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Coffin: Mack Mountain Road

In the high country between Marshfield and west West Danville, the Mack Mountain Road leaves Route 2 for Peacham. Its narrow course turns through working farms and quiet woods, one of the back roads I always take in autumn.

Some of the best Vermont foliage lies along that road, and in places where old maples line both sides, it becomes a tunnel of reds, yellows and golds.

But I have another reason for traveling Mack Mountain, for it is, to me a Civil War memorial. The body of a young man mortally wounded at the Wilderness traveled this road in 1864, going home.

Edward Palmer left Peacham and enlisted in the Fourth Vermont Regiment soon after the war began. While away, his wife and daughter, both seamstresses, lived in many local homes, making women’s clothing and men’s suits to support themselves.

Edwin was wounded May 5, 1864, when the Vermont Brigade suffered 1,000 casualties, keeping the Army of the Potomac intact. He ended up in Montpelier’s Sloan Military Hospital, where he died in late September.

His father went for the body, and his route was along what is now Route 2 and the Mack Mountain Road. It was foliage time. As I go that way I think of the slow plod of the horse, up and up to the height of land, through the high fields and woods. Father Palmer probably had a friend with him, to help. They probably didn’t say much.

I wonder in which farmyards they stopped to water the horse. I think of their going by farmhouses that still stand where someone chanced to see the sad passing, and bared a head.

On they went until it was downhill, toward Peacham, views opening across the Caledonia County uplands to the prodigious White Mountain summits.

The first they saw of Peacham Village was probably the soaring Congregational Church, where abolitionists had spoken about human freedom. It was in the nearby village cemetery, one of Vermont’s most beautiful, that Corporal Palmer, who perished in the war to abolish slavery, was laid to rest.

He had come home in what I believe to be the best time of all seasons to be alive in Vermont. Remembering him on my annual Mack Mountain Road ride last year, that haunting song, written to the music of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, came to mind.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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