Howard Coffin, Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War

Walt Garner and Roberta Saldana:

"Full Duty, Vermonters in the Civil War, by Howard Coffin tells the story of the Civil War from a Vermont perspective. Combining historical fact, personal letter and diary excerpts, and detailed descriptions of present day battle sites, this high school reading level volume shows a personal side to the Civil War. From the governor's assurance to President Lincoln that Vermont will do her "full duty" to the death of the last Vermont Civil War veteran, step by step, on the battlefield and at home in Vermont, Coffin shows the effects of the Civil War in a personal way on Vermonters as well as the enormous effect Vermonters had in the Civil War.

The reviewers recommend that this volume with its extensive bibliography, period photos, and detailed directions to Civil War sites and monuments including many in Vermont, be included as a valuable addition to Historical Society's Teacher's Library and any study of Vermont in the Civil War.

1) What does the book tell about the era/topic it covers?

It follows Vermonters from enlistment through battle and into the grave; shows Vermonters as dependable, brave, and willing to sacrifice: models for other battalions and brigades; sees the struggle through the letters and diaries of the men in the front lines, under fire, fearing death, pinning their names on their uniforms on the eve of particularly fearsome fights, but willing to go on; through the lives of the wives, siblings and parents at home raising money, making blankets and socks and shirts, receiving broken, maimed loved ones home, or picking up coffins in buckboard at the depot, trudging up steep Vermont hills to obscure burial grounds in now-abandoned fields behind the cellar holes where the soldier once lived; adds muscle, bone, and organ-- often torn, shattered, eviscerated--to the cerebral strategies of generals and commanders ties the lives of mid-nineteenth-century Vermonters to the places where they lived and died with haunting tours of the spots they bled.

2) What important points about Vermont history did you learn?

The story of William Scott, the "Sleeping Sentinel," was new and enchanting to me. The letters and diaries that bear witness to Vermonters' attitudes toward slavery are revealing, especially Wilbur Fisk's writings on pp. 177-178. The career of Stephen Thomas, who lived near Randolph, was interesting to me, and made me want to visit his grave. As I read this book, I kept having the urge to visit the places to which Coffin serves as guide, to make some kind of mystical contact with the people who lived in these terrible and valiant times.


My 14 and 16 year old girls not only read it with relish but were so enthralled they went on to read a half dozen or so books from the bibliography.

3) Does it include primary sources?

Yes, in the form of letters and diaries, often quoted at great length; yes, also, in Coffin's first-hand visits to the sites of battles and graves, describing in poignant terms what exists in those places today. Footnotes , bibliography, and period photos also included.

4) How might it be used to teach Vermont history?

Many of the illustrations and written passages can be copied for overheads or bulletin boards; regiments' movements could be made into maps; passages about the commercial benefits of war, together with the increased labor pressures on farmers, and the wanderlust of returning soldiers, could be combined Basset's and Barron's books to examine the changing social landscape in the mid-nineteenth century; sites mentioned could be visited, as many are in the state of Vermont, for example: the places where troops were mustered into service in Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Burlington, and Brattleboro; sites of former army hospitals (Brattleboro, Montpelier, and Burlington); the buildings, roads, and parks where the St. Albans Raid took place; Haldene, Robert Lincoln's home outside Manchester; with Civil War monuments in almost every village and Civil War gravestones in almost every cemetery; to name a few.

This book could be a springboard for learning more about the Civil War in its totality. It would be extremely helpful in biographical research. The descriptions are so clear that students could attempt battle maps and compare them with those available elsewhere. As each chapter is almost an individual entity not dependent upon the rest of the book it lends itself to topical studies. Research the underground railroad in VT. Have students take sides and debate the causes and reasons for fighting from the Vermont perspective. Investigate prison life. The use of Morgans in the Civil War. How the war affected home life in Vermont. Research medical treatments, facilities, and disease during the war. The effects of freed slaves on Vermonters.

Thomas Dublin, Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1800-1860

Walt Garner, Kate McMullan, Roberta Saldana:

"Farm to Factory, Women's Letters 1830 - 1860, edited by Thomas Dublin, is a delightful introduction to rural New England women's lives in the pre-Civil War period. The book's well-written introduction presents a overview of the movement from family and household economy to factory wage-based economy in New England during the years covered; and of the changes in family and community life engendered by this shift. The introduction is followed by a collection of primary source materials: five sets of letters to and from young women operatives in the newly opened factories of the era that ' ... detail the range of women's activities' in that period; and that ' ... speak to the consciousness of women workers in early textile mills.'

Farm to Factory focuses on the first wage labor available to nineteenth century middle class farm girls, and how the availability of such work changed their lives. Thus, this book makes real the changes - work moved from home to factory, machines took over previously handcrafted work, hours became regulated—brought to ordinary lives by the Industrial Revolution.

An additional importance of Farm to Factory is the fact that it describes the lives of ordinary people to whom students can easily relate. It is often very hard for students to make the leap to the historical consciousness of the period they are studying; to look at historical events not from the vantage point of their own lives and experience, but rather as experienced by those who lived them. This book helps with that task in that the voices of these female letter writers speak clearly, the context of the events described becomes alive and accessible to the reader. How these women felt about their first paid labor experience, and how they felt about other aspects of their lives: independence, family responsibilities, community and cultural dictates is well communicated. This book is an excellent entry point to the study of the Industrial Age as it applies to women's lives. It is social history at its best.

Farm to Factory could be used in a primary classroom: here, Delia Page's handwritten letter to her younger sister displayed using an overhead projector and read aloud, would make the point that history involved real people - similar to us - at an earlier time. Upper elementary and middle level students researching Vermont history topics could easily work with a selection of letters or excerpts from letters. High school students assigned this book would find it an excellent social history text. Finally, the introduction could be very useful to teachers preparing a unit on the nineteenth century, and/or on the Industrial Revolution in Vermont. Thus, the reviewers recommend Farm to Factory highly both as background reading and as a classroom resource."

Sarah Rooker, ed., Yours in the Cause of the Slave: Vermont and the Underground Railroad

Leslie Ercole:

"This is a great packet to use with middle school students that use primary documents. The documents are limited and with the scope of the students’ abilities to be successful at using them.

The activities that are tied to the standards are excellent assessment pieces. This fits nicely with the agricultural era, a teacher can compare the agricultural states of both Vermont and the south. They can look for similarities and differences. Then students may get a better idea why the institution of slavery was so important to the south and why they tried so hard to get their slaves back. Rather than always looking at slavery as a freedom issue, look at it from the South’s point of view. Students could then decide why Vermont took such a strong role in the underground railroad.

This is definitely material to be used with students. Most middle school students would have few difficulties with it."

Liz Snell:

"The documents in this packet are interesting, informative and very useful. For teachers and students in middle school and high school the packet provides valuable primary source materials for the study of Vermont’s role in the anti-slavery movement. The case study and the letters, as well as the essays could be used in numerous ways, especially for introducing the concept of using primary source materials in research."

G. Clifton Wisler, Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer

Sue Wolff:

"An appropriate read aloud for middle elementary or self read for 4th grade and up. The author follows the story of an eleven-year-old’s journey from Vermont (St. Johnsbury) to the south during the Civil War. Although he is too young to be a soldier, he is needed for his talent as a drummer, an important yet supposedly safer role in the Union Army. Descriptions of battle and injuries is detailed enough to get the point across yet not too detailed to be gory or frightening.

Appealing is the fact that the book is based on fact and could be a good starting point to analyze the war, its purpose and its cost in human lives. This book could lead into or follow discussions of age, heroism, causes and consequences of war, and ways of life at the time. Writing activities could include using fact as a basis for writing a fictional piece."