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“Glory to God! See the Vermonters go it!”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

Other CW 2 sm.jpgThe current release of imprints from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes an intimate recollection of the first Union general to die in the war, an account of a nostalgic return of aging veterans to the scenes of their service in the war, and a remembered account of a peculiar phenomenon experienced by Union soldiers in Louisiana.

Personal Recollections of General Nathaniel Lyon. Prepared by Companion Brigadier-General William A. Hammond, U.S.A. (1900)

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This imprint is striking, in part, because of the biographies of the author and his subject. Nathaniel Lyon was a general in the U.S. Army early in the Civil War. He had served in both the Second Seminole War and Mexican-American War. He was killed in Missouri on August 10, 1861 at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek becoming the first Union general to die in the conflict. William A. Hammond, a physician, served as the Surgeon General of the United States Army from 1862 to 1864. After the war he became the first American to dedicate his career exclusively to neurology authoring many books and articles on the subject. Late in life Hammond authored this memory of his time with Lyon in the years before the war when both men were posted at Fort Riley.

After a brief discussion of Lyon’s intuitive and stubborn approach to leadership, Hammond describes the nature of the man and their complicated relationship:

In some respects it was a most remarkable friendship; we had been differently educated, and there was scarcely a question in politics, science, religion, or social matters upon which we did not differ. He was intolerant of opposition, unmindful of the many obligatory courtesies of life, prone to inject the most unpopular opinions at times and places when he knew they would be unwelcome and enforcing them all with the bitterness and vehemence of which he was capable; easily roused to a degree of anger that was almost insane in its manifestations; narrow-minded, prejudice, mentally unbalanced, and yet with all this honest to the core, truthful under all circumstances, intelligent, generous to a fault with those he liked; well-read in science, literature and popular theology; absolutely moral, temperate in the pleasures of the table; kind and considerate with his friends, attentive to his duties, a strict disciplinarian, though sometimes on the spur of the moment perpetrating the most outrageous acts against his subordinates and repenting in sackcloth and ashes an hour afterwards – and altogether a man, one of the most remarkable of his day, who commanded the respect of his enemies and awakened their fears, and who gained the love of those who knew his virtues and his faults…

Taken all in all, he was a wonderful compound of antagonistic elements; the sort of man of which heroes and geniuses come; bordering closely on the insane temperament, and yet, when occasion required and he had time for reflection, invariably doing the right thing at the right time and place and with a degree of sanity in his movements, mental and physical, that could not have been excelled by the most self-possessed and intellectual man I have ever known.

Hammond narrates several incidents which illustrate his summation of Lyon’s character. In each instance Lyon’s initial reaction to an event or situation was fraught with rage and adamancy. Subsequently, he relented, sometimes absolutely and at others resentfully but adequately. The author continues to expand on Lyon’s virtues and capacity for reflections on his behavior and his contrition. He creates a portrait of a deeply conflicted, rigidly moralistic man who “if he had possessed the power he would have killed every Northern upholder of what he called the ‘Slave Power’ upon whom he could have laid his hands. Indeed, I have often heard him exclaim that they had equitably forfeited their lives and that they were outlaws whom any one ought to be empowered to destroy.” He concludes by lauding Lyon’s sacrifice in his final battle:

We know how, by his energetic and far-seeing conduct in the early period of the war, he prevented the secession of Missouri. We know too, how, at Wilson’s Creek where he was in command of the Federal forces, that after he had several horses shot under him and had received two severe wounds, he led the First Iowa Regiment to the charge, and how, almost at the very beginning of its advance, he was killed by a rifle bullet that, passing near his heart, severed his aorta, the chief artery of the body. Here he gained a victory over an army threefold greater than his own. Had he lived, there can be no doubt he would have come to the very top of the pyramid… And he would have reached the apex, not because of any great military skill that he possessed—though he was an educated soldier—but mainly because he had in him those qualities without which military science plays a small part in war, an indomitable spirit that was always awake, a fixity of purpose that never faltered, and a courage that was never for an instant dampened by the slightest feeling of fear.

A Day in Virginia: Oct. 9, 1902 by 41 Members of the 13th Vt. Regiment Association (1903)

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On October 9, 1902, a group of veterans of the 13th Vermont Regiment Association boarded a train in Washington, D.C. to retrace their route when in service during the Civil War “and wended our way southward, passing enroute [sic] many scenes and places that were familiar to us all thirty-nine years ago.” On a per capita basis, Vermont sent more of its men to fight for the Union than any other state. The constitution of Vermont, written when it declared itself an independent republic in 1777, abolished slavery, the first to do so. The abolitionist movement was embraced early and actively by the population. This work describes this journey of the aging veterans.

We passed through a region of country whose every locality “bears the vivid impress of most interesting as well as most important historical associations, reaching back through nearly three hundred years of the beginnings and progress of our country in the march of civilization and advancement.” On every stream and thoroughfare, in every valley and on every hill top there is some memento or land mark, in whatever direction the eye may range, to remind us of what we and our comrades did there. And of the pioneers who transformed the wastes of the wilderness, marked the bounds of the homesteads, laid the hearth stones, established the neighborhoods and set up the altars of the Commonwealth.

The 13th Vermont Regiment, formally the 13th Regiment, Vermont Volunteer Infantry, served from October 1862 to August 1863 as a nine month’s infantry regiment. They distinguished themselves at Gettysburg especially in repulsing Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863.  It was reported by an aide to General Stannard that General Abner Doubleday “waved his hat and shouted: ‘Glory to God! See the Vermonters go it!’” Subsequently, the regiment joined the pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on July 7th. They arrived in Middletown, Virginia, from which they were ordered home, leaving Baltimore on July 11. They were mustered out in Brattleboro, Vermont on July 21st, but many members of the regiment reenlisted and continued to serve either in the 1st Vermont Brigade or the 17th Vermont Infantry.

As the veterans travelled the narrator describes the system of forts erected to protect Washington, D.C. which had largely disappeared over the past four decades. “The ramparts have been leveled, the ditches and rifle pits filled, and the plowshare of the farmer is again passing over them as before the war.” Meigs describes the former home of Lee and the national cemetery that now occupied the grounds of the estate, several sites that were critical in the Revolutionary War in and around Alexandria, the Old Vermont Camp and adjacent Fort Lyon “which we with pick and shovel constructed.”

Everywhere over the suddenly populated region was heard the drum’s wild beat, the fife’s shrill notes, the bugle’s echoing calls. The numerous remains of their intrenchments [sic], including our own old Fort Lyon, earth works and other defences [sic], are still prominent at every turn for miles around, attest the melancholy certainty that great reparations were made for the impending conflict…

…At the Four Corners, now Farr Post Office, is the point where the 12th Vermont Regiment joined us when we were making our memorable march to Gettysburg. The Henderson Pike crosses the road from Fairfax Station to Wolf Run Shoals at this point. From these four corners into our old camp Wolf Run shoals, were many houses still standing that were familiar to us from old associations,—houses where we sometimes foraged and sometimes bought of the natives then residing there, and at one of which our good comrade Marsh was sick nigh unto death.

As they travelled this sentimental journey, the memories flooded in, and the author recounts tales both somber and playful. They recognize their age and wonder at the youthful strength and spirit they once enjoyed.

A Conundrum of the Days of '64” (1890)

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This strange tale describes one isolated event that occurred in Louisiana in 1864 as recounted by Frederick W. Mitchell who had served in the Union Army.

“Boots and saddles, boys—quickly and quietly; no sabres [sic]—only carbines and revolvers, and plenty of ammunition!”

The order came shortly after the bugle had sounded “lights out!” and we knew from the Major’s stern tones that something especially strange had occurred—something unusual even for that exciting post and period.

Mitchell recalls that a physician who had recently graduated from college in New England “chafing under his physician’s restrictions which forebade his enlisting to fight for the flag” had moved with his young wife to the area in order to assist the “the poor, ignorant freedmen in their struggle for more light and knowledge, identify themselves in some way with their country’s glorious cause.”

We had rumors that a party of guerillas had been committing depredations in the adjoining parishes, and had threatened to clean out all the damned abolition school-teachers this side of New Orleans; but partly because rumors of all kinds were the order of the day, and partly from fancied security, no special precautions had been taken.

That evening a party—we never learned how many, whence they came, or wither they went, except that they must have crossed the bayou about four miles from that settlement—had surrounded the house where this couple lived, and then, in the presence of his young bride, had, without shrift or mercy, murdered him in cold blood, riddling his body with bullets, and with horrid curses had told his poor young wife, as she threw herself across his bleeding body, that all damned abolitionists would be served the same way if they came down from the North to teach their [n…..s] that they were better than white men.

The Union men set off in pursuit of the attackers. There ensues an odd story of an eerie event. The tale is efficiently told and worth reading. In order not to give it away, we will only quote Mitchell’s last paragraph:

When any of us have since met to talk over old times, we have asked each other, as we asked that night, and as I now ask you, comrades, “What manner of noise was that?”

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