All Hell Breaks Loose: Vermonters Get Down to the Business

Civilian observers at the Battle of Bull Run

By Gary Farrow, Member of the Danville VT Historical Society

One hundred and fifty years ago this month saw the Union reeling from the first major battle of the Civil War; rioting over secessionists in New England; and a spate of activity in Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom devoted to marshaling the troops.

The outcome of Bull Run, fought Sunday July 21, shook everyone from their naive slumber. General McDowell’s 30,000 Union troops marched the 30 miles west of Washington DC to attack an equal number of Confederate troops. Some government dignitaries decided to make a day of it and go and see the battle for themselves.

North Star, August 3, 1861

From the New York Times:

The battle yesterday was one of the most severe and sanguinary ever fought on this continent, it ended in the failure of Union troops to hold all the positions they sought to carry …. and in their retreat to Centerville where they have made a stand and where Gen. McDowell believes that they are able to maintain themselves.”…

“… [A]bout a mile this side of Centerville a stampede took place among teamsters and others which threw everything into confusion. Quite a number of senators and members of the House were present at the battle. (It is now reported that one senator and two members are prisoners.)”


It has been speculated by historians that the fact that the Union men’s three-month enlistments were close to being up contributed to a lack of fighting will. Subsequent enlistments were for three years. James McPherson in his Civil War Book, Battle Cry of Freedom, suggested Bull Run was a “Farewell to the Ninety Days War.”

The calls for enlistments rang throughout the month of August. From the Danville town history, A Village in the Hills by Susan Clifford, “The first Danville men to go off to war enlisted with the Third, Fourth, and Sixth Regiments, which would later become part of the famous Vermont Brigade, composed of the First through Sixth Regiments. R.W. Laird, a farmer and horse breeder from West Danville, was the recruiting officer for the Danville Company of the Fourth Regiment which was quartered in Danville before heading south.” A regiment is made up of a 1,000 men, a company 100.

Current Danville resident and Civil War reenactor, Dave Hare, tells the story of how the Third Regiment suffered its first casualty. Enlistees rendezvoused at the grounds of the Caledonia County Agricultural Society in St. Johnsbury for training. The site is known as the “Old Fairgrounds” which is where the Comfort Inn now stands.

As did all military units, the encampment in St Johnsbury had a sutler which is a private merchant who sells food and other provisions to the troops. The men at Camp Baxter, named for the man who enlisted them, felt they were being gouged to such an extent that one night they broke into the sutler’s establishment and stole provisions.

They were reprimanded and told that this was totally unacceptable and a guard was posted at the store. However, men went back the second night and attempted to ransack the sutler’s stocks again. During the melee, a Sergeant John Terrell was shot and killed. It remains unclear to this day whether he was a looter or attempting to restore the peace.

Meanwhile, down country, the social fabric was starting to unravel.

North Star, August 17

Riot at Concord, NH

Concord, NH Aug 8 – The office of the Democratic Standard was completely relieved of its contents this afternoon, by a mob composed of soldiers of the returned 1st Regiment and of citizens,..[the] secesh (secessionists) published an article reflecting on the soldiers. They demanded a retraction, and the Palmers, the editors and proprietors, shook pistols and axes out of the windows and dared the mob while city authorities endeavored to quell the disturbance. The Palmers fired four shots, wounding two soldiers. The office was immediately gutted and the materials burned in the street. The Palmers took refuge in the attic, but were finally found and carried to the police station, protected by police, though with great difficulty.


The one constant here was that the war machine was ascendant.


North Star, August 17, 1861

Vermont Regiments – The St Albans Messenger states that Col Stoughton’s regiment is to rendezvous at St Albans and the next which is to be a Zouave regiment will go to camp at St Johnsbury. It is further stated that several companies, making more than one half of a regiment, have already offered themselves.


A Zouave regiment was quite a sight to behold. Here is a description from Bruce Catton’s Mr Lincoln’s Army, “[they wore] bright red baggy pants, white canvas leggings, broad red sash at the waist, short blue jacket, tasseled red caps.” The original Zouaves were native North African troops serving in the 1830’s.The Zouvave regalia was also used in Crimea and Italy during the 1850’s.

North Star, August 24, 1861

The following schedule shows the number of horses purchased by Gov. Fairbanks for the two Vermont Regiments.

116 horses, $11,534.50

…The horses are pronounced to be an excellent lot of good size, sound and well adapted to the purposes for which they are procured. If all of Gov. Fairbanks purchases have been as judicious as this seems to have been, we think he will be able to exhibit a pretty clean record.


More about Mr Laird.

North Star, August 24, 1861

Chance to Enlist – We learn that Capt. R.W. Laird of West Danville has listing orders to recruit a company of volunteers. He already has several names, and would be glad to get more immediately. Full pay commences from the day of enlistment.


And finally, Governor Fairbanks’ rhetorical call to arms.

North Star, August 24, 1861

To the Citizens of Vermont Aug 20,1861

An emergency has arisen which demands active and prompt co-operation of every lover of his country, in efforts to raise and organize troops for the aid and protection of the general Government.

In view of danger, an earnest call has been made…by direction of the President of the United States for two Regiments, which under my general order…are being enlisted requesting that the troops may be forwarded to Washington with the utmost dispatch….

…I earnestly call upon the young men of the State to enroll their names at the several recruiting stations for the service of their country…

…[L]et it not be said that the Green Mountain State was the last to fly to the rescue.


And fly they did.

For more photos related to this article click here.


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