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Amanda Enters the War 

        With the firing on of Fort Sumter, and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops, Vermont’s Governor Erastus Fairbanks was one of the first to respond, telling Lincoln that “Vermont will do its full duty.”  He then asked the legislature for an appropriation of a half million dollars to raise, train and equip the one regiment Washington had asked for.   The legislature voted to appropriate one million dollars, and raise seven regiments.  They also voted to give each private $7 a month in state pay, which was in addition to the $13 to be paid by the Federal government.

        The First Vermont regiment was quickly formed, for a three month enlistment, and sent south.  They participated in the battle of Big Bethel , and returned home when their enlistment was up.  But the majority of the soldiers promptly signed up with other regiments.    

        The First Vermont regiment was quickly formed, for a three month enlistment, and sent south.  They participated in the battle of Big Bethel , and returned home when their enlistment was up.  But the majority of the soldiers promptly signed up with other regiments.    

        The Second Vermont Regiment formed soon after the First, and were also sent south, arriving in time to participate in the (First) Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war.

        The Third Vermont Regiment (into which Amanda and Henry Colburn enlisted) assembled at Camp Baxter, St. Johnsbury, and was mustered into service for three years on July 16, 1861.

 Float the thing into the Atlantic      

         In the revolutionary summer of 1777, a group of representatives met in the Old Constitution House in Windsor on the Connecticut River, and drafted a constitution for the republic of Vermont.  The very first article of that constitution outlawed slavery in the new republic.  Over the next few decades, Vermont became a hotbed for abolition.  

         In 1804, Vermont Justice Theophilus Harrington refused to return a slave to his owner, stating that he would honor “nothing less than a bill of sale from God Almighty.” 

        William Lloyd Garrison came from Boston to publish his newspaper, and helped to turn antislavery sentiment into a crusade, and with Vermont persistently petitioning Congress to outlaw slavery, the Georgia legislature is supposed to have called on the President to employ a sufficient number of able-bodied Irishmen to proceed to the State of Vermont and to dig a ditch around the limits of same and to float the thing into the Atlantic.”

Camp Baxter

         Camp Baxter was situated just outside of St. Johnsbury, on land belonging to the Caledonia County fairground, and named for Vermont’s Adjutant Inspector General Brigadier General Horatio Baxter.  The fair ground’s main building was converted into barracks, and also served as the mess hall. 

        Six weeks of training followed, with The Caledonian publishing the regiment’s daily schedule.

         So many civilians came to camp that an order was issued that visitors had to obtain military passes.

5 a.m.—Reveille

5:30—Police Call

6 a.m.—Breakfast

7 –Surgeon’s Call


12 M —dinner


6 p.m.—Retreat Parade


9 p.m.—Tattoo


Picture from the Vermont Historical Society:  Third Vermont Infantry.   Mustering in at Camp Baxter in St. Johnsbury Vermont, 1861.  Uncle Almon, Henry, and even Amanda may possibly be in this picture.

          The War in Glover- An impromptu meeting was held in Glover on Tuesday evening of last week. Two flags were thrown to the breeze and canon fired on the occasion….

         The Glover Brigade Band was present and played several national airs. Much enthusiasm prevailed, several declared themselves ready to march against the rebels at any time. At the close the Band played “Hail Columbia” and the meeting broke up with three cheers for the “Flag of the Union,” and three for “Honest Old Abe” and three for the ladies. One of the students who has been attending school in that place enlisted the next day and has gone. He is missed but not deplored, for he has gone to fight in the most righteous cause for which soldier ever shouldered his musket.

       —- Orleans Independent Standard, May 3, 1861

A Call for Nurses

The Burlington Free Press

May 17, 1861

Nurses for the Sick

To the Reading Public, and All in Authority.


          Feeling an intense interest in the health and welfare of the First Regiment of Volunteers now about leaving our State for the seat of war, I would suggest not only the propriety, but the absolute necessity of a body of nurses. I know I speak the sentiment of every mother who has sons among the number. Many of them are very young, and all unused to hardship and exposure, and who will, if not cared for at first, soon be down with sickness. Never was the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” of more force than now. The lives and health of every one of these volunteers is sacred. They have offered themselves as a sacrifice to be immolated on the altars of their country, if need be, and a grateful people should do everything for their comfort that is possible. Some of these volunteers expended their last dime in procuring their uniforms. They have given their all, even themselves. Shall proper care be withheld from them? In a land of plenty they need not be kept on short allowance, nor pay out their stipulated wages in advance to keep from starving.

         A few good discreet nurses under the management of one of their own sex, and she herself cooperating with, and under the direction of the Surgeon, seems imperatively needed. A mother’s hand to smoothe the fevered brow, and administer food, would be of more avail than an army of mere surgeons without them.

           Generous people of Vermont, will you inaugurate this movement and provide for your own sons? All who are skilled in nursing, and perhaps are the best skilled, are not able to furnish themselves for the expedition, and should be provided for, just as much as the volunteer soldier. They give themselves also, to a task laborious, self-denying and it may be dangerous. But, fraught with whatever it may be, I am ready to go the moment the way is opened.

L. M. Bowditch

Fairfax, May 9, 1861

Should I Go?

There were many factors to impel Amanda to follow Henry to war: her parents’ fears for the safety of their only son; the dissolution of her marriage in an age where divorce, or even separation, from a husband were anathema, and subject to much scrutiny and disapproval from the public; her own sense of patriotism; and maybe it was the need for nurses.

While Amanda herself left no written record of why she enlisted, when reading what a fellow Vermont nurse, Fanny Titus Hazen, wrote about her feelings, one feels that those sentiments might have been echoed by Amanda:


Fanny Titus Hazen – Vermont Nurse

“At the outbreak of the Rebellion in 1861, when the whole country was alive with patriotism, it seemed the greatest misfortune of my life that I was born a girl. My eldest brother, then only seventeen, enlisted in the 4th Vermont Infantry……    As the boys in blue marched through the hall, I would have given years of my life could I have taken a place in the ranks with my brother.” 9

9  Holland, p. 267


A Hospital Matron

Amanda was appointed matron.  “Union administrators used the term ‘matron’ indiscriminately, referring to regimental women hired to nurse, cook, and do laundry in the field; to designate the woman who bore responsibility for ward nurses in general hospitals; and as a label for chambermaids.” 10   Most nurses “washed, dressed and fed patients; they wrote letters for, read to, and helped patients endure the tedium of convalescence.  Field nurses regularly took on cooking chores….even to laundry.” 11 

One nurse at Armory Square regularly put in eighteen-hour days “dispensed medicines, served breakfast, wrote letters, dispensed medicines, served dinner, wrote letters, dispensed medicines, served supper, wrote letters—the round of chores interrupted only when wounded arrived,”12  while another nurse at Jefferson General wrote: Today ‘I have covered crutches, ripped up arm slings, washed and made them over, gone to commissary with order from doctor for material for pads for wounded or amputated limbs, and manufactured the same’.  On the same day she helped patients petition for furloughs and back pay, wrote letters, read, sang, and played checkers.” 13 


In the coming months, and years, Amanda would perform all those duties, plus many others, as need arose.  

10 Schultz, p. 33

11 Schultz, p. 34

12 Schultz, p. 37

13 Schultz, p.38


Third Vermont Regiment: On July 24, 1861 was ordered to Washington; assigned to guard Chain Bridge over the Potomac. The regiment became part of the Vermont Brigade which became part of the 6th Corps.

The Vermont Brigade participated in the battles of:Lewinsville, Va., Lee’s Mill, Va., Williamsburg, Golding’s Farm, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Crampton’s Gap, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Funkstown, Rappahannock Station, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Reams’ Station, Fort Stevens, Charlestown, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, Winchester, Cedar Creek, Petersburg, and Sailor’s Creek.

The Third Vermont participated in the grand review at Washington, and was mustered out on July 11, 1865.

The total strength of the regiment was 1,809: 196 were killed or died of wounds; 166 died of disease or imprisonment.

The (First) Battle of Bull Run had occurred on July 21st, with a Union defeat, and soldiers and the civilians who had come to watch the battle fleeing pell-mell back into Washington.  With that fiasco fresh at hand, on July 24, the Third Vermont was ordered to Washington, under the temporary command of Lieutenant Colonel Breed N. Hyde.

            They boarded a twenty-two car train and headed south.  In Brattleboro, the men were met by citizens passing out biscuits, butter, cheese, sliced meats, doughnuts, cakes, pipes and tobacco.  In Holyoke, Massachusetts, a thousand factory girls lined the tracks and waved, and in Springfield, Mass., five thousand people greeted them.  On they went, through Hartford, Connecticut, to New York City where they boarded the transport Elm City to sail to Jersey City, then back on the train to Philadelphia and Baltimore. 

         In a letter in The Caledonian, printed August 2, 1861, George W. Bonnett gives an accounting of that trip south:

            “We are permitted to copy the following letter from a member of Company G, 3rd Regiment Baltimore: July 26,

            As I have some spare time before leaving Baltimore, I will improve it by writing a few lines home.  I am very tired having had but little rest since we left St. Johnsbury.  You have no idea what a reception we met with on our way.  All along the route until after we were out of Pennsylvania, and in many places since, the people were not only out at all the stations in large numbers, but at every house we passed they were out cheering.

            We stopped at Bellows Falls and had refreshments served out to us, and also at Brattleboro.  God Bless the Brattleboro people.  They will ever be remembered by the men of the Vermont 3rd Regiment.  They not only gave us all we could possibly eat there but filled our haversacks, and with a “Good-bye—God Bless you, and bring you safely home,” we left.  Such demonstration can but be remembered.

            We stopped at Springfield, Mass., and had more refreshments and words of good cheer.  Arrived at Hartford, Conn.  At 8 P.M.; stopped but a few minutes, and then proceeded to new haven.  Took the boat (Elm City), at New Haven at 11 P.M., but did not get started ‘till 2 o’clock the next morning—Slept but very little as everything was all bustle and confusion.  We arrived at Jersey City at 6 A.M. and left at 4 P.M., arriving at Philadelphia at 10 P.M., and there we were the gusts of the Union people of the city.  We were met and escorted to a large tent, on which was printed in large letters “Hot Coffee and REFRESHMENTS free for the UNION VOLUNTEERS.  Can never forget them.

            Will tell you more in my next.  I cannot give particulars in this as I have no time—We left Philadelphia about 2 the next morning bound for Baltimore, where we arrived about noon.  Met four or five regiments going home.  It is now 8 P.M., and we leave soon for Washington, our immediate destination.

Yours & c,


         As the Third Vermont marched through Baltimore, it is likely that Amanda’s nursing skills were put to use as several soldiers suffered heatstroke.

        The regiment arrived in Washington just before midnight on July 26th. The next day they marched six miles up alongside the Potomac River to Camp Lyon near Chain Bridge, Virginia, where they were joined by the Sixth Maine Infantry, Mott’s Battery and a company of cavalry. It was at Camp Lyon that their new commander joined them, Captain William Farrar “Baldy” Smith, who was a native Vermonter.

         By August 12, the Second Vermont Regiment and the 33rd New York Infantry had also joined the Third Vermont, and by August 22, Captain Smith had been promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and Lt. Colonel Breed Hyde became commander of the Third, just in time to be reviewed on Georgetown Heights by President Lincoln, William Seward, and General McClellan where the Third Vermont was commended for its efficiency and appearance and called the best in the brigade.

         Their status, and one of their soldiers, would soon be thrown into the national spotlight, by the “Sleeping Sentinel”.

The Chain Bridge during the Civil War – a wiki commons image.  The feature image of this post is the Chain Bridge from a few years ago while on a research trip.  The bridge is still in use today!

         The Sleeping Sentinel

         On September 1, Private William Scott, who had volunteered to take the place of a sick soldier and had spent two nights on guard duty as a result, was found asleep at his post.  He was court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot.  A pardon was written up, signed by many members of the brigade, including Brigadier General Smith, and then taken to Washington by the Third Vermont’s chaplain, Moses Parmelee.  On the morning of September 9th, not knowing that President Lincoln had granted the pardon, the Vermonters were gathered to witness Scott’s execution.  They burst into cheers as the pardon was read aloud by General Smith. On September 1, Private William Scott, who had volunteered to take the place of a sick soldier and had spent two nights on guard duty as a result, was found asleep at his post.  He was court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot.  A pardon was written up, signed by many members of the brigade, including Brigadier General Smith, and then taken to Washington by the Third Vermont’s chaplain, Moses Parmelee. On the morning of September 9th, not knowing that President Lincoln had granted the pardon, the Vermonters were gathered to witness Scott’s execution.  They burst into cheers as the pardon was read aloud by General Smith. 

         Amanda had “known the boy from a child and took a deep interest in his case.”14    It is not known how they would have become familiar with each other, as Scott was from Groton, Vermont, and Amanda was from Glover, but she was, without doubt, much relieved at the outcome. 

14  Holland

         The Third Vermont first ‘saw the elephant’ on September 11, when McClellan ordered a reconnaissance around Lewinsville, Virginia, and skirmishers of the Third Vermont encountered Confederates and drove them beyond the town. As they returned to camp, they came under fire from Rosser’s battery, and a shell killed private Amos Meserve of Company C. William H. Colburn was mortally wounded, and five other soldiers of Company C were injured. Amanda’s services would have been put into action as a result of these casualties.

        On September 28, the 4th and 5th Vermont regiments joined Smith’s division. Marshall Felch will arrive on the 28th with the Vermont 4th regiment. On October 9, the Vermont regiments moved to Camp Griffin, about four miles from Chain Bridge. On October 24, the 6th Vermont Infantry arrived to complete the initial organization of the “Old Vermont Brigade.”  

       Cold, Wet, and Crowded

          Amanda and other nurses of the Vermont regiments would have their work cut out for them throughout the fall and winter months as sickness descended upon the camp, with a thousand Vermonters soon lying ill, and the 3rd suffering more illness than any other regiment.   The majority of the soldiers of the 3rd Vermont came from farms, where they had led fairly isolated lives.  Now they had been thrown into cold, wet, crowded conditions and exposed to illnesses that their immune systems were not prepared for.


          Estelle Johnson and her sister, Lydia Johnson Wood, both from Jamaica, Vermont, were also nurses, with the 4th Vermont Regiment.  Estelle told how they came to be enlisted:

            “When the war broke out I lived in a little country village shut in by the mountains of Vermont.  One day in August 1861, Leonard Stearns came in search of recruits. My husband and his brother-in-law were among those who enlisted, and sister and I objected, naturally; telling the recruiting officer that if our husbands went we should go too, but not thinking such a thing could be.  In the course of a week Mr. Stearns came and told us that the colonel said that although nurses had not been called for, he wanted us to go.”15  They served as nurses at Camp Griffin, but “as soon as possible a hospital was established a few miles from camp in a deserted house.  I went there as nurse, or, as Dr. Allen called me, “matron.””16

            She goes on to tell about Lydia’s death and how Amanda intervened:

            “Many of the soldiers were sick with typhoid fever, and my husband soon had it…..We had been at the hospital about ten days when sister Lydia was taken sick with the fever, and died the ninth day.  Robert Langdon brought Amanda Farnham and Mrs. Black to prepare her for burial; but the boys could not bear to have her buried as the soldiers were, so clubbed together and paid the expense of having her embalmed and sent home, and her husband with her.  He arrived before the coffin did, and that night was taken down with the black measles.  She was kept three weeks, then buried beside her little girl; her husband getting there just after she was buried.”17  

            Lydia Johnson Wood’s obituary appeared in the January 2, 1862 edition of the Vermont Phoenix:

At Camp Griffin, Va., near Washington, D. C., Nov. 7, 1861, Mrs. Lydia A. Wood, aged 26 years and 2 months. She was a native resident of Jamaica, Vt.

Afflictive Dispensation. – In the obituary column will be found a notice of the death of Mrs. Wood of Jamaica, who left her home among our green hills to minister to the sick and wounded among our soldiers. She was the wife of Arad T. Wood of Jamaica, a member of Co. I, 4th Vermont Regiment; and when the regiment left for the seat of war she with her sister-in-law (sic) Mrs. Johnson volunteered to enter the service of their country as nurses. After laboring some time with great zeal and usefulness Mrs. W. fell prey to the typhoid fever, of late so prevalent in our camps. Her husband accompanied her remains to Jamaica, where he was immediately taken sick with the measles. He is now just able to go out, but is hoping to return to his regiment in a few weeks. It cannot with justice be said of such a man and woman that they serve their country for mere hire.

Estelle Johnson wrote of another incident with Amanda:                 

            “I went to Washington twice with Surgeon Allen.  The first time I stopped over night with Miss Dix.  Her house was filled with supplies, I shall always remember that visit.  The next time Amanda Farnham and I went to get some needed things.  We went to Georgetown in an army wagon, then walked on from there.  Being very hungry we went into a bakery for something to eat.  When the German woman who had charge saw our uniforms, she invited us into her kitchen to have some dinner, and would not accept any pay.18

15 Holland, Our Army Nurses, p. 151

16 Holland, p. 153

17 Holland, p. 153

18 Holland, p. 154

          On November 2, McClellan officially replaced Major General Winfield Scott as General-in-Chief of the Army, and on November 20, he held a review of the entire Army of the Potomac, which President Lincoln attended.  A member of the Third Vermont, William Herrick, wrote, “In the reviewing party was the president who was very conspicuous, not only from being a full head taller, but his plain citizen’s dress contrasted with the uniforms.”  The president “made rapidly down the line of each division, the soldiers cheering with much enthusiasm and the bands playing. Afterward they took up a position on a hill at one end of the field and the troops began marching in review.”

          Many men became ill after standing in the cold for hours waiting for the review to begin.  

          Because of the high rate of sickness in the Vermont regiments, Vermont sent a medical commissioner, Dr. Edward Phelps, to inspect the men and the camps.  Sanitary measures were put into practice, and log hospitals constructed, replacing tents. Surprisingly even though more help was needed, the Army was about to drop hospital matrons from the roles. 


Dropped from the Roles but Continued to Serve


         In December, Amanda’s status changed:

          “Early in July 1861 I enlisted in the 3rd Regt. Vermont Vols. Inf’try and was appointed Hosp. Matron of said regiment and paid as such on the muster rolls of the regiment for some six months—when by Genl. Order from the War Dept.

          ‘That no Hosp. Matron should be paid for further service in the field, from and after that date.’ My name was dropped from the rolls of the regiment and pay stopped from that time.

         At this time, early in the year 1862 the sickness and mortality among the Vermont troop was alarming and I was requested by many of the Medical Officers of the First Vermont Brigade ‘to remain with the command with which request I complied and assisting in the care of the sick during the winter’19

19 Amanda’s pension application