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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