Henry Crosby suffered that hot June day as his comrades attempted desperately to save his life.
Today only an engraved name on the Civil War monument in Hampden’s Locust Grove Cemetery recalls the unsung hero who meant so much to his men 150 years ago this year.
A single man when he mustered into the 22nd Maine Infantry Regiment in October 1862, Crosby co-owned a Hampden paper mill; he also supervised its day-to-day operations. Then 39, he could have stayed home from the war, but he chose to take the regiment’s Co. A (with its many Hampden recruits) off to war in Louisiana.
His men loved Crosby; they would die for him — and vice versa.
Sgt. Joseph E. Joy from Co. A (and Hampden) took a pencil or quill pen in hand “near Port Hudson,” La. on Friday, June 12, 1863.
“Dear Wife” he wrote his salutation, “having just received a letter from you, I hasten to answer, but, oh my God, what news! Our dear Captain is mortally wounded!”
For weeks the 22nd Maine boys had occupied the siege lines at Port Hudson, a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River that, along with upriver Vicksburg, defied capture by Union troops. “We were on the north side of Port Hudson,” Joy explained the geography to his wife.
“On the morning of the 11th (Thursday),” the 22nd Maine boys “were ordered to advance on the [enemy] breastworks, supported on our right by the 90th New York and on our left by the 134th New York,” Joy wrote. “Our Regiment was in the advance, Companies A, E and B thrown out as skirmishers.”
Spread in a long line about 150-200 yards ahead of the advancing Union infantry, the skirmishers probed the enemy defenses to discover hidden rifle pits and draw Confederate fire. Alternating their shooting, skirmishers worked in pairs, with one soldier loading his musket while simultaneously watching for enemy riflemen and calling out targets for his comrade to shoot.
Crosby led Co. A into battle that fateful morning. “Our Brigadier made a mistake in ordering our Colonel [Simon Jerrard] to advance to the [Confederate] breastworks, when we should have gone only a short distance in order to draw the enemy’s fire,” Joy told his wife.
“Instead of that, we went under the breastworks” after struggling “through felled timber, about 800 yards, under a heavy fire,” he wrote.
There “our Captain fell, mortally wounded,” Joy recalled the moment when his hero went down. Crosby “was struck below the hip bone, the bullet lodging in his body.
“Seven of us” carried Crosby “to the foot of the hill near a small ravine” and lay there beside him “in a few weeds” until sunset, Joy wrote.
Their enemies trapped amidst the abatis (Joy’s “felled timber”), Confederates fired their cannons and rifles at anyone who moved. Behind the Maine boys, Union artillery fired at the Confederate entrenchments; “we could not raise our heads with being exposed to the rebel fire on one side and that of our own men on the other,” Joy told his wife.
She probably understood that she had almost become a widow that hot day.
“I pray to God that I may never pass such another day,” Joy wrote. “Imagine yourself lying under a heavy Louisiana sun, with Minnie (sic) balls striking all around you.
“Our beloved Captain who never knew fear, and who by his daring exposure of himself [to enemy fire], was now weltering in his life blood, dying, without our being able to procure a little lint to staunch the flow of the life current,” Joy vividly described Crosby dying in slow stages.
“I happened to have a linen towel, with which I did the best I could,” Joy wrote.
He asked Crosby “where he seemed to be in the most distress.”
“Inwardly,” Crosby replied.
Confederate bullets struck the ground and “felled timber” all around the eight Maine men as they endured the sweltering sun. “Oh, how we felt for the man, who had been more than a father to us through all our trying scenes, and trying scenes we have passed through, nineteen of company A having died since December” 1862, Joy expressed his sorrow.
At 8 p.m., “after I had reconnoitered the ground” to find an escape route, the soldiers “took Captain Crosby in a blanket and started for our lines, our pickets having fallen back,” he wrote. Moving ever so slowly across the body- and tree trunk-covered ground, the Maine boys reached Union lines at 3 a.m., Friday.
At a field hospital, a “surgeon pronounced the wound fatal,” Joy recalled.
“That is more than I expected,” Crosby said upon learning his fate. “But it is a good cause to die in.”
“Oh, what a gloom is on our company, ten of our men missing, our noble Captain dying, our Second Lieutenant wounded in the hand,” Joy wrote while Crosby still lived. “At roll call twelve men answered to their names.”
Crosby died later that day.
On Saturday, June 13, Joy added a final paragraph to his letter. “Our Captain is dead, and his remains started for home last night. Ten men (likely the missing) have come in this morning, causing us much joy. Port Hudson must fall, but how many of us must fall with it, God only knows.”
God knew. Wounded in action days later, Joseph E. Joy died on Tuesday, June 23. His name is located directly beneath Crosby’s on Hampden’s Civil War monument.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.