Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Together again: They rode with Cross to Gettysburg

The artifacts assembled recently in Texas include an ambrotype of Charles Hale and Hale's sword and the
binoculars and spurs of Frank Butler. The two officers flanked Col. Edward E. Cross to Gettysburg. 
 In the lore of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, it was the Paul Revere ride of the Civil War. Astride his horse Jack, Col. Edward E. Cross, the commander of the 5th, was leading a brigade of 780 men north toward battle in Pennsylvania. On his right rode Capt. Frank Butler, a captain in the 5th, on his left Charles Hale, a bright-eyed lieutenant whom he had chosen from the 5th for his brigade staff.

Col. Edward E. Cross
What a sight it must have been. Cross was a lean man of 31, 6 feet, 3 inches tall, awkward on foot but graceful on horseback. Hale wrote that Cross sat “tall in the saddle, straight as an arrow, lithe like an Indian, with a head on his shoulders that noted everything in the range of vision.” Hale, a smooth-faced man of average height, studious in his wire-rimmed glasses, was 22. He worshipped the colonel, with whom he had fought on the Virginia Peninsula, in the Seven Days battles and at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Butler, the third of the trio, was taller than Cross at 6-foot-6. Like Hale, he was 22 and had risen in the ranks as a Cross protégé.     

The three men did not know where their journey led, but with his thespian’s touch, Cross assured them it was a fateful ride. “It will be my last battle,” he said more than once. He told Hale where his papers were stored and asked that Hale give them to Richard Cross, the colonel’s brother and the 5th’s major, after the battle.

The ride into the late dusk of summer was long enough for Cross to tell Butler the story of his life. Setting aside his premonition of death, he asked Butler to be his adjutant once he won the brigadier general’s star he had been lobbying for. He also spoke of going west again after the war.

Charles A. Hale, who came from Lebanon,
N.H., became one of the first tour guides
at Gettysburg after the war.
Of course, the three men were riding toward Gettysburg, where, on July 2, Cross was fatally wounded in the woods just east of the Wheatfield. Mark Travis told the story of their ride and the battle in our book My Brave Boys, and I retold it in Our War. We both had Hale’s wonderful account, “With Colonel Cross in the Gettysburg Campaign,” but I had the advantage of a later find: the letters of Frank Butler.

In his letter of July 5, Butler wrote the only firsthand account I know of the colonel’s moment of death. Other officers described the colonel’s gut wound as painful, but Butler gave the details. Cross begged for chloroform, he wrote. “Blow my brains out,” he screamed. “Shoot me. How long must I live in such pain?”

I give this brief version of the ride to Gettysburg for a special reason. The other day I received an email about an unusual meeting of two Texans with ties to Butler and Hale – and, in a symbolic sense, a reunion of Butler and Hale themselves.

The keeper of Butler’s letters is Tom Jameson, a descendant.. Jameson contacted me a few years ago and lent me the Butler letters for use in Our War. His father was born in Concord, but he is a Texan through and through. He lives in Houston and spends many weekends on his farm just northeast of Huntsville. Tom manages a family timber, agriculture and oil and gas business.

Andrew Harris, a real estate appraiser, makes his home in Palestine, Texas, 75 miles north of Huntsville. At 15, Harris began collecting Civil War artifacts – uniforms, headgear, firearms, swords, photos, both Union and Confederate.

He considers Charles Hale’s sword the most historically significant piece in the collection. He bought it from a dealer about 10 years ago – roughly around the time Jameson acquired the Butler letters. The sword was his introduction to the 5th New Hampshire, and he has since become an expert on Hale and the regiment.

Capt. Frank Butler was mortally
wounded at Petersburg in June 1864.
Harris contacted me after reading My Brave Boys, and I alerted him to an ambrotype of Hale that was for sale on eBay. He bought it. Harris has made contact with Hale’s great-grandson, Ed Hale, and his wife Kathi, who live near Seattle. He and the Hales plan to meet in Gettysburg next month and walk the battlefield, where Hale served as a guide after the war.

A few months ago, when I realized Jameson and Harris lived near each other – small world – I introduced them by email. Jameson invited Harris for a visit, and Harris drove to the farm for lunch and a tour of the Frank Butler archive.

Jameson’s family treasures include Butler’s spurs and binoculars. The binoculars were especially important equipment for him, as he served in the Signal Corps during the war. I wonder if these are the binoculars he peered through in 1862 to see Confederate soldiers stripping the bodies of dead Yankees in the streets of Fredericksburg. I describe this scene in a chapter on Butler’s service in Our War.

Harris brought Hale’s sword to his visit with Jameson, and the two men talked about the history of the two officers. Butler was mortally wounded in the summer of 1864, and Jameson and Harris wondered if their meeting was the first Butler-Hale reunion since the two officers flanked Cross on the ride to Gettysburg. To celebrate the occasion, they arranged Butler’s and Hale’s artifacts, including their pictures, and photographed them.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have played a role in their meeting. History can bring people together, but seldom does it happen with a twist like this one. In different ways the two men – Jameson as a proud descendant of a Civil War soldier and Harris as a collector – are stewards of history, and a common history at that.

Jameson and Harris on Jameson's farm with the binoculars, spurs and sword.

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