There's a saying that bounces around the Vermont Senate chamber: "There are no bad committees."

Although Finance and Appropriations are considered the sexy "money committees," you will undoubtedly learn something in each and every committee. I spend my afternoons in Senate institutions. We huddle in a well-appointed room and discuss matters primarily concerning the Capital Bill and monies that are appropriated for the upkeep of state lands and properties. We also take testimony on a vast array of programs, including: IT projects, corrections and town fairs. Often the witness updates are fairly straightforward, but sometimes there are surprises.

Last week, Vermont historian Howard Coffin testified about funds the committee had appropriated several years ago for an historical marker at the Cedar Creek Battlefield Civil War Battlefield and a proposed replica of a statue at the Winchester Battlefield. In the course of his update, we learned there is a house in Milton that was the home of Vermont's greatest Civil War leader, General George J. Stannard.

Before he distinguished himself on the battlefield, Stannard was a farmer, a teacher, and operated a foundry in St. Albans. It is said that General Stannard was the first Vermonter to volunteer for duty in the Civil War. He'd served as a noncommissioned officer during the Vermont militia's involvement during the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838 and was a colonel of the 4th Vermont Militia Regiment just prior to the start of the Civil War.


Stannard fought with the 2nd Vermont Volunteer Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run, and his performance was impressive enough that he was offered command of the newly forming 3rd Vermont Infantry. But Stannard turned the promotion down, as he did not feel he'd served long enough to prove his mettle. But during the Battle of Williamsburg the following year, Stannard was instrumental in securing a critical bridge, and a week after the campaign he was appointed colonel of the 9th Vermont.

But it is Stannard's performance at Gettysburg that is the stuff of heroes. Prior to the carnage on that Pennsylvania battlefield, Stannard had been given command of the 2nd Vermont Brigade, which consisted of the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Vermont Infantry regiments. Primary documents indicate that his troops greatly respected him and his "quiet but effective" command style; morale improved greatly under his leadership.They were ready to follow his leadership at Gettysburg.

Civil War buffs all know that Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg was a pivotal moment in that battle and, consequently, the war. What all Vermonters need to know is that General Stannard's acumen was a critical piece in the North's victory on that hot, humid day in July of 1863. General Robert E. Lee ordered the infantry assault — later referred to as Pickett's Charge — against Maj. General George Meade's Union forces. Stannard's brigade was one of the primary defenders against the Confederates' onslaught. Stannard swung two of his regiments out at a 90-degree angle and pumped deadly fire into the flanks of Confederate Brig. Gen. James Kemper's men. Minutes later, Stannard ordered his men to mount a similar assault against the flanks of two more Confederate brigades. Stannard and his men were critical in breaking the Confederates at Gettysburg.

Stannard's own official report from Gettysburg included this quip: "(The confederates) did not thus escape the warm reception prepared for them by the Vermonters."

There is a major house restoration project now underway to preserve the home of this remarkable leader. You can donate online at or send a check to the General Stannard House Fund c/o Milton Historical Society, 13 School Street, Milton, VT 05468.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.