Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Gettysburg Journal (5)

Here I am with my hardy "Sweatysburg" tour group. We found a little shade at the Zook monument near the Wheatfield.
June 25

Last day here, and my day to be a tour guide, telling the Edward E. Cross story and following him on the battlefield on July 2, 1863. The temperature was 97 degrees. I moved a couple of the tour stops so we could talk under trees.

We first paused at the 1st Minnesota monument just south of the Pennsylvania monument on Cemetery Ridge. Under a tree across the way I told the group why. Cross had nothing to do with the 1st Minnesota’s famous charge that day. But 20 years ago, reading Richard Moe’s The Last Full Measure, a history of the regiment and its charge, inspired Mark Travis and me to seek out a New Hampshire regiment with a story to tell. That regiment turned out to be the 5th. The result was My Brave Boys, a history of the regiment’s two years under Cross, ending at Gettysburg.

The 148th Pennsylvania monument is a short walk down the road from the 1st Minnesota’s. This regiment was to the 5th’s right in Cross’s brigade, and there we picked up Cross’s story, which I had begun telling on the bus.

I had learned one new element of the story while researching and writing a later book, Our War. During the morning of July 2, as his brigade waited on the ridge, Cross became curious about what was going on down below. Dan Sickles had yet to move his corps forward, but Sickles’s right, which was supposed to connect with Cross’s brigade, had not showed up. Cross mounted his horse Jack and rode down to investigate. He stopped in the camp of the 2nd New Hampshire, many of whose men he knew. That camp happened to be in Rose’s Woods, where Cross would place the 5th New Hampshire for the Wheatfield fight late in the day.

This was the first I knew that when Cross headed for the Wheatfield at around 5 p.m., he had already been there and had some sense of the ground. The colonel had a head for terrain; his morning ride no doubt made a difference.

To reach the Wheatfield, Cross’s brigade, with the Fifth in the lead, marched past the Weikert Farm and down the ridge through fields. Overgrown with brush and high grass, this route is a hard slog today, so our tour group took the bus around to the Wheatfield Road. We first talked under the trees near the Samuel Zook marker. Zook’s brigade was in Cross’s division, and Zook was killed in fighting off to Cross’s right in an area known as the Stony Ridge.

The tour ended in Rose's Woods near the 5th New Hampshire monument.
For the tour photos I am indebted to my friend David R. Sullivan. 
In the Wheatfield we walked along the line of Cross’s brigade and then into Rose’s Woods, where the left half of the 148th Pennsylvania and all of the 5th New Hampshire extended the brigade line. Our last stop was the 5th’s monument, whose location officers of the regiment identified after the war as the spot where Cross was standing when a rebel marksman mortally wounded him.

Near this spot is the boulder behind which the marksman hid. I’d been to this place many times during the last 15 years, and the boulder has never been so overgrown. From the descriptions of the men who fought in these woods, it was a spooky place then, providing good cover for sniping. A young sergeant named Charles Phelps was dispatched to kill the man who had wounded Cross and succeeded in this mission.

Charles Phelps of Amherst, N.H.,
from a prewar tintype 
I have been hunting throughout my Gettysburg visit for the field hospital where Cross was taken from Rose’s Woods and where he died. I wanted to make that the last stop of the tour, but I am not sure I have found it.

My friend Dave Morin emailed me a website on which a guide makes a claim for the William Patterson Farm on the Taneytown Road behind the Pennsylvania monument as Cross’s death site. You can see his virtual Cross story here and here.  

There are reasons to think he’s right. It was an aid station from which men were sent to corps hospitals after initial treatment. Several officers from the 5th visited Cross before his death, and this farm’s proximity to their position the night of July 2 would have made him easy to find. The lay of the land is similar to what some of these officers described.

The negative is that the best description of the spot where Cross died, written by Thomas L. Livermore, says the field was between the Taneytown Road and the Baltimore Pike. The Patterson Farm is indeed between these two main roads, but it is right on the Taneytown Road. It is odd that Livermore would not have described it that way.

So . . . I’ll have to come back to Gettysburg sometime and continue my search. It will be a pleasure, I assure you.        

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