Historians once focused mostly on “great men,” painstakingly analyzing the Army/Corps/Division/Brigade commanders whose decisions shaped historic events. More recently, pushback against that historiography has led to increased work on the “common soldier” and average enlisted men. Though both approaches certainly have value, there is a third group who is caught between these two groups – regimental officers at the company or staff level. Though neither the regular soldier nor the commanding general, they still hold an important place in history and in the hearts of their comrades. Today, I’m focusing on the loss of one of those men: Andrew Grover of the 76th New York Infantry.
Throughout his life, Grover demonstrated many key tenets of leadership. He was quick-thinking, hardworking, led from the front, and, most importantly, treated his men with respect. When the 76th New York lost him, they lost both an effective leader as well as a good friend.
Andrew Jackson Grover was born in West Dryden, New York on December 22, 1830, and orphaned at the age of seven. At the outbreak of the Mexican American War, he joined the army. Landing at Vera Cruz and campaigning into Mexico City under General Winfield Scott, he chose not to accept an offer to join the regular service after the conflict and went home. Veterans were given land grants, but Grover sold his in order to pursue a more peaceable profession, attending seminaries to become a minister. He spent the 1850s as a minister, and a fellow reverend remembered him as “very popular, a man of fine personality, a fluent speaker, a good scholar, a brilliant conversationalist, one of fine taste and very systematic in all his work, well adapted to draw and build up a church.” Simultaneously, he married Sylvania (sometimes noted as Sylvanus) Fox and began to raise a family.
At the coming of the war, Grover raised Company A of the 76th New York in Fall 1861 and was commissioned its Captain. A testament to his popularity in his community, his company filled in under a month. Grover’s motivations to yet again join the army and serve his country were clear; in 1862 he wrote a letter to the local paper in which he declared “we are adverse to the slaveholder’s peculiar interests; we will not deliver up the man who escapes from his unrighteous bonds. As we look at it, our enemy is not the southern men, but slavery; and we shall never be wanting when a direct blow can be given to it.” Grover had left home and his ministry in order to strike his own blow against slavery.
In early 1862, the regiment completed organization and moved to the defenses around Washington D.C., where they learned to be soldiers. The first major engagement for Grover and his men was the clash at the Brawner Farm that began the battle of Second Manassas. As the Iron Brigade built their famous reputation on August 28, 1862, the 76th New York was right beside them. During this chaotic action he led skirmishers forward of the main line in order to locate the enemy, where they soon came under fire. Ordering his men to lay down, he remained standing and received two severe wounds in his leg and back. He lay on the field for most of the combat and was later removed to a hospital in the capital. Many thought his wounds were mortal, but he returned home to his wife and children and began to draw a disability pension while healing continued. Despite this, his military career was not yet over.
In February 1863, the regiment found itself without a Major, and the men of the regiment chose to appoint Grover to the vacancy. The regimental history records this appointment came “without his knowledge or solicitation,” meaning that Grover had not lobbied for it, and “was no small compliment to him from his old companions in arms who recommended his appointment, and is good evidence of the high esteem in which they held him as a companion and a soldier.” Grover, touched by the trust his comrades placed in him, left home and rejoined the regiment in time to be engaged at Chancellorsville.
The regiment then turned northward during the Gettysburg campaign. In mid-June, the 76th New York’s Colonel departed due to illness; Major Grover was now in command of the regiment as they endured the dusty, hot marches that culminated at a soon-to-be famous south-central Pennsylvania town. The morning of July 1, the regiment was encamped 5.5 miles away near Marsh Creek when they were awakened and ordered towards town. They were the lead regiment of the lead infantry brigade as they approached Gettysburg. A small story again highlights the mutual affection between Grover and his men during a pause in the march. The regiment had stopped near a row of ripe cherry trees but were hesitant to partake in the fruit. Grover rode away from a meeting of officers towards his men, and loudly said:
“Boys, the General charges you to be very particular to keep strictly within the rules, and not meddle with those cherry trees! Be sure you don’t break the trees down!” and then turning his horse up the road, he watched the group of officers beyond. The hint was understood, and the cherries proved very palatable, though the trees did not remain quite uninjured. The officers failed to look around while the trees were being plundered.
After a brief pause near the Codori house, the regiment turned across the fields toward the Lutheran Seminary and rushed across the Chambersburg Pike along with the 56th Pennsylvania and 147th New York. Confederate infantry had been pushing the Union cavalry out of the way, and Grover’s men were barely in position when they came under fire. The 375 men of the 76th New York were facing off against the 2nd Mississippi directly ahead of them when the 55th North Carolina appeared on their right flank. Grover ordered his badly outnumbered regiment to refuse the flank as they tried to fight in two directions. Around this, one account states Grover’s horse was shot out from under him and upon standing back up he defused the tension by calling out to his men that “I am just as well off as you are now, boys.” They held their ground for around 30 minutes, taking over 50% casualties.
Grover received orders to pull back from the ridgeline that was now painted with dead and wounded. As they began to withdraw towards the woods behind them, he fell to the ground badly wounded himself. As his soldiers pass, he calls to them, “You will not go off and leave me, will you?” A few turn back towards danger, trying to recover their commander, but Grover changes his mind. After a couple dozen yards, he tells them “Boys, it is no use carrying me any farther, for I am dying,” hands them his watch to be sent to his wife, and passes away on the field of battle.
The 76th New York eventually rallied and fought later that day by helping to repulse Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson’s assault. Following the retreat through town, they were among the units entrenched on Culp’s Hill on the second and third. Their dead and wounded, including Major Grover, were left behind enemy lines. A telegram was sent to Sylvania, telling her that her husband was dead, and a local newspaper editor who was a close friend of Grover left New York on a long and often troublesome odyssey to recover the Major’s remains. As a measure of some consolation, Brigadier General Lysander Cutler sent the recently widowed woman a note about her late husband that attested to his impact on his men:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, FIRST DIVISION, FIRST CORPS
In the Field, July 13th, 1863
My Dear MADAM:
It is my painful duty to announce to you the death of your good and brave husband, who fell bravely leading his Regiment to the bloody battle of July first, at Gettysburg, Pa. I was within a few paces of him when he fell. He was among the bravest of the brave, and fell lamented by all who knew him. His regiment behaved worthy of their leader, and although losing more than half their number, fought on through the three bloody days, and are still ready to avenge their fallen leader and comrades, and to restore the Government of the Union. Allow me to offer you my sincere condolence for your great loss, and to assure you that he died in a glorious cause, and without a fear or murmur.
The body was buried on the field with the men who fell by his side. We could do no more.
I am very truly yours,
Fortunately, men of the unit either captured or wounded were able to pass along Grover’s burial location following Confederate retreat. Newspaper editor C.P. Cole eventually reached Gettysburg, and though the remains were temporarily buried in a cemetery there in order to wait for a better season and easier travel Grover’s remains returned home to the Cortland Rural Cemetery. Sylvania struggled to obtain a widow’s pension, due to paperwork issues and problems as the Major had temporarily collected disability pay, and never obtained the rate commensurate with the portion to Lieutenant Colonel that Grover was scheduled to receive. Nevertheless, the men of the 76th keenly felt the loss of a gallant combat commander who had gained their respect. His lengthy biography in their regimental history, printed in 1867, declares “He had a keen sense of honor, and was a man of high integrity. As a soldier, he was patriotic, prompt, strict in discipline, and brave. No officer carried with him the confidence of his men in this respect, to a greater extent than he did.”