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Captain John Henry Groce
From The Pickaway Quarterly, a publication of the Pickaway Genealogical Society:
CAPTAIN J0HN H. GR0CE
By Charles G. Will
For decades visitors to Forest Cemetery have passed a tall column, a pillar from the "second" Pickaway County court house, supporting a statue of a Union soldier. Legend has it that this is a likeness of Captain John H. Groce placed to honor all Pickaway County men fought in the Civil War. When thirty-four of these men met to organize a post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the name selected was Groce Post.
It is fitting that Captain Groce was chosen to be the symbol of the Pickaway County union veterans, for it has been written that., "...his gallant services during the rebellion will ever stand out in bold relief in the pages of history." He was recognized by his fellow officers as well as by his men as "... an officer of rare and valuable qualities."
John H. Groce was born in Circleville on April 13, 1840, the son of Bentley and Matilda Yergey Groce. Part of his education was under the guidance of Hon. James A. Garfield. He became a teacher and had planned to study law until the war interrupted his career. An outline of Captain Groce's military career is given in his obituary:
DEATH OF CAPTAIN JOHN H. GROCE,
It is our painful duty to announce, in this week’s Union that this brave and patriotic officer was killed at the storming of Fort McAllister.
Captain Groce first entered the three months' service, in Captain J. Q. BLACK'S Company, as an Orderly Sergeant, and was with his company at the battle of Bull Run. In July, of 1861, he joined Captain TAYLOR’S Company as First Lieutenant, and marched to West Virginia, when he was soon appointed Adjutant of the Thirtieth Regiment, then Commanded by General HUGH EWING. In this field of service he often distinguished himself as a daring, capable and enterprising officer. On the promotion of Captain TAYLOR to the rank of Major, he resigned his position as Adjutant, and assumed the command of Company H as Captain. Shortly after, he was sent home to recruit, in which he was successful. He then joined his regiment, which he reached a few days after Antietam. Returning to West Virginia, where he was engaged in frequent skirmishes with the enemy, he was ordered to Vicksburg with his regiment, in the Spring of1863.
In May, 1862, Capt. Groce and his regiment were serving in Virginia and West Virginia. A letter from the camp on Flat Top Mountain, Mercer County, Virginia, dated May 24, 1662, discusses the campaign and says of Captain Groce:
..... Next morning early, Company H, Twenty third Ohio, one section of howitzer battery and the Rovers were sent out with orders to advance carefully, and, if possible, to ascertain the position of the enemy. We had gone, perhaps two miles, when we discovered their advanced pickets. A couple of' shells from one of the howitzers sufficed to scatter them and we pushed on until we came to the “Narrows.” Here we soon got a gun in position and sent them a 12?pound shell to inform them that we were still around. Our shell had just burst when an answering report from them warned us to lie close to earth. The Captain (Groce) sent a courier to headquarters to report that the enemy were in force with cannon posted, and, on his return, we were ordered to report at camp, having accomplished all that was intended.
At the time we were lying down to escape the shells of the enemy. Captain Groce stood leaning against a tree as unconcerned as if on drill. Presently, one of their shell came bounding along the road with the fuse burning and the shrill whistle which these missiles always have, when the Captain peeped over with the remark “Look Yonder! Look yonder! Don't stop it, boys; its (sic) warm yet.” It is needless to add that no man disobeyed his orders. It was with such remarks as these that Captain Groce ... whiled away the time as we laid (sic) under fire. They have been "weighed in the balance and found not wanting."
The obituary continues with an account of Captain Groce's action in the siege of Vicksburg as follows:
..... Here he commanded a fleet of boats, under the eye of General SHERMAN and he was eminently useful in protecting the crews which were compelled to run the gauntlet of the rebel shore batteres. In this capacity, he first attracted the attention of General SHERMAN, and ever after retained his confidence. After taking an active part in other expeditions, he was finally selected to lead the t1forlorn hope," on 2nd of May, 1863, in the storming of one of the rebel forts at Vicksburg. He commanded one hundred and fifty picked men, whose duty it was to storm the fort, and lay a bridge over a ravine in the interior of the works. His command was assaulted by a most terrible fire, but neither he nor they quailed in the performance of the fearful task. He reached the fort, but lost all of his men, in killed and wounded, except twenty-three. He was himself painfully and severely wounded in his left forearm, and lay in the trenches until night, when faint with loss of blood, he escaped to our lines amid a perfect shower of bullets. He was greatly complimented for his bravery by General BLAIR and other general officers (Accounts of General BLAIR and other officers are contained in The War of the Rebellion).
Tom J. Evans wrote a letter from Vicksburg to the Union, which bears the date May 29, 1663. In it he describes the "forlorn hope" as follows:
.....John H. Groce volunteered to lead them on with Lieut. O'Neal, also of our company, to assist him. The party consisted of one hundred and fifty men. At ten o'clock they started in, and it was a wild sight to see that band of devoted men, with their leader a few yards in advance, head uncovered, hair flying loosely, waving his sword and cheering his men on, seemingly into the very jaws of death. It is thought only about one hundred of this party reached the enemy's works, for they were forced to return on account of the troops not supporting them in time. Capt. Groce was wounded through the arm so close to them that he fell into their works. Another ball cut the whiskers from the side of his face, no further injury....
Captain Groce wrote to his parents shortly after the battle.
Memphis, Tennessee May 28th, 1863.
Dear Father and Mother,
I was wounded, in the battle at Vicksburg, on the 22d, when the entire army moved on the enemy's works. I am shot through the left arm, half way between the elbow and wrist. It broke the bone, and made a terrible hole, but, I think my arm will not be amputated. It is very painful, keeping me awake all the time.
I was hit, in several other places, but they were but mere scratches. I lead (sic) the "forlorn hope," or storming party of Sherman's Corps, consisting of one hundred and fifty men from Blair's Division. My instructions were from General Grant himself. I was to take the advance of Blair and Tuttle's Divisions, carrying along planks and timber to build a bridge for our corps to cross. After I had taken the breastworks, I was then to lead my men into the heart of the city.
I did my work, as far as was in the power of man to do. I., with my brave boys, stormed the works and threw the plank plump (sic) in the enemy's faces; but it was fearful work. Brave men fell in heaps around me. Finding that I was not supported by the army,, (for two divisions of ten thousand men could not stand the fire,) I ordered the survivors of my little band of one hundred and fifty to lay (sic) under the works and protect themselves as well as possible, for we could not fall back. There we laid (sic), nearly face to face with the enemy, with but a bank between us. The men in the rear killed some of my men by firing at the enemy. About twenty-five of my boys escaped uninjured, and of five Lieutenants I had with me, three were killed and two wounded. How I escaped so well is a wonder to all. I was first in their works and in full uniform.
The two Dutch boys and Corporal Baldwin were wounded in Company H and C. Tyler, who was with me, must have been killed as he has not been heard from. Earnest is safe.
After Vicksburg, Captain Groce returned to Pickaway County to recuperate at the home of his parents. At this time a subscription was taken among the citizens of Circleville to purchase a sword, scabbard, belt, and buckle to be given to their hero as a token of civic appreciation. A letter bearing the names of the fifty-five donors accompanied the gift. It reads as follows:
Circleville, Ohio Aug. 15, 1863.
We have the honor to hand you, with this letter, a sword which is the gift of a few of your personal friends, whose names are hereto appended.
We beg of you to accept of it as a token of our high appreciation of your bravery and gallantry, in the service of your country, in the field, and especially in the memorable siege of Vicksburg, in which you performed so glorious a part. We are proud to rank you among the noblest and bravest of the sons of Ohio., who, in the war, have shed their blood to uphold the Constitution, preserve the integrity of the nation, and protect our homes.
You deserve the everlasting gratitude of ourselves and our posterity, and we earnestly hope, that this sword may be handed down to your posterity as a memorial that your patriotic services were not unappreciated by your fellow countrymen.
We are Sir
With highest Respect
Your Obt Serts,
Joseph G. Doddridge
Committee for the Donors
In his reply, dated a week later, Capt. Groce assured the committee for:
,....gratifying to my inmost pride as a soldier to know, that my cause since entering the army has met with your approval..... It (the gift) has amply repaid me for all I may have suffered and endured, while engaged with thousands of others in the formidable task of quelling this mighty rebellion. It shall be my trusty companion and trusty friend in camp and in the field, on the long and weary march, and in the din and shock of battle, and at last when the deluded rebels of the South lay down their arms and submit to the invincible valor of the North, when honorable peace once more gladdens the heart of every loyal American Citizen, I hope to return to you with the bright blade of my sword, your cherished gift, unsullied by the stain of dishonor.
Family legend tells of an incident which occurred when Capt. Groce was home on leave with his arm in a cast. At the post office one day, he encountered a small group of rebel sympathizers who wore buckeyes on their jackets as symbols of their opposition to the war. Known as Copperheads, this group was brazen in their sympathy for the Confederacy,
"Without hesitation and with patriotic indignation," the story runs, "... he advanced on the group and tore the buckeyes from their clothing and cast then on the floor, despite the fact one arm was useless."
During this same furlough, Captain Groce received much adulation. This was too tempting for some young Circleville boys. Thinking to frighten the local hero as he passed the cemetery one night, they lay in wait wrapped in sheets. As he approached, they began to groan and make weird noises, but Capt. Groce quickly dispatched them with a hail of rocks.
When his wound was partially healed, sometime in the winter, he joined IV-he (sic) army in Larkinsville, Alabama. The obituary continues an account of his military career:
…..His active spirit led him into numerous encounters with the enemy, in One of which he seriously injured his 'wounded arm. With his Regiment he came home on furlough, but returned to the field again just after the battle of Resaca. From this time he was attached to McPHERSON'S Corps, and participated in all the principal battles up to the fall of Atlanta and the battle of Jonesboro. He had previously received the appointment of Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade and Second Division, under General LIGHTBURN. This position he retained up to the time of his death. (Of this appointment the Union had previously written, "The merits of the gallant leader... ought to have been recognized long since....A man with such 'grit' cannot be too highly honored. –C.G.W.)
He participated in the memorable March of SHERMAN'S Army, and was, with others, especially detailed to storm Fort McAllister. The attack of Fort McAllister, which resulted in the death of John Groce, occurred during the Savannah Campaign on December 13th. 1864. The 30th Ohio was involved in the engagement. They began their march at 6:30 a.m. and travelled thirteen miles before reaching Deep Marsh, where they drew heavy fire from the fort. Col. Martin writes of the fight:
... Threw out skirmishers and advanced to within 600 yards of the fort, where the main line was halted and skirmishers pushed forward to within range of the fort; remained in this position under fire of the enemy's artillery until 3:30 p.m., when Colonel Jones, commanding brigade, being in advance of the lines was severely wounded and Capt. John H. Groce, acting assistant -inspector general, instantly killed, the same fatal ball killing Captain Groce and wounding Colonel Jones, thereby depriving us of the services of two brave and good Officers and casting a gloom over the command. I was ordered to take command and notified to make all necessary preparations for an assault, and at the sound of the bugle to charge the works and take the fort, 'Forward' was sounded at 4:30., and within minutes the fort was ours.
The body of Captain Groce was buried near the site of his death. Later when Savannah had fallen, it was disinterred and returned to Circleville for burial in Forest Cemetery.
(Editors note: Several articles about Capt. Groce appear in local county histories. There are also references to him in such Civil liar accounts as The War of the Rebellion. These are available for research at the Pickaway County Library The Historical Society is deeply indebted to Mr. J. Stanley Stevenson, Cdr. U. S. N. R. (Ret.) of Overland Park, Kansas, a nephew of Captain Groce, for allowing access to letters and a scrapbook in his possession from 'Which most of the material for this article was taken. Mr. Stevenson also prizes the sword which was presented to his uncle on the occasion mentioned above.
The personal anecdotes concerning John Groce which were related have come from his sister and brother, the late Harriet Groce Stevenson and George F. Groce. and from other relatives.
Captain John H. Groce is the brother of Private Samuel N. Groce, who also served during the Civil War. Photograph and information submitted by Captain John Groce's Great-Great-Grandniece Gwen Groce
Captain John H. Groce
Memorial Hall in Circleville, Ohio.