Grant Loses A Friend

If you are familiar with the Gettysburg battlefield, you’ve seen him, striding forward just west of where you used to park for the Visitors Center. He welcomed those people who came in to the parking lot from Steinwehr Avenue just north of the site of the July 3 charge. Sometimes he’s bright bronze, glistening in the sunlight.

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More recently I saw him assume a much darker hue.

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He’s Alexander Hays, USMA 1844 (20/25), whose division helped check the attacking Confederates that summer afternoon. He was also one of the few friendly faces Ulysses S. Grant encountered when he came east in 1864. The two men had been close enough as young officers to be photographed together besides their horses in 1845 at Camp Salubrity, Louisiana.

Grant and Hays

Commanding a brigade in the II Corps on May 5, 1864, Hays hurried his men forward to reenforce the Union line along the Brock Road. a man with a reputation for hard drinking, he reportedly was taking a swig from his canteen when the strap became entangled. He was leaning forward to drink what he could when a bullet smashed through his skull. Falling off his horse, he was dead before he hit the ground.

Within a short time Grant learned of his friend’s sad fate from aide Horace Porter. The general ceased his whittling as he absorbed the news in silence. At last he spoke somewhat haltingly. He recalled  their years together as cadets and young officers. “I am not surprised that he met his death at the head of his troops; it was just like him. He was a man who would never follow, but who would always lead in battle.”

Last month I visited the monument marking where Hays fell. It is located along the Brock Road, north of the Orange Plank Road.

DSCN0250Many men would lose their lives in these two days of battle. Here’s to Alexander Hays, who today rests in a cemetery in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania.

6 thoughts on “Grant Loses A Friend

  1. John Foskett May 5, 2014 / 1:21 pm

    That is one of the classic photographs used to illustrate the basic uniform issued to U.S. regular troops in the Mexican War – along with the image of General John Wool and staff in Saltillo. We forget that the camera already was becoming a more and more important tool well before Fort Sumter.

  2. Buck Buchanan May 5, 2014 / 1:32 pm

    Before dark would fall on 6 May 3 Confederate generals would be dead and one more Union.

    By the time the AOP reached the James 8 Confederate generals would die and 7 Federal.

  3. Noma May 5, 2014 / 2:47 pm

    A very sad way to start the day for Grant…

    “Hays hurried his men forward to reenforce the Union line along the Brock Road. a man with a reputation for hard drinking, he reportedly was taking a swig from his canteen when the strap became entangled. He was leaning forward to drink what he could when a bullet smashed through his skull. Falling off his horse, he was dead before he hit the ground.”

    Can you share the source for that part?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 5, 2014 / 3:08 pm

      Gordon Rhea mentions this: I believe it’s John Haley who made the statement.

      • Noma May 5, 2014 / 8:56 pm

        Thanks!

  4. John Heiser May 6, 2014 / 6:45 am

    Excellent post, Brooks. Hays is one of those Union officers often overlooked for his daunting courage and made every effort to inspire his men, callously exposing himself to enemy fire, which was his downfall. The statue to him at Gettysburg and monument where he fell 150 years ago are most appropriate memorials to his service. Grant’ reaction is also interesting, one of the few times he showed any sense of emotion in front of his staff.

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