Going to See the Elephant

Harper's Weekly image of the firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861

By Paul Chouinard, President of the Danville Historical Society


April marks the beginning of the sesquicentennial observance of the outset of the Civil War with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, April 12, 1861. For the next four years the Danville Historical Society will reprint excerpts of articles published in the North Star from 1861 to 1865 focusing on Danville’s involvement in the Civil War.

“Going To See The Elephant” was an expression used by enlistees in the Union Army describing the experience of country boys going off to war where they would experience life in ways they could not have imagined.

Under the leadership of Governor Erastus Fairbanks, Vermont responded quickly to the call for men to join the Union forces. During the Civil War, Vermont contributed more per capita from its treasury and from its population of young men to the conflict than any other state in the Union. Danville’s financial commitment of approximately $36,000. to the war effort , as well as the number of its enlistments was extraordinary.

In 1861, Danville had a population of about 2,500 consisting of about 350 men between the ages of 18 and 45. Out of this pool of men, from 1861 to 1865 Danville furnished 245 enlistments consisting of 194 different men. The balance was accounted for by re-enlistments. By the end of the war, Danville had lost a total of 35 men. Twelve of those who lost their lives were killed in battle and the rest died from exposure, starvation, or sickness.

Notable among Danville citizens who enlisted and whose service and leadership skills were exemplary were Colonel Addison Preston who commanded the 1st Regiment, Vermont Volunteer Cavalry and Captain Charles D. Brainerd. According to G.G. Benedict in Vermont in the Civil War, Preston was “one of the best disciplinarians that ever commanded the regiment. He took good care of his men and was popular with them. As a man he was frank, hearty, genial, quick of thought and action. As a fighter he was brave to a fault, impetuous, eager to strike, ready to go himself wherever he sent his men, and unwilling to leave any place of danger as long as there was anything to be done.” A soldier under Preston’s command described him as “one of the most brave and dashing cavalry officers in the army”. Brainerd enlisted as a private in the infantry of the 15th Regiment of Vermont Volunteers. He and other Vermont Volunteers faced some of the darkest days of the Civil war at Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg. After the final assault on Petersburg, Brainerd was promoted to brevet captain.

Born in Danville, VT and educated at Peacham Academy, Thaddeus Stevens went on to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, where as a member of the House of Representatives he became leader of the Radical Republicans. Along with Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, he led Congress in the Reconstruction of the South following the Civil war and led the effort to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Danville Historical Society looks forward to sharing Civil War articles published in the North Star from 1861 to 1865 with you.

The following is an excerpt of Nathaniel Eaton’s editorial in response to the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces April 12, 1861 appeared in the North Star of April 20 1861.

The Crisis—–The Duty of the Hour

The event which all have feared—a crisis which every one ought sincerely to deprecate—has come. Civil war is inaugurated. The action of extreme, ambitious and designing men of the disunion school, has brought upon us the dire result.—To such an extent is this spirit of civil strife aroused—so utterly regardless of loyalty and patriotism are those who have taken the lead in it, that they have commenced a sanguinary conflict at Charleston, in hostility to the regularly constituted authorities of the land, if not with a settled purpose, to overthrow the Government itself by force of arms. In such an emergency, without regard to mere party feelings, it would seem the part of wisdom, of duty of patriotism, for every one to second and sustain all necessary efforts on the part of the General Government to maintain its rightful constitutional authority in the attempts to execute the laws, and sustain the union of our Fathers.


It will be seen that Governor Fairbanks has called an extra session of the Legislature to meet at Montpelier next Tuesday, to secure prompt action of our State in the present emergency. The militia of Vermont at present is in a disorganized condition. It requires legislative action to revive, systematize and thoroughly organize it.

The Volunteer Militia is in better condition, and some (of) its companies are already responding to the expected call.

A Proclamation

A Call for 75,000 Men


Washington, April 15

By the President of the United States—A Proclamation

…I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call-forth , and hereby do call forth the militia of the several States of the Union to the aggregate number of seventy-fife thousand, in order to suppress said combinations and to case the laws to be duly executed.

Union Meeting in Danville

A large meeting of the citizens of Danville was held at the Brick Church in this village, on Saturday, April 20, to consider the all absorbing subject of our National Crisis.

The meeting was called to order by Hon. B. N. Davis…

A committee on resulutions was appointed by the Chair…

Resolved, That this meeting hail with delight the unfolding of our glorious old Flag—the Flag of our Forefathers—the flag of our union—The Flag of Liberty—and in its defence “we pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

The “star-spangled banner” was floating from many places in the village—an old fashioned band of drums and fifes discoursed martial music of the genuine and stirring kind—and a large delegation of ladies filled the gallery, and waved the stars and stripes, while the multitude cheered the speakers below.—This was a marked feature of interest in the day’s proceedings, and a degree of enthusiasm prevailed, which has not before been witnessed in these parts since Revolutionary times.

An advertisement calling the Citizens of Danville to arms

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3 Responses to Going to See the Elephant

  1. Mark Moore says:

    Union Major Andersen, the Commander of Fort Sumter during the bombardment was General Beauregard’s artillery instructor when the General was a cadet at West Point

  2. Kathy Brabson says:

    Good afternoon!
    I will be travelling north from Pennsylvania tomorrow, Monday, July 11. I am planning to visit the Danville Historical Society on Tuesday afternoon, in search of any “new” facts about the childhood years of your native son, Thaddeus Stevens. Most specifically, I will be seeking names of any friends and acquaintances, as well as info about his possible games and activities.
    If you will be able to share any resources with me, I would be most appreaciative!
    Kathy Brabson

  3. search says:

    My family members always say that I am killing my time here at net, but I know I am getting familiarity every day
    by reading such good content.

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