Colonel Cross, thirty-one years old at Gettysburg, was as fearless and hell-for-leather a fighter as there was in either army. He was an imposing figure in the saddle, tall, rangy, and erect--"like an Indian," one man observed. He had a full, reddish beard and a balding head, and had a rough energy, with a habit of pacing "in his quick, nervous, way, his hands clasped behind his back." He was possessed by "a sharp, impulsive manner" on the battlefield. Cross always had a lieutenant tie a red silk bandanna around his head when he was about to go into a fight. He'd worn it at the head of his regiment, the 5th New Hampshire, in all the army's battles--the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
Everyone agreed there was no braver or cooler man under fire. In the battle of Seven Pines a year earlier, he'd shouted "Charge 'em like hell, boys--show them you are damned Yankees!" Then, as his regiment advanced, Cross fell wounded. When some of his men came over to help him off the field, he lifted himself up on an elbow and told them, "Never mind me--whip the enemy first and take care of me afterward." He recovered from his Seven Pines wound in time to lead the bloody attack on the Sunken Lane at Antietam. There he was wounded again. Recovering from the Antietam wound, he was struck a third time in front of the Stone Wall at Fredericksburg. "If all the colonels in the army had been like him we should never have lost a battle," said one of his men.
Born in Lancaster, New Hampshire, Cross was well educated and had traveled much in his youth, starting with a stint as a printer, then as a reporter for the Cincinnati Atlas, then as an editor. City life was too placid for a young man with his abundant energy, so he headed for Arizona, where he worked in the mining business, then as a trapper, buffalo hunter, explorer, and part-time Indian fighter. In Arizona he fought a duel--with rifles--then went to Mexico and fought another, this time with swords. Surviving both, he became an officer in the army of Mexico's liberal party, just as war was about to break out in the States.
When the Civil War began he returned to New Hampshire. Even though he had had no formal military education, as an experienced fighter he was a natural choice to lead the state's 5th Regiment. One of his men extolled his leadership and care: "He taught us to aim in battle, and above all things he ignored and made us ignore the idea of retreating. Besides this he clothed us and fed us well, taught us to build good quarters, and camped us on good ground."
But Cross was a controversial officer. His men knew him as a grim warrior. At Antietam he had taken them in with the words: "If any man runs I want the file closers to shoot him. If they don't, I shall myself." He had a critical nature, jumped to conclusions, and was so outspoken that his friends believed his advancement had been slowed by his criticism of certain politicians and policies--how else could a fighter have such an impressive record and never be promoted? He had even made enemies in his own brigade. The day before the battle of Gettysburg opened, Cross had decided to replace the colonel of the raw recruits of the brigade's newest and biggest regiment, the 148th Pennsylvania, with someone more experienced from another regiment. As a result, the men of the 148th, about half his brigade's strength, considered him a tyrant.
Although he was leading a brigade for the first time, Cross was one of the Army's toughest veteran officers, and had been in the thick of some of the grimmest fighting of the War.
| Colonel Cross was troubled as he arrived on the battlefield on the
morning of July 2. He had had a premonition of death, and in his pocket was
not the red silk bandanna he usually wore, but a black one. He had a
lieutenant tie it around his head as the sounds of battle drifted closer from
Sickles's front that afternoon. About 5:00 P.M., as orderlies came dashing
along the lines and the division prepared to move south to answer a call for
help from Sickles, Hancock himself rode up in front of Cross. "Colonel Cross,
this day will bring you a star," he shouted. Cross shook his head and replied
calmly, "No, General, this is my last battle." He then vaulted into the saddle
to lead his men toward the sound of the fighting.|
A few minutes later, Cross's was the first brigade in the division to be deployed, formed up hurriedly in the northeast corner of the Wheatfield, facing south. Once formed, Cross immediately ordered the men forward in his usual sharp, animated manner, with his sword drawn and the morbid black bandanna around his forehead. As they neared the middle of the field, Cross's regiments received their first heavy fire from Anderson's and Kershaw's men crouching behind the stone wall at the south end of the field. Cross was on the exposed right of his brigade, on a knoll in the middle of the Wheatfield, when he dismounted, "eagerly scanning the ground in the front." He then stepped back from the line and shouted "Boys--instruct the commanders to be ready to charge when the order is given. Wait here for the command, or, if you hear the bugles of the Fifth New Hampshire on the left, move forward on the run!" He then strode over to his leftmost regiment, his old Fifth New Hampshire, who were almost in contact with Anderson's defenders on the east side of the field. As he reached the Fifth ("the hottest place on the line" according to Cross's lieutenant), before he could give the order to charge, he suddenly fell, mortally wounded by a bullet in the stomach.
Cross was taken to a field hospital where he died the next day. His last words were, "I think the boys will miss me."