The Civil War Letters of Forrest Little: "Father I Done My Duty"

Private Forrest Little and the Fifth Vermont Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, September 1861-July 1862

Ruins of Fort Crown Point

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Carl Guarneri, Saint Mary's College History department

Joining Lincoln's Army
Camp Griffin
McClellan's Peninsula Campaign
Richmond and Retreat
Battle of Savage Station
The Campaign Ends

                                                                                               Joining Lincoln's Army

   Early in September 1861 Forrest Little, a young man of nineteen from Crown Point, New York, ferried across the narrow southern end of Lake Champlain and continued eastward twenty miles to Middlebury, Vermont, where he volunteered for the Union army.

   Crown Point, Forrest's hometown, had been established by Vermonters on the west shore of Lake Champlain around 1800. In 1836 a bed of iron ore was discovered nearby that transformed the town into a busy industrialized community, with well-stocked stores lining the main street and an array of houses of various sizes strung along the roads leading out to the mines. Forrest's parents, Henry and Amanda Little, stood toward the lower end of the community's social hierarchy. Married in 1841 in Crown Point's First Congregational Church, they moved often and never owned their own home. During the first half of the Civil War they resided in town, relying on a network of relatives on outlying farms for cooler air and fresh vegetables. A carpenter by occupation, Henry was slowed by "consumption" and rheumatism after 1859 so that he was incapable of sustained work. With a sickly husband and three younger children to care for, Amanda would depend partly on Forrest's military pay for her support—so she claimed when filing for a government pension in 1864. Thus the family's precarious financial situation may have spurred Forrest to respond to Vermont Governor Erastus Fairbanks' call for additional troops on the day of the Battle of Bull Run.

   Yet Forrest's letters also attest to his fervent pro-Union sentiments. During the Civil War the townspeople's patriotism was stirred by the presence of two Revolutionary-era forts nearby, Fort Crown Point and the more famous Fort Ticonderoga. If further inspiration were needed, the body of John Brown, the abolitionist hero, had recently passed by Crown Point on its way to burial less than sixty miles away at Brown's farm in North Elba. Crown Point gained renown for the number of recruits it sent to the Union Army and for the fine Morgan horses it supplied the troops. (Three of the most celebrated of these horses survived the war and are buried with markers in the town cemetery.)

   On September 6 Forrest Little enlisted at Middlebury for a three-year term in the Fifth Vermont Volunteer Infantry. Once their company reached its quota of a hundred men, Forrest and the other local volunteers took the train north to St. Albans, where they met up with companies that had been formed in Manchester, Rutland, Burlington, and other recruiting centers. On September 16 Forrest was inspected by an officer, took an oath of allegiance, and officially mustered in as a private in Company F, named for the town of Cornwall and composed mainly of young men from Addison County in west central Vermont. The next day Forrest and his fellow volunteers received their uniforms, shoes, and stockings, with the expense to be deducted from their pay. A few days later Forrest and most of the others were armed with guns brought home by the 90-day men of Vermont's First Regiment. One week after enrolling, their training hardly begun, Forrest and the men of Company F boarded the train for Washington. Their route took them to New Haven, Connecticut, then across Long Island Sound by ferry to Jersey City, where they resumed the train ride to Baltimore and then Washington, a journey of three days.

-- Next: Camp Griffin