by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 28, 2015
VERMONT SAVED THE UNION ONCE. WILL WE NEED TO AGAIN?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- On the morning of Memorial Day, I was standing on the Brattleboro town common, in the shadow of the town's Civil War Memorial, for a ceremony to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of that terrible war.
The cause of human freedom is something Vermonters take seriously. The Underground Railroad flourished here. Anti-slavery societies were abundant. And when the Confederate Army's guns shelled Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln asked Gov. Erastus Fairbanks what the federal government could expect from Vemont.
Fairbanks' reply: Vermont would do its "full duty."
Vermont paid a terrible price in the battle to preserve the Union and end slavery in the United States. The official records state that 34,238 Vermonters served in the Civil War, and 5,224 of them died.
Considering Vermont's population in the 1860 census was 315,098, the Green Mountain State suffered the greatest losses per capita of any of the Union states.
Brattleboro was a place of departure and return for many of Vermont's troops. It was the place where 10,200 volunteers were mustered into service with the Union army, and where 4,666 survivors of the war were mustered out.
It was also a place where one of the largest military hospitals was sited, after Fairbanks' successor, Gov. Frederick Holbrook, traveled to Washington and personally convinced President Lincoln that Vermont needed a hospital in Brattleboro to treated the Vermonters injured in the war.
More than 4,000 soldiers passed through the Brattleboro U.S. General Hospital, and 95 soldiers died while under care there. Some of them are buried in the town cemetery.
On Memorial Day 1886, former First Vermont Brigade commander Lewis Addison Grant spoke to 7,000 people at the dedication of a Civil War memorial dedication in Brandon.
"Father and loving mother," Grant said, "the sacrifice of your loving son has produced glorious results...The war tore the manacles of bondage from millions of people and bade them go free...We have helped guide our nation into the paths of peace. Let us labor to hasten on the glorious day when peace shall prevail and nations shall learn war no more. That day is coming. It shall be a day of rejoicing, the like of which has not been known since the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy."
It would be nice to think that. The war between the abolitionist North and slave-owning South rages on today, only on different fronts. Look all around America, and you will see the values of the South trumping the values of the North.
"The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country," Sara Robinson, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America's Future, wrote for AlterNet in 2012. "It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn't been resolved to this day."
On one side is what Robinson called "a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society)." Their predatory instincts were tempered by what she called "a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind."
On the other side are the descendants of the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South - which Robinson described as "notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain 'order,' and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God."
Where the Yankees once dominated the Republican Party, and the values of the common good were unquestioned, the values of the Southern slave owners are what drive the GOP today. The party of Lincoln that freed the slaves is now the party that seems to be working for a return of the old pre-1865 order.
But the bravery of Vermonters in the face of tyranny continued. Vermont declared war on Germany in the first and the second World Wars well before the U.S. government did. More Vermonters died in Iraq per capita than any other state in the union. And soldiers from these Green Mountains continue to serve their country and do their "full duty."
We are still far away from that more perfect union. But if the America that still believes in the common good and the betterment of our society needs help maintaining those values, Vermont stands ready to help.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A .from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.