Monday, March 11, 2013

A kick in the pants at Chancellorsville

Private Jared M. Davis of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers loathed his colonel, Edward E. Cross. The feeling was mutual.

Thomas L. Livermore, author of Days and Events.
A clue to the nature of this enmity appears in one of the most vivid memoirs of the war: Days and Events, by Thomas L. Livermore of Milford, a young man who flourished under Cross. (Yes, I borrowed Livermore’s title in Our War’s subtitle – Days and Events in the Fight for the Union – as homage to this good soldier and his book.)

Houghton Mifflin published Days and Events in 1920, half a century after it was written. The published version blanked out certain names (––––) to avoid embarrassing comrades-in-arms, but often the identities of the anonymous men can be discerned from information Livermore gives. Jared Davis’s performance at Chancellorsville earned him a ––––.

As usual, Cross wanted to attack there on May 3, 1863, after Stonewall Jackson's famous flanking movement. Cross believed General Joseph B. Hooker needed only to reinforce John W. Geary’s division, which was in battle line next to the Fifth New Hampshire, to turn the tide. Instead, Hooker withdrew his army.

It was during the rearguard action near the Chancellor House that the encounter between Cross and Davis occurred. Livermore witnessed it – and participated in it – as Davis’s company commander.

Livermore believed Davis had avoided all the Fifth’s previous fights – Fair Oaks, the Seven Days, Antietam, Fredericksburg. He made it his mission to get Davis to do his duty at Chancellorsville. But when the shells began to fly, there lay Davis, hiding behind an empty cracker box. Livermore found this funnier than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

Cross was not amused. When he spotted Davis, he rushed over and kicked him, shouting: “You will disgrace my regiment.”

Not long afterward, an artillery shell obliterated one of Livermore’s men, and a fragment of it or another shell wounded Davis in the left arm. “I seized him by his other arm and supported him,” Livermore wrote. “I thought that as long as I had induced him to go into this battle I would help him out.” He brought Davis to an ambulance, and Davis’s arm was soon amputated above the elbow.

Jared M. Davis, after the war, wears his
veteran's medal and 5th NH clover.
Cross’s kick still smarting, Davis was home in Concord two months later. He wrote from there to Ira McL. Barton, his original company commander and a fellow Cross hater. In part because of a drinking problem, Barton had been in Cross’s doghouse throughout his brief tenure in the Fifth. Even worse, during the Fifth’s first battle at Fair Oaks, Barton’s company had fired on a New York regiment not once, but twice.

Cross had been shot at Gettysburg on July 2 and died there just after midnight. While many mourned his loss, he had made many enemies, too – men like Davis and Barton and politicians who loathed Cross’s harsh Democratic views. Here is what Davis wrote to Barton on July 7 (Lancaster was Cross’s hometown, and the Chase mentioned was Cross’s  brother-in-law, Dexter Chase):

“The body of Col. Cross passed through here to day for Lancaster. Chase was not here and nobody to look after it, so it did not stop here. No one went from here with it. The good news continues to come in but you will see it in the Boston papers.”

Davis’s pension reports say the stump of his arm was left in such a state that he could not wear an artificial limb. He was pensioned at the highest rate, which rose over the years to $55 a month. He died at the age of 64 on July 4, 1903, of what the records called chronic gastroenteritis and cerebral apoplexy. By then he had been an invalid for years, cared for by his wife Nellie. In 1912, when Nellie was 70 years old and paralyzed, Congress approved an increase in her monthly widow’s pension – her only income – from $12 to $20.

Davis’s letter is in the Barton papers at Dartmouth’s Rauner Library.

In 2005, the New Hampshire Historical Society displayed another item from Davis: a flag he donated to the society with a note from him saying the flag had once belonged to a member of the Fifth New Hampshire at Andersonville, the notorious southern war prison. According to the Fifth’s roster, five members of the regiment died at Andersonville – four substitutes (from Ireland, Germany, France and Massachusetts) and one original member, Charles H. Godkin of Plaistow, N.H. No other Fifth soldier is listed as having been imprisoned there.


  1. Do I sense that you are skeptical of Davis' claim re: the Andersonville flag? How would he have gotten it?

    1. Not sure what to make of it. I think the Fifth soldiers who went to Andersonville were captured at Cold Harbor. Maybe there were more than those listed in Child's regimental history. It is possible a former Fifth colleague of Davis's made it back from the prison and gave him the flag. But, yes, there is reason for skepticism.

      Unless I'm misreading it, the last line in Davis's letter at the historical society seems to suggest that it was he who was at Andersonville. He was mustered out in 1863 and married Nellie that December, before the prison was built. I find no evidence that he enlisted in any other regiment.

  2. Thanks for sharing this article post. I was looking for something like this. Your articles have inspires me a lot. I have new idea about the same topics in my blog. Thanks 

    workout clothing