Grampy, Frank, the goose, and the Battle of Gettysburg
On the morning of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, the 16th Regiment of Maine volunteers was attached to the 20th Maine under Colonel Chamberlain, and would meet the rebels at Little Round Top. MySkip to next paragraph
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Grampy Tom was in Company I of the 16th, and his tent mate was Frank Farrar, boyhood chum and neighbor back home.
They were both 16 years old, and Company I were all that age and from the same rural community. In that war, military logistics were imperfect, and for days supply wagons failed to appear. The farm boys of Company I were good at scavenging for food, and one general said they were the best scavengers in the Union Army. My Grampy Tom and Frank Farrar became the scavenger cooks for their company.
So on the morning set apart for Gettysburg, Frank rolled out of bivouac before daylight to search the countryside around about, and when the action began he was not on hand to meet the rebel advance. My Grampy Tom was, and his descriptions of the day were not pretty. Frank found nothing to steal and wandered farther, and so knew nothing about the battle, and was gone all day.
As evensong approached and the first crepuscular shadows fell upon the field of battle, the fury and the firearms stilled, and silence fell over the land. The 27 survivors of the 16th Maine drew up and answered the clerk's call of the roll, and Frank Farrar did not respond. Since Frank was not found among the slain, the clerk wrote "deserted." We now skip 50 years.
After 50 years the War Department arranged a great reunion at Gettysburg, and all Union veterans of that battle would be brought back at public expense. When he read the news in The National Tribune, my Grampy Tom got out the buggy and drove over to learn if Frank Farrar had heard. He had, and he and Grampy laid plans to go. So did the others still in the neighborhood, all of whom I knew, for I was a member of the 16th Maine Regimental Association as long as it lasted.
So one day railroad tickets and instructions came, and Frank Farrar didn't get any. Congressman McGillicuddy looked into the matter and found that Frank had deserted and wasn't at Gettysburg. All the boys of Company I disputed this, for they remembered distinctly that Frank had supplied the gander for the most welcome goose stew they had enjoyed that evening after the fight. Most delicious meal of the whole war! Support for Frank Farrar was immediate and complete.
The old soldiers of the 16th were alerted, and with indignity up front they came to the state house and walked in on the adjutant general who had held that job for years and until then had nothing to do. To a man the veterans swore that Frank was not a deserter, that he had been at Gettysburg, and the stew was delicious.
The affidavit to the War Department prevailed, and Frank went back to Gettysburg with his comrades.
He had found the gander after a whole day of nothing. He, the gander, was from a farm, but the family was no longer there. It took Frank some time to catch the thing and then he had to pluck and dress it. Then he had to walk back.
By that time the day was done, the gander became a stew, and the battle resumed on the morrow. Of course Frank had not deserted. When Congressman McGillicuddy brought the affidavit to the War Department they found there was an error of 50 years' standing, and that after the war they'd honorably discharged a fake deserter.
In their later lives Grampy Tom farmed and Frank Farrar kept a meat market. The two remained close and my father was named for Frank; in turn my brother is named Frank Junior. It was the custom in town, if anybody stepped in to buy meat, to greet Frank Farrar with, "Well, Frank, how high hangs the goose today?"