HARTLAND IN THE CIVIL WAR
Sixth Installment, May, 2014
By Les Motschman
In the last installment of this series, I concluded the discussion of Hartland men who served as “nine-months men” in the 2nd Vermont Infantry Brigade. The brigade was made up of five 1,000-man regiments. Most Hartland men were in the 12th Vermont Infantry Regiment, but some were in the 16th. When the nine-months’ term of enlistment was up, these regiments were disbanded.
It is time now to turn our attention back to what Hartland men were doing in the regiments that made up the 1st Vermont Infantry Brigade, also known as the “Old Brigade.” In the first installment of Hartland in the Civil War, I described the formation of the first six regiments of the brigade. The first brigade was made up of active town militia members, under a long-standing law limited to three months’ Federal service. These men were quickly sent to Virginia, but when they returned after three months the regiment was disbanded.
Then the law was changed, and regiments two through six were made up mostly of volunteers who enlisted for three years. Men in these regiments went to camp in Virginia. In the spring of 1862 they participated in the Peninsula Campaign, a failed attempt to capture the Confederate capital, Richmond. As these 1st brigade regiments were ongoing entities, they needed a continuing supply of new recruits to replace soldiers who were either killed or wounded in battle or who died or were disabled by disease.
The 1st Vermont Infantry Brigade was the only brigade in the Army of the Potomac made up of men from a single state. It was not the policy of the government to brigade regiments of one state together. The thought was that if a particular unit suffered heavy losses, it would be best if the casualties were not concentrated in one geographic area. Also, it was supposed that a brigade made up of regiments from different states would benefit from positive rivalries when each regiment wanted to prove it was the best. I have been introducing Hartland men as they joined a regiment and noted when men died of disease or were discharged with a disability. In the last installment, I named thirty-six men who enlisted from Hartland. Over half joined the 6th Vermont Infantry Regiment.
At this point in the War 150 years ago, twelve Hartland men had died of disease or service-related causes. Fifteen were discharged with disabilities. No one had been killed in action, unless one counts Hartland native Charles Ballou who was killed at Fredericksburg with the 5th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment. That will soon change.
The Overland Campaign
The Darkest Days of the War for Hartland Families
The 1st Vermont Brigade spent the winter of 1863-1864 at Brandy Station in Northern Virginia. The weather was generally fine. The health of the troops was good. Picket duty was light, and the drilling not severe. The main topic of discussion in camp was whether or not to re-enlist. The government offered bounties and furloughs to veterans who had served two years or more. More than 1,000 men re-enlisted for three years or the duration of the war. Throughout that winter, an increasing number of rebel deserters came into camp. The Union troops were encouraged by the reports of a shortage of rations and supplies in the Confederate camps.
The armies, which had grappled for nearly three years, would soon go at it again in what would become the bloodiest struggle of the war. President Lincoln had finally found the commander he’d been looking for, when General U. S. Grant took command of the Army of the Potomac in early March. Soon after Grant arrived at Brandy Station, he made it known that he would be leading the Army from the field, not from some remote headquarters. The troops knew that he meant business, and would push them hard. His reputation from successful campaigns on the western front indicated he would not back down if persevering could lead to success. Grant might not foolishly send his men to slaughter, but he was not afraid to take casualties if there were a chance of causing greater pain to Confederate forces. While his tactics would eventually win the war, Vermonters in the 1st Brigade would pay a steep price. For the first time Hartland families started to receive an alarming number of notices of men wounded or killed in battle.
On the third of May, General Grant took the initiative and moved the Army of the Potomac across the Rapidan River. They proceeded to what is known as The Wilderness, an area of scrub trees and tangled vines where General Hooker had been defeated a year earlier. Two earlier attempts to reach Richmond by the overland route had failed.
General Grant did not want to fight in The Wilderness, and he was trying to move the army through it on two parallel roads. General Lee very much wanted to engage the Union Army in the vast thicket of The Wilderness. The poor visibility and difficulty of movement would somewhat offset the Union’s advantage in its superior size. The Confederate Army was advancing toward the Federals on two roads three miles apart that would intersect the roads traveled by the Union Army at right angles. Lee’s plan was to attack the strung-out Union Army in its middle, and drive what he could not destroy or capture back across the Rapidan River as he had a year before. The 100,000-man Army of the Potomac could not move any faster than the thousands of wagons that made up the supply train trailing it. The two huge armies were about to collide in the middle of The Wilderness, and the 1st Vermont Brigade was posted at a critical intersection.
In his book The Battered Stars, Howard Coffin writes that the deadliest day in the history of the State of Vermont began at home-and in the fields and tangled woods of Northern Virginia-with a brilliant sunrise on a warm and beautiful spring morning. In West Windsor on May 5, 1864, Jabez Hammond pronounced the day warm and pleasant and passed it plowing with a pair of oxen. In the war zone, the Vermonters serving under General George Washington Getty were massed near the Old Wilderness Tavern awaiting orders. When the high command realized that the vital intersection of the Orange Plank Road and Brock Road was largely undefended against A. P. Hill’s advancing Confederate corps, Getty was ordered to take a division of just three brigades there to support the cavalry that was already falling back, and to hold the crossroads at all cost.
Getty’s division, which included nearly 3,000 Vermonters, was to hold the intersection until General Hancock could get there with his second corps and bolster its defense. Getty’s men piled up logs and fencing to create a defensive position in case of attack. General Hancock, riding ahead of his men, found Getty and reassured him that help was on the way. Unfortunately, from his vantage point on a knoll near the Wilderness Tavern, an impatient Ulysses Grant feared an imminent assault on the crossroads and ordered Getty to go forward and attack without waiting for help. The Vermonters were the first to move and entered the forest, thick with small trees, dense underbrush, and tangling vines. The men made slow, steady progress and no skirmishers were met-they had withdrawn. Suddenly the forest in front of them exploded all along the line in an intense volley of muskets. The rifle balls cut through the brush, and many men were hit two or three times before they fell. Hundreds of men fell in that first volley, but those still able quickly returned fire.
The battle was on and it lasted for hours. Getty ordered the Vermonters back to the defensive works they had created earlier. This was a far safer position from which to battle the advancing Confederate forces at least until Hancock’s men arrived as reinforcements. As the thicket filled with smoke, the enemy was mostly unseen. The new arrivals thought they were on the front of the battle line, so when their men started to fall they opened fire, shooting some of the Vermonters in front of them. The surviving men of the 1st Vermont Brigade quickly moved through Hancock’s troops to the rear.
After a night spent trying to recover the wounded from the dense thicket, both armies attacked at first light on May 6th. The Vermont Brigade advanced directly down the Orange Plank Road and again engaged A. P. Hills’ Confederate corps. On this day the Vermonters were part of a 25,000-man Federal assault led by General Hancock that pushed the rebels a mile down the road nearly to Lee’s headquarters. The Union forces moved over the battleground where they had fought on the fifth. Their dead comrades still lay there.
The fighting was at least as intense as the day before, but the Vermont Brigade caught a break-they were at the rear of the assault. Then fresh Confederate troops arrived, and Lee ordered a counter-attack that drove Hancock’s men back. The Vermonters had taken a defensive position behind logs piled up the day before by the rebels. As Hancock’s troops streamed by in retreat, the Vermonters found themselves at the point of a “V” where they had to repel attack after attack by the rebels. The logs provided good protection, though, and casualties were only a quarter of the previous day’s.
The Blue and the Gray grappled all day. Grant kept pouring men into the battle. Thousands of men fell. Neither side won; the fighting just stopped. The Vermont Brigade was only one of thirty-two infantry brigades at the Wilderness, yet it suffered 10 percent of the casualties.
Previous commanders of the Army of the Potomac would have withdrawn for the men to get some rest and be resupplied. With more than 10,000 casualties, the wounded needed tending to, and the dead to be buried. Grant ordered his army to move to the open countryside around Spotsylvania Court House. He knew Lee would perceive this move as a threat to Richmond, forcing him to rally his battered army and engage the Federals again much sooner than he would prefer. By May 8th, the opposing armies, which had moved along parallel roads, were creating defensive works by digging trenches and piling up logs. The four-mile Confederate line took the shape of an inverted “V.” On May 10th the Vermont Brigade participated in a bayonet charge against the line. They took the enemy’s position and held it for hours, but for lack of support they were called back. May 12th saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war at what became known as the “Bloody Angle.” For sixteen hours on that foggy, rainy day, thousands of Federal troops including the Vermont 3rd and 6th Regiments assaulted the rebel breastworks at the apex of the inverted “V.”
Grant intended to fight it out at Spotsylvania, figuring Lee’s losses would cause him to surrender or withdraw and open the way toward Richmond. But Confederate reinforcements kept arriving, causing Grant to decide to move south on May 20th. By June 1 the Union force was digging in at Cold Harbor. Since the start of the Wilderness campaign, Union losses had nearly equaled Lee’s total force, but replacements kept arriving. The First Artillery, 11th Vermont Regiment, had joined the Vermont Brigade. At 1,500 men, it was the largest Vermont regiment. The total number of men fit for duty in the Brigade’s original five regiments was down to only 1,200.
Grant wanted to try to finish off the Confederate Army in a massive attack before the rebels could get too well established on their line, but his generals convinced him the troops were just too exhausted and
needed to be resupplied before an attack could be mounted. Grant relented and postponed his move one day, a decision he always regretted. By June 3rd thousands more rebel troops had arrived, and the trenches had been deepened. The massive Union assault lasted less than an hour before Grant called it off.
There were several thousand Union casualties. The 3rd Vermont Regiment, on the frontline of the assault, lost one-third of its remaining force. The 10th Vermont Regiment was at Cold Harbor where it suffered more casualties than in all its previous engagements. The 6th Vermont Regiment was engaged for twelve days in sporadic fighting.
You may remember from a previous installment that a Major Crandall of the Sixth, home on leave a year before Cold Harbor, told a friend how exhilarating it was to serve in battle under General Sedgwick at Fredericksburg. Crandall was killed at Cold Harbor by a rebel sharpshooter. Sedgwick had already been killed at Spotsylvania by a sharpshooter.
In 2006, this 8-foot long, 17-ton monument of Barre granite was placed on the Wilderness Battlefield where Vermonters fought. Camel’s Hump is replicated on the top. The inscription reads
“The Vermont Brigade – In these woods, during the battle of The Wilderness on May 5 and 6, 1864, Vermont’s ‘Old Brigade’ suffered 1,234 casualties while defending the Brock Road
and Orange Plank Road intersection”
Howard Coffin was instrumental in lobbying for preservation of this portion of The Wilderness
and for memorialization of the Vermonters who fought there.
The fighting continues through the summer and fall, but I will end this installment’s narrative with the death on the battlefield of Captain Oliver Cushman, whom I consider Hartland’s most noteworthy soldier. I’ve mentioned before that the Cushmans were a well-to-do family that lived on what is now known as the Hoisington Farm. The Cushman family in America goes all the way back to Plymouth Plantation. Holmes Cushman came to Hartland after the Revolutionary War. He had four grandsons and one great-grandson in the Civil War. Oliver Cushman left Dartmouth to join the 1st Regiment of Vermont Cavalry as it was being organized in 1861.
In the spring of 1864, the 1st Vermont Cavalry was operating so close to Richmond that they could see its light in the night sky. When not fighting, the Cavalry was often employed in destroying railroads and bridges. One night, moving down a road they encountered artillery shells buried in the road with trip wires that a horse’s hooves would trigger. They forced rebel prisoners to crawl along the roadway searching for more. The pace slowed, but a dozen more shells were found. In late May they were embroiled in a series of sharp engagements in what was a prelude to the grinding clashes between the main forces at Cold Harbor. On May 31 Captain Cushman’s squadron was assigned to destroy a pair of railroad viaducts. The trestle-supported bridges were burned down. The next couple of days were quiet and the troops rested. June 3 would be forever remembered for a catastrophic loss of life. General Grant ordered an all-out offensive at Cold Harbor, and 7,000 Union troops fell in less than an hour. The 1st Vermont Cavalry was on the extreme left flank of the attack at a place called Hawe’s Shop. The Vermonters moved across level ground and came up against Fitz Lee’s troops entrenched in rifle pits. They engaged the rebels from a prone firing position. Colonel Addison Preston from Danville crawled to the front to reconnoiter. After he made his observations and he turned to go back, he inexplicitly rose to his feet. Colonel Preston was instantly shot and killed. Seconds later Captain Cushman was fatally wounded. Gone at the age of twenty-three he, like Preston, was universally mourned by the men of the 1st Vermont Cavalry. Some believe the disfiguring facial wound he received at Gettysburg left him careless about his personal safety. He was considered one of the finest young men in the regiment, known for his valor and leadership. He is buried in the Village Cemetery. Both the HHS museum and the Vermont State Museum next to the Vermont State House display a framed memorial to Captain Cushman and his Company.
Les’s note: To learn about the Overland Campaign, I have relied on Howland Atwood’s HHS work of fifty years ago and Howard Coffin’s 2002 book The Battered Stars. I also have what was Coffin’s primary source: Vermont in the Civil War by Vermont’s official Civil War historian, George Grenville Benedict. This two-volume 1,200-page work was published in 1886. HHS member Sandra Palmer recently purchased the set and graciously loaned it to me for this project. I found the 1st Vermont Cavalry’s regimental history in the Vermont Historical Society’s library in Barre.
Thanks again to Pat Richardson for her helpful editing and Susan Motschman for the typing and layout.
Churchill, David 3rdregt. WDD 5/6/64
Cleveland, Charles C. 6th KIA 5/18/64
Cushman, Clarence 1st VT CAV MWIA 5/5/64
Cushman, Oliver T. 1st VT CAV KIA 6/3/64
Cutler, John A. 1st VLAB DD 6/9/64
Dana, Judah W. 3rd regt. WDD 5/5/64
Davis, Hiram 3rd regt. POW 6/15/64
Durphey, Harry 6th regt. MWIA 5/5/64
Durphey, William H. 6th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Fairbanks, Charles D. U. S. Sharpshooters WDD 5/31/64
Green, Peter 3rd regt. WDD 5/5/64
Hadlock, Ira A. 6th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Huntley, Stephen S. 6th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Hutchinson, Ira E. 10th regt. MWIA 6/3/64
Lafayette, Moses M. 5th regt. KIA 5/12/64
Leonard, Edgar H. 11th regt. MWIA 6/23/64
Leonard, Thomas F. 3rd regt. WDD 7/10/63, 5/6/64 and 5/12/64
Mayo, Joseph 5th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Rickard, Benjamin F. 6th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Sabine, John 3rd regt. KIA 5/5/64
Sargent, Horace 6th regt. WDD 5/5/64
Sartwell, George E. 6th regt. WDD 5/10/64
Spaulding, Elisha H. 11th regt. POW 6/23/64
Temple, John J. 17th regt. WDD 5/6/64
Thompson, Eldridge 3rd regt. WDD 5/14/64
Tilden, Henry 6th regt. KIA 5/5/64
Of the thirty-six men who enlisted at Hartland in late 1863 or early 1864, half became casualties in the spring of 1864.
From a Hartland Historical Society Newsletter Reader
Since the last installment, I received only one submission from a HHS member concerning their Civil War ancestor. Donald Whelpley from Naperville, Illinois wrote a long letter full of interesting information pertaining to his great-grandfather Cyrus Ransom Bagley. Cyrus was born in Hartland on December 20, 1847 to Perkins Bagley and Mary Rodgers. His grandfather Thomas Bagley settled in town around 1788 and two or three generations later there were numerous Bagleys living in town. Thomas was known for having seven grandsons serve in the Civil War, six of them from Hartland. Cyrus enlisted as a “nine months” man in August, 1862, a few months before his fifteenth birthday-well shy of the required age of eighteen. Like most Hartland men, he was assigned to Co. B of the 12th Vt. Inf. Reg.
Mr. Whelpley provides some details about relationships among some of the men in Co. B. Since Cyrus’s mother is a Rodgers, he is no doubt related to the two sets of Rodgers brothers from the Cream Pot area. After the “nine-months” men return home in the summer of 1863, James Sleeper marries Ferdinand Fallon’s sister Mary. A year later, sixteen-year-old Cyrus marries James’s sister Jennie Sleeper; and two weeks later, James and Cyrus are mustered into the 1st Vermont Cavalry. Winter was spent in camp, but by early spring the cavalry was active as the war was moving to a conclusion. Richmond had fallen and General Grant was determined that General Lee not be allowed to reform his army as he had done before. The 1st Vermont Cavalry was serving under General George A. Custer’s command, and they took part in the running battle across Virginia trying to corner General Lee. At Appomattox Station they were engaged in a battle to capture the Confederate supply train. Cyrus Bagley was shot in the left shoulder on what was essentially the last day of the war, as General Lee surrendered the next day. Cyrus spent six weeks in a Baltimore hospital. The shoulder bothered Cyrus the rest of his life.
When Cyrus’s first child was born in 1869, he named him George Custer Bagley. Cyrus died in 1911 and he and Jennie are buried in the Village Cemetery. His father, Perkins Bagley, was a veteran of the War of 1812 and is buried in the Gallup Cemetery on Weed Road. His grandfather, Thomas Bagley, was a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and is buried in the Weed Cemetery (He married a Weed.).
In his latest book, Something Abides, Discovering the Civil War in Today’s Vermont, Howard Coffin mentions that Cyrus Bagley lived in the old house on the Brownsville Road, about half-way between Weed Road and Jenneville Road.
Mr. Whelpley sent along a family photo of thirteen Bagleys and Whelpleys. Based on the birthdates of the young children, Mr. Whelpley dates the picture from 1907. After reading about Cyrus going to war at fifteen, marrying and returning to the war at age sixteen, it is interesting to see a picture of him as an old man. Mr.Whelpley said the family didn’t know where the picture was taken, but it was clear to me that the house in the background is the brick house on the corner of Route 5 and Martinsville Road (Lamb schoolhouse). My grandparents and my mother lived there in the 1940’s. In the photo, the family is gathered in the yard of the house across Route 5 on the corner of Rice Road. Not long after the picture was taken, the Whelpleys moved to Wisconsin and later to Illinois.
Miscellaneous Items Concerning the War and Other Observations
In the last installment, I wrote at length about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored) and the memorial dedicated to that unit created by Augustus Saint Gaudens. On my next trip to Boston, I hoped to find a firsthand account of the Regiment’s day in Boston before it boarded ships to go off to war in South Carolina. Reliving my college days, I spent an afternoon at the Boston Public Library looking at The Boston Post newspapers on microfilm. The main thing I learned was that the 54th arrived in Boston by train. I assumed an infantry regiment would have traveled the few miles from its training ground west of the city on foot. The regiment marched from the depot to the Common along streets lined with cheering crowds. They halted on Beacon Street in front of the State House, where the monument now stands depicting the soldiers passing that very spot. Thousands of people were on the Common where the regiment was reviewed by Governor Andrew. At conclusion, they marched down State Street to Battery Wharf.
A roll of microfilm contains months of newspapers. I scanned papers from February through June of 1864. The Boston Post was eight pages. The front page was covered with mostly small business ads offering goods or services and a lengthy editorial type piece, usually with a patriotic theme. Inside were columns devoted to news of the war with daily dispatches from Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and New Orleans. The following excerpts caught my eye. Many are from a daily column with the heading “Dispatches and Rumors.”
- 2/1/1864 A Company of soldiers were on the way from Washington to Alexandria atop freight cars when Sgt. James Hamilton of Vermont got on top of the cars to tell the men to lie down. Hamilton himself was struck and killed instantly.
- The daily Marine Journal reported on the arrivals and departures of numerous ships. It also reported “disasters” and the whereabouts of whalers. In December several New Bedford whalers were in Honolulu transferring hundreds of barrels of oil to a ship that would take it to the mainland.
- 2/7/1864 Some people doubt the draft, but a suspected call from the President before the 4th of July will make thousands of our noisiest war orators finger their pocketbooks or write checks to procure their exemption.
- 4/22/1864 Army of the Potomac – Last week $130,000 was stolen between Aquia Creek and Washington. The money was in separate packages and belonged to the soldiers who were forwarding it to their families. A number of paymasters have arrived recently and an immense amount of money has been sent home by the men.
- 4/23/1864 Soldiers in the vicinity of Corinth, Mississippi are marrying the females thereabouts with the limitation added to the contract “while the war lasts.”
- 4/24/1864 The Richmond papers laugh at Gen. Hooker’s observation balloons and so do Union Army officers.
- 4/29/1864 When Gen. Butler was at Fortress Monroe, he was puzzled to discover how men got so outrageously and regularly drunk. It was observed that the men seemed to always hold their guns up straight. Upon examination, it was found that every gun barrel was filled with whiskey.