Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to the first monthly column of the History & Heritage Center. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve our town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present.
For those of you who have not heard of us, the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to collecting and preserving, educating and celebrating our town’s historic legacy. The St. Johnsbury Armory on Main St. is the focal point for the Center’s new home.
A Civil War Concert will be our first benefit to help us achieve our goal. This event will feature The Pumpkin Hill Singers, St. Johnsbury Band and The Civil War Hemlocks on November 4 at the North Congregational Church on Main Street, at 7 p.m. This past April marked the beginning of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (1861 – 1865).
Today, monuments bear testament to St. Johnsbury’s part in the Civil War. Larkin G. Mead’s marble statue, America, stands in Courthouse Park; a dark inscribed stone sits under an American flag marking the site of Camp Baxter (Route 5 by the Comfort Inn), which used the Caledonia Fair Ground Company grounds for the 3rd Regiment Vermont Volunteers to rendezvous. Our area cemeteries reflect the heavy toll taken on our area. Many artifacts reflecting that war will be preserved at the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center, from uniforms, ammunition and sewing kits to stirrups made at the E. & T. Fairbanks plant.
This horrific war divided the country and families and took more American lives than any other war. If one looks for the good or a bright spot resulting from the war – it might well be the music. The music spoke of patriotism, home, the life of a soldier and victory. Songs from the South included The Bonnie Blue Flag, Yellow Rose of Texas and Goober Peas. The songs of the North included Tenting Tonight; Just Before the Battle, Mother; and When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
Military camp ran to the daily regimen of the fife, drum and bugle. During the early part of the war, music was largely provided by regimental brass bands. These bands were formed by hundreds of Union enlistees in the first months of the war. The most common instruments included cornets, saxhorns, alto horns, tenor horns, baritones, flat basses, side drums, bass drums and cymbals. In 1862, due to expense and need for more soldiers, the Regimental Bands were abolished. Brigade Bands were then formed and provided music for several Regiments.
William Henry Herrick enlisted as a private in the Third Vermont Regimental Band on July 5, 1861, in St. Johnsbury. He played an alto horn during his term of service, which was just a little over a year. He also kept a diary, which gave the reader insights into other duties – that of a stretcher bearer after the Battle of Lee’s Mill, Virginia, on April 16, 1862:
After dark the ambulances arrived and as many as they could carry were put in them. Others were able to walk with assistance, and there were four others that had to be carried on stretchers, and we had to carry them a distance of nearly a mile. I found it the severest work I had ever attempted and thought I should give out before we got back to camp….The poor fellows we were carrying were very patient and uncomplaining – very sorry for the trouble they were giving us and thankful for our kindness…the experience of to-day I hope I may never have to repeat- it is the first actual horrors of war I have ever witnessed, and it has made me sick and very sad – it is such a terrible thing for a man in the prime and strength of his life to be instantly cut down, or to be made a cripple for life.
Herrick, on his return to St. Johnsbury, served as a player in and director of the St. Johnsbury Band, and he directed the North Church choir.
The power of music in the Civil War cannot be underestimated. Music boosted soldier’s spirits, made them homesick, gave them courage for battle and even brought the opposing sides together on occasion.
Please join us for this Civil War concert at the North Congregational Church on November 4 at 7 p.m. for the benefit of the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center. Together we can make this dream a reality and proudly display and teach St. Johnsbury’s history.