Spring 2009 - #12. Wheelock Veazey.

Author:by Paul S. Gilies, Esq.

Vermont Bar Journal


Spring 2009 - #12.

Wheelock Veazey



Wheelock Veazeyby Paul S. Gilies, Esq.

Wheelock G. Veazey, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, stood before his assembled comradesin-arms at the 25th Annual Reunion of the Society of the Army of the Potomac in July of 1891, and exclaimed, "Strew the flowers upon the graves of your fallen brothers. Rebuild the camp fires, and so long as one soldier remains to repeat the story of the grand old heroic days, be assured it will rekindle the fires of loyalty in the hearts of a grateful people." Long and loud applause followed.(fn1) Twenty-eight years earlier to the day, Colonel Veazey heard only explosions and cries of the wounded and dying.(fn2) Leading the Sixteenth Vermont Regiment of Stannard's Brigade into the flanks of the enemy, he performed two miracles that stemmed Pickett's charge, leading directly to the Union victory at Gettysburg. Hear the words of the application for his Medal of Honor:

[The Sixteenth] received the first shock of Pickett's charge. It was a tremendous attack, but the assailants were forced to surge off to the right, and the regiment commanded by Colonel Veazey, wheeled out and attacked them on the flank as they went by with withering effect, and capturing many prisoners.

At this moment, while the Sixteenth was partially broken, another column-Wilcox's and Perry's Brigades-came rushing along toward its flank and rear. Colonel Veazey quickly grasped the situation. He explained his plans to General Stannard.

"Veazey," cried the general, "your men will do almost anything, but the men don't live this side of hell, that can be made to charge down there." But in shorter time than it takes to tell it, the regiment had straightened out, another change of front in the very center of the field, where the battle raged in its greatest fury, and men were falling every instant.

"I stepped to the front," said Colonel Veazey, "and called upon the men to follow. With a mighty shout the rush forward was made, and, before the enemy could change his front, we had struck his flank, and swept down the line, and again captured a great number of prisoners. In the two charges my regiment captured three stands of colors. The last charge brought a heavy artillery fire on us, but we lost only 150 out of 400 because the rebels never accurately found our range."(fn3)

These two extraordinary pivots of an entire regiment, first at a 45ø angle, and then a 90ø angle, are attributed to Colonel Veazey's leadership.(fn4) He was twenty-six years old that summer.(fn5)


Emerson thought we can only understand history subjectively. He wrote, "there is properly no History, only Biography."(fn6) How did Colonel Veazey fare after he returned to Vermont? Twenty-six years after Gettysburg, at the age of 52, Wheelock Veazey was elected Associate Judge of the Vermont Supreme Court, and he served ten years before his appointment to the Interstate Commerce Commission. How did the hero of Gettysburg became Judge Veazey, and how much of Colonel Veazey remained in Judge Veazey's decisions on the court?

What kind of a jurist is a former soldier, and not just a solider but a hero, really? What is a soldier? One who fights, who knows order, who is in command, who knows sacrifice. Who gives everything to the cause, follows orders. What makes a hero, for that matter? In Colonel Veazey's case, it was discipline, bravery, organization, all the result of good training, the willingness to take risks in the face of death, and loyalty-the loyalty of those Vermonters to the cause, and those soldiers to their colonel.

Of the 130 men and women who have served on the Vermont Supreme Court, twenty-six formerly served in the armed forces, and most saw action. One judge fought in the Seven Years' War, thirteen in the Revolutionary War, three in the War of 1812, two in the Civil War, one in World War I, and seven during the Second World War.(fn7)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was born six years later than Wheelock Veazey. In his Civil War service, he was wounded three times.(fn8) Forty years later Holmes gave a pair of Memorial Day speeches that attracted the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, and led to his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.(fn9) In his 1894 address, entitled "In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire," Holmes said, "I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived."(fn10) We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.(fn11)

Old soldiers never forget their past, but they live on, those who have survived, to face new challenges. For Holmes, his experiences left him hardened to reality and unwilling to believe in ancient shibboleths and even, to some extent, the logic of the law.(fn12)

Then What?

After Gettysburg, Wheelock Veazey left the service, his health seriously undermined. General Stannard offered to make him a Brigadier General if he returned, but instead he took up residence in Rutland, and opened a law office.(fn13) He practiced with Redfield Proctor, another veteran, who went on to become governor in 1878 and U.S. senator from 1891 to 1908.(fn14)

Veazey's life was no less successful.(fn15) Early on he showed a dedication and a care that made him a valuable trustee of many public works. He was also a fine lawyer. As an attorney, according to his friend H.H. Powers, "[h]e counted it no honor, professional or moral, to win a bad case, and a disgrace, professional and moral, to lose a good one."(fn16) Wheelock Veazey's name, either alone or as a member of a firm, appears forty-seven times in the Vermont Reports before his election to the bench, the first as early as 1866.(fn17)

After taking office as a Rutland County senator in 1872, Veazey was elected Reporter of Decisions for the Vermont Supreme Court in 1873. He was responsible for Volumes 36 through 44 of the Vermont Reports, beginning in 1864 and continuing through 1873.

All lawyers must read the decisions of the court as they are issued, but those who must edit the volumes to be published are more familiar with the individual decisions and more importantly the rhythm and direction of the law than even the judges and justices themselves.(fn18) Drafting headnotes required the ability to condense the decision to a set of principles, and a thorough understanding of the ruling. No one was better prepared for a judgeship than one who had this intense grounding in the law of Vermont, as reporter of decisions, and then as a commissioner of revision of the statutes.(fn19)


Wheelock Veazey was appointed commissioner for the 1880 revision of the laws in 1879, along with Charles Willard, a duty that overlapped Veazey's first year on the high court. If Wheelock Veazey's life were a play, the time between his Civil War service and his election to the bench is Act Two. There were two more acts, but for now, consider the work he did on the revision of laws.

The assignment was a grueling one. Charles Willard, recently returned to Vermont from six years in Congress, took the lead, but died before the project was finished, leaving the final work on the revision to Veazey.(fn20) Aside from the microscopic editing work, the revisers also made suggestions for reforming the statutes, removing whole chapters, reordering the sections, and adding direct citations to former compilations and cases, making the Revised Laws of Vermont the most thorough and scholarly edition to that time.(fn21) Paragraphs were cut down, and split into several sections. The system of chapters and subsections was replaced by a continuous number system of statutes, totaling 4,549 separate sections.

They discovered many instances of inconsistency between two statutes, and resolved them; they found laws unintentionally repealed, and reinstated them.(fn22) They eliminated the future perfect tense ("Every male citizen who shall have resided in this state one year") in favor of the simple perfect ("Every male citizen who has resided . . . "). The subjunctive present ("and if any person do the contrary and be thereof duly convicted") was replaced by the indicative ("and if any one does to the contrary and is thereof duly convicted").(fn23) "It shall be the duty of" gave way to a simple "shall" as in the change from "It shall be the duty of the town clerk to make a roll" to "The town clerk shall make a roll."(fn24)

By eliminating antiquated phraseology, condensing, and substituting "direct for circuitous expressions," the revisers actually reduced the size of the compilation of 1863 (790 pages) and the totality of laws passed since that time (an additional 1,233 pages) into 900 pages in the Revised Laws, exclusive of appendices and tables.(fn25) The revision clarified the law on majority rule to require a "concurrence of the majority of a whole board in every official act."(fn26) It ensured that the laws relating to towns also...

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