When he's not marketing the City of Rutland via his position at the Downtown Rutland Partnership, author and historian Don Wickman is perfectly content to research the role of Vermont and Vermonters in the U.S. Civil War. He also teaches a popular course in American history at the Community College of Vermont in Rutland.
Local interest in the Civil War is unwavering, according to Wickman. In Vermont, many residents are fascinated by the state's outstanding service in the war and its high casualty rate -15 percent died as the result of combat and disease, a staggering figure.
"Many people alive today have direct ties to the Civil War era," he said. "Also, Civil War photographs keep this moment in history alive and vibrant."
Wickman has written and edited several books about the Green Mountain State's role in the War Between the States. His most recent book reveals the daily lives of Vermont's soldiers, and in some cases, exposes the provincialism and cultural prejudices of men who hailed from hardscrabble farms.
Wickman's latest book, "We Are Coming Father Abra'am: The 9th Vermont Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865, Patriots", lets the Vermont soldiers do the talking through personal letters home as well as more formal letters to the editor that appeared in local newspapers.
The 9th Vermont Regiment was the first regiment to answer Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers. Two months into their service they were part of the Union forces who surrendered at Harper's Ferry. The book chronicles their exploits and accomplishments.
Many soldiers of the 9th Vermont were passionate, prolific letter writers. Wickman located their letters in both archives and private collections.
"There were so many war letters to look through," Wickman said, "that at one point I needed to take a break from it all."
Wickman's lifelong interest in the Civil War began as a youngster during the 1960s. While he studied colonial history, agriculture and botany in college, the Civil War always tugged at his sleeve.
"The 1960s was the centennial of the war," he said. "And then years later, when I was living in Maryland, I was located 50 miles from Gettysburg, 40 miles from Antietam, and 80 miles from Fredericksburg. So, on days off from work, I took many field trips and read lots of books about the Civil War."
Now a resident of Rutland, Wickman's Civil War interest was focused on the Green Mountain State's role in the bloody war.
According to Wickman, Vermonters in the 1860s were less motivated by the high ideals of liberating slaves than in simply fighting for the homeland-that is, preservation of the federal union.
"The soldiers wrote about 'coloreds' or 'niggers' in their letters home, so maybe their reason to fight wasn't all about freedom of the slaves," he said. "Many viewed African-Americans as second-class citizens, so-yes-there was prejudice. Even though Vermont had a black population in the 1860s, the prejudice was very subtle."
Wickman is currently writing an historical handbook for the Mt. Independence Coalition in Orwell and an illustrated book about Vermont Civil War photographer George Houghton for the Vermont Historical Society.
"I keep finding little gems of Vermont history," he said. "There's always something to write about."
Check It Out: "We Are Coming Father Abra'am: The 9th Vermont Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865, Patriots", published by Schroeder Publications, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com in a hardcover edition for $45. The book includes many photographs and maps chronicling the 9th Vermont's adventures in war and peace.
Vermont's gallant 9th: 1862-65
The Vermont Volunteer Infantry 9th Regiment was formed in Brattleboro during the U.S Civil War and served gallantly in the Union Army, according to Don Wickman.
The Vermont 9th fought in the bloody eastern theater beginning in July 1862 and disbanded after the war ended in December 1865.
It received accolades from the North when it became one of the first federal units to enter the defeated southern capital, Richmond, Va., in April 1865.
Despite its overall success, the 9th Vermont was captured at the Battle of Harpers Ferry during the 1862 Maryland Campaign.
Captured during the battle, the 9th was not sent to a rebel POW camp; instead, it was graciously permitted to sit out the war for four months paroled at U.S. Camp Douglas in Chicago. The camp was named after Brandon, Vt.-born U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-Ill.) who ran against Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.
The regiment lost many men: 24 men killed and mortally wounded, five died from accidents, two committed suicide, 36 died in Confederate prisons, and 232 died from disease-a total loss of 299 men.
Sources: Don Wickman, Vermont Historical Society, and Wikipedia.