Grafton Historical Society offers special book deal for local schools

“The Grafton Cavaliers” author Thomas E. Fontaine. Photo provided.

REGION – A newly published children’s book by the Grafton Historical Society is being offered at a special discounted price to Vermont and New Hampshire schools this September for use in their classrooms.

“The Grafton Cavaliers” features the adventures and episodes of the New England college boys who formed a cavalry unit to assist the Union Army in the Civil War. It is a historical novel based on actual people, places, and events in 1862.

This will be the second book in a series of historical novels by Kurin Hattin Homes School teacher, Thomas E. Fontaine. Like Fontaine’s first book,  “The Messenger Boy of Grafton, Vermont,” this new book depicts the impact of the Civil War on some of its young college students and village residents.

“The Grafton Cavaliers” is based on the adventures of two real Grafton young men, Samuel B. Pettengill and Wilder Luke Burnap, who volunteered for a cavalry unit in June 1862, for three months. It was to become the Union Army’s only cavalry unit composed of all college students, and thus was known as the “College Cavaliers.” The unit included students from Dartmouth, Amherst, Williams, Union, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Norwich colleges.

In the late spring of 1862, President Lincoln called for 40,000 men to volunteer to defend the city of Washington for three months as the Confederates pushed north toward Maryland. A dedicated young junior at Dartmouth College, Sanford Burr, was inspired to gather as many students as possible to form a volunteer unit of cavalry soldiers for those three months. This unit became Troop B of the 7th Squadron of the Rhode Island Cavalry. Pettengill and Burnap were two of those volunteers.

Samuel Pettengill later in 1880 wrote and published a small book about his tour of duty with the group and his experiences in the Shenandoah Valley fighting. Author Fontaine has taken the information in that book and created a children’s historical novel about those adventures. For its contribution, the Grafton Historical Society provided a number of original photos of the people and places in Grafton.

The book is written for the sixth grade level reader and attempts to relate the early events of the Civil War for a child’s level of understanding. It follows the decision of Sam Pettengill at Middlebury College to join the group along with his friend at Dartmouth, Wilder Burnap. It depicts their journey to Rhode Island and Washington for training, and then their scouting and reconnaissance experiences in the Shenandoah Valley.

The author, Fontaine, has been a teacher for 30 years and currently is teaching at Kurin Hattin Home School in Westminster, Vt. He is an advocate of place-based education. “Students need to understand the importance of their community and learning about the place that they are part of can sometimes be an eye opener,” Fontaine says. He chose to use the historical novel approach for his stories to present the personalities of Sam Pettengill and Wilder Burnap, and young men’s feelings during the war as well as the historical facts and events that surrounded them.

Fontaine’s method in using the historical novel in the classroom can be seen on the Grafton Historical Society website and on Facebook at Messenger Boy of Grafton.

Teachers interested in knowing more about the school discount program which also includes “The Messenger Boy,” should contact the Grafton Historical Society at 802 843 2584 or email

The historical society published this book this year as part of its collection of children’s books including “Daisy and the Doll” and “Alexis’s Primer,” for younger children. “The Grafton Cavaliers” and “The Messenger Boy” are also available to the public for individual purchases.

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