Conflict Period:
Civil War (Union) 1
Army 1
Lieutenant Colonel 2
08 Dec 1830 2
Danville, Vermont 2
03 Jun 1864 2
Haw’s Shop, Virginia 2

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Personal Details

Full Name:
Addison W Preston 1
08 Dec 1830 2
Danville, Vermont 2
Male 2
03 Jun 1864 2
Haw’s Shop, Virginia 2
Cause: Killed at battle of Haw’s Shop 2

Civil War (Union) 1

Army 1
Lieutenant Colonel 2
D,F&S 1
Discharge Rank:
Colonel 1
Enlistment Rank:
Capt 1
Military Unit:
1st Cavalry 1
Vermont 1

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  1. Civil War Service Index - Union - Vermont [See image]
  2. Contributed by bruceyrock632


Addison Webster Preston was born in the town of Burke, VT, but removed in early childhood with his parents to Danville, which was thenceforth his home. He fitted for college, entered Brown University at the age of 21, and took high rank as a scholar; but after a year and a half, he was obliged to leave college by the condition of his health, and his physician advised a sea voyage, he sailed to Australia, where after a stay full of adventure, he sailed for California, where he spent several years. He had returned to Danville and was engaged in business there when the war broke out. He enlisted in September, 1861, in the First Vermont Cavalry, was chosen Captain of Company D, which he had been active in recruiting, and from that day gave all his energy of mind and body to the duties of a soldier. He had had command of the regiment for much of the time during the twenty months preceding his death. He was one of the best disciplinarians that ever commanded the regiment. He took good care of his men and was popular with them. As a man he was frank, hearty, genial, quick of thought and action. As a fighter he was brave to a fault, impetuous, eager to strike, ready to go himself, where ever he sent his men, and unwilling to leave any place of danger as long as there was anything to be done. He was twice wounded, at Hagerstown in the Gettysburg campaign and at Culpepper Court House two months later. His commission as Colonel was delayed in transit by the exigencies of the campaign and reached the headquarters of the regiment the day after his death. Had he lived a few days longer he would have been promoted to a Brigadier Generalship; for he stood very high with his superiors, and they were only waiting for his appointment as Colonel, to give him higher rank and more responsible duties. General Custer voiced the opinion of many, when he turned away from his corpse, he said: 'There lies the best fighting Colonel in the Cavalry Corps.' Colonel Preston’s remains were taken to White House and thence to Vermont, where his funeral took place at Danville, with extraordinary demonstrations of honor and respect on the part of his townsmen and of the citizens of the surrounding towns and of a large portion of Caledonia County. He left a widow, an estimable lady, whose maiden name was Juliette Hall, of Lowell, Mass., and two children.

Danville’s Captain Addison Preston Reports on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Col. Addi­son Pre­ston was not only a good sol­dier; he was also a good writer and shared his expe­ri­ences with North Star readers.

In the spring of 1862, the Ver­mont Cav­alry was part of an over­all Union effort to pre­vent a Con­fed­er­ate move­ment against Wash­ing­ton. The Fed­er­als had set up head­quar­ters in the Shenan­doah Val­ley town of Stras­burg to con­trol the Man­as­sas Gap Rail­road (South­ern) and the Val­ley Pike. How­ever the North­ern­ers were forced to evac­u­ate the town by Gen­eral Stonewall Jackson’s rapid flank­ing movement.

In a let­ter to the edi­tor, Cap­tain Addi­son Pre­ston of Danville offered a stir­ring account of the action seen by Com­pany D of the Cav­alry. This unit was per­son­ally recruited and com­manded by Pre­ston. Born in Burke, the fam­ily soon moved to Danville. At the age of 21, Pre­ston entered Brown Uni­ver­sity and became an accom­plished scholar; how­ever, after a year and a half he had to with­draw because of illness.

His physi­cian advised a sea voy­age to restore his health. Young Pre­ston trav­eled to Aus­tralia and then Cal­i­for­nia where he spent sev­eral years only to come back to Danville and go into busi­ness. But like U.S. Grant and William Tecum­seh Sher­man, it was in the mil­i­tary that Addi­son Pre­ston would find his niche.

North Star–June 14, 1862

 The Ver­mont Cav­alry — Let­ter from Capt PrestonArmy of ShenandoahWilliamsport, May 27, 1862

Mr Eaton — Dear Sir: There is doubt­less much anx­i­ety among the peo­ple of Ver­mont and the friends of the Vt. Cav­alry to hear from this reg­i­ment, par­tic­u­larly of the com­pany from your vicin­ity, and to know what part they per­formed in the very excit­ing and unex­pected retreats and bat­tles of the 24th and 25th of May.

On the 23rd of May, our army occu­pied Stras­burg with the cav­alry five miles in advance, on the right bank of the Shenan­doah, watch­ing Jackson’s forces while the 1st Mary­land (infantry) held Front Royal, on the main branches of the Shenan­doah, watch­ing Ewell’s forces and guard­ing the rail­road bridges at about 12 miles from Stras­burg to its left.

On Fri­day the 23rd, Col Ken­ley, com­mand­ing the 1st Mary­land, was sur­prised, and his forces badly cut to pieces by Ewell’s army, 15,000 strong, who imme­di­ately pushed a large col­umn for­ward to Mid­dle­ton in our rear to cut us off. Gen Banks hear­ing of the rout at Front Royal of Col. Kenley’s forces, made prepa­ra­tions for hasty retreat, as his forces are com­par­a­tively small.… [W]e moved back to our old camp. Pass­ing through Stras­burg and cross­ing Cedar Creek, we came up with our bag­gage wag­ons, which were halted with the enemy in full force in their front.

Our artillery imme­di­ately got into posi­tion, with 300 of the Vt Cav­alry drawn up to line for sup­port, and opened rapid and effec­tive fire upon them, which caused them to keep under cover of the wood which pro­tected them some­what from shell as well as from a charge of our cav­alry. It soon became evi­dent that they were extend­ing their lines in our right with inten­tion of get­ting our rear; and we con­se­quently fell back across the Creek towards Stras­burg. In doing this great con­fu­sion was made with teams and men lead­ing excited horses. We con­se­quently became entan­gled in the stream, and the enemy com­ing on rapidly, pour­ing in a brisk fire, we were obliged to leave our teams there.

Our guns were imme­di­ately got in posi­tion again on the other side of the creek and with­out orders I halted my com­pany, dis­mount­ing a part, sent them out as skir­mish­ers against the rebel skir­mish­ers who had also crossed and were fast fol­low­ing us up. A few rounds from my men and a few shells sent them back again in the other side. We shelled them until we could con­sult as to our safety…[W]e were entirely cut off from our army on the main road, and the enemy was fast clos­ing on us. It was thought best to take a back road, and under cover of night, which was fast approach­ing, pass around them; and if that could not be done, take to the mountains.

The move­ment was suc­cess­ful. We reached Win­ches­ter about mid­night march­ing 25 miles that night and 30 that day. We arrived in time to lead our horses and get a cou­ple of hours sleep, to pre­pare our­selves for another strug­gle in the com­ing morn.

The 1st Ver­mont pre­ferred Mor­gans as their mounts. One of Preston’s jobs was to pro­cure Mor­gans, some from the Danville area.

The morn­ing of May 26th was ush­ered in by the boom­ing of can­non and the brisk dis­charge of mus­ketry, which showed that the rebels had taken an early start. Soon the whole line was engaged. We were drawn up in line rear of the city of Win­ches­ter, to act in an emer­gency and cover the retreat if nec­es­sary (for we expected a defeat, and this fact con­tributed to its accom­plish­ment). The rebel line of bat­tle was shut from our view, except the right wing, which extended toward a high ridge, and upon which was planted a bat­tery. This bat­tery did splen­did exe­cu­tion. Its hiss­ing mes­sen­gers of death were hurled in such rapid suc­ces­sion against the press­ing foe, that the sight was at once sub­lime and terrific.

The rebel right was soon hid from sight by dense clouds of smoke. At this point the left under Colonel Don­nelly suc­ceeded in press­ing back the enemy front. But this was more than coun­ter­bal­anced by their redou­bled exer­tions on our right under Gen Gor­man, which was now out­flanked and obliged to with­draw — The enemy had already paid dearly for what they had won and they now charged for­ward with tri­umphant shouts.

At this junc­ture, this reg­i­ment was ordered for­ward to charge through the streets and retake the hill if it was deemed pos­si­ble. I was ordered by Col Tomp­kins to fol­low in the rear and cover their retreat…Our reg­i­ment dashed through the streets thronged with flee­ing sol­diers and cit­i­zens… Col Tomp­kins see­ing the hill too strongly pos­sessed turned his col­umn to the right and came back on a par­al­lel street hard pressed by the foe, but in good order, giv­ing the fugi­tives time to escape. Halt­ing the squadron under my com­mand (com­pa­nies D and I) upon the next street, we checked the advance of the enemy charg­ing down the street in large force. Being here exposed to a galling fire, which was impos­si­ble to return, and mad­ness to charge into, we made a quick move­ment into a street to our left and fell slowly back, the best orga­nized and unbro­ken body that left the city.

But before we got out of the place we were dealt with severely. The enemy …poured a full vol­ley into our ranks from over fences and gar­den lots. Cor­po­ral Ash­bel C. Meachem here fell mor­tally shot through and through … but we were to cover the retreat, and we remained, encour­ag­ing and urg­ing for­ward strag­gling sol­diers, con­tra­bands and fugi­tive cit­i­zens who filled the roads and fields, flee­ing for their lives…

The enemy pressed us hard all day with light artillery and cav­alry shoot­ing all strug­glers they had come to. … We helped to cover the retreat for 35 miles that day, slept on our arms that night, and crossed to Williamsport Md., Mon­day morn­ing, May 26th where we are now encamped…

Through­out the whole retreat the boys acted with the utmost cool­ness. Young Meacham who was shot, was a very promis­ing and much respected man ever faith­ful and true.…

Yours truly,

A. W. Preston

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