A Vermont Perspective On The Civil War

July 13, 2011

in History,News,Woodstock

My name is Alexander Geschardt. I’m a freshman at Woodstock Union High School. The Civil War has always been something that has fascinated me since I was in the 4th Grade when I participated in the History Fair at the Woodstock Historical Society and studied the Civil War. As part of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War I am writing an article every month in the Vermont Standard about Woodstock’s role in the “War between the States.” I am getting the information from an original copy of the Vermont Standard from 150 years ago.
In June, 1861, the Civil War was well under way and troops had been sent from both the Union and the Confederacy to fight one another, each side believing it was right and that it would be the victor in a brief period of time. The Woodstock Light Infantry had been ordered to the field to fight; many men from our area in 1861 were ready and willing to do battle with Confederates. The men of the Woodstock Light Infantry were well prepared. Among the Union troops, morale was high and they expected to win very soon.
In an article in the Vermont Standard in June it describes a battle near Booneville, Missouri, which is one of the first battles I have seen reported on so far in my research of the 150-year-old newspapers. It gives a detailed description of what happened from the Union perspective. General Lyon, a Union General, arrived by boat on a riverbank several miles from the town with 1,800 federal troops. He chose this location because he had heard there was a Confederate artillery battery near the area. He came upon 3,000 Missouri state troops commanded by a Colonel Little. They fought and eventually the Confederate troops were driven back and abandoned their camp leaving supplies and horses etc. The Union troops seized the camp and all that was in it. The Federal troops lost 4 men and had 9 wounded while the Confederates lost 4 and had 15-20 wounded, although the reports from Union soldiers were higher as they claimed they had seen many more dead bodies. Just barely into the war the Union was showing a strong advantage over the Confederate troops, especially since in this battle the Union still had victory with over 1000 fewer troops.
Another interesting Standard article involved new uniforms for Vermont regiments. General Davis had said that his superior officers had given him permission to purchase the cloth he had procured for the Vermont 2nd and 3rd regiments. He insisted that these regiments would be the best-dressed regiments in all of New England. The writer of the article described how in his opinion the Massachusetts troops had much better uniforms and had cost $1.10 a yard for the cloth. Yet General Davis continued to insist that the Vermont regiments had better uniforms, and it became a battle of words over who had better cloth. They also went at it in the paper about how much wool and how much cotton was in each of the uniforms and what percent each was. Unfortunately they were more worried about clothes than the battle ahead, which perhaps showed the unshakable Union confidence in victory in that time of the Civil War.
One interesting find in the Vermont Standard in June of 1861 is a letter from a soldier from the 1st Vermont regiment from St. Albans. He described what had been happening to him, the food that they were given and the climate of the area he was in. He’s stationed in Newport News Point in Virginia.  He described when he had picket guard duty on a rainy night a mile from the main army and how he feared he might fall asleep, which happened often to people on night guard duty. The punishment was the death penalty if you were caught sleeping. He described how he always had to be prepared with his musket loaded ready to shoot anyone who came by. He wrote that one of the men on his post was found sleeping and he is ashamed that he the man who is going to get the death penalty. He also wrote that they would get supplies daily from a steamboat thanks to his C.O. General Butler.
The soldier states that Gen. Butler thinks very highly of the Vermonters under his command. He says that the General intends to make 50 men from the regiment his personal guard, which is a great compliment to the regiment. He also says that the food they have been getting is much better than it had originally been. The meals were salted beef and biscuits that were rather unpleasant for him, especially in the hot humid climate. But he said it’s great because it has prevented sickness from striking his regiment and he is glad that no one has become sick or died. This letter was a fascinating snapshot of what a soldier’s life was like in the more comfortable beginning of the war.
In the Vermont Standard in June there were many different and surprising accounts of current events in the Civil War. From battle reports, a clothing debate, and a letter from a Vermonter stationed in Virginia, the accounts all seem very confident, even naive, and do not have even a hint of the horrors of war the will come in the future months. The people reading the Vermont Standard must have been convinced that the Union would win quickly and without any difficulty, which we know is far from what ended up happening.

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