A lieutenant in the Union army and later a major in the Confederate army, Richard K. Meade was one of four graduates of the U.S. Military Academy who initially fought for the Union before switching sides during the American Civil War.
Richard Kidder Meade was born on July 21, 1829, near Petersburg, Virginia. He was the first of two sons born to Richard Kidder Meade and Julia Edmunds (Haskins) Meade. Meade’s father was a two-time Congressman from Virginia and a United States Minister to Brazil.
U.S. Army Officer
Meade attended the United States Military Academy from July 1, 1853 to July 1, 1857, graduating second in his class of thirty-eight cadets. Upon graduation, officials brevetted Meade as a second lieutenant with the Army Corps of Engineers and assigned him to West Point, where he served as an assistant professor of engineering for nearly two years. On July 29, 1858, Meade received a promotion to the full rank of second lieutenant. Between 1859 and 1860, he worked to improve the defenses at New York Harbor. In 1860, army officials deployed Meade to Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, as an assistant engineer.
Crisis at Charleston
Soon after Meade arrived at Charleston, the Union began dissolving. As Southern states seized federal property within their borders, South Carolina residents pressured Governor Francis Pickens to do something about four federal forts within Charleston Harbor. Perkins could not persuade President Buchanan to surrender the forts, but he believed that the president had agreed to avoid any actions that Southerners might view as hostile. During the night of December 26, 1860, Major Robert Anderson, who commanded all federal troops at Charleston, began merging his forces at Fort Sumter. An outraged Pickens considered Anderson’s actions as a breach of faith. The next day, he ordered the South Carolina Militia to occupy the mostly abandoned Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie.
Meade Surrenders Castle Pinckney
On the night of December 27, 1860, Colonel James Johnston Pettigrew led three companies of South Carolina militiamen to Castle Pinckney on a small island in Charleston Harbor. After scaling the walls of the stronghold unopposed, Pettigrew confronted Meade, who along with one other federal soldier was overseeing a small civilian work crew making repairs to the facility. Pettigrew demanded that Meade surrender the fort to the governor of South Carolina. Meade replied that he did not recognize the authority of the governor of South Carolina within the federal facility. Having no way to resist, however, Meade and his party boarded a rowboat and crossed to Fort Sumter, leaving Castle Pinckney to the South Carolinians.
Meade remained with the garrison of Fort Sumter and was present during the Confederate bombardment on April 12-13, 1861 that started the American Civil War. Throughout the ordeal, Meade served Anderson and the Union loyally. Nonetheless, when Meade’s home state of Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861, three days after the evacuation of Fort Sumter, the young lieutenant sided with the Confederacy. On May 1, 1861, Meade resigned his commission in the U.S. Army.
During the summer of 1861, Meade served as a major of artillery in the Provisional Army of the Confederacy. By early 1862, he was performing engineering duties in North Carolina. His work at Fort Fisher helped make that Confederate stronghold one of the last Rebel outposts to fall during the American Civil War. When his work in North Carolina was complete, Confederate officials transferred Meade to the Army of Northern Virginia, where he served briefly as an engineering officer on the staff of Major General James Longstreet beginning on June 9, 1862.
Just a few after joining Longstreet’s staff, Meade contracted typhoid fever and died at Petersburg, Virginia on July 31, 1862. He was buried at Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.
Meade was one of four West Point graduates to fight for the Union during the Civil War before switching sides. The others were Manning M. Kimmel, William T. Magruder, and Donald C. Stith.