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New biography of Civil War hero Col. Cross pulls no punches



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This portrait of Col. Edward E. Cross (1832-1863), painted in 1892 and presented to the state by his family in 1893, hangs on the first floor of the State House in Concord. Cross began his career as a printer for this newspaper, working under Democrat publisher James Madison Rix who taught him journalism and politics. N. H. Div. of Historical Resources.
February 06, 2013
LANCASTER — Author Robert Grandchamp of Essex, Vt., pulls no punches in his recently published Civil War biography: "Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth."

In his Foreword, retired Concord Monitor editor Mike Pride, co-author of "My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth" (2001), calls Grandchamp's new book "a rich biography of a great soldier."

"Over the last century and a half many people have tried to tell the story of Cross' life, but until now it has been all but impossible to bring out the full story, as the primary sources — the lifeblood of history — have existed but have not been exploited," Grandchamp points out in his Preface. "With recently discovered manuscripts, newspaper articles written by and about Cross, and a nationwide search for historical material, it is now possible to write a detailed biography of Colonel Cross."

Having researched and published several other books on American military history, Grandchamp boldly writes a detailed analysis of why Cross — six feet, two inches tall and wearing the full uniform of a man of his rank, plus a black bandana wrapped around his head — was fatally wounded nearly 150 years ago by a sniper hiding some 40 yards away behind a large boulder at Gettysburg.

"A minie ball fired from the Rebel behind the rock hit Cross in the navel, ripped through his intestines and exited his back," explains Grandchamp, adding that he suffered mightily for six hours before he died shortly after midnight on July 3.

"While Colonel Cross' battlefield exploits at Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville were bold and gallant inspirations to lead his men into action, Cross made perhaps his first and final mistake on the battlefield on the afternoon of July 2, 1863," Grandchamp writes.

"While his rapid deployment of the First Brigade into the Wheatfield blunted the Confederate push to gain the high ground and brought enough time for the rest of the division to enter the fight, it was Cross' actions after entering the Wheatfield that proved to be in error.

"Exposed in the open, Cross knew the brigade had to advance to Stony Hill to gain the high ground. While he was right in ordering an attack against the forces in the Wheatfield, the colonel selected the worst possible position from which to lead the charge. In the thick woods where the Fifth and three companies of the one Hundredth and Forty-Eighth Pennsylvania fought, it was impossible to control or observe the rest of the brigade in the assault.

"Cross' proper place was in the open, where he could direct the bulk of his men. After months of lobbying for brigade command, the colonel was finally in command of a force larger than his old regiment that required his overall attention rather than an individual regiment."

Grandchamp points out that aides and couriers could have kept troops on Cross' left, who were out of his sight, apprised as to how and when to proceed.

"Instead," the author continues, "Cross felt compelled, as he always did in combat, to be with the Fifth New Hampshire, leading the regiment instead of the brigade. Not pushing the bulk of his brigade forward allowed the New York and Pennsylvania regiments in the open to bleed their strength away instead of rushing for Stony Hill.

"Although the enemy greatly outnumbered the First Brigade, such a movement would have temporarily stunned the Confederates … allowing the rest of Caldwell's Division to press the advantage gained by the First Brigade.

"Cross was also negligent in not telling his second in command, Colonel Boyd McKeen, of his plan to charge the Rebel lines. McKeen, not realizing Cross was shot in the woods, remained in the open waiting for orders as the brigade ran out of ammunition and was eventually forced to retreat.

"In the end," Grandchamp concludes, "Colonel Cross' mistake cost many unnecessary lives, including his own."

Many new details of Cross' early life in Lancaster, including time working at this newspaper in its relatively early days and his later life in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Arizona Territory working as a political reporter, travel writer, trail hand, silver mine supervisor, and Indian fighter are included in the paperback as well as 42 photographs, index, and bibliography.

As Grandchamp reiterated in a Thursday afternoon telephone interview, Cross was a short-tempered alcoholic who favored prostitutes and railed against immigrants, especially those who were Catholic, abolitionists, blacks and others with whom he disagreed. "The first 29 years of the life of this man — who was born in 1832 in Lancaster — prepared him for the next 18 months of brave, commanding leadership," Grandchamp explained. However, the author said, once President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation (on Jan. 1, 1863), given Cross' Democratic opinions and impulsiveness he would never have received a general's star — despite the many letters of recommendation written on his behalf."

This book should hold special interest for Coös residents as the town of Lancaster — the county seat — begins to prepare for its 250th birthday in 2014.

Grandchamp reaches back to describe the life of one of Cross' grandfathers, Richard Everett, a veteran of the American Revolution who moved to Lancaster in 1782 and was "adopted" into the family of Jonas Wilder, one of its founders. He married Wilder's oldest daughter, Persis, and after he studied at Dartmouth and read the law in Albany, N. Y., became the town's first attorney, and later a selectman and state representative.

Grandchamp's Civil War biography, including a Kindle format, is available at area bookstores. Its publisher, McFarland of Jefferson, N. C., maintains a website — www.mcfarlandpub.com — and a toll-free order line: 800-253-2187.

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