Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The Law Of Small Numbers
Following up on yesterday's photoblogging...
Can't remember exactly when--maybe it was during the last campaign--I was chatting with Rep Dick Howrigan about how Fletcher didn't have a memorial to its Civil War dead. I realized then that I'd hardly any knowledge beyond a general sense of Vermont's service in the conflict, and didn't know a damned thing about my own town's. So I started reading more about it, as I'm wont to do.
Anyway, in poking around in a fairly lax way, I finally stumbled upon reference to Corporal Leach, whose grave is about 1000 feet from our house. To put his service in context:
By reason of the character of its population [Vermont] furnished a greater proportion of native-born citizens than any other state, and in proportion to the number of men furnished, it gave to the Union more lives lost from all causes than any other loyal state. Pennsylvania sustained the greatest loss in killed of any state, its percentage being 7.1 ; Vermont ranks second with a loss of 6.8. The percentage of loss in the Union army, killed and mortally wounded, was 4.7, and it will thus be seen that Vermont troops saw their full share of the hard fighting.
The first reconnoissance in force made by United States troops upon the soil of Virginia, was that of the ist Vt., May 23, 1861. It is an interesting fact that the 2nd Vt. fired the last shot of the 6th army corps, April 6, 1865, at Sailor's creek, Va.
Corporal William Leach was mustered as private into the 2nd, which according to Howard Coffin's Full Duty...
...was a picked regiment, chosen by Adjutant General Baxter from 60 Vermont militia companies. The selected Brattleboro, Burlington, Castleton, Fletcher, Ludlow, Montpelier, Tunbridge, Waterbury, and Vergennes outfits.
They headed for DC in the summer of '61, and the NYTimes reported:
The Second Vermont Regiment, which has for three weeks been encamped at Bennington, Vt., arrived in this City yesterday, via the Hudson River Railroad...Friends flocked in rapidly to greet old relatives and acquaintances, and the provincial hemlock -- the Vermont insignia of patriotism -- graded several regiments of civilians' hat-bands and button-holes, in honor of the day.
The regiment, like others from the hardy North and East, commanded approbation. The men were all well behaved, and intelligent, while at the same time their stalwart frames bespoke the best material for soldiers...The excellent deportment of the men contrasted strongly with the maudlin pranks of a corps of the Thirty first Regiment of this City, Col. PRATT, whose conduct brought blushes to the cheeks of many a New-Yorker.
The entire sobriety of the Vermont men was none the less commendable in view of the sale within the barracks of "refreshments" in violation of all military rule and sadly destructive of discipline...The Vermonters, however, withstood the temptation...They exhibited their prudence by filling their haversacks with fresh provisions, purchasing portable filters, changing their paper money for silver, writing letters home, and otherwise improving their time like reasonable men.
The Second Vermont saw a lot of action over the course of the war:
Lt. Chester Leach best summed up the situation in the 2nd Vermont the day after the battle of Spotsylvania when he wrote, "It is impossible to tell how long the ﬁghting will last, but if we keep at it much longer as we have, there will he nobody left to ﬁght." Leach's company had gone into the Wilderness with 63 men; after Spotsylvania it had but 19. Company E was down to 16 men. The other companies of the 2nd Vermont were in equally bad shape."
Just a couple months before, Lt Leach had lost his brother William. Howard Coffin's The Battered Stars includes the former's letter home about the death:
Thursday morning the flush had gone from his cheeks, & more death like color was on him, otherwise, he appeared about the same only weaker & the nervousness of the day before had left him. I saw him last about 11 O.C. & about 2, they sent down word that he was dead. I started as soon as possible to make arrangements to send his body home.
I learned that there was an office of embalming at Brandy Station, so I got an ambulance and were there Thursday afternoon, go a coffin to take the body in, & sent it to the station that night...I would very much like to have taken the body home, myself, but I knew there was no use to try, therefore, have done all that I can do, & hope it may reach home without any accident.
There will be some of his clothes in the box & if I had thought about it before I went to the Station, should have sent everything he had that was worth sending, as it would cost nothing, & help hold the coffin steady in the box...Thursday, the day Wm. Died, was a very pleasant day, & reminded me of a first-rate sap day in Vt., after a big snow storm.
He was one of a family of seven children and his early history is that of hundreds of young men in his native state, born and bred upon the farm and in the intervals receiving a meagre education in the district schools.
From 1856 to the time of the civil war he was employed in the vocation to which he had been brought up, but sharing in the general outburst of patriotism that followed the fall of Fort Sumter, he enlisted in the 2d Regt. of the old Vt. Brigade and was mustered into the United States service June 20, 1861. He was immediately made 2d Lieut, of Co. H., and participated with his regiment in the first battle of Bull Run. After this defeat he was present at every important battle and engagement in which that veteran regiment took part, and received his discharge as 1st Lieut, after three years of gallant and arduous service.
After his discharge from military duty Captain Leach, like Cincinnatus, returned to the plough, and, after cultivating different farms, finally settled on the old homestead, where he still remains. He is a successful dairyman and also produces a large crop of sugar from his orchard of more than two thousand maple trees.
He was elected as the Republican candidate to the state Senate in 1878 and was a member of the committee on military affairs and agriculture. Besides this position he has also held many offices of minor importance in the town where he resides.
Now that I'm on the Selectboard, I won't be making this some cause of mine to spend taxpayers' money building a monument to our Civil War casualties and veterans. But I would like to remind our townspeople from time to time that people from our tiny community served in a cause that was really larger and far, far away from their immediate, parochial concerns.
Consider that after Fort Sumter was fired upon:
Private persons offered to the state sums ranging all the way from one thousand to twenty thousand dollars each. Towns voted to raise money on their grand list, and subscribed to equip the militia and support the families of volunteers. Banks at Montpelier placed twenty-five thousand dollars each at the disposal of the governor to equip the troops ; at Burlington and St. Albans they offered ten per cent of their capital, and more if needed.
The special session of the legislature had been called for the 25th of April...Within twenty-four hours both houses had passed by unanimous vote an appropriation of one million dollars for war expenses. In forty-two hours from the time it met the legislature adjourned, with its work completed. It had passed acts providing for the organizing, arming, and equipping of six more regiments for two years' service — the government had called for only three months' troops — and had voted seven dollars per month pay in addition to the thirteen dollars offered by the government ; had provided for the relief of the families of volunteers in cases of destitution, and had laid the first war tax, — ten cents on the dollar of the grand list.
This work was without precedent, and was equalled by the records of but few states. Vermont had voted for the war an appropriation of a larger sum than had been voted by any other state in proportion to the population, and had made provision for her sons and their families...
I haven't been able to find what the state budget was at the time, but $1M is roughly about $24M today, or more than we currently spend on mental health in Vermont. And look what happened when there was a national crisis: banks made money available, people broke open their piggy banks, and the state voted to raise taxes not only to form more than its quota of regiments but also to pay the soldiers extra.
Nowadays I see people comparing ObamaCare to slavery, and folks are warned to hold onto their wallets in a time when tax rates are historically low. Quite a contrast to our town's and state's historic commitment to union, republican values, and taking care of each other.
July 18, 2012 | Permalink
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