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Civil War Ascutney Story

12/03/07 5:55PM By Howard Coffin
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(HOST) Commentator Howard Coffin has been collecting Civil War stories with ties to Vermont. Recently he came across a story with a connection to Mount Ascutney.

(COFFIN) I grew up looking at Ascutney Mountain. It's massive monadnock that rises suddenly out of the Connecticut River Valley and appears much higher than its 3,150 feet. A ritual of growing up for an Upper Valley child was a drive, or hike, up Ascutney for a picnic and the long view.

Today I drive Interstate 89 at least weekly and I play a little game with the mountain. Moving south from my Montpelier home, on passing the Northfield/Williamstown exit, one quickly rises to the highest point on all of 89. Just before reaching that crest, I guess whether Ascutney will be in view, 50 miles to the south. Often I guess wrong, for the weather often changes beyond the crest.

The great mountain can appear so different, sometimes bold and green, sometimes blue, sometimes gray, sometimes barely visible at all. At times, I am unsure whether I actually see it through the distant miles, or imagine it. Some days it appears huge, and close. Other days it seems much smaller, looking its full distance across the hills of Orange and Windsor Counties.

Recently, in researching the Civil War, I came on an Ascutney story. Richard Crandall grew up on a Berlin farm, graduated from Dartmouth, and enlisted in the 6th Vermont Regiment. Home on leave in the summer of 1863, he and a college friend camped out on the summit. The friend recalled, "Last August it was our lot to spend a night upon Mount Ascutney, our heads pillowed upon rock, our eyes fixed on the sky, thick-set with glittering stars. He was telling me of that gallant charge made by Sedgwick's Corps at Fredericksburg. He said, 'Oh to have lived a minute then was worth a thousand years.'"

The following spring, just before the Vermont Brigade marched south with the Army of the Potomac to begin the Overland Campaign that would put a death grip on the Confederacy, Crandall wrote a poem that concluded:

Sound the clarions of war, be the battle begun
And the night of our land shall be changed in the morning.
But oh, if I fall in a cause so sublime
I shall join the brave souls that have already bled;
Tell parents and friends to let the bells chime
In slow plaintive airs for her sons that are dead.

The poem was found in his pack after a Confederate sharpshooter killed him with a single bullet in the trenches at Cold Harbor. The church bells chimed in the white church at Berlin Corners when his body came home a week later.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian who's specialty is the civil war.
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