Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Gettysburg Journal (2)

This is the second post from my recent trip to Gettysburg. One segment chronicles the first phase of a quest to find the death site of Col. Edward E. Cross, the first commander of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers. Some background is in order before we start.

The Fifth fought in Rose’s Woods just east of the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. Cross was the regiment’s brigade commander that day. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps ordered his First Division, including Cross's brigade, from Cemetery Ridge to the Wheatfield to check a threatened Confederate breakthrough.

The 5th New Hampshire monument in Rose's Woods
rests on the spot where Col Edward E. Cross was
standing when he  was shot on July 2. He was ordering
a charge though the Wheatfield at the time.
At the Wheatfield, Cross’s brigade waded into the wheat and captured rebel pickets in the field before halting on a slight ridge. With his men exposed, Cross decided to order an attack on a Confederate line behind a wall ahead. He told his regimental commanders in the Wheatfield to move out when they heard the bugles of the Fifth New Hampshire.

Cross entered Rose’s Woods and was giving the attack order when a marksman’s ball hit him in the belly button. He was carried to the rear of the Union line and died in a field at 12:30 a.m. on July 3.

Several officers of the Fifth described his death scene, including the area where he died. For Our War Tom Jameson of Houston, Tex., supplied me with the only firsthand account I have read of Cross's actual death. It was in a letter from Jameson’s ancestor, Capt. Frank Butler, to his family. Butler had ridden to Gettysburg beside Cross with another officer, Charles Hale, on the other side. Hale later wrote a detailed account of Cross at Gettysburg, including the moment Cross walked into the woods to find the Fifth and deliver his order to charge.   

Mark Travis and I tried in vain to find Cross’s death site before we wrote My Brave Boys, our history of Cross and the Fifth.   

June 21, 2013

The best of the day was walking the battlefield with Monique [my wife]. We first set out in search of the field hospital where Colonel Cross died. He was shot in Rose’s Woods six or seven hours earlier and transported back by ambulance to a field between the Taneytown Road and Baltimore Pike. “That’s a lot of territory,” my friend Michael Birkner, a Gettysburg College historian, said when I told him what we were about.

We started at the visitors’ center, where the ranger sent us on a wild goose chase. We wound up at the 11th Corps hospital at the Spangler farm. We looked at other promising ground in the area, climbing Powell’s Hill and checking out what turned out to be regimental markers.

I say “promising” because the land looked like what the officers who visited the dying Cross described: slightly rolling ground, mostly cleared field but with boulders here and there, and big ones.

A fellow at the Spangler farm who seemed to be an expert on such things said the Second Corps hospital, where Cross would have been taken, was nearby. There was no marker identifying it, and the building on the site, the Granite Schoolhouse, was now just a cellar hole, he said.

Because of heavy rains in Pennsylvania this spring, the foliage is lush, the grass high, and the guy didn’t like our chances of finding it. He was right. It is on none of the maps we brought today, and we drove the length of School House Road slowly without seeing it. But I think we’ll find it before we go.


From the Baltimore Pike we drove around to the Peach Orchard on the Emmitsburg Road. After gazing at all four sides of the Second New Hampshire Monuments, an elongated pyramid on a pedestal, we walked through the Peach Orchard toward the Wheatfield.

The 2nd New Hampshire marker stands in the southwest
corner of the Peach Orchard. The Emmitsburg Road is
visible in the background. On July 2, the regiment
supported an artillery battery here until enemy forces
overwhelmed it and crushed in Sickles's 3rd Corps line.

My purpose was to see the premise of my Our War chapter on the battle from a different perspective. This was a reverse perspective, from the Third Corps position up to Cemetery Ridge, where the Fifth spent most of the day before rushing to the Wheatfield, rather from Cemetery Ridge looking down toward the positions of the Second and Twelfth New Hampshire on Emmitsburg Road.

This had several benefits. It was a hot day but a clear one, providing sight lines that could not have existed once the shooting started on July 2 and battle smoke hung over the field. As we walked east toward the Wheatfield, we looked up and saw the Fifth’s position on Cemetery Ridge. That position was the vertex of a triangle, the two base angles being the Wheatfield, where the Fifth headed from the ridge, and the Peach Orchard, where the Second fought. We were walking on the line between the base angles.

Seeing things this way dissolved the chaos of the battle itself and gave me another way of considering the battlefield and the battle.

Similarly, we could look east as we walked and see how three critical points on that part of the field – Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Little Round Top – formed a relatively straight line. Martin Haynes of the Second New Hampshire looked back from the Peach Orchard during the fighting and described Little Round Top (though he didn’t know its name) as an erupting volcano.

Along this line, it is not too much to suggest, the fate of the Union was decided on July 2, 1863.

Next: The real Pickett’s Charge

On July 2, the 12th New Hampshire Volunteers fought near the Klingle Farm on the Emmitsburg Road. A 3rd Corps
regiment, the 12th collapsed under simulaneous attacks from its front and its left flank. Its left was vulnerable after
the 2nd New Hampshire and other regiments in the Peach Orchard faced a similar attack from two directions. The
12th's monument is visible to the right of the white shed on the right. It faces the Emmitsburg Road.

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