Vermont Brigade Monument Is Readied For The Wilderness
By Deborah Fitts
BARRE, Vt. — Topped by an 8-foot-long rendition of the famous Vermont mountain known as Camel’s Hump, a new monument to the Vermont Brigade debuted Oct. 18. Its final home, next spring, will be a patch of woods in Virginia’s Wilderness.
Russ Smith, superintendent at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, traveled north to join Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and Sen. James Jeffords for an unveiling on the grounds of the Rock of Ages quarry. The event went ahead despite a cold rain.
The 17 tons of carved Barre granite will make the trip south next spring to its permanent location at the Wilderness Battlefield. There, according to historian Howard Coffin, an authority on Vermont in the Civil War, it will finally bring to light “Vermont’s greatest moment in the Civil War,” when the five-regiment brigade was instrumental in holding the southern flank of the Federal line on May 5, 1864, at the crossroads of the Orange Plank and Brock roads. More than 1,200 of the 2,800 Vermonters were casualties.
Coffin is chair of the Vermont for the Wilderness Committee that lobbied for preservation of this portion of the Wilderness and memorialization of the Vermonters who fought there. When successful purchase of 465 acres was reported in the June 2002 Civil War News it was said to be a deal that was 14 years in the making and the biggest land purchase in the history of the park.
The tract of wooded land, Hamilton’s Thicket, bought from NTS Corp. for $6.1 million, comprises the site of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet's flank attack on the second day of the battle, May 6, 1864. Smith said transport of the monument will have to await major site preparation at the park. Plans call for the expansion and paving of a small gravel parking lot on the Orange Plank Road, located about 30 yards from the intersection of Brock Road.
A 600-yard trail will loop from the parking lot southwest into the woods and back out again, marked by signs detailing the battle action. Also, a pulloff 100 yards farther west on the Plank Road, near the former Wilderness Cemetery, will be paved and interpretive signage added.
Smith noted that until now, there has been nothing to alert passers-by to the extreme fighting near the critical intersection.
“This is one of the least-interpreted parts of the park,” he said. “This will really take you through the whole story of that part of the battlefield for the first time.”
The monument will be placed about 200 yards into the woods from the Orange Plank Road. “That road is pretty busy,” Smith said. “To get any sense of place you need to get off it.”
Construction will get under way next spring, using $200,000 in federal funding. Smith said he had hoped to dedicate the monument on the battle anniversary, but said that given the size of the monument and the logistics for bringing it into the woods, the park will probably wait till the ground is more stable later in the spring.
The state of Vermont provided $40,000 for the monument. According to John Rose, plant manager at Rock of Ages, designer Pete Quinlan planned out the work, and sculptor Walt Celley used pneumatic chisels to fashion Camel’s Hump.
Coffin explained that the mountain was a fitting addition to the monument because it was often fondly recalled in letters by Vermont troops. The mountain stands prominently on its own at the center of the state, Rose noted. “You can see it just about anyplace in the state of Vermont.”
The silhouette of Camel’s Hump, which sits atop the monument, is 8 feet long and 2 feet high. The main part of the monument — rough-cut granite with two panels for text — is 5 feet high and 8.5 feet long. Rock of Ages finisher Andrew Hebert carved it, and the letters of the text were sand-blasted into the stone. The 10-inch-high base is 9.5 feet long and 4 feet deep.
Rock of Ages, founded around 1875, is the largest monument manufacturing quarry in the country, attracting 100,000 visitors a year. Rose said the Vermont Brigade monument has been drawing a lot of attention.
“More pictures have been taken of this piece on our lawn than any other,” Rose said. “This is by far the most intriguing and most photographed work that we have.”