Joseph Louis Gross was born on February 23, 1913, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was a married man and worked as a driver/laborer. Very little is known about Gross before his involvement in the Spanish Civil War except for the fact that he was a member of the Communist Party, much like many of the volunteers who also went over to Spain. What is known is that he lived in New York under the address of 25 Mckibben Street, which is located east of South Williamsburg and southeast of Williamsburg. He was also noted to live at 101 Polanski Street, which is not an address currently listed in New York but draws similarities to 101 Pulaski Street, which is in an area right above the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy and right below the neighborhood of Williamsburg. There is little information about why he moved from New Bedford, Massachusetts to New York City but it can be assumed that the opportunities presented in New York played a strong role in his decision.
For aspiring volunteers for the Spanish Civil War, the United States government made it very difficult for prospective volunteers to make their way to Spain. Many countries had signed a non-intervention pact, vouching to stay out of the war in Spain, making it exceptionally hard to receive any clearance to go there. To circumvent this "blockade" of access to Spain, many aspiring volunteers took alternative paths, such as taking ships to other countries and making the trek to Spain from there. It was common for the United States to refuse to issue passports for these trips, so many volunteers were quoted as going for other reasons, such as research or business purposes. In the case of Gross, he first arrived in Massanet, Spain, where he then went on to Figueres on March 6th, 1938. Figueres was a known meeting place for members of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War and held the concluding meetings of the war in its infamous Sant Ferran's Castle. By March 11th, 1938, he was in the city of Albacete and would eventually join the XV International Brigade. The brigade was nicknamed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was formed and put together in the city of Albacete.
The XV International Brigade was made up of various battalions that came together from all over the world. Gross, alongside his brigade, went into battle at the Battle of Ebro, which was the longest and most drawn-out battle of the civil war. The nationalists would go on to win this battle, with Gross lucky enough to make it out alive where many Americans and international volunteers were unable to do so. As Gross was part of the XV Brigade, he would play a crucial part in the siege of Gandesa. On the first of August, the XV International Brigade attacked Gandesa, suffering a huge amount of casualties. Part of the Republican assault failure was attributed to the dominance the Nationalists had in the air and as a whole while receiving mixed signals from their general. The XV brigade showed tremendous strength allowing the Republican forces to regroup and retreat to the Ebro River.
He would go on to become a cabo and also be part of the "estado mayor" during his short stint in Spain fighting for independence. Estado mayor stood for "general staff," and it is not clear what his duties in this council specifically were, but what we do know is that this staff helped carry out many different types of administrative and logistical tasks for the people who may have been higher up in command.
Gross wouldn’t last long in Spain, quickly making his way back to the Ausonia on December 20th, 1938, and soon after that, the United States. This all happened not long after his deployment earlier that same year, on March 6th, 1938. He would go on to die in Monsey, New York, in April of 1987.
Crain, Caleb. “The American Soldiers of the Spanish Civil War.” The New Yorker, April 11, 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/the-americans-soldiers-of-the-spanish-civil-war.
“Why so Many Foreigners Volunteered to Fight in the Spanish Civil War.” History.com. Accessed June 6, 2023. https://www.history.com/news/spanish-civil-war-foreign-nationals-volunteer.
“The International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, December 1936 - January 1937.” Imperial War Museums. Accessed June 6, 2023. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020767.
“International Brigades.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 6, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/International-Brigades.
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