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Matron In Charge

“During the winter following a  Div. Hospital [2nd Div. 6th Corps] was established near White Oak Church, Va. and I was appointed by Surg. S. J. Allen, Chief Med. Officer of the Div. as Matron in charge.

—-Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

The image on the left depicts the troops located near the White Oak Church.  This image was derived from an onsite interpretive sign at the White Oak Church Historic Site.   The White Oak Church image above is from wiki commons. 

           With the arrival of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, White Oak Church instantly became the center of one of the largest communities in Virginia. For seven months, 20,000 soldiers of the VI Corps camped in the immediate area. During that time the church served alternately as a military hospital, a United States Christian Commission station, and as a photographic studio. 


Land Laws     

In 1862, the Republican Congress enacted a series of laws, several of which would play a significant role in Amanda and Marshall’s future: The Morrill Land Grant Act; the Homestead Act that granted small farmers 160 acres of public lands in the west; and the Railroad Act, which would make possible the building of the transcontinental railroad.

         Emancipation Proclamation

        On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. 

        Also, in January, came Ambrose Burnside’s disastrous “Mud March”; Burnside was soon replaced by Joseph Hooker as the general cocmmander of the Army of the Potamic.  Hooker recognized army morale as being at an all-time low, and set to work with initiatives to build it back up, in time for the spring offensive.

       Snowball Fight

        On February 25, a different kind of battle ensued on the heights of Fairview, Virginia—an epic snowball fight between the combined forces of the 3rd and 4th Vermont, against the 26th New Jersey Infantry (Note: in October, the New Jersey regiment, a new nine-month regiment, had been temporarily attached to the Vermont Brigade, the only non-Vermont unit to ever serve with the Vermonters, and there was resentment in the brigade against them—especially as the New Jersey regiment would be mustered out in June.)  Several soldiers wrote accounts of the epic fight, and noted the ferociousness of the combatants, with the Vermonters emerging victorious.  Henry Houghton, of Co. K, noted that casualties on both sides were “heavy” and included “Bloody noses, 53, bunged peepers, 81, extraordinary phrenological [nose] developments, 29”.

—– Poyer, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2005

A Team and a Wagon

        With winter behind them, the Army, with its new commander, and Amanda, were on the move again:

            “In the spring of 1863 I was permitted by the Prov. Marshal Gen. [Marsena Rudolph] Patrick to have a team and wagon of my own on which to carry my personal effects and in addition to this I carried a large supply of articles for use of the sick and wounded, that were furnished me by the Christian and Sanitary Commissions upon the order of Miss D. L. Dix and the Hon. Mrs. Portus Baxter of Washington.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

            An “Accidental” Discharge

         “… the brigade lost nearly three hundred killed and wounded, – Mrs. Farnham doing her usual efficient work… Before a battle it became a common thing for soldiers, especially of the Vermont troops, to entrust her with money or other valuables for safe-keeping, until an event occurred after which she dared no longer accept the responsibility. 

           During the battle of Chancellorsville she had an unusual amount of money, which she carried in a belt on her person, and other things of value in a hand bag. After getting into quarters on our side of the river she put up a tent, as it was raining, and, for the first time in several nights, took off the belt and put it with the bag on the ground under the mattress.  Probably this was all seen in her shadow on the tent-cloth, by someone watching for that purpose.

         She had just fallen asleep when she became conscious that someone was trying to get in; but the flap strings had been drawn inside and tied tightly around the pole, so that plan was abandoned, and the robber passed around the tent. Fully aroused, Mrs. Farnham now crept from the blankets, and finding her revolver, awaited results. Her first thought was to give alarm, but she knew that the thief could easily escape in the darkness and return later.  As no entrance could be found, he cut a long slit in the tent, to reach through. Up to the time that the knife began its work she had not realized how serious was her situation; now she hesitated no longer, but aiming as well as she could in the darkness, fired. An exclamation and the sound of hurried footsteps was all she heard.  

          The next morning news came that one of the new recruits was sick, having been wounded by the “accidental discharge of a pistol in the hands of a chum” and she did not ask to have the case investigated”

—–Holland, Our Army Nurses, 1895, p. 97-98

The Old Camps           

          “The army had to retreat to its old camps, to remain until the march to Gettysburg.  When there, through the influence of Mrs. Baxter, Amanda was permitted to keep a two-horse team, to take along supplies on the march. When in camp the boys could usually procure for themselves what they needed, but on the march they often suffered severely.  Such articles as shirts, socks, etc., coffee, sugar, condensed milk and canned goods, she carried, and gave where most needed. “

—–Holland, Our Army Nurses, 1895, p. 99

      One such location where Amanda spent time within the old camps was the Barnard House.  It was formerly called the Mannsfield plantation and is shown in the image above.  

“Put the Vermonters Ahead”: The March to Gettysburg

            The Confederacy adopted a new strategy with a plan to invade the North. They would meet the Union soldiers in a town called Gettysburg.  (During this march, the Army of the Potomac would once again acquire a new commander, with Gen. George Meade replacing Gen. Hooker, just in time for the battle of Gettysburg.)

         Both the First Vermont Brigade, and the Second Vermont Brigade, would make long, multi-day marches to Gettysburg, and once there, on Day 3 [July 3rd], the Second Vermont Brigade, under the command of General Stannard, would be responsible for turning Pickett’s Charge.  Neither brigade reached the battlefield on Day 1 of the fighting.  With the day’s reversals, the newly-minted General Meade dispatched orders to Major General John Sedgwick that he force march the Sixth Corps to the battlefield the next day.  Being that they were more than thirty miles from Gettysburg, General Sedgwick decided that the only way to accomplish that was to “put the Vermonters ahead and keep everything well closed up.” 

       Though many of the men collapsed from heatstroke, and some died as a result, the Vermonters arrived in Gettysburg the afternoon of the second day.  Historians credit the Sixth Corps with making perhaps the greatest march of the war, and Amanda was right there with her “boys”, helping in any way that she could.

           “It was a weary march from the Rappahannock to Gettysburg, made more so by the night marches, always so trying.  The last day they went thirty-four miles over a stone road, and under a burning sun.  It is now simply a matter of history that the Sixth Corps marched from Manchester to Gettysburg from daylight until 4 O’clock p.m. and it was the greatest feat in marching ever accomplished by any troops under like conditions.   Mrs. Farnham went with them, and most of the way on foot, giving up the spare room on her wagon to worn-out soldiers who could not find room in the crowded ambulances.  A ride for an hour for one, and he could walk on again for a time, giving his place to another. Thus many more were able to keep along than would have been without such help.  When she found a poor fellow with blistered feet, she gave him a pair of new socks to take the place of the holes, all that was left on his own.”

—–Holland, Our Army Nurses, 1895, p. 99


            “In the campaign which began in Falmouth in June and ended at Gettysburg, I aided many soldiers on their hurried and fatiguing day and night marches by taking them on my wagon, and on the last day of the 6th Corps’ march from Manchester, Md. to Gettysburg a distance of 34 miles I gave up my wagon entirely to such disabled soldiers as could not keep up with the command or find room to ride in overcrowded ambulances, walking the whole distance myself, and on our arrival at Gettysburg at sunset of July 2nd 1862, I went to work with the wounded of the 3rd Corps for the entire night without sleep or rest.

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

         It is not known for certain where the following account occurred, but the Jacob Schwartz farm, at the junction of Rock Creek and White Run, is the most likely. 

—–E. J. Conklin, Women of Gettysburg 1863, 1993, p. 381 

        “The story of her work all night after such a day, has been told in print many times: how a guard was placed over a certain pump at the request of the ladies of the house, as they feared the well would go dry, and they obliged to go to Rock Creek, a quarter of a mile distant, for water, – little caring how far the exhausted soldiers had to go. But some of the boys, knowing Mrs. Farnham was near, got her to pump for them; and so she could get all the water she wanted. In this work, and caring for wounded of Sickles Corps, who filled all the barns and outbuildings on the place, she remained all night long.  Few of the Sixth Corps were wounded at Gettysburg, but she was busy among others, until the division left there.”

—–Holland, Our Army Nurses. 1895, p. 99

The image above is of the Second Corps Field Hospital located near Rock Creek, a National Park Service image  courtesy of the Gettysburg Hospitals: Battlefield Guide. The field hospital locations for Gettysburg were all in the same area south of the Union Lines.  Amanda was working about 200 yards south of where this picture was taken.  

           Amanda nursed the wounded at Gettysburg until traveling with the Vermont Brigade to Funkstown, Maryland.  The Old Vermont Brigade had carefully positioned rear guard waiting when they arrived on July 10 in an effort to cut off General Lee’s retreat.   

        Dr. Henry Janes, the 3rd Vermont’s regimental surgeon, had been appointed in charge of all the wounded at Gettysburg.  It was a monumental undertaking, with more than 20,000 casualties, including thousands of severely wounded Confederates that had been left behind by Lee’s Army.


      “From Gettysburg I followed with the Vt. Brigade to Funkstown, Md. where they had a severe engagement with a portion of the rear guard of Lee’s Army, and in which many of the Vermont troops were killed and wounded, and by request of many officers of the command I was sent home to Vt. with the remains of some of the killed, and returned to join them again at Warrenton, Va. about the last of July 1863.”

——Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

       “Among those killed was an old acquaintance, and she obtained permission to take his body and two others home.  She was absent two weeks, joining the army near Warrenton.”

Holland, Our Army Nurses, 1895, p. 100

       This would be Amanda’s last visit home, until the war ended. Maybe someday we will uncover more details about this visit. We do know one for sure, her six year old son Albert was glad to see his mother. 

Quietly Occupied With Regular Duties

            “From that time until Grant was preparing to make the final move against Richmond, Amanda was quietly occupied with regular duties.” 

——Holland, Our Army Nurses, 1895, p. 100.

         Although she may have thought of her duties at this time as “regular”, it would have to be unimaginable to most anyone else with the ongoing battles and almost continual camp outbreaks of various diseases.  

           After Gettysburg, the Vermont Brigade were sent to New York City to help quell the draft riots.  They returned to the Virginia front in mid-September.   

            Throughout October and November, 1863, the Brigade was involved in a series of minor infantry battles: Bristoe Station (Oct 14), Rappahannock Station (Nov 7), and cavalry battles Auburn (Oct 14) and Buckland Mills (Oct 19). The Battle of Mine Run, also known as Payne’s Farm, or New Hope Church, would the last major battle in the East for the year ending in Dec.1863.

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888


Uncle Almon

           During the winter, Amanda received sad news.   Her uncle Almon J. Colburn who had fallen ill died of chronic diarrhea in the Brattleboro hospital on February 18, 1864, one of the most common diseases to die from in the Civil War.  He was 23 years old, seven years younger than Amanda; the son of Grandpa Ira.   

          His body was sent north, to his home, and he was buried in West Glover cemetery, next to Amanda’s mother, Celana.  Almon and Amanda had grown up in Glover together, but by the 1860 Census, Almon had moved to Troy, Vt. with his parents, Ira Colburn, Sr. and Sarah. For all the bodies that Amanda had accompanied home, she was not able to accompany his, which must have grieved her. 

Next Chapter – The Shoe Peggers

Marshall and his brother George were shoe “peggers” in the same shoe shop before the Civil War. Marshall joined the Vermont 3rd and later George joined the New Hampshire 7th. In early 1864 George was captured in a battle in Northern Florida and came up missing. Marshall and the family came together to find out what had happened.