(HOST) On this New Year’s Eve, commentator Howard Coffin is looking forward – to looking back.
(COFFIN) Though Abraham Lincoln never set foot in Vermont, he was coming here in the summer of 1865, to rooms reserved a year before at Manchester’s Equinox Hotel by his wife Mary.
By the time he stepped from the train at Manchester Depot, the Civil War would have been won. Certainly, great crowds would have gathered along Manchester’s Main Street, though no town knew more about Civil War sacrifice than Manchester. Its Equinox Guards had been nearly annihilated at Savage Station in 1862.
Vermonters loved Lincoln, voting overwhelmingly for him in his first run for the presidency, over our native son Stephen Douglas. In 1864, it was again a Lincoln landside here.
This first state to outlaw slavery sent more than 34,000 troops to Mr. Lincoln’s armies, of whom 13,000 became casualties.
Vermonters turned the tide at Gettysburg, kept Grant’s army intact in the Wilderness, made Lincoln’s reelection certain at Cedar Creek, and broke the rebel lines at Petersburg, leading to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
This year an Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, on which I am proud to serve, will sponsor events throughout the state to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. Among them is a night of words and music at the State House on Feb. 12, the actual birthday. It will honor Lincoln, and call attention to the bust of Lincoln that graces the State House’s Hall of Inscriptions. The work of Brattleboro’s Larkin Meade, it’s a study for the standing Lincoln statue that he created for the tomb at Springfield, Illinois.
In the afternoon of that same day, Vermonters will ring our bells as they did for the state’s 200th birthday in 1991. Many bells that celebrated Union victories, and tolled on Lincoln’s death, still grace our belfries.
They will sound down the Green Mountains’ long ridge, along the valley of the Connecticut River, and across Lake Champlain. They will speak from the villages to the farms and fields, and be heard above the graves of lads who faced the fusillades at Antietam, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.
A poem written in 1862 honored the men Lincoln had just ordered into uniform, including those of the Second Vermont Brigade destined to break Pickett’s Charge. It reads, in part:
If you look up all our valleys
Where the glowing harvests shine
You may see our sturdy farmer boys fast forming into line.
And children at their mothers’ knees are pulling at the weeds
And learing how to sew and reap against their country’s needs.
And a farewell group stands weeping at every cottage door,
We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.
Now, hours away from the Lincoln birthday year, that Vermonters should join in the celebration seems altogether fitting and proper.