Happy 204th Birthday to “Long Tall Sol” Meredith
by Phil Spaugy
Today is the 204th birthday of Brevet Major General Solomon Meredith, the first colonel of the 19th Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry and later commander of the famed “Iron Brigade of the West.” Nicknamed “Long Tall Sol” due to his 6′ 7 ” height, Meredith commanded the 19th Indiana from its formation in May of 1861 until November of 1862 when due largely to his political connections he was promoted to the command of the Iron Brigade. It was no secret that “Sol” was held in low esteem by the brigades former commander, Brigadier General John Gibbon. Gibbon felt that Meredith who was a political appointee as colonel of the 19th, was far too lax in matters of discipline and drill when it came to keeping the “Swamp Hogs” of the 19th Indiana up to the regular army standard the West Point educated Gibbon expected. This feeling of dislike hit a high point, when in Gibbons view, Meredith, using a slight wound suffered at the Battle of South Mountain as the reason, missed the Battle of Antietam to go to Washington to recover and while their started campaigning for a promotion to brigadier general. Command of the 19th then fell to Lt. Colonel Alois Bachman who was subsequently killed while leading the regiment into action in command of the regiment, giving additional emphasis to Gibbons poor opinion of Meredith. Shortly after Antietam Gibbon was promoted to divisional command, and Meredith, while recovering from his wound had successfully used his network of political connections to gain promotion to brigadier general of volunteers was awaiting appointment to a command. With Gibbons promotion the Iron Brigade needed a commander, and Sol, again using every political means at his disposal went to work to gain the appointment to this coveted spot. Gibbon was simply livid and requested Ambrose Burnside, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac to assign Meredith to a “position where he could , at least do as little harm as possible.” Burnside [like Meredith a fellow Hoosier] turned down this request, stating that Meredith’s “many strong friends made” rendered Gibbons request impossible.
So in the eyes of many whose passion lies in the study of the actions of the Army of the Potomac and in particular the famed “Iron Brigade of the West,” Meredith oft-times comes off as an atypical volunteer general, who by using his political connections rose to command of one of the most fabled units of the war. And while there might be a bit of truth to this, I would like to share with you more compete view of Sol’s service, that perhaps might change or at least soften some of the common perceptions of time in command of the Iron Brigade.
As mentioned, that while Meredith missed the battle of Antietam, he did command the brigade during the battles of South Mountain [where the Iron Brigade was given its name] and Gettysburg . While leading his brigade in action he was wounded in both of these battles [at 6’7″ and on horseback Sol most certainly made a good target!] The wounds suffered on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg were debilitating enough to relegate him to staff duty for the rest of the war. Hardly a record of mediocre service. It should also be noted that Meredith lost two sons, Samuel and David to wounds or the physical effects of the war. Samuel served as a quartermaster sergeant and lieutenant in the 19th, and suffered wounds at Brawners Farm [Groveton] and on the first day Gettysburg. Sadly Sam died of the effect of these wounds coupled with lung fever at the Meredith family home in Cambridge City Indiana in January of 1864. David, who served as a lieutenant in the 15th United States suffering a severe wound at the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Brevetted major for gallantry in action at that battle, David resigned from the regular army in March of 1867, returning home to Cambridge City where he died of the lingering effects of his wound and service on April 4th, 1867.
In the end, it is my belief that Sol Meredith served his country and led the “Black Hats” of the Iron Brigade with much gallantry, and with the loss of two of his sons, he along with his family paid a high price for their service to their country. I would like to believe that perhaps there is such a place as “Fiddlers Green.”A place where old soldiers who have “crossed over the river” gather to speak of the old days in camp and battle and that today even that tough old regular John Gibbon has softened a bit and has thanked Sol for this service and wished him a very happy 204th birthday !
Heredegen, Lance J., The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory, Eldorado Hills, CA. 2012
Gaff, Alan, D., On Many a Bloody Field, Four Years in the Iron Brigade, Bloomington, Indiana, 1997
American Civil War Research Database –www.civilwardata.com
Dan Tates blog on Wayne County and Richmond Indiana history – http://waynecountyhistory.wordpress.com/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3