Saturday, April 01, 2017

Forgotten no more: First soldier to die in Gettysburg Campaign

When Clark Hall first found Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler's gravesite, it was sorely neglected.
Clark Hall
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If you enjoy Civil War history but don't know about Clark Hall, you should. Born in Mississippi, the former Marine and ex-FBI agent is the foremost expert on the Civil War in Culpeper County, Va., and a passionate battlefield preservationist. Hall's efforts to save the Brandy Station battlefield, the beautiful, rolling fields and woodlots near Culpeper, Va., are renowned. During my recent Civil War Power Tour, Hall gave me my first tour of Brandy Station, Morton's Ford and many Civil War sites in between. This post is his first for my blog.

By Clark B. Hall

The cold, gray mist hangs heavy as a Southern visitor walks slowly among gray, damp tombstones while searching for a special grave at an upstate New York cemetery. But the task frustrates as the burial site cannot be found and there is no one about in the lonely graveyard to assist in the hunt. One last scan, the stranger concludes. He then looks up high upon a badly eroded hillside and spots a small tombstone that due to its lopsided, broken, fallen configuration is deemed by the visitor shockingly disrespectful to the dead soul, whoever it may be. The hill is climbed, and indecorous treatment or not, there he is, all alone:

Lt. Henry C. Cutler
8th New York Cavalry
Killed in action, June 9, 1863
Beverly’s Ford, Virginia

In any battle or military campaign, some soldier must be the first to die, and at Brandy Station, Va., the inaugural action of the momentous Gettysburg Campaign, that man was 26-year-old Henry C. Cutler of Avon, N.Y.

8th New York Cavalry Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler
was killed at Brandy Station, Va,, on June 9, 1863.
He was 26. (Clark B. Hall collection)
At 4:30 a.m. on June 9, 1863, the 8th New York Cavalry moved carefully down in the pre-dawn darkness toward Beverly’s Ford, the sounds of their approach muffled by water pouring furiously over a nearby rock dam. The largest cavalry regiment in the army at more than 600 strong, the Empire State Regiment was known as the “lucky regiment” because the 8th New York had lost so few men in prior battles. Their “luck” was soon to run out.

Just after 4:30 a.m., the 8th New York Cavalry charged over the Rappahannock River, “the plunging horses throwing spray high in the air.” The huge conflict was now on, and here at Brandy Station “fairly begun the heaviest and most hotly contested cavalry battle ever fought on the American soil.”

As soon as the remaining elements of the 8th New York crossed and re-formed on the flats fronting the river, its division leader ordered his men to assault the enemy located in the woods ahead. Recently detailed from Company B to assume the command of Company A, Cutler, tall, blond and of serious and resolute demeanor, immediately brought forward his wide-awake troopers. Company A was ordered to “draw sabers!” ​

Courageously charging up the ford road across an open plain at the head of his men, Cutler was met violently in front of a knoll by a focused blast of pistol and carbine fire. Shot in the neck, mortally wounded, he fell sideways over the neck of his horse. One of Cutler’s stunned men observed his officer’s horse “running wild with loose rein,” with “blood on Lt. Cutler’s mouth and clinging to the pommel of his horse.” This mad dash proved to be literally a ride to the death for Cutler, as the brave officer soon fell stone dead from his steed.

And it is a fact that Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler became the first of about 55,000 soldiers tallied as casualties in the Gettysburg Campaign.

        Cutler death site. War-time ford road may be seen by sign at center of panorama.
                            (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL-SCREEN VERSION.)

After his death, Cutler’s body was placed on a train and escorted home to his mother, the widow of the late John Cutler. Solemn preparations completed, the funeral proceeded at the Methodist Church in Avon to lament the passing of “this young man of great promise.” A newspaper scribe was present: “From adjoining towns, large deputations were sent to pay the last tribute ... to honor the obsequies of the brave.” As the funeral march got under way, “banners draped in mourning, the long funeral train timing their steps to a dead march, the deep solemnity ... stamped on every brow.” Three
volleys were then fired.

The last part of this newspaper description greatly troubles this writer. As the reporter turned his back from the gravesite, he noted that Cutler “was left to the starless custody of an honored tomb.”

No, not exactly. Not on this day.

In fact,  there was no honor to be found in the badly eroded gravesite and severely neglected tombstone. But wait, something is being done to reverse this sad condition. Just wait and see ...

In his day, a poem was offered in Lieutenant Cutler’s memory. It read, in part:

“Earth is hallowed where he fell —
Comrade! Warrior! Fare thee well”
PRESENT DAY: After some "nudging" from a certain Civil War historian,
Henry C. Cutler's gravestone at Avon (N.Y.) Cemetery was re-set. (Clark Hall photo)

 Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


  1. That's so wonderful, that you intervened on this fallen soldier's behalf. Great job! Did they move the actual grave too, or just the stone?

  2. Another great post and story... thanks!

  3. Blessings upon you for doing this.

  4. Maybe I missed something. It says just Beverly’s Ford, Virginia on his stone? It says he died at Gettysburg,but it says Beverly’s Ford, Virginia? Good job fixing the grave stone thank you.

    1. SueK, he was the first to die in the Gettysburg CAMPAIGN, not the BATTLE of Gettysburg. I initially made the same mistake PS, I'm not shouting, just using capital letters for emphasis.

  5. Great story. Avon a stone's throw from where I live.

  6. Great story John! Thanks for posting it. Clark thank you for sharing the story and for your kind attention to the gravesite.

  7. Beth Rowland2:20 PM

    Another powerful story, John. And thank you, Mr. Hall.

  8. Is that the actual site of his grave? I hope the hillside doesn't erode further. Thank you for bringing the knowledge of this soldier to us. Rest in peace.


  10. Wondering if this brave soldier is related to my husband's Cutler line. I will be checking. Thank you for restoring his resting place and his memory.

  11. This is great. Glad his grave is properly restored. My daughter and I drove to that same cemetery this Memorial Day weekend to decorate the grave of 65th NY Surgeon John W. Gray with a flag, in an effort to give tribute to soldiers of the 65th NY, whose regimental history I wrote (No Flinching From Fire). The Avon rural cemetery is beautiful, a nice last resting place. Wish I saw this post a few weeks ago--we would have searched for Cutler's grave as well. The story of my own trip is told on my blog:

    --Chris Barry

  12. The first two sentences of Mr. Hall’s article really rang through with me. It reminded me of a misty Fall morning a few years ago, when I travelled to Helena Confederate Cemetery to find the resting places of Genls. Patrick Cleburne and Thomas Hindman. I arrived at the cemetery about 7 am, and there was not a soul around. I spent about an hour wandering around, tracing and retracing my steps, till I finally found the burial sites, high on the side of a hill, in the very back of the cemetery. In addition to Gen. Cleburne, a number of soldiers who perished at the battle of Helena also rest there. Several of the stones are in disarray.

  13. Pretty sure I drove right up to his wounding spot at Brandy Station.