Monday, April 1, 2019

Courage Under Fire: Lt. Gardner C. Hawkins, 3rd Vermont Infantry

I apologize for the lack of posts during the last week of March. My work responsibilities were such as to leave little time for anything other than gaining some much needed rest.

While preparing for tomorrow's 154th Anniversary of the April 2, 1865 Petersburg Breakthrough walking tour I researched a little deeper into someone I had read, heard, and spoke about many times before. Yet, I wanted to see if I could find out a little more about this seemingly shadowy historical figure. I feel that I both succeeded and failed.

Gardner C. Hawkins was born February 11, 1846. His service records state that he was a native of Pomfret, (Windsor County) Vermont, which is in the central part of the Green Mountain State. The 1850 census shows that Gardner grew up in a large family and as a four year old, was the youngest boy of the household. Gardner's father, Lewis, is listed as a 44 year old farmer, who was born in Vermont. Although all of the Gardner's near neighbors owned real estate, Lewis apparently did not. Gardner's mother, Hannah, was a 43 year old Canadian native. Gardner's 6 brothers and 3 sisters ranged in age from 22 to 2 years old. All were born in Vermont.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find Gardner in the 1860 census. However, I did find his father and mother, a brother, and sister. They had moved to the Bridgewater community, also in Windsor County. In 1860, Gardner's father had land now valued at $1400.00. His parents did not apparently have any other surviving children after younger sister Isadore was born in 1848.

Wherever Gardner was in 1860, he showed up in Woodstock, near where he was born, in 1864 to enlist in Company I of the 3rd Vermont Infantry on January 28. Gardner was just shy of 18 years old! He is listed as 5' 11" tall with a light complexion and having blue or hazel eyes and brown hair. His stated pre-war occupation was that of clerk. He apparently received a $300.00 bounty for enlisting.

Gardner's early army career seems to have included clerking duties at regimental and brigade headquarters. Apparently he did well in his work, as on November 19, 1864, Gardner received a promotion to 2nd lieutenant in his company by the governor of Vermont. He received another promotion, to 1st lieutenant of Company E on March 28, 1865. Gardner was not only 19 years old! After the war the War Department retro-acted Gardner's promotion to February 25, 1865.

Apparently, on the early morning of April 2, Gardner was serving as acting adjutant with the 3rd Vermont, who was a member of the Vermont Brigade. That dawn found the Vermont Brigade stacked in columns of regiments for the attack on the Confederate earthworks opposite them. The stacked formation was intended to make the greatest impact and return positive results. The attack kicked off at about 4:40 a.m. with the 5th Vermont leading, then the 2nd, the 6th, the 4th, the 3rd, and finally the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery (fighting as infantry and also known as the 11th Vermont).

The Vermonters encountered picket fire early from the Confederates as they were at the point of the attack. Brushing the pickets away, the Green Mountain men ran into greater trouble when they encountered multiple lines of abatis, stacked branches meant to impede the attacker's progress. Finding holes through the obstructions and making their own, too, the men made for the last yards of open ground in front of the Confederate ditches.

Leading the men of his command forward, Gardner saw them stall due to heavy rifle and artillery fire from the enemy. In an effort to inspire his charges, Gardner pulled his sword from its scabbard and waved it over his his head encouraging his men to do their duty and go on. While so doing, Gardner received a grievous wound through the face. His surgeon reported that he found Gardner "suffering in consequence of a wound . . . by a ball passing in near the ear, over the cheek, under the eye, through the nose, and out the opposite side." As one might image the terrible injury left the young lieutenant a bloody mess. However, when his comrades attempted to remove him from the field during the action he demanded that he remain where he was until he was confident that the attack had succeeded.

Gardner was eventually taken to Union hospitals, probably at the nearby Union's City Point base, and he was at last back home in Woodstock, Vermont by early May 1865 attempting to recover. By that point, with the war winding down due to the previous surrenders of the two main Confederate armies, men like Gardner, who were dangerously wounded late in the war were discharged. Gardner received his official discharge on July 8, 1865.

Still, much later, in 1893, Gardner revived the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism on April 2, 1865.

Gardner C. Hawkins's official commendation reads: "for extraordinary heroism on April 2, 1865, while serving with Company D, 3rd Vermont Infantry, in action at Petersburg, Virginia. When the lines were wavering from the well-directed fire of the enemy, First Lieutenant Hawkins, acting adjutant of the regiment, sprang forward, and with encouraging words cheered the soldiers on, and although dangerously wounded, refused to leave the field until the enemy's works were taken."

Gardner C. Hawkins lived a relatively full life after his wounding on April 2, 1865. He moved to Massachusetts, became an inventor of sorts and lived to be 67 years old, dying in 1913. He rests in peace in Lindenwood Cemetery in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and serves as an inspiration of courage under fire.


  1. Thanks for the article. Very informative. His life was drastically altered on April 2nd. At least he received the Medal of Honor in recognition.

    1. Thanks you for the kind words, and thank you for reading.

  2. A little off the subject. I just received a copy of "I Rode With Stonewall" by Henry Kyd Douglas. I ordered it "used" from a seller on Amazon and it arrived in near mint condition. I open the front cover and there is a receipt from when the book was originally purchased dated 10/05/05. The receipt reads - Pamplin Historical Park - The Civil War Store. I've found that buying used books is a great way to save money.

    1. Hi Paul! What a nice coincidence! I've bought many books from The Civil War Store, and I've bought many more used from both traditional sellers and online. Although buying books from historic sites often costs more than online, it does help them earn much needed revenue. I try to find a reasonable balance between helping and saving. Happy reading!