Thursday, May 31, 2012

Civil War: Daniel Wheeler/Museum Opens Sunday

In the March 30 Cavendish Update, information was provided for two of Cavendish’s Civil War veterans who were awarded the Medal of Honor, William Sperry and Tom Seaver. There was a third, Daniel Davis Wheeler.

A native of Cavendish, Wheeler enlisted at 19 when President Lincoln called for volunteers. He served in many of the major battles of the Civil War and was awarded the Medal of Honor for “distinguished bravery” at the Battle of Salem Heights. Career military, he retired in 1903.

Recently, the Cavendish Historical Society received a clipping from “The Free Lance-Star” of Fredericksburg, VA. “Daniel Davis Wheeler is hardly a household name. Yet he can be considered a Civil War hero-a fact that had, until recently, largely escaped public notice.

Now, if you visit Wheeler’s resting place in Fredericksbur’s City Cemetery, near a venerable magnolia and the brick wall along Washington Avenue, you’ll spot something shiny and new.

Affixed to Wheeler’s gravestone are two brass plaques. One reads “Medal of Honor.” The others bears his name, unit-the 4th Vermont Infantry Regiment-and birth and death dates. Both feature the distinctive design of the medal awarded as the nation’s highest military honor.

Here in Fredericksburg, Wheeler is something of an odd man out: a Union brigadier general interred in a cemetery known for its Southerns.

Nonetheless, Wheeler is of Fredericksburg. He lived his last 15 years here, having married into one of the area’s most prominent families.

And when his time came, Brig. Gen. Wheeler was laid to rest by his adopted community. At his funeral on July 29,1916, pallbearers included Fredericksburg Mayor J.P . Rowe and Charles Hurkamp, a longtime City Council member.

So how did a son of Cavendish end up marrying a confederate daughter?

During the War, the Phillips family home served as headquarters for Union army commander Ambrose Burnside during the Battle of Fredericksburg. It is possible that Wheeler met his future wife then. More than 30 years later, Wheeler married Nannie, (nee Phillips) who was recently widowed, in Fredericksburg. They then moved to Nebraska where he was stationed.

Retiring in 1903, the Wheelers returned to Fredericksburg. Wheeler is buried in the Phillips family plot. At his funeral, a tribute declared that the city had “lost one of her most distinguished citizens… a natural leader of men. …[B]ehind the apparent sternness of his character, due to his military training, was the possessor of a most kind heart. To those of us who knew him well, his memory will long remain fragrant because of the innumerable acts of courtesy and kindness which he was ever doing.

Read more: Daniel Davis Wheeler, RIP

Cavendish Historical Society Museum Opens on Sunday
The Cavendish Historical Society Museum opens this coming Sunday, June 2, with two unique exhibits. The first is the town’s 250 year historic timeline. The second features photographs and other items from the floods of 1927 and 2011. Please bring copies of your photographs from Irene so they can be included in the archives for future generations. If you would prefer, you can e-mail them to

The Museum is open every Sunday from 2-4 pm until mid October. FMI: or 802-226-7807

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A New Look at Phineas Gage

LA Times
By Thomas H. Maugh II

May 16, 2012, 2:15 p.m.
The tamping rod that blew through Phineas Gage's brain 163 years ago damaged only a small portion of his brain, but it disrupted a much larger proportion of his neural connections, UCLA researchers reported Wednesday. The finding, based on imaging of Gage's skull, may help explain the behavioral changes he endured following the accident.

Phineas P. Gage was a construction supervisor for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad. On Sept. 13, 1848, he was working at a site near Cavendish, Vt. He had drilled a hole in a rock that was to be removed then filled the hole with blasting powder. After instructing an assistant to pour sand on top of the powder to cushion it, he turned away briefly. Unfortunately, the assistant did not follow his directions and when Gage began tamping down the powder with a 13-pound, 3-foot-7-inch iron rod in the next step of the procedure, the powder exploded, shooting the rod clean through his cheek and brain.

The rod was later found 25 feet away, covered with blood and brain tissue. Surprisingly, Gage, then 25, recovered. But his behavior changed abruptly.

No longer an affable young man, he became fitful, irreverent and profane. Unable to retain his railroad job because of the personality changes, he took a succession of somewhat menial jobs, including as a stagecoach driver in South America. He was eventually reunited with his family in San Francisco, where he died of an epileptic seizure 12 years after the fateful accident.

His skull now resides at the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard Medical School in Boston. It is too fragile to be imaged again, but UCLA neurologist Jack Van Horn and his colleagues tracked down high-resolution CT images that had been taken at Brigham and Women's Hospital 11 years ago. Those images had been thought to be lost for more than a decade.

The team then imaged the brains of men of about the same size and age as Gage; the men were also all right-handed, like Gage. Using modern computational techniques, the team combined the CT image of Gage's skull with the images of the brains of the modern men to assess what kind of damage had occurred.

They reported in the journal PLoS One that the rod damaged only 4% of Gage's cortex, but that it destroyed about 11% of neural connections in the white matter of the brain. Thus, even though the physical damage was restricted to the left frontal lobe, the damage to the white matter affected neural connections throughout the brain. "Connections were lost between the left frontal, left temporal and right frontal cortices, and the left limbic structures of his brain," Van Horn said, and that "was a major contributor to the behavioral changes he experienced."

Van Horn is a member of UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, which is part of an ambitious effort, along with Massachusetts General Hospital and the National Institutes of Health, to map the trillions of microscopic links that connect the brain's 100 billion neurons -- an effort that will produce what is known as a "connectome." Researchers hope that mapping the connectome will lead to new answers about mental disorders related to the breakdown of these links and about damages due to brain injury.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Help Support The Cavendish Historical Society

At the June 30 Summer Fest, the Cavendish Historical Society will be holding a silent and live auction. We need donations of:
• gift certificates to restaurants, stores etc.
• certificates of service, such as ski tuning, gardening, dinner in your home, childcare, business service, lawn care etc.
• items, such as art work, furniture etc. Items need to be in good shape-new, gently used or actual antiques

You can send certificates to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142 If you have items that you need to be picked up or dropped off, please contact the numbers below. After June 2, you will be able to drop them off at the Museum on Sundays from 2-4 pm.

If you have a service you would like to donate, please e-mail the following information to and we’ll create a certificate for you:
• Service to be donated (be clear about what you will offer, such as 3 hours of gardening, dinner for 4 in your home, and if there is a time limit, e.g. redeemable by January 1, 2012)
• Estimated Value
• Person/organization making the donation

Thank you for your support of the Cavendish Historical Society.

Margo Caulfield
Cavendish Historical Society
PO Box 472
Cavendish, VT 05142

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Civil War History: How did they brush their teeth?

In order to enlist into the Union Army, recruits underwent a physical, which included an examination to determine “whether he had sufficient number of teeth in good condition to masticate his food properly to tear his cartridge quickly and with ease.” As regulations were revised, guidelines became more specific, “total loss of all the front teeth, the eye-teeth, and first molar even if only of one jaw” was cause for rejection.

While many wanted to serve in the military, others saw the “teeth requirement,” as a way out. As Dr. David Noble noted, “one man exhibited twelve sound teeth that had been recently extracted, thus settling the question that a man may stand the steel, but fear the powder and lead.”

Interestingly, the dental health of Americans in the Civil War era was not good, which was attributed to increased use of refined sugar in foods and a greater consumption of fresh, rather than salted meats.

While it would seem that because good teeth were important for a soldier, yet “not only did the US Army enter the war without dental surgeons, but the federal government did not supply toothbrushes for its troops. Dentists hoped the new call to arms would make the military aware of its dental shortcomings.

Any dental care the soldier received once in the Army was either paid for by the individual or received from an Army surgeon, hospital steward, or a trained dentist serving in another capacity in the same unit. The Civil War: Dental Care in the Union Army, 1861-1865

Interestingly, Dr. Samuel Stockton White, inventor of SS White Tooth Powder, which some soldiers carried in their packs, met with Abraham Lincoln, in his capacity to provide dental services to the Union soldiers. Even though he was head of the American Dental Association, nothing came of it.

If a toothbrush was available, and it seems the confederate side was a bit more concerned about dental hygiene, it was most likely handmade. Mass production of toothbrushes didn’t occur in the US until 1885. A toothbrush found at an archeological dig site in Johnson Island, Ohio was described as follows, “Every feature of the toothbrush had been made by hand, from the carving of the handle to the drilling of no fewer than 88 holes for the boar bristles, which were secured to the base with linen thread. Brushing teeth was not common during the mid-nineteenth century, and only elite members of society typically used toothbrushes. Such a fine example reflects the high status of the Confederate officer who owned it.

So what did the soldiers do to clean their teeth? Without a toothbrush, they would have used what ever was handy-rags, salt, a finger, leaves and probably a “chewing stick.”

A chewing stick has been used for tooth brushing for many centuries and continues to this day in some parts of the world. A green twig from a tree or bush would be broken off and the soldier would chew until the fibers became soft and spread. Watch a demonstration on-line. They would then use it much as they would have used a toothbrush. It was only good for one use though.

Many trees, such as dogwood, olive, and walnut do have medicinal properties. Other trees they might have used would have included cherry, apple and even birch.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Edith Hunter

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Edith Hunter, a member of the Cavendish Historical Society, past president of the Weathersfield Historical Society and commentator for Vermont Public Radio. She is also the mother of Cavendish's Town Moderator Will Hunter. Learn more about Edith's remarkable life at Vermont Public Radio.