders 68. “Head Quarters Army of the Potomac,” [Gettysburg, Pa.], printed on the field, July 4, 1863. 1 p., 7 x 6 in.
Also for sale as part of the Ultimate Lincoln Collection.
While both armies still occupy the field, General Meade congratulates his soldiers on their “glorious” victory at Gettysburg.
Head Quarters Army of the Potomac,
July 4th, 1863
No. 68. }
THE Commanding General, in behalf of the country, thanks the Army of the Potomac for the glorious result of the recent operations.
An enemy superior in numbers and flushed with the pride of a successful invasion, attempted to overcome and destroy this Army. Utterly baffled and defeated, he has now withdrawn from the contest. The privations and fatigue the Army has endured, and the heroic courage and gallantry it has displayed will be matters of history to be ever remembered.
Our task is not yet accomplished, and the Commanding General looks to the Army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.
It is right and proper that we should, on all suitable occasions, return our grateful thanks to the Almighty Disposer of events, that in the goodness of his Providence He has thought fit to give victory to the cause of the just.
By command of
MAJ. GEN. MEADE.
S. Williams, Asst. Adj. General.”
The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1 – 3, 1863, ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North but the number of casualties was staggering. Union forces under General George Meade sustained approximately 23,000 casualties, while the Confederates suffered nearly 28,000 dead, wounded, or missing. At 4:15 p.m. on July 4, with the battlefield still strewn with the dead and wounded, Meade issued General Orders No. 68 commending his victorious troops. He had good reason to give thanks: after the failures of four previous commanders and thirteen months of stalemate and defeat, the Army of the Potomac had finally won a decisive victory over Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
But part of Meade’s message infuriated Lincoln. Attuned as always to the power of words, Lincoln expressed disapproval to Major General Halleck, writing “You know I did not like the phrase … ‘Drive the invaders from our soil,’ ”pointing out that all of America, not just the North, was still “our soil.” Further, Meade did not attack in full force while Lee remained north of the Potomac, allowing the Confederate army to escape. Meade’s reluctance to pursue Lee disgusted Lincoln, who correctly perceived that Meade wanted “to get the enemy across the river again without a further collision,” rather than acting to prevent their crossing and destroy them.
While Lincoln congratulated the Army of the Potomac for its hard-fought victory, he also drafted a letter lecturing Meade about “the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape…To have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war.” Although Lincoln never sent the letter, Meade was aware of the President’s displeasure and offered to resign. Lincoln declined the offer. However, at the end of the year, Lincoln summoned Ulysses S. Grant, the victor at Vicksburg, to Washington to become General-in-Chief. Grant would accompany and direct Meade in the final two years of war in Virginia.
There are only three or four other known copies of this battlefield-issued first printing of Meade’s victory message.
Civil War Field Printing
During the Civil War, inexpensive, tabletop printing presses made quick field communication possible. Originally developed so shopkeepers could print their own receipts, billheads, and other documents, both the Union and Confederate armies quickly adopted these portable presses.
Small broadsides such as General Orders were typically printed two or four per sheet and then cut. Because typesetters composed the same text multiple times, minor typographical differences sometimes exist between copies that were actually part of the same impression.
To date we have identified three variants:
The present copy, in which the words “Head” and “Potomac” in the headline are actually spelled “Nead” and “Yotomac”—though the condensed Gothic type style makes this difficult to discern without careful examination.
A copy from the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection, with the words in the headline spelled correctly and with the “B” in the closing line “By command of” aligned under the space between “cause of” in the line above.
A copy sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in 2006 that matches the present copy in numerous typographic details, but with the errors in the headline corrected.
Heritage Auction Galleries, 6/25/2011, lot 52206.
General Orders, No. 68.Official Records, Series I, Volume 27, Part III,
Reports, Serial No. 45, at 3 http://www.civilwarhome.com/meadeorder68.htm
Civil War Field Printing, Smithsonian National Museum of American History.