The stories of Gettysburg’s soldiers and civilians are individually unique and compelling. Their lives after the battle can yield surprising conundrums. The brothers Frederick and Adolph Cavada present an unexpected connection between the Battle of Gettysburg and a war for Cuban independence.
Frederick (Federico) Fernandez Cavada and Adolph (Adolfo) Fernandez Cavada, born in 1831 and 1832 respectively, were raised in Cuba by their Spanish father and American mother. After their father died in 1838, the Cavadas relocated to Philadelphia. At the beginning of the Civil War Frederick and Adolph enlisted in two local Pennsylvania infantry regiments. Each Cavada brother rose through the ranks by July, 1863, with Frederick serving as the lieutenant colonel of the 114th Pennsylvania regiment (“Collis’ Zouaves”) and Adolph serving as a captain on Brigadier General Andrew Humphreys’ staff.
Adolph Cavada’s diary entries provide descriptive and riveting accounts of the battle. As the Union 3rd Corps advanced on July 2nd to the Peach Orchard and Emmitsburg Road line Adolph recalled, “I saw Graham’s Brigade move forward, the 114th P. V., commanded by Fred, and conspicuous in their Zouave uniform, took the lead and reached the road under a heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries and sharpshooters.”
The battle along the Emmitsburg Road, initiated by fire between opposing artillery and skirmishers, reached its apex in the struggle by the infantry. Both Cavada brothers were enveloped in the smoke and confusion of the battle. Adolph vividly described his observations, along with his concern for his brother:
While standing by Seely’s battery I looked towards the left to ascertain the condition of things and try to make out the Zouaves, in whom I felt a particular interest at that moment. The enemy’s fire slackened for a moment, then came a rebel ‘cheer’ sounding like a continuous yelp, nearer and nearer it came, the ‘red legs’ (Zouaves) jumped to their feet, volley upon volley rained into them and another regiment formed
along side of it. The fire was bravely returned but the enemy’s columns were upon them before they could fall back. All was confusion on that side. Our batteries kept up a rapid fire. Our left (Birney) seemed to be pressed back, and beyond our Corps, where the 5th Corps was engaged, a terrible pounding and crashing was going on. The breeze blowing from the southward carried the heavy sulphurous smoke in clouds along the ground, at times concealing everything from my view. Our skirmishers now began a lively popping, the first drops of a thunder shower that was to break upon us. An aide from Genl. Birney rode up to Genl. H— with the report that heavy masses of the enemy were gathering in our front & to prepare for an attack. As everything was ready we sat quietly on our horses, dodging the shot and shell that skimmed along. Our skirmishers were hotly engaged now and moving back, slowly. Our own batteries silently awaiting the assault. A copious shower of shell and canister from the enemy was followed up by a diabolical cheer and yells, and “here they come” rang along our line.
As Humphreys’ division retreated in varying degrees of disorder from the Emmitsburg Road line to Cemetery Ridge, Adolph Cavada attempted unsuccessfully to inspire the retreating Union soldiers. Cavada’s horse was killed, and he found himself located between the opposing forces. Eventually Cavada reached the relative safety of the Cemetery Ridge:
At this moment my horse was shot in the leg and pranced around frantically. Our batteries opened, our troops rose to their feet, the crash of artillery and the tearing rattle of our musketry was staggering, and added to the noise in our side, the advancing roar & cheer of the enemy’s masses, coming on like devils incarnate. But our fire had not checked them and our thin line showed signs of breaking. The battery enfilading us redoubled its fire, portions of Birney’s command were moving to the rear broken and disordered. Our left regiments took the contagion and fled, leaving a wide gap through which the enemy poured in upon us. In vain did staff officers draw their swords to check the flying soldiers, and endeavor to inspire them with confidence, for a moment the rout was complete. Finding myself precisely at the point where the enemy pierced us, I
endeavored to make towards our right Brigade which by Genl. H—‘s orders had changed front in order to meet the enemy’s charge, but my horse could scarcely stand and moved so slowly that I was enveloped by our retreating soldiers, and born down the hill. On reaching the hollow I tried together with several other officers, to stop our men, and
partially succeeded, three rebel battle flags ( ) at the head of this column were now within a few yards of me. Squads of our men dropping behind rocks and fallen trees kept up a spirited fire and just as I saw the head of the column of rebels hesitate and waver, my poor Brickbat received his death and fell, holding me down to the ground by the weight of his body on my leg. After struggling a few seconds I disengaged myself from my horse and taking my handy flask & pistol from off the saddle started as fast as my weary legs would carry me. Our broken troops still continued to fall back firing, which placed me between their fire & the Rebels, who fired as they advanced. As I made my way up the steep hill I saw a line of ours forming on the crest and already commencing to fire. To avoid them I took more to the right and finally reached the top where out of breath I rested myself on a stone. Carr’s Brigade of our Division had not been materially broken by the enemy’s desperate charge and continued to pour its fire on the victorious Rebels. While the troops drawn up on the hill behind followed their example. The Rebls finding themselves in a tight place fell back in confusion to the Emmetsburg Road leaving in our hands many prisoners and one of the very battle flags so defiantly brought ( ).
As night descended upon the fields Adolph Cavada searched for his fellow staff officers. Cavada and several others returned to the no-man’s-land between the opposing lines to search for a wounded comrade. Their nocturnal foray led them a grisly and horrible scene:
Darkness had by this time come on, and my anxiety increased to find our Staff and learn their fate. Missing my way I wandered about for more than an hour over the battle field and amid the dead and dying, until chance brought me to where the General & Staff were grouped upon the ground. A hearty shake of the hand all around. There is a feeling indescribable, on the meeting of friends after a battle. I heard with regret that our gallant comrade Capt. Chester was among the fallen and left upon the field. Harry H—showed me his bandaged arm through which a bullet had passed. The others were safe and had only lost their horses in the fray. Our line now occupied the ridge of Cemetery Hill while our pickets were in the hollow through which we had advanced the day before. So that we held one half the field still.
The night was intensely dark; the air laden with mist and pervaded by that strange musty smell peculiar to battlefields immediately after a battle. Each one was endeavoring to catch a little sleep and rest, confident that the battle would be renewed on the morrow. I need not say what gloomy thoughts filled my mind as I lay upon the ground. My brother’s fate I knew not yet and I had every reason to believe that he had fallen in that fearful charge, and perhaps now lay dead or wounded within the rebel lines, or a prisoner in their hands. Poor Chester we knew to be mortally wounded, and many other friends were yet unheard of. A proposition to go out in search of Chester’s body was agreed to by some of us and we started on our sad errand. We walked silently over the field down into the hollow. On every side lay the cold stiffened bodies of our dead soldiers, sometimes two or three forming ghastly groups together, in most unnatural attitudes. Sometimes lying naturally and as if a sleep. Occasionally a wounded man able to move, would draw our attention by plaintive moans or a request for water. These we comforted with the assurance that the ambulances would find them in a few minutes. We found but few Rebel dead or wounded on this side of the hollow, but on crossing it they became very numerous, even more so than our own. We searched every corpse near the spot where Chester fell, attracted by the sight of a white horse close by and quite dead, and knowing that Chester had ridden such a one in the fight, we went up. Sure enough, there was Chester’s horse, the lower part of his head shot away. Still holding the bridle lay the prostrate corpse of Seargt. – the Seargt. in charge of our orderlies, but only the headless trunk remained, and lying at right angles to the dead Seargt. was the grim form of a dead rebel whose brain oozed from a wound in the forehead – but, where was Chester? Our suspense was terminated by the intelligence, soon after obtained, that another party of officers had devoted the night to the same humane object as ourselves and had found Chester lying on his back and suffering greatly but still alive and conscious, in the midst of that horrible tableau we had just witnessed. They had carried him to the Hospital, but no hopes were entertained of his recovery. After looking to the comforts of some of our poor fellows who lay helpless in the field and promising others speedy succor, we returned to the bivouac to seek the repose we stood so much in need of. The moon was just rising as we stretched ourselves upon the ground.
For Adolph Cavada July 4, 1863 — Independence Day — brought jubilation over a battle won and uncertainty about his brother’s fate: “The Fourth of July! A day made doubly dear by the Victory of Liberty over Slavery on the fields of Gettysburg. . . . I rode out to the front and over a portion of the field in hopes of getting some tidings, some clue to Fred’s condition. Capt. Bowen of the 114th Regt. commanding the regiment since Fred’s disappearance, informed me that he had seen him trying to get off the field when the regiment was surrounded. That Fred had fallen or been knocked down, and that he was much exhausted and unable to proceed farther. Some of the men of the regiment had seen him fall others knew that he was captured having seen the rebs. envelope him while trying to form some of his men, but the general deduction was that he was wounded and a prisoner.”
Frederick Cavada had been taken prisoner, and he was exchanged after several months’ imprisonment. After resigning his commission Frederick published a volume of sketches entitled Libby Life: Experiences of a Prisoner of War in Richmond, Va., 1863-64.
After the Civil War the Cavada brothers served in consular positions, representing the United States government in the Spanish colony of Cuba. A war for Cuban independence (later named the Ten Years’ War) began in 1868, and both Cavada brothers resigned their positions to join the Cuban cause. Frederick, commander of all of the Cuban forces, was captured in 1871 by the Spanish military and executed by firing squad. Adolph was killed in battle several months later.
Frederick and Adolph Cavada survived several Civil War battles. Frederick’s skill as a sketch artist and Adolph’s ability to describe his observations of the Gettysburg battle provide an indelible record of their experiences. The motivations of the Cavada brothers in the Civil War can be surmised: patriotism, a desire to preserve the Union, and a hope of abolishing slavery.
But why did they leave their relative comfort and safety for the risks inherent in an insurrection against Spain’s colonial power? The actions of the Cavada brothers yield more than the tangible legacies of their written and artistic records. Their lives – and the motivations behind their actions – leave us with questions which are not easily answered.
Park Ranger, Women’s Rights National Historic Park