Bellows Falls and the Town of Rockingham have usually had a leading part in military matters since the township was first organized.
As early as 1770, there was a military company in Rockingham whose officers were Captain Stephen Sargeant, Lieutenant Philip Safford, and Surgeon Dr. Reuben Jones, the town physician. Lt. Safford, in later years, made a creditable record as a leader at the Westminster Massacre, and Dr. Jones was one of the six leading men during all the complications leading to the organizing of the State of Vermont.
The Rockingham Company, which marched across the state to Ticonderoga and took part in the Battle of Hubbardton in July, 1777, was officered as follows: Captain Joseph Woods, Lieut. Charles Richards, Lieut. Colburn Preston and Ensign Ebenezer Fuller. The Company, comprising of thirty-four men, probably took part in the Battle of Bennington a month later under the same officers.
In October 1777, a detachment from Rockingham, under Lieut. Charles Richards, is supposed to have taken part in the Saratoga campaign and to have been present at Burgoyne’s surrender. The New York records of 1778 show that during the time when Vermont was temporarily under the government of New York, the Rockingham Company was officered by Moses Wright, Captain; Isaac Reed, First Lieutenant; and Ashur Evans, Ensign. In October 1780, the roster of the Rockingham militia showed the names of twenty-nine men with Captain Jonathan Houghton as Captain. In October of 1782, the Rockingham Company of twenty-three men was under command of Captain William Simonds and took part in quelling the insurrection in Guilford, Vt. In January 1784, the Rockingham militia, to the number of twenty-two men, commanded by Captain John Fuller, marched across the mountains in a blinding snowstorm to Guilford and shared honors with the little army of Ethan Allen in his victory over the Tories of that town.
In 1822, there was a Company of “Light Infantry” in the village of Saxtons River, and the commission of the Governor to Warren Lovell as Lieutenant, was dated June 10, 1822. Lieut. Lovell was but twenty years old at the time, and the next year, he was appointed postmaster of Saxtons River. In 1813, the Vermont Legislature by a special act constituted a Company of Artillery from this town, probably located in Rockingham Village. It was annexed to the 1st Regiment, 2nd Brigade and chief Division of the militia of the state. The persons constituting the Company were required to “furnish themselves with, at their own expense, a good field piece, suitable apparatus, and otherwise equip themselves as a Company of Artillery,” a somewhat different requirement regarding equipment from what later years have seen. In September 1822, there was a Company of Light Infantry and one of Artillery composed of Bellows Falls citizens, and two Infantry Companies in Grafton.
On September 29, 1826, the First Regiment, under command of Col. White, was mustered in Bellows Falls, and the Rockingham Company was commanded by Captain Seaver. There were also cavalry and artillery attached to the regiment. The Light Infantry Company from Putney, under Captain Knights, arrived here during the evening with baggage wagons, camp equipage, etc., and encamped upon the hill near Immanuel Church. They had nine tents, and, about midnight, some practical jokers passed a large rope around all the tents and down the hill toward Rockingham Street, for the purpose of dragging them down the declivity. The rope was, however, discovered by a guard just as a pair of horses, as a propelling power, was being attached to the Rockingham Street end, and the object of the perpetrators was frustrated. Friday, the usual drill, review and inspection of the regiment took place and a sham fight furnished entertainment and instruction for the afternoon. On September 14 and 15, 1835, the officers of the 20th Regiment, under the command of Col. Clay, “trained” in Bellows Falls, and Col. Ryland Fletcher of Cavendish, later Governor of Vermont, made a ringing speech to the organizations. In September 1841, the Light Infantry Companies of Keene and Westmoreland visited Bellows Falls and paraded our streets. They were handsomely entertained by the local military men.
Early in the ’50s, Bellows Falls had a crack Company composed of prominent citizens known as the “Green Mountain Guards.” They were organized under the laws of the State, and were among the first troops to have uniforms and equipments. The militia of the State previous to this system had been known as the “Flood Wood Militia” because each member of the various companies was compelled to furnish his own clothing, arms, and equipment. Many of the members of the companies, being poor in this world’s goods, could not afford a uniform, and often could not procure a gun of any kind. The arms-bearing citizens of the state, however, had been required to turn out for military duty at least one day in the year, and the great variety of dress worn, as well as the imitations of guns used, made them a some-what motley and non-military appearing body of soldiers. Often, there were men in the ranks who trained with only sticks, pitch-forks, hoes, or any other handy implement in the place of guns, and from this originated the title “Flood Wood.” With the advent of a new law, under which the state bore a portion of the expense of equipment, the “Green Mountain Guards” were organized, and became a popular local institution. In their name, many social functions were observed, the memory of which yet remains with some of the older citizens.
In 1858, the officers of this organization were W. W. Cochran, captain; E. P. Cook, 1st lieutenant; Solon Perry, 2d lieutenant. The uniform was of dark blue with scarlet facings, and is said to have been very attractive in appearance.
At the first general muster of what was then known as the “Uniformed Militia of Vermont,” held at Brandon, Wednesday and Thursday, November 1st and 2d, 1858, the Green Mountain Guards mustered “40 muskets,” the largest number of any of the nine companies present. They were accompanied by the Bellows Falls band of seventeen pieces, in showy uniforms of light blue, with high bearskin caps.
The Rockingham Company took part in the muster of the 2d Regiment in 1859, mustering “70 guns,” a much larger number than any other Company present.
On December 31, 1864, Company E, of the 12th Regiment, 3rd Brigade of Vermont Militia, was organized in the law office of J. D. Bridgman, and for two years, during the Civil War, was an acting organization here. Its last appearance was on the occasion of its annual parade and drill, Tuesday, June 9, 1866, and for forty years thereafter, Bellows Falls had no well organized militia company.
In January, 1906, the young men of Bellows Falls became interested in military matters, and there being a vacancy in the one regiment of state militia, application was made for establishment of a Company here, which was granted. Its designation was “Company E of the 1st Regiment Infantry, Vermont National Guard.” The first officers were Captain George H. Thompson, First Lieutenant Dallas F. Pollard, Second Lieutenant John P. Lawrence, and First Sergeant John C. Dennison. From that time, until the present, Bellows Falls has had a Company, always known as “Company E.” The state erected here a well-equipped armory in 1914, and this Company has since been an active factor in the military and social activities of the town.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.