Charles and Herbert George were brothers from Vermont, two of four who enlisted in the 10th Vermont Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. All had musical talent and joined the regimental band.
The George boys grew up in Newbury, Vt., in a large farming family, the sons of James George and Maria Nourse George. They had three sisters. Their father, who drank and gambled, wasn’t much of a provider. The boys all left home at a young age, two to farm, two to work as telegraph operators.
Then war broke out, and the brothers — Charles, Jere, Osman and Herbert — joined at various times. A description of the Union Army’s musicians underscores their role in the war effort:
The town also had suffered fearful ravages from war, and now a Union army was marching through its streets, every band and every drum corps playing the stirring but to southern ears hateful air, “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave…” the bands always struck up this air, as if to taunt the inhabitants with the memory of their victim.
The 10th Vermont
The brothers participated in the Battle of Monocacy near Fredericksburg, Md., on July 9, 1864. Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early had led his forces on a rampage from the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland. He wanted to divert Union forces from Gen. Robert E. Lee, under siege in Petersburg.
The Confederates did defeat the Union forces under Gen. Lew Wallace, forcing a retreat. The 10th Vermont fought valiantly under Col. William Wirt Henry, who was wounded in the battle
Afterward, Charles wrote to his wife about the battle – some of the hardest fighting and marching of the war. They marched through dust to Fredericksburg and arose early on Saturday, July 9, he wrote. They then formed the line of battle at 8 a.m., drew rations and started ‘fighting like tigers.’
During the battle they were peppered with shells and bullets as they tried to help the wounded. The rebels overpowered the Union forces, who then took flight. They marched all night and until 4 p.m. the next day, wrote Charles, covering 40 miles on their way to rejoin their division.
Charles and Herbert
During the retreat, Charles stuck with Herbert who wasn’t well, carrying his things and leading him by the hand. Herbert wouldn’t have made it otherwise. They slept for four hours and then prepared to resume the march. Herbert threw away his knapsack and everything but his rubber blanket. They made coffee with cold water strained through a towel and hardtack before starting out again. Herbert soon gave out. He staggered and fell. Charles found a ride for him.
They reached Relay House in Maryland, from where they wrote home.
On July 14, 1864, Herbert wrote:
Dear folks at home
Just a word–I am all tired out & cant seem to get rested any although we have been here doing nothing for 3 days. We went up to Frederick & fought the rebels — got whipped & had to retreat 40 miles in a hurry. Such a hard march I never had. I’ll tell you all about it when I feel like it. I came near falling out & being taken prisoner. My first Bass player was taken prisoner & the other one is sick. Two others sick & I’m about sick so the Band is played out for a day or two. Our regt is pretty small now. Only about 200 muskets and guess it will fall short of that. We are now ordered to move somewhere but can’t tell anything about were.
With thanks to Bully for the Band: The Civil War Letters and Diary of Four Brothers in the 10th Vermont Infantry Band, edited by James G. Davis. This story was updated in 2022.