Friday, April 28, 2017

A Fighter From Maine: Joseph Crossman, Co. B, 43rd USCI

I am in the process of reading Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, by Hampton Newsome. I am impressed with both the author's depth of research and his ability to clearly convey the various military movements that made up Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Sixth Offensive, north of the James River, as well as southwest of Petersburg.

On October 27, a Union movement was made on the Petersburg front by Parke's IX Corps, Warren's V Corps, and Hancock's II Corps in effort to cut the Boydton Plank Road and hopefully reach the Southside Railroad beyond. All three corps moved west, with the IX being the northern most, the V below it, and the II being southern most.

The IX Corps sector saw Ferrero's Division, which included the four black regiments of Col. Ozora P. Stearns's Brigade (one of which was the 43rd United States Colored Infantry), slide through the pine trees and dense underbrush and encounter Confederate pickets while skirmishing and searching out the location of the rebel earthworks near Hatcher's Run (pictured below).

Newsome includes a reference that in the engagement the 43rd officially lost twenty-eight killed, wounded and missing. Being that this action happened just a handful of miles south of where I live, I was curious to see if I could find some information about the African American soldiers who lived their last hours that October 27, 1864 day. A quick internet search brought up a roster of each company in the 43rd USCI with the soldiers' names, dates of muster in, and dates of death, wounding, or muster out. From there it was quite simple to find a few names to research. One of the first I happened upon was Private Joseph Crossman.

Crossman's service records were easily located. They indeed state that he was "killed while skirmishing with the enemy. . .shot in the head by a minnie ball," on October 27. Crossman had enlisted in Augusta, Maine, on February 27, 1864, and was mustered in on March 16, 1864, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, probably at Camp William Penn. Apparently Crossman was born as a free man of color in Greene, Maine. Crossman was listed as five feet, seven inches tall, with a complexion of "black." The same description was given for his eye and hair color.

Crossman's true age is difficult to determine, as their are multiple figures given in different official records. His enlistment card states he was forty-three, but when he was sent to the hospital at City Point for a "debility", in August 1864, they listed his age as fifty-six. The 1850 census for Norridgewock, Somerset County, Maine lists Crossman as a forty year old farmer, who lived with his wife, Winnifred, who was forty-six. Both are listed as "mulatto." Crossman owned $900 in real estate. Skipping ahead a decade, Crossman appears as a forty-seven year old farmer, still in Norridgewock, still married to Winnifred (fifty), and with boarder Cyntha Jackson, a fifty-two year old "pauper." Perhaps Cyntha was Winnifred's sister since they are listed being similar in age. The 1860 census shows all three listed as "mulatto." Crossman's real estate wealth remained at $900, and his personal wealth was noted as $300.

Crossman's service also included fighting at the Battle of the Crater (pictured below) on July 30, which he apparently survived unscathed. Gen. Ferrero's Division saw particularly difficult fighting that day. Many of his African American soldiers who were captured were not allowed to surrender as prisoners of war, but were rather massacred.

For me, Crossman's survival at the Crater, yet death in the fighting on October 27, at Hatcher's Run, illustrates perfectly the uncertainty of soldiering during the Civil War. One seemingly never knew which day would be the last, or in what form death would come.

Crater sketch image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hatcher's Run fortifications photograph taken by author February 23, 2017.

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