Coffin, Howard 1942-
COFFIN, Howard 1942-
PERSONAL: Born 1942, in Woodstock, VT. Hobbies and other interests: History, particularly U.S. Civil War history.
ADDRESSES: Home—Montpelier, VT. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Countryman Press, P.O. Box 748, Woodstock, VT 05091.
CAREER: Public relations consultant, writer, lecturer, and tour guide. Former press secretary to U.S. Senator James Jeffords; U.S. senate appointee, National Civil War Sites advisory committee; board member, Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites. Rutland Herald, Rutland, VT, reporter; Christian Science Monitor, correspondent; University of Vermont, news director; public information position at Dartmouth College. Military service: Second Armored Division, Vietnam War.
UVM: A Special Place, photography by Sanders Milens, Donning (Virginia Beach, VA), 1990.
Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1993.
Nine Months to Gettysburg: Stannard's Vermonters and the Repulse of Pickett's Charge, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1997.
The Battered Stars: One State's Civil War Ordeal during Grant's Overland Campaign, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 2002.
(With James Jeffords and Yvonne Daley) An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: As a sixth-generation Vermonter with two great grandfathers having served with Vermont regiments during the U.S. Civil War, and having himself served in Vietnam, Howard Coffin's background gives him a solid intellectual and emotional foundation for his historic nonfiction works detailing Vermont's participation in the Civil War. As a committed Civil War historian, Coffin has been highly instrumental in protecting Civil War battlefields from development and was appointed by the U.S. Senate to the National Civil War Sites Advisory Committee. Coffin also lectures and gives tours of historic battlefield sites.
Coffin's interest in the Civil War stems from his childhood. Often, he heard the stories of one of his great grandfathers, Elba Jillson, a Vermont farmer and Union soldier who fought in the Battle at Fair Oaks near Petersburg. However, Coffin didn't see his first Civil War battlefield until 1966 when, as a National Guardsman attending summer camp at Fort A. P. Hill he talked a bunkmate into taking him to the battlefields. He recalled in an interview with Lawrence Beimiller in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "Outside Fredericksburg, in farm country, was this little Salem Church, which still had bullet holes in it. I was hooked. I've been back to the battlefields every year since . . . but I've watched the progression—today Salem Church sits on an acre of ground surrounded by shopping malls. I finally decided I ought to try do to do something. I felt I owed it to the battlefields, and to those who fought there." Having been a political reporter for the Rutland Herald, Coffin had contacts. He called his local representative and, a month later, the Vermont General Assembly introduced—and ultimately passed—a resolution calling on Congress and the president to protect the historic sites.
Coffin's first book, Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War, is firmly based on research and emulates state-oriented Civil War volumes of a century ago. It provides background information on the Vermonters who became part of almost every major battle in the eastern states. While detailing vivid accounts of those battles, Coffin does not fail to include the experiences of those Vermonters who became prisoners of war, nor those at home who were raided by Confederate guerrillas stationed across the Canadian border.
Nine Months to Gettysburg: The Vermonters Who Broke Pickett's Charge is a stirring documentary of the Vermont Second Brigade, which held a key position at Gettysburg and, according to a 1863 New York Times article published soon after the Fourth-of-July battle, "did more than any other body of men to gain the triumph which decided the fate of the Union." These men were "citizen soldiers," young recruits from isolated Vermont farms who answered Lincoln's call in 1862 for 300,000 nine-month volunteers: 32,549 Vermonters answered the call, 5,224 of whom lost their lives as a result. Of the book, Tim Mudgett, writing for New England Quarterly, said: "Coffin has mined a wealth of soldiers' letters at the Vermont Historical Society and the University of Vermont. Since the book is based on quotations from soldiers' letters, the men get a chance to tell their story firsthand, and therefore the reader never loses sight of what war was like for the common soldier."
Again, in The Battered Stars: One State's Civil War Ordeal during Grant's Overland Campaign, Coffin uses first-hand information gleaned from diaries, letters, and family correspondence newly unearthed and never before published to tell the extraordinary story of the unique role played by Vermont troops during General Grant's overland campaign. Of the book, John Carver Edwards wrote in Library Journal, "Coffin . . . weaves together stories of the participating military units, outlines the overall campaign, and gives voice to several hundred personalities on the battlefield and back home." Summarizing the book for Dartmouth Bookstore, a critic commented that it is a "new and unique contribution . . . the story of the home front, taking us behind the lines to dozens of small towns in Vermont to show how the great battles of the Civil War affected the lives of ordinary citizens."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 1993, Roland Green, review of Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War, p. 735.
Chronicle of Higher Education, September 6, 1989, Lawrence Beimiller, "A Vermonter's Civil-War Campaign: Saving Imperiled Battlefields," p. A3.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, p. 1590.
Library Journal, October 1, 1997, Stephen G. Weisner, review of Nine Months to Gettysburg: The Vermonters Who Broke Pickett's Charge, p. 98; April, 2002, John Carver Edwards, review of The Battered Stars: One State's Civil War Ordeal during Grant's Overland Campaign, p. 123.
New England Quarterly, September, 1998, Tim Mudgett, review of Nine Months to Gettysburg, pp. 509-512.
Publishers Weekly, January 13, 2003, review of An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, p. 48.
Dartmouth Bookstore Web site,http://www.dartbook.com/ (May 31, 2002), brief author biography and review of The Battered Stars.*