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Teaching the Civil War

The following is an extract from a 1904 text-book designed to teach Vermont history to seventh and eighth graders. (See also Edward Day Collins' Edward Day Collins' 1903 A History of Vermont.)

The War of the Rebellion

Cause of the Civil War; its Opening.-The most prominent question before the public mind had now for some time been that in regard to slavery. Slavery had become very profitable in the South, and for that reason was gaining in strength in that section. Many people in the country believed it an evil, and feared it might in time become a national institution, if something were not done to check its spread. The slave-owners in the South, more-over, claimed that as slaves were property they could be carried into any State, whether it were a slave State or otherwise, and there be protected the same as any other property. The anti-slavery advocates denied this right, believing that, if this were allowed, any State might become a slave State.

The Republicans, as a party, were much opposed to the carrying of slavery beyond the States in which it already existed; and when, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President by that party, the South feared that the institution of slavery was endangered. Believing that the election of Lincoln and its attendant anti-slavery sentiment would weaken the slave-owners' influence and perhaps finally exterminate slavery altogether, they decided to withdraw from the Union and form a confederation of their own, where the right of holding slaves would not be questioned. South Carolina led off and soon after the solid South followed, declaring themselves a new and distinct nation by the name of the Confederate States of America. This was contrary to the Constitution, and war now became necessary for the preservation of the Union. The war opened with the firing of the Secessionists upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April, 1861.

The President's Call; the Response.-On the day of the surrender of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 soldiers to defend the Union and asked Vermont to furnish 780 of these.

There were a few companies of militia in Vermont at that time, but all told they did not equal the number of men required. Governor Fairbanks at once issued a proclamation announcing the breaking out of the war and the President's call for volunteers, and summoned an extra session of the Legislature to make provision therefore.

At once, men from all parts of the State volunteered; banks and individuals tendered the use of their money; railroads and steamboats offered free transportation for troops and military stores; and loyal women from all over the State were busy with thread and needle, preparing underwear and other comforts for the soldiers. Two hundred Burlington women resolved to give their entire time, if needed, to the cause.

The train which, on April 23, brought the legislators to Montpelier was saluted by two cannon captured at Bennington. In forty-two hours from the time the Legislature met its work was done. It had appropriated $1,000,000 for war expenses, made provision for raising six more regiments than had been called for, and had voted to pay each private $7 a month in addition to the $13 offered by the United States, and had voted to make the soldiers' families the wards of the commonwealth, should they come to want in the absence of their supporters.

The splendid service of Norwich University at this crucial period, as well as that of General Alonzo Jackman (one of the first graduates of the school and at this time occupying the chair of military science, mathematics, and civil engineering in that institution), deserves commendation.

At the breaking out of the Civil War, General Jackman was brigadier-general of the State militia; and he was now offered the command of the first regiment of volunteers; but Governor Fairbanks in a letter to him said:

"There is a duty, a very patriotic duty for you to perform; that is, to remain at the Military College and qualify young men for duty as officers; and thus will you do your State the best service."

True to his soldierly instincts the general set aside personal ambition and remained at his post. During the entire struggle he was active in instructing officers, and, wit the help of an efficient body of cadets, in organizing and drilling volunteers through-out the State for the commendable service which they afterward rendered the Union cause.

About five hundred Norwich University men were commissioned officers in the army and nary, a larger number than was furnished by any college or institution in the United States, with the exception of Crown Point (West Point).

Military Divisions and their Commanders.-To avoid any confusion which may arise in regard to the names of commands, let us consider for a moment those to be used in the following topics.

A company is commanded by a captain, and usually consists of about one hundred men. Two or more companies form a battalion. A regiment is made up of battalions and commanded by a colonel, and usually consists of about a thousand men. A brigade consists of two or more regiments and is commanded by a brigadier-general. Two or more brigades form a division; and two or more divisions, a corps, both of which are commanded by generals. Two or more corps form an army, commanded by a general or major-general. An adjutant-general assists the commandant of a regiment. Infantry are foot soldiers; cavalry mounted soldiers. By a battery, we mean a company of artillery with their ordnance. Sharpshooters are, to be exact, skilled riflemen, and in a battle are usually placed in some important position.

The First Vermont Regiment.-The first Vermont Regiment was so rapidly formed that on May 2, or in less that a week from the close of the Legislature, they had assembled at Rutland with John W. Phelps, "old Ethan Allen resurrected," a native Vermonter, as their colonel. The regiment was mustered into the United States service on May 8, for three months' service.

The Adjutant-General, thinking that a sufficient number of troops was already a the front for present need, thought it would be well to hold the Vermont regiment in its own State for a while; but when General Scott learned that a regiment of Green Mountain Boys under Phelps was awaiting marching orders, he wished them sent at once, declaring that Colonel Phelps was the man and his regiment the troops that he wanted for responsible duty. A force of Green Mountain Boys had been with him at Niagara during the War of 1812, and he remembered its efficient service; he had also known Phelps of old in his services in the Mexican War. On the 9th of May, the regiment set out for Fortress Monroe, bearing an ensign of white upon which was the State coat of arms. In the gray cap of each soldier was the customary evergreen bade of his State. The First Vermont Regiment remained at Fortress Monroe during the term of its enlistment, taking part in the ill-fates engagement at Big Bethel.

Such goods as are used for the carrying on of war, if taken by the enemy, may by law be retained by them and are called "contraband of war." At the beginning of the Rebellion it was expected that, whenever slaves ran away from their homes to the Union armies, they would be returned to their masters. But General Butler, the shrewd officer, who was in command at Fortress Monroe, assumed that the runaways were contraband of war, being, as their own masters conceded, like any other property, and therefore it was not to be expected that he would give them up. This their masters could not well gainsay; for it was well known that at that time great numbers of slaves were laboring upon the fortifications around Richmond and elsewhere, thus directly aiding in the prosecution of hostilities.

From the first it was generally understood that slaves who found their way into the camp of the Vermonters were safe; and throngs of fugitive slaves, who sought refuge with Phelps, were not returned to their masters. The First Vermont Regiment returned to Vermont in August and the soldiers were mustered out; but five out of every six reenlisted.

The First Vermont Brigade.-Before the return of the First Vermont Regiment, the Second had gone to the front and taken part in the severe battle of Bull Run. By October the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth had also arrived at Washington and were ready for service. The five regiments constituted the First Brigade of the Sixth Corps, which was a part of the famous Army of the Potomac of which it is said that "for four long years it stood as a great wall between Washington and Richmond, or kept passing like a weaver's shuttle between the two capitals." The history of the First Vermont Brigade is identified with that of this army; the Second Vermont Regiment, being the first of these at the front, took part in almost every battle of the Army of the Potomac. This brigade served till the close of the war, its military operations being mostly in the vicinity of Richmond and Washington.

As a brigade it took no active part the first year of the war; but in the second (1862) was with McClellan in the Peninsular campaign and later followed that general into Maryland, where he went for the purpose of cutting off the Confederate General Lee's attempts to invade the North.

In 1863 the soldiers of the First Vermont Brigade fought in the battle of Fredericksburg under General Hooker; and when, at this juncture, it was learned that Lee was making a second invasion northward, they were immediately ordered to march with the Sixth Corps in that direction to intercept his movements. The Union army met the enemy at Gettysburg; and a bloody battle of three days' duration followed, which decided once for all that the Confederate army was not to invade northern territory. The First Vermont Brigade took no active part in this battle, and suffered no loss, but was present on the third day of the battle and stationed on the left of Round Top. The honors of that occasion fell upon their brethren of the Second Vermont Brigade.

In the year 1864 the First Vermont Brigade was with Grant in his famous march to Richmond, beginning with the battle of the Wilderness, a terrible battle lasting two days, in which, in a single afternoon, 1,000 of the Vermont soldiers lost their lives. For five months there were with Sheridan in his famous raid through the Shenandoah Valley, during which time he entirely destroyed the army of the Confederate general, Early.

To this famous brigade, now under General L. A. Grant, a Vermonter, was given the honor of leading the column in the final assault on Petersburg, April 2, 1865, just before entering Richmond, the Confederate capital. That night Lee evacuated Richmond, and a week later was captured while trying to escape and join the Confederate general, Johnson. The Vermont Brigade had at this time been sent to guard the supply train, and so was not present at the actual surrender.

The Estimation in which this Brigade was held.-The estimate put upon this brigade is shown from the following: When the Sixth Corps was about to be hurried to the field of Gettysburg, the command was given, "Put the Vermonters in front, and keep the column well closed up." What manner of men the Vermont soldiers were, Sheridan also testified to, when, two years after the close of the war, at Representative Hall at Montpelier, he said: "I have never commanded troops in whom I had more confidence than I had in the Vermont troops, and I do not know but I can say that I never commanded troops in whom I had as much confidence as in those of this gallant State." General Sedgwick, through his chief-of-staff, said of this brigade: "No body of troops in or out of the old Sixth Corps had a better record. No body of troops in or out of the Army of the Potomac made their record more gallantly, sustained it more heroically, or wore their honors more modestly. The Vermont Brigade was the model and type of the volunteer soldier."

Of the eight famous brigades that served during the Rebellion, which were made preeminent by their fighting qualities, Colonel William F. Fox places the First Vermont Brigade at the head of the list. "The greatest loss of life," he says, "in any one brigade during the war, occurred in the Vermont Brigade of the Second Division of the Sixth Corps." From over 2,000 regiments in the Union service he selects 300 as fighting regiments (those that sustained a loss of from 134 to 224), and nine of these are Vermont regiments.

First Vermont Cavalry; Light Battery; Sharpshooters.-The First Vermont Cavalry was mustered into service in November, 1861, and reached Washington in December. A good share of this regiment served throughout the war and took part in over seventy engagements. In captures of guns, battle-flags, and prisoners, the First Vermont Cavalry was second to none.

Before the end of this year Vermont had raised for service three companies of sharpshooters and a light battery.

The Seventh and Eighth Regiments; the Second Battery.-Early in the year 1862 the Seventh and Eighth Regiments were mustered into service, as was also a second battery. These two regiments and the two batteries formed were assigned service in the extreme South, the Seventh to serve with the command of Butler. Although these regiments had not so many battles standing to their credit as had some of the earlier regiments, it is doubtful if any suffered greater hardships and privations than these; and the death-rate from all causes was enormous. The Seventh, a force of 943 strong at the time of enlistment, lost by death 406 of that number.

The Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Regiments.-No sooner was the campaign of 1862 fairly under way than serious disasters to the Union cause made it necessary to call for still more men; and in May Governor Holbrook received a message from the War Department asking for another regiment. In July the Ninth Regiment was mustered into service; and it at once set out for the field of action, under the command of Colonel George J. Stannard. Before the Ninth was mustered into service, a message came from the Secretary of War asking for further aid; and, in September following, the Tenth and Eleventh were mustered into service.

The Ninth suffered in the humiliation of Harper's Ferry and then passed several months under parole at Chicago, when it was exchanged and took its place with the Army of the Potomac. A portion of this regiment was the first to carry the national flag into Richmond, the rebel capital, after Lee evacuated. The Tenth and the Eleventh were at once used to replace the thinned ranks of the First Vermont Brigade in the Army of the Potomac.

The Second Vermont Brigade.-Before the end of October (1862), the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth regiments had been formed for nine months' service, and consolidated into a brigade. This brigade took no part in any set battle during this year, but was assigned to various guard and picket duties and held in reserve for any emergency. In April, 1863, General George J. Stannard was given the command, and under him the soldiers of this brigade attained their greatest glory on the bloody battle-field of Gettysburg. On the final day of this great battle they did their first and last fighting. But the charge of the Second Vermont Brigade was a memorable charge-a charge that, by forcing Pickett back, turned the tide of battle in favor of the Union arms.

Further Service.-During the year 1863 no Vermont forces were raised; but early in 1864 a Third Vermont Battery was mustered in, as was also the Seventeenth Vermont Regiment. The Seventeenth was not long in action, but no Vermont regiment performed more gallant service during the period of its service than this. It was at once plunged into that great slaughter of the Wilderness and continued to follow Grant in his campaign against the rebel capital till the final overthrow of the Confederate cause.

The St Albans Raid.-In the year 1863 the Confederate States of America sent officers into Canada for the purpose of organizing parties from the large number of Confederate soldiers who had fled to Canada for safety, to make raids on the northern frontier. Among the leading men engaged in the carrying out of this plan was Colonel Bennett H. Young, a prominent Kentucky lawyer, who led the St Albans raid, so called.

On October 10, 1864, strangers began to arrive in St. Albans; and by the 19th there were between thirty and forty of them, guests at the different hotels. As they were clad in citizens' clothes and were quiet and orderly in behavior, they occasioned no suspicion. About three o'clock on the afternoon of October 19, at a given signal, the marauders took armed possession of the business part of the village, at the same time making raids upon the three banks and compelling the cashiers to give up the funds of the banks.

Taking horses from the stables and from the street, they rode out of town, carrying with them over $200,000. Shots were exchanged between the raiders and citizens, and several persons were wounded, and one was killed. They were pursued into Canada by mounted horsemen, citizens of the town, under Captain Conger, a veteran of the First Vermont Cavalry, who had recently returned from the South. They succeeded in capturing fourteen of the raiders on Canadian soil, but were obliged to give them up to the authorities of that dominion.

To guard against further invasion, companies of cavalry were raised in the northern part of the State, which constituted the First Regiment of Frontier Cavalry; and a company of infantry was also raised to be used as home guards.

Vermont's Record; her Ensign.-The record made by Vermont in the War of the Rebellion forms one of the most brilliant of the many grand chapters of her history. The patriotism and bravery of her soldiery won the admiration of the whole country, and deservedly so. Of Vermont's able-bodied men, every other one shouldered his musket and went forth to serve his country. Vermont furnished during the war over thirty-five thousand men, according to the report of the War Department, though the number credited by the State was over a thousand less in number. She also expended of her treasure nearly $10,000,000 in defense of the Union, more than half of which was expended by the towns without any expectation of being reimbursed. Seventy-one Norwich University men from Vermont served in the various organizations as officers, and in addition nearly one hundred served as State drill officers. Vermont's total loss in killed was 5,237 men, or about one in seven of those in service-a record which Pennsylvania's record alone exceeded.

The ensign carried by all regiments except the First consisted of a blue silk flag upon which was the State coat of arms.


TEST.

  1. What was the cause of the Civil War?
  2. State the number of troops of the President's call and Vermont's quota.
  3. In what way did Vermont respond?
  4. Give the prominent divisions of any army with their commanding officers.
  5. What was the service of the First Vermont Regiment?
  6. What regiments constituted the First Vermont Brigade?
  7. What was its record?
  8. Give the record of the First Vermont Cavalry.
  9. Of the Seventh and Eighth regiments.
  10. Of the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh regiments.
  11. What regiments constituted the Second Vermont Brigade?
  12. What was the record of the Second Vermont Brigade?
  13. Give a record of the Seventeenth Vermont Regiment.
  14. Give an account of the St. Albans raid.
  15. What precautions were taken to prevent further incursions of this kind?
  16. About how many men did Vermont furnish during the war?
  17. How much money did she furnish?
  18. What was her death record?
  19. The record of what State alone exceeded this?
  20. What ensign was carried by the First Vermont Regiment? By all others?

Source: Miriam Irene Kimball, Vermont History For Vermonters, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904, pp. 286-300.