The David Whitney Story

Part II – Chapter 5

David's Military Service

Section 1

Nine Months with the 15th Vermont Volunteers


When David Whitney's older brother, Alonzo, and their future brother-in-law, Alpheus Cheney, volunteered at the beginning of August 1862 to serve the Union for three years with the 10th Vermont Regiment, David was only 18 years old, Nonetheless, the call to duty must have been strong; in September he signed up in Brookfield for nine months with the newly-formed Second Brigade.

David Whitney, Vermont Volunteer

Photo from Family Treasures
by David Day Whitney, David's nephew

Forming the Militia

Vermont's Second Brigade was formed in compliance with an order from President Lincoln on August 4, calling for 300,000 men to be activated from the various state militias for a period of nine months, anticipating that the war against the rebellion would not last long and calculating that more men would volunteer to sign up for a shorter term of service. Vermont's quota for the militia was set at 4,898 men.

By September 20, a total of 50 local Vermont companies, each containing a maximum 101 men and officers, were organized and assigned to five new regiments. David's unit, the West Randolph Company, including recruits from the towns of Northfield, Brookfield, and Randolph, was organized on September 11 and became Company C of the 15th Regiment. The 15th, along with the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 16th Vermont Regiments, comprised the Second Vermont Brigade.

As was the case with Alonzo when he joined the 10th Regiment, David did not go off alone into the 15th. He was joined on active duty with the military by a man already his brother-in-law, Edwin Sprague, who had married Maria Whitney in Brookfield in October of the previous year. Maria was six years older than her brother David, and her husband was another two years older.

Training at Brattleboro

On October 8, 1862, the 15th Vermont Regiment was transported by rail to a training area at Fort Dummer near Brattleboro in the southeast corner of the state, adjacent the Connecticut River separating Vermont from New Hampshire. Fort Dummer was the site of the first permanent settlement in Vermont by European-heritage migrants. The fort was built in 1724 on what was then the frontier, guarding the passage to early settlements along the Connecticut River. On its path along the Connecticut River toward Fort Dummer, the train bringing the 15th Vermont Regiment stopped once, at Bellows Falls, where it waited for another train to pass. At this brief stop, guards were posted at the doors to ensure no recruit deserted.

Daily Schedule

On arrival at Fort Dummer, the 15th Regiment encamped in newly established barracks near a pond at a site named Camp Lincoln, recently vacated by the 12th Vermont Regiment, which had been sent south to Washington, DC. David and his comrades of the 15th were immediately issued field eating utensils and canteens and then—two days after arriving—military uniforms.

The recruits' initial training was aimed at establishing military-like attitudes in their daily operations and fostering overall cohesion as a unit. The daily schedule included the following duties, reveille at 5:30am, policing (cleaning up the immediate area) at 6:30, sick call at 6:30, breakfast at 7:00, guard mounting at 8:00, squad (smallest unit) drill from 8:30 to 9:30, company drill from 11 to 12:30, dinner at 1:00, company drill again from 2:30 to 4:00, supper at 5:00, a dress parade at 5:30, tattoo (signal to end the evening) at 8:30, and finally taps (lights out) at 9:00pm.

Picket Duty

After the first few days, a good deal of David's training time was devoted to practicing picket duty. Such duty involves being posted at the perimeters of the defense of an encampment, prepared to challenge anyone who attempts to cross the lines into the protected area, thus preventing unauthorized access.

Picket-duty training began at 8:45am when groups of six men were sent to specific guard sites where they set up tents for shelter and then took their post at 11:00. A rotation of picket shifts was to include two hours on duty and four off. A man on picket must remain alert and vigilant, not an easy job when you are staring into space looking for something unusual, but hoping not to see it.

Practice for the 15th Regiment at challenging on the picket line was achieved by the random appearance of men who had to give the appropriate daily password or be arrested and taken to the guardhouse. This training proved to be a very important part of the regiment's preparation for war, as a major part of their nine months of service that was to begin shortly was spent in northern Virginia guarding against possible Confederate advances on the nation's capital.

Going to War

As the preparatory training proceeded for the five regiments of the Second Brigade, each regiment, when ready, was sent south to war duty. The 12th Regiment had left for Washington on October 4th, 4 days before David and his fellow 15th Regiment volunteers arrived in Brattleboro. The 13th Regiment left on October 11th, but four of its members reportedly deserted on the way. Also at that time, it was said that the 15th and 16th Regiments were to be sent to New Orleans. But as is often the case in rumor-ripe, intensive military training camps, this proved to be a false claim: the 15th, when their turn came, was sent directly to Washington.

Mustering In and Shipping Out

On October 21, the 15th Regiment, along with the 14th and 16th, participated in a grand review at Brattleboro conducted by Vermont's Governor Holbrook, to which other Vermont notables plus families of the volunteers were invited. On Thursday, October 22, David's regiment was mustered in, that is, officially made a part of the Union-organized armed forces.

They left then the next day at 1:30pm via rail from Brattleboro, following the Connecticut River across the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut until they reached New Haven on Long Island Sound. Along the way their train made stops in Massachusetts at the stations at Greenfield, Deerfield, Northampton—where the troops were treated to apples and bread and butter—and finally Springfield, just short of the Connecticut border. By this time it had turned dark, and the only recognizable place the rest of the way to New Haven was the city of Hartford.

Setting Sail for New Jersey

David and his regiment arrived in New Haven at 11:00pm and boarded a steamer that sailed down Long Island Sound toward New York City. The next morning at 8:00am the steamer anchored somewhat short of the city and then, about an hour or two later, after having soup and coffee for breakfast, the troops transferred to a ferry that transported them down New York Bay, through Verrazzano Narrows and along the Atlantic Ocean shore to Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey.

Riding the Rails from New Jersey to Washington

After a wait at Ft. Monmouth, the Vermont 15th traveled by passenger rail across New Jersey, arriving at 12:00 noon across from Philadelphia, in Camden, on the Delaware River, which they then crossed by ferry to Philadelphia. After supper in Philadelphia, the regiment was loaded into freight cars that took them to Baltimore, arriving there the next morning. They were fed around noon but had a long wait for passenger cars to take them to Washington. Their train did not depart until after dark and moved slowly and stealthily through the border state of Maryland, not arriving in the capital city until around 7:00am on Sunday, October 26. David and his comrades were greeted at their destination by the start of a heavy rainstorm.

Marking Time in DC on the way to Virginia

Upon arriving in Washington, the 15th Regiment was initially housed on the edge of Capitol Hill in a building named Soldiers' Rest, which was established as a transitional point for newly arriving Union troops assigned to duty with The Military District of Washington. The Vermont 15th got to Soldiers Rest in time for breakfast and were allowed to stay in the building overnight. However, the next day, while the rain continued, they had to seek shelter elsewhere. As the 15th's tents had not yet arrived, some of the troops found friends to stay with among the other Vermont regiments that had left Brattleboro a few days previously and already had their tents.

The following morning, the entire Second Vermont Brigade, which had been assigned to duty with The Military District of Washington, marched over the Long Bridge crossing the Potomac and into Arlington, VA.

The Long Bridge over the Potomac

Illustration courtesy of

from Washington, DC, to Arlington, VA

They stopped briefly at the edge of what had been Confederate Commanding General Robert E. Lee's farm and then set up camp about a mile further on at Arlingon Heights. David Whitney's 15th Regiment spent eight of its nine months in Northern Virginia, initially at a site that came to be known unofficially as 'Camp Vermont', an area of rather low-lying wetlands, not conducive to good health for men sleeping in tents. Disease took its toll at this site