Complicated History

A couple of months ago, I went to the Sullivan Museum and History Museum at Norwich University for a talk by one of the history professors, Dr. Steven Sodergren, as part of an exhibit series on the Civil War. His talk was about the specific motivations for individuals on each side of the Civil War, refuting the idea that there was a uniform block of support behind both the Union and Confederate governments. Some Southern states, when the decision came to vote on the decision to split from the United States, had a close majority: no more than 55-60% of the population supporting the idea, leaving a substantial chunk in opposition.

The idea behind the talk was a sound one, taking on the idea of the very nature of taught history: it’s not as simple as it’s made out to be. History is a difficult topic to convey to a large audience: big, complicated and multi-facetted, the very instruction of the field is just as enlightening as a separate topic. The Civil War was never quite as clear cut when it came to the motivations of the soldiers on the field: according to Sodergren, it was a deeply personal and difficult choice for everyone who took up arms. More recently, a talk on VPR with Vermont Historian Howard Coffin noted that looking at enlistment numbers is important: high initially, support dropped off following the first major battles when bodies began to return home.

I recently presented a paper at the New England Historical Association, where I talked about Norwich University’s efforts during the Battle of the Bulge. My panel’s commentator noted that between the papers, there’s a high level view of history, with the strategy and big decisions, and the ground level, with the individual soldiers fighting: my paper bridged the gap, telling the story of the Bulge through the soldiers who fought there, but also how their actions played into a much larger story. Their own actions were far from singular: they spanned the entire command structure, from a Private First Class to a Major General. In our continued study of Norwich History, my wife and I have found soldiers who enlisted in foreign militaries prior to the United States’ entry into the Second World War, while others were drafted.

A recent article by Slate Magazine caught my eye: How Space-Age Nostalgia Hobbles Our Future: Contrary to popular belief, public support for space exploration in the 1960s was far from universal. It’s an interesting read, presenting a very contrary view to the supposed popularity of the Apollo program during the 1960s-1970s. Far from the major popular support that we perceive, the public approval rating for the program only hit a majority around the time that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, and individual accounts from around the country shows that there was a wide range of opinions as to the value of the program. Support for the space programs also varied wildly depending on age group, and undoubtedly, on location as well.

Looking at political records from the time, there’s also an important story when it comes to how Congress approved wartime funding: the public easily remembers President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University. The reality of actually funding the space program is far more complicated, with competing national priorities. Even Kennedy’s speech, while influential, isn’t so clear cut: it was designed in the aftermath of the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, and was issued to help divert attention away from the administration’s blunder.

A book that I particularly detest is Victor David Hanson’s Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, an enormously popular and reviled book on the nature of culture and war: he outlines that the very nature of democracy makes a standing military inherently stronger, because the individual soldiers have a stake in their government and by extension, their destiny. It’s a very appealing, straight-cut assumption, and one that breaks down when one considers the enormous complexity inherent in a democratic nation: no sane person makes the decision to take up arms for their country lightly, and Hanson’s text does a disservice to the historical community by overly simplifying a situation that shouldn’t be simplified.

In a lot of ways, this falls under the same public mentality that spawned the Greatest Generation from the Second World War and the Lost Cause line of thinking from the Civil War. Looking even further back into our nation’s history, the War for Independence was likewise far from universally supported! Another specific example from one of my instructor’s talks was the Boston Tea Party: essentially a rebranded name in an age of nostalgia to smooth over the fact that the ‘Destruction of the Tea’ was committed by political radicals.

I often wonder as I hear political reminiscing about the space age or the greatest generation or of Lincoln’s efforts, whether people throughout the ages understand that the rosy memories upon which we build the future on is really nothing more than a shared fabrication, and why we reject the complicated story for something that has been watered down to the point that it’s contrary to the original message.

History is our most wonderful, complicated Mandelbrot set that continues to bring out new levels and stories. Dr. Sodergren’s talk highlighted a key point in how we approach history: it becomes defined by its major outcomes, as opposed to the actions that lead up to them, and increasingly, it feels as though the lessons that we can learn are missed, overlooked or simply ignored.

Who knows, though? Maybe we need the simple stories.

Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University

I’ve sold a new article to the Norwich Record, titled Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University. This was one of the projects that I was working on last fall, and shortly after the start of the New Year, I submitted my final draft. The research phase was interesting: going through archives and piecing together a rather interesting and diverse man that was a central, but forgotten figure in Norwich University and local Vermont history.

When assigned to this project, I was a little skeptical: what exactly were the links between the Episcopal Church and how would something like this be relevant to today’s reader and Norwich alum? After reading up on Bourns, it became clear that there are some interesting things that he has to teach us today.

Out of the Ashes: How an Irish Episcopal Priest Saved Norwich University

The year 1866 was a pivotal one for Norwich. In March, a fire destroyed the school’s primary building—the Old South Barracks—and the University’s future lay in jeopardy. The disaster represented the biggest challenge to date in Reverend Edward Bourns’ tenure as president, a career that had shepherded the young school through fifteen years of adversity, including hostilities from the citizens of Norwich and Hanover, crippling debt, and four years of civil war. Yet, under the immensely popular Irishman’s steadfast guidance and vision, the University would not only survive, but thrive.

NO ORDINARY MAN

Reverend Edward Bourns was well-equipped to run a college. A learned man, he not only held the office of president, but served on the faculty, teaching ancient languages and moral sciences. An ordained Episcopal priest, he held religious services on Sundays.

The reverend’s lack of military training in no way hindered his leadership abilities. Described by Adelbert Dewey as “a man of peace by profession, better versed in canon law than cannon balls,” he had nevertheless acquired “the swinging stride of the modern soldier.” An insatiable reader renowned for his “incisive and delicate wit,” it became a saying among the cadets “that no one could enter the doctor’s rooms on the briefest of errands and not depart wiser than he came.” An imposing presence at six foot two, Rev. Bourns was respected by all, and perfectly suited—both as a shrewd administrator and genial leader—to steer Norwich safely through perilous times.

Born October 29, 1801, in Dublin, Ireland, Bourns entered Trinity College in 1823, but put his education on hold to serve as a private tutor, completing his degree a decade later. Ellis’ History of Norwich University describes him as “a man of learning and acumen,” and at Dublin he won numerous book prizes for scholastic achievement.

From Dublin he moved to London, where he engaged his skills as a writer and reviewer, working alternately in the publishing industry and as a teacher. In 1837, he journeyed across the Atlantic to the United States, where he became acquainted with a fellow Irishman, the Reverend William DeLaney, Provost of Pennsylvania University. Shortly after, Bourns followed Reverend DeLaney (now the Bishop of Western New York) to Geneva, where he enrolled at Hobart College, earning his MA and becoming an adjunct classics professor. By 1841, having received his LLD from Hobart, he was ordained Deacon of Geneva’s Trinity College. Four years later, after a short stint as a fully ordained priest, Dr. Bourns resigned his professorship at Hobart and left for Brooklyn, N.Y., where he taught ancient languages for five years.

 

You can read the full article here.

Dreadnought, Cherie Priest

It’s hard to mention the term Steampunk without also mentioning Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, an alternate history of the United States, featuring all of the bells and whistles that comes with the territory. The first novel, Boneshaker, was well received, as was the short novella, Clementine, set shortly after the events of the first book, while the latest entry in the series (there are two more planned), Dreadnought, picks up the story across the country and helps to flesh out Priest’s strange alternate world. An interesting follow-up to Boneshaker, Dreadnought never quite reaches the same heights that its predecessor reached, nor does it quite feel as unique. As such, Priest brings out new elements to the Civil War only hinted at in the previous books, and tells a fun story, one that is sure to be popular with the steampunk crowd.

Following Mercy Lynch, a nurse stationed in a confederate war hospital in Virginia, Dreadnought is set in the heart of the lengthened American Civil War. Lynch is summoned away by her father, Jeremiah Swakhammer, (careful readers will remember the name from Boneshaker). What happens next is a journey for Lynch that she could never have expected. An alternate title for this book could easily have been Airships, Barges and Locomotives, for her journey across the country covers not only ground, but the staples of the steampunk movement. Along the way, a number of storylines begin to form and collide as the war effort goes forward. A Texas Ranger is on the hunt for a missing Mexican army, while a Union scientist harbors a hidden and deadly cargo onboard the Dreadnought, a Union train bound for the west on a mysterious mission. As Lynch finds herself at the center of the conflict, we’re treated to a spectacle of action and movement as she makes her way across the continent to her dying father.

At points, Dreadnought is very good, particularly once things get moving west, when the titular Dreadnought becomes the main setting and as story elements begin to collide. Each storyline has their own main elements running forward and Priest has constructed a fascinating tale of the war without being set in the war, further telling the story of two sides that fail to quit fighting.

At the same time, however, Dreadnought proved to be a frustrating read as exposition took over in the beginning and end, and as the story seemed to merely drift along the rail road tracks to each major scene, with a host of forgettable characters to fill in the blanks. Where Boneshaker left me unable to put the book down, Dreadnought seems to be the sophomore slump (being the second full novel in the series, not the author’s second novel or story within The Clockwork Century) in the series.

Part of this might stem from the very nature of the book, spread out over a vast continent, with almost too much to look at: there’s a short, tantalizing section on the actions of the Civil War, then onto the fragmented nature of the country, then the native Americans, mad scientists, Texas Rangers and zombies. As a result, the main action takes its time to gather momentum. But, when it does, the book (forgive me) picks up steam and becomes an engrossing read that lives up to the best elements of its predecessors before ending quietly with a quick link to Boneshaker that serves well as an epilogue.

Steampunk has hit some major counter arguments lately from a couple of authors, making some pointed arguments that The Clockwork Century, nor Dreadnought are able to adequately answer. The main point that kept running through my mind during all of the stories was how the Civil War would be approached, and after reading through Dreadnought, it seems that there’s a certain level of the Southern inevitable cause that seems to have survived since the 1870s when it first originated: the South was destined to lose, but it fought the better fight. Thrust into the heat of the Civil War, the book goes in this direction, and as a historian, it’s a little frustrating to see such a revisionist vision come out. (This isn’t to say that Mrs. Priest is a diehard revisionist: just that her book seems to go in that direction)

Whatever the historical feelings are when it comes to this story, Charles Stross brings up a very good point with his own rant about Steampunk: namely that the genre seems far too rosy and nostalgic for the staples of Steampunk: the corsets, the goggles, brass and strange trappings that characterize the movement. Here, the south seems to have largely given up an element of bloody racism, lone women are free to run around the country largely without incident, and there’s really no feeling of the absolute brutality and dark nature that characterized this era of history. While Stross’s arguments miss elements of how history played out in the United States, there are still some relevant points. I would rather have this rather fantastic, romanticized past rather than the actual one, but when compared to our true past, this version feels somewhat hollow.

Keeping in mind that this is an element of historical fiction, aimed towards entertainment, these arguments are somewhat petty in and of themselves: there is no expectation of historical accuracy, especially when there is talk of a zombie army running around Utah, eating the Mormons who have settled there, but it feels like there is an incredible opportunity missed by not setting a story that looks to something besides a romantic version of the past. The reasons for not doing so are pretty clear: when marketing a product that you want to sell, you don’t really want to highlight all of the nasty or dirty elements, much as Apple doesn’t want to highlight the group of Foxxconn workers who committed suicide while building the ever popular iProducts that have become so common play. However, by ignoring these elements, Priest’s vision of steampunk is far more polished and perfect, which calls attention to itself.  But, that’s okay.

Steampunk is a genre that I’ve sought to avoid as much as possible, but Priest’s alternative vision in Dreadnought, no matter how polished, is a fun and exciting story that stands up well within her series, and it gives me no small amount of hope that even with a flood of material, there are still some authors who strive to tell a good story, rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck off of an audience who’s looking the right way at the right time. Dreadnought is a good book – not a great one – that holds no pretense as to what it is supposed to be, and doesn’t overstep its bounds. For that reason alone, it’s worth picking up and reading. Steampunk itself might be a flawed creation, but so long as Priest stands at the front, I have an amount of faith that there will still be some good stories to be told within it.

Clementine, by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest had a good thing started with her steampunk story, Boneshaker, set in an alternate Seattle overrun by zombies and populated by the brass, glass and goggles that we’ve come to expect from the Steampunk genre. Taking place in an American Civil War that has run on for twenty years, rather than the four that it actually lasted for, there is a new entry in the series: Clementine, a short novella that takes off from Boneshaker. Priest has continued the story forward, and it proves to be a short tale from the world that she will be continuing onwards with the Clockwork Century. Ultimately, this book is a short one, and is only able to whet reader’s appetites, while not delivering fully on a comparable story such as Boneshaker.

Clementine borrows a couple of characters that were seen briefly in Boneshaker, Croggon Hainey and his crew, who are in pursuit of his stolen airship, the Free Crow. At the same time, Priest introduces a new character, Maria “Belle” Boyd, a former Confederate Spy, who has been hired by the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency to ensure delivery of the cargo of another airship, with weapons for the Union. The two characters collide when their paths cross, and work together to reach their respective goals: Hainey to retrieve his ship, Boyd finish out her first job with the Pinkertons.

The book, while short, is an entertaining read that tells a compact story set in Priest’s Clockwork Century universe, first seen in Boneshaker, which proved to be an interesting, if somewhat limited view of the outside world, where elements of the ongoing conflict were alluded to, but not seen.

That might have been the better approach, however, because while it’s good to see that Priest is continuing the series, Clementine is constricted by its size – a mere 201 pages, with easily twice that amount of story shoved into it, making it feel like there was much more to tell. Events happen rather quickly, conveniently and at points, the fact that this is set in a Steampunk world is something that’s pushed forward often and the end result feels somewhat forced, where Boneshaker felt like it flowed forward a bit easier in its own world.

The size issue is to be expected, given the length of the novella, but the story simply feels too big in scale to really fit in. Fortunately, the book holds enough to really hold one’s interest throughout as it flies by – this is a quick read, and there is plenty of action and gunplay to keep the events moving along briskly.

One of the points that I found most interesting was the attention to detail that Priest exhibits when it comes to prior historical record and the Civil War, but also social relations. With the Civil War continuing onwards, there is a ripple throughout the country on the impact of the war, which is nicely seen here: race relations, mercenary organizations, military hardware and similar happenings are seen throughout the story, and I have to commend Priest on moving towards the Civil War slowly – I suspect that something like that would be several books in and of itself.

The Civil War is a complicated, well documented war, and in Priest’s universe, that has continued onwards for decades longer than the actual conflict – a convenient plot device to explain the technology and event that happened in this alternate world. This short book reveals just a little bit more to the audience, but just enough to keep people wanting more. The next book, Dreadnought, is due out in a couple of weeks, and looks like it will fit far better with Clementine than it will with Boneshaker.

When putting the two together, I think that Boneshaker is the preferable book to point people towards, simply because it held my interest far better than an alternate Civil War story. There are Zombies (and while I dislike them when they’re poorly written, this wasn’t the case here), strange technology, an abandoned city and so forth, this book didn’t have the same depth, and I’m hoping that that is just due to length.

This is certainly a series that will be popular, and Clementine will be the book that the real fans will go to, to get that added bit of insight into the world while they wait for the next book to come out. It’s certainly tided me over while waiting for the next read. One can only hope that we’ll see additional stories to come out of the Clockwork Century while we wait.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

Very rarely do I come across a book that literally keeps me up nights with a flashlight, reading into the late hours, just to finish one more chapter, just one more, before sleep overcomes me and I’m forced to place my bookmark in place to continue reading the next day. There are a lot of books that I’m interested in, fascinated by, but there are very few that capture me with a interesting story and a writing style that makes the pages blur as I read. Cherie Priest’s 2009 novel, Boneshaker did just that over the past couple of days. Boneshaker is one hell of a story, one that left me wanting more whenever I set the book aside. Capturing a trio of geek obsessions, Priest’s novel is a compelling work of alternate history that blends zombies with steampunk, villains and mad scientists, all swept together in a story that was quite a bit of fun to read. Nominated for the prestigious Nebula and Hugo awards (It lost out to Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl for the Nebula), and armed with a good number of critical praise, Priest has quite a bit to be proud of with this book. Set in an alternate past, where the American Civil War has dragged on for nearly fifteen years, the city of Seattle is dying. Sixteen years prior to the beginning of the story, a machine, designed to mine gold in the frozen Klondike, destroys part of the city, unleashing an unimaginable horror upon the city: the Blight, a corrosive gas that kills all who breathe it, and reanimating their bodies and awakening them to a hunger for human flesh. The survivors of the catastrophe walled off the infected area, and began to move on with their lives. Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke eke out a meager living, plagued by their associations with the man responsible for the disaster, Levi Blue, Wilke’s former husband, and Zeke’s father. Determined to clear his family name, and to get some answers for himself, Zeke descends into the broken and poisoned city to uncover clues of his family’s heritage, while Briar follows. Both discover that behind the Wall, survivors of the disaster form their own living, escaping the Blight and its victims, and living under their own rules. Briar is the only one who can save her son amongst the pirates, criminals and survivors in the dead city. Boneshaker is a fun story that draws upon a number of strengths to really succeed. While the book is an incredibly easy sell to anyone marginally interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative fictions, its strengths lie more in Priest’s storytelling and world building than the zombies (or Rotters, in this instance), steampunk brass or the action. Rather, she places all of these elements within a compelling alternative United States, and populates it with characters that are both well conceived and caricatured, forced into action with a story that fits everything together nicely. I really like the alternative America that Priest sets up, especially as a historian with a background in military history. Here, the Civil War has stretched on for over fifteen wars, with the Union slowly winning. Key military leaders remained alive, and because of the continuing war, technology continued to advance. As a result, there’s airships, machines and other pieces of technology that somewhat makes sense with the events of the story. In doing so, an entire world has been created, with quite a lot of background information that Priest can draw upon, not only for Boneshaker, but for other books that are forthcoming in this world, titled the Clockwork Century. Last year, I was certainly aware of Boneshaker, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of zombies or steampunk, and the entire notion really turned me off, simply because most of what I’ve seen of the Steampunk genre really doesn’t make logical sense to me. Simply adding glass and copper attachments to something mundane for the sake of making something historical ‘interesting’ just bothered me, because of the historical precedent behind it. What Priest has done, however, is put the advances in technology into a historical context that makes quite a bit of sense: historically, warfare is a major incubator for new technology, generally beyond the weapons used on the battlefield, and with items that have a number of uses that can be applied to a post-war period. Duct tape, the microwave oven, jet planes and radar, all technologies that are in commonplace usage today, owe their existence to warfare as a catalyst for their development. Priest seems to understand this, and in interviews that I’ve read, it seems that she’s done her homework. The result really shows with a fantastic world that works. With that world in place, Priest sets to work with her story. At the heart of the narrative is a story about a family, one who’s been split apart by the Blight that was unleashed when Blue’s “Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine” ripped through part of the city. Forced out into the Outskirts, away from the Blight, people are left to their own devices. Briar and her son live their lives, but they are haunted by what had transpired before. Zeke, in particular, knows little about what had happened to his father and grandfather, and because of his mother’s unwillingness to really address the problems of the past, he gets no answers from her. To find them, he ventures into the dead city to find the answers. What happens next is a sort of journey of understanding and rite of passage, where both characters must learn to adapt and accept certain things about themselves. Things are complicated when both discover that there’s a lot more to the walled off portions of the city. An entire culture and society of survivors has sprung up in the sealed off buildings, where people are largely ruled by a Dr. Minnericht, who resembles Briar’s former husband. This is another area where the book really shines, and that’s the use of this dead city. I’ve long been fascinated by what happens to buildings and societies when they’re left to die, and books such as World Without Us and various galleries of empty cities are things that I seek out. Her creation of her own sort of underworld, lost and forgotten by the world around it, is really neat, and while there are a couple of flaws here and there, it serves as a fantastic setting for her tale. Boneshaker does have its share of problems, from some of the caricatured characters, namely Dr. Minnericht, who is essentially posing as Briar’s former husband throughout the story. Built up through most of the book, the actual character was a bit of a letdown, and his element of the story seemed rather forced in, as did a subplot about the Wall’s inhabitants rising up against his rule. Zeke’s characterization worked most of the time, but at points, his dialogue just annoyed me, and pulled me out of the story just a bit. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that didn’t impact the overall story too much. Boneshaker proved to be a quick read for me, and it was well worth the impulse buy when I was in the bookstore the other day. With a fast-paced story, with plenty of exciting twists and turns, interesting characters and a fun story, set in a very fun world, I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installments out of the world that Priest has set in motion. This book is pure dynamite, and while I’m still rooting for The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo, this book is certainly deserving of the heaps of praise it’s already garnered. This was a fun read, one that held me up at night, distracting my thoughts at work, waiting for my next fix. More books need to be just like Boneshaker: fun, exciting, thoughtful and interesting.

Major William Wells

Earlier this month, I travelled down to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with two of our instructors, Dr. John Votaw and Dr. John Broom to prepare for an upcoming MMH program that we will be conducting a year from now. In the past couple of years, we’ve done two staff rides to Fredericksburg, to examine the Overland Campaign of the American Civil War.

A staff ride, briefly, is a sort of glorified fieldtrip that has been utilized by the armed forces for over a hundred years. Students travel to the battlefield, with a small amount of background preparation, and examine, from where events happened, how any given battle progressed, and look to the reasons for why battlefield commanders made the decisions that they do. The level of information that students can glean from this type of experiential learning – something, I might add, that was encouraged by Norwich University‘s founder, Alden Partridge – is immense, and I found that when I participated on one in Normandy, France, I gained a far better feel for just how and why the actions of the invasion happened the way that they did.

Travelling to Gettysburg will likely do all of this for those who participate. I myself learned much about the battlefield and the events that happened in July of 1863. For me, the Civil War was a major point in U.S. History, and I could tell you about the reasons behind the conflict, but very little about the actual battle, or its significance in the larger context of the war. Happily, this trip cured me of my ignorance, and brought about a couple of other surprises.

On Confederate Avenue, near Big Round Top, on our first day, we stopped at a statue of a man with a drawn sword – not a necessarily uncommon sight on a battlefield littered with memorials – memorializing the exploits of the First Regiment of the Vermont Cavalry. The man is Major William Wells, who participated in an ill-advised cavalry charge. After returning home, and looking over the pictures that I took, I began to look more into this one man.

The charge occurred on the 3rd of July, the last day of the battle, in the early evening. Wells was in command of the 2nd Battalion, and rode alongside General Farnsworth through the woods, where they made contact with the 4th Alabama Infantry and the 9th Georgia Infantry, and when they turned, ran into the 15th Alabama infantry. During the fighting that ensured, General Farnsworth was shot and killed, leaving Wells in charge of the battalion. He led his men to safety, and for his heroic actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Wells would continue to serve in the Union army throughout the rest of the war. Later that month, he was wounded at Boonsboro, Maryland, and again in September at Culpeper Courthouse in Virginia. By 1864, he was in command of the First Vermont Cavalry, and participated in the Shenandoah Valley campaign, and would eventually take command of the brigade and 3rd Division, and stayed with the Army until 1866, when he returned back to Vermont. Over the course of the Civil War, he had managed a successful career within the military, beginning as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1861 when the FVC was raised, to the rank of Major by the time of the Gettysburg battle, and was commissioned as a Brigadier General in May of 1865, based on recommendations from General Sheridan and General Custer.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Upon his return to Vermont, Wells forged a successful business career in the state, managing a pharmaceutical company until 1872, when he was appointed customs collector for the state of Vermont by President Grant, and would return to his company, Wells, Richardson & Co. in 1885, as well as becoming the president of several other companies, such as the Burlington Trust Company, Burlington Gas Light Company and the Board of Trade for the city. He also became the director of the Rutland Railroad and the Champlain Transportation Company.

From 1865, he served in the state legislature, representing his hometown of Waterbury, and in 1866, he was elected by that body to serve as Vermont’s adjunct and inspector general for the next 13 years. As Adjunct General, on July 13th, 1871, Wells travelled to Northfield Vermont, where he inspected the Corps of Cadets at 3 pm for their commencement. While this is the only reference that I could find of Well’s interactions with the University, I suspect, that given his position and military record, as well as his proximity to the school, that he would have visited on other occasions as well. In 1892, Wells passed away suddenly at the age of 54, and was eulogized by the Burlington Free Press as “one of [Burlington's] foremost citizens and the State of Vermont one its worthiest, best known and universally respected citizens.”

In 1913, with money raised by the state of Vermont, a monument to the First Vermont Cavalry, with Wells at the top, located near where his unit operated during the battle. With veterans of the battle present, the statue was dedicated on July 3rd, with the dedication read by Horatio Nelson Jackson (the first man to cross the United States in a car, and Well’s son-in-law), and various dignitaries spoke throughout the day. A year later, a sister statue of Wells was unveiled in Burlington, Vermont’s Battery Park to similar fanfare.

This is a bit of a divergence from Gettysburg, but I was interested to find the connection to the State of Vermont, and to some extent, to Norwich University through this one, remarkable figure in Vermont history. While Norwich University certainly played its part in the battle (there is a book, called By The Blood Of Our Alumni: Norwich University Citizen Soldiers In The Army Of The Potomac, 1861-1865, by Robert Poirier, which deals extensively with that subject), it is the smaller stories that require a bit of digging that makes the connection all the more worthwhile. Undoubtably, Wells will be something to stop at a year from now, when we travel to the battlefields once again.

Sources: David F. Cross, A Tale of Two Statues: The William Wells Status at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Burlington, Vermont. Vermont History 73 (Winter Spring 2005), William A. Ellis, Norwich University, 1819-1911: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll Of Honor, V. 1., Google Books, accessed August 24, 2009, Page 170, William Wells Statue Inscription, Gettysburg, PA.

On This Day…

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of the Northern most battle in the Civil War, a Confederate Raid on a bank in St. Alban’s Vermont. Moving in through Canada, lead by Bennett Young, of Kentucky, the group of Confederates number twenty-one calvery men. They arrived nine days earlier and assembled, and at 3:00 pm, they started a robbery of three banks in the town. One civilian was killed, and despite orders to burn the town down, the Confederates were only able to burn down a single shed. They were able to get away with over 200,000 dollars, but were later arrested in Canada.

American Civil War

Okay, once a week, I have a class on the American Civil War, from 7-10, three hours. Some of my friends made some funny faces when I tell them this, but it’s not too bad. The book that we’re reading out of, Ordeal By Fire, by James McPherson, is amazing, really well done. It’s kinda ironic that we haven’t even gotten to the Civil War yet- the class is exploring every aspect of the war, it’s causes, ramifacations, politically, socially, economically and morally. Thus far, we’ve had a detailed look at slavery, it’s root causes and effects on the American Culture at the time. Tonight’s class was about the politics leading up to the war, and how the institution of slavery effected everything. There were a number of things that I really learned tonight, and last class. The main thing was how bad it got, and some of the things that both sides did. The South, for example, passed a number of state level laws that prohibited anti-slavery talk or promotion. And because they had the majority in the House of Representatives, they passed what’s called the Gag Rule, in which any abolitionist motion was promptly taled and not paid attention to at all. Really bad stuff, against the Constitution and the 1st Amendment.
Now, with that scary thought off my mind, I have homework to finish before the AM.