Charles Peery Gross was raised in a military family in Arkansas, listening to stories of his great-grandfather's role in the Revolutionary War while his grandfather shared tales of fighting the British during the War of 1812. The younger Gross would support the Confederate cause in the Civil War and, more than three decades later, command a regiment during a war that helped reunite a divided nation.
Born on Nov. 21, 1847, in the community of Van Buren, Arkansas, Gross grew up attending area schools. His education was cut short with the eruption of the Civil War in 1861, and despite his youth and impressionability, he made the decision to join both his father and brother in enlisting.
"He was but fourteen and a half years of age when he joined the Confederate army, serving three and a half years in defense of the southern cause," notes the second volume of "Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People, 1800-1908."
Participating in several notable battles and campaigns of the war, the aforementioned book explained, "At the close of the war he surrendered at Little Rock and took the oath of allegiance to support the constitution of the United States, being at the time eighteen years of age."
Nine years after the end of the war, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was employed by hardware businesses and traveled throughout several western states conducting sales for those companies. He later continued the pursuit of business interests, becoming a manufacturing agent for a number of companies.
In 1889, he married the former Martha Vincil, and although the couple never had children of their own, they raised one of Gross' nephews. In addition to his employment activities and responsibilities as a husband, Gross soon made the decision to return to a part-time military career.
Gross was appointed quartermaster of the Third Regiment of the Missouri National Guard in 1892 and later served with an artillery battery in Kansas City before returning to the regiment as their first lieutenant. Eventually, he became the regiment's lieutenant colonel.
The Oct. 25, 1895, edition of the Kansas City Times explained, "George P. Gross was last night elected colonel of the Third Regiment. Colonel Gross was named after a spirited contest."
At the time, Col. Gross held the distinction of being the only ex-Confederate officer in the regiment. There was still much discord in the country over the Civil War, but in 1898, nearly 33 years after the war's end, the nation united against what they perceived a common threat.
On Feb. 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine, a U.S. battleship, exploded while moored in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The ship had been sent as a symbol of protection for Americans living in the country. At the time, there was much civil unrest and revolutionary activities on the island nation since the Cubans sought to achieve independence from Spanish control.
The Naval History and Heritage Command explained 266 sailors died from the explosion and a board of inquiry concluded a mine had been placed under the ship, resulting in outrage by the American public with blame assigned to the Spanish government. Later speculation and research determined the likely cause to be the spontaneous combustion of coal in a bunker next to a magazine.
"War was declared by Congress by resolution of April 21, 1898, and on April 22, the President called for 126,000 volunteers," notes the 1939 historical annual of the Missouri National Guard. "Missouri's allotment was placed at 5,000. The National Guard of the state was accepted as 'volunteers.'"
Commanding the 3rd Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Col. Gross and the soldiers of the regiment left their civilian jobs and mustered into federal service at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis on May 14, 1898. At the time, the regiment was comprised of 47 officers and 1,237 enlisted soldiers.
After 10 days at Jefferson Barracks, Gross' regiment was sent to Camp Algers, Virginia. It was here they spent more than two months in training and combated diseases such typhoid, which claimed the lives of 13 of the regiment's soldiers. In early August, they transferred to Camp Meade, Pennsylvania, and were soon advised the war had ended with the armistice between U.S. and Spain on Aug. 12, 1898.
Following the mustering out of the regiment in the fall of 1898, Gross later made the decision to sever his connection from military service and pursue private interests.
"Colonel George P. Gross has at last received his discharge papers," reported the Kansas City Star in the July 30, 1899, edition. "Colonel Gross expressed himself as being grateful to the officers and men who rallied around him during his service."
In the years that followed, he pursued mining and timber interests while also remaining involved in the Sons of the American Revolution and serving as commander of his local chapter of the United Spanish War Veterans. He later served as superintendent of the former Confederate Soldiers Home of Missouri in Higginsville from 1917-21.
When Gross passed in early 1926, he was interred in Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence. His wife died 11 years later while living at the Confederate home and was laid to rest near her husband.
The Civil War had ripped the nation in two, separating a people who sought some form of reconciliation in the years that followed. As Richard E. Wood explained in the May 1969 edition of the journal The Historian, soldiers like Gross discovered a means to reconnect with their northern neighbors through an unanticipated conflict.
Writing on the relationship between the North and the South, Wood explained, "The two sections had in fact been united years before, but some bitter memories still remained. The war against Spain served to wipe away lingering doubts of loyalty and reconstruction, and 'the Civil War faded at last in the great crusade to free Cuba and it was as a united nation that we faced the enemy.'"
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.