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Union's Col. Newton Stone: 'A good officer'


The Green, Blue and Gray: The third article in an occasional series about the Bennington area and the Civil War, focusing on soldiers and units from the Green Mountain State and on life at the home front.


 

 

 

From The Bennington Banner

July 16, 2011 

 

MARK E. RONDEAU


Staff Writer


BENNINGTON - Whether about town, in camp, or in the teeth of deadly fire, Col. Newton Stone cared about and impressed people.


Stone led the 2nd Vermont Regiment during the ferocious Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in early May 1864. By all accounts, he was an intelligent and trustworthy man, a genuine leader, someone who would insist on being up front showing the way when things got rough.


"He was a good officer, gallant by nature, prompt in his duties, and urbane in his manners. He was beloved by his command, and by all who knew him." wrote Gen. Lewis A. Grant, a native of Winhall, who for much of the war commanded the Old Vermont Brigade, which included the 2nd Vermont Regiment.


Stone, a Bennington resident and Readsboro native, wrote several letters and articles published in the Banner during the first years of the Civil War.


He wrote a compassionate letter to a Stamford father on the loss of his soldier son, John Clough, to typhoid fever: "It gives us sorrow to think that so promising a young man and soldier should fall a victim to disease, or rather, to the rebellion that brought us here to endure the hardships of war, and the change of country and climate."


In a July 5, 1861 item, Stone wrote frankly about conditions the 2nd Regiment faced while encamped in Washington, D.C., within sight of the unfinished Capitol building. Conditions in the camp leading to sickness included heat and no shade, crowding, and poor and not enough food and water. A related problem was a lack of stoves. For some reason, however, the camp did have an abundance of scales.


"We would be glad to substitute stoves for scales, and energy for inaction in public men," Stone wrote.


Stone was born in Rowe, Mass., on Dec. 9, 1836. His parents moved to Readsboro when he was about 1. His father, Ambrose Stone, was a minister and a lifelong opponent of slavery. In fact, around 1840 the elder Stone left one denomination that tolerated slavery for one that did not.


"And young Stone inherited a full share of his father's hatred of this sum of all villainies, together with no small portion of the unbending will, and decision of character, which distinguished his father," according to an article in the June 23, 1864, Banner.


In 1858 when he was 21, Stone came west to Bennington to study law in the office of Abraham B. Gardner, a prominent local attorney and member of the state Legislature who would serve as Republican lieutenant governor of Vermont from 1865 to 1867. "Without the aid of wealthy or influential friends," Stone "continued to pursue his studies, with a diligence and success which gave high promise of future pre-eminence in his chosen profession," until the Civil War broke out 1861. "It was while he was pursuing his studies with Mr. G. that he first became known in this town, and his uniformly modest and manly behavior early attracted the notice and respect of our people," the Banner wrote.


Upon the organization of the Bennington Union Guards, which became Company A of the Second Vermont Regiment, his fellow soldiers unanimously elected Stone first lieutenant - second in command after Captain John W. Walbridge - after the war started. He was admitted to the bar at Manchester in June, 1861, while his regiment was on its way to Burlington to be mustered into the service.


Ambrose Pratt Stone, Netwon's older brother, was enlisted as a private in Company A.


In January 1862, Newton Stone was promoted to the first captain post to become vacant in the 2nd Regiment, taking command of Company I.


Stone wrote another remarkable piece for the March 6, 1862, issue of the Banner about an unnamed Bennington soldier seriously wounded in the leg and taken prisoner during the first Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. The man, 17 when he enlisted, suffered greatly in a Confederate prison, but was released to return home after he turned 18. Stone appealed for the community to help with his readjustment, education and eventual employment.


"He returns to his friends disabled, to carry the evidence of his misfortune as long as he lives. Yet he returns with a cheerful spirit and an intelligent mind," Stone wrote. "Let his misfortune be the means of inciting him to new impulses and purposes, and let a liberal people extend him sympathy, and show an appreciation of his noble sacrifice."


Both another Banner item and online sources indicate that this soldier was Andrew Jackson Noyes of North Bennington. The 1880 census shows him at 36 living with his parents with the trade of carpenter.


In January 1863, Stone was promoted to major. Less then two weeks after this promotion he was assigned to serve as a staff officer for Gen. Albion P. Howe, who was head of the second division of VI Corps. Stone's clearly demonstrated concern about Army conditions may have played a part, for he served Howe as inspector general of the division.


A small item in the Feb. 11, 1864, Banner notes that "Col. Walbridge and Lt. Col. Stone, 2nd Vermont Regiment, arrived last week Thursday on short leave of absence."


In March 1864, Col. James H. Walbridge, a Bennington man who had recruited the Bennington Union Guards after the war started in 1861, resigned from command of the 2nd Vermont Regiment because of increasingly severe arthritis in his lower limbs. Stone was commissioned a colonel on April 2, 1864, and succeeded his friend Walbridge as commanding officer of the 2nd Vermont Regiment. Stone would command the "bully old second" for little over a month.


Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was about to launch a sustained offensive against Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, known as the Overland Campaign. The opening battle was fought south of the Rapidan River between May 5 and 7, 1864 - the battle of the Wilderness.


"It was a terrible conflict in the midst of brush and a thick growth of small timber so dense that the contending forces approached within a few yards of each other, and but little artillery could be used," said Gen. Lewis A. Grant, who commanded the Old Vermont Brigade in the battle.


Part of the Old Vermont Brigade, the 2nd Regiment moved to the front line on the first day when the fighting became severe. Around 5 p.m., Stone received a flesh wound in the leg, which was dressed behind the lines, then he called for his horse and rode back to the front. The men, who were holding their ground under a tremendous amount of rifle fire, cheered his return.


"Well, boys, this is rough work; but I have done as I told you I wished you to do, not to leave for a slight wound, but to remain just as long as you can do any good. I am here to stay as long as I can do any good," Stone said, according to the 1888 book "Vermont in the Civil War" by George Grenville Benedict.


Stone then rode along the line, encouraging each company. As he stopped before Company B, a musket ball hit him in the head and he fell dead from his horse. In the raging battle, his body for a time fell into the hands of the Confederates, but in a short time they fell back and his body was recovered.


The toll of the Wilderness - which ended in a draw - was enormous. The Union Army suffered 17,666 casualties in three days; the Old Vermont Brigade suffered 1,645 killed, wounded or missing of 2,800 effective men. However, unlike previous Union commanders, Ulysses Grant did not retreat after the battle, but advanced on the crossroads at Spotsylvania Courthouse.


A story on the Wilderness in the May 26, 1864, Banner carried the news about Stone: "Full of enthusiasm, brave as a Napoleon, he died like a hero at his post."


Two memorial services were held for Newton Stone in Vermont a year after his death, delayed perhaps by the time it took to have his remains transported back home.


At the home of the Rev. Ambrose Stone in Readsboro, "a large concourse of people convened to pay their last respects to him whom none knew but to respect, admire and love for his noble manly Christian character," according to the Hoosac Valley News and Transcript.


Stone's body was buried in Bennington in the Old First Congregational Church cemetery, where a large memorial monument details his military career on the four sides of its base. The June 29, 1865, Banner concludes its account of his burial service: "Sympathizing friends, sorrowing at the untimely death of Col. Stone, on departing threw beautiful bouquets into the grave, a most feeling, tender tribute of respect for him who gave his life, and promising prospects alike, to his country's weal." 

 
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Civil War Series

Mark Rondeau - Writer, Editor, Photographer


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Col. Newton Stone (Vermont Historical Society)

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Newton Stone’s monument in the cemetery at Bennington's Old First Congregational Church.