Local historians to salute Civil War veteran
EAST MIDDLEBURY –– The East Middlebury Historical Society is hosting an open house Thursday, June 14, to display its exhibit for the Vermont History Expo before moving it to the site.
The Expo is held at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds next weekend. The theme for this year’s Expo is Vermont in the Civil War.
East Middlebury Historical Society’s Peggy Peabody said Vermont played a bigger role in the war than most people realize and the town itself has a close connection to the war.
“Vermont had a very vital role in the Civil War, and we have something unique in East Middlebury,” she said.
Peabody was referring to the Bidwell monument in East Middlebury’s Prospect Cemetery, on which their exhibit focuses. The monument stands in remembrance of three members of the Bidwell family, one of whom fought in the war.
“It has three separate stories, three sides,” she said. “The face is for the father, Sedgwick Bidwell, who lived to be 105. He was a traveling Methodist minister. One of the sides is his son who was 11 and died in an accident. The other side starts at the top and says, ‘Not here.’ This is for Emory Bidwell.”
Emory Bidwell enlisted in the Union Army at age 19. He fought in the Battle of Wilderness, the bloody first battle in Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign for Union forces against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia.
Bidwell was wounded in the battle and captured by Confederates.
According to Peabody, Bidwell was captured by Mosby’s Guerrillas.
“Mosby’s Guerrillas were a cavalry guerilla group led by John S. Mosby,” she said. “They went out in groups of 15-20 and the point was to make a lightening fast strike to disrupt the Union army. They were very effective. He ran it like a military unit.”
Such Confederate groups were common in the war.
“There were guerrilla groups all over the South, particularly in disputed areas like Kentucky,” Peabody said. “Mosby’s was the most famous. This particular group worked out of two counties in northern Virginia.”
Mosby’s Guerrillas and Union soldiers engaged in a series of skirmishes, which involved many Vermonters.
“In the first two, the Vermonters were completely routed,” she said. “In the last two, Vermonters stood up and actually captured a howitzer gun.”
In these skirmishes, Emory Bidwell was captured and ultimately hanged. However, the exact circumstances of his death are unclear.
Union soldiers hanged six Confederate soldiers they had captured, and Confederate forces retaliated by hanging six Union soldiers. It is possible that Bidwell was among those killed, but the more likely scenario is that he and two other Vermonters were captured and hanged separately. Their bodies were found much later and could be identified only by their papers.
Peabody attributed the uncertainty about his death to the closeness in name of Mosby and another more vicious guerrilla leader, John Mobberly. The latter probably captured Bidwell as he was getting water and later killed him.
“What I’m thinking is that word didn’t get back to Vermont for a while,” she said. “The words Mosby and Mobberly are close, so it is likely that he was hung by Mobberly.”
Bidwell’s body was never returned to Vermont and, according to Peabody, he was most likely buried in Winchester Cemetery in Kentucky. He is commemorated along with his family on their East Middlebury monument.
The local history is what makes this exhibit so special, said Peabody.
“Based on what I read about different exhibits online, this is very unique for the type of exhibit that’s going to be over in Tunbridge,” she said.
The exhibit will feature Bidwell and include information about local Civil War veterans.
“We’ll highlight Prospect Cemetery, we’ll have panels with pictures (of some of the 40 Vermont Civil War veterans buried in Prospect Cemetery), and we’ll have a panel with pictures of their tombstones, a panel of Mosby’s guerrillas, and the centerpiece of a replica of the Bidwell Monument,” she said. “It’s going to look like a cemetery lot. We’re borrowing fencing and the monument will be in the middle and we’ll have panels along the back.”
The open house will run from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday at the Grist Mill in East Middlebury. Anyone interested in the Vermont History Expo can learn more online at www.vermonthistory.org/expo.
“Most local people don’t get over to Tunbridge,” she said. “So we set it up the day before … for local people to come see their history.”
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