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Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg

Tom Huntington, Stackpole Books 2013, $32.95

Although he was the victor of the Civil War’s most famous battle, George Gordon Meade remains underappreciated. At least that’s what just about everyone Tom Huntington met while preparing Searching for George Gordon Meade says—the park rangers and guides who accompanied him on visits to various battlefields, the Meade living historian who is also the driving force behind the General Meade Society of Philadelphia, and an aspiring Meade biographer who led Huntington around the woods near Petersburg, Va. After reading so many complaints about this lack of respect, it’s difficult not to wonder just how underappreciated a historical figure can really be if everyone agrees he is underappreciated. Not every Civil War general, after all, can boast of a dedicated band of followers who make the pilgrimage to his gravesite every year to drink champagne toasts on his birthday.

That being said, it’s the rare reader who will not enjoy accompanying Huntington on his search for Meade. Huntington is, make no mistake, a decided Meade and Union partisan. But he is reasonable in his analysis and offers fairly balanced (though generally critical) treatments of folks with whom the general crossed swords over the course of his career, the most important no doubt being Dan Sickles and Phil Sheridan.

Huntington’s commentary on particular elements in the modern Civil War community, though, will not please everyone. Modern Lost Cause devotees, for instance, do not come across particularly well.

One of the book’s charms is that, unlike too many who write about or study the war, Huntington has fun with the subject. He presents what he observes with a wry air of detachment and humor many readers will welcome as a nice break from what is too often the oppressively reverential, weighty and self-important tone that characterizes works on the war. Some may lament how rushed Huntington’s treatment of the Petersburg Campaign seems compared with the sections on earlier operations. And others may find it curious (though by no means atypical) to encounter an author who, while seeking to rescue the historical reputation of one commander of the Army of the Potomac, doesn’t deviate from the conventional wisdom assigned to Meade’s much-maligned predecessors. One general at a time, I guess—though it’s easy to imagine a “search for Fighting Joe Hooker” being a pleasant exercise for author and reader alike.

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.