Family Reconstruction

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The July 20, 1865 edition of Vermont’s Rutland Weekly contained the following item:[1]

It is a remarkably friendly account of a native son who fought against his schoolfellows in the late war. No bitterness is expressed; in fact, there is a hint of pride in Hoit’s military exploits. Hoit must have missed his family, for he grabbed an early opportunity to pay them a visit. It is surprising that a Confederate soldier was able to ride the northern rails, unmolested, three months after Appomattox.

Clark Stevens, a farmer and master carpenter, was there to welcome him. Clark was born in Castleton; his late wife, the former Sabrina Lake, had the blood of a revolutionary patriot in her veins. Sabrina died in 1862 and, somehow, the news reached Hoit. One may plausibly read Hoit’s grief into the naming of his second daughter. Nanna Sabrina was born a month after her grandmother’s death.

Hoit’s Alma Mater, Castleton Medical College, had been founded in 1818, the first such school in Vermont.[2] After graduating in 1854, Hoit, somewhat mysteriously, went south. By 1857, records indicate he was practicing medicine in Lynchburg, Virginia and had married a local girl, Mary Frances Chapman. Four years later, in the first flush of secessionist enthusiasm, Hoit enlisted as brigade surgeon for the 28th Virginia Infantry. He was joined by several members of Mary’s extensive clan.

Back in Vermont, students at the Castleton Medical College were full of fight. In May, 1861, they proudly hoisted a Stars and Stripes, stitched by the ladies of Castleton, over the roof of their school. One student, a Mr. Parkhurst, then ceremoniously presented the flag to Captain James Hope of the Castleton Volunteers, confident that the company would bring it honor.[3]  Dr. E.K. Sanborn, Chair of Surgery at Castleton, was appointed Surgeon for the 1st Vermont Regiment. A second faculty member, P. Pineo M.D., became Surgeon for the 5th Massachusetts.[4]

Bird Mountain-Castleton, Vermont by James Hope, 1855. Captain Hope’s paintings of the Antietam Battlefield, ca. 1890-92, are displayed in the Antietam Visitor Center.

Two decades later, a second glimpse of Hoit appears in the Rutland County Record.[5]In an affectionate, but gently satirical account, the correspondent states that letters had been received from Hoit, who had moved his family and practice to Arlington, Texas. Again, Hoit is identified as the son of Clark Stevens, “a prominent citizen of Castleton who died here in the summer of 1867.” Hoit’s former teachers, E.J. Howard “of the historic old seminary” and Dr. A. T. Woodward, are respectfully acknowledged. Hoit is recalled as “one of the liveliest boys of his day,” and mention is made of his brother-in-law: “John Chapman, a fine young fellow, attended lectures and graduated here. (Castleton Medical College) John after lost his life gallantly battling in the ranks of the ‘Lost Cause.’”  As for Hoit, he “went through the fierce fires of the rebellion, but cheerfully gathered himself together from the ruins of the dead Confederacy, and began life anew, and it is pleasant to hear he is prospering.”

The concluding paragraph contrasts a middle-aged Hoit with his younger self: “Your correspondent met him once, soon after the close of the civil war. At heart, he seemed the same boy as our childhood days, but his 200 pounds solid avoirdupois indicated that the days when he excelled all his high school mates in the tireless running speed of a greyhound had gone forever.”

Ten years later, a final mention of Hoit is made in the Poultney Advertiser.[6]

We learn that Hoit, family and practice, moved from Arlington in the intervening year, and his older brother is mentioned for the first time. Henry Tracy Stevens remained in Castleton, and became a carpenter and farmer like his father. He registered for the draft in 1861, but never served. Perhaps he was too old (thirty-four), but he was also widowed in 1854, left to raise a baby daughter, and then married a second time in 1861. To any humane recruiter, those were extenuating circumstances. In June, 1862, Henry’s new wife bore him a son, christened Henry Hoit Stevens. Son Henry did not keep his middle name. When he graduated from Dartmouth in 1888, he was recorded as Henry June Stevens, and that name appears on his gravestone. Did Henry June feel ashamed of his Confederate uncle, despite his father’s feelings?

Henry Tracy was moved to honor his brother during a fratricidal war which made them enemies. His hometown was quick to send her young men to “defend the Union, protect the Constitution, and with Virginia hemp, to hang as high as Haman, the traitors who dared to insult the Nation’s flag.”[7]  Three months later, Castleton paid a heavy price at Bull Run. Seven members of the Castleton Volunteers, including Mr. Parkhurst, were killed; Captain Hope’s son was listed as missing.[8] However, as Vermont newspapers indicate, once the war ended, Hoit, his family, and Castleton found it easy to forgive and forget.

Dr. Hoit C. Stevens. Heavier perhaps, but still light of heart.

Hoit was one of approximately fifty Vermonters that fought for the Confederacy; the vast majority of those men lived in the South when the war began.[9] Did Castleton make allowances for Hoit, knowing he lived in Virginia? Was it a case of once a Vermonter ever a Vermonter? Hoit’s links to Castleton, those of family, schooling, notable relationships, and joyful memories are recounted with a sense of ownership and community pride. In his death announcement, war and the Confederacy are not mentioned.

Reconstruction was a period of tremendous social upheaval, fiery politicians, and military occupation. It was also a time when the nation knit itself back together in hundreds of small, personal ways. Was it important that Hoit made the first gesture in reuniting with family and friends? As his letters have been lost, we can only guess. However, the lack of rancor in newspaper accounts seems to indicate that any necessary reconciliation was effortless and immediate.

Hoit and Mary Frances are buried in the Confederate Section of the Oakwood Cemetery, Tarrant County, Texas. Their surviving sons lived lives free from combat, but a great-grandson, Hoyt C. Stevens, fought his way through France during World War I. Great-grandson John M. Stevens was shipped overseas in 1943 and served in an Anti-Aircraft Battalion. In 1946 the Army paid for this Missouri boy to attend a northern university. There, he met Angela C. Kellogg, the great-granddaughter of a Union cavalryman from New York. They married and, happily for all concerned, soon welcomed a daughter into their family. That would be me.

Great-great-great-great grandsons of Hoit Stevens. “Because my grandmother’s into history, she gets us into history.”

[1] Rutland Weekly, July 20, 1865, accessed June 28, 2021, Newspapers.com.

[2] Frederick Clayton Waite, The First Medical College in Vermont (Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 1949),52. Accessed June 28, 2021, Internet archive.

[3] Rutland Weekly Herald May 26, 1861, accessed June 28, 2021, Newspapers.com.

[4] Rutland Weekly Herald July 4, 1861, accessed June 28,2021, Newspapers.com.

[5] Rutland County Record, Fairhaven, Vermont. March 24, 1888, accessed June 28, 2021, Newspapers.com.

[6] The Poultney Advertiser, Poultney, Vermont. Dec. 28,1898, accessed June 28,2021, Newspapers.com.

[7] The Rutland Weekly Herald and Globe, April 26, 1861, accessed June 28,2021, Newspapers.com.

[8] Ibid.; July 26, 1861.

[9] Vermont in the Civil War: Lest We Forget, vermontcivilwar.org. /units/csa.

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