Biographical / Historical
Native Vermonter Aldace Freeman Walker, valedictorian of the Middlebury College Class of 1862, gave his commencement speech in the uniform of a First Lieutenant, U.S. Volunteers, and promptly set off for war. After nearly a month of initial training in Brattleboro, VT, Walker’s regiment, the Eleventh Vermont Volunteer Infantry, arrived in Washington, D.C., in early September 1862. For the next twenty months Walker and his regiment occupied the forts in the northeastern quadrant of the Defenses of Washington, drilling, socializing and fretting that the war might pass them by.
But in mid-May, 1864, as Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac began the bloody Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee’s Amy of Northern Virginia, the Vermont “Heavies,” as they came to be known, were called up to active campaigning, joined the famous “Old Vermont Brigade” in the Sixth Corps, and participated in every battle of that famed unit from Spotsylvania until the end of the war, including a return to the defenses of Washington to stop Jubal Early’s mid-summer attack on the capital, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign under Sheridan, the Petersburg Campaign, and finally an abortive thrust south after the fall of Richmond to stop Johnston.
Walker’s 288 letters to his parents and younger sister are regular, often long, and always lucid and opinionated. Historian Benjamin Franklin Cooling III, who has written extensively on the defenses of Washington during the Civil War, contends there is “no better account of the ‘life and times’ of junior officers in the wartime defenses of Washington” than Walker’s letters home.
Walker celebrated three birthdays in the service, and his military experiences provided a solid transition for his future career as a lawyer, state representative, an active participant in veteran organizations, one of the first three commissioners of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and eventually Chairman of the Board of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. He died in 1901.