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The Turning Point in One Man's Life

Judge C. S. Palmer Tells in Prize Article Why and how He Took His Brother's Place When call to Arms Came Sixty Years Ago.

The Outlook Magazine recently offered three prizes for letters describing the turning point in a human life. Several hundred letters were submitted and one of the three selected by the judges was written by Cornelius S. Palmer' a native of Underhill, later resident of Burlington and for some time Judge of the city court, and now a resident of Plainfield, N.J. Judge Palmer's name is not signed to this letter but information has come to the Free Press that he was the writer. The Brother referred to was Simeon M. Palmer. The roster of Vermont volunteers in the year of the rebellion, prepared under the direction of the late Theodore S. Peck, when adjutant general of the State, contains this statement in connection with the roster of the Company F. Thirteenth Regiment: "Simeon M. Palmer enlisted September 10, 1862. Before he was mustered into the service his brother, Cornelius S. Palmer, voluntarily took his place, was mustered in, served, and was mustered out under the name of Simeon M. Palmer. Simeon himself afterwards served in Company A. Second Vermont." Here is Judge Palmer's story, headed "The Making of a Man." by "Volunteer".

Six Hundred Words? Will try-

Born on a hillside farm in New England, November, 1844; two miles from village and fifteen from railway (Jonesville). Early years doing chores on the farm, and attended district school.

1861! Environment: An aged father and mother, a brother four years my senior, a sister eighteen months my junior. A large farm, with a larger mortgage covering it. Brother, a splendid farmer and the mainstay of our father. For farm service I was properly considered a "no account;" tall, slender, frail, hollow-chested, after surviving two attacks of what was then called "lung fever." A student in the academy (Green Mountain Academy in Underhill Center) at the village two miles away: carried my provisions from home, roomed with a friend, swept and dusted the school-rooms end rung the academy bell in payment for tuition: my mind keenly set upon a classical course at the State University, fifteen miles away. In the fall of 1862 came the crash! My brother enlisted, father and mother in tears, fearing the battlefield and the mortgage. My last analysis of the situation showed me it was "up to me" to take my brothers place in the ranks. I knew this was only possible if it was kept a perfect secret from the family; went to the family physician, pledged him to secrecy, and asked him to make an examination of my lungs and gave me his opinion of the effect of the army life upon me. his report was: "no organic trouble, but lungs very weak; I cannot forecast results: your health might improve, or you might go out, but it will go one way or the other with you quickly." I replied," I take the chance." his office door closed, and I stood at the parting of ways --at the " turning point." the highway leading to the university, as it turned out, was then and there forever closed to me: my face was toward Virginia. I must take my brothers place. How? A conundrum.

I interviewed the Lieutenants who had been elected in the company, and who I had known in the academy. They skeptically consented to say nothing and make no objections if no one else did. I ransacked father's writing - desk {in his absence} and found his signature: studied it, copied it sufficiently; drew up a written consent for me to enlist, signed his name to it, and put it in my pocket- not for use against him but to ward off any outside interference.

When the time came, and brother was ordered to report to the village, Fifteen miles away, to start for the front, father {as I expected} directed me to harness the horses and drive him to the station. I witnessed part of the pathetic parting scene between father, mother, brother and sister, and drove away. For me "fair sailing" so far, but I well knew that I was facing the acid test of my persuasive ability when brother met brother at the railway village. The company slept that night on the floor in the ballroom of the village hotel. I bunked with brother, slept little, awoke before daylight {and before he did} put on his uniform and waited for him to awaken and dress. When third point was reached the battle was on. When he came to learn my scheme, the language of his protests would not look well in point. I urged the conditions at home to the best of my ability, and tried to talk faster than he could. I think his surprise and the fact that I had on the "goods" {his uniform} weakened his defence. While the battle still raged the " Fall in" call sounded from the street, and I rushed from the hall, formed in the rank, and when brother's name was called I yelled "Here" and continued thus to yell during this period of enlistment.

The first six months in the army I gained forty pounds in weight; was not off duty one day of my service. The open-air life and military training straightened and strengthened my body: my lungs expanded my chest and produced a fair specimen of young manhood.

Result: A well man, now well past threescore and ten years. Conscious of having done "my bit" in the ranks in that great struggle, of having faced the onrushing hosts of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg in the ranks of Stannard's Vermont Brigade, and finally to experience a firm establishment of my physical manhood. You ask, "Do you regret the turn which made?" My only answer can be "No," and again "No."


PALMER, Cornelius S., Burlington. Lawyer. Born Underhill, Nov. 2, 1844; son of Jonah Ferris and Chloe (Mead) Palmer. Educated at Underhill Academy. In 1870 married Annie R. Fassett of Jericho, who died 1901; they had two children, Chloe E. (deceased) and Louie E.; in 1905 married Mary K. Marshall of New York City. Admitted to Vermont Bar 1870; practiced law in Jericho previous to 1882; Sioux Falls, S. D., 1888-1901; since 1904 has been one of the law firm of Palmer & Foster, Burlington. Was a private in Co. F, 13th Vermont Infantry; in the battles of Gettysburg, Fairfax Court House and Stuart's Raid in 1863. Is a Republican; states attorney Chittenden County 1876-7; represented Jericho in the Legislature 1880; assistant U. S. attorney for Dakota Territory 1882-4; associate justice of Supreme Court of Dakota 1884-8; member of state Senate, South Dakota, 1896-7. Is a Congregationalist. Past master McDonough Lodge No. 26, F. & A. M.; past high priest Sioux Falls Chapter R. A. M., South Dakota; past eminent commander Cyrene Commandery No. @, K. T., Sioux Falls, South Dakota; member of the Algonquin Club; and the Green Mountain Club.

Source: Prentiss C. Dodge, editor, Encyclopedia Vermont Biography, Burlington, Vt.: Ullery Publishing Co., 1912, p. 281.

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