8th Vermont Infantry
of Turrell E. Harriman
Part I - Introduction and Early Days
Finding an old manuscript is like finding gold to a prospector or the finding of a rare antique to a collector.
Just holding the original document that was written nearly a century ago that tells the tale of the author's life in Civil War battles over a century ago gave me goosebumps. It is written without pretense or the sophistication of many modern writings, but held me spellbound from beginning to end.
A number of minor mysteries arise that hopefully, will be resolved with time and information supplied by people reading this document. I am having copies made of my original typing of the manuscript and will circulate it with local libraries and newspapers in the area of St. Johnsbury in hopes that readers may give me additional information concerning the author.
Please contact me at the addresses listed below. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading this account as I have.
THOMAS P. SMITH
2 Laurawood Lane
Mount Dora, Fla. 32757
Box 198, R.D. #1
Colebrook, N.H., 03576
Extract from a letter. (1901)
As a preliminary to my Civil War reminiscences which I promised to write for you at some near future time, I will tell you that I ran away from home when I enlisted. During the fall of 1861, I had been living with Uncle Alvin on his farm on Cow Hill in Peacham, Vermont, attending school at East Cabot. I came home afoot, about thirteen miles, to spend Christmas, with a secret determination to go into the army.
A company was then being raised at the Avenue House in St. Johnsbury. Father had enlisted the April before in the 3rd Vermont Regiment. I asked Mother's consent, but, of course, she could not give it as she needed my help with the family of five children besides myself.
The thirty-first of December, I went to see Captain Foster, the recruiting officer and told him I was going, consent or no consent, if not with him, with someone else. He lacked only two men to fill his company and become the color company of the regiment, the 8th Vermont.
Finally he said, "Come to the station in the morning, get on the train, and if no one stops you, I will take you." Then he enrolled me and a neighbor's boy of nineteen, (George Knapp) and I went home. I was going back to Uncle Alvin's in the morning, as the family thought, so I arose early and bade Mother goodbye with a heavy heart.
When I arrived at the recruiting office I found that they had received a telegram from Brattleboro, Vermont, that a high wind had blown down the wooden barracks there and consequently our departure would be postponed till the first of the week. There was nothing to do but to return home and tell Mother I had concluded not to go to Peacham for a few days.
When the time came for the company to depart, I slipped down to the station and boarded the train unnoticed in the crowd that always attended the departure of the soldiers in those days.
We soon arrived in Brattleboro and took up our quarters in portable board barracks where we remained until the sixth of March.
I had been in camp nearly a month before Mother found out where I was. Of course she wrote for me to come home, but the law did not allow minors to be taken from the army after they had been mustered in without objection from their parents.
I really had not yet been legally sworn in, but I took pains to keep that technicality a secret.
So, you see, it was though much deception that I became a soldier.
T. E. Harriman,
St. Johnsbury Center, Vermont
June 20, 1901.
The exchange of home life for life in a military camp is an abrupt transition. What it is to surrender your personal liberty and obey the despot God of War can be realized only by those who forsake family, business, and society to from new and strange associations under the pressure of rigorous law which forbids indulgence and ease, and reduces comforts to the bare necessities.
I cannot describe to you my sensations on reaching those wooden barracks at Brattleboro, and the first night on straw with only a blanket for a covering, and with the chatter of 95 men for a lullaby.
Roll-call at 6 o'clock in the morning, out of doors, in January, in Vermont; breakfast at seven in a rude wooden building, where a thousand men stood up at tables of rough boards set with tin dishes and partook of food prepared in the same manner, it seemed me, in which farmers prepared it for their hogs; guard-mount at nine; company in battalion drill at ten; dinner at twelve; company or battalion drill at two; dress parade at five; supper at six, with squad drill sometimes sandwiched in between; this was the routine of camp, and its monotony soon created a fervid desire for action service.
About the middle of January, 1862, we received our uniforms, arms, and equipments. Our uniforms consisted of two pairs of trousers, light & dark blue, a dress coat, a blouse, two sets of underclothing, a heavy overcoat with a cape, a hat, a cap and a pair of brogans. Each man drew a heavy woolen blanket, and a knapsack twenty inches high and eighteen inches wide, into which all the above clothing which we did not wear must be packed, except the blankets which must be rolled and strapped on top of the knapsack, (2) a haversack and canteen slung from the right shoulder on the left side (3) a cartridge box slung from the left shoulder to the right side (4) a belt upon which hung bayonet & scabbard and cap box, (5) a musket weighing about eleven pounds. We must not forget to add a tin cup and plate and "eating-tools."
The eighteenth day of February, the recruiting officer appeared and we were formally sworn in to the United States service.
I shall never forget the anxiety with which I awaited the ordeal. The company was drawn up in line, and as each man's name was called, he had to step forward and march past the mustering officer equipped with all his outfit. If he showed the least signs of unfitness in his motions, he was rejected. You can imagine how I looked, a boy of fifteen loaded down with all my equipment. But I held myself as straight as an arrow for that occasion and tried to walk past the officer with the air of a six-footer. My accusing conscience caused me to expect to hear him ask my age, but he did not and I was "in" all right.
On the fourth of March, 1862, we took the train for New Haven, Conn. At night we were transferred to the steamer Granite State, and awoke the next morning in New York.
In the afternoon we embarked, six companies aboard the sailing ship, James Hovey, and the other four, & the First Vermont light battery on the sailing ship, Wallace. The afternoon of the ninth, we were towed down to Sandy Hook and anchored for the night. The following morning, we put to sea under sealed orders. What a magnificent sight was my first view of the broad ocean! Both vessels were carried many miles out of their course by a protracted gale, and we parted company before nightfall.
I was not sick a moment leaving the wharf, but not many of the men could say as much.
When the orders were opened, it was found that the regiment was to report to Brigadier General Phelps at Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico.
Contributed by Gerald J. Rice
See also, Turrell Harriman's obituary.