Monday, February 11, 2013

GAR in vermont hill cemeteries

i'm from vermont.

i'm not a vermonter, because i wasn't born here and we make that distinction. but we have a lot of hill cemeteries here in the old towns "offrum" the main roads. it's been a thing i do, ever since i was a kid, to look at the old headstones, trace the families.

and one thing you notice here is that a LOT of the old graves are civil war veterans. you get used to it. you just expect to see clusters of graves with GAR stars and death dates that tell you those boys died far from home.

one thing i have noticed travelling in some other states, new york in particular, is how many civil war dead there aren't. i know my history; i know that new york men died on those battlefields just like everybody else and in many places with extreme valor.

but you just don't see the density of graves.

there are a number of reasons why vermont men went off in such large numbers to fight a war so far away. vermont was an early and strong abolition state. a lot of the trouble in kansas was caused by vermonters who wanted to spread their abolitionist views there. but also vermont was an isolated state, a prideful state. and boys wanted to go see the elephant, and some just wanted to show they were as good a group of men as from anywhere else.

but the arithmetic of it is shocking and sorrowful.

vermont sent roughly 9.7 precent of its total population to that war, and out of those fifteen percent died. can i break that down for you?

let's just say that of the total population roughly half were male, and of those boys and men let's just say that 40% were of soldiering age.

that means about 43 per cent of vermont's men went to that war, and three out of every twenty who went died.

the "old brigade", the First Vermont Brigade, the only brigade in the army of the potomac known by its state name, suffered more casualties than any other brigade in the history of the united states army.

over a thousand men died in one afternoon alone at a god-forsaken crossroads in virginia.

that is a lot of water for a small state to carry.

vermont schoolchildren all learn this by the time they visit the statehouse.

in the south and in the border states you had to go to the war because the war came right up to your doorstep whether you wanted to go see it or not, but in vermont they went in huge numbers and took by far the largest casualties per capita of any northern state.

so it's a habit for me to look for the GAR stars when i visit old cemeteries. and there are a lot of them here.

not so many in new york, where maybe they had more sense and less dogmatic views about abolition and union.

often when i visit an old cemetery in new york state there are few civil war veterans and of those veterans very few war dead.

the reason i'm writing this post, i guess, is that back in october i was in a handful of new york cemeteries and did find some civil war veterans, but none of them were war dead. i looked up their service records as i often do and i started to write a post about that, but i got to thinking about the heavy toll of the war on vermont, which is my home.

later on i will tell you about those new york men in a post of their own. the two trains of thought are related, but they are not the same. and those three men i spent my afternoon researching deserve their own place, regardless of their state of origin or their luck in having been assigned to regiments with low casualties and high survival.

they all threw their lots in the same.

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