None of Milo Grow’s letters from this period survived, but family history records that he fought at Gettysburg, was wounded and captured. Here is a reconstruction of what might he might have gone through.
Late in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, General Semmes’s brigade was ordered to advance, supporting Kershaw’s men. Milo was with them, in the Georgia 51st Regiment.
Leaving their cover, they advanced into an open field to face Northern infantry firing from behind rocks and trees. After taking the field with heavy losses, the attackers fought their way to a heavily wooded ravine, where they had to drive out the Yankees rock by rock. Taking the rocks, they faced an open ravine with a stream at the bottom and rocks providing good cover on the other side. By the time they crossed it, that stream must have run red with blood. Then they faced the uphill battle against infantry firing down from the cover of trees and overhanging rocks, along a loop of road that jutted out onto the slope. Here, the fighting must have been bitter and protracted. Monument after monument marks where Northern forces fought.
Finally gaining the high ground of The Loop, Semme’s brigade faced another nightmare. Beyond their cover of rocks and woods, a large open field rose to the north of them. Union troops held it. Union artillery looked down on them from the crest of the gentle slope of wheat.
In a moment commemorated in the diorama, they charged out of the woods into The Wheatfield in some of the bloodiest fighting of the battle. A human wave of men emerged yelling and firing, against rank upon rank of Union troops, many of whom had breech-loading Spencer rifles that could sustain a rapid rate of fire.
They took The Wheatfield.
But not for long. The North counterattacked. Back and forth, North and South crossed the Wheatfield, gaining and losing, surging and receding. Before the evening came, in that field alone the scythe of war had cut 6,000 men.
Northern troops pushed back to the far edge of the ravine, then lost that advantage again. By nightfall, Semmes’s troops held the high ground near the Peach Orchard.
Among the dying was General Semmes, hit in the ravine and carried out–according to one story–on a stretcher made of a captured Union flag. Accounts of that night tell of piercing cries from the wounded and dying scattered through the woods, slopes, ravine, and wheatfield. Somewhere among the wounded lay Milo Grow.
The next day, General Lee gambled the war on the single hour of Pickett’s Charge, a heartbreaking carnage of men pressing up a huge meadow in full view of the artillery at the top of little Cemetery Ridge. About a mile south of there, by the end of July 3, Semmes’s brigade held the woods along the ravine.
About 1 p.m., the men of Semmes’ brigade were ordered to withdraw to their original starting point on Seminary Ridge (now Confederate Avenue). They stood in the same field they had started from, but with what a difference. Of the 1200 in Semmes’ Brigade, they suffered 430 casulties–one out of every three men.
Signs on some of the Northern markers indicate that, during their back-and-forth fighting, they took prisoners. Near midnight the next day–July 4, 1863, Independence Day, the same day the North took Vicksburg–Lee’s troops withdrew in a pouring rain. The South did not have enough wagons to carry their wounded. 2,000 were left behind. Milo Grow was among them.
After Gettysburg, Milo was moved to Point Lookout, Maryland, the southernmost tip of land on the peninsula southeast of Washington, D.C. It was the North’s only prisoner of war camp in which the men were kept in tents. There is now a state park there. Maps show that it overlooks the broad estuary of the Potomac River and the mouth of the great Chesapeake Bay. The sea air must have been clean, bracing, and, that winter of 1864, bitterly cold.
The Ravine Today (1989)
Today, the Ravine is a beautiful, quiet woodland. Occasional outcroppings of boulders stand out of the gentle slope like resting cattle. Some of these rocks show a clean, deep cleavage where they were sliced by centuries of ice. The stream at the bottom of the ravine runs over a bed of ragged little stones–I could recognize slate. The stones do not have the large, rounded composure of the ostrich-eggs found in some rivers. They are small, jagged, restless stones. They are the uneasy dreams of an insomniac stream.
The trees, in contrast, betray no memories. They spread a green benediction of maple, dogwood, hickory, poplar, and white oak. Several large trunks crisscross the bottom of the ravine, settling deeper each decade into the organic sleep of matter. While stepping onto one of the fallen trees, I scared up two white-tailed deer.
On Memorial Day, 1989, a few violets still bloomed in The Ravine. I think Milo would be glad to know that. In every sunny spot, brisk little weedy wildflowers sprang up and sang yellow and blue songs. I picked some and placed them on the metal sign that marked where Semmes’ Brigade crossed the road. A carpet of shrubs covered the ground: creeper, poison ivy. The water whispered something just out of earshot. A jay called, a woodthrush spiralled up the overtones of his silver whistle. A woodpecker rolled his drum against the afternoon quiet, but no troops charged. The trees nodded, allowing a cool breeze through their cool and quiet shade.
In the ravine, Ariel and Stefan lined up stones to make a little dam. I watched. Milo, these are some of your many great-great grandchildren, come to sing a happy song. They–at least so far–have not been condemned to live in An Important Age.
Thinking over Milo’s letters, I felt again how lucky we are to be able to live quietly as a family, to have a life together. It is what he longed for most in the letters he wrote home from the war. Writing this, I see my two boys happily sleeping in a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned hotel a few miles from the site of the Gettysburg slaughter. My wife is reading. The wide sky is clear all the way to the mountains, rising over rolling hills and peaceful pastures.
It is late afternoon, nearly 6:30, about the time Milo’s troops left their position on Seminary Ridge and fought their way through the woods to the other side of the stream.
Finding Where Milo Grow fought at the Battle of Gettysburg
At the National Park headquarters at Gettysburg, we asked a ranger where we would find information on the Georgia 51st. She looked it up in a little book and told us to look on the Semmes markers, and where they were located. We found two markers, containing essentially the same information. One marked where the troops assembled, and one marked where they crossed the road during the fighting on the second day, on the way to the ravine, loop, and wheatfield.
The main marker reads:
Army of Northern Virginia.
10th, 50th, 51st, 53rd Georgia Infantry.
July 2. Arrived about 3:30 p.m. and formed line 50 yards west of this. Advanced about 5 p.m. in support of Kershaw and Anderson and took a prominent part in the severe and protracted conflict on Rose Hill and in the Ravine and Forest east of there and in the vicinity of the Loop. Participated also in the general advance late in the evening by which the Union forces were forced out of the wheatfield and across Plum Run Valley. Brig.-Gen Paul J. Semmes fell mortally wounded in the ravine near the Loop.
July 3. During the forenoon, Anderson’s Brigade being withdrawn for duty elsewhere, the brigade was left in occupancy of the woodland south of the Wheatfield. At 1 p.m. under orders it resumed its original position near here.
July 4. About midnight began the march to Hagerstown, Md.
Present about 1200. Losses 430.
This marker is about 100 yards south of the observation tower on West Confederate Avenue, adjacent to the tall marble obelisque to Georgia Confederate Soldiers.
It is easy to drive to the place where the Georgia 51st fought. Take the road passing south of Little Round Top and turn west before reaching Big Round Top. Go left on Crawford Avenue, past Devil’s Den. At the next crossroad, take a left, off the main route of the auto tour.
At this road’s westernmost stretch, a series of large momuments appear on the right commemorating Northern troops: an obelisque to the 64th N.Y. Infantry, an impressive bronze soldier atop the memorial to the 53rd Pennsylvania Infatry. On the left facing the bronze soldier is a metal plaque, about three by three feet, close to the ground and dwarfed by the granite memorials across the road. It marks the path of Semmes’s brigade, including the Georgia 51st and, presumably, Milo Grow.
From this marker, you can walk through the woods downhill to the little stream at the bottom of the ravine. Or you can drive around the next bend and look closely on the left side of the road for the sign “DeTrobriand Avenue.” Directly opposite this sign, a wide footpath starts downhill to the ravine and a small wooden footbridge. Uphill, a faint path leads about 50 yards to The Loop and Wheatfield.
This is where Milo’s regiment, the 51st Georgia, fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Milo Grow’s Letters from the Civil War
Gerald Grow’s Home Page