Gilbert: Enlisting In The Union Army

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(HOST) After Fort Sumter was shelled on April 12, 1861, war was very much on Vermonters’ minds.  Here’s commentator and head of the Vermont Humanities Council, Peter Gilbert, with excerpts from a letter written exactly 150 years ago this Saturday by a resident of Barre, who wanted to enlist and fight alongside his brother.

(GILBERT)  On April 23, 1861, eleven days after Ft. Sumter, Vermont’s Governor Erastus Fairbanks asked the state legislature for a half-million dollars to help put down the rebellion.  In response, the legislature voted a million dollars, and also augmented soldiers’ federal pay of $13 per month with an additional $7 a month for Vermont soldiers.

On the same day, Joseph Perkins of Barre, then a medical student at the University of Vermont, wrote poignantly to his brother of his intent to enlist and his hope that they might serve – and if necessary, die – together.  Perkins wrote in part:

". . . When this great national crisis came – when I felt that I must go to my country’s rescue, among my first thots were we would go togather, side by side, and if needs be die in each other’s defence.  

"Would it not be much easier to die in the arms of one we loved?  Would not the death struggle be mitigated if we felt a heart near our own that shared all our joy and sorrows?"

Perkins continued,  ". . .  yes, I have well considered this step thru days and nights of sad, sober thot.  I am aware that my constitution will not endure much hardship and as you say I might be a burden rather than a help.  I hope that my life is of too much value to throw away for nought.  In answer to whether it is dear to me I would refer you to my hopes of the future – to the love I bear her whose life is two fold dearer than my own and perhaps that stimulates me to action – What would be the pleasure of homes without Liberty?  Twould not be home – we were born free let us die freemen.  Shall we hold back the good we might do because we cannot do more?  . . .  [W]e have a Constitution – laws.  We have elected a president.  Shall we support him in doing his duty… in executing the laws or desert him?  We [are] the light of the world toward which all nations are gazing shall we allow it to be extinguished because demons prefer darkness?  No! . . .

"Can there be found a man," Perkins concluded, "so depraved with soul so small that there cannot be aroused a spirit of self defence or that will not raise an arm to save a country’s fall.  This stirs my whole soul into action… My life is at my country’s disposal and if possible should be given ten thousand times ere I’d be ruled by tyrants and much less traitors.  I didn’t know before what it was to feel patriotic… like the electric shock it goes through ought my whole system absorbing all things else . . .

"Your brother
"J.L. Perkins"

Perkins served with the First Vermont Regiment, and eventually returned to Vermont.  His brother’s story is unknown.

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