The Great Debate of 2024

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved


The January 2024 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable featured the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate. The topic for debate was the question: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Meade was criticized, including by President Abraham Lincoln, for not being sufficiently aggressive in pursuing Lee’s defeated Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. The 2024 Dick Crews Memorial Debate examined this question. Four debaters presented arguments in support of their stance on this question. Two debaters argued in favor of Meade, and two debaters argued against him. Below are the texts of those four arguments, along with moderator William Vodrey’s opening remarks.

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The Great Debate of 2024: Opening Remarks

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?

By William F.B. Vodrey – debate moderator
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate at the January 2024 Roundtable meeting was: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Four members made presentations on the topic; the article below was the opening remarks made by the moderator of the debate.


We’re here tonight for the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate, named after Dick Crews, my longtime predecessor as moderator. Dick once told me that the debate got its start as a Roundtable tradition because of the difficulty of finding speakers who were willing to travel to Cleveland in January. In moderating again tonight for, God help me, my 20th year, I stand on the shoulders of giants, including Dick.

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Evaluating George Gordon Meade’s Leadership in the Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg – Caution, Hesitancy, and Timidity

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg? No

By Gary W. Taylor
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate at the January 2024 Roundtable meeting was: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Four members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those four presentations.


Meade’s cautious pursuit of Lee instantly and energetically following the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 was one of the greatest errors and misfortunes of the Civil War. Let’s consider some facts following Meade’s successful defense of Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd:

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Evaluating George Gordon Meade’s Leadership in the Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg – Skill, Vigor, and Wisdom

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg? Yes

By William J. Toler
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate at the January 2024 Roundtable meeting was: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Four members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those four presentations. The argument on this web page was written by Bill Toler, who was one of the debaters. Because of illness, Bill was not able to present his argument at the debate. Lily Korte substituted for Bill, and the information that Bill compiled and organized was used by Lily to present Bill’s argument at the debate. The essay on this web page was written by Bill from that information and presents Bill’s argument as he would have done had he been able to participate in the debate himself.


The question before us this evening is: “Was Meade aggressive enough in chasing Lee after Gettysburg?” How we define “aggressive enough” will certainly matter, and the consideration of “aggressive enough for whom” has mattered since July 1863.

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Evaluating George Gordon Meade’s Leadership in the Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg – A Letdown to the Army, to the Country, and to George Meade

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg? No

By Steve Pettyjohn
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate at the January 2024 Roundtable meeting was: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Four members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those four presentations.


While not trying to be anti-climactic, the title of this debate suggests the answer. If Meade had been aggressive enough, we probably would be having a far different topic for our debate. Perhaps the topic would be something along the lines of “was poor U.S. Grant the forgotten hero of the Civil War?” We would be discussing the question of whether Grant’s contributions in the West were far overshadowed by “MEADE OF GETTYSBURG!” We would note that Meade eclipsed all other Civil War generals. We would laud Meade and praise how he had conducted a very skillful defense at Gettysburg for three days and then followed up with a series of counterattacks and overall pursuit of Lee’s army that resulted in Lee being trapped against the raging floodwaters of the Potomac River a week later. We would be celebrating Meade and the Army of the Potomac’s twin victories at Williamsport and Falling Waters, where the Army of Northern Viriginia was crushed and crippled as it attempted to cross the Potomac and flee into western Maryland. This would be followed by Meade’s triumphant march to Richmond where he ended the rebellion.

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Evaluating George Gordon Meade’s Leadership in the Aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg – As Much or More Than Could Be Expected

Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg? Yes

By Chris Howard
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate at the January 2024 Roundtable meeting was: “Was George Gordon Meade aggressive enough in chasing Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg?” Four members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those four presentations.


I stand for the proposition that “Meade WAS aggressive enough in pursuing Lee after Gettysburg.” Let me first summarize some key issues, and then I will describe some aspects of Meade’s pursuit of Lee in more detail.

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General Lee’s Standing in the South after Gettysburg

By Daniel J. Ursu, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2023-2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the February 2024 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


General George Gordon Meade (one of my favorite Union generals and the nautical surveyor of the Great Lakes) was the tactical and strategic victor of the Battle of Gettysburg, arguably the most important battle of the war. In spite of this, Meade conversely faced harsh criticism at the January 2024 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. At that meeting, the Roundtable held its annual Dick Crews Memorial Debate, which in 2024 involved opposing opinions regarding Meade’s post-Gettysburg pursuit of the defeated Confederate army. As affirmed by vote of the attendees at that meeting, the unfavorable opinion of Meade’s actions was considered the appropriate point of view. So be it.

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Fort Stevens

By Daniel J. Ursu, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2023-2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the October 2023 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


The Union’s panicked and disorganized retreat from the First Battle of Bull Run laid bare an obvious danger to the North. The Union capital of Washington, D.C. was vulnerable to attack from a Confederate army. But for the Confederate’s own disorganization after their victory, the very first major battle in the Eastern Theater of the war could have resulted in the capture of the Union’s government. Accordingly, it was soon determined that substantial fortifications around the capital needed to be deliberately, quickly, and diligently constructed.

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First Bull Run Union Division and Confederate Brigade Commanders

By Daniel J. Ursu, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2023-2024, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2023 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


As Ed Bearss recounts it in his book Fields of Honor, “McDowell was under political pressure to do something dramatic…enlistments of the Union Army’s 90-day volunteers were about to run out. When he complained to the President that his men were ill prepared to assume the offensive at this point, Lincoln famously replied, ‘You are green it is true, but they are green also; you are all green alike.'” And so it was that the First Battle of Bull Run would ensue shortly thereafter.

But if the soldiers were green, it necessarily implies that their commanders were also green and it is worthwhile to explore how they fared. A lot has been written about First Bull Run army commanders Irvin McDowell, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Joseph Johnston throughout the war, so instead this history brief is a brief look at the lesser-known Union division commanders and the Confederate brigade commanders engaged in the battle, not so much to analyze the things that they did or did not do due to their greenness, but rather more so what they did after Bull Run. This history brief highlights one of the Confederate commanders and two Union commanders.

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Doubleday’s Revenge

By Brian D. Kowell
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2023, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in April 2023.


If you stand on the ramparts of Fort Moultrie in South Carolina and look down the beach west of the fort’s massive guns, in the direction of Mount Pleasant, you will see the place where 162 years ago there once stood a luxurious beachfront hotel. In the evening, with a little imagination, you might see its bright lights and hear the sounds of music and laughter of the well-to-do people dancing at one of its extravagant balls, or sitting along its wide veranda, or strolling along its sandy beachfront.

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