A Worthwhile Endeavor: Help Us Restore “Long Tall Sol” Meredith’s Statue.
by Phil Spaugy
As you can see in the image above, the statue over the grave of Solomon Meredith, commander of both the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry and the famed Iron Brigade of the West, is slowly being covered by a growth of green moss. My friend, Phil Harris has spent much time and treasure ensuring that the headstones of the men of the 19th have been restored or, in many cases, replaced by new government headstones. This work is simply his passion. Phil noticed the growth covering Sol’s statue and started a plan of action to rectify it. To that end, he has recently launched a “GoFundMe” campaign to clean the green “Berdan”-like covering off of Old Sol and return him to his former glory. He asked for my help, but to make this worthwhile mission we are asking for YOUR help too.
Please consider making a contribution to our project. You may get access to more information by clicking on the link below.
And for Phil’s wonderful 19th Indiana website follow the link below:
Now that we have that established…let’s talk about Old Sol a bit!
For many students of the Iron Brigade, Solomon Meredith comes off as a bit of a caricature. Meredith, the first colonel of the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and later commander of the famed “Iron Brigade of the West,” was tall like his friend Abraham Lincoln. At 6’7″ and 250 pounds, he was easily the tallest Federal general in the war. Nicknamed “Long Tall Sol” due to his height, Meredith commanded the 19th Indiana from its formation in May of 1861 until November of 1862 when, due in large part 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 brigade’s 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 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 there started campaigning for a promotion to brigadier general. Command of the 19th then fell to Lt. Colonel Alois Bachman who was later killed while leading the regiment into action on the morning of September 17th. This inexcusable absence (in Gibbon’s mind) gave added emphasis to Gibbon’s already poor professional opinion and personal dislike of Meredith.
Shortly after the battle of Antietam, Gibbon was promoted to divisional command. Meanwhile, Meredith, while recovering from his wound, had successfully used his network of political connections to gain promotion to brigadier general of volunteers and was awaiting appointment to a command. With Gibbon’s promotion, the Iron Brigade needed a commander. 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 turned down this request, stating that Meredith’s “many strong friends made” rendered Gibbon’s 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, a man who not by ability or respect rose to command of one of the most fabled units of the war solely by using his political connections to do so. While there certainly is a bit of truth to this, Sol’s tactics for self-promotion by using “networking” were hardly unique during the war to those seeking promotion…civilian soldiers or West Pointers alike!
Given the above, over the upcoming weeks I will be posting some articles that may give you a better perception of Sol’s life, service and sacrifice. Articles that I hope will give you a better understanding of this man and perhaps even move you to give a bit to help us restore the statue over “Old Sol’s” final resting place.