Howard Coffin


Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.


On Sept. 17, 1967, the Mount Washington Cog Railway went off the tracks high on the Northeast’s highest mountain. Eight died and seventy two were injured.

Coffin: 1917

Jun 9, 2017

 From a wall in my Montpelier home, the kindly oval-framed faces of two great-grandparents and their two sons have watched me down the years.

The basketball season’s now down to the seemingly endless NBA playoffs, after the nearly endless season. But I look back on another winter of Vermont basketball, the Barre Aud, other high school matchups, and college games at Middlebury, St. Michaels, Norwich, UVM. I’m a junkie.

Coffin: Finding Tiger

May 12, 2017

Daniel Lillie - nicknamed Tiger by his men - was one of the most popular officers in the Civil War’s Vermont Brigade.

There’s a certain Montpelier bar of which I am particularly fond. And from the front window the view is across Elm Street to State Street and the Washington County Court House.

A recent television documentary on Pope John Paul II and a close woman friend has brought back memories of two encounters I had with her in 1999 as I was writing a history of the Burlington Diocese.

In the high country between Marshfield and west West Danville, the Mack Mountain Road leaves Route 2 for Peacham. Its narrow course turns through working farms and quiet woods, one of the back roads I always take in autumn.

Sometime in the mid-fifties, this teenage Red Sox fan asked his father why he was a Yankee fan? “Because I like good baseball,” Poppa said.

It’s an apple year, as I was reminded the other afternoon beneath a heavy laden tree. When a plump yellow fruit slipped its mooring and thunked my knee, I noticed deer tracks in the moist earth. They’d come in the chill pre-dawn, and I recalled Robert Frost’s line from After Apple Picking, “Essence of winter sleep is on the night.”

Redwing blackbirds came late last spring, getting here just in time for my wife Sue to see them, on what I think was her last ride up to Berlin Pond.

Coffin: Randolph

Aug 4, 2015

I wonder if the new visitors have looked right and down as they passed above South Royalton to see a classic Vermont village in miniature. Surely they saw little Royalton Village across the curving White River a couple miles to the north, as the hillsides grow steeper.

Coffin: Fastball

Jul 20, 2015

Camp Kitchogamik, a summer camp for boys in Barnard, had a baseball team that sometimes came the 10 miles south to my hometown of Woodstock to play a team I belonged to, on the diamond at Vail Field.

The Confederate flag, a red banner with 13 crossed stars, was seen on many a Civil War battlefield by Vermont soldiers. One of the memorable times was when perhaps the most important assault of the war, Pickett’s Charge, crossed the mile wide valley toward Union-held Cemetery Ridge. Tunbridge native Franklin Aretas Haskell, waiting on the ridge, wrote:

Going home - so it was with Vermont’s Civil War soldiers 150 years ago this July Fourth. But delays postponed the homecomings of the state’s hardest-fought regiments, those of the storied First Vermont Brigade.

At 10 a.m. April 15, 1865, a special edition of Walton’s Journal hit the streets of Montpelier, announcing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Come late winter in the Fifties, Woodstock people needed diversion from the cold gray days. Thus came about the Woodstock High School talent show and, as a lad, my mother always took me to the high school gym to see it. She had a fine singing voice, knew good music, and squirmed as those who, year after year, sang their solos way off key. But nobody had the heart to tell them…

Just a mile from the Connecticut River, in Hanover, N. H., stands old ivy-covered Memorial Field, where once some of the finest of all collegiate football was played. Dartmouth College still competes well in the Ivy League. In the late 1970s, during my Dartmouth employment, 20,000 fans turned out to see perhaps the best-known passing combination in the country.

Coffin: Yankee Luck

Jan 21, 2015

One sunny morning in 1972, I stood with the man who created Vermont’s only nuclear power plant in its giant, soaring, rounded concrete reactor. The Vermont Yankee nuclear power station was about to fire up. Albert A. Cree was my host, president of Vermont Yankee and Yankee’s parent company, the Central Vermont Public Service Corp. Vermont Yankee was his idea.

Coffin: New Bishop

Jan 5, 2015

Rome has spoken. Unto Vermont, as the 2014th Christmas season came to pass, has been given a new bishop of Burlington - Christopher Coyne, of greater Boston.

On January 29 the magnificent mighty space of Vermont’s great church building, St. Joseph’s co-cathedral in the North End, will resound with anthems. And bishops, monsignors, parish priests, a cardinal or two, and a thousand Vermont Catholic faithful will assemble for the colorful rights of installation.

John Alden was a direct descendant of the Pilgrim father celebrated by Longfellow. I met him the summer of 1960, when a bellhop at the Woodstock Inn. John was in management, a bright ambitious Massachusetts transplant, crew cut and good looking. We hit it off, though his far right politics were the opposite of mine.

And did he love politics, reading the Congressional Record, seeming to know every congressman and senator’s voting record.