Romance and Reality, Dissension and Dollars: The War News Trickles In

A photo of a Civil War ambulance crew.

By Gary Farrow, Member of the Danville Historical Society

 

September of 1861, the Civil War was page two. It wasn’t all that unusual for the North Star to have no Civil War headlines on the front page.

There was one item with political repercussions nationally. A Union General had taken it upon himself to issue a proclamation about slavery. There was also a letter by a Vermont POW and a report about the Danville Company. That month, the reader could also learn about what volunteers were getting for pay.

North Star September 7, 1861

The Vermont Prisoners at Richmond

Letter from Captain Drew
Richmond, VA Aug 19, 1861
 Editors of the Free Press:

I am permitted by General Winders, the humane and obliging commander of this post to write you, giving a list of Vt boys confined here, and some information as to our capture. For several days before the battle, I had been sick and on “Sunday the 21st” [A reference to the Battle of Bull Run and its date July 21] was hardly able to move.

But anxiety to be with my men on the battlefield to set out against the urgent advice of many. I endured about eight miles of rapid marching and then was obliged to lie down by the way. I was soon after picked up by an officer of the 4th Maine Regiment who placed me on his horse. Thus I made my way to within two miles of the battleground, when I was put in an ambulance.

I was carried to the hospital and had again for the field when our troops came rushing back. In the overwhelming crowd that rolled pell mell down the hill, I was nearly crushed… three Vermont boys came to me and helped me out of the crowd and down the road… I can never forget the nobleness of their conduct in delaying their own flight to help me when the enemy is in close pursuit… They were as cool as veterans. I was placed in an ambulance at last, though not until all our troops had passed along towards Centerville. Some ten minutes after we were attacked by Cavalry and taken.

From all the officers, I have received the most courteous and kind treatment. Indeed I owe my life to Dr Kennedy of New Orleans, Major Prados of the Louisiana and Gen. Winders of Richmond… who took me to a hotel instead of the hard floor of the prison.

I am getting smart very fast and am anxious to get back to my company. There are over 50 officers and 1200 prisoners. Why does not our Government do something to have us exchanged? Unless President Lincoln wishes to sacrifice us, he had better exchange us and that before long. All news I omit for sufficient reasons.

Yours Truly,

T. J. Drew

(Capt. Drew gives a list of some 20 prisoners from Vermont…)

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Captain Drew’s gratitude is well founded, given that he was in such dire circumstances and met so many Samaritans in such rapid fire succession.

The account has the air of romance; gallantry rings throughout the letter. It painted a world where men did their duty with honor and always retained their humanity. The war years would grind this romanticism into dust and reveal a far different side of human nature, institutionalized at places such as Andersonville Prison in Georgia where over 12,000 Federal inmates would make death’s acquaintance.

North Star, Sept 14, 1861

Fremont’s Proclamation

Fremont’s proclamation of marital law throughout the State of Missouri and the clause that “real and personal property of those who had taken up arms against the United States or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with those in the field is declared confiscated to public use and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men” are creating a sensation North and South.

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Major General John Charles Fremont was sent to Missouri to assert the Federal claim to the Border State and protect Union interests. There were Confederate sympathizers of all sorts taking guerrilla action. He responded with his proclamation about slavery which went well beyond what the President and Congress had authorized. The Fremont Proclamation caused political fireworks. The abolitionists loved it while the fiat put the conservative border states like Kentucky, at risk of secession.

In his patient way Lincoln first tried to get Fremont to modify his proclamation, which he refused to do. In the end, Lincoln modified the proclamation himself so that it agreed with what Congress had recently directed. The abolitionists gnashed their teeth, but at least Lincoln had the political cover of Congress. The amended proclamation mollified the conservatives and kept the border states in the Union.

A year later, Lincoln announced that he would free all slaves in the Confederate States of America. If a state had decided to return to the union prior to the end of the year, they would not be subject to the proclamation. None did. On January 1, 1863, he freed only those slaves in Confederate States leaving those in the border states in bondage; his political calculus was that he did not want to weaken the ties of those states to the Union.

Capt. Laird’s Danville Company

During the last three or four weeks, Capt. R. W. Laird of West Danville, has been busy and very successful in recruiting a company of volunteers for the 5th Vermont Regiment. He has enlisted between 80 and 90 men [ 100 in a company] who for the time being are quartered in our village. Some thirty or more men are residents of Danville – the remainder belonging to surrounding towns.

Last Tuesday, the company was inspected and on Wednesday morning made choice of the following commissioned officers –

Captain R. W. Laird, West Danville

1st Lieut – Abel W. Fisher, Danville

2nd Lieut – J.H. Brooks, Bradford

Last Thursday morning at an early hour, the whole company of men belonging to Danville and this section took up their march for St Johnsbury and there took cars to convey them to Brattleboro. They left in good spirits, and with the best wishes and parting gratulations of our citizens.

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Soldiers roomed in people’s homes; women made uniforms for the men. There is nothing nostalgic about war; however, there was a sense of community engagement and shared sacrifice. In this 85th year of independence, people felt they were making history.

Next week’s North Star contained information about how much the Federal government was paying its soldiers.

North Star, September 21, 1861

Pay of Volunteers and Bounties

…1. By acts of the late Congress, all bounties for enlistment were abolished, as well as the two dollar fee for bringing recruits to the rendezvous for enlistment.

2. For the first reenlistment in the regular army, the soldier is to receive two dollars per month in addition to his former pay and to his former pay and one dollar for each subsequent enlistment.

3. Soldiers who now enter the service…”for the war” and serve out their enlistments shall, with discharge, receive $100 bounty, or that amount will be paid to the legal representative of such as die or killed in the service.

4. After the 5th of August 1861, privates who receive eleven dollars will receive fourteen and those who formerly received twelve dollars will also receive thirteen: privates and corporals receive the same pay.

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For a 21st century reader, who is used to the fevered pitch of a 24-hour news cycle, it is astonishing to see the dearth of news about the War. There will be more about 19th century news reporting in future articles.

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