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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Sixty-fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11, 1934.
Sheltered by a grove of sugar maples, on the summit of a foothill of the Green Mountains and overlooking the town of Hardwick, Vermont, is a cemetery maintained by the township. Near the centre is a grave stone cut from the famous granite of that section of the country. It marks the resting places of Captain John Bridgman, who died in 1857, and his wife Lydia Hall.a His tomb is marked "Settler and Plattsburgh Volunteer." It is good to find this graveyard and to look into the rising waves of stern mountains that, rigid and strong, are steadfast and everlasting. It is good to face the freshness and innocence of the breeze, to follow with the eyes the stream that cuts into the town of Hardwick, and to picture the little "speckled beauties" that rewarded the efforts of little barefooted lads with fresh cut rod and baited pins a generation ago. It is well to picture the determination and strength of those settlers, who eked out a living from the stone cropped hillsides in the few months of summer, and who battled the winter as a dread period of intense cold, p79 with little protection offered by the clapboard houses and open fires. Truly, only the fittest could have survived; and the visitor of today will turn back with reverence to the little graveyard and to those pioneers and ancestors, who passed on their characteristics, bringing up their children with little sense of play, and with a simplicity and ruggedness that belongs to those who have matured in the rigorous world of New England.
The records of the Bridgman family in this country start with a James Bridgman of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1640. He soon moved to Springfield, Massachusetts; and, in 1654 with other pioneers, he pushed up the river and settled the village of Northampton, Massachusetts — the Indian Camp of Nonotuck.
John, the only surviving son of James, was a Freeman in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. His children continued the pioneer life. One was a soldier at Deerfield, Massachusetts, during the French and Indian Wars, when it was captured, and all the Colonists were killed or taken prisoners. John Bridgman "escaped the same day, however, while passing through the meadows, with no injury beyond the loss of a finger cut off by the Indians just for the fun of it." (J. H. Holland's History of Massachusetts.)
Subsequent generations dignify the Bridgman name as freemen and leading citizens of different townships, and always in various expeditions westward from the coast. In the fifth generation is found John Bridgman, a Minute Man in the Revolution, who was called out notably at the burning of Royalton and at Saratoga. He moved to Hardwick, Vermont, from Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1795, and was one of the original seventeen who settled in that town, later bringing his wife and two children in an ox cart. He built a log house that became the town tavern — sign of half-moon and dove — and set out •sixteen acres of apple trees in 1800.
His daughter Ruth was the mother of Dorman Bridgman Eaton, "Assistant Editor of Kent's Commentaries" and chairman of the first United States Civil Service Commission. His son was the Captain John Bridgman buried at Hardwick, the grandfather of Major Victor Bridgman.
Major Bridgman's father graduated at College in the class of 1830 — an honor graduate and Phi Beta Kappa member. He read law and was admitted to the bar. Subsequently, he taught school in Nantucket, Massachusetts, retiring to his farm at Hardwick in 1861. Major Bridgman writes of his father, "He had a joyful disposition, told a good story and made a telling speech. I well remember his telling of turning the grindstone for his father, to sharpen his bayonet, before leading a body of men through the woods to Plattsburgh, during the War of 1812."
It was of such ancestors that Major Bridgman was born at Hardwick, Vermont, on August 14th, 1853. His simple and direct personality can be easily traced to his forebears and to the country in which he was brought up. His early life was spent in the village and on the farm — a strenuous life, but one that allowed occasional trout fishing in the summer. He was strong for his years, and fearless, so that today p80 his wrestling ability is remembered in Hardwick. The evenings were devoted to the few books that could be bought, to help out the short periods of schooling that were possible during the winter. Here his father was a helpful and a constant guide to the youthful efforts. It was not all hard work, for he has told of sledding parties down the steep road from the cemetery, when sometimes it was so cold that the "steel runners would freeze tight in the sharp temperatures of often fifty below zero." The Sunday evening song-fests were a constant joy, for all the Bridgmans loved music; and the neighbors gathered to hear "Flow Gently Sweet Avon", "Jingle Bells", and simple hymns. This custom he carried into his own family; and as his children developed, they learned the gentleness and sweetness of the father, who always, though just, was a strict disciplinarian.
At the age of fifteen, big for his age, he taught school in the neighboring county. A list of the houses where he "boarded around", is still extant. Of course, many of the pupils were older than their teacher, and he tells of the many nights that he worked away, just a lesson ahead of the more advanced, and of the fight he had with the school bully, whom he had to whip to earn the physical respect of the students.
At sixteen, he took a competitive examination for West Point. The result is told in a letter to his brother from the Congressman who took this method of selecting the most suitable cadet.b
"St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
May 13th, 1870.
You have probably heard before this that your brother, Victor, was examined May 3rd and 4th, and came off No. 1. If he keeps on the road he is traveling and doesn't turn aside for wine, women or billiards, or to be a good fellow, he will always come off No. 1.
Benj. H. Steele.
Without peradventure, this advice was followed throughout his life.
At West Point, this "Plebe" was nicknamed "Dox." It seems that in one of the hazing parties there developed a temporary lull in the proceedings and Bridgman turning to the upperclassmen suggested nonchalantly — "Now let's sing the Doxology." During the year he was frequently called on by the "Yearlings" for this "solo" at many an inopportune moment, and the name persisted. While at the Point, he joined the choir and developed a rich baritone voice that, added to his inherited love for music, and his intuitive knowledge of harmony, afforded him pleasure for many years. It encouraged him to learn to accompany himself on the guitar and piano. In spite of three months sick leave in his last summer, he graduated from West Point as a cadet lieutenant and eleventh in his class. This standing allowed him to choose the artillery for his army career.
Among the various posts to which he was assigned were San Antonio and Fort Clark, Texas, on frontier duty; the Artillery School at p81 Fortress Monroe, where he was an honor graduate; and Northampton, Massachusetts, as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the Massachusetts Agricultural College for four years. During this latter period, he studied law in addition to his regular duties and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. Thereupon, he was offered a partnership in the law office of Hammond and Fields — the firm with which President Coolidge was later affiliated. This proposal he declined, because of his feeling of obligation to the government for his education.
In 1886, he reported to battery "H" of the 2nd Coast Artillery, then stationed at Atlanta, Georgia. Here he met and, in September, 1887, married Ida Pickrell — great-niece of Governor Sprigg of Maryland, and sister-in‑law of the captain of his battery — James Eveleth Wilson. It was a rare alliance, that fulfilled for both of them all possible hope for mutual love and respect. True comrades as well as lovers they were, and later her nursing lengthened his life. Four children were born of this union, Eveleth Wilson, Victor Horace Junior, and John: the only daughter, Ruth Vincent, married Surgeon Ford Prioleau of the U. S. Navy and died of influenza in 1919. The two oldest sons, being of age, served as captains in the regular service during the World War, most of the time in France.
At the outbreak of the war with Spain, the then First Lieutenant Bridgman was on duty as recruiting officer at Evansville, Indiana. He was promoted to captain and organized battery "G" of the 6th Field Artillery at Fort Myer, Virginia — one of the first batteries of the U. S. Army to have used smokeless powder. With this organization dismounted, he was sent to the Philippines in the 4th Expedition, where he served for two years and earned the distinction of being brevetted for advanced rank, three times on the field of battle. Twenty years later, he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action during this campaign.
Of his service in the Philippines, Mr. J. I. Billman, National Historian of Veterans of Foreign Wars writes, "However, it was in the Philippines that he (Major Bridgman) became famous. He was in charge of a Field Battery which was sent to the out-lying hill country, not far from Iloilo. With no means of transporting horses to the Islands, Major Bridgman found himself without motive power. He corralled some of the native trotting bulls, trained them to follow bugle calls and to take the place of horses. For many months, in the most severe field work against the enemy, this battery did heroic work. After years of brilliant service, Major Bridgman was retired for physical disability July 31st, 1903. One of the outstanding Posts of our organization (Veterans of Foreign Wars) — the Victor H. Bridgman Post No. 44, Brooklyn, N. Y., was named for him by special dispensation from the Commander-in‑Chief. (Our laws provide that no Post be named after any living person, except for outstanding reasons, and then only by special dispensation.) The Post was organized in June, 1910.
A British Attaché wrote glowing accounts of the "almost unbelievable deeds of valor performed by 'Bridgman's Bull Battery'," p82 which, doubtless, became the most famous military organization of the Philippine Campaign, both in the Islands and abroad.
The following affidavit to the Adjutant General, United States Army, from Colonel Bryan Conrad, Commandant of the Shenandoah Valley Academy, at Winchester, Virginia, is added.
"May 19, 1922.
"I hereby certify to the following facts and circumstances:
That on November 21st, 1899, I was present in command of Company 'A', 18th Infantry. That during the early morning my company acted as support in the advance-guard for a column of United States troops, advancing along the Jaro‑Pavia Road, Panay Island, P. I.
That the road was a raised cause-way •about eighteen feet wide with heavy, live, bamboo, native fencing on either side.
That it ran due north for •about a mile out of Jaro thence turned sharply to the eastward.
That when the point of the column was about two hundred yards from this turn, rifle fire and what appeared to be the discharge of several small field pieces, opened up in our immediate front.
That the advance of the advance-guard was checked, and that during this halt, General Carpenter (then Colonel) and Colonel Dahl Evans (then Captain and Adjutant, 18th Inf.) came up to where my company was, and after an examination of the conditions, sent to the rear for the Artillery to come up.
That in a few moments I saw Major (then Captain) Victor H. Bridgman accompanied by a small detachment coming up the road at a gallop.
That Bridgman came up to where we were and without dismounting, got out his field glasses and made an examination of the front.
That he sent back for a platoon of his Battery (Light Battery 'G', 6th Field Artillery).
That the conduct of Bridgman, both as to the manner of his approach up the fire swept road, and as to his calm, collected manner in taking his observations, had a most powerful effect on all present. That this platoon went into action in the road, point blank range. That to the best of my recollection and belief Bridgman did not dismount until his guns came up. That the last I saw of him he was standing in the road, watching the action as if on drill.
That about two o'clock the same day, we having advanced some miles, and gotten out into the open rice fields, I again saw Bridgman bringing one of his guns up as close to the firing line as the twists of the road would permit, and again go into action.
That the officers and men of the Infantry fully realized the character of the assistance Bridgman had personally rendered during the day, was shown late that afternoon on the Plaza of Pavia; for when the word was passed that the Battery was coming into camp, officers and men crowded along the approach to greet him, and for the only time in my service, I heard Regulars cheer.
p83 That it is my firm conviction that the services rendered by Major (then Captain Bat. 'G', 6th Field Art.) Victor H. Bridgman wasº above and beyond any normal call of duty."
Many of his men came frequently to see the "Old Man", after he was retired. They brought a respect and devotion that was a glowing tribute of his relationship to his men. One of them told of the time that "the battery crossing a stream, suddenly found itself under enemy gunfire, and helpless. Immediately, 'Bull' Bridgman, took command of the situation by such a resounding, verbal attack on a driver, who was not holding his reins correctly, that the bullets were forgotten until the battery had crossed and could take up position." This, the disciplinarian, who gave up smoking as an example to his sons!
When he returned from his two years tour in the Philippines, he was a worn and broken man. Instead of the high-colored, 210 pound man, in superb physical condition who had left, his family greeted the devastations of malaria, boils, and dengue fever — 154 pounds, feeble, with greatly impaired eyesight. For awhile, after retiring from the Army, he lived in the country near Baltimore, that his children might have educational facilities. But after they had grown, he moved to an apartment at the Marlborough, in Baltimore, where it was pathetic to watch his dwindling strength, as he endeavored to maintain his military bearing in the shorter and shorter daily walks with his wife.
He died at the Marine Hospital at Baltimore, and was buried in the family vault in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore.
E. W. B.
b According to the official online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, no Benjamin Steele has ever served in Congress. From the same site, we learn that in 1871 when Victor Bridgman was appointed a Cadet, the Senators from Vermont were George Franklin Edmunds and Justin Smith Morrill; and the Congressmen were Luke Potter Poland, Worthington Curtis Smith, and Charles Wesley Willard.
Yet Benjamin Hinman Steele (see his biography at VermontCivilWar.Org) is clearly the person meant here: in 1871, he was a member of the State Board of Education, and could very well have had some influence in the appointment of Cadets. He did run for Congress, but only the following year, after Bridgman was already ensconced at West Point — and he was not elected.
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