Coffin: Returning Home

Jul 2, 2015

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.

The Old Brigade was not ordered to Washington for the great two day victory celebration known as The Grand Review. The best brigade in the Union armies was sent south to Danville, Virginia, helping make sure the Confederacy had for certain laid down its arms.
But by early July, the long journey home began, the first leg a march that touched the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Wilderness battlefields.

When the brigade finally reached Burlington, Wilbur Fisk, private and war correspondent for Montpelier’s Vermont Freeman, climbed to the cupola of UVM’s Old Mill. There with “Winooski and Burlington almost under our feet,” he looked upon “the smooth lake pent in by rugged mountains” and, in the other direction, “hills and valleys, fields and forests.” He had not, he said, seen “such verdure” since the day he left for war.

Days later, Fisk reached the family home in Tunbridge, at the head of an upland valley commanding a long view to Killington Mountain. From there, in the last of his war reports to the Freeman, Fisk wrote, “We have seen home so often like a fairy vision in our imaginings and dreams…that now the ideal is realized it seems as if we were dreaming still. To look back upon the campaigns of the Peninsula, of Maryland, of the Wilderness, Shenandoah Valley and others, it seems almost impossible that all the events which our recollection can recall, should come within the range of four years.”

And he wrote, “If I was asked how it seemed to be a free citizen once more, I should say it seemed as if I had been through a long dark tunnel, and had just got into the daylight once more.”

Fisk added that, should enemies again threaten the Government, he hoped that he would be among the thousands to again spring to arms. But clearly, former private Fisk had had his fill of soldiering. Before bidding his readers, as he said, a kind adieu, he considered whether he might ever reenlist as a means of earning a living.

Fisk had seen many a bloodbath, including Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, and had written vividly of them. He concluded, there in the green hills of home, “I would only do it to save myself the necessity of begging my bread from door to door.”