Not much was found about Almira Elizabeth Ferris. She was born April 5, 1816, the seventh of nine children born to Jonathan Ferris and Ursula Catlin Ferris of Swanton, Vermont. Her father’s estate was large, including several marble quarries, suggesting she had a comfortable upbringing, but no information was found about her education or how she might have met Washburn. Almira was 23 when married. The Washburns had a son, Ferris Thatcher, born in 1842 and daughter, Emma May, born in 1846. The marriage was tragic in the sense that Almira died at age 31, not living to see either of her children’s early deaths, Emma at age 6 and Ferris at age 18 while a Dartmouth student. Peter, with two children, then married Almira P. Hopkins of Glens Falls, New York in 1849. They had four children, three of whom lived to maturity and with their mother survived the death of Peter in 1870. Again, no solid information was found about Miss Hopkins education and early life.
Contrary to the paucity of information about his wives, information abounds on Mr., become General, become Governor Washburn. He was the first of five children born to Judge Reuben and Hanna B. Thatcher Washburn on September 7, 1816 in Lynn Massachusetts. The family moved to Chester, then Cavendish, and in 1825 to Ludlow, Vermont. Peter attended Black River Academy and graduated from Dartmouth in 1835. He studied law with his father and was admitted to the bar in 1838, then practiced in Ludlow until his family removed in 1844 to Woodstock, the legal hub of Windsor County. He there established as law firm with Charles P. Marsh, which continued until Peter’s death. Upon arrival in Woodstock he was also elected Reporter of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Vermont, a post he held for eight years. He was the Representative from Woodstock to the Vermont Legislature for two years, and he headed the Vermont Republican Delegation to the 1860 Convention in Chicago that nominated Abraham Lincoln.
This being sesquicentennial of the War of the Rebellion, as it was officially known, detail is given on Peter T. Washburn’s participation in the conflict. When war broke out in 1861, he was one of the first to respond to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers for three months service. Already being colonel of the Woodstock Light Infantry, a state militia unit, he persuaded them to volunteer en mass. They became Company C of the First Regiment of Vermont Volunteers. He was commissioned regimental lieutenant colonel. Companies from Cavendish and Swanton also joined the First Vermont. The regiment was sent to Fort Monroe and Newport News, Virginia. June 10, 1861, Lt. Colonel Washburn left Newport News with five companies of the First Vermont and five companies of the Fourth Massachusetts for action in the first battle of the war, Big Bethel, Virginia. The expedition failed, but Washburn’s troops were the only ones to make a formidable assault across open space and water against entrenched enemy positions. When other units did not follow his advance, he withdrew only when ordered to do so. His men retreated in a slow and organized manner. The official record of the action said that Washburn “distinguished himself for coolness and bravery.” When the three month enlistment was up, the First Vermont returned home, though many individuals reenlisted for three years.
Upon returning to Woodstock, Peter learned he had been elected Adjutant and Inspector General for Vermont, a post carrying the rank of brigadier general, to which he was reelected during each year of the war. During General Washburn’s term of office he recruited, provisioned, trained and sent to the field twelve regiments of infantry, the Vermont Sixth through the Seventeenth, the First Vermont Calvary, three batteries of light artillery, and two companies of sharpshooters. He was involved in all aspects of these troops’ welfare, including providing hospitals in Vermont as well as in the field. A large part of his effort was in keeping detailed and accurate accounts of these men. By the end of the war his office had compiled 300 bound volumes of reports and accounts. In the end, his office reported only 75 men unaccounted for from the 34,234 men Vermont provided to the war effort. For his ardent work in all these ways, he won the unquestioned respect and gratitude of the state’s soldiers, sailors, and entire population.
He was also highly respected among the Adjutants General of the other Union states. During the dark winter of 1863 when the war was not going well and there was great dissatisfaction among the loyal states about the manner of Washington’s conduct of drafts and quotas, Gen. Washburn chaired a committee of a convention of adjutants in Columbus, Ohio that drafted a memorial address to Secretary of War Stanton pointing out problems and means of avoiding them. The convention adopted the address, sent it to Sec. Stanton, and received his acknowledgment and thanks. The suggestions were enacted and complaints diminished.
Vermonters viewed Gen. Washburn as a war hero. The Republican Party nominated him for governor in 1869. His tally in the election was 31,834 to his opponent’s 11,455. As Governor, he kept up his unrelenting pace, including work on digests of Supreme Court decisions in addition to the normal work of governor. He was by this time also President of the Woodstock Railroad Co., Director of the Rutland and Woodstock Railroad, and a Trustee of the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College. Gov. Washburn died at his home at 4:00 a.m. on February 7, 1870. He has simply worked himself into a complete nervous breakdown.
The relationship of the Ludlow Washburn family to the Ludlow Congregational Church (now United Church) goes far beyond a marriage officiated by its minister in 1839. While Peter and Almira Washburn were never church members, his parents Reuben and Hanna were dedicated and stalwart members. Peter was raised from age eleven in that family-church relationship. His younger sister, Sarah, married Daniel Heald, an attorney practicing in Ludlow. Both became deeply engaged in the church. Later, when Daniel as president of a New York insurance company essentially developed and then marketed the new concept of “fire insurance” and Sarah had become an accomplished artist and children’s author, they remembered their little Ludlow church as it was working to build its third (current) building. In 1892, the Healds donated the church land adjacent to the Washburn Main Street home, the architectural plans, the central stained glass window (honoring Hanna and Reuben), and the porte- cochere (now enclosed as the office). Sarah also donated and personally decorated and furnished the Ladies Parlor. The United Church of Ludlow is honored to be connected with Peter T. Washburn’s life and marriage and through it to so much wider Vermont history during the nation’s most important period of testing whether, as Lincoln spoke, it could “long endure.”