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Norwich University Kreitzberg Library

Civil War Resources in the Norwich Archives

The College Cavaliers

About the College Cavaliers:

The College Cavaliers was a nickname for the 7th Squadron, Rhode Island Cavalry, which was made up predominantly of students from Norwich University and Dartmouth College. They formed in June of 1862, convinced the governor of Rhode Island to accept their services, and disbanded a few months later. Many of the students returned to continue their studies in the fall.

They were nearby during the battles of Harpers Ferry and Antietam, and while it seems they saw no action in the battles themselves, their departure from the embattled Harpers Ferry did offer some excitement. A group of about 1,300 cavalrymen, including the College Cavaliers, planned to escape because they were not needed during an artillery siege. Under cover of night, they encountered a wagon train carrying Confederate supplies. A Union officer with a thick Mississippi accent convinced the wagon drivers to follow them in the darkness, only to reveal at daybreak that they had been captured.

The College Cavaliers disbanded shortly thereafter in September of 1862, with most, if not all, of the Norwich students returning to complete their studies. There is an account of the College Cavaliers’ activity in Ellis’ history, as well a description in an 1863 edition of the student newspaper, the Reveille. There is also some brief information about the unit included in the papers of William Strong Dewey, who was part of the College Cavaliers.

What You'll Find in the Collection:

The College Cavaliers collection consists of photocopies of research sources that were consulted by Robert Grandchamp during his own research into the College Cavaliers. He generously provided his photocopies and notes to the Norwich Archives upon completing his work. The material includes biographical information on the members; newspaper clippings; official military records; and other primary and secondary sources that illustrate the activities of the College Cavaliers.

* Possible Research Topic: The significance and role of the College Cavaliers and any other similar units.

August A. Decelle

About Decelle:

Augustus Decelle (d.1893), of Shoreham, served as Captain of Company K, 2nd Vermont Regiment.

What You'll Find in the Collection:

This collection consists of photocopies of Decelle’s Civil War letters to his mother, 1864-1865 as well as official papers such as clothing returns, lists of stores, muster roll, commission, special orders, discharge, etc, 1863-1866. There is a photograph of Decelle and some later pension and genealogical information dating to 1904. This material is housed in the Archives’ Civil War Collection

This collection consists of photocopies only. The materials were shared with NU in 1987 by their owner and are not the property of Norwich University. The collection is made available for private study, scholarship and research only. Permission for other usage must be solicited from the owner.

A paper written on the Civil War experience of A. A. Decelle by student Azure Fleury for her Civil War history class in 1996 is also available. The paper can be found in the Student Papers Collection.

George B. Fisher

About Fisher:

George Fisher was born in 1841. He served in Company C, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, during the Civil War. The collection came to NU through Brayton D. Fisher, NU Class of 1928. George Fisher was the grandfather of Brayton Fisher.

What You'll Find in the Collection:

This collection includes several items related to Fisher’s Civil War service. Among them is Fisher’s written account of the Battle of Roanoke Island (NC) in February 1863 along with a typed transcriptionFisher was wounded by a sharpshooter on 20 August 1864 near Petersburg, VA, and the collection contains a letter from Chaplain S. G. Dodd to Fisher’s father explaining in detail the nature of George Fisher’s wound.  Also included is a pocket Testament (1861) carried by George Fisher during the Civil War. The collection’s Control File contains interesting information about the history of this little book. Other Civil War items in the collection include a photograph of George Fisher and a small bronze medal in the shape of a Maltese Cross engraved with George Fisher’s name (see Control File for more information on the latter).

* Possible Research Topic: 25th Massachusetts Volunteers

Several items in the collection could be an interesting supplement to research on the 25th Massachusetts Volunteers. The book, Massachusetts in the War, 1861-1865, by James Bowen would be helpful in this line of research and is available in Special Collections and also available electronically on Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=K0tLhkfW1wwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=massachusetts+in+the+war). It would be important to determine whether the 25th Massachusetts published a regimental history; if not, histories of other units brigaded with the 25th Massachusetts might help to confirm dates and locations.

John Henry Hopkins

About Hopkins:

John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) was born in 1792 in Ireland. He became the first Episcopal bishop of Vermont. Hopkins published more than 50 books, pamphlets and sermons. His published lecture (1851), Slavery: Its Religious Sanction, Its Political Dangers, and the Best Mode of Doing it Away averred that slavery was not a sin but that its abolition was crucial and should be accomplished by mutual agreement. Hopkins was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University in 1867.

What You'll Find in the Collection:

This is a single-item collection consisting of a 7-page letter dated 16 October 1863 from Hopkins in Burlington, VT, to Nahum Capen, a Boston publisher, in the Archives.  In this letter, Hopkins defends the right of the southern states to secede from the Union.

To supplement research on Hopkins, many of his published pamphlets and sermons have been digitized and made available online. This link displays search results on the Internet Archive for material written by Hopkins: http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Hopkins%2C%20John%20Henry%2C%201792-1868%22

* Possible Research Topic: Explore Hopkins’ perspective as expressed in his letter to Capen and his published works. It would also be interesting to explore why Bishop Hopkins, although devoted to the Union, was pessimistic about the possibility of a reunion among the estranged states.

Charles H. Tompkins

About Tompkins:

Charles Tompkins (1830-1915) was born in Virginia in 1830. He entered West Point in 1847 but resigned before the class graduated.  He enlisted in the cavalry in 1856, serving with various U.S. Cavalry units until April of 1862 when Tompkins was assigned the command of the 1st Vermont Cavalry. While serving with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Tompkins was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Fairfax Court House on 31 May-1 June 1861. He resigned from the volunteer service in September 1862.

What You'll Find in the Collection:

The Frank Tompkins Collection contains the diary of Charles Tompkins (Frank Tompkins’ father), which runs from 1 June-25 September 1862.  The diary records, in brief entries, his time with the 1st Vermont Cavalry.  Tompkins diary entries are quite short and may appear somewhat cryptic to a researcher who does not have some context. It may help to spend some time learning about the 1st Vermont Cavalry before reading the diary. A copy of Charles Tompkins’ “With the Vermont Cavalry, 1861-2,” which appeared in The Vermonter (April 1912) is included in the collection and may be a helpful place to learn about Tompkins experiences with the 1st Vermont Cavalry.

* Possible Research Topic: Explore and compare the diary and Tompkins’ article.  Keep in mind the different intended audiences, private and public, for these two documents.  How are they different?  What do they tell us in conjunction with each other?

The collection contains both a photocopy of the diary and a transcription done by Kiley Johnston for her Civil War history class in 1996.  Ms. Johnston’s paper on Charles Tompkins is also included. 

* Possible Research Topic: 1st Vermont Cavalry

When researching the 1st Vermont Cavalry, ask Archives staff for access to two letters from Loring Chase (from Peacham) to his brother. Loring Chase served in Company D of this unit. Although the letters are not dated, one of the letters talks about mud and the possibility the Army of the Potomac will advance soon. These letters are housed within the Civil War Collection.

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