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6th Vermont Infantry
Letter to the Editor
From the Sixth Regiment
Camp Griffin, Va., Dec. 6, 1861
Mr. Editor: By your permission I will address my friends of Orleans county through the columns of your paper, for thus I can write them all at once, which will be a great saving of time when closely occupied, for, by the way, much leisure time to a tough soldier is scarce.
When the treason, which has for may years been growing and threatening the usurpation of our country's dearest interests, became unmasked, when the little handful of brave men holding Fort Sumter were bombarded by an overwhelming force of shameless traitors, in a manner which for inhumanity and cruelty, would put to shame the barbarous customs of the ancient Gauls, the cry of "to arms," rang through the whole free North, reverberated across the continent to the Pacific coast, and re-echoed back over the prairies of the West to the eastern shores, and was there caught up and echoed and re-echoed through every town and hamlet, every hill and dale of New England, Vermont not exempt And now more than six hundred thousand sons of loyalty, an army much larger than was ever before collected upon the western hemisphere, have taken up arms and sworn to preserve the Union and its rights; and our Green Mountain State, for spirit and patriotism is not last nor least. More than six thousand of her hardy boys have left their quiet homes far behind, and gone forth to help, at least, in restoring liberty to her throne; and the love of country that inspired us to bid good by to our Green Mountain homes and friends, and go forth to do battle manfully for our country's banner, to-day is as enthusiastic as then. The thought of meeting a formidable foe, and enduring privations and sufferings, does not for a single moment dishearten the Vermont soldier, and I believe that not one man of the five Vermont regiments now in the field would if he could return home and not only leave his country, our country, to its fate, but disgrace the name the Green Mountain Boys won in '76, if there is such an one, he deserves the fate of Haman. But the sentiment universal among the Vermont troops, and also the whole Northern army, is that we well never turn our steps homeward and leave our country to the disposal of traitors. But enough of this; I need not dwell here, for we all know the solemnity and responsibility of our obligations as soldiers, and yours as civilians. We know the cause which called us here, and too, we know the only result which can call us back-that is, the full restoration of all the rights, interests, and privileges due our country, and that the stars and stripes shall be permitted to wave unmolested over every inch of soil belonging to the United States.
A word upon the health, habits, and customs of the army, and particularly the Vermont regiments, for, as a friend wrote me, "there are two things that now solicit our interest and attention, our country and our boys." As regards health-our greatest boon on earth-I am pained to write that there is much sickness in the Vermont regiments, particularly the new ones. In the 3d the sick list is much smaller that it was, even when we came here, and only seven, I have been told, have died of disease. Of the 2nd, I know but little. In the 4th and 5th there is a good deal of sickness; about twenty or twenty-five have died in each regiment, and in ours, the 6th, there now are on the sick list two hundred and fifty soldiers. Eleven have gone to their long homes. "Peace to their ashes."
The last one who died belonged to our Company D. He was Charles Santan, of Westfield, the first from our number. It was imposed on me to see to the digging of his grave, and with three privates I went and did the sad task. That duty was new to me, yet a soldier can dig a soldier's grave. The muffled drum beat the mournful dirge as his fellow soldiers followed his remains to their Virginia grave. Only a soldier's tear was shed.
The disease now seems to be mostly fevers, though the first sickness in our regiment was measles. Of that there has been nearly three hundred cases. It is evident, from the experience of other regiments, that as we become more acclimated we shall be more healthy. Very many of the soldiers, and of that number include me, the climate of "Dixie" agrees with first rate.
As regards clothing, we have that which is good and abundant. Tents are good, save those of the 3d. Their old sieves offer poor protection from the beating storms of rain and sleet which occasionally visit us. They, indeed, need new ones.
The habits of the soldiers are almost a numerous as the soldiers themselves, though when on duty we are in one sense alike, yet the leisure time is passed in almost every way,--some by reading the bible, some writing, some reading the President's message, Gen Jim Lane's speech, &c., some loitering around, some playing cards, &c. Drunkenness is nearly exempt. I have seen but one man worse for liquor since coming into camp, and thanks be to God for it.
As yet, during our six weeks in Virginia, nothing exciting or of much importance has occurred in camp; but the keen desires of the Vermont boys are that we may be led on to battle, meet the accursed traitors to our country, and illustrate to them that the same spirit which demanded Fort Ti in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress, is to-day as powerful as then. This restlessness is observed by our superior officers, and it led Gen. Brooks a little while ago to this remark: "Let the Vermont boys loose and in less than three days they would be in Richmond trying to buy milk." The remark might have been occasioned, however, by the fact that the Vermonters, not being weaned from bread and milk, do quite often bring in from picket their canteens full of milk borrowed from some cow.
Friday.-Alas! Since writing the above, another of our company, Edson Fairbrother, son of Thomas Fairbrother of Barton Landing, has died, and I record the sad intelligence. His father reached his bedside only in time to see him die. He had hope in the blessed Savior of the world.
A little more, and I will close. This day is as warm and beautiful, almost, as midsummer, though the nights are cold and the ground freezes. Each Sabbath, all who will attend service upon the parade ground. As to friendship among the Vermont troops, there exists, as there should, kind and brotherly feelings, although between some of the 2d and 3d there has grown a kind of enmity, because the 2d thought Gen. Smith treated the 3d with partiality, and that they fared better as to clothes, &c., than the 2d. As to the truth of it, I know not. From this the 3d have got the name of Smith's pets, and the feeling a short time since was thus demonstrated: One from either regiment met, when the 2d says to the 3d, "What are Smith's pets doing these days?" "They are not retreating from Bull Run," was the sarcastic reply.
The prospect of making advance at present is doubtful. We shall probably winter where we are. Preparations to that effect are already being made.
Enough.-Kindest regards to all my Glover friends, and Orleans county generally.
F. M. K.