‘1883’: Who Was the Real Person Tom Hanks Played on the ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel?

by Amy Myers

Just as the first episode of Yellowstone didn’t disappoint, so too did the spinoff 1883 deliver with its first feature. So far, we’ve met the early Duttons that embarked on a cross-country journey as well as a few individuals that have made a significant impact on their lives. One of these characters includes Tom Hanks‘ General George Meade, who appears in James Dutton’s (Tim McGraw) flashback in Episode 2, “Behind Us, a Cliff.”

The episode opens with a scene from the Civil War. Fallen soldiers crowd the ground in front of the Dunker Church after the infamous Battle of Antietam in 1862. Then enters General Meade as he approaches Dutton, covered from head to toe in dirt and gunpowder, and sits beside him. The superior officer places his arm around the soldier, who begins to sob. Although we don’t actually see it, the show implies that Meade then arrests James, who spends three years in a Union prison.

While Dutton’s role in 1883 is obviously fictional, Hanks’ role as General Meade is based on a real Union general. In reality, General George Meade was a Spanish-born soldier that rose through the ranks. Eventually, he would lead the Union Army to victory after the defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. Meanwhile, the Battle of Antietam, which occurred near Maryland’s Antietam Creek, is considered the bloodiest battle of the war.

According to Newsweek, Meade died in 1872 at the age of 56. His grave is in Lauren Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and there are several memorials around the country in his honor.

How ‘1883’ General Impacted James Dutton

Should 1883 follow the timeline of Meade’s life, his interaction with Dutton would likely have been the last. While Hanks’ role was fairly short, it was a significant moment in Dutton’s life prior to his family’s journey from Texas. The moment was full of complex emotions that were difficult for the soldier to process. And clearly, the scene still impacts his life.

Of course, the 1883 star felt sorrow for his fallen brothers in arms of the Confederate Army. But he also seemed to feel guilt in that critical moment. Perhaps the soldier felt he shouldn’t have survived over others laying around him. Or maybe he felt fear of the uncertainty of his future.

Just as importantly was Meade’s small yet generous gesture when he placed his hand on Dutton’s shoulder. It was the slightest expression of mercy, but it demonstrated that the fellow survivor understood the cost of the Civil War and the trauma that Dutton experienced. Though he could not set the former Confederate soldier free, he could treat him with civility and humanity as he led him toward the prison.