Sunday, July 03, 2016

Desperation on Culp's Hill: A 60th New York private's story

George Grant, who was severely wounded at Gettysburg, and his wife, Antoinette. 
(Courtesy: Leon Burnap)
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It's always a pleasure to shine a light on Civil War soldiers whose stories have been pushed deep into the shadows of history. In his debut on my blog, Gettysburg licensed battlefield guide Britt Isenberg presents this account of  60th New York Private George Grant, whose world was dramatically changed on Culp's Hill on the night of July 2, 1863. Isenberg is honored to be what he calls the "temporary keeper" of  Grant's XII Corps badge, which is part of his Civil War collection.



By Britt Isenberg

Britt Isenberg
George Grant was born on June 28, 1841, in the small town of Norfolk, N.Y., about 10 miles south of the Canadian border. Like many other young men from his area of Upstate New York, he spent his early years learning how to farm along the Raquette River. When the Civil War began in 1861, Grant, whose occupation was listed as a laborer, did not rush to the recruiting office. But after the Union army's disastrous defeat at Bull Run in July 1861, it became clear the war was not going to be decided quickly or without high cost.

Citizens such as George Grant were needed for a higher calling.

On Sept. 11, 1861, Grant and about 40 other men from the Norfolk area traveled 10 miles west to Madrid, N.Y., to enlist to fight for the Union in Captain Orson M. Foote’s Company G, 60th New York Volunteer Infantry. Only 20, the blue-eyed Grant signed three years of his life away.  But how could he and his friends resist?  This was the chance for the adventure of a lifetime.

Company G initially went to Ogdensburg, where it rendezvoused with the other companies and began training at Camp Wheeler.  Also proudly known as the 1st Saint Lawrence Regiment, the 60th New York officially mustered into Federal service on Oct. 30, 1861. By November, George and his comrades were on their way to Washington, where they spent the rest of the year and the first months of 1862 on guard duty under the command of 60-year-old Colonel George Sears Greene. Although Greene was promoted to brigadier general in April 1862, the strong bond between him and the soldiers of the 60th New York had been cemented.

Under General Greene as their brigade commander, Grant and his comrades in the 60th New York joined Franz Sigel’s division in the Shenandoah Valley. They were present at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862, with Nathaniel Banks’ army but were not engaged.
George Sears Greene
After the Union army's defeat near Culpeper, Va., the 60th New York was sent in mid-August to Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, Va., (or White Sulphur Springs) to recuperate from the ravages of typhus that had swept through its ranks "like the plague," according to a regimental historian. In the early days of August, the 60th New York spent most of its time burying fallen comrades, mostly victims of disease -- the biggest killer of the war. In July and August, Private Grant’s service record showed he was among those "absent sick in hospital."

Interestingly, while the regiment recovered at the springs, photographer Timothy O’Sullivan’s team arrived and captured images of  60th New York soldiers. One photo shows the regiment’s officers while another shows enlisted men, including Private Grant, who appears at far left of the back row. In that haunting image, emaciated men show effects of the terrible wave of contagion.

The springs were considered by many to be a sort of paradise in the those awful days, but James Gale, the regimental surgeon, wrote on Aug. 17:
“The sickness in our regiment is on the increase, both in number of cases and severity.  It was ardently hoped that the rest and conveniences afforded at this place would have a beneficial effect on the spirits of the men, and perhaps tend to a more speedy recovery.  Thus far this anticipation has been disappointed…” 
Dozens of soldiers in the regiment died that August, but Grant was not one of them.

60th New York soldiers  in their camp near White Sulphur Springs, Va. (now West Virginia)
(Library of Congress collection)
An enlargement of the 60th New York camp image shows George Grant.
The recovery period for the 60th New York was cut short by military developments just to the east. General Pope’s Army of Virginia collided with Confederates for the second time near Manassas Junction.  Although the New Yorkers were near the field of battle, their sickly condition kept them out of the hail of bullets and artillery fire. Apparently recovered from typhoid, Grant was present for duty in September, according to his service records, just in time for the next test at Antietam.  On the morning of Sept. 17, the 60th New York advanced across the Hagerstown Pike and into the West Woods; Grant escaped unscathed but 22 other soldiers in the regiment were killed.

After Antietam, the regiment moved to Harpers Ferry before it rejoined the Army of the Potomac in December.  The 60th New York did not participate in the Yankees' disaster at Fredericksburg, spending the winter encamped along the Rappahannock River.  In January, Major General Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac, implementing a number of new regulations that helped boost soldiers' morale, including creation of a corps symbol system.  Part of the XXII Corps, the 60th New York adopted the five-pointed star as its symbol. The early part of the year was spent in idle recuperation, but with warmer weather just ahead, the promise of more fighting ominously loomed.

George Grant's XII Corps badge. (Author's collection)
The next big test for the regiment was in May 1863 at Chancellorsville.  Fighting with the XII Corps, the 60th New York suffered 66 casualties.  Ill and away from camp convalescing, Grant missed the fight but apparently recovered fairly quickly, because he was back on the rolls in June.  It was probably during this convalescent period (or maybe even before) that Grant had a XII Corps badge stamped out of brass.  Whether he did this himself or someone did it for him is not known, but his company, regiment and name were inscribed on the front of the badge. Like so many other soldiers, Grant clearly was proud of his affiliation with the 60th New York and XII Corps.

In June, the regiment marched northward with the Army of the Potomac. On some days, forced marches were under a scorching sun, and it was no easy task just to make it to Littlestown, Pa., by June 30. The 60th New York continued its march along the Baltimore Pike on July 1, arriving at a hamlet called Two Taverns, only five miles from Gettysburg. Booming of artillery could be heard just up the road. Because of delays by their corps commander, Major General Henry Slocum, the New Yorkers did not arrive on the field until late in the day. That night they bivouacked on the north shoulder of Little Round Top, and early on the morning of July 2, the 60th New York moved to the right end of the Union line, taking a position on Culp's Hill at about 6 a.m.

Colonel Abel Godard, commanding the 60th New York, recalled the regiment took position “connecting with the right of the First Army Corps, where my command threw up intrenchments, by order of General Greene, in person commanding (the) Third Brigade.  The men of the regiment worked with a will until about 9 a.m., by that time completing the intrenchments, which commanded on the left and center of the regiment the brow of a precipitous hill, and on the right extending to low ground.”

While a detachment of seven officers and 170 soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel John Redington fanned out in front of the division line as skirmishers beyond Rock Creek. others in the regiment were given permission to rest behind the works. It is not known to which party Private Grant was a part. By 4 p.m., a severe cannonade rocked the ground as Confederate guns on Benner’s Hill attempted to destroy Federal positions on Cemetery Hill, provoking an incessant barrage in which Union artillery easily bettered their opponents.  At about 7 p.m., Redington’s skirmishers hurriedly raced up the hill and into the breastworks with the rest of the regiment.  More than 4,000 Confederates of Major General Edward Johnson’s division were moving toward Culp’s Hill. Nearly the entire XII Corps, with the exception of Greene’s 1,400 men (including the 60th New York), had been withdrawn to the other end of the line to halt the Confederate sledgehammer that was scattering parts of the Union left.

60th New York monument on Culp's Hill.
To the front of the New Yorkers, muzzle flashes exploded through the woods.  Colonel Godard ordered the men to return the fire and, from behind their breastworks, they delivered a withering fire that after only moments blunted the Confederates' advance.  "After the opening of the infantry fire, an order was received from Gen. Greene that I must hold the works under all circumstances,” Godard recalled. The slope immediately in front of their works was steep, certainly aiding their defense, and enemy troops moved slowly and could not push farther.

To the right of the 60th New York, the noise of battle continued to crescendo, and it kept pouring fire into darkness and the hidden foe somewhere out beyond its works below. Acrid smoke and the inky blackness made the situation dreadful for the soldiers on both sides.  Casualties suffered in the chaos of that nighttime attack were much lighter for the New Yorkers than for the Confederates attempting to attack up the slope.

In the bloody assault, Grant was one of those unlucky few soldiers in the 60th New York who suffered a severe wound. A bullet shattered his left elbow, making any further use of his arm impossible.  It is difficult to ascertain with any certainty what happened to Grant after he was wounded. If he were taken to the XII Corps field hospital, he would have ended up at the George Bushman Farm on the west side of Rock Creek. What is clear is that, according to his service record, his left arm was amputated above the elbow by a “flap operation.”  Many thoughts must have swirled through the 22-year-old soldier's mind.

How would he ever work the farm again? 

Would he ever be able to have a family of his own?

What purpose was there to life now?

George Grant's agony lasted for days.

A captured Texan described what he saw at the Bushman Farm:
“The surgeons, with sleeves rolled up and blood to the elbows, were continually employed in amputating limbs.  The red, human blood ran in streams from under the operating tables, and huge piles of arms and legs, withered and horrible to behold, were mute evidences of the fierceness of the strife… And then the dead are laid out in long rows, with their naked faces turned up to the sun, their cloths stiff with the dried blood, and their features retaining in death the agony and pain which they died with…”
Grant survived the ordeal and was transferred on July 22 to the first general hospital in United States military history, Camp Letterman along the York Road.  Assistant surgeon Henry A. May of the 145th New York reported on July 28 that Grant’s condition was good and “simple dressings” were applied. He also noted the patient “walks around the grounds” and his diet was “generous.” Grant’s condition continued to improve and on Sept. 14, May wrote that the stump had “cicatrized [healed by scarring] through its whole extent.”  Well enough to travel, Grant was transferred on Sept. 16 to Mower General Hospital in Philadelphia to continue his recovery.  He remained there until Dec. 3, 1863, when he was discharged after he was disqualified for service in the Invalid Corps because he only had one arm.

 .
In 1907, Grant (fourth from left, back row) attended the dedication in Gettysburg of a
monument to brigade commander George Greene, the hero of Culp's Hill. 
(Courtesy: Leon Burnap)

After he left the Union army, Grant returned to Norfolk, N.Y., but little is known about his post-war years. He married Antoinette M. Couch, fathering daughters Grace and Dora Eliza, both of whom he outlived. In 1907, George traveled to Gettysburg for the dedication of the portrait monument to his brigade commander, George Sears Greene.  As he and other comrades stood by the newly unveiled monument to their heroic commander, a number of prominent former Union officers stood with them, including notorious General Daniel Sickles. Also in attendance was General Alexander Webb, who noted during his speech the presence of the veterans who fought under Greene 44 years earlier:
“It seems to me as I look in the faces of the men who fought under General George S. Greene, that if the artist had asked where to obtain the inspiration to produce such a heroic representation of the grand old General I would have told him to study the character of the men Greene led.  You, by your continued, persistent and gallant exhibition of the highest and noblest characteristics of the Union soldier, made Culp’s Hill one of the main features of the battle of Gettysburg.”
For Grant, 65 years old and much less a physical specimen than he once was, the experience must have been surreal. The dramatic epicenter of his life’s journey was once again brought to life.  Even with the passage of time, those individual moments filled with adventure, struggle, pain, loss and hope were surely conjured in some form as he stood there with his comrades and their families on the ground where he was wounded in the summer of 1863.

On May 26, 1914, George Grant died, and the 72-year-old veteran was laid to rest with his daughters at Raymondville Cemetery in Saint Lawrence County, N.Y.  Eight simple words appear on his gray marker: "A Lover of Home, A Friend, A Patriot.” Thirteen years later, Antoinette died and was buried next to them.

George Grant's marker in Raymondville Cemetery in Saint Lawrence County, N.Y.
(Courtesy: Leon Burnap)

1 comment:

  1. This is the kind of story that brings history to life. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete