George M. Colt's Civil War Fiddle

George M. Colt, 2nd Vermont Infantry, Co. C.jpg

George M. Colt

George M. Colt, an old Union veteran died at his home in West Dummerston Sunday, July 28. Mr. Colt has been seriously ill since the first of February, 1894, with little hope of permanent recovery. During his entire sickness he has suffered intensely, but through all has borne up under it with a remarkable endurance.

Death fairly stood over him for many weeks. No one who knew him but feels that he greatly prolonged his stay in the flesh by force of will. He would not succumb. He fought the great battle of life inch by inch, and yet he was always cheerful.

Mr. Colt was born in Smyrna, N. Y., November 1, 1828 where he lived during his boyhood, moving to Stockton, Ill., in 1853. While there in 1855 he joined the Odd Fellows. He married Miss Mary M. Ladd of Brattleboro April 22, 1858. In the fall of 1859 they moved to Brattleboro where they lived, with the exception of the year 1868, when they returned to Stockton, Ill., until 1886, when they moved to West Dummerston.

They have had five children. His wife and two sons survive him, Charles H. of Brattleboro and William M. of Keene, N. H. Mr. Colt was employed by E. Crosby & Co., a number of years. He was police and night watchman in this village for four years and was employed much of his time as nurse caring for the sick.

When the war broke out he was among the early ones to enlist, May 1, 1861, in Company C, Second Regiment Vermont Volunteers, with whom he served till June 29, 1864, when he was mustered out.

His ardor and ambition to be in the front won for him much praise as well as exposed him to great danger. He was wounded at Salem Heights, Va., May 4, 1863; Funkstown, Md., July 10, 1863; severely wounded in the Wilderness, Va., May 5, 1864, in the right arm, which always caused him much pain and trouble. He bore all of his afflictions with cheerfulness and courage.

He will be remembered by his comrades in the old Second Vermont as the maker of the fiddle in camp at Brandy Station, Va., during the winter of 1863 and 1864, a relic of those days of camp life which he has always kept with a pride so justly earned by his indomitable perseverance.

He never tired of conversing about the war, and during his last sickness he enjoyed the company of his old comrades. He was an ardent Grand Army man, being a charter member of Sedgwick post, No. 8. He was a member of Wantastiquet lodge, I. O. O. F., and Palestine encampment.

Truly it can be said that he was loyal to his country and comrades. He loved the flag for which he fought. He was sympathetic, devoted in friendship, generous to a fault, charitable to those in sickness and trouble. He formed his own opinion of right and wrong. He was honest in all his dealings.

He hated false pride and scorned the idea of surrendering his manhood to please any one. After his mind was once formed and his purposes matured he carried them through triumphantly in the face of the most formidable opposition. He was original from first to last, therefore he never received the honor so justly his due.


Vermont Phoenix, August 2, 1895.


A Curious Fiddle.

Not the least interesting relic of the war that we have seen---one that is most peculiarly blended with the memories of the past---is nothing more nor less than a fiddle.

Not even Cremona's far famed violins so cluster with reminiscences and associations as this. Who does not know that Italy, nay that Florence itself, is the cradle of modern civilization?---that there arose modern painting, poetry, sculpture, literature, philosophy, law, politics, and the opera?

We don't know exactly where the fiddle took its origin, but there is no one in Vermont who has not felt its magic power, and who does not associate with its strains the brilliantly lighted ball-room; the array of beauty in all its first ringletted flush and prime; long sleigh rides, thanksgiving dinners, etc., etc.

And it is natural that while our boys were lying at Brandy Station, on the Rappahannock, during the gloomy winters of 1863-4, their thoughts should turn towards the more pleasant and festive scenes of their native hills.

"Oh that we had a fiddle!" at length some one exclaimed.

"Well!" said a young farmer from Brattleboro,
"I believe boys that I can make you a fiddle."

He had never attempted any thing of the kind in his life.

"Can you?" shouted the boys. "Good! you make one,
and we will send to Washington for the strings."

George M. Colt of Company C, 2d Vermont Volunteers, was the one who proposed to make the cheer-giving instrument; and with one hatchet, one jack knife, an old file and a piece of a junk bottle as his only tools, he got a piece of soft maple that grew upon the banks of the Rappahannock, and set to work.

The bottom and side rim of the fiddle are made out of one single piece of maple, in the most approved style and form of the ordinary fiddle. It is a complete dug-out. The top is made of pine, which grew in the country. The bow is of maple, the same as the larger part of the shell. The hairs were pulled from the tail of Col. Walbridge's white horse. The glue, some member of the company happened to have with him.

And thus, in the course of some five weeks the instrument was completed. And having been wistfully eyed by the men of the company and regiment for a long time, during its construction, the instrument at length gave forth its stirring strains.

Need we tell how one of their comrades was called out of the hospital to give it a trial---how he played for two hours until he was exhausted---how many stag dances it conjured up---to how many head quarters it went of nights in a round of serenades---how it was admired and cherished by the officers, and wondered at by that prince of tacticians and soldiers---General Getty---what charm of other days in the Green Mountains it threw over the tedious, hard fare and hard duty in camp?

We will leave all these things to the imagination of the reader; and he can readily understand that the boys, instead of having a "Fille du Regiment" for their pet and favorite, had a Fiddle of the Regiment.

That fiddle is still extant, in all its native simplicity, without paint or varnish, just as it came from the maker's hands, and the writer of this notice has just come from an inspection of it. It is still in the possession of its maker, Mr. George M. Colt, in Brattleboro, who has been pretty severely dealt with by the war, having been wounded no less than five different times, in as many different battles.

In the battle of the Wilderness, some two months after the fiddle was completed, he received a wound in the right arm, under which it has withered and stiffened for life.

But still the fiddle goes, and throws its charm over a pleasant household, of which one or two other old veterans of the earlier regiments of Vermont form a part, and where the notes of a seraphine played by a young lady, mingle their harmony with its memory-stirring strains.

More unpretending heroes we have never seen, and a better sounding fiddle has been seldom heard. But amid the joy and hilarity which its harmony awakens, methinks that there is a wail of death---the roar of battle in its sounds. What a glorious instrument to play "Old John Brown!"---made by one of our laboring men of the North, out of Virginia timber from the banks of the Rappahannock, and consecrated by the blood of many battles!

Vermont Record, March 20, 1866.

[References are made to Col. James Hicks Walbridge and to his white horse, and to Major General Commanding George Washington Getty, 2nd Division, 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac.]


A Yankee Soldier's Fiddle.

It seems to me that every State in the Union should consider it a religious duty to gather, in some shape, form or place, every relic of the war with which the people of that State were in any way connected. The golden moment of action in this regard will pass, is passing, with each fleeting day. Life presses heavily on most of us. The shuttlecock of the present is so busy and swift, that its whirr may well distract us from aught else.

But think! to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren what these relics would be. This coat, torn, blood-stained, bullet-riddled in so many battles. This shoe, patched with improvised needle and thread in the horrible prison pens of Andersonville and Libby. This---but time would fail me to tell of the relics and memorials which every farm-house in the country might yield, and which might so easily now become a nation's property and pride.

I am particularly awake to this subject now, because I have lately seen, up here in Brattleboro, a private by the name of Colt, with his right arm now quite useless, who has in his possession a fiddle manufactured by himself, while in camp, from a maple stump, with no other tools than a jack-knife, a piece of broken bottle, a gimlet and an old file, which he made into a chisel.

It was in Virginia, on the Potomac, below Washington, that his regiment was located. "Boys," said one of them, as they lounged in their tents at nightfall, when it will not do to think too long or too much of the dear faces they might never more see---"Boys, if we had a fiddle here we might have some music."

"I could play on it," says one, (what can't a Yankee do?) "So can I," said another. "Well, said our hero, "the only way for us to have a fiddle is to make one." No sooner said than begun, at least. A maple stump was found, and comrade after comrade, when off duty, watched its transformation to a fiddle with the intensest interest. Some laughed, some cheered; praise, blame or indifference were all alike to our indomitable private, who was bound to get music out of that maple stump.

Still the fiddle grew. Still the chips flew. A good piece of wood was desirable for what I shall designate as the lid;---the bottom and sides being finished. Our private looked about. There was an old box in camp, sent from prolific Vermont, with "goodies" for her valiant boys. He seized upon the best part of it, and shaped it to its purpose, polishing it smooth with a broken bit of glass.

The pegs he made from the horns of secesh cattle slaughtered by the rebels, when they didn't dream our boys would route them to take possession. The strings for the fiddle-bow he made of hairs from the tail of the General's horse.

Just at this juncture in fiddle progress, came a pause. Where are the fiddle strings to come from? Away there in camp; even a Yankee might well stop, and scratch his head. Up comes an officer, and gazes with dumb wonder on that improvised fiddle. When he found his tongue, he offered our private to send to Washington by the sutler for the desired strings. These were obtained, and staightway fastened in their places.

And now behold a pretty, delicate little affair, in color resembling the satinwood-fans sent us from Fayal. But did it have music in it? Most assuredly. There is the beauty of it. The tone of our Yankee fiddle is irreproachable.

Now I ask, is that fiddle to become the property and pride of Vermont, and be handed down, as it should, to its future sons and daughters, with the name of its enterprising maker? As I sat in that low-roofed wooden house, listening to his simple story, and looking first at the fiddle, and then at his twisted and useless arm, and then at a little fat rolypoly of a dimpled baby on the carpet, I thought---well, I clapped myself on the back and said, Fanny, thank God you were born a Yankee and among Yankees; and now go straight home and tell the world the history of that fiddle.

And I have done it. Now, millions of relics, most interesting like this, lie scattered all over the land. Let each State garner its own. It is due to the brave fellow who, modest and brave, will never do it themselves. It is due to these "Privates" to whom no splendid residences in our cities are presented, ready furnished and victualled. Let them have the reward of remembrance and appreciation, at least, from a grateful posterity.

Fanny Fern.

Vermont Record, August 23, 1866.

Sarah Payson Willis Parton (1811--1872) is best known as "Fanny Fern".


War-Worn Veterans.

The Old Boys Of Co. C, Second Vt.

Hold Their Annual Reunion and Renew the Memories of 1861-65.

The war-worn veterans of Co. C, Second Vermont Volunteers, held their annual reunion at Grand Army hall last Saturday, with an unusually good attendance of members.

The names of those who answered the roll call were N. S. Cole, Thompsonville, Conn.; C. S. Gould, L. F. Bowker, Brattleboro; G. B. Prouty, C. J. Stockwell, West Brattleboro; R. M. Pratt, Dummerston; G. M. Colt, West Dummerston; Dorr Blood, Putney; J. P. Butterfield, Marlboro; H. A. Richardson, Hinsdale, N. H.; W. B. Thomas, Keene, N. H.; C. R. Briggs, J. E. Holbrook, Providence, R. I.; E. W. Bugsbee, Orange, Mass.; Albert Mason, Gardner, Mass.; P. A. Streeter, Holyoke, Mass.; honorary members, Job Long and E. Wales, jr., Brattleboro.

Letters were read from H. H. Prouty, Kimball, Neb.; E. E. Adams, New Orleans, La.; D. A. Bugsbee, Saxtons River; F. V. Ladd, Westfield, Mass.; A. W. Metcalf, Keene, N. H.; G. W. Pierce, Oxford, Mass.; W. D. Russell, Fitchburg, Mass.; H. L. Lamb, Wert Centre, N. Y.

It was announced that since the last reunion three members, Maj. E. Wales and Comrade E. A. Stearns of Brattleboro, and Lieut. H. C. Campbell of New York state, have died. The original members of the company numbered 82. Of these 34 are now dead, 34 are alive and their post-office address is known. Of 14 the address is not known.

The officers chosen for the coming year are: President, P. A. Streeter, Holyoke, Mass.; first vice president, Dorr Blood, Putney; second vice president, N. S. Cole, Thompsonville, Conn.; third vice president, Albert Mason, Gardner, Mass.; secretary and treasurer, R. M. Pratt, Dummerston; commissary, C. J. Stockwell, West Brattleboro; commissary sergeant, C. S. Gould, Brattleboro; corresponding secretary, L. F. Bowker, Brattleboro.

The minutes of the last meeting were read and approved. E. Wales, jr., was invited to present himself to the meeting, and on his appearance he was elected an honorary member out of respect to the memory of his father, who bore so honorable a part in the history of the company, and of the regiment. It was voted to have a photograph made of the company present, and an adjornment was accordingly taken to Wyatt's gallery.

At 2 o'clock the veterans went to the American House, where they sat down to a trout dinner, which was generous and satisfactory in every respect, and was discussed and enjoyed with the zest which it deserved.

On returning to the hall the business of the meeting was finished. Votes of thanks were passed to Sedgwick post for the use of the hall, to Landlord Harvey of the American House for the excellent dinner, to Comrade C. P. Gilson for favors received, and to the commissary for the efficient manner in which he had provided for the entertainment of the company.

Following this the veterans were entertained by E. Wales, jr., on the organ, and F. H. Stockwell on the company's fiddle---Colt's own army make---around which so many tender recollections cluster. C. J. Stockwell showed the comrades how light on the toes a 55-year-old soldier can be when the old army fiddle is waked up. Dorr Blood led in several songs, "On Squeaky River," "As I sat chatting with Johnny by my side," "John Brown's body," "Marching through Georgia," and others, the members joining in the chorus.

At 6 o'clock an adjournment was taken to May, 1892, every veteran declaring that the meeting had been the best yet held. Two were present, J. F. Holbrook and C. R. Briggs of Providence, who had not been with the company before for 26 years. It was voted to invite all, including the original members of the company and the recruits, with their wives, sons and daughters, to attend the next meeting.

Though no vote to this effect was taken, it was agreed by all that the rainy day had been a good thing in keeping the members together, and that rainy days are to be arranged for, if possible, at all future reunions.

Two of the letters read at last Saturday's reunion which deserve special mention were those of Comrades Adams and Prouty. A vein of tender recollections of all the "old boys," and of their days of patriotic service together, ran through them both, and Adams contrived as a matter of course to get in the usual number of jokes and pen touches, which were duly appreciated.

Vermont Phoenix, May 22, 1891.









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