William and Julian Scott, A Noble Death, and the Medal of Honor
On April 16, 1862 the Confederacy enacted a law making all males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five subject to military draft, Lincoln signed the bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia, and the fates of two unrelated soldiers from Vermont, William Scott and Julian Scott, crossed in a swampy region of Virginia called Lee’s Mills, southwest of the Confederate capital of Richmond.
The Battle of Lee’s Mills was part of Union General George McClellan’s attempt to go around the Confederate army in northern Virginia and capture Richmond by moving his entire army by boat southeast from Washington, landing it at the very tip of the Virginia peninsula, and then moving northwest, past Yorktown and Williamsburg, up the length of the peninsula. (This war, which the Confederates considered a war of independence, was often fought out where the American Revolution had been fought.) The Peninsula Campaign was the war’s first major offensive in the East.
Just seven months earlier twenty-three-year-old William Scott was about to be executed by firing squad for falling asleep on duty while guarding a bridge just outside of the nation’s capital. The so-called “sleeping sentinel” had left his home in Groton, Vermont just a month before. But President Lincoln had pardoned him. “I cannot think of going into eternity,” Lincoln said, “with the blood of that poor young man on my skirts. It is not to be wondered at that a boy, raised on a farm, probably in the habit of going to bed at dark, should, when required to watch, fall asleep; and I cannot consent to shooting him for such an act.”
The Confederates had anticipated an attack up the Virginia peninsula, and prepared a strong defensive line behind the modest Warwick River. The 192 men of the Third Vermont Volunteers were ordered to advance across the river and charge the well-fortified enemy. They included William Scott. Vermont Civil War historian Howard Coffin writes that he was hit just as the first soldiers reached dry land on the far side. Some brave comrade carried him back across the river.
One soldier recalled, “It was just like sap boiling in that stream, the bullets fell so thick.” By the time they reached the relative safety of the trees, Scott had been wounded either five or six times. One bullet had hit his stomach, and a “gut shot” was nearly always fatal. There was nothing doctors could do. Scott died the next morning.
The soldier whom Lincoln had saved from an ignominious death in front of a firing squad had given for his country what the President would call at Gettysburg, “the last full measure of devotion.”
Also amidst those soldiers who charged across that bloody stream was Julian Scott, a sixteen-year-old drummer boy from Johnson, Vermont. When casualties mounted and they were ordered to withdraw, he crossed the stream repeatedly to bring wounded soldiers back to safety. For his actions, he became the first Vermonter to receive the Medal of Honor.
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
Union Captures New Orleans, A Major Confederate Defeat
As David Glasgow Farragut’s fleet of eighteen Union warships approached New Orleans on April 16, 1862, they faced three challenges: New Orleans, the Confederacy’s largest port and the key to the southern Mississippi River, was defended by Forts Jackson and St. Philip, a chain obstruction across the river, and a Confederate naval force just below the city.
On April 18, the Union ships started to bombard Fort Jackson. Two days later, two Union ships, under heavy fire, managed to sever the chain obstruction. After five days of mortar bombardment failed to defeat the forts, Farragut decided to take his ships past them.
Despite exchanging heavy fire with the forts, Farragut’s squadron passed the forts with minimal casualties, and then engaged the Confederate flotilla. Hassled by fire rafts and rams, the Union fleet managed to destroy eight and capture two Confederate ships, the Confederates destroyed two others to prevent their capture, and the armored ram CSS Manassas was forced aground, where it sank.
On April 25, Farragut’s ships finally anchored at New Orleans and began to shell it. On April 28, Forts Jackson and St. Philip formally surrendered. On May 1, Major Benjamin Butler arrived with the Union army.
– Submitted by Tom Ledoux, Vermont in the Civil War
Autobiography of George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1913), pp. 60-76
The Life of David Glasgow Farragut, First Admiral of the United States Navy, Loyall Farragut. (D. Appleeton and Co., New York, 1879), pp. 207-227