Robert G. Poirier is a proud 1966 graduate of Norwich University, the Military College of Vermont, located on "The Hill" in Northfield, Vermont. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Poirier?s previous work include Red Army Order of Battle (Presidio Press, 1985) and numerous articles, one a study of the contributions by Norwich graduates to the Union victory at the battle of Gettysburg.
In By the Blood of Our Alumni, Poirier repudiates the misguided historical record that rarely mentions the alumni of the nation's other military academy - Norwich University. Asserting correctly that the contributions rendered by Norwich men in the Civil War are undervalued and under reported, little understood? (p. iv.), he strives to revive the neglected historical record to reclaim for Norwich her rightful place, alongside the United States Military Academy, the Virginia Military Institute, and The Citadel, in the historical legacy of service to America.
By the Blood of Our Alumni is the first comprehensive narrative history on the Civil War roles of Norwich University graduates. Poirier drew upon previously written accounts of Norwich to build his database of graduates and their service records. The "Civil War Honor Roll of 1865" contained in the University Reveille, vol. 6, no. 1, April 1865, provided a treasure trove of information. Other valuable sources were William A. Ellis?s History of Norwich University: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor (Claremont, N.H., 1898) and Robert O. Gwinn?s The History of Norwich University, 1912-1965 (Northfield, VT., 1965). However, the mere "scant mention" (p.iv.) by Howard Coffin of the participation of Norwich graduates in his Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War (Woodstock, VT., 1993) provided the final impetus to Poirier to correct "an important and largely forgotten aspect of the War of the Rebellion." (p. iv.).
Founded in 1819, Vermont's Norwich turned out hundreds of officers and soldiers who served with the Federal armies in the Civil War, including four winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor. One graduate led a corps, seven more headed divisions, 21 commanded brigades, 38 led regiments, and various alumni served in 131 different regimental organizations. In addition, these men were eyewitnesses to some of the war's most dramatic events, including the bloodiest day of the conflict at Antietam, the attack up Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, and the repulse of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Seven hundred and fifty Norwich men served in the Civil War, of whom sixty fought for the Confederacy.
This reviewer's motivation in reading By the Blood of Our Alumni was to determine whether one particularly effective artillery battery commander, James A. Hall of Maine, was trained at Norwich. Unfortunately, in the Hall case, insufficient evidence prohibits a definitive answer. Poirier explains in great detail this particular research dilemma in a three-page appendix.
To the benefit of the reader and researcher, Poirier cites the unfortunate gaps in Norwich records as the greatest problem in his research. A fire in 1866 damaged and destroyed many of the cadet records. In many cases, the fact that an individual had attended Norwich was completely lost. For example, evidence indicates that both Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry of Fort Fisher fame and the James A. Hall of the 2nd Maine Battery were Norwich men. Despite extensive efforts, in the end, Poirier honestly admits that he could neither confirm nor deny their Norwich connection and had to downplay their role, perhaps unjustly. Poirier correctly errs on the side of caution and conservatism in including soldiers in his database of Norwich Civil War heroes.
The training offered by the Norwich program of special military courses qualified civilians for commissions, as well as upgraded to skills of officers who had already volunteered. In addition to infantry training, the University cadets drilled with two six-pounder smoothbore howitzers issued to Norwich in 1853 by the state of Vermont.
Behind every great battlefield commander lies the solid backing of effective training.
Poirier's work succeeds in promoting the once neglected role and influence of Norwich University as significant in the Union's Army of the Potomac in the eastern theater of the American Civil War, while sustaining the proud tradition of citizen-soldiery.
One is immediately impressed with the great deal of research and analysis this work exudes. By the Blood of Our Alumni is exhaustively researched and fully documented. This work contains thirty relevant photographs, two well-executed maps, full index, and eight data- and statistics-laden appendices substantiating Poirier's theses. One appendix offers a comparative analysis of casualties and cross-referenced listing of alumni. Indeed, reading and studying this book offers an educational insight into honest and up-front research techniques.
Poirier's detailed account of Norwich University?s role in the Civil War has successfully validated the prophetic pronouncement of an anonymous cadet in 1863 that "every field of battle during the present war has been moistened by the blood of our alumni." (p. 281.)