In August 1895, the Vermont National Guard held its annual muster and encampment near Lake Morey in Fairlee. The surrounding hills were used for maneuvers. (Photo courtesy of the Bradford Historical Society)
Company G of the Vermont National Guard, known as the Bradford Guards, participated in the Civil War and the Spanish American War before being disbanded in 1908. The group included men from several area towns. (Photo courtesy of the Bradford Historical Society)
Dennis McClure of Bradford is shown point out the ridge south of his Goshen Road home that is believed to have been used as a target for the cannons of Fuller's Battery during the 1890 encampment of the Vermont National Guard on Fairground Road.
Burtron Rubenstein describes the Revolutionary role of the Vermont militia in an essay collection entitled Put the Vermonters Ahead as, “guerilla warfare of the most desperate kind.” Vermont required all men ages 16 to 50 to,” bear Arms and duly attend all Musters, and Military Exercises of the respective Troops and Companies…” New Hampshire had a similar requirement.
Even after the Revolution, the militia was called together for June “training days.”
The men of Orford, as in other communities, would muster on the town common for drill (see photo). Officers were usually elected by their company. Men were expected to participate without compensation except for being excused from the poll tax. They had to provide their own equipment and sometimes individuals drilled with brooms rather than guns. Orford historian Alice Hodgson describes how, “farmers trying to become soldiers forgot their military directions for the familiar gee and haw of farm usage.”
One of the issues facing the militia was that federal law created a dual obligation, as every white male was also a member of the Federal militia. However, the President could not require the states to call out their militia in time of war. This created a dilemma for the national government in both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.
In the years between those two wars, the militia was torn by conflicting attitudes. Laws dealing with universal participation were amended and finally abolished. This was in part due to a reaction to the ease with which men of means could be excused from the required training.
Due to the absence of a threat interest in the militia continued to decline. Training days became a celebration often attracting a “rough element.” There was a, “degeneration of June Training into a mere picnic whose sometimes alcoholic aroma offended temperance men.” That description by Vermont historian T. D. Seymore Bassett, quoted in Howard Coffin’s Full Duty, goes on to say, “…according to a saying of the time, the troops were given just three commands: ‘Mount! Drink! Fall off!’” In 1844 Vermont repealed the militia law and the following year New Hampshire abolished musters.
Despite this decline there was a deep interest in the military among some men. In 1819 a military academy was established in Norwich, later to move to Northfield as Norwich University. In some communities volunteer uniformed companies were formed. Locally there were the West Fairlee Rifles or Light Infantry, Ryegate’s Grenadier Company, the Bradford Guards and in Topsham a rifle company that drilled on what is now the fairground in Corinth. These uniformed companies often included men from neighboring towns. In several towns military bands and drum corps were organized, appearing at local musters. In 1845 officers of the area held a Grand Military Ball at Bradford’s Bliss Hotel.
These militia men and others have participated with distinction in all of America’s wars. That is a topic for other times. The remainder of this article deals with the four musters that were held locally by the Vermont Guard as they attempted to remain ready for war.
The first local state muster was held in Bradford on September 8-9, 1859. It was the third in a series of annual musters called by the governor. Howard Coffin states that these musters rekindled interest in the military companies, just in time for their Civil War role.
Lyman Hayes’ History of the Town of Rockingham describes the Bradford muster from the point of view of that town’s Green Mountain Guards, the largest company present. “The Green Mountain Guards encamped in true military style upon the muster ground, having with them all the et ceteras of camp furniture.” The company held a torchlight parade down Bradford’s Main Street and, “serenaded Adjutant General Kellogg, who on the next day reviewed the troops with the Governor.”
After the Civil War, several laws were passed by the Vermont Legislature attempting to upgrade the training of the existing uniformed companies. Roger Newton suggests in his essay Vermont’s Militia After the Civil War that “after their experience the newly discharged soldiers must have looked upon the current military situation at home as an exercise in futility.” By 1876, the regiment, now informally called the Vermont National Guard, was reduced to 10 companies of infantry, one battery of artillery, organized by Levi K. Fuller of Brattleboro and no cavalry.
The law required an annual inspection be held of each company in June and a “parade” of the regiment each September. Newton explains that, “the regimental drills began to be held in August possibly because of the fear ‘that the cool nights of September are unwholesome to men obliged to change suddenly from the comfort of home to the more exposed life of the camp.’” Recruiting students who were free for the summer was an added incentive.
In early September, 1879 a state-wide muster was held on the old fairgrounds in Bradford, for which Fairground Road is named. It was called Camp Proctor, probably for Governor Redfield Proctor. Captain Fuller of Fuller’s Light Battery came early to look for accommodations and a field of practice. The Bradford Opinion of August 2 1879 stated, “He has about 100 men and 50 horses, and will practice with shot and shell, so that those in this vicinity who have heard of, but never saw or heard the ‘plunging shot’ and ‘screaming shell’ will have a chance to see and hear. The guns are brass Napoleon 12 pounders.” Local entrepreneur H.C. Stevens furnished rations and was quartered, “in the floral hall building on the Fair Ground.”
The day’s routine began with reveille at 5:45 followed by drill, rifle practice and a dress parade. On Thursday, September 4, the regiment was reviewed by Governor Proctor. That evening all veterans gathered “for the purpose of participating in a grand campfire reunion.” Torches were provided and the regimental band played for what was described as “a grand rally.” Taps were sounded at 10:30.
The only “action” seen by the Vermont Guard between 1865 and 1898 came during the 1883 strike among copper miners at the Ely Copper Mine at Vershire. Five companies, including Bradford’s Company G, were ordered to Vershire to restore order.
At this time there were no state-owned armories. In February 1892 Company G dedicated an armory on the third floor of the new bank building, now the Richardson Building. The occasion was the 10th Annual School of Officers for the Vermont State Militia. The facility was described by The United Opinion as “the finest to be found in the State.” There was a large drill room as well as rooms for uniforms and trappings. This facility served the Guards until they moved to the Union Block (Perry's building). In 1959 the Guard moved to their new armory on Fairground Road in 1959.
The second Bradford encampment was held on the fairgrounds on August 19-23, 1890. It was named Camp Grant in honor of General Lewis A. Grant, commander of the Old Vermont Brigade and Metal of Honor recipient in the Civil War and Assistant Secretary of War in 1890.
The Report of the Adjutant and Inspector General fully describes the week’s activities.
Participants included a company of infantry from Plattsburg that marched across the state. Twelve companies, including the hometown Company G, were joined by the brigade band and Fuller’s Battery for a total of about 600 men. The camp was established and the companies were drilled in battalion movements. “Guard duty and military courtesy proved to be a weak point.” This was not surprising as one third of the men had never been in camp before.
Six companies met Governor Dillingham and Secretary of War Redfield Proctorwh had now been appointed Secretary of War by President Benjamin Harrison, at the railroad station and escorted them to the camp. During the week rifle teams of five men from each company engaged in a competition for the “Centennial Trophy.”
During a two-day drill for Fuller’s Battery “thirty shells were fired by the battery at a target 8 x 12 feet, located on the side of a hill northwest of the camp at an estimated distance of 2000 yards. Ten of the shells passed through the target, and it was subsequently ascertained that all of them struck within a space of 14 x 16 feet.” This was the battery’s first attempt to fire shells from the new model breech-loading cannon.
The fourth local state-wide muster was held near Fairlee’s Lake Morey in August, 1895. The encampment was called “Camp Woodbury” in honor of Governor Urban Woodbury who had distinguished himself in the Civil War. Fairlee apparently was chosen because William Gilmore of Fairlee was serving as the Quartermaster General of the Guard at the time.
The United Opinion published a Special Muster Edition on August 16. It mentioned that a company of cavalry passed through Bradford on the 9th on its way to Fairlee as did a company of regulars from the Plattsburgh barracks.
The Bradford Guard erected the tents for the encampment on what is now the golf course (see photo). Trains pulled into the Fairlee station from both north and south to unload companies of soldiers. The number of observers and luggage brought a flurry of business for local teamsters. Fuller’s Battery with 4 rifled 32-10 caliber cannon and 80 men joined the gathering and fired shells at neighboring hills. The United Opinion reported that, “this was the first time in the history of the Vermont Encampments that each of the three arms of the service, infantry, cavalry and artillery has been represented.”
The daily routine was very similar to that of the Bradford encampments, with a review by the governors of Vermont and New Hampshire and general officers from the U. S. Army.
The newspaper predicted “the grandest scenic military display that has ever been seen in the Green Mountain State in time of peace. The heights above the Fairlee camp grounds will be occupied by a strong force. This naturally impregnable position will be stormed by a heavy column consisting of Fuller’s Battery and 2 battalions of soldiers.”
This is not the end of the history of the local encampments. In 2008, local residents, including myself, were contacted as part of a study by the Army National Guard. This was part of a nationwide effort to identify former training areas where munitions were used on properties not owned by the Department of Defense. They were interested in both the Fairlee and Bradford sites mentioned above. It was the initial contact with this study group that helped me identify the three encampments in Bradford.
Dennis McClure of Bradford was also contacted. It is believed that both the target for Fuller’s Battery and the rifle range may have been on land he now owns on Goshen Road. It was then the property of Captain Preston Chamberlin. Recently McClure took me on a tour of ridge south of his home, the possible target for the battery (see photo).
He also pointed out a berm constructed in a nearby pasture that may have served as the rifle range for more than one encampment. Gary Moore comment (attached) corrects this by pointing out that the berm was actually built by the Bradford Pistol and Rifle Club in the early 1970's The newspaper account of the 1890 muster mentions that the rifle shooting range was a quarter mile north of the camp. The Bradford historian Harold Haskins writes that there was also a firing range for the guards near where Creamery Road meets Rt 25.
This is not the end of the history of the Vermont National Guard. They served in the Spanish-American War, although they did not see action in that short and largely naval conflict. The Dick Act of 1903 stated that the President no longer needed the permission of the governor to call up the Guard for Federal duty. Just as they served with distinction in the two World Wars and the various conflicts of the Cold War, the Vermont and New Hampshire National Guard members are serving the nation in the Middle East. Later this year men and women from our area will again be called to active duty. We trust that the training they have received will serve them as well as it has in the past.