Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Gettysburg veteran who knew the battlefield by heart

Charles Hale  (bottom center) had served in the 5th New Hampshire and was a protege of Col. Edward E. Cross, the regiment's commander. The two rode together to Gettysburg, and Hale wrote an account of Cross
in the battle. Here, a quarter century later, Hale leads a group of veterans on a tour of Devil's Den.

Hale (with mustache) in detail from photo above.
On a perfect Monday morning in late August of 1887, members of Arlington Lodge No. 1241 of the Knights of Honor boarded a train at Pennsylvania Avenue station in Baltimore. Their destination was the battlefield at Gettysburg, where they would have the good fortune to have as their guide Charles Austin Hale, a 46-year-old veteran of the battle.

Once the Knights reached Gettysburg, Amos Keeter sat next to Hale in one of the comfortable carriages that transported the tour group. At the Gettysburg Springs Hotel the battlefield photographer W.H. Tipton took a group portrait, and the Knights ate a sumptuous meal.

Afterward they headed for the battlefield with Hale in the lead. “He has on his full uniform, is tall, straight as an arrow, has a fine military bearing, a clear, distinct well modulated voice, is well posted and altogether is the model battle guide,” wrote Teeter. “He knows the Gettysburg battlefield by heart; his heart is in the work. He was in the battle and describes with great power the stirring acts of the long ago.”

W,H. Tipton's photograph of three Third Corps generals visting Gettysburg
after the war. They are Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Carr, under whom the 12th
New Hampshire fought along the Emmitsburg Road; Maj. Gen. Dan E,
Sickles, who ordered the advance that shaped the July 2 fighting; and
Brig. Gen. Charles G. Graham, whose brigade the 2nd New Hampshire
was sent to reinforce in the Peach Orchard. 
Keeter also wrote something telling about the tour. In 1863, when the battle was fought, northern hatred of the enemy still ran high. The rebels were traitors, and their treason had led the nation to bloodshed and grief. The hatred was reciprocated. But by 1887, veterans of the two sides embraced each other in a spirit of reunion. Fair enough, except that their embrace crushed the rights of African-Americans to full citizenship, an explicit object of the war.

Hale took the Knights from Baltimore to see the 2nd Maryland CSA monument, at that time the only Confederate monument on the field. Teeter “called the Major’s attention to the fact that every monument erected on that field is a monument to the courage, the pluck, the endurance of the men who fought there whether they wore the gray or the blue.”

Back in the town, Keeter read “The Blue and The Gray,” a popular poem that celebrated this sectional lovefest. It ends:

No more shall the war cry sever,
    Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
    When they laurel the graves of our dead!
        Under the sod and the dew,
            Waiting the judgment-day,
        Love and tears for the Blue,
            Tears and love for the Gray.

The Knights gave three cheers for Major Hale, and by 9 p.m., their train had delivered them back home to Baltimore. Although Keeter did not mention in his account, their visit had been among Hale’s first as a tour guide.

Hale's father Sumner preached at the Lebanon, N.H., Baptist
church at left, and the family lived in the parsonage at right.
Who was this Charles A. Hale, who returned to Gettysburg after the war to show the field to veterans and civilians alike and to tell them from experience what the battle was like?

In 1861, Hale was a 20-year-old Baptist minister’s son living in the parsonage beside the church on Elm Street in Lebanon, N.H. On Aug. 26 of that year, he enlisted as a corporal in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, an infantry regiment then forming.

Hale fought with the 5th on the Peninsula and at Antietam and was wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. He wrote home to his mother after Fredericksburg to describe how he had learned that James Perry, the Lebanon captain who led his company, had been shot near the Stratton House. The house was within easy range of the wall that protected rebel infantrymen.

Charles A. Hale as a captain in the 5th.
“I did not see Capt. Perry fall, did not know he was struck till I was hit, & going back a merciful providence directed my steps, & there he lay in the mud at my feet. It was near a small brick house. A slight board fence screened us from the sight of the sharpshooters, but afforded us no more resistance to the bullets than a sheet of paper.

“I could not move him to a safe place, so I determined to stay by him. At first he was insensible, but Lieut. [Janvrin] Graves from our Regt gave me some whiskey with which I moistened his lips, & soon he began to revive, & in a short time he was perfectly rational. The fatal bullet had passed through his lungs.

“He knew he must die, & his only regret was leaving his wife & little one – wished me to tell his friends that he died like a true soldier holding the Stars & Stripes. He had just picked up the flag & held it in is hands when hit.”

Hale was on the battlefield at Fredericksburg from the time the 5th New Hampshire attacked “till after the stars began to shine.” It was, he wrote, “terrible, terrible. I can see in it nothing but a useless slaughter. The noblest, bravest hearts that ever fought were sacrificed.”

By Chancellorsville, where he was again wounded in early May, Hale was a lieutenant. Less than two months later, he rode to Gettysburg with Col. Edward E. Cross as a member of Cross's brigade staff. Afterward he wrote a lively account of the ride and of Cross in battle. 

In both My Brave Boys, which I wrote with Mark Travis, and Our War, I used Hale's description of Cross on horseback. The colonel had honed his skills on long rides in the West before the war, including his time fighting Apaches in the land acquired in the Gadsden Purchase, the future Arizona. Cross was a tall, awkward man on foot, but when he rode Jack, his wartime horse, the two were as one. Hale described Cross as “tall in the saddle, straight as an arrow, lithe like an Indian, with a head on his shoulders that was poised with grace like a woman’s, and those sharp eyes that noted everything in the range of vision.”

On July 2, 1863, it was Hale whom Cross asked to help him tie a bandanna around his head, as he always did before battle. The two men were with on Cemetery Ridge, but Cross’s brigade was about to be ordered into the Wheatfield to help stop a Confederate breakthrough.

Hale knew the bandanna ritual, but there was a difference this time. Cross pulled a new silk bandanna from an inside pocket, draped it over his lifted knee, and folded it. He handed his hat to Hale and tied the bandanna around his head. But this bandanna was black, not red, as in past battles. Although the ritual had amused Hale in the past, the black bandanna upset him. His hands shook as he tightened the knot at the back of Cross’s head.

General Winfield Scott Hancock, the corps commander, rode up with his staff and shouted, “Colonel Cross, today will bring you a star.” Cross shook his head and replied, “No, general, this is my last battle.”

Ad for Cyclorama's visit to Cincinnati.
Hale left the army the summer after the Gettysburg battle. He had fought three years, and he was worn out. Apparently he had a change of heart once he got home. He returned in January 1865 to fight until the war's end that spring.

Hale married after the war, and he and his wife Sarah started a family in Lebanon, where he worked as a machinist. By 1880, the Hales had moved to Camden, N.J.

During the 1880s, Hale became involved with the French artist Paul Phillipoteaux’s “Cyclorama,” a vivid depiction of Pickett's Charge on the third day at Gettysburg. Many of the photographs in Hale’s extensive scrapbook about his times on the battlefield as a tour guide are pictures Tipton took to help Phillipoteaux correctly recreate the topography.

Phillipoteaux eventually created three Cycloramas, and Hale spoke at Cyclorama shows in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. One version of the Cyclorama introduced tourists to the battle for decades at the battlefield park. It was removed in 2005 for renovation but is now back as one attraction in the Gettysburg visitors' center, which opened in 2008.

Hale’s first season as a tour guide at the battlefield was 1887. He hired himself out to both individuals and groups. He was there on July 1-3 of that year when the Confederate survivors of Pickett’s Charge visited Gettysburg with their special guest, Pickett’s widow, Lasalle Corbett Pickett. Hale called the reunion of Pickett’s division and the Philadelphia Brigade “probably the greatest event that has taken place on the field since the battle.” 

What kind of living Hale made as a speaker and guide is unclear. A flyer from the period advertises day trips, including a meal at the hotel, for $1.25 per person. It says: “Maj. Chas. A. Hale, one of the most popular guides, will give his personal attention to parties under his care.”

Hale’s business card at one point listed him as an employee of the Gettysburg Exhibition Co. He seems to have worked closely with Tipton, who took many of the tour pictures in the scrapbook. Hale appears in some of them.

Hale did not have the benefit of long life. In 1899, at the age of 58, he was admitted to the Milwaukee branch of the National Soldiers Home with myelitis, an infection of the spinal cord. He died two months later. He was buried in the home’s cemetery, now known as Wood National Cemetery. Although Hale had served in other companies of the 5th, his gravestone bears the letter of Capt. Perry’s company, the one he joined in 1861: Co. C.

Hale's gravestone in Milwaukee.
Major Hale knew the wages of war, having stood under heavy fire on the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863, among other hot places. On the last page of his notebook, he left this message for posterity:

“To all who turn these pages the writer extends kindly greeting. As the title page indicates these pictures are simply personal souvenirs of his work on the platform of the Cyclorama and of tours over the great battlefield talking to many thousands of people about the most important battle of modern times.

“May those and all who follow them cherish grateful memories of the unselfish devotion, and the exalted valor, of those who fought on the field that proved to be a turning point in the history of the world.”
                                                                                                                                                     –  C.A.H., Baltimore, Md., 1890.

[Thanks to Andrew Harris and Dave Morin for the material that enabled me to write this post, including the photo at the top of the post and the one below.] 

This view from Little Round Top looking west was taken just before the monument to Gen. Gouverneur Warren
was erected in 1888. It now stands on the boulder where men are standing at left. The trees in the foreground
below are Trostle Woods. Part of the Wheatfield is visible to the left of the woods. In the distance to the left
is Seminary  Ridge, the Confederate line on July 2 and 3, 1863. [Thanks to "Anonymous" (see comment
below), who corrected my original caption on this picture.]

1 comment:

  1. Great pics and background. I know you want to be accurate so hope you don't mind if I point out the error in your caption for the pic from LRT. The view is more NNW than W. The "Rose" Woods per your caption, is actually the Trostle Woods so the Wheatfield is to the left of these woods and Seminary Ridge is to the left out of the frame. Thanks for post!