By Les Motschman
The Official National Park Service handbook—The Civil War Remembered—states that the American Civil War was the most momentous era in American history. It defined who we are as a nation. It was not only our greatest military struggle, but also our greatest social revolution, root of our greatest evolution as a nation. In the eighty years from the founding of the country until the Civil War, it was not certain at all that the disparate areas across the broad continent could be united into one nation. In addition, although the War was not fought to free the four million Black Americans from bondage, the institution of slavery was a deeply divisive issue that had been hotly debated for decades.
At the start of the War, slavery was legal in 15 states and the nation’s Capital. And in the mostly agrarian South, the economy was dependent on slavery. In 1848 a South Carolina senator asked, “Were ever any people persuaded by argument to voluntarily surrender two thousand million dollars of property?” In the North, abolitionists were the radicals of their time, who argued that slavery was a moral evil that should be prohibited. The arguments about whether slavery was a moral evil or a benevolent institution designed to care for a particular race split America’s two largest religious denominations—the Methodists and the Baptists—into separate churches. Each quoted Biblical scripture to support its position.
The Civil War affected the lives of every American in the 1860s. The outcome of the War determined that the Union would survive. Going forward, we would be one nation. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th and the 15th Amendments defined and nationalized citizenship and banned race as a reason for disenfranchisement. Before the War, the primary interaction people had with the Federal government was through the Post Office. Prosecuting the War, though, required more powerful central governments. Both the North and the South passed draft laws requiring many to risk their lives in service to their government. The North established income and excise taxes and created a national banking system.
Much of the South was beaten down after the War, its agricultural system and industries destroyed. A much higher proportion of its young male population were killed or maimed than the North’s. It took generations to rebuild and to come to terms with the place that freed Blacks would have in society.
The North emerged from the War an industrial powerhouse, ready to resume westward expansion. With its larger population, the North had more casualties in numbers, but wave on wave of immigrants from Europe displaced by war or by the Industrial Revolution headed straight for the Western territories or the growing cities.
Much of northern New England, however, was becoming a backwater. Our area as the frontier had experienced a large influx of settlers decades before the Civil War. Hartland’s population peaked in
1820 at 2553, and then declined with each census until 1920 when there were only 1212 people in town. It slowly rebounded but did not exceed the 1820 figure until 1990.
The population at the start of the War was less than 1800, yet Hartland is credited with sending 200 men. Twelve were killed in action, eighteen died of disease, and twenty were wounded. I’ve noted throughout the series that some returning veterans were at least partially disabled by their wounds or diseases they contracted in camp. At a time when the main occupation was farming, and most paying jobs involved physical labor, it was difficult for some to earn a living.
A year ago, I attended a lecture by Brian Jordan, who teaches courses on the Civil War and Reconstruction at Sam Houston State University in Texas. The topic was The Lives and Struggles of Union Veterans after the Civil War. Despite some of the progressive governmental measures put into effect after the Union victory, Mr. Jordan said it was an incomplete victory—there were race riots, the Ku Klux Klan was founded, and Southerners flouted the Reconstruction Laws imposed on them by the victors.
Most of the civilian population in the North did not suffer great hardship during the War unless they had lost a loved one. Generally, they were just glad the War was finally over so things could return to normal. The returning veterans, however, because of their sacrifice, were not so willing to reconcile with the Southern states and simply move on. They joined veterans’ organizations such as the G.A.R. (the Grand Army of the Republic), which demanded that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and others be executed for committing treason. (They were not.) They saw themselves as returning heroes who not only preserved the Union, but also made possible a better Union, with liberty for all. Many veterans despised those in the community who did not serve, especially those who purchased a substitute. Some veterans could not work because of disability or the mental demons that can possess soldiers who have seen the massive killing and maiming of battle; some died of chronic ailments a few years after the War; some committed suicide.
Mr. Jordan said it was different in the South. As most of the War was fought there, civilians in the South shared in the suffering and defeat. The Confederate population in general tended to look backward after the War. The Civil War was a glorious lost cause that they hoped might someday receive vindication. Rebel soldiers, of course, were not eligible for U. S. pensions, but even in the face of widespread poverty, communities supported their veterans as living evidence of a just cause.
Many of the veterans returning to Hartland soon left for the cities or the Midwest. Most Hartland soldiers were in their late ’teens to mid-twenties, an age when they would naturally want to strike out on their own and get a good job or go into business or farming. Not all of them would have been able to stay in town. Older vets like the Davis twins or Benjamin Hatch were in their mid-thirties, already established in town, and remained here the rest of their lives.
About two dozen Hartland Civil War soldiers are buried in the Hartland Village Cemetery. An equal number are buried in the neighborhood cemeteries, and about that many are buried in cemeteries just beyond Hartland’s borders in South Woodstock, Woodstock, Quechee, and Taftsville. Quite a few more are buried elsewhere in Vermont or nearby in New Hampshire. The records indicate that two Hartland soldiers are buried in California and a few in the Midwest. For many, a burial site is not indicated,
presumably because they left the area for good. Those killed in action were often buried in a National Cemetery or in an unmarked grave on the battlefield.
Hartland historian Nancy Darling (1862-1932) wrote in The Vermonter magazine in 1913 on the occasion of the150th anniversary of Hartland:
When the present generation is tempted to think lightly of the flag and of its duty to the town and state and nation, would that it might remember what many saw here. The poor, worn-out soldiers on their way home from the war, stopping at the Four Corners, emaciated and sick, for the medical aid which Dr. Harding and Dr. Emmons were waiting to give; or that son of John Willard who weighed one hundred and ninety pounds when he went to war and ninety pounds when he returned from Andersonville prison.
Miss Darling lists the veterans still living in Hartland nearly fifty years after the War: Wm. J. Allen, W. W. Bagley, Sidney W. Brown, J. F. Colston, Ferdinand Fallon, Moses George, W. W. Kelley, Peter Lapine, L. J. M. Marcy, A. A. Martin, A. R. Pierce, S. M. Whitney, J. O. Wright; also, Enos Gingham, E. B. Maxham, and C. D. Myrnick, who went to war from other towns.
Around the time I started this Hartland in the Civil War project, long-time Town Clerk and HHS President Clyde Jenne told me the town went deeply into debt during the War. As I have said, the Federal government was not that big an entity before the War. There was a small standing army and navy. Towns had militia companies just as they did at the time of the American Revolution. Some of the men would gather from time to time to drill. One of the earliest pictures we have is of the Hartland militia drilling in a pasture above Foundryville. It soon became apparent that the U. S. Army as then constituted would not put down the rebellion quickly, President Lincoln called for volunteers to create a large army. Each state was given a quota, and the Adjutant General of Vermont in Woodstock determined a quota for each town. Incredible as it seems today, the responsibility for finding men for the army fell to the Selectmen in the individual towns. Technically, almost all the men went to war as volunteers, not draftees. There was, however, a bounty paid to those who signed up. Again, it’s hard to comprehend why the towns and not the Federal government paid the bounties. Towns weren’t able to double or triple the amount they raised by taxes; they had to borrow the money from banks.
From the February 1863 Town Report for payments made in 1862: Current expenses for the year in the Selectman’s Dept. $ 657.60 Orders drawn for Surplus Revenue paid State Treasurer 688.65 Amount of orders drawn for cash borrowed to pay soldiers ` 3,100.00 Amount of orders drawn to soldiers 1,750.00 Whole amount of orders drawn by Selectmen $6,196.25
The town finished the year $4,654.25 in debt. For some reason, three-year men got $50 and nine-month men got $100. All the soldiers’ names are listed in the Town Reports.
From the March 1864 Town Report: Names of drafted men who received orders for three hundred dollars each as their bounty from said town. [Seventeen names] at $300 whole amount $ 5,100.00 (Les’s note: These men did not serve but secured substitutes and were still paid by the town.)
Names of volunteers who have received their bounties voted by said town in cash, who volunteered under the last call of the President of the United States for three hundred thousand men: 24 men at $500 $12,000.00
The Town was $23,305 in debt.
From the February 1865 Town Report: Cash paid to three years men, $850 to $950 $ 10,225 Cash paid for substitutes, $750-$950 $ 6,450 Amount paid to one year men, $400-$750 $ 11,460 Amount paid to three years men (sailors), $625 $ 12,951 Amount paid to Men Re-Enlisted in the Field, $300 $ 7,213
The Town was then $65,407.80 in debt.
This seems like a crushing amount of debt at a time when the town was raising only a few thousand a year in taxes. Clyde says there are no minutes of Selectmen’s meetings from that time. The actual Town Reports are mere eight-page pamphlets with no written reports, only accounts. (By comparison, the 2016 Town Report is 127 full-size pages.). The Selectmen were paid two dollars a day when they worked on running the Town. Normally, much of the time involved overseeing work on roads and bridges, but it also included traveling to banks in Windsor and Woodstock to “hire” money. The 1865 Town Report indicates that most of the days the Selectmen billed the Town for in 1864 were spent in Windsor “after substitutes” or “for volunteers.” As indicated by the steep increase in bounties paid, it must have been a desperate time, as all the town selectmen competed for warm bodies to send to the Federal government. By 1864, most of the eligible Hartland men must have volunteered or been drafted. Many of the men receiving the large bounties were probably not Hartland natives.
Town Reports after the War indicate taxes raised increased somewhat. Of course, the Town had an interest expense of nearly $3,000 a year on top of normal expenses. In 1872 the Town was still $61,000 in debt. An 1887 warning asked whether the Town would vote to raise money for current expenses, for the school fund, and to pay a part of the indebtedness, reducing it by a few thousand a year. By 1898 the Town’s debt was down to $2,800.