HARTLAND IN THE CIVIL WAR
By Les Motschman
Most of you know that America is marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, fought 150 years ago, 1861–1865. Many Americans have been interested in learning about the Civil War ever since it was fought. It touched just about every person in this country at that time; if you had ancestors living here in the mid 1800s, you probably have some family connection to the War.
Perhaps we are still interested in learning about the Civil War because it was such a large-scale conflict fought entirely on American soil and pitted Americans against Americans. The scale of destruction and the number of casualties is something we cannot relate to today, but it is still possible to visit many well-preserved battlefields, mainly in the South and especially Virginia. Indeed, there is such a treasure of information about each action and who served where that it’s possible you can know where your ancestor was 150 years ago and go there yourself.
The Civil War has interested me since its centennial was commemorated in the early 1960s, much like the 150th is being recognized today. When I was in my early teens, events that happened 100 years before seemed like ancient history. Now, fifty years later, 100 years doesn’t seem like such a long time.
My plan is to contribute an article to each HHS newsletter for the duration of the sesquicentennial. I will write about where Hartland men were serving and also what was happening on the home front. This is possible because the HHS has a thick notebook entitled “Hartland in the Civil War,” compiled by the Hartland historian Howland Atwood (1918–2010). He completed the book in October 1963, presumably motivated by the Civil War’s Centennial. The notebook includes detailed lists of Hartland men and when they served with a particular regiment. Also included is some general Civil War history of battles they participated in, but not much in the way of personal stories.
To make this project more interesting, I hope HHS members will submit information about their ancestors’ experiences (letters home, diaries, family history). I recognize many 20th century Hartland names on the rosters, such as Allen, Bowers, Durphey, Martin, Rogers, Rumrill, and Spear. I would appreciate any help in establishing any connection between the men on the rosters and latter-day Hartland residents. Mr. Atwood footnotes his sources and provides fifteen sources in a bibliography. His main source seems to be The Complete History of the Civil War, published in 1960 by Hawthorne Books, Inc. I will not cite Mr. Atwood’s references, but those interested can find the notebook in the HHS collection. When I personally provide information, such as to connect soldiers with modern-day places or people, I will add that info italicized in brackets. To track events, I will also use “The Civil War Book of Days,” a weekly newsletter published by the Vermont Humanities Council that commemorates what happened each week 150 years ago (vermonthumanities.org).
Since the Civil War started in April 1861, it had been going on for a year and a half by this time 150 years ago. I will use this issue of the newsletter to catch us up to September 1862.
In 1861, the United States Army consisted of fewer than 20,000 officers and men in widely scattered companies. The “militia,” 3 million strong on paper, was in fact a huge, unorganized mob. The President could call it to duty, providing the various state governors complied. A 1795 law limited service to three months.
Vermont, of course, promptly rallied to the cause. In a proclamation, Governor Erastus Fairbanks called the State Legislature to convene on April 23, 1861. On the first day of the session, the legislature appropriated an unprecedented sum of $1 million for war purposes. The First Regiment of Vermont Volunteers consisted of militia companies from several towns, including Woodstock. Hartland’s first Civil War soldier was 29-year-old Horace Bradley, who joined the Woodstock company. He was brought up on Densmore Hill near the Woodstock town line [probably the Norman Williams place]. The First Vermont trained in Rutland for a few days, and then left for Fortress Monroe near Hampton, Virginia.
The first objective of the Army was to secure the nation’s capital, just across the Potomac from the rebel state of Virginia. Several Hartland men joined the Third Vermont Regiment in the early summer of 1861. The Third Regiment arrived in Washington on July 26, 1861, marched six miles up the Potomac and laid out Camp Lyon to protect a bridge, a reservoir, and other waterworks. Charles Allen, Roderick Bagley, Fred Blaisdell, Andrew Kezen, Thomas F. Leonard, and Zing Walker were with the Third at that time. The regiment was reviewed at Camp Lyon by President Abraham Lincoln. Several Cabinet members and top Union Generals Winfield Scott and George B. McClellan were also present.
Back in Vermont, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Regiments were assembling. In late September 1861, these new recruits arrived in Virginia to join the Third Regiment at its new camp across the Potomac from Camp Lyon. Hartland men in the Fourth were Gideon Bennett, Charles H. Cleveland, James French, William Petrie, and Orlando Vaughan. Thomas Kneen of Woodstock came with the Sixth [after the war he owned the farm on Hartland Hill now owned by Andy Stewart].
In October 1861, the men marched four miles into enemy territory and established their winter quarters near Langley, VA. There was very little fighting during the winter months when the men mostly trained, but typhoid, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and all manner of sickness plagued the men all winter and took a heavy toll. Orlando Vaughan died of disease December 2, 1861.
THE PENINSULA CAMPAIGN
Once enough troops had arrived in Washington to defend the capital, the Union Army could mount a massive offensive assault on the Confederate capital at Richmond. Richmond is only ninety miles south of Washington, but the plan was to attack from the sea, moving up the peninsula formed by the York and James rivers.
On March 10, 1862, the five regiments, which were known as the “Old Vermont Brigade,” abandoned camp and marched to Alexandria. Two weeks later, they sailed down the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay to Fortress Monroe at the end of the peninsula.
If you’re wondering, there was a Second Regiment. Formed soon after the First, it was the first three-year regiment raised in Vermont and it formed a brigade with regiments from Maine. There were no Hartland men in the Second, although there were four “substitutes” for Hartland men—apparently out-of-town men were hired by Hartland men to go in their place. Three deserted, and the fourth was taken prisoner.
While the Federals were massing at the end of the peninsula, the Confederates were moving down from Richmond and building strong fortifications to hold back the expected Federal onslaught. When the army advanced up the peninsula on April 4th, General McClellan seemed surprised to be confronted by such formidable entrenchments and ordered a complete halt. Actually, many of the cannon turned out to be black-painted logs. When it was finally decided to try to break and turn the Confederate line, Vermont’s Third Regiment was chosen to lead the daring assault.
The attack was a success. The enemy line was broken, and the Union Army could have advanced; but no reinforcements were sent to follow the Vermonters’ brave attack. After holding their position for an hour, the Vermonters were called back. Of the nearly 200 men who attacked, nearly half were killed or wounded, although apparently no one from Hartland was seriously hurt. What might have been the start of a brilliant campaign for the North and an early cessation of hostilities became known as the Siege of Yorktown. The drive up the peninsula was stalled for a month as soon as it started.
The Green Mountain Men engaged the Confederates in fierce fighting on two more occasions while near Yorktown. Both times, General McClellan ordered the men back into the Union lines. These frustrating results were typical of his management of the Army. The magnificent Army of the Potomac, as it was known, was McClellan’s creation. He was popular with his men and an able strategist, but his hesitancies and tendencies to overestimate the opposing forces were eventually his undoing. The advance of the 100,000-strong Union Army was held back by 15,000 Confederates. Meanwhile, the Confederacy steadily increased its forces, no doubt prolonging the war.
While General McClellan overestimated the strength of the Confederates, General Joseph E. Johnston, the Commander of Confederate forces, knew he was vastly outnumbered. General Johnston received permission from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to withdraw to Richmond. When General McClellan learned that the Confederates had left, he ordered an immediate pursuit. The Army of the Potomac caught up to the rear guard of the Confederates near Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, and General Johnston ordered a counterattack. The Third Regiment was active in repelling the Confederate attack. It experienced hard service at Williamsburg and in the Seven Days Battles that followed.
The Seven Days Battles lasted from June 26 to July 2, 1862, consisting of a series of actions as the Union Army of the Potomac pursued the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, so named by General Robert E. Lee, who took command after General Johnston was seriously wounded. All five Vermont regiments, of course, participated in the pursuit; but with both armies moving up the peninsula, on some days one regiment might be in the thick of the battle while others were holding the Union line but not directly engaged. The exception was the Sixth Regiment, which was constantly in front. White Oak Swamp was the worst fighting as men fought in water up to their waist. After nearly two days of battle, a truce was called so both sides could retrieve the dead and wounded.
The Battle of Malvern Hill ended the Seven Days Battles and the Peninsula Campaign. It was a clear-cut Union success and might have been hailed as a great victory, save for one thing. General McClellan ordered his victorious army to retreat down the peninsula, leaving the field to the astonished Confederates. Some of the Vermont units had come within ten miles of Richmond.
THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN OF 1862
After the Peninsula Campaign, the Vermont Brigade remained in Virginia for nearly two months without engaging the enemy. By the last week of August, it was on the move again. General Lee had secured Richmond and was moving his army north. The large battle of Second Bull Run was fought at Manassas August 26th and 27th. The Vermont Brigade was marching nearby and heard the fighting but was not engaged. Encouraged by a decisive Southern victory at Manassas, General Lee moved to invade the north.
On September 14, the five Vermont regiments, along with 18,000 other Union troops under the command of General William B. Franklin, encountered Confederates near Harper’s Ferry and the march was stalled.
[Note: Although I haven’t mentioned the formation of any Vermont regiments beyond the Sixth, men were enlisting throughout 1862; I will describe their service in later installments. Mr. Atwood does note that James Fallan and Daniel Patch of the Ninth Vermont were at Harper’s Ferry. They entered the army in July. Patch deserted but eventually returned to his unit and was discharged with a disability November 21, 1862.]
BATTLE OF ANTIETAM, MARYLAND, SEPTEMBER 17, 1862
Antietam was the bloodiest day of the Civil War. The two massive armies came together in a dawn-to-dusk battle in which 24,000 men fell; 4,800 died that day, and many more died later of their wounds. Thousands of bodies lay in lines as they had fought; bodies lay in the Sunken Road five feet deep. The Vermont Brigade came late to Antietam and was put with the reserve troops. Although it was under fire, the Vermont Brigade must have missed the worst fighting, for no casualties have been noted for Hartland men at that battle.
After the battle, General Lee withdrew his battered army south across the Potomac and awaited General McClellan’s attack. It never came. True to form, General McClellan did not pursue, even though he had two fresh corps, including the Vermonters. Thus, yet another opportunity to crush the rebel army and end the war was missed.
The Vermont Brigade spent October 1862 resting at camp in Hagerstown, Maryland. On November 7th, General McClellan was replaced by General Ambrose Burnside.
To recap, 11 of the 14 Hartland men in the Vermont Brigade fought their way up the peninsula, skirted the major battle of Second Bull Run, engaged the rebels in Maryland and were at bloody Antietam, yet remained unscathed. Horace Bradley’s three-month enlistment was up after the Peninsula Campaign, so he returned home. Orlando Vaughan died of disease before any action. Charles Cleveland was discharged with a disability on December 27, 1861.
There were other Hartland men fighting in the war in regiments I haven’t introduced yet and who died in 1862. Two men from the First Vermont Cavalry died of disease on October 30, 1862. Henry Holt and Benjamin Rogers joined the Cavalry in November 1861. Rogers was taken prisoner May 24, 1862, while in the Shenandoah Valley. He was released September 13, 1862 and died a month and a half later. Many more Hartland men entered the army in 1862. Their service is the subject of the next installment.
Reprinted from the Fall 2012 Hartland Historical Society Newsletter.