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Grafton Historical Society

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     In the late spring of 1862 an urgent call was put out by a concerned President Lincoln for volunteer troops to defend the city of Washington, D.C.  The Confederates were concentrating their forces in the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia, and had pushed back General Banks' Union army into Maryland.  The Union was concerned that the Rebel forces may march east.
The President called for 40,000 men from all states to enlist for three months to help protect the capital.  The governor of Rhode Island was charged with raising a cavalry unit as its contribution.
     At Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, a group of students, led by junior Sanford S. Barr, was inspired to rise to the call and offer its services as a cavalry company to the Rhode Island governor after Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts declined its offer.   At first over 100 students from Dartmouth were eager to sign up.  But college president Nathan Lord and other faculty members were against the idea.  They wrote letters home to the parents opposing the effort.  As a result, many students were not given permission to sign up by their parents.
     Burr and his friends then contacted nearby college students to join the cause.  He finally recruited 81 students from the colleges of Dartmouth, Norwich and Middlebury in Vermont, Bowdoin in Maine, Union in New York, and Amherst and Williams in Massachusetts.  These students formed the unit that became known as the "College Cavaliers."  They were the only cavalry unit in the Civil War composed entirely of college students.
     Official records show that two friends from Grafton, Vermont, Samuel B. Pettengill and Wilder Luke Burnap were mustered into the service on June 24,1862 for three months of service in the 7th squadron, Rhode Island Cavalry, Troop B.  They were attending different colleges: Sam was at Middlebury College and Wilder was at Dartmouth College.  But they chose to volunteer together. 
     Later in 1883, Samuel Pettengill wrote and published a book about the events of those three months entitled "The College Cavaliers, a sketch of the service of a company of college students in the Union Army in 1862."
     This story is based on Sam's book, his lifelong friendship with Wilder Burnap, and the historical actions of the College Cavaliers.  The people, places, and military events are all part of actual history.
                                                                                                                                  Thomas E. Fontaine