Meigs, Memories, and Pensions

One of the most important Union military leaders who most people know little about is General Montgomery Meigs.  As Quartermaster General of the army, he created a supply and logistics system which were as nearly as important to winning the war as battlefield triumphs.  But because he worked behind the scenes and did not command troops in battle, his essential work was insufficiently-heralded.

Meigs is a bit better known as the person who recommended that Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, just across the Potomac from Washington, be used as a cemetery for Union dead.   “Arlington Cemetery” today remains a vivid reminder of the effects of war, as military veterans from the Civil War and subsequent wars are interred there nearly daily.

After the war Meigs also contributed to the welfare of the Union soldier and his family by designing the “Pension Building” in Washington.  The home of the first large-scale public welfare program, there hundreds of clerks processed the claims of Union veterans for their military pensions.  Today the edifice is the National Building Museum, whose Great Hall is the site of Presidential Inaugural balls.  But the outside of the building, with a lengthy frieze of Union soldiers, remains a vivid reminder of the original purpose of the building.

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Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of the upcoming "Lincoln, Antietam, and a Northern Lost Cause."

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