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Col. Edward Cross Hears the Groans of the Civil War Wounded

Tough, hard-fighting Col. Edward Cross wore a red bandanna on his head when he led the men of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment into battle. He did it so his men could spot him more easily – but he also made a better target. He was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks, the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Col. Edward Cross

Col. Edward Cross

On July 2, 1863, he wore a black bandanna rather than a red one before another battle. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock saw him and shouted, “Col. Cross, this day will bring you a star!”

“No General,” Cross said. “This is my last battle.” He was mortally wounded that day at the Battle of Gettysburg and died in a field hospital on July 3, 1863.

Battle of Fair Oaks

Edward Cross was born April 22, 1832 in the northern New Hampshire town of Lancaster. As a boy he was enthralled with the military and nursed a dream to become a soldier. At 15 he began working as a printer for the Coos Democrat. Later he moved to Cincinnati and became the Washington correspondent for the Cincinnati Times. In 1858 he moved to the Arizona Territory and started its first newspaper. He also scouted for the U.S. Army in skirmishes with the Apache Indians and fought in the Mexican Civil War.

Currier & Ives, Battle of Fair Oaks or Fair Oaks

Currier & Ives, Battle of Fair Oaks or Fair Oaks

In 1860 he was commissioned to head the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, which would earn the distinction of losing more men in battle than any other Union regiment. Gen. Oliver O. Howard commented on the regiment’s willingness to fight. “As usual, the 5th is always first,” he said before the Battle of Fair Oaks.

Also known as the Battle of Seven Pines, it was the last of the Army of the Potomac’s Peninsula Campaign. Both sides declared victory in the battle, but Gen. George McClellan took his army back north afterward.

Cross, a fierce and impulsive officer, was nearly killed.

On the morning of June 1, 1862, he ordered the New Hampshire 5th to form ranks and clean out a nest of rebels in a wood. He marched ahead of the regiment with the color guard, then placed himself behind the riflemen and swore at them to keep firing. Cross ‘raged like a lion’ urging his men to advance. He was about to order the men to clear the woods when a minie ball struck him in the thigh and he ‘went down like a pine tree.’ Bleeding heavily, he propped himself up against a tree. He was hit again, this time in the temple with buckshot. His face covered with blood, he urged his men to charge the enemy, shouting, “Charge ‘em like hells boys, show ‘em you’re damn Yankees! Sorry to say I can’t go with you!”

The regiment sent the Confederates on the run, but took heavy casualties. Cross was taken on a stretcher to the rear of the action and went home to Lancaster to recover.

Death Thoughts

Battle of Fair Oaks

Battle of Fair Oaks

As at Gettysburg, his thoughts turned to death before the battle of Fair Oaks. On the evening of May 31, 1862, the first day of fighting, his men marched across the battlefield to take position for the next morning. He wrote in his journal,

It was now after nine o’clock — very dark, and nothing could be heard but the groans of the wounded & smothered words of command, as we moved into position. The field was covered with wounded men. Some begged for water, some that their wounds might be dressed, and some for blankets as the night air of the neighboring swamps chilled their wounded bodies. As I rode along one poor fellow said — "Don’t tread on me, sir — I am badly wounded and very cold!" Another — "Stranger, for God’s sake give me a little water — I’m a Mississippian, shot through both legs" Another — "Gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake help us to the hospital — we are freezing here" And so it was, from all sides— enough to move the most hardened heart to sympathy. We halted.

Later that night, he recalled in his journal,

My men laid down in line of battle their arms loaded and by their sides I requested all the officers that could do so, to keep awake and watchful. Sentinels were posted in front of each company. The horses stood close by ready saddled. It was at eleven o’clock before all the arrangements were made — the night very dark and cloudy Col Langley and Major Cook laid down to sleep, and I spread my cloak on the ground and laid down, but not to close my eyes. My Regiment was the alarm clock of the army, and with the responsibility upon my mind of that position I had no desire to sleep...

Dr. L. M. Knight, surgeon of my Regiment sat up with me, and in a low tone we talked of the impending battle, while the men slept the deep sleep of worn and tired men. Poor fellows! To many it was the last of earthly slumber — their last sweet dream of home & friends — for the end of their days was at hand — for hundreds of others the next night was to be one of wounds and  wounds and suffering — and yet they slept!

With thanks to Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth: A Civil War Biography By Robert Grandchamp and the University of New Hampshire Special Collections.

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