When the war began, George Gordon Meade (born, interestingly, in Cadiz Spain) had been a professional soldier for twenty years. From captain he rose rapidly to the rank of major general, successively leading brigades, divisions, and corps in every battle of the Army of the Potomac. Twice wounded in the Seven Days' Battles, he recovered in time to lead his brigade at Second Bull Run.
He was V corps commander when his great test came. Lee had marched north in June, 1863, on his last great invasion and Hooker's army was moving slowly north, between Lee and the Capital. After Chancellorsville, the authorities feared another battle with Hooker in command; on June 28, Meade received orders to replace him. Three days later the two veteran armies locked in an epic, three-day struggle at Gettysburg, ending in the bloody repulse of Pickett's Charge at The Angle. Meade won this greatest battle ever fought on American soil by-- on these three days, at least---superior generalship and the wisdom of trusting the Army of the Potomac to fight to its full capability, something none of it's previous commanders had had the courage or discernment to do.
Lee's beaten army retreated July 4; Meade's slow pursuit was criticized by those who could not understand his victorious army's condition: terribly battered and disorganized except for the VI Corps, bone-weary from two hot, humid weeks of forced marches and three days of battle, and lacking the food and other supplies which they had out-marched.
Back in Virginia, Meade maneuvered against Lee; his wise withdrawal from what would have been a suicidal assault at Mine Run near the end of the year ended the winter campaigning. Early in 1864 Grant was given supreme command. He chose to accompany the Army of the Potomac so that, although Grant highly respected him, he was, in effect, a subordinate from the Wilderness Campaign to Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
History has not been kind to Meade. His frequent irascibility and bitter tongue made enemies among associates who later wrote their war reminiscences. His army, with the affectionate disrespect of the American citizen-soldier, called him "the damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle." But--grudgingly-- they paid him the soldier's highest tribute: They trusted him.