The 11th Vermont Infantry was organized in September of 1862 and departed for Washington DC later that month. The regiment was deployed in the defenses of the heavily fortified city, and was renamed the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery in December of 1862 (although it would be referred to by both designations throughout the war). Among those serving in the unit was Quartermaster Sergeant Charles H. Anson.
The 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery settled in to the routine of garrison duty, and Quartermaster Sergeant Anson went about his business of procurement of the regiment’s supplies, a task that took him into the city on an almost daily basis. On one of those excursions in May of 1863, Anson had a chance meeting with the Commander in Chief himself, President Abraham Lincoln. Years later, Anson recalled that memorable incident.
In May 1863, it was decided that I should be mounted on a horse, and a requisition was again made for one. The requisition was approved and the Sergeant in charge of the corral was directed to comply with the requisition; placing a greenback in his hand I requested him to select the best horse obtainable. A large high spirited animal was selected, and the transition from the back of a diminutive mule, to the back of the horse made it seem for a time that I was astride Mount McKinley. The change brought about a memorable meeting.
President Lincoln’s summer home, which he occupied in 1863, was located on the Soldiers Home grounds. The headquarters of our regiment was at Fort Slocum, nearly a mile beyond the Soldiers Home. It was the custom of the President to go to the White House in the morning, returning during the afternoon. He generally rode in a carriage, but some times on horse back, always accompanied by a guard. On horse back he appeared ungainly; he wore a frock coat, and a silk hat. The stirrup straps were too short, compelling him to bend his knees too much. He rarely rode his horse off the walk.
One morning I went to the city with four wagons for bread and meat. It was necessary to have the commander of the brigade approve a requisition for the supplies wanted, and I was delayed about two hours waiting to obtain his signature.
Mounting the horse, I hurried to the city as fast as possible. when passing through the toll gate, on Seventh Street, I saw President Lincoln on horseback just ahead followed by a mounted escort. Passing the President, I saluted, and he called out, “Sergeant! Sergeant! Stop!” Checking my horse I rode to his side, and the President said, Sergeant, you will ride into the city with me. I thanked him for the honor, and we rode together. Both his hands were occupied in keeping his horse under control, but he was very gentle with him. The President inquired “To what regiment do you belong?” “The Eleventh Vermont, Sir.” “That is a splendid horse you have. Did you bring him from Vermont?” He is a fine horse Mr. President, but he was drawn from the corral on a requisition.
He made many inquiries regarding the forts being built, and whether they were well manned. He wanted to know if all of our regiment were native Vermonters, and I told him that about ninety-five per cent were native born. In nearing Vermont Avenue, we separated, the President going to the White House. He thanked me for riding with him, but I said saluting, “Much more thankful am I , Sir, for the high honor accorded me by permitting me to ride with the President of the United States.”
“Sergeant, may God bless you at all times and always. Good-bye.” He was so cordial and so kind, that I can never forget my ride with President Lincoln.
Charles H. Anson, “Reminiscences of an Enlisted Man”. In War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume IV.
The 11th Vermont /1st Vermont Heavy Artillery would continue its relatively easy garrison duty until May of 1864. At that time Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant pulled many of the DC area heavy artillery regiments out of the forts and put them into the field as reinforcements to compensate for the heavy losses the army sustained in the battles of the Overland Campaign. Assigned to the 6th Corps, the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery saw a lot of action in Virginia during the remainder of the war, including the battles at Cold Harbor, Opequan, Cedar Creek, and Petersburg.