Preparation for War and Watchful Waiting

Going to see the Elephant, Part 2

The 1st Vermont went to Fort Monroe at the beginning of the Civil War

By Paul Chouinard, President of the Danville Historical Society

From the outset, both as it assumed status as an independent republic in 1777 and as it entered statehood in1791, Vermont outlawed slavery.  Vermont set an example through its progressive position of treating blacks as equals long before the Civil War.  There were some instances of Slave-holding in the state, but these were few.

Alexander Twilight

Alexander Twilight, born in 1795 in Corinth was the first black man in America to earn a college degree.  He graduated from Middlebury College in 1823.  He went on to become a prominent educator in Brownington, VT and to be elected to the VT legislature in 1836.

Lemuel Haynes, the abandoned child of an African

Lemuel Haynes

father and “a white woman of respectable ancestry,” was born in 1753 at West Hartford, Connecticut.  With only a rudimentary formal education, Haynes developed a passion for books.  Haynes served as a Massachusetts  “Minuteman” during the American Revolution.  Following the war, he was probably the first African American ordained by a mainstream Protestant Church in the United States.  He fell in love with a young, white school teacher in his first congregation in Connecticut; she proposed to him , and they were married in 1783, producing ten children His second call to the pulpit, from a mostly white church in Rutland, Vermont that had a few “poor Africans,” lasted for 30 years. He is believed to be the first back in America to serve as pastor to a white congregation.  During that time, Haynes developed an international reputation as a preacher and writer.  In 1804, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College, the first ever bestowed upon an African American. He went on to fill pulpits in Bennington and Manchester, VT.

Vermonters also advocated for slaves through their commitment to the underground railroad, which was active in VT for more than 50 years prior to the Civil War, and through their commitment to the abolitionist movement.  William Lloyd Garrison edited the Liberator in Bennington, VT.   Another noted abolitionist, Oliver Johnson, of Peacham delivered a speech against slavery in Montpelier, July 4, 1828.  Two years later he met Garrison, and, charmed by Garrison’s eloquence, became an ardent disciple of the cause.

1st Vermonters go to war, photo of Robert Coffey from the Vermont Historical Society

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.  Robert 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.  Laird was captain of the regiment, and Abial W. Fisher was first lieutenant.  The Fourth Regiment would go on to fight in some of the major battles of the war, including Gettysburg, Antietam, and Cold Harbor. Company G, which had a number of Danville residents among its ranks, would also lose over half its men to battle and disease.  Colonel William H. Harris of Danville was one of the recruiting officers for the Sixth Regiment.  When the regiment left town for points south, Harris’ recruits were escorted out by loud cheers and a band playing martial music.


MAY 11, 1861

War News of the Week

The whole country is agitated with war excitement.  We can see no diminution of the warlike feeling, but North and South, East and West, all are aroused and preparing for the conflict.  We do not learn of actual hostilities in any section.  The immediate seat of war appears to be in the vicinity of Baltimore, Washington, and the borders of Virginia.  The government is every day strengthening its positions, and is now in good fighting order in Washington, and other points most exposed to rebellion.  It is sated that the Government intends to retake the Gosport Navy Yard and Harper’s Ferry.  If so, there will be a sharp conflict.

As to movements of the Southern forces, we are kept in the dark.

The Blockade

The Administration has determined upon a complete and actual blockade of the Southern ports.  Some fifty vessels are already engaged in this service, and others will be added.  After Jefferson Davis issued his proclamation granting letters for fitting out privateers, it seemed to be necessary to offset that barbarous policy by ordering a blockade.

Vermont-War News

The young misses of Danville have made a large and beautiful American flag, which is suspended across one of our principal streets.  All honor to the ladies for their patriotic labor.

The men enlisted at St. Johnsbury are being drilled, and the ladies of the place have formed a Society to aid the volunteers in the manufacture of clothing, also to aid their families.

The citizens of Cabot met on the 4th, and had a spirited, patriotic meeting.  Nathaniel Perry, Jr. was unanimously requested to raise a company from that and adjoining towns.  Twenty-two men came forward and gave their names.


May 18, 1861

The War

Another week has passed, with no actual hostilities on either side.  There seems to be no abatement of the excitement throughout the country.  Active preparations for the conflict are making throughout the country.  The immediate seat of war appears to be contained to Baltimore, Washington, both sides of the Potomac, and the boarders of Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania.  Here forces are concentrating, and it does not seem probable that a conflict will be long delayed.


Last week Thursday, the Vermont regiment of Volunteers, quartered at Rutland was duly mustered into the service of the United States, and took their departure for the seat of war.  It is said their destination is Fort Monroe, and if so, they must have arrived there last Sunday.  The Regiment completes ten full companies, and is commanded by Col. J. W. Phelps, (a very superior officer).


MAY 25, 1861

War Events of the Week

Since our last issue, the progress of the war exhibits nothing of importance, so far as actual hostilities are concerned.

Large bodies of Northern troops are concentrating to and around Washington city;  they are represented generally as in healthy condition, although a small number out of the whole, are on the sick list.

Great numbers of troops are being concentrated at Fort Monroe.

The blockade of Southern ports is nearly complete.  Several seizures of Southern laden vessels have been made.

No Party Feeling

There seems to be a disposition in certain quarters to ignore party lines and party organizations, and all unite in the common cause of sustaining the Government, without regard to the political preferment of any particular partisan.  This course we think is wise…

“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.





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