Let Sleeping Boys - - - Die???

Aug 6, 2016
Another soldier from the NEK - - -


Photo - Vermont Historical Society

William Scott was born in Groton, Vermont on the 6th of April in 1839 and was living a quiet life in this farming community when he “heard the call” from President Lincoln to "serve and preserve the union". He joined the 3rd Vermont Regiment, Company K, that congregated in St. Johnsbury, on the grounds of the Caledonia County Agricultural Society at “Camp Boxter”.


3rd Vermont Regiment at Attention July, 1861 Camp Baxter, St. Johnsbury, VT
Photo - University of Vermont

The regiment mustered into the Union Army on July 16, 1861 and arrived in Washington, D.C. on July 24th. Their regimental commander, a native born Vermonter (St. Albans), was none other than the future Major General William “Baldy” Smith (although he would quickly move on).

Arriving in Washington, July 25th, they would take up their assignment by the Potomac River near the Chain Bridge


Photo Vermont Historical Society

and formed “Camp Lyon”.


Photo - New England Historical Society

They were tasked with the security and protection of the city.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the “rest of story”. This soldier is the famous or infamous “sleeping sentinel”, the young man that on (according to the Vermont Historical Society the incident is dated to have occurred on 3d of September, 1861), fell asleep on duty, was court-martialed and sentenced to die, only to be saved by the compassion of President Lincoln.

He had been scheduled to face a firing squad when on September 9th his pardon came from the President. According to reports the “camp rang with cheers for President Lincoln after the dismissal of the parade, and Scott returned to his company”.

The Vermont Historical Society has the text of several letter he wrote - the first was written about 1 month after this incident. Unfortunately it is rather difficult to read, as he, like most young farm boys at the time had limited education.

Camp Grffen, October 13, 1861

Absent frend i resved your leter from you and robe and was glad to her that you and the rest what is left was wel & i think hie time that we was looking out for our one solds welfar time is but short at the longes we ar serten time is like a thef whith come in the nit when we think not i hurd that Edwin darling was ded and burnham ded to Carles emry gut a leter whitch tole us the nus but may god be with the widows and the widlis by the hand of god helping me sa is shel won day out rid the storms of Aflicton and land our sold on the other side of Jorden and land our wery solds home to rest whar ther will be not deth ther whar we shel have it all Pes and harmony ther it stands our in hand to be redy for deth at eny time for in such an our you think not the sun of man comith to distroy the erth this is about the mater tel Daniel and John folks that i ame wel and hope thay be tel nancy rit and i will i hould like to have her rit tel Plumers folks that I send my best love to them and the of rest of theme round ther tel pages folkes that the boy is all wel now tel elin that rake hay with her i cant rit much mor now derect your leter to Washington D C Camp Griffin thurd vermont vorlenters melshe this from your frend Wm Scott to Peter Welch.

He wrote this letter and it would be his last -

Camp Griffin Va - Mar 1/62

Dear cuson it is with the grats of plasur that i set down to rit a few lines to let you now that i am puty wel at present and hop thes few lines will reach you the sam i rsevd your vry welcom letr last nit i was glad to her from you and the nabors to thar hant nothing new that I can rit but i hop thes few lines reach all ingoing good helth our regtment is puty helthey now lev and tink is wel now tel be that he must cap up[---]od surize for we ar agoing to conkr the rebs bymby and com hom you tel morris that he musent be to hard on the gurles but be enuf for tham but i should think that he was rather hard up to haf to go with that shang hiy of Sim Pages but evry won for thar on noson i cant think of much mor to rit but tel be that if he is aminter be carful with my dog he may hav him to run a litl but i want him to be vry carful of him I cant rit eny mor in this letr so i must bid you good by this is from your friend Wm Scott

This story ends as many do. He would die a hero’s death 7 months later (April 16, 1862) while charging the rifle pits at Lee's Mills. He was 23 years old.

There is a memorial that is located on Route 302, this section also known as The William Scott Highway, in Groton, Vermont to mark the location of his family farm.


Photo Vermont Historical Society

He is interred on the edge of the battlefield where he fought and died - Yorktown National Cemetery, Virginia.


Photo Vermont Historical Society

I’ll end my post (although there is some dispute that he died blessing the president) with the last 5 stanzas from the poem “The Sleeping Sentinel” by Francis De Haas Janvier -

“A sudden burst of smoke and flame, from many a thundering gun,
Proclaimed, along the echoing hills, the conflict had begun;
While shot and shell athwart the stream with fiendish fury sped,
To strew among the living lines the dying and the dead!

Then, louder than the roaring storm, pealed forth the stern command,
"Charge, soldiers, charge!" and, at the word, with shouts, a fearless band,
Two hundred heroes from Vermont, rushed onward, through the flood,
And upward, o'er the rising ground, they marked their way in blood!

The smitten foe before them fled, in terror, from his post-
While, unsustained, two hundred stood, to battle with a host!
Then, turning, as the rallying ranks, with murderous fire replied,
They bore the fallen o'er the field, and through the purple tide!

The fallen! And the first who fell in that unequal strife
Was he whom Mercy sped to save when Justice claimed his life-
The pardoned soldier! And, while yet the conflict raged around-
While yet his life-blood ebbed away through every gaping wound-

While yet his voice grew tremulous, and death bedimmed his eye-
He called his comrades to attest he had not feared to die!
And, in his last expiring breath, a prayer to heaven was sent,
That God, with his unfailing grace, would bless our President!”


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Cavalry Charger

Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jan 24, 2017
Thanks for this wonderful post @DBF . I had come across the story before, I think, but you have added so much more detail. The images are wonderful, and the story is sad. How harsh was the discipline even in those early days with volunteer soldiers? I'm so glad Lincoln pardoned him, and it makes me wonder what the folks back at home thought about it all as he doesn't mention anything about it in his letter. At least he had the opportunity to die a 'hero's' death, although that would seem small compensation to his family.
Aug 6, 2016
I was happy when I found his letters, although it was hard to read them, but I loved the fact that he did write the best he knew how. When I found the picture of the troops standing at attention at Camp Baxter, I'm sure he could have been one of the soldiers standing there, and the sad fact that he would never return to his farm.

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