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General Meade’s Gettysburg Victory
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While both armies still occupy the field, General Meade congratulates his soldiers on their “glorious” victory at Gettysburg. This is one of a handful of surviving battlefield copies of the victory message that infuriated Lincoln.

GEORGE MEADE. Broadside, “Head Quarters Army of the Potomac,” Gettysburg, PA, printed on the field, July 4, 1863 [4:15 p.m.]. General Orders 68. 5½ x 6 in.

Inventory #23519       Price: $22,500

Complete Transcript

Head Quarters Army of the Potomac,

                                                                                    July 4th, 1863

---

            General Orders}

                        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  Utterly baffled and defeated, he has now withdrawn from the contest.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.

Historical Background

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought on July 1-3, 1863, caused a staggering number of casualties: 23,000 Union, 28,000 Confederate. At 4:15 p.m. on July 4th, 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 a part of Meade’s message infuriated Lincoln. Attuned as always to the power of words, Lincoln pointed out to General Halleck that all of America, not just the North, was still “our soil.” Lincoln was further disgusted by Meade’s reluctance to pursue Lee. Lincoln rightly perceived that Meade wanted “to get the enemy across the river again without a further collision,” rather than acting to prevent their crossing and to destroy the Confederate army.

While Lincoln congratulated the Army of the Potomac for its hard-fought victory, he drafted a letter lecturing Meade about “the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape… [T]o have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war.” Although Lincoln never sent that letter, Meade was aware of his displeasure and offered to resign. Lincoln declined the offer.

Lincoln did send a letter to Major General Halleck, explaining: “You know I did not like the phrase … ‘Drive the invaders from our soil.’” Lincoln pointed out that all of America was still “our soil” and that Meade’s goal should have been to destroy the Confederate Army, not just push it back south. Instead, Meade did not attack in full force while Lee remained north of the Potomac, and Lee’s army escaped to Virginia.

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 fewer than ten known copies of this battlefield-issued first printing of Meade’s victory message.

References

General Orders, No. 68. Official Records, Series I, Volume 27, Part III, Reports, Serial No. 45, at http://www.civilwarhome.com/meadeorder68.htm


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