Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg

General George Gordon Meade (1815–1872) should be remembered as one of the American Civil War’s most important generals, but he is not. Instead, history has relegated him to minor status. President Abraham Lincoln gave the hot-tempered Meade command of the Union’s dysfunctional Army of the Potomac only three days before he defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his forces at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. Following the pivotal battle Meade watched his reputation plummet, thanks in part to the escape of Lee’s army, hostile politicians, contentious relationships with newspaper correspondents, the machinations of Major General David E. Sickles who despised him, and the rise of Ulysses S. Grant who over-shadowed him. “I suppose after a while,” Meade grumbled, “it will be discovered I was not at Gettysburg at all.”

In Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg (Stackpole Books, cloth, 406 pages, $32.95), Tom Huntington recounts the story of the Philadelphian’s life and his participation in the Civil War’s great engagements, from General George Brinton McClellan’s Richmond Campaign of 1862 to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. He also provides accounts of his own investigations of Meade’s legacy. Along the way he hikes across battlefields, recites the names of fallen soldiers during a candlelit ceremony at Gettysburg, and raises a champagne toast to Meade at his grave in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery on New Year’s Eve. Searching for George Gordon Meade is a quirky, captivating, and compelling meld of history, biography, travel, anecdotes, and journalism that casts new light on an over-looked historical figure. Similar to the approach the author took with previous titles Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, this book merges stories from the past with an insightful present-day journey of discovery.

Huntington became interested in his subject after he learned “Meade hadn’t received a major biography since Freeman Cleeves’s Meade of Gettysburg appeared in 1960.” He then launched his own journey of discovery which he discusses in the book’s preface. “So I began to look into Meade. I found out that he had fought in almost all the major battles in the Eastern Theater, with the exception of First Bull Run. He had been badly wounded at the Battle of Glendale during George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign and had steadily risen from command of a brigade to head of the Army of Potomac. And he did that without conniving against his superiors, as other generals had done. He seemed truly to believe that he would be justly rewarded for doing his duty and behaving honestly and conscientiously.”

Meade was no paragon, contends Huntington. He could be petty and peevish and he had a legendary temper, described by a contemporary, Isaac R. Pennypacker, as “a rage so magnificent that it seemed capable of moving mountains.” He was a complex, enigmatic individual. He was high strung, stubborn, steadfast, and principled. He was neither flamboyant nor flashy. Perhaps his personality is the reason why history overlooks him while his peers have been remembered, even romanticized. Grant’s likeness appears on the fifty-dollar bill. Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley also reached the White House. As for Meade, Lincoln chided him after the Battle of Gettysburg for not destroying Lee’s army. Later in the war Meade was forced to testify before a congressional committee, mainly because the man who cost him the battle, General Sickles, was busy spreading rumors that Meade had intended to retreat from the battlefield. He launched his vehement personal vendetta against Meade because he had replaced Joseph Hooker to whom Sickles was fiercely loyal.

As readers follow Huntington on his journey, they meet a number of individuals from the past—and the present, including reenactors, historians, curators, educators, tour guides, and others who study the Civil War. And what about the author’s New Year’s Eve toast to Meade at his gravesite? Huntington’s intriguing account begins with the last chapter of Searching for George Gordon Meade entitled “The Final Years.”

 

Also Worth Noting

By the time William Penn was planning the colony that would come to be called Pennsylvania with Philadelphia at its heart, Europeans on both sides of the ocean had long experienced the hazards of city life, disease the most terrifying among them. Drawing from those experiences, colonists hoped to create new urban forms that combined the commercial advantages of a seaport with the health benefits of the country. Simon Finger’s The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Pennsylvania (Cornell University Press, 2012, cloth, 226 pages, $39.95) details how early Americans struggled to preserve their collective health against both the strange new perils of the colonial environment and the familiar dangers of the traditional city, through a period of profound transformation in politics and medicine. Philadelphia was the paramount example of this reforming tendency. Tracing the city’s history from its founding in 1682 to the outbreak of yellow fever in 1793, the author makes it clear that medicine and politics were inextricably linked, and that both undergirded the debates over crucial concerns such as Philadelphia’s location, its urban plan, its immigration policy, and its creation of institutions and agencies of public safety.

On the Edge of Freedom: The Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820–1870 (Fordham University Press, cloth, 327 pages, $70) by David G. Smith breaks new ground by illuminating the unique development of anti-slavery sentiment in southcentral Pennsylvania – a border region of a border state with a complicated history of slavery, anti-slavery, and unequal freedom. Hundreds of escaping slaves traveled through this area – identified as Adams, Cumberland, and Franklin Counties – during the antebellum decades, where they faced significant opportunities and substantial risks. Although they were assisted by the Underground Railroad, they also feared slave catchers and informers. The author chronicles the victories of abolitionists in the region, including the achievement of a strong personal liberty law and the aggressive prosecution of kidnappers who seized innocent African Americans as fugitives. He also documents how their success provoked Southern retaliation and the passage of a strengthened Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The American Civil War intensified the debate as fleeing slaves, called contrabands, sought safety in the area, and scores were recaptured by the Confederate army during the Gettysburg Campaign. On the Edge of Freedom explores in detail the fugitive slave episode through a half-century of sectional conflict, war, and reconstruction in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.8 Million Kickback Scheme (The New Press, 2012, cloth, 272 pages, $26.95) by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist William Ecenbarger lays bare the mechanics of a cruel, hard-to-believe kickback scheme in northeastern Pennsylvania that incarcerated four thousand young defendants, often for minor infractions. Kids for Cash is the harrowing story of the young women and men who were shipped off by Luzerne County Court Judge Mark A. “Scooch” Ciavarella Jr. to PA Child Care, a private, for profit juvenile detention center in Pittston. They stood before Ciavarella in his Wilkes-Barre courtroom between 2003 and 2008, often with no attorney present and only after cursory hearings, and were convicted. It later came to light that Ciavarella and his co-conspirator, Judge Michael T. Conahan, had a financial stake in PA Child Care, illegally earning millions of dollars for themselves. Not only does this fastidiously researched book expose a deeply corrupt and broken judicial system, it also discusses the anthracite region’s long history of corruption and the individuals routed by authorities, including mob bosses Joseph Barbara and Russell Bufalino and Congressmen Joseph M. McDade and Daniel J. “Dapper Dan” Flood, Pennsylvania’s legendary pork barrel king.

Nestled among the rolling hills of southcentral Pennsylvania, six counties – Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York – are noted for more than three centuries of history, heritage, and architecture. Beginning with early eighteenth-century buildings, nearly every style of American architecture is featured in the region’s mid-sized cities, charming towns, and quaint villages. Scott D. Butcher showcases the Susquehanna Valley’s excellent examples of thirty-six distinctive styles of architecture representing colonial period to twentieth-century architectural movements in Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, cloth, 160 pages, $34.99). The book brims with stunning contemporary photo-graphs of local landmarks such as the 1738 Wright’s Ferry Mansion, Columbia, Lancaster County; Elmwood Mansion, Spring Garden Township, York County, constructed in 1835; the J. Donald Cameron Mansion erected in 1863 in Harrisburg, Dauphin County; the Gothic Revival-style 1868 John Rupp House in Gettysburg, Adams County; the Lebanon Farmers Market, opened in 1892; and the James Minick House, Camp Hill, Cumberland County, featured in Architectural Record magazine in 1943, less than three years after its completion. There are also many prominent buildings featured in this handsome survey: the Sisters’ house at Ephrata Cloister, Schmucker Hall on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, the Thaddeus Stevens House in Lancaster, York’s Central Market, the Hershey Hotel, The State Museum of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State Archives complex, and Lancaster’s Wheatland, the residence of James Buchanan, the nation’s fifteenth president. Historic Architecture of Pennsylvania contains images – also by the author – of barns, railroad stations, mills, churches, state and federal buildings, theatres, roadside novelties, and, yes, a wide array of mansions dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries in nearly every style conceivable. The book also contains a helpful glossary of architectural terms.