Vermont Civil War History

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Vermont in the American Civil War

Vermont Civil War History


Vermont was admitted to the Union as the 14th U.S. state on March 4, 1791.

Vermont is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is the only New England state not bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Lake Champlain forms half of Vermont's western border, which it shares with the state of New York. The Green Mountains are within the state. Vermont is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, New Hampshire to the east, New York to the west, and the Canadian province of Quebec to the north.

Vermont was originally inhabited by two major Native American tribes, the Algonquian-speaking tribes, including the Mohican and Abenaki, and the Iroquois. Sometime between 1500 and 1600, the Iroquois drove many of the smaller native tribes out of Vermont, later using the area as a hunting ground and warring with the remaining Abenaki. Much of the territory that is now Vermont was claimed by France during its early colonial period. France ceded the territory to the Kingdom of Great Britain after being defeated in 1763 in the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War). For many years, the nearby colonies, especially New Hampshire and New York, disputed control of the area (then called the New Hampshire Grants). Settlers who held land titles granted by these colonies were opposed by the Green Mountain Boys militia, which eventually prevailed in creating an independent state, the Vermont Republic.

Vermont Civil War Map
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Vermont Statehood Map

The Vermont Republic, later the State of Vermont, was a short-lived republic from 1777 to 1791. Vermont is one of only four present-day U.S. states (along with Texas, Hawaii, and the briefly declared Republic of West Florida) to have been a "sovereign state" without formal Federal recognition of statehood. In July 1777 delegates from 28 towns met and declared independence from jurisdictions and land claims of British colonies in New Hampshire and New York. They also abolished slavery within their boundaries. The people of Vermont took part in the American Revolution and considered themselves Americans, even if Congress did not recognize its jurisdiction. Because of vehement objections from New York, which had conflicting property claims, the Continental Congress declined to recognize Vermont, then called the New Hampshire Grants. Vermont's overtures to join the British Province of Quebec failed. In 1791 Vermont was admitted to the United States as the 14th state. It abolished slavery while still independent, and upon joining the Union became the first state to have done so.

Because of the proximity of Canada, Vermonters were somewhat alarmed during the War of 1812. Five thousand troops were stationed in Burlington at one point, outnumbering residents. In 1846, the ground was broken for the construction of the first railroad in Vermont, Central Vermont Railway, in Northfield. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Vermont continued the military tradition initiated by the Green Mountain Boys of American Revolutionary War fame, contributing a significant portion of its eligible men to the war effort. During the war, Vermont recruited more than 34,000 men for the United States military.

Vermont and the American Civil War
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Vermont and Sectionalism Map


In 1777, Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery with the adoption of its constitution. It was admitted to the union in 1791, with a state constitution that contained the slavery ban. Since its climate was not conducive to the slave trade, many residents were active in the anti-slavery movement. Vermont's Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1834. The purpose of the organization was to abolish slavery in the United States, and improve the mental, moral, and political condition of the “colored population.”

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. This act increased the penalties for helping fugitives. Vermont abolitionists, many of whom were newspapermen or ministers, condemned the Act. In response, the Vermont legislature passed laws that made it very difficult for anyone to capture a fugitive and return him or her to a slave master. Throughout the 1850s, its citizens continued to help fugitives.

Although Abraham Lincoln never visited Vermont, the Republican presidential nominee swept Vermont with 75.8 percent of the vote. The state’s political leadership was reliably Republican. Between 1861 and 1865, Vermont had three Republican governors. Vermont’s immense influence during the Civil War was realized through its congressional delegation. Justin L. Morrill was an influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and, in 1865, he was a powerful advocate for the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery.


The second article in Vermont's constitution, originally written in 1777, abolished slavery, making it the first state to do so. Although its climate was not conducive to the slave trade, Vermonters were early participants in the abolitionist movement. In the 1860 presidential election, the Green Mountain State gave Abraham Lincoln a lopsided victory, 33,808 votes compared to 8,649 for Stephen Douglas, 1,866 for John Bell, and 217 for John C. Breckenridge. One historian opined that the heavy rain on election day "reduced the Republican majority by at least 7,000" votes.

In the closing days of 1860, in response to a pro-Southern resolution by Representative Albert Rust of Arkansas, Vermont Representative Justin S. Morrill offered an amendment, "Resolved, That in the opinion of this committee, the existing discontent among the Southern people and the growing hostility to the Federal government, are greatly to be regretted, and that any reasonable, proper and constitutional remedy necessary to preserve the peace of the country, and the perpetuity of the Union, should be promptly and cheerfully grant." His amendment was rejected by a large majority, and Congress and the Union continued its downward spiral toward disunion.

Lawyer Lucius E. Chittenden served on the ill-fated Peace conference of 1861 and later as Registrar of the Treasury in the Lincoln administration. Vermont politicians in Congress included Senators Solomon Foot and Jacob Collamer and Representatives Justin S. Morrill, Homer Elihu Royce and Portus Baxter.

During the war, three men served as Governor of Vermont: Erastus Fairbanks, Frederick Holbrook and J. Gregory Smith. Fairbanks reportedly responded to the Federal government's response for troops with "Vermont will do its Full Duty." Under his administration, Vermont fielded six regiments of infantry and one of cavalry. Governor Holbrook's administration saw the recruitment of 10 infantry regiments, 2 light artillery batteries, and 3 sharpshooter companies. Under his administration, as well, Vermont built three military hospitals in the state which were "soon credited by the United States medical inspector with perfecting a larger percentage of cures than any United States military hospital record elsewhere could show." Governor Smith oversaw the recruitment of Vermont's last infantry regiment, a third light artillery battery, and, as a result of a Confederate raid on his hometown, St. Albans, two companies of frontier cavalry.

Vermont Slavery Map
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Vermont and Slavery in the United States Map

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Vermont had a population of 315,098.

More than 34,000 Vermonters served the Union war effort. More than 28,100 Vermonters served in “Vermont volunteer units.” Vermont fielded 17 infantry regiments, 1 cavalry regiment, 3 light artillery batteries, 1 heavy artillery company, 3 companies of sharpshooters, and 2 companies of frontier cavalry. Instead of replacing units as they were depleted, Vermont regularly provided recruits to bring the units in the field back up to normal strength. Nearly 5,000 Vermonters served in other states' units, in the United States Army or the United States Navy. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry included 66 Vermont blacks; a total of 166 black Vermonters served out of a population of 709 in the state.

Vermont suffered a total of 1,832 men killed or mortally wounded in battle; another 3,362 died from disease, in prison or from other causes, for a total loss of 5,194. More than 2,200 Vermonters were taken prisoner during the war, and 615 of them died as a result of their imprisonment. Sixty-four Vermonters received the Medal of Honor, including Willie Johnston, aged 11, the youngest person ever to receive the award.

On the homefront, women in Vermont used the same networks they developed to support their churches and local charities to organize soldiers’ relief. The U.S. Sanitary Commission, mostly staffed by women, operated in many of the military’s general hospitals. Vermont was the site of three of the 192 general hospitals built around the country to allow soldiers to recuperate at home. They used an existing military hospital in Burlington, and new facilities were designed for Brattleboro and Montpelier.

General Winfield Scott, learning that a regiment of Green Mountain Boys (the 1st Vermont Infantry) was awaiting orders, said "I want your Vermont regiments, all of them. I have not forgotten the Vermont men on the Niagara frontier... I remember the Vermont men in the War of 1812."

The baptism of fire for Vermonters was at the Battle of Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, where a battalion of the 1st Vermont Infantry was engaged. In the uncoordinated assault that followed, only a battalion of the First Vermont Infantry and some Massachusetts troops, commanded by Vermont's Colonel (and future governor) Peter T. Washburn, managed to cross the river and threaten the Confederate position, but soon the entire Union force was forced into full retreat. Seventy-six Union soldiers were killed or wounded, compared to eight Confederates. "Our side labored under great disadvantage not knowing the Condition of the Enemy," Sergeant Valentine Barney of the First Vermont complained, "and perhaps by the poorly laid plans of the officers." Second Lieutenant (also a future Vermont governor) Roswell Farnham was more direct, blaming "the blunders of political generals" for the failure.

The state's most important contribution to the war was at the Battle of the Wilderness where the Vermont Brigade held the crucial intersection of two roads, the loss of which would have split the Union forces in half. Approximately 1,200 Vermonters died as a result of the Wilderness. They also played a crucial role at the Battle of Gettysburg, where, under General George J. Stannard, the 2nd Vermont Brigade broke Pickett's charge by stepping out of a protected area and firing at the flank of the attackers. See also Ten Bloodiest and Costliest Battles of the American Civil War.

The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and later the 11th Vermont Infantry regiments served in the famous 1st Vermont Brigade, which saw action in nearly every major engagement in the Eastern Theater from the First Battle of Bull Run to Appomattox Court House.

The 7th Vermont Infantry, 8th Vermont Infantry, and two Vermont Light Artillery Batteries served in the Department of the Gulf under Benjamin F. Butler. The 8th Vermont later saw service in the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864. The 9th Vermont Infantry suffered ignominious capture at the Battle of Harpers Ferry during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, but later fought well with the VII, XVIII and XXIV Corps in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, and was one of the first units to enter Richmond, Virginia in April 1865.

The 10th Vermont Infantry gained its niche in history at the Battle of Monocacy (aka Battle that Saved Washington), an important but often overlooked battle that delayed a Confederate drive on Washington D.C. At Gettysburg on the first day of battle, July 1, 1863, General John Sedgwick is quoted as saying, "Put the Vermonters ahead and keep the column well closed up." The 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Vermont Infantry regiments were banded together as the 2nd Vermont Brigade, which gained lasting credit for its actions in helping stop Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Secession of Slave States Map
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Secession and Readmission to Union Map

In the final days of the war, twenty Confederate soldiers attacked the village of St. Albans, Vermont on October 19, 1864. The raid was planned to avenge assaults on Southern cities, to obtain money needed by the Confederacy, and to cause confusion and panic on the Northern border. The raiders robbed three banks of more than $200,000, killed one citizen and wounded two others, stole a number of horses, and tried unsuccessfully to burn down the town. The Confederates, with Vermonters in close pursuit, escaped across the Canadian border. Eventually several were captured and arrested by Canadians. After the St. Albans raid, Vermont fielded two companies of Frontier Cavalry, who spent six months on the Canadian border to prevent further incursions from Confederate raiders.


Almost 5,200 Vermonters, 15 percent, were killed or mortally wounded in action or died of disease. Men, women and children were greatly affected by the War, and evidence of loss, valor and sacrifice tells the story of Vermont’s Civil War history.

Though manufacturing grew in some parts of Vermont, agriculture remained important. During Reconstruction, the state experienced a loss of labor, as Vermonters migrated West. The two decades following the end of the Civil War saw both economic expansion and contraction, and fairly dramatic social change.

Vermont's system of railroads expanded and was linked to national systems, agricultural output and export soared and incomes increased. But Vermont also felt the effects of recessions and financial panics, particularly the Panic of 1873 which resulted in a substantial exodus of young Vermonters. The transition in thinking about the rights of citizens, recognized by the 1854 Vermont Senate report on slavery, and later Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in changing how citizens perceived civil rights, fueled agitation for women's suffrage. The first election in which women were allowed to vote was on December 18, 1880, when women were granted limited suffrage and were first allowed to vote in town elections, and then in state legislative races.

See also

Sources: National Park Service; National Archives; Library of Congress; US Census Bureau; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; The Union Army (1908); Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States (1883); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915): Wright-Eley Co.; Benedict, G. G., Vermont in the Civil War. A History of the part taken by the Vermont Soldiers And Sailors in the War For The Union, 1861-5. Burlington, VT.: The Free Press Association, 1888; Crockett, Walter Hill, Vermont The Green Mountain State, New York: The Century History Company, Inc., 1921; Fox, William F., Regimental Losses In The American Civil War 1861-1865. Albany: Albany Publishing Company. 1889; Lane, E. H., The soldiers' record of Jericho, Vermont. Burlington, VT.: R.S. Styles, 1868; Peck, Theodore S., compiler, Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers and lists of Vermonters Who Served in the Army and Navy of the United States During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-66. Montpelier, VT.: Press of the Watchman Publishing Co., 1892; Coffin, Howard, Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War. Woodstock, VT.: Countryman Press, 1995; Nine Months to Gettysburg. The Vermonters Who Broke Pickett's Charge. Woodstock, VT.: Countryman Press, 1997; The Battered Stars: One State's Civil War Ordeal during Grant's Overland Campaign. Woodstock, VT.: Countryman Press, 2002; Dornbusch, C. E., Regimental Publications & Personal Narratives of the Civil War., Vol I Northern States, Part 2 New England: The New York Public Library, 1962; Dyer, Frederick Henry, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1908. 3 vol.; Poirier, Robert G., By the Blood of our Alumni: Norwich University Citizen-Soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. Mason City, IA: Savas Publishing Co., 1999; Rosenblatt, Emil & Ruth. 1992. Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk 1861-1865. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0529-0; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 volumes in 4 series. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1880-1901; Wickman, Don, "We Are Coming Father Abra'am," The History of the 9th Vermont Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865. Lynchburg, VA: Schroeder Publications, 2005; Zeller, Paul G., The Second Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1861-1865. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002; Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing; Vermont Humanities Council; Allen, Ira (1969) [1798]. The natural and political history of the State of Vermont, one of the United States of America. Charles E. Tuttle Company. ISBN 0-8048-0419-2; Bellesiles, Michael A. Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier, (1993); Bryan, Frank, and John McClaughry. The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale. Chelsea Green Publishing: 1989. ISBN 0-930031-19-9; Graffagnino, J. Kevin. "The Vermont 'Story': Continuity And Change In Vermont Historiography", Vermont History, 1978 46(2): 77–99; Onuf, Peter S. "State-Making in Revolutionary America: Independent Vermont as a Case Study", Journal of American History, Vol. 67, No. 4 (March 1981), pp. 797–815; Orton, Vrest. Personal Observations on the Republic of Vermont, Academy Books: 1981. ISBN 0-914960-30-X; Roth, Randolph A. The Democratic Dilemma: Religion, Reform, and the Social Order in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont, 1791–1850 (2003); Shalhope, Robert E. Bennington and the Green Mountain Boys: The Emergence of Liberal Democracy in Vermont, 1760–1850 (1996); Van de Water, Frederic Franklyn (1974). The Reluctant Republic: Vermont 1724–1791. The Countryman Press. ISBN 0-914378-02-3; Primary documents The Constitution of the State of Vermont: a Facsimile Copy of the 1777 Original. The Vermont Historical Society: 1977.


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