Interview with Joseph D. Collea, Jr. – author of The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War

I recently finished reading Joe Collea’s recent book, “The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War.”  It seems that I’ve been on a cavalry book binge, as of late, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Published by McFarland & Company, Inc. on December 23, 2009 it is Mr. Collea’s first book on the Civil War.  Collea describes himself as a lifelong history teacher that is now principal of Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vermont.  An educator for over 40 years he was a Fulbright Scholar.  He studied at the American University in Cairo.

The first thing I noticed when I started reading “The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War was the excellent chapter notes.  Collea has spent many years researching the 1st Vermont Cavalry and it shows.  His appendixes are worthy of a read by themselves, but are best enjoyed during and after reading the book.

  • Appendix A: Muster Roll of the First Vermont Cavalry
  • Appendix B: Engagements of the 1st Vermont Cavalry
  • Appendix C: Assignments of the 1st Vermont Cavalry
  • Appendix D: Medal of Honor Recipients in the 1st Vermont Cavalry
  • Appendix E: “Farnsworth’s Charge” Revisited: The Second Battle of Gettysburg
  • Appendix F: Garryowen

Collea quickly jumps into things in the first chapter, Recruitment: The Birth of a Regiment.  During this chapter the reader is led on a journey through the recruitment process and the politics involved in fielding a regiment.  Interestingly enough, the author describes how the 1st Vermont Cavalry nearly became an infantry regiment.  If it were not for well connected political allies it is quite possible Colonel Charles Tompkins’ soldiers would have been infantrymen instead of cavalry troopers.

The next four chapters deal with camp life and training.  I found these chapters very interesting as the author develops many of the soldiers into “real people.”  Unlike large battle narratives, this book allows you to get to know the soldiers and officers and you feel like you are in their camps.  Many of the soldiers you will follow throughout the entire book and you are with them when they get promoted – or in some cases you are there when they get cashiered from the service.

Throughout the rest of the book, Collea takes you directly into action with the 1st Vermont Cavalry.  His prose is excellent and provides vivid imagery of the battles the Green Mountain Boys fought in.  He covers all of their engagements including minor skirmishes with Confederate Partisan Ranger John S. Mosby.  Some of the significant engagements Collea covers in detail are:

  1. Mt. Jackson (the 1st Vermont Cavalry’s baptism of fire)
  2. Actions near Middletown, Virginia during US Major General Nathaniel Banks’ 1862 retreat
  3. Miskel’s Farm (one of the more devastating fights against Mosby)
  4. Gettysburg (a well written narrative of US Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s July 3 attack on Longstreet’s line at Gettysburg)
  5. Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid
  6. Battle of Yellow Tavern
  7. Battle of Hawe’s Shop (another heartbreaking battle)
  8. Wilson-Kautz Raid with an emphasis on the Battle of Stoney Creek
  9. Battle of Tom’s Brook (Woodstock Races)
  10. Battle of Cedar Creek (the pinnacle of success for the 1st Vermont Cavalry with three troopers receiving Medals of Honor)
  11. Appomattox Station (the final battle of the Civil War for the 1st Vermont Cavalry)

Throughout the book, Collea expertly moves from describing a battle to telling the story of a trooper or the family he leaves behind.  These stories will pull at your heartstrings and help you understand how personal the Civil War was on the home front.  Throughout the book, the reader will find 22 maps.  These excellent maps were produced by the author’s son, Bob Collea.

I highly recommend “The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War” for any serious students of the Civil War.  The chapters of the book melt away as Mr. Collea takes you on a long, fascinating journey with the 1st Vermont Cavalry.  This book will be especially intriguing for anyone with a high level of interest in cavalry operations.

I was able to speak with Joe Collea on March 29, 2010.  The following interview is very interesting and Collea was very engaging to interview.  As always, I have split the interview into separate parts so you can listen to the entire interview at your leisure.

Details about “The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War
Written by: Joseph D. Collea, Jr.
Paperback: 343 pages
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc.
Date of First Edition: December 23, 2009
ISBN-10: 0786433833



Joseph D. Collea, Jr. Interview – 13 Parts
Interview Date: March 29, 2010
Total Time: 1 hour 22 minutes 56 seconds

Part 1: Joe Collea Interview Part 1
Time: 7:09
Contents: Welcome and introductions | About Joe and his interest in the Civil War | Joe’s mentors and historians | The 1st Vermont Cavalry – nearly did not exist | The Morgan horse in the Civil War

Part 2: Joe Collea Interview Part 2
Time: 7:19
Contents: The 1st Vermont is mustered in | Life in camp | The 1st Vermont heads to the Shenandoah Valley | The Battle of Mt. Jackson

Part 3: Joe Collea Interview Part 3
Time: 8:28
Contents: Battles around Winchester | The retreat into Maryland | New cavalry command structure | Engagement at Ashby’s Gap | About Addison Preston

Part 4: Joe Collea Interview Part 4
Time: 7:00
Contents: The affair at Aldie, Virginia | Captain Huntoon made the scapegoat | The capture of Captain John Woodward | Battle of Miskel’s Farm – opportunity missed

Part 5: Joe Collea Interview Part 5
Time: 6:32
Contents: Joe’s use of firsthand accounts from soldiers’ wives | Regimental histories vs. large battle narratives | The 1st Vermont was a tight knit group of brothers | The Battle of Hanover | Small victories provide the 1st Vermont with confidence and experience

Part 6: Joe Collea Interview Part 6
Time: 6:12
Contents: Judson Kilpatrick’s assault on Longstreet’s lines at Gettysburg – July 3, 1863| The ground south of Little Round Top and how it played into the defeat of Kilpatrick’s attack at Gettysburg

Part 7: Joe Collea Interview Part 7
Time: 4:44
Contents: Joe’s transitions from a battle narrative to a soldier’s story | Researching “The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War” | Researching Civil War soldiers and battles at the National Archives

Part 8: Joe Collea Interview Part 8
Time: 7:55
Contents: The 1st Vermont Cavalry’s part in the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid | The changing tactics of Federal Cavalry tactics – Federal raids became the norm with “Hard War” being delivered to the southern citizenry | The Confederate backlash against the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid | Another shake-up in the Federal Cavalry command structure – the reaction of the 1st Vermont Cavalry

Part 9: Joe Collea Interview Part 9
Time: 6:22
Contents: The Overland Campaign and Federal cavalry actions under US Major General Philip Sheridan | The Battle of Yellow Tavern | The Battle of Hawe’s Shop – its impact on the 1st Vermont Cavalry

Part 10: Joe Collea Interview Part 10
Time: 5:42
Contents: The 1st Vermont’s participation in the Wilson-Kautz Raid | Fighting Wade Hampton’s Cavalry at Stoney Creek | US Major General James H. Wilson leaves the Army of the Potomac – another shake-up of in the command structure of Sheridan’s Federal Cavalry

Part 11: Joe Collea Interview Part 11
Time: 6:55
Contents: The 1st Vermont heads to the Shenandoah Valley to defeat Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley | The fiasco on Back Road – Alfred T.A. Torbert reputation is tarnished | Torbert attacks Thomas Rosser’s Confederate Cavalry at Tom’s Brook (Woodstock Races) | The Battle of Cedar Creek – the 1st Vermont Cavalry’s shining moment | The 1st Vermont Cavalry was awarded three Medals of Honor for their actions at Cedar Creek

Part 12: Joe Collea Interview Part 12
Time: 6:36
Contents: The 1st Vermont musters out its veterans after Cedar Creek | The Battle of Waynesborough, Virginia – Early’s Army of the Valley’s last battle | Sheridan’s decision to join Grant at Petersburg instead of Sherman’s army in North Carolina | The battles of Five Forks and Appomattox Station | The Vermont cavalry under General George Custer at Appomattox Court House – a fitting finish to the war for the Green Mountain Boys | The 1st Vermont Cavalry during Frontier service in the northeast | Final mustering

Part 13: Joe Collea Interview Part 13
Time: 2:02
Contents:  Joe’s future projects | Wrap up and closing

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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2 Responses to Interview with Joseph D. Collea, Jr. – author of The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War

  1. Jim Brinton says:

    Joseph Collea – 1st Vt in the Civil War: a History page 303

    “Captain Parsons never claimed to have participated in or wittnessed all of the charge, but he did speak to others who had made the circuit, and it is from them that he wrote his composite account.”

    Captain Parsons National Tribune 1890
    “..when it came to the final charge I found exceeding difficulty in getting information from the troopers themselves. Not one of the many addressed could give any intellegent or connected report of the action.”

  2. Jim,
    Thank you for checking out my interview with Mr. Collea. Take care.

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