Gettysburg expert to discuss Meade's role in Civil War at California University of Pa.
If this story sounds familiar, it should: “(I) was born near a Civil War site, but for a multitude of reasons never visited, until I was driving by one day” or “helped chaperone my child's school field trip” or “I discovered I am related to a soldier who fought in the CW”…
Born approximately some 20 miles from Appomattox, Va., Jim Pangburn, 53, knows the story, having never visited the famous site until he was 26.
“This was Civil War country,” he said. “It took a while, but I finally became interested. I was very moved by the story there and have been a serious student of the American Civil War ever since.”
Six years later, with Civil War history flowing through his veins, he was driving past Gettysburg and decided to stop, thinking his visit would last “a little while.” That “little visit” lasted six hours.
“It had a definite impact on me. Just that quickly I understood something really significant happened there,” he recalls, understating the obvious. Pursuing his newfound interest in what happened in Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, Pangburn followed his instincts and made his way to Gettysburg as a then part-time and now full-time battlefield guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Last year, his tenth as a full-time guide, he estimates he conducted some 250 battlefield tours.
Among the many queries he receives from visitors, one of the most frequent concerns the role of Major Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg.
“Many otherwise knowledgeable visitors to the Park are under the misconception that Meade either refused, failed, was dilatory or perhaps negligent in pursuing the Confederates, who were retreating back to Virginia immediately after the three-day battle,” Pangburn said. “Many people believe further that, as a result, Meade was relieved of command of that army by Lincoln after the Gettysburg Campaign.”
Pangburn will present his story, or rather Meade's story – “Meade's Pursuit of Lee at the Close of the Gettysburg Campaign” — at the California University of Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable gathering from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Kara Alumni House. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
As Pangburn, a Bucknell University grad, addresses these misconceptions, he will discuss the situation Meade faced when appointed to command the Army of the Potomac three days prior to the beginning of the battle, the condition of his army after the battle, and the politics surrounding Meade and the logistics he faced in mounting a pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
One of the key factors of the battle occurred on the second day, Pangburn explained. Corps commander Daniel Sickles was assigned by Meade to a certain position on the battlefield, but took it upon himself to advance his troops three-fourths-of-a-mile ahead, instead of holding his position.
“Sickles was 600 yards from Confederate lines and exposed his position,” added Pangburn. “They drove him back and he was wounded, taking a cannonball below the knee. His leg was amputated the next day. Meeting President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., Sickles was asked by the president about events at Gettysburg but neglected to inform Lincoln about not following orders. Instead, he told Lincoln that Meade lacked the stomach for the fight, that he (Sickles) lured the Confederates into battle.”
Lincoln was disappointed in what he heard about Meade, Pangburn continued, but added that Meade had contingency plans to pursue the Confederate army or withdraw from Gettysburg if necessary.
“Sickles turned the story around,” Pangburn said. “Meade was at Appomattox two years later as the war ended and that led me to look into it what occurred at Gettysburg, document it more, and look into orders Meade gave before, during and after the battle. He was not relieved of his command after the battle; he did pursue the Confederates, contrary to what many people believe. He did everything humanly possible. After the battle he put out a circular, stating, ‘I will not rest until we drive the enemy from our soil.' Following the Confederate troops southward, Meade eventually caught up with the Confederate army at the Potomac River.”
Having Civil War history in his bloodlines, Pangburn is related to two Civil War soldiers from Western Pennsylvania who were present at Gettysburg in July 1863. He is a descendant of Sgt. Philip Lichtenfelt of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry from Westmoreland County, and his great-great-uncle, Jim Pangburn, who was at Little Round Top, was with the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry from Allegheny County.
Pangburn is also the proud son of a deceased World War II combat veteran whose naval vessel, the USS Evans (DD-552), a Fletcher Class destroyer, received a Presidential Unit Citation after surviving four direct Japanese kamikaze hits while supporting operations off Okinawa on May 11, 1945.
As part of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides' test preparation program for prospective guides, Pangburn taught a class on the Gettysburg Campaign for prospective guides last October.
Pangburn's face and, perhaps more significantly, his voice are familiar to visitors at Gettysburg. For the last nine years he has served as the historical narrator for Gettysburg's annual Civil War reenactment. He also narrated the 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in September 2012. But his coup de grace is six months away when he will narrate the 150th anniversary event at Gettysburg.
“I am particularly looking forward to this year's 150th anniversary program,” he said. “I've paid my dues at smaller Gettysburg events since 2004, and I am eager to participate in what will certainly be a memorable and sizeable sesquicentennial event here this summer. It's not often that you get to speak in front of 30,000 people.”
Anyone interested in attending the Roundtable should call 412-417-1516 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or for additional information.
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.