“Major General George Gordon Meade” by artist Alexander Milne Calder – Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO


[James Mundy] Meade was Philadelphia’s hometown hero. [Rob Armstrong] He was the victorious general at the battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the Civil War. [Michael Panhorst] General Meade had only been put in command of those forces three days earlier, so it was quite a quick rise to the occasion. [Mundy] The Union was saved. Unfortunately, because Meade was Meade, he was not perceived to be the savior of the country. I am Jim Mundy and I am the director of Library and Historical Collections at the Union League of Philadelphia. He had a reputation for being very sharp and biting. [Armstrong] He always had trouble with the press. My name is Rob Armstrong. I’m the Preservation and Capital Projects Manager with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. [Panhorst] There was criticism of Meade for not pursuing Lee. I’m Michael Panhorst and I’m a historian of American art and architecture. A number of armchair generals believed that Meade could have ended the war. [Mundy] And to this day it is probably the single greatest stain on Meade’s reputation. [Panhorst] After the war, he returned to Philadelphia and became a commissioner of Fairmount Park. [Armstrong] He was an engineer. He was a West Point trained topographical surveyor. [Mundy] Meade almost single-handedly devised the road system, the path system, the bridle path system, all throughout Fairmount Park. [Armstrong] He would ride his horse Old Baldy that he had used in the Civil War through the park. He didn’t have to come back to Philadelphia and work on a civic improvement project. However what he did was he continued to work until his death for the park. [Panhorst] He died in 1872. And immediately there was a call to erect a monument to him in Fairmount Park. [Mundy] The Fairmount Park Art Association undertook its first major project and that was to commemorate George Gordon Meade. And unfortunately perhaps the timing wasn’t the best, because shortly after there was a major financial panic in 1873. [Panhorst] And then the centennial exhibition of 1876 pretty much overwhelmed the local fundraising effort. It was not until after the Centennial exhibition that things really got rolling, and one of the major factors there was the impulse of about 119 women. [Mundy] Philadelphia’s women came to the rescue. [Armstrong] The Meade Memorial Women’s Auxiliary Committee was formed. [Panhorst] The committee obtained about 30 Civil War cannons which were then sold and the cash was applied to the project. [Mundy] And so by 1881 they had raised the $30,000 needed to have the memorial cast in bronze. [Armstrong] And the competition to select the artist began, and that’s when Alexander Milne Calder won the commission. [Panhorst] This was the first monumental equestrian sculpture that he had created. [Mundy] If you look at the sculpture itself, it gives us better appreciation of Meade as a man, not just as a soldier. [Panhorst] The general’s glasses, his spectacles, are stuck into the breast of his double-breasted jacket. You can see veins in the face and the neck of the horse. You can almost count the hairs in the mane. [Armstrong] Although it’s a military style sculpture, and he’s of course on his war horse Old Baldy, he’s in uniform, he’s placed in Fairmount Park. He is not looking west toward Gettysburg. [Mundy] You basically have Meade looking over his engineering creation, if you will, of one of the great city parks in the world.

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