For the families and loved ones of many of those who served at Gettysburg, the days and weeks after the battle were filled with suspense and fear. At the printing office of the Rockland County Messenger on Main Street in Haverstraw, New York, editor Robert Smith worried over the import of the news that came in during the first week of July. On July 3rd - Smith knew that the 1st Corps had engaged the enemy at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania two days prior. He waited anxiously for news of his son, William, a corporal in Company F of the 95th New York. Indeed, many young men from Haverstraw served in Company F.
On Monday, July 6th, the wait for news was over. Three days later, Robert Smith's Messenger published it for all to read:
HEAVY TIDINGSFor Robert Smith, the news of his 20-year-old son's death struck like thunder. Over the coming weeks and months, Robert would mourn the death of his son publicly in the pages of the Messenger. Receiving letters of consolation from officers of the 95th, Smith published them in full. On the 16th of July he published two letters. The first was from the Major Edward Pye:
While the air is still filled with shouts of rejoicing, because of the victory of the Union arms over those of the rebellious, sadness fills thousands of hearts, and gloom and suspense overshadow thousands of dwellings because of the wounded and slain. The battles which have driven the enemy from the States which they had invaded, and secured a glorious triumph for our nation's cause have been attended by the loss of precious life. It is a victory purchased with the price of blood.
Our own village and community are not exempt. Some of our dear youth are among the slain. The grief which burst forth from hearts among us in past weeks is renewed in the case of others. The circle of mourners, mourners for the fallen in battle is widened.
On Monday of this week, Lieut. S.W. Babcock, of the 95th Regiment, arrived here by the "Armenia," bringing the intelligence of the death of Corp. William Edgar Ackerman, and also the death of our own son Corp. William G. Smith, while he announced also that others who went forth from Haverstraw were numbered among the wounded, if not slain.
On the same day Major Pye sat down to write Robert, the commander of Company F, James Creney, also composed a letter:
Head Quarters, 95th Reg't, N.Y.V.
Boonsboro, Md. July 9, 1863.
Robert Smith, Esq.
DEAR SIR--You have already been informed of the death at Gettysburg, of your son William. As the officer commanding this Regiment during nearly the whole of that engagement, I beg leave to bear testimony to his gallant conduct. He died as every true soldier should die--at the post of duty. In your affliction, this cannot but be a consolation to you; for next to our duty to our God, comes our duty to our country. I regret exceedingly that in the noble list of patriots through whose sufferings and death our country's deliverance from this wicked rebellion is to be wrought--must be added the name of your dear son, and my warm friend. My prayer is, that that God in whom you profess to put your trust, may sustain and comfort you and yours in this deep affliction; and that this bereavement may be overruled to the great spiritual good of the surviving relatives of the deceased. At the time of your son's death, we were making a charge, which resulted in the capture of a whole Rebel Brigade, composed of more men than we had in the attacking party. I regret very much that William could not be spared to rejoice with us in the accomplishments of our effort, and join in the hearty cheers with which we celebrated the event.
My dear friend, rest assured that you and your family will be remembered by me in my devotions upon the tented field, and that our great success is embittered by the loss of our brave companions in arms.
I am, with great respect,
Your obedient servant,
EDWARD PYE, Major,
Commanding 95th, N.Y.V.
P.S. I would have written you before, but our active movements has occupied all my time. E.P.
Camp 95th Reg't, N.Y.V.Through the coming months, Robert Smith would continue to mourn his son. And despite Captain Creney's letter suggesting the impossibility of such a task, Smith would determine to do all he could to locate his son's body. That determination would lead Smith on his own journey to Gettysburg in November of 1863.
SOUTH MOUNTAIN, Md.
July 9, 1863
Robert Smith, Esq.
DEAR SIR--It is with emotions of heart felt sorrow that I communicate the intelligence of the death of your son William G. Smith, of my Company and Regiment. He fell on the first inst., at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa. He was shot through the head while charging on the Rebel line, posted in what is known as the "Rail Road Cut." The bullet entered at the left temple and came out behind the right ear, killing him instantly. Shortly after his fall, we were compelled to fall back and relinquish the battle ground to the enemy, and although all the members remaining of my own Company and members from other Companies in the Regiment, volunteered to attempt to bring his body in, permission would not be granted, although the General was repeatedly solicited to grant us leave to make the attempt by Major Pye, myself, and in fact every officer in the Regiment. The knapsacks of the men were taken off before entering the fight, and were captured by the enemy when we were forced to retire; his comrades had not time to take anything from his person. His remains were buried by the detachment of Gen. Patrick, and there being nothing about his person by which his name and number of his Regiment could be ascertained, it will be unfortunately impossible to distinguish the exact place of his interment.
The officers and men of the Regiment beg to assure you of their deep and sincere sympathy in your bereavement, and did time and circumstances permit, would more fully give expression to their sentiments of the regard in which we held our true hearted comrade.
I have the honor to be Sir,
Your obedient servant,
95th Reg't, N.Y.V.
To be continued...