A Newspaper Editor's
View of Gettysburg
Over the past several years, there has been a growing interest in the study of the Civil War. The 76th Regiment which was raised primarily in Cortland and Cherry Valley, had within its ranks young men from throughout the Finger Lakes region.
The 76th was one of the premier units of the Army of the Potomac, having fought in 22 major engagements between 1862 and the time it was disbanded in 1864—including Rappahannock Station, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.
It was a very proud organization and its members met annually for more than half a century at reunions—between 1869 and 1925.
This is a first-person account of a trip to Gettysburg less than a week after the battle. The editor has many interesting observations.
Charles P. Cole, Editor of the weekly Gazette & Banner of Cortland, N. Y. was working in his office on July 2, 1863, when he received a telegram stating that on the previous day, his friend, Major Andrew Jackson Grover, had been killed in action at Gettysburg.
Grover was 32 and commanded the 76th Regiment, New York Volunteers, which had been raised in Cortland and Cherry Valley in the fall of 1861. The 76th was one of the first Union infantry regiments in the field on July 1, 1863. At the time it was serving with the 2d Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps. The brigade was commanded by Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler.
The 76th was the extreme advance unit of I Corps and encountered Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Davis' brigade north of the Chambersburg Pike. Cole later learned, and reported:
The gallant 76th, led by the dashing and lamented Major Grover, lost full three-quarters of the officers and men of the regiment on the first day. Major Grover had his horse shot from under him about twenty minutes before he received his death wound, and was on foot, swinging his sword, and shouting and rallying the brave boys of the regiment when he fell.
Major Grover was pierced by a grape shot just below the breast. He was also shot in the leg and in the arm. Just as he fell, the regiment was falling back, and he turned to one of the soldiers and said 'You will not go off and leave me, will you?' Immediately, Lieut. Sanders, a gallant officer of Co. G (afterwards wounded), and three other men, took him up to bear him from the field. They had gone but a short distance with him, when he looked up and said, 'Boys, it is no use carrying me any farther, for I am dying.' He gasped and was no more.
Just then a deadly fire and fearful charge came from the rebels, and his comrades left the dying soldier upon the battle-field where but a moment before he was cheering his men to the conflict.
Captain John E. Cook, who took over command after Grover was killed, stated in his after-action report that the 76th reached the battlefield near the Lutheran Seminary at about 10:30 a.m.
"…and while marching by the flank were opened on by the enemy, stationed in large force at a distance of about 30 rods, where they were lying down concealed from view in a wheat field. We were exposed to their fire several minutes before replying. The men were cautioned to hold their fire until the enemy appears, when orders were given to commence firing."
At this point, the 76th was engaging Davis' 55th North Carolina Regiment. "At this juncture," Cook said, "a large force of the enemy deployed upon our right flank, subjecting us to a galling-cross-fire. Major Grover then ordered the right wing to change front to the rear to oppose the new force. Simultaneously with this he fell, mortally wounded, and the brigade commander ordered the regiment to fall back."
Before he died Major Grover handed his watch and badges of rank to a comrade, requesting that they be given to his wife, Sylvanus. He was also survived by three young daughters.
The 76th went into action with 348 enlisted men and 27 officers. Within a half hour, 18 officers and 151 enlisted men were killed or wounded.
Other units in this action also suffered heavy casualties. The 147th New York Infantry lost 207 killed or wounded. The 56th Pennsylvania lost six officers and 72 enlisted men. "All the regiments in this advance Brigade were fearfully cut up," wrote Abram P. Smith, historian of the 76th.
At least one account states that Major Grover was the first Union regimental commander killed at Gettysburg. Smith also made a statement that has been openly refuted over the years:
"To the Seventy-sixth New York is due the credit of firing the first gun at Gettysburg, except the skirmishing done by the cavalry."
It fell upon Editor C. P. Cole to break the news to Major Grover's wife. "The terrible despatch was given to the bereaved wife and mother in as gentle a manner as possible but it proved nonetheless heart-rending," Cole said.
Mrs. Grover then requested Cole to travel to Gettysburg to find the remains of her husband and return them to Cortland for final burial.
On the night of July 3, Cole boarded a train at Cortland, bound for the battlefield. His experiences encountered enroute, and in obtaining the proper credentials to get onto the battlefield are some of the most interesting ever written in a contemporary northern newspaper. Arriving in Baltimore on July 5th, he wrote back home:
"The city is filled with wounded officers, all of whom agree that our loss was at least 30,000, and many estimate it as high as 50,000. I saw a Brigadier General for a few moments, who was wounded in the arm, and who says that his brigade lost 1,200 out of 1,600 men."
Cole also learned that another upstate New York unit, the 157th Infantry, "was literally cut to pieces." Cole added "I saw an aide of General Reynolds, who saw Lt. Col. Arrowsmith fall, while leading the regiment, and he says that men fell around him like sheep."
On July 16th, the Gazette & Banner published the complete account of Cole's trip. At about the same time he arrived in Baltimore, Cole said, a large number of rebel prisoners had just arrived from the battlefield, and were being marched to Fort McHenry. They appeared cheerful, and although they said they had just been beaten they were by no means despondent. They talked boastingly, and declared that they would 'yet clean the Yanks out before they crossed the Potomac.'
Topping Cole's agenda was procurement of a pass from military authorities to get onto the battlefield.
We applied to the Provost Marshal, who very unceremoniously informed us, with a very haughty air, that the Secretary of War had issued a very strict order prohibiting any civilians from visiting the battlefield.
He seemed to take great delight in imparting this information to the hundreds who were applying for passes to go in search of their friends. He was a young officer, who evidently had got a slight attack of 'dignity on the brain!'
We left the office somewhat discouraged. We had come hundreds of miles on a mission of humanity, in quest of all that was earthly of a gallant officer, who had for the time thrown aside his clerical robes, and taken up the sword in defense of the flag of his fathers, and who had fallen while leading his men amid the carnage and roar of battle.
(Grover had left the First United Methodist Church in Cortland as its pastor in the fall of 1861 to help organize the 76th Regiment).
Cole was persistent.
We did not like the idea of being refused the privilege of proceeding the other fifty miles to the place where his remains were. We put what little inventive genius we possessed to work, determined to make another effort.
Cole then applied to Brig. Gen. Robert C. Schenck, commander of the Middle Department, VIII Corps. "He could do nothing more then refuse our request, and we determined to make the effort, " Cole said.
At about 10:30 a.m., General Schenck received Cole at his rooms at the Eutaw House in Baltimore.
And here let us say that we do not consider the little fabrication which we told was any sin. We told him we had come several hundred miles in search of the hody of our brother who had fallen on the Wednesday previous, and asked the poor privilege of visiting the battlefield in search of his remains.
General Schenck informed us that his orders from the Secretary of War were positive, but that if we could call again, after he had returned from church he would consider the matter in the mean time and give us a definite answer. In the course of a couple of hours we called again, and General S. told us that his military duty required him to refuse our request, but that his duty to humanity told him he should grant the application. After a moment's hesitation, he said, 'Mr. Cole, in this case, I will take the responsibility, and give you a note to my Chief of Staff, who will give you a pass.'
He wrote a note to Col. Don Platt, chief of staff, whom we found to be every inch an officer and a gentleman. When we had succeeded in getting an audience with him and presented the note of Gen. Schenck, he looked at it and smiled, saying: 'Mr. Cole, you are a very fortunate man; I have refused at least a thousand on similar errands, this very day.'
Col. Platt then wrote the following order:
HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE DEPARTMENT)
8TH ARMY CORPS, BALTIMORE. Md.)
July 5, 1863)
Mr. Charles P. Cole, the bearer of this, is authorized to proceed to the battle-field near Gettysburg, in search of his brother, Major Andrew J. Grover, 76th New York Infantry.
By order of Maj. Gen. Schenck
Don Platt, Lt. Col. and Ch. of Staff
Cole continues his account:
With this we left Baltimore on Monday morning about daylight, and proceeded by way of the Northern Pennsylvania and Western Maryland Railroad to Westminster, Maryland, arriving there about 12 o'clock p. m., from which point we were compelled to proceed by private conveyance as best we could.
Here we found another almost insurmountable obstacle to our further progress. We were within thirty miles of the battle-field, and told by the inhabitants that the chances of procuring a horse or conveyance of any kind was out of the question. The cavalry of the rebel general Stuart had passed through there but a few days previous, and had taken everything in the shape of horse-flesh that could be found. We made several ineffectual efforts. At last we went into the office of the Carroll County Democrat, and made ourself known to the editor, Scott Roberts, Esq., and told him our errand. He informed us that it would be very difficult to procure a horse, but he would go with us and help make the effort.
As last we were introduced to Dr. Roger, a thorough-going Union man. The Doctor received us kindly, and informed us that he and his wife had each a horse, which they had saved from the hands of the rebels by concealing them in their cellar. He could not spare his own horse, as he kept him constantly in use in his practice, and he thought it very doubtful whether his wife would let her own, as it was a favorite animal.
However, we could see his wife and make the effort. We were introduced to her, and told her our story. At first she would not entertain the idea, but after talking with her for sometime, she finally consented and we mounted the animal and started for the battle-field, in the midst of a drenching rain-storm.
After riding some 15 miles, Cole came to the Maryland-Pennsylvania line. He said he was halted about every half hour by federal pickets, and required to show his pass. After three or four more miles, he reined up to a farmhouse and asked if he could procure some refreshments. The farmer replied: "Yes, we have a couple of loaves of bread and a piece of meat left."
Cole said he and his companion, who is not identified, dismounted. Cole said:
'Well, sir, I will take a loaf of bread and a piece of meat.'
We took a seat upon the porch, and shortly the woman of the house appeared with a loaf of bread baked in a pint basin, and about three ounces of boiled ham, the smell of which clearly indicated that it had not had the best of care while being cured. We asked for a drink of water, and for a pail of water for the horse. After we had finished this sumptuous meal, we asked what was the charge.
The farmer replied: 'The bread will be a dollar and a half; the meat will be a dollar; the pail of water will be twenty-five cents, and your drink of water will be ten cents.' We looked at the man with amazement and contempt. We said: 'Sir, is not this an outrage for you, here in this loyal State of Pennsylvania; here where three days ago the sound of the enemy's cannon shook your very hills; where the army of the Union drove the invaders from your soil?
'I have come hundreds of miles in search of the remains of an officer who fell while defending your homes and broad acres from pillage, and you have the meanness to make this demand of me.' The man replied: 'Well, if you succeed in getting the remains of your friend, the bread and meat is worth that, ain't it?' We said no more, but left the presence of the poor creature in human shape. His name is Johnson.
Cole and his companion passed Littletown, Pa., where the XII Corps, under the command of General Henry Slocum, was resting. Cole said, "We saw Gen. Meade looking every inch the soldier, actively engaged in the charge of the duties which devolved upon the Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac."
A little farther on, Cole reached the I Corps hospital "and soon found the wounded of the gallant 76th Regiment, where we learned many of the particulars attending the death of Major Grover." He said:
The scenes at the hospitals were sickening in the extreme. Men wounded in almost every conceivable shape, and writhing under the most excruciating pain.
We had proceeded but a short distance further when the terrible stench apprised us that we were not far from the scenes of the carnage of the first three days of July, 1863. It was nauseating in the extreme, so much so, that at times it was almost impossible for a person to breathe. Evidences of the battle-field soon became visible. Dead men and horses, pieces of shell, solid shot, grape, muskets, broken wagons, clothing, cartridge boxes, knapsacks, and everything that pertains to an army were strewn around for miles in great profusion.
Just after dark, Cole rode up to a hotel in Gettysburg. "The landlord informed us that he had nothing for man or beast. We finally got a place for our horse to remain under shelter, and procured a faithful soldier of one of the New Jersey regiments to guard him until morning." Cole and his companion each paid a dollar to sleep on the floor of a house in the village.
The next day, following directions given to him, Cole was able to locate Grover's grave, without much difficulty. He was buried on Thursday by members of the regiment who were taken prisoners. A board with his name and day of death was placed at the head of the grave.
After becoming satisfied that there could be no mistake as to the identity of the body, and convinced that it would be impossible to have the body removed in the condition it was then in, at this season of the year, we returned to the town again, and made arrangements to have the body exhumed, placed in a coffin, and buried where his friends could regain him at a more suitable season of the year for such purposes.
He is buried in the cemetery of the Reformed Dutch Church in the city of Gettysburg.
The following October, Grover's remains were brought back to Cortland for burial.
© 1996, Richard F. Palmer
An Account of the Battle of Gettysburg
by Sergeant Edgar D. Haviland,