(Almost) Hidden DC: George Gordon Meade

Washington, D.C.,  is a city of monuments and memorials, and some of the best are just off the beaten track.  Steps away from busy streets are statuary and other works of art representing people and events, minor and major, from America’s past.  When next in the City, check these gems out.

For many decades, Washington, D.C., was little more than a provincial backwater.  Foreign visitors and others would comment on the muddy and trash-strewn paths we called streets as well as the lack of suitable lodgings on par with New York, Philadelphia or London.   Pigs wallowed and roosters crowed in a city where humans were sold at auction.

The beginning of the end of all that, in more ways than one, was the American Civil War.  Not only was the city in the middle of the fighting, it was the Command Post for the Union and became a center of activity and growth from which it never receded.

Even after 150 years, the Civil War is a singular event in our history, but in the decades immediately after 1865, there was an “orgy of commemoration” directed at those who led the Union forces.  Washington, DC is decked out from one end to the other with Civil War luminaries, great and otherwise, in parks, circles and hide-aways.

George Gordon Meade, career Army officer and leader of the Union forces at the titanic battle of Gettysburg, PA, looks south from his pedestal in front of the US Courthouse at 3rd and Constitution, NW.  Meade obtained the surprise promotion to Commander of the Army of the Potomac just three days before the epic battle when Joseph Hooker resigned and Lincoln’s first choice declined the honor.

Meade successfully arrayed the Union troops to fight a defensive battle against Lee’s forces but was heavily criticized for an ineffective follow-up as the Confederates retreated.  With his notorious short temper, he was known as, “a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle.”

The massive 260-ton piece poses allegorical figures around Meade including loyalty, chivalry and military courage.  Directly opposite the General is War, with his wings sweeping toward the front of the sculpture.  An especially striking aspect is the gilded bronze medallion wreath rising over Meade.

Like other sculptures in Washington, it has moved about over the years, from its original place near what is now the Capitol reflecting pool to the current home at the Courthouse.

333 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC

Sources:  Goode’s “Washington Sculpture”, Schlesinger’s “Almanac of American History”, Wikipedia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *