Julie B. Hewitt Attorney at Law

Subtitle

Captain Henry V. Fuller: Pride of Little Valley, New York

A Hot Mess

Retreating from the onrushing enemy, Captain Henry V. Fuller pushed his men forward though the trees and undergrowth of Rose Woods, moving northward towards the relative safety of the Wheatfield. It was the second day of the Battle at Gettysburg and it was 76 degrees, a warm day bordering on hot. Captain Fuller and his men were running while wearing stifling navy blue wool sack coats, the uniform of the Federal army. They carried ammunition pouches heavy with the weight of up to 60 cartridges, and nine-pound rifles. With sweat pouring down his back and adrenaline coursing through his veins, Captain Fuller was a hot man. His personal comfort however did not enter his mind. Saving his company from being surrounded and annihilated by the pursing Confederate troops however did.


The 64th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment was part of Brook’s Brigade, of Caldwell’s Division of the Army of the Potomac, and was known to most as simply “The Cattaraugus Regiment.” The regiment had been fighting together for only 18 months, but the men were already seasoned veterans. The three -day battle at Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863 was not the first large battle they had faced; there had been many others. The Siege of Yorktown Fair-Oaks, Gains-Mill, Peach-Orchard, Savage's-Station, White-Oaks-Swamp, Malvern-Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and several skirmishes. Gettysburg was no better and no worse than what the regiment had faced over the last year and a half, just longer. Captain Fuller was only 22 years old, but his likeable personality, intelligence and bravery had led him to rise steadily from the rank of Private to Orderly Sargent, Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant and finally Captain and commander of Company F of the 64th. The able young officer was popular with his men and superiors, alike.


A Small Crossroads in Southern Pennsylvania


The battle at Gettysburg, which had started the day before, July 1, was not the first choice of time or place for either army to face off. General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were pushing north towards Harrisburg, Pennsylvania bringing the war to “enemy” soil for the first time. Lee had another goal besides spreading the misery: a major victory on northern soil might result in England and France throwing their support behind the Confederates. That would as good as guarantee a Confederate victory. Lee hadn’t specifically intended to fight here at this crossroads village in southern Pennsylvania near the Maryland border, but when he realized fellow West Pointer General George G. Meade and the Army of the Potomac was pursuing him, he knew it was inevitable that the two mighty armies would clash somewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania. Gettysburg’s position at the intersection of five roads began looking like the likely location for the coming clash between the two large armies.

July 1, 1863


And clash they had. The fighting started even before either army had all their troops fully in place. The first day was a nerve wracking one for Lee as he waited for the remainder of his troops to arrive. Holding the line with the troops he had, Lee fumed as he waited impatiently for J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry scouts to report the number of northern troops and their exact positions. Stuart hadn’t been seen in several days, and furious members of Lee’s staff were calling for a court martial if and when the dashing cavalry officer might return. [1]

Meanwhile, Union General Meade had his own problems. His opponent had been on a winning streak, pushing the Union army off the Virginia Peninsula and dealing the Union a crushing defeat at Chancellorsville just four weeks before. Even more difficult was the fact that Meade had been placed in command of the Army of the Potomac just three days ago. It was not a post he sought, but President Lincoln had demanded he accept. Meade knew he was initially out-numbered by the Rebel forces, and the death of Corps’ commander General Reynolds on the first day of battle was a serious loss. Yet despite the challenges faced by each side that made engagement at Gettysburg less than ideal, a total of 160,000 fighting men descended on the village of 2,000 residents for a three- day contest of wills.


The first day of the battle saw scattered fighting as units continued to arrive at the battlefield throughout the day. Much of the action centered on the northern and western approaches to Gettysburg. By the second day of the battle, both armies were hotly engaged across the ridges, forests and farmlands west and south of the village. The Cattaraugus Regiment was in the south sector of the battlefield, fighting on the Rose farm, between the Peach Orchard to the south, and the Wheatfield to the north. This rolling farmland was a crucial part of holding the high ground at nearby Little Round Top. Little Round Top anchored the southern end of the federal line, and should it fall, the Confederate troops could “roll up the line” and rout the Federals. The 64th was doing their part to make sure that didn’t happen.


Prior to Gettysburg, the 64th had fought at Chancellorsville near Fredericksburg, Virginia. When Robert E. Lee moved into Pennsylvania, the 64th was ordered to quickly move north to block his progress. On the morning of July 1, 1863 the 64th and the II Corps were 23 miles from Gettysburg, and marched north from Uniontown through Taneytown, Maryland.


As they neared Taneytown, the men could hear cannon fire ahead.  The corps halted at Taneytown at about 11:00 A.M., and after a 1 ½ hour break, resumed its northward march into Pennsylvania. It was dark by the time the II Corps reached the outskirts of Gettysburg.  It came to a stop, facing north across the Taneytown Road, and awaited further orders.  After stacking arms, the men sat, or lay down, without leaving the ranks.  Good soldiers know they should always grab sleep or grub when possible. Officers gathered in little groups where they talked and slept and listened to the intermittent picket firing. After getting some much- needed sleep, the men were roused at 3:00 a.m. to continue the march to the battlefield. The regiment arrived about sunrise, where as part of General Caldwell’s II Corps it was placed in a reserve position on Cemetery Ridge near the southern end of the Union line.


July 2, 1863


For the morning and early afternoon there was little to do but listen to the sounds of the battle and wait in tense anticipation for their turn on the field of battle. Major R.H. Forster of the 148th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, part of the II Corps, remembered this short lull: "Except for the dull rumble of artillery wheels, an occasional cannon shot, and at intervals a sharp rattle of musketry away to the right were to be heard, the early part of that memorable day was passing in comparative quietude and with little that was eventful." He did receive one quick reminder that being in reserve did not necessarily equal safety: an errant cannon shell fired from the opposite ridge, exploded over the regiment hitting and killing one of the men of the 148th.


The sounds of battle at this end of the battlefield emanated primarily from an area known as the Rose Farm and John Sherfy’s Peach Orchard. Both the Peach Orchard and the main farmhouse and buildings of the Rose farm were located at the top of a rise on the Emmitsburg Road. The fields and forests of the Rose Farm sloped back towards Cemetery Ridge. The Rose Farm included two areas that were to become famous in the Battle of Gettysburg: the Wheatfield and a wood lot called Rose Woods. The Wheatfield was a 20-acre field that saw fierce fighting, including hand to hand combat, by as many as 20,000 men on July 2nd. Rose Woods is located between the Emmitsburg Road and the Wheatfield, a spot that was on the way to somewhere, rather than a destination. It would however be a final destination for Henry Fuller.


Throughout the day of July 2nd, the fighting see-sawed back and forth as control of the Wheatfield changed hands six times. Casualties were heavy; by evening the bodies of 6,000 dead men would litter the Wheatfield.


General Sickles’ Fateful Decision


In the afternoon, General Daniel Sickles, Commander of the Union II Corps, made one seemingly simple decision that would deeply effect the other Corps fighting near him, nearly loose the battle, and give future generations of historians fodder for debate. About 4:00 p.m. General Sickles positioned his III Corps on the Emmitsburg Road, about a mile in front of the main Union line. This was not Sickles’ assigned position, but he decided on his own initiative that this high ground was a stronger position. Historians would later blame this poor decision on the fact that Sickles, though an experienced general, lacked formal military training. It is also possible that Sickles may have purposely made this decision as a result of a recent battle in which the commanding general had been criticized for not staking claim to the high ground. Whatever his reasoning, Sickles’ decision was not part of General Meade’s battle plan, and it left the Union line unsupported in a crucial area. When General Meade discovered Sickles’ position he sarcastically pointed out, “General Sickles, this is in some respects higher ground than that to the rear, but there is still higher in front of you, and if you keep on advancing you will find constantly higher ground all the way to the mountains.” Meade was furious with Sickles, but a Confederate attack was imminent and there was no time to move Sickles’ corps back to its proper position. What Meade knew, and that Sickles did not appreciate, was that Sickles’ line at the Peach Orchard formed a point called a “salient.” A salient is difficult to defend because it can be attacked from two sides and that is exactly what happened. Thus, this decision set into motion a series of events that would lead to Captain Fuller’s death. [2]


The Confederate Charge


At 5: 30 p.m., after a hot artillery duel, Sickles’ III corps was attacked by Brig. General J.B. Kershaw from the direction of the Rose Farm on the left. Sickles’ artillery repulsed the attack by rapidly firing canister shot at the Confederates, shredding them. However, at 6:00 p.m., Barksdale and Wofford’s Brigades struck the other leg of Sickles’ salient, “shrieking like Indians” and driving terrified hogs and cattle before them as they advanced.


The Union men could not hold and were driven back towards Cemetery Ridge. General Meade would later comment, “Sickles’ movement practically destroyed his own corps….; and with what result? - driving us back to the position he was ordered to hold originally.” Sickles would spend the rest of his life defending his actions at Gettysburg. Although he became a major force in battlefield preservation and the expansive Gettysburg National Military Park would not be what it is today without his efforts, the events of July 2nd would cast a long shadow over the rest of his career.


With Sickles’ III Corps on the ropes, Caldwell’s II Corps was ordered into action at 5:00 p.m. The 64th New York along with the 2nd Delaware, 53rd Pennsylvania, 27th Connecticut and 145th Pennsylvania made up Brooke’s 1st Division. The troops, which had been waiting for orders all day, were now ordered to move quickly into the fray. When they arrived at the battlefield the troops were “faced by the rear rank” which meant the front rank was to the rear and the rear rank to the front. This atypical formation made maneuvering on the field of battle more confusing for the men, but there was no time to reform the regiment. Led by General John C. Caldwell, the II Corps charged the Confederates among the wheat and the surrounding woods. The II Corps succeeded in driving the Confederates back; however, the Confederates reformed quickly and counterattacked forcing the retreating Union troops to set up a defensive position. During this movement, Union Brigadier General Samuel Kosciuszko Zook of Caldwell’s Division was fatally wounded by a bullet in the abdomen. Corporal Van Vlack of Company F of the Cattaraugus Regiment, who was holding the regimental colors, went down after being wounded by a shell fragment. Nevertheless, “the men moved forward, advancing at a fast walk, sometimes on the double-quick, loading and firing as they went.”[3] Fuller advanced with Brooke’s Brigade pushing Semmes’ Division[4] of Georgians across the Wheatfield, into Rose Woods, and up the slope to a point on a low ridge. Today, that point is the park road named Brooke Road, and is the site of several monuments commemorating the fighting that occurred here on July 2nd.


As the regiment moved forward, a soldier who was shot in the forehead pitched over against Private George Whipple who had stopped to reload. Captain Fuller yelled, “Never mind, George, forward!” The sea of soldiers in blue surged across the small stream known as Rose Run, and pursued the retreating Georgians up the slope of Rose Woods. The brigade took shelter along a ledge of rocks and traded fire with the Confederates sheltered behind a stone wall on the other side of an open field. The two forces were less than 200 yards apart. Meanwhile, Col. Brooke was attempting to reorganize the tattered command of his brigade after both of his aides were wounded. Realizing that Brooke desperately needed reinforcement, General Caldwell sent a brigade from the V Corps to help, but it got lost in the confusion and never arrived where it was needed.


The Union Line Crumbles


At first, Brooke held the Union line, but when the regiments to his right and left began to crumble, he ordered the men to quickly fall back before the enemy surrounded them. The men were now fighting in reverse, back down the slope into the ravine in Rose Woods and beyond to the Wheatfield. They were hotly pursued by Confederate infantry who were attempting to encircle the fleeing Union soldiers. Private George W. Whipple explained, “The order came to ‘fall back’ but not quick enough to let us all get away.” Corporal Moore of Fuller’s Company F went down with a shot in the thigh that broke the bone. He later recalled: “…the rebs were around me and over me in an instant, shouting ‘we are whipping you-uns now…”


Crossing Rose Run at the bottom of the slope Colonel Bingham, commander of Company I, was shot in the hip. As Fuller ran down the slope, a shot in the leg sent him sprawling to the ground. Private Whipple saw that Fuller was wounded and moved to help him:

”…about this time Captain Fuller was wounded close by my side. I asked him if I could help him. He said, “yes’. I dropped my gun and took him in my arms to carry him to the rear. I carried the Captain four or five rods when he asked me to lay him down behind a rock that was there, saying that he was fatally wounded.”


The two men had nearly reached the stream when Fuller announced that he had been shot again. Fuller had been shot in the torso, the minie ball passing out the opposite side of his body. One report said he was shot in the breast and the bullet passed out his shoulder, another reported that he was shot in the back and it passed out the front. Yet another reported he was struck in the right lung. Whipple continued the story of his Captain’s fatal wounding,


“His charge to me was, ‘Keep up the good courage, George.” I had not got him straightened out when the Rebs came up to me calling out ‘surrender, you damn Yankee’. The Captain had got beyond speaking then. I asked the rebs to let me stay one moment by my Captain, but the bayonet was close to my back with awful threats to put it through me if I refused. Then came the saddest moment that I have ever seen since I have been a soldier. It seemed as if I were leaving the last friend that I had, and to me he had always been, and not one of his company could say ought against him. I did all I could under the circumstances.”

Whipple reported that Fuller was dead “in a few moments.” The loyal Whipple paid the price for staying with his Captain: he was captured by the pursuing Georgians who demanded, “Go to the rear you damned son of a bitch.” Meanwhile, Fuller’s battered body would lay in the forest glen for two days until it was collected for burial on July 4th.


Although bitter enemies committed to killing each other on the battlefield, one on one, some of the Yanks and Rebels showed great humanity toward one another. Corporal Moore’s recollections of his wounding in Rose Woods illustrate this point:


"...I was wounded just at that time [he had captured a rebel flag, picked it up and then dropped it - this was immediately before Capt. Fuller was killed - a man much loved by all men in the 64th Regiment]….The regiment in front of the 64th in that fight was the 9th Georgia, under the command of the Lieutenant-Colonel. He gave me his name, but I have forgotten it. I shall always remember him and his regiment with the greatest gratitude for the many acts of kindness they bestowed upon me and other wounded Union boys near me. He bathed my wound from his canteen, took my canteen which was nearly new and filled it with fresh cold water. I was unable to move and he helped me to get behind a tree so I would not get hit by our own men. He talked with me until very late that night. The next morning he came with more men and a stretcher and carried me to the stone-house where about a dozen other wounded Union men lay. We were all kindly treated. The last time I saw the Colonel we exchanged canteens and pocket-knives. He hesitated about the exchange because my canteen was much the best, but I insisted and he seemed pleased to get a good new canteen. I hope to meet him and other members of the 9th Georgia, at our National Encampment at St. Paul next September..."

The Battle at Gettysburg was brutal and altogether, the 64th lost 48% of its forces (98 out of 205 either killed, wounded or MIA). Overall, Union regiments averaged losses of approximately 33% and the Confederates suffered similar losses.


They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait


Meanwhile, back in Fuller’s hometown of Little Valley, New York, his parents Benjamin and Ann Van Aernam Fuller, his wife Ada (Adelaide Caroline Twomley) and his 15- month- old son, Henry Twomley Fuller waited for news of the battle raging 280 miles to the southeast. Fuller had been through a dozen battles, and suffered nary a scratch. The worst he suffered was an illness after the Peninsula Campaign. His commanding officer had ordered the young man to the hospital, but when Fuller learned his regiment was moving on, he deserted his hospital bed to rejoin his men.


Henry was the eldest of the Fuller’s four children, three sons and a daughter. He was a tall, well-spoken, pleasant young man. He was said to be a good conversationalist, and he loved to read good literature and poetry. Despite his educated ways, Henry came from tough pioneer stock. His grandfather Edmund Fuller was an early pioneer and was known as the first settler of Randolph, New York, then a tree covered wilderness. His father Benjamin was a hardy farmer, and he built one of the first taverns in Cattaraugus County. His mother Ann was the daughter of Jacob B. Van Aernam, a pioneer settler of the Cattaraugus County Town of Mansfield. Henry inherited the work ethic of his ancestors. At the age of 17, he was employed by a lumber manufacturer, to “run the river,” down the Allegheny and Ohio, to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville, taking charge of the stock and making sales. He had a bright future after the war and hoped to enter the legal profession. His family waited anxiously for the end of the war and Henry’s return to civilian life. Henry’s safety was not the only thing on the minds of Benjamin and Ann; their son Benjamin C. was serving in the 37th N. Y. Regiment; and Ann’s brother, Dr. Henry Van Aernam, was serving as Chief Surgeon of the 154th N. Y. Regiment [5]. The odds of all three returning unscathed were poor. As it turned out, Henry was the only casualty. Benjamin C. survived the war and became a career clerk in the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. and Dr. Van Aernam would serve two terms in Congress.


History has not recorded how the news of Fuller’s death reached Little Valley Perhaps the family learned of Henry’s death by telegram or letter. Perhaps like many families, they saw his name in a casualty list published in the paper. Whatever the medium of communication, having survived the long odds against him for so long, Henry Fuller’s luck had run out.


“F” Marks the Spot


During the Civil War, Union dead were initially buried where they fell, in temporary, shallow graves on the battlefield. Officers were sometimes sent to the rear for embalming and shipment home. Henry was buried by his men in a temporary grave on the battlefield near the George Weikert House on Cemetery Ridge. He was buried beside a large rock and “F” was scratched into the rock so his father could find the grave. After temporary burial, many soldiers were reinterred in newly constructed military cemeteries with numbered graves, or in the case of more affluent families, the family could privately arrange to have the body shipped home for burial. The Fuller family chose the latter course of action, and thus, Henry came to rest in Little Valley on July 18, 1863, two weeks after his death. He was buried with military honors in the Little Valley Rural Cemetery. Having Henry’s body at home rather than buried on a distant field of battle was no doubt a comfort to his grieving family. There is no Fuller family plot in the Little Valley Cemetery however. Henry’s immediate family had all moved on to other communities by the time they died. [6]


A Proper Memorial

 

Henry Fuller was not done with Gettysburg however. In July 1894, 31 years after his death, the men of Company F erected and dedicated a bronze marker on the spot where he fell along Rose Run. Henry’s marker is one of the approximately 1,328 monuments at Gettysburg, and one of only four to company level commanders. Park officials report that the Fuller marker is the least visited of all the battlefield markers and memorials, and after a visit in August of 2017, I can attest to the reasons why. While most markers stand regally in neatly mowed fields along paved park roads, the Fuller marker is located in a marshy area of trees and heavy undergrowth along Rose Run. It cannot be seen from the park road circling the area, and there is no marked trail. In fact, even though I was armed with maps and GPS coordinates, it involved a fair amount of bush whacking and scraped legs to reach the spot. It was worth the effort however. The marker is in excellent condition, and the spot where Henry fell in the heat of battle is now a peaceful area suited to quiet contemplation. The throngs of tourists who crowd the main battlefield cannot be seen, or heard, from this bucolic spot. The few hardy people who have visited the marker have placed coins on the plaque in mute tribute to Captain Fuller.


Footnotes


[1] As it turned out, Stuart was not out joyriding; he was having difficulty skirting around the huge Union army to get back to Lee. When he finally did, his men and horses were exhausted from the effort.

[2] The rest of the day did not go well for General Sickles for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that his right leg was amputated after being struck by a cannonball. Sickles had his severed leg sent to a medical museum, where he visited it every year on the anniversary of its amputation suggesting that he either had a morbid sense of humor, or was incredibly self-absorbed.

[3] “The Fight for the Rose Woods”, by Stephen Rogers, Military Images Magazine May-June 1987 issue.

[4] The day ended badly for General Semmes. He was fatally wounded.

[5] Henry’s younger brother, Nathan Albert Fuller (1847-1885) was 15 when the war broke out and never served in the military

[6] Henry’s father is buried in Forestville, N.Y. and his mother, who was living with son Benjamin C. Fuller in Washington, D.C. is buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Henry’s widow Ada, herself a daughter (adopted) of a physician, married physician Daniel Baker about 9 years after Henry’s death. They never had children together. Although she died in Little Valley 1910, I have not been able to locate a grave for Adelaide Caroline Fuller Baker.

[7] Henry’s father is buried in Forestville, N.Y. and his mother, who was living with son Benjamin C. Fuller in Washington, D.C. is buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Henry’s widow Ada, herself a daughter (adopted) of a physician, married physician Daniel Baker about 9 years after Henry’s death. They never had children together. Although she died in Little Valley 1910, I have not been able to locate a grave for Adelaide Caroline Fuller Baker.