“It is hard for us to study or do anything but get excited,” wrote UVM sophomore Henry McAllister at the end of April, 1861. For two weeks, since the surrender of Fort Sumter, the campus had been in turmoil. Patriotic rallies distracted students and townspeople in Burlington and all across the North. Two of nearly one hundred academic-course students had already left campus to enlist. Most of those who remained participated in military drills in a rented hall downtown. An Englishman named William F. Hart, a former dragoon rumored to have been in the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, took command of the college volunteers. “I didn’t know what it was to feel patriotic,” medical student Joseph Perkins wrote, “like the electric shock it goes through ought my whole system.”

College men debated the merits of enlisting immediately or finishing out their academic careers. Was it not more important in this national crisis to act on principle and lay aside one’s personal ambitions? “My life is at my country’s disposal,” Perkins concluded, “and if possible should be given ten thousand times ere I’d be ruled by tyrants and much less traitors.”

For President Calvin Pease and the faculty, war brought a different kind of anguish. They did not wish to discourage the patriotism of the students, but worried that those who left might never return. Events justified these fears. None of the seniors dropped out before graduation in August, 1861, but one junior, three sophomores, and eight freshmen did. Enrollment dropped to seventy-eight in September, and at least sixteen of these left to enlist before the school year ended. By the time the war ended in 1865, just thirty-four regular students were enrolled; only three graduated in 1866.

At least 190 UVM students and alumni, including thirty-seven medical college graduates, served in the military during the Civil War. They served as privates and colonels and in all ranks between, as chaplains and surgeons, combat troops and quartermaster’s assistants. The university was represented in nearly every regiment Vermont raised, as well as the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Colored Troops, and some fifty regiments raised by other states. Two freshman and at least eight former students fought for the Confederacy. Five were killed in action, five more died of wounds, and at least seven died of disease.

Henry McAllister was one of those who decided his obligation to help preserve the Union must come first. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, he received a wound that necessitated the amputation of his right leg. “My aspirations are as high as ever,” he wrote shortly thereafter, but he would spend most of 1863 in army hospitals, suffering a series of painful and debilitating relapses as the stump of his leg slowly healed. Henry ventured out in August to attend the graduation ceremonies of his former classmates. He claimed to have no regrets. “When I left College and went to the War I simply did my duty. I would do so again, and when I saw the remnant of my old class graduate…I felt prouder of being there in my condition than I should had I been there a sound man and produced on the stage a most splendid oration.”

It was this spirit of self-sacrifice, so evident in their letters to family and friends, that distinguished the men of UVM in the Civil War.

Henry McAllister

to Willie Stevens, April 30, 1861
McAllister, of Stowe, was a member of UVM’s class of 1862. Seriously wounded at Fredericksburg in December, 1862, he returned to UVM and graduated in 1880.

U.V.M. North Hall, April 30. 1861.

My Dear Friend –
Your letter was received last night. I was not expecting it. But I have been looking for you instead for a few days. Yet for all this it was welcome but you would have been more so. The term is drawing to a close... The present excitement operates badly for our performance. Erhardt & Loomis have already left, and the rest are too excited to do justice to themselves. My piece is nearly completed. I am in hopes to do nearly as well as I could under more favorable circumstances. It is hard for us to study or do anything but get excited. Patriotism is above par. The Stars and Stripes float over the old U.V.M. and many of the students will be ready to go when they think there is a call for them. I have not enlisted yet, and I hope it will not be necessary but if it becomes so I shall go if I can get the consent of my creditors. I wrote home to see if father and Uncle would let me go. Uncle wouldn’t let me go because it would annul my life policy and father said the greatest objection he had was that people might lose their money and their confidence in me. Further than that he didn’t know why I shouldn’t go as well as others. I do not wish to go unless it is necessary for it would be too great a sacrifice, but when my debt to my country becomes greater than those to my friends I hope I shall discharge the larger obligation first. Drew has left College and is Captain of a company forming in town. The College boys are all under drill. We can beat any company here in field evolutions. Our drill master is an Englishman. He has seen ten years service, was in Crimea, and in the charge of the 600 at Balaklava. We like him very much. Those who stay here during vacation are going to march to Underhill and camp out a week…
With kind regards to your people I remain.

Your Friend

Assistant Surgeon Cornelius Chapin of Williston, Sixth Infantry,

To brother Willie, July 21, 1863 Dr. Chapin joined the Sixth after the battle of Gettysburg. Graduating from UVM in 1861, Chapin returned to earn a medical degree in 1863. He died of disease in September, 1863.

In Camp, July 21st—

Dear Brother Willie –
In my letter to Alice I think the last thing I mentioned was the discovery of the escape of Lee and a brief notice of the enemy’s entrenchments — They were very strong at least in some parts and as a whole were well located extending for miles along a ridge which compared with the surrounding country was like the ridge back of Lorenzo’s or south of Aunt Mary’s while our works were planted on a ridge something like that where Mrs. Byington’s house is, perhaps a little higher — thus offering a strong — but less strong position than the enemy held — To make an attack upon them would have involved a great loss, but I think the result would have offered great compensation, for our troops would have fought as they never fought before and Lee again defeated would not have had an army worth the name; indeed as it is it is but little more than a rabble for reports say oure cavalry is continually picking up stragglers and deserters— I saw about 800 of the miserable scamps as our boys were escorting them to prison. A great many swore they never would bear arms against the Flag we love so much again. There seemed to be but few who held out and they were as bitter as the most ardent admirers of southern chivalry could desire... Dr. Chandler & myself went to the Ambulance train to see the boys who were sick or fell out on the march — When we returned we found Charley looking for me — He had just learned of my arrival and came to see me — He had not got my letters and the first thing he knew of my whereabouts he learned from a lieut of the Vt. Cavalry whom I chanced to meet on the way from Washington — He was very well and glad to see me, and by invitation of Dr we went to his tent & treated him and his friend to Hospital Whiskey — After talking a while I took a lantern and we sat upon the ground for hours talking of the dangers and pleasures of a Soldiers life — His account of the cavalry charge at Gettysburgh where his horse was shot was grand and although I did not seem very anxious to make another I felt that there he did his duty. He said that Lee endeavoring to rally the North Carolina troops for a third time—being unable to do so poured the grape & canister into them & mowed them down by thousands* That was more than they bargained for & many threw down their arms & turned in and helped our men get their guns in position when they worked with a will against the very man & cause they had suffered so much to sustain — such things show the awful tyranny the southern chivalry would bring upon our country had they the opportunity — but thanks to the brave men whom the Copperheads of the north oppose they can never succeed...The union will be preserved and the most indelible brand of infamy in coming years will be the fact they were enemies to their country in her darkest hours — But once let an abominable copperhead utter treason to the veterans of the Great Rebellion when they shall have returned to their homes — “with our country undivided and the many states in one” and henceforth he is marked, no generosity, no ability will free him — And you Willie must be true to our country. You are young but you cannot begin too young to love her — Do everything you can for her both you & Eddie — You must help Father & Mother all you can for they need it while Charley & myself are upon the field of danger and glory — We may neither of us return but we fall gloriously. I would rather die here than be a miserable contemptible, sneaking traitor at home living in peace and casting ridicule upon our armies — Perhaps Mother will say I talk boldly — perhaps rashly. I always did — but I always say what I think and once said I don’t care who knows it and the only thing which makes me mad is that language fails me when I attempt to express my supreme contempt for Northern men who sympathize with southern principles — But to go on, nothing of interest transpired for two or three days while lying idle in camp until Sunday when we proceeded to Berlin where we crossed the Potomac upon Pontoons…

P.S. I wish you would send me some stamps thin paper & thin envelopes

Rev. Charles C. Parker of Waterbury,
delegate of the U.S. Christian Commission, to wife Elizabeth,
February 24, 1864

Parker graduated from UVM in 1841 and studied at Union Theological Seminary.
He was pastor of Congregational churches in Vermont and Maine.

Brandy Camp near 2d Vermont—
Culpeper Co. Va., Feb. 24th 1864

Dearest Lizzie
We have just dedicated our new Chapel Tent and had our first meeting at this new station & now I must tell you all about it —I think I wrote you it was determined to establish a new station for me & another Vermonter, Mr. J.W.H. Baker of Greensboro — We pitched our tents Monday — The Chapel is a large tent 50 feet by 18 — In the rear of it, with a narrow walk between is our tent 10 feet square — They are pitched between the 2d Vt. & the 6th Regular Cavalry — Both of these Regiments have been in the service since the war & in all the hardest battles & campaigns — The battle flag of the Cavalry fluttering before the headquarters is all in tatters — Neither of them has a Chaplain & it is on account of this our tent is pitched between them — We slept in our tent Monday night — but did not get the Chapel in order for a meeting until to-night & now we have no Seats — The tent was well filled & all seemed much interested in the services — When opportunity was given for remarks Byron Ward of Underhill — a member of John’s class — son of an old schoolmate of mine — immediately arose and made some very sensible remarks — I felt very grateful to him for this as you know how unpleasant unbroken silence is in a meeting — No other one spoke — The singing was with a will — ready — strong — earnest & all over the Chapel — Notwithstanding only one spoke & none offered prayer — we feel that we had a good meeting & that the indications are cheering — After this meeting several stopped & expressed their great joy that we had pitched our tent among them & we expect their hearty cooperation…

While we were gone a squad of boys—mainly from Waterbury & Underhill volunteered & with a team furnished by Dr. Swain, went three miles over Hazle River & cut & split for us twenty five slabs of white wood & black walnut to seat our Chapel — This was all we needed to complete our arrangements & enter fully upon our work & we felt very thankful when we saw what the noble boys had done — In the evening we had a very precious meeting — With the utmost readiness & heartiness ten soldiers spoke — mainly our noble Vermont boys — Some spoke of their wanderings & asked the forgiveness of their comrades — Others spoke of the preciousness of Jesus & the power of his religion to cheer & sustain the heart in all the perils & exposures of a soldiers life — the march — the watch — the battlefield — There were many moistened eyes & trembling lips — That meeting rewarded me a thousand fold for all that I have done or endured in coming to the army — I wish every brother & sister could have witnessed that meeting — How they would have thanked God & taken courage —

After the meeting & through the night — which was cold & windy — there was an unusual hum [and] stir in both camps & we were apprehensive what the morrow should bring — The morning came and with it the intelligence that the 2d Vt. with the whole of the 6th Corps was under marching orders & might leave at any moment — Word to be ready for an early move was passed from tent to tent immediately after the meeting & the night had been spent in getting everything in order — And now the brave fellows are gone — They took with them six days rations & have gone to reconnoitre across the Rapidan — I felt inexpressibly sad when I saw them move out of Camp to join the other Vt. Regiments & the rest of the Corps — & afterwards when from near Brandy Station I saw the long black line of them with their glittering bayonets, some two miles away — as with ceaseless tread they made their march — I am told that supply train & all the line was eight miles long…

…At sun down I attended the burial service of two [of] our Vt. boys — one named Holden of Reading, Vt having died last night — the other — Lafayette Moore of Fayston having died today — both of Measles and Supervening Typhoid fever — To me it was a sad & novel experience, as to the mournful beat of the dead march we followed the two coffins to their graves — During the brief services at the grave the soldiers were solemn & attentive — but the moment they were away — all solemnity seemed to be gone—

Returning to my tent we heard one boom of a cannon across the Rapidan — What it imports time will develop — The evening we have had a very interesting meeting — some four or five new persons rising to speak — One of them said this was the first Sabbath he had passed in the army — It seemed like getting home once more — Hoping you have had a pleasant precious Sabbath day & all are having pleasant spacious social meetings, I bid you good night —


As the soldiers were leaving yesterday one brought me his Bible to keep for him — taking a Testament in return — Another handed me $50 to send to his motherless boy in Montreal. These little things make me very sad