(HOST) As Fair Season comes to a close once again, commentator Howard Coffin is thinking about harvest celebrations and the Civil War.
(COFFIN) One hundred fifty years ago this early autumn, as our landscape turned to gold, Vermonters celebrated the harvest. To Rutland, Woodstock, Waterbury and other towns that held fairs went father and mother in their best clothes, bearing the best of the harvest, with the kids in tow.
But this autumn was different. Rumors of impending war came north on the chilling air, getting into conversations along the midway. Would the southern states leave the beloved Union if Abraham Lincoln was elected in November? And Lincoln surely looked good to Vermonters, better than Brandon-born Stephen Douglas, ready to let slavery expand, apparently endlessly westward.
Home from the fair, as maple leaves took on color, young Urban Woodbury picked apples from the family orchard in Elmore.
Above Groton, William Scott did his best to follow the orders of his hard-driving farmer father on the family’s upland acres.
Charles Cleveland, 16, working the farm above the White River’s First Branch, heard talk of militia companies drilling nearby.
As first frosts silvered the hills, Asceneth Doubleday worked beside her husband William to get in all that would be needed for winter on their small farm with its astonishing view of Killington and Pico peaks.
In less than a year, Urban Woodbury would lose an arm at Bull Run.
In a year-and-a half, William Scott would be dead from five rebel bullets at Lee’s Mills, on Virginia’s Peninsula.
Five months after that, Confederate artillery would end Charles Cleveland’s nineteen years of life, at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Asceneth Doubleday, in less than three years, would be a widow with a farm to run and three children to raise. Husband William was dead at Gettysburg.
The fall of 1860 was the last autumn of peace, before four years of furious Civil War. When the fairs came around five years hence, and peace returned, some 6,000 Vermont men would not be there, having gone to soldier, and died.