1862: Tribute to Major Richard Kidder Meade, Jr. by Robert E. Lee

This tribute to Major Richard Kidder Meade, Jr. (1835-1862) was penned by an unidentified fellow officer sometime in the latter half of 1862. Meade was the son of Congressman Richard K. Meade (1803-1862) and Julia Edmunds Haskins (1808-1891) of Petersburg, Virginia. Meade graduated from West Point in 1857 and was serving as an engineer on the staff of Major Anderson during the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861. Soon after, Meade resigned his Lieutenant’s commission in the U. S. Army and accepted a Major’s commission in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States (PACS). He served on the staffs of General John B. Magruder and James Longstreet, respectfully, until succumbing to typhoid fever in July 1862.

Within the tribute is a transcribed sympathy letter written by Gen. Robert E. Lee that was sent to Meade’s mother a little over a week after he heard of Meade’s death. A portion of Lee’s 9 August 1862 letter to Julia (Haskins) Meade was published by George S. Barnard [“War Talks of Confederate Veterans, page 36] in 1892. It is the only place I have found this letter by Lee previously published.

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Lt. Richard Kidder Meade, Jr. standing second from right while serving on Maj. Anderson’s staff at Fort Sumter. This CDV image property of the American Civil War Museum.

TRANSCRIPTION

[Tribute to] Major R. K. Meade, Jr.

Although months have elapsed since the death of this noble and gallant young officer—which occurred on the 31st day of July 1862—no previous commemoration of his many & winning virtues & valuable services has yet been given to the world. Such injustice should no longer remain.

Major Meade was the son of the late Hon. R. K. Meade of Petersburg, so long & so favorably known as one of Virginia’s ablest & most honored representatives at home and abroad. He was educated at West Point, won the admiration & affection of professors & comrades, graduated with the greatest distinction in 1857, & became soon afterwards an officer of the Engineer Corps of the United States.

Caught in a peculiar situation at the commencement of the struggle, he deemed it his duty, under the advice of earnest friends who were true Southern Patriots, & from a sense of military propriety & honor, to violate the warm impulse of his heart, by an apparent hostility to the Great Cause which he afterwards so ardently espoused. The moment he was released by the fall of Fort Sumter from so trying a position, he returned to unite his destinies with our youthful Republic & entered its service early in May of 1861. He was soon so distinguished by his intelligence, zeal, & manliness, as well as by his superior professional accomplishments, that it may be safely said there was no officer of his age in the Confederate Service who gave promise of  more useful & distinguished career.

After many months of active service he finally died from the effects of exposure & over exertion in the faithful discharge of his duty to his Country & his memory will be cherished with fond and tender affection by his brother officers—especially by those who like the writer of these lines, had the opportunity from association with him in the same branch of service of appreciating all the excellence of his character, his devotions, his firmness, his generous sentiments of fidelity & honor in all the relations of life whether private or public.

The following letter from our Commander in Chief to Major Meade’s mother [Julia Edmunds Haskins Meade] is a touching & appropriate tribute to the manly virtues of her son.

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CDV of Gen. Robert E. Lee

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
August 9th 1862

My dear Madam,

It is fitting that I should sorrow with you in the untimely death of your gallant son. In him our Country has lost a most accomplished, brave, and skillful officer—one who bade fair to serve her in the highest ranks of his profession. In the campaign of the Peninsula, he devoted himself to his work with distinguished zeal and intelligence under my own eye. He has labored with untiring energy and performed invaluable service in the field. During the eventful week of the battles on the Chickahominy, he distinguished himself by his bravery, energy, and activity, making bold & skillful reconnoissances which contributed much to the success of our arms. It was his incessant labor & great exposure during that week, alas! which proved fatal to this noble young patriot. May the God of the widow & fatherless give consolation to his mother and orphan sisters in their great sorrow.

I am most respectfully yours, — R. E. Lee, Gen’l.

Mrs. R. K. Mead

 

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