Bravely on the Battlefield: 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff by Logan Tapscott

Throughout the Civil War, many West Point graduates chose either to fight for or against the United States. In the first days of July 1863, many of these West Pointers fought against each other on the battlefield in Gettysburg, and many of them lo…

Logan_woodruff_1

            Throughout the Civil War, many West Point graduates chose either to fight for or against the United States.  In the first days of July 1863, many of these West Pointers fought against each other on the battlefield in Gettysburg, and many of them lost their lives.  One particular West Point graduate, 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff, fought bravely during the battle but lost his life on July 4th after being mortally wounded during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd.  He was a member of Battery I, 1st United States Light Artillery.  While he never saw the end of the Civil War, Woodruff contributed to the Union’s victory through his actions on those three days in Gettysburg.

              George A. Woodruff was born on May 27, 1840, in Marshall, Calhoun County, Michigan where his father was a prominent county judge.  He enrolled at the United States Military Academy in July 1857. Despite receiving 69 demerits in one year – 16 of them in the six weeks before graduation -, he graduated 16th in first class of 35 cadets in June 1861. The photograph above is George A. Woodruff in full uniform as a cadet.  This picture was in the West Point photograph album that was originally owned by his comrade William H. Harris.  Harris, a New York native, graduated 8th in the same class as Woodruff and never received any demerits. 

           George A. Woodruff was ready to fight after Fort Sumter fell.  On April 20, 1861, he sent a letter to Michigan’s adjutant general about how he was “impatient” with the government’s “delay in forwarding volunteers” to crush the rebellion.  Shortly, after he graduated, Woodruff joined Battery I, 1st United States Light Artillery on June 24, 1861, as a 2nd Lieutenant, and saw his first action at the Battle of First Manassas.  Although his battery lost all six 10-pounder Parrott rifles and sustained causalities of 27 men, Woodruff fought valiantly.   Colonel J.H. Hobart Ward, commander of the 38th New York Volunteers Infantry, reported to his division commander, Colonel W.B. Franklin:

While I deeply deplore the circumstances by which it became my duty to forward this report, yet it affords me much gratification to speak in terms of the highest commendation of the brave and officer-like conduct of the gentlemen composing his staff, viz., Lieutenants Woodruff, Parker, and Edie, in their efforts to bring order out of chaos under a most galling and deadly fire from the enemy.

            Woodruff was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on October 14th, 1861, and was never transferred to a different unit.  The 1st United States Light Artillery, Battery I, engaged in battles, such as Oaks Bluff, Seven Pines, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, before Gettysburg.  During his short tenure, Woodruff commanded this battery at Antietam in September 1862 and briefly commanded the Artillery Reserve in January 1863.  At Gettysburg, he and another lieutenant named Tully McCrea commanded Battery I; the unit was in the Artillery Brigade commanded by Captain John G. Hazard of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, in the II Army Corps.  Other artillery units in the Artillery Brigade included Battery A, 4th United States Artillery; Batteries A and B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery; and Battery B, 1st New York Artillery.

              On July 1st, the Artillery Brigade arrived at Gettysburg at 2 P.M., where it helped to support the I Corps.  At 11 P.M., the brigade moved three miles southeast of Gettysburg on the Taneytown Road facing the town.  On the next day, July 2nd, it moved with the II Corps toward Gettysburg and established a battle line left of Taneytown Road.  Battery I, with its six light 12-pounders, was positioned in Zeigler’s Grove.  Throughout the day, the Artillery Brigade was engaged against Longstreet’s assault.  On July 3rd, according to Captain John Hazard, around 8 A.M., Confederates opened fire upon their position but caused little loss except for three ‘limbers’ of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery.  Around 1 P.M., Confederate artillery bombarded the Union line for about an hour before the infantry assault.  Captain Hazard reported:

At 1 P.M., the artillery of the enemy opened along the whole line, and for an hour and a quarter we were subjected to a very warm artillery fire.  The batteries did not at first reply, till the fire of the enemy becoming too terrible, they returned it till all their ammunition, exception canister, had been expanded; they then waited for the anticipated infantry attack of the enemy.  […].  The rebel lines advanced slowly but surely; half a round of the precious ammunition remaining on hand.  The enemy steadily approached, and, when within deadly range, canister was thrown terrible effect into ranks.  At this trying moment, the two batteries were taken away; but Woodruff still remained in the grove, and poured death and destruction into the rebel lines.  They had the crest, but few shots remained.  All seemed lost, and the enemy rushed on.  But on reaching the crest they found our infantry, fresh and waiting on the opposite side.  The tide turned; backward and downward rushed the rebel line, shattered and broken, and victory was gained.  Woodruff, who had gallantly commanded the battery through the action of July 2 and 3 fell, mortally wounded, at the very moment of victory.

Woodruff_2

                Lieutenant George A. Woodruff died the next day and was first buried on the battlefield at his request.  As Captain Hazard reported, the Artillery Brigade of the II Army Corps suffered causalities of 25 men and reduced the five batteries into three.  He continued:

First Lieutenant George A. Woodruff, commanding the Light Company I, First U.S. Artillery, fell, mortally wounded, on July 3, while the rebel lines, after a most successful and daring advance, were being push back in destruction and defeat.  To the manner in which the guns of his battery were served and his unflinching courage and determination may be due the pertinacity with which this part of the line was so gallantly held under a most serve attack.  Lt. Woodruff was an able soldier, distinguished for his excellent judgment and firmness in execution, and his loss is one which cannot be easily replaced […].

 
 
            Lieutenants Cushing and Woodruff belonged to a class of young officers who, although of the lowest commissioned rank, have gained distinguished army reputation.”

              After learning about his son’s death, Judge Woodruff, traveled to Gettysburg to bring young George’s body back to his hometown.  His last rites were held in Marshall, and his final burial place was Oakridge Cemetery.  Lt. George A. Woodruff never married nor had any children.  Judge Woodruff suffered more serious setbacks before the Civil War ended, including more deaths.  Before George A.’s death, Judge Woodruff’ wife died on June 12th, 1863.  Besides George A., three other sons also fought the war; two of them were killed, including William, who died due to his injuries sustained in the Battle of Petersburg on June 28, 1864, and was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

  

Woodruff_3

A monument to 1st Lieutenant George Augustus Woodruff’s Battery I in the 1st Light Artillery is erected at Zeigler’s Grove.  While his name was not a familiar one, George Augustus Woodruff will not be forgotten due to his bravely in Gettysburg.

Further Reading:

Bowman, Colonel Alexander H.  Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy.  New York: West Point, 1861.

Historical Marker Database.  “Lieutenant George A. Woodruff.”  HMdb.org. http://hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=28395 (accessed March 14, 2012.)

Recker, Stephen.  “Monument Information.”  Virtual Gettysburg.  http://www.virtualgettysburg.com/exhibit/monuments/pages/um084.html                            (accessed March 14, 2012.)

Rosentreter, Roger L.  “Come on, You Wolverines: Michigan at Gettysburg.”  MichiganHistory Magazine (1998): 114-120.

Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert, Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 2, No. 2. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

 Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 11, No. 12.           Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.
 

Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 19, No. 27.           Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion:Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 21, No. 31.  Washington: Government Printi
ng Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion:  Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 25, No. 40.           Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 25, No. 39.           Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

 
Scott, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert N., Third U.S. Artillery.  War of the Rebellion:  Official Records of the Union Confederate Armies.  Series I. Volume 27, No. 43.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880.  Reprinted in 1985.

U.S. War Department.  Record and Pension Office.  A Letter to State of Michigan, County of Calhoun.  August 31, 1883.  Open-file report, National Archives,  Washington D.C., 1883.

U.S. War Department.  Record and Pension Office.  Surgeon’s Certificate of Examination of a Dependent Relative (February 23, 1884), by Henry L. Joy.  Open-file report, National Archives, Washington D.C., 1884.

U.S. War Department.  Record and Pension Office.  Dependent Parents (1883), (1884), and (1885).  Open-file report, National Archives, Washington D.C., 1885

 

2 thoughts on “Bravely on the Battlefield: 1st Lieutenant George A. Woodruff by Logan Tapscott”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *