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“I am an American and a Union Man”

Career navy officer Richard Worsam Meade was an irascible man. This quirk in his personality may have been hereditary; his uncle famously exhibited the same trait—Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Uncle George famously earned the nickname “The Old Snapping Turtle.”

Richard Worsam Meade, U.S. Navy. Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer. Jim Quinlan Collection.

Richard Worsam Meade, U.S. Navy. Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer. Jim Quinlan Collection.

Born in New York to the son of a passed midshipman, Richard Meade followed in his father’s footsteps when he received an appointment as a midshipman in 1850. He graduated from the Naval Academy six years later. At the start of the Civil War, he served as a gunnery instructor aboard the training vessel Ohio. He went on to combat duty on the blockade squadron along the Atlantic coast. He fought Confederate guerrillas along the Mississippi River, suppressed the New York draft riots and patrolled the Gulf of Mexico.

Meade continued on in the navy after the war and gained a reputation as a reformist who embraced technology. His irascible nature appears to have intensified as he aged, and came to a head after his promotion to rear admiral in 1895, when the New York Tribune exposed a disagreement he had with the Navy Department.

Meade reportedly said, “I am an American and a Union man—two things this administration can’t stand.” Secretary of the Navy Hilary A. Herbert asked Meade to confirm or deny the offending statement. Meade evaded answering. Rumors that he could face a court-martial for disrespect to the commander-in-chief, President Grover Cleveland, resulted in Meade’s forced retirement.

President Cleveland, Navy Secretary Herbert and Rear Adm. Meade. Library of Congress.


President Cleveland, Navy Secretary Herbert and Rear Adm. Meade. Library of Congress.
Section 1, Plot 255. ANC Project.
Section 1, Plot 255. ANC Project.

Cleveland issued the order with a stern rebuke. “The president regrets exceedingly that the long active service of this officer, so brilliant in its early stages and so often marked with honorable incidents, should at its close be tarnished by conduct at variance with a commendable career and inconsistent with the example which an officer of his high rank should furnish of submission to restraint of wholesome discipline and manifest propriety.”

Meade died in 1897 at age 59.

This portrait is part of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Book Project. Established by Jim Quinlan, owner of The Excelsior Brigade, its mission is to identify approximately 15,000 Civil War veterans interred on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, and to provide a biographical sketch and photograph of each individual. If you have an image to share, or would like more information about the ANC project, please contact Jim at 703-307-0344.

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