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“When the order to retreat came, the wonder is that we were not all cut off, for the enemy had already outflanked us…and gave us a peppering of grape and canister as we withdrew.” –Lt. Roswell Farnham
Vermont soldiers in the Civil War wrote an enormous quantity of letters and diaries, of which many thousands have survived in libraries, historical societies, and in private hands. The Center for Digital Initiatives’ latest collection, Vermonters in the Civil War, represents a selection of letters and diaries from the University of Vermont and the Vermont Historical Society.
The collection includes materials dating from 1861 at the start of the Civil War, and will grow with additional materials throughout the years of the sesquicentennial commemoration, from 2011 through 2015. The digitized materials provide a variety of perspectives on events and issues. The voices represented in the collection include private soldiers and officers, as well as a few civilians.
Subject content for the 1861 letters and diaries covers a great deal of ground. The many logistical issues involved in launching the war effort come to light in the letters of General John W. Phelps, while officers such as Lieutenant Roswell Farnham often made thoughtful observations on the events and personalities in the camps and in the field. The enlisted men occasionally described important events in detail, but more often wrote about everyday life and concerns. Eyewitness accounts of 1861 engagements at Big Bethel (June 9-10), Bull Run (July 21), and Lewinsville (September 11) reveal the motivations and expectations of the men in arms, while descriptions of living conditions, drilling, sickness, and political intrigue provide insight on the soldiers’ experiences.