Remembering Charles Phelps on Memorial Day

On Saturday, my wife and I went hiking in the Joe English Reservation in Amherst, NH (which I highly recommend) and, afterwards, on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a look at Amherst Village. As we drove around, we saw an old cemetery where Courthouse Road joins Main Street. I recalled that a number of men from Amherst had fought in the 5th New Hampshire, and I hoped to see some of their tombstones. We got out and looked around, but it didn’t take long to realize that this cemetery was too old. Most of the headstones were those tall, thin, rectangular slabs one associates with late 18th and early 19th centuries.

To make a long story short, when I got home, I looked up some of the men from Amherst I was thinking of and realized they were buried in Meadow View Cemetery which was fairly close to where we’d been. And it was then that I decided that I’d visit Charles Phelps’s grave the next day—Memorial Day.

I often see memes on Facebook at this time of year declaring that we should “never forget” Americans who died in the armed services. What exactly we should never forget about them is not always clearly articulated. Part of the reason is that Facebook favors brevity. Another reasons is laziness; “never forget” is a throwaway phrase that doesn’t require much intellectual effort. What exactly are we supposed to avoid forgetting? People sometimes mention words like “sacrifice,” “nation,” and “freedom” without explaining their significance. That brings us to yet another reason why people stick to the simple “never forget.” A thorough explanation of the relationship between sacrifice, nation, and freedom is political. And unless one lives in a total social media echo chamber, a meaningful discussion of these terms is bound to cause heated debate. So people keep it vague, simple, bland—and also meaningless. And as they apply these words to all American servicemen who ever died, they reduce the dead to a gigantic abstraction.

That’s why I’d like to talk about somebody real like Charles Phelps, a young man who fought and died for a good cause in America’s greatest and costliest conflict. I can think of nothing and nobody more pertinent to Memorial Day which was created specifically to remember those Northerners who died in the Civil War.

Charles H. Phelps was born in Amherst, NH, in 1842. His parents, Horace and Betsey (née Ober), were people of moderate means whose families had been long resident in the town.[i] The Census of 1860 reveals that Horace Phelps (51) was a farmer with $1600 in real estate and $300 in his personal estate. The rest of the household consisted of Betsey (47), her widowed mother Sally (78), her spinster sister Martha (37) who worked as a teacher, Sophia E. Phelps (22) (also a teacher), Frank Phelps (10), and Charles Phelps (18) who was a “Painter’s Apprentice.”[ii] One obtains the impression from these facts of a sober, well-educated family that was neither rich nor poor.

Charles H. Phelps

On April 22 or 23, 1861 (accounts vary), with Barnabus B. David in the chair, Amherst held a town meeting in response to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion (the call had been issued a week before in response to the bombardment of Fort Sumter). Patriotic speeches were given, and a Finance Committee appointed “to secure and disburse contributions for the support of the families of those who volunteered to fight the battles of the country.” In addition, the committee “voted to raise the pay of the volunteers from Amherst to eighteen dollars per month, and furnish each one with a Colt’s revolver.” Fourteen men came forward to offer their services, including young Charles H. Phelps who spent the next three months in the Milford Volunteers.[iii]

“Our First Volunteers”: An image of 11 of the 14 men from Amherst who volunteered for service in April 1861. Phelps is seated second from right in the front row. From the frontispiece of Edward D. Boylston, Amherst in the Great Civil Conflict of 1861-1865 (Amherst, NH: E. D. Boylston, 1893). 

An image of 11 of the original 14 volunteers was taken at the time. The men, most of whom were young, appear jaunty and proud. Would they have been so cheerful had they know what lay before them? Of the 14 , six later went on to serve in the 5th New Hampshire: James B. David, George W. George, Daniel A. Peabody, George W. Russell, George Vose, and Phelps. It is instructive to learn what became of them.

  • David was a hapless 1st Lieutenant discharged for incompetence in February 1862 after a lamentable performance before a brigade board of review (more on that in a later post). In 1863, he found a captaincy in the 7th Iowa Cavalry which was organized to fight Native Americans in the Dakota Territory. Although he was appointed major of the regiment, controversy dogged him even here; he received a dishonorable discharge in May 1866 before wrangling an honorable one a couple of months later.
  • George was mustered in as a 1st Sergeant and appointed 2nd Lieutenant in August 1862. His career as a commissioned officer lasted but a short time; he lost his leg at Antietam.
  • Peabody was mustered in as a Corporal but obtained a disabled discharge in October 1862.
  • Russell was mustered in as a private but was promoted to Sergeant in October 1862 and then 1st Sergeant after he re-enlisted in February 1864. He was killed in action during fighting outside of Petersburg in June 1864.
  • Vose was mustered in as a Corporal and was wounded at Antietam and Fredericksburg before obtaining a promotion to Sergeant and then 2nd Lieutenant in October 1863. He was mustered out in October 1864 after completing his three years of service.

In other words, war would mean hardship and suffering for these men.

Discharged at the end of his three-months’ service in mid-July, Phelps must have spent a couple of months kicking around Amherst before enlisting in a company of the 5th New Hampshire that his neighbor, Charles Hapgood, was beginning to recruit and would eventually lead as captain.

As you can see from the enlistment form (signed by Hapgood), Phelps was 19 and described himself as a carpenter by occupation. We shouldn’t be surprised that this occupation doesn’t jibe with the one he gave on the census the year before; farmer’s sons often worked at different jobs to earn money for their families. Phelps was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. At 5’ 8 ¾”, he was just above average height. Perhaps because of his experience with the Milford Volunteers, Phelps was mustered in as a sergeant.

Phelps’s war was eventful. He fought in all the major actions of the 5th New Hampshire from the Peninsula campaign to Gettysburg. Eventually, he was wounded in the side at Fredericksburg and spent four months in the hospital recovering before rejoining the regiment in time for Chancellorsville. It is for his actions at Gettysburg that Phelps is remembered.

By the time of this battle, Hapgood was now the regiment’s commander, and Colonel Edward Cross (the regiment’s original leader) headed the brigade to which the 5th New Hampshire belonged. On July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle, as part of John C. Caldwell’s division, the regiment was rushed to the southern part of the battlefield to halt Longstreet’s massive assault that threatened to crumple the Army of the Potomac’s left flank. While Cross’s brigade headed into the Wheatfield, the 5th New Hampshire and three companies of the 148th Pennsylvania advanced into the Rose Woods to cover the brigade’s left flank. With the brigade coming under fire from the Confederates who sat behind a stone wall at the southern end of the Wheatfield, Cross decided to launch an attack to clear them out. By this point, the 5th New Hampshire had encountered the 1st Texas and 15th Georgia which had advanced from Devil’s Den into the southern part of the woods. The Confederates, who were only a “stone’s throw” away, started taking potshots at their foes. As he walked toward Hapgood to explain that the brigade would soon be attacking, Cross was struck by a bullet in the stomach; a Confederate sharpshooter behind a boulder only 50 yards away had found his mark. Cross was knocked to the ground, and experienced soldier that he was, Hapgood must have realized the wound was mortal. He ordered several soldiers to carry Cross to an ambulance at the edge of the Wheatfield. Hapgood then turned to Phelps, his neighbor and a member of his old company, and ordered the young sergeant to kill the sharpshooter. When the Confederate next poked his head from behind the boulder, Phelps was ready and shot him.

Cross’s planned attack never occurred; by the time Boyd McKeen, the senior colonel in the brigade, found out that Cross was incapacitated, the Federals had taken heavy losses and were in no position to charge the Confederates before them. Cross’s brigade withdrew just as Caldwell threw Colonel John Brooke’s brigade forward in an attempt to dislodge the Confederates from the southern edge of the Wheatfield. The 5th New Hampshire and the three companies of the 148th Pennsylvania were not withdrawn because they were needed to protect the left flank of Brooke’s assault. As the 5th New Hampshire kept abreast of it to the east, Brooke’s brigade moved quickly through the Wheatfield and almost pushed the Confederates entirely out of the woods beyond. The attack was a victim of its own dramatic success. The brigade, along with the 5th New Hampshire, had advanced so far to the southwest that they were outflanked to the east. And when Daniel Sickles’ III Corps collapsed in the Peach Orchard to the northwest, Brooke’s position—indeed, that of Caldwell’s entire division—became untenable. Caldwell’s command—first slowly, and then with greater and greater rapidity—began falling to pieces. His soldiers started withdrawing pell-mell to avoid envelopment. A number of men in the 5th New Hampshire because casualties as they sought to extricate themselves from the disaster. One of them was Charles Phelps who was shot in the back and mortally wounded.[iv] I can only assume that some of his friends brought him off the battlefield and got him to a field hospital; the bodies of those in the 5th New Hampshire who were killed outright in the Rose Woods were buried on the spot and never sent home. Phelps died on July 4, 1863; he was 21.

Somebody in Amherst, probably his father, made arrangements to have Phelps’s body embalmed and shipped back home. Embalmers did a roaring business during the Civil War, and this practice was quite common. Phelps was buried on July 23, 1863 in what is now referred to in Amherst as the Meadow View Cemetery but was then called the West Cemetery. According to the Farmer’s Cabinet, the local newspaper, which gave a full report of the proceedings, Phelps’s service was a big event:

The remains of Sergt. Charles H. Phelps, who fell in the battle of Gettysburg, July 3d, were interred in this place, on Thursday last [July 23, 1863], with military honors. The Milford Band were in attendance, and a detail of the Nashua Cadets did escort duty on the occasion. The Lawrence Engine Co. of which the deceased was a member were present, in uniform, and also four members of his own regimental Company. The exercises at the Congregational Church were of very impressive character, consisting of Chant; Reading of Scriptures, Quartette, “Bear them home tenderly”; Address by Rev. J. G. Davis; Prayer by Rev. Wm. Clark; and appropriate closing hymn.

The church was appropriately drapped [sic], and the galleries displayed the names of those whom Amherst has given up as sacrifices to her country’s cause—viz: SAWTELLE, HOLT, OBER, PARKHURST, SLOAN, VOSE, McCLURE, MACE, GUTTERSON, JOHNSON, DAMON, and PHELPS.

The exercises throughout were of the most impressive character, and the remains were followed to the grave by a larger numbers [sic] of true mourners than we have every witnessed at a burial here—an honor that all felt was due to the deceased alike for his devoted patriotism, and as a representative of these devoted and worth young men who have fallen in their country’s service.[v]

In December, the same newspaper reported on the erection of Phelps’s headstone:

A beautiful tablet, from the manufactory of David Nichols [in] Lowell, [MA,] has been recently erected in our burying ground by Mr. Horace Phelps, over the grave and to the memory of his son, Sergeant Charles H. Phelps, Co. I, 5th N. H. V. It is of Italian marble, bearing at its head as a motto, the expressive words uttered by the pastor at his funeral, ‘A young man but an old soldier’, an allusion to the number of battles in which he had engaged. Beneath it and above the inscription is a figure of a soldier in uniform. On the sides of the tablet are the names of eleven battle in which the deceased participated, as follows: Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Savage’s Station, Peach Orchard, White Oak Swamp, Charles City, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The deceased received his death wound in the last named battle. His parents have reason to be proud of their dead son, who has left them in inestimable legacy in the record of his brief life and briefer services in the defence of his country.[vi]

When I walked through the cemetery on Memorial Day, Phelps’s memorial was easy to spot. It was whiter than just about every other stone, and it sat alongside the main path through the cemetery. It looks like the stone was broken in half at some point and repaired (see the two bolts in the center).

At the top of the memorial is the quote from Reverend J. G. Davis’s address that I have always found touching when I contemplate Phelps’s photograph.

Below is a small soldier in bas relief with chevrons on his sleeves that represents the young sergeant himself.

On either side of the main inscription are written the battles in which Phelps fought. To the right of the stone was a flag, and to the left was a GAR marker that looked brand new.

The headstone is an impressive testimony to Phelps, and his sacrifice was not soon forgotten among his neighbors. When Amherst obtained a Grand Army of the Republic post in 1879, it was named after Phelps.

Reading about Phelps makes one realize that our wars have been waged by fragile human beings who carry the memories of their highs and lows as they expose themselves to lead and iron. I think about how much Phelps must have been loved by his parents and neighbors. I think about how elated he would have felt in the heady days of April 1861 when Amherst, like the rest of the North, was effervescent with excitement and patriotism. I think about how his letters to his older sister Sophia reveal the extent of his homesickness during the war.[vii] I think about the good cause for which he was ready to sacrifice himself in 1863: a restoration of the Union based on extending the promise of 1776 to all men. I think about the steadiness and concentration required to pick off that Confederate sharpshooter. I think about that terrible moment when he and his comrades realized their position in the Rose Woods had been outflanked. I think about how he was surrounded by pain and agony on an enormous scale as he himself suffered for two days—knowing full well the entire time that he was going to die. Most of all, I think about his youth and how much of his life was unlived. It is concrete things like these that we ought to remember on Memorial Day.


[i] Daniel F. Secomb, History of the Town of Amherst (Concord, NH: Evans, Sleeper & Woodbury, 1883), 711, 728-729.

[ii] “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WJ-T1Y : 14 December 2017), Charles Phelps in entry for Horace Phelps, 1860.

[iii] Secomb, 415.

[iv] Mike Pride and Mark Travis, My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), 239-241.

[v] Farmer’s Cabinet, July 30, 1862, 2.

[vi] Farmer’s Cabinet, December 10, 1863, 2.

[vii] These letters are part of the Mike Pride Civil War Collection at the New Hampshire Historical Society, Accession Number 2015.001.

How Old Were the “400” When They Enlisted in the 5th New Hampshire?

How old were the volunteers who signed up for the 5th New Hampshire? As this image of an unidentified solider in the regiment indicates, many were extremely young. One imagines that this young man—or boy, rather—had his image taken shortly before the regiment left for Washington, DC, in late October 1861. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

In today’s post, I’ll discuss how old the members of the “400” in the 5th New Hampshire were when they enlisted. Keep in mind that the data are not exact and that they pertain to men who survived the war. As I have mentioned earlier, there are many limitations in my source material. For one thing, much of the information I gathered in various documents was self-reported, and throughout their lives, men lied frequently about their age for various reasons. For another, I often do not have birthdates for these men; most of my information has come from census records which recorded how old subjects were on a given date. That can lead to some uncertainty. For example, if a man said he was 20 in the 1860 Census, that means he could have been born in either 1839 or 1840.

Only men between the ages of 18 and 44 were eligible to volunteer, so anybody younger or older than that range who wanted to join up had plenty of reasons to lie. Even men within this range lied for many reasons. I tended to mistrust enlistment papers. Instead, I looked at census records to establish true ages because folks had less incentive to give false information on these forms. Nonetheless, I’m positive I did not catch everybody who gave a false age. In some cases, a dearth of information compelled me to accept the age on the enlistment forms.

The graph below represents what I found.

If you want an exact breakdown by age, I’ve reproduced it in the tables below.

Age 15 16 17 18 19 TOTAL
Number 3 15 24 32 38 112

 

Age 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 TOTAL
Number 29 25 20 28 16 16 16 16 9 12 187

 

Age 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 TOTAL
Number 11 6 7 8 5 6 10 6 3 5 67

 

Age 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 TOTAL
Number 5 1 4 2 2 3 3 4 3 1 28

 

Age 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 TOTAL
Number 1 1 1 3 0 2 1 9

What I can say about this topic will be somewhat limited because age does not reveal much unless it’s combined with others variables. In later posts, then, I will have occasion to bring up the way age intersects with various topics. For now, it suffices to point out that the average age upon enlistment of men in this pool (remember, these were men who survived the war) was 25.8. The median age was 23 (meaning half the regiment was 23 or younger).

Of the 403 men in the sample, 42 (10.4%) were 17 years old or younger (underaged). Another 23 (5.7%) were over the age of 44 (that is, too old to enlist). In other words, about one-sixth of the regiment was not legally eligible to volunteer. If I had to guess, I’d say that the number of underaged men (or boys) was even higher; I’m sure I didn’t catch all the youngsters (a number of whom were abetted by their parents) who added a couple of years to their age to make themselves 18.

Nonetheless, the figures I have indicate that the regiment consisted mainly of young men; just under three quarters of the regiment was 29 or under. The reason that the average age was on the high side is because of the long “tail” of men in their 40s and 50s.

Several things follow from the fact that so many men were young. Most were unmarried. Of the 242 for whom I have a date of first marriage, only 98 (40%) were married in 1861 or earlier. Not surprisingly, according to the Census of 1860, over 60% of the sample was living in the households of parents, an uncle, or an older male employer. According to records from the Census of 1860, the vast majority of the young men in this sample possessed only small amounts of money or property of their own (as opposed to what belonged to, say, their fathers).

The graph indicates that enlistment fell off as men reached their mid-20s. I think these figures indicate that married men were much less inclined to volunteer than others (the average age of marriage during this period hovered around the early to mid-20s).

Augustus J. Hoyt (or Hoitt) (1845-1920) is the youngest soldier in the “400” for whom I have a photo. Hoyt was born in Northwood, NH, the son of a cordwainer. In the fall of 1861, he found his way to Concord, NH, and enlisted in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire. He re-enlisted on January 1, 1864 and was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor (June 3, 1864). In October 1864, he was promoted to Captain of Company I. The Revised Register neglects to mention that somewhere along the way between private and captain, Hoyt was a sergeant—which is the rank he holds in this image (a promotion straight from private to captain would have been unlikely). Whatever the case, Hoyt was lucky; he made it to the end of the war in one piece and mustered out in June 1865. After the war, Hoyt moved to Lynn, MA (then on its way to becoming the shoe capital of America), and held a position as foreman in a shoe factory. He later worked, interestingly enough, as a pension agent and eventually moved into real estate. I have seen claims that he was city marshal and post master in Lynn, as well as the commander of the local GAR post (I haven’t been able to substantiate these claims yet). His death certificate declares that he died at Weirs Beach in Laconia, NH, even though his residence was still Lynn, MA. This last fact leads me to wonder if he died at the New Hampshire Veterans’ Association’s complex while vacationing there. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Just for fun, I thought I’d compare the smooth chins against the grey beards in a variety of categories. All of the overaged men were discharged disabled with two exceptions—one man deserted and another transferred to another unit (the Invalid Corps, not surprisingly). Among the underaged men (n=42), only 16 were discharged disabled. What is truly impressive is that 15 of these young men were mustered out. Ten of these men left at the conclusion of their three-year term and another five, who had re-enlisted in 1864, lasted until war’s end. Another three were discharged disabled after 43 months of service (that is, they left the regiment just one month shy of the war’s end). That record is a true mark of endurance; only a small proportion of men in the 5th New Hampshire lasted that long in the ranks.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the average length of service for the old men was shorter (11 months) than it was for the young ones (25.5 months). Such was the resilience of youth.

Interestingly enough, the older men tended to be wounded with less frequency: only 26%. Among the younger group, the figure was a great deal higher: 44%. This discrepancy might have to do with the fact that the younger men, on average, served for a much longer period of time. The average for the pool as a whole was 39% (and the average length of service was 19.5 months).

There is one category, however, where the overaged had the underaged beat: lifespan. The old men, on average, lived to be 69.8 years old. The young died at 63.4. I have entertained all sorts of theories about why that was, but I don’t want to try my readers’ patience, so I will leave well enough alone.

All I will add is that I remember years ago reading accounts of anxious underaged teenagers enlisting in volunteer regiments at the beginning of the war. There was always “a nod and a wink” air about these vignettes in which the worldly wise recruiter who knew the score guided an awkward hobbledehoy toward the “correct” responses during the enlistment process. When I think about how these recruiters helped throw boys into the carnage at Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor, it makes me feel a bit queasy. It also distresses me that parents  sometimes lied to recruiters to get their children into the army.

Maybe these adults—recruiters and parents alike—would have acted differently if they’d known what was in store for the 5th New Hampshire. Maybe they were wicked or callous people. Maybe they were driven by difficult circumstances or inspired by motives that we cannot fully grasp from the perspective of our own time. Maybe—and this is quite possible—their notions concerning childhood and adulthood were quite different from ours.

Another very young recruit from the 5th New Hampshire poses for the camera. Like the image at the top of the post, this photograph must have been taken very early in the war, possibly before the regiment left New Hampshire. This boy wears the Whipple hat that was the original (and unpopular) headgear of the regiment. One wonders what book he holds in his hand. One also wonders if he understood what soldiering would really be like. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

How Was the 5th New Hampshire Recruited and Officered?

As I’ve researched the 5th New Hampshire, one question has bothered me for quite some time: how exactly was the regiment raised and officered in 1861? And what might the way in which officers were chosen tell us about Colonel Edward E. Cross’s relationship with his company commanders?

To my knowledge, nobody has written a dedicated work on the raising of the Federal armies in 1861. In all likelihood, that’s probably because the way regiments were enlisted and organized varied from place to place. At the same time, existing works on the 5th New Hampshire are not entirely clear on how the recruiters were chosen or why some and not others became officers in the regiment.

It was for this reason that when I compiled my spreadsheet on the “400,” I created a field that listed the recruiter who enlisted each volunteer (an officer’s name appeared on the enlistment form for every recruit). I noted that in the case of some companies a large number of men had participated in their recruitment but many of them had not become officers. Indeed, quite a few had not even served in the regiment. Why were some men chosen and others not?

Let’s start with the macro question: how were Northern regiments “typically” raised in 1861? In his classic, The Life of Billy Yank, Bell I. Wiley wrote:

The lead in forming units was usually taken by men who aspired to officers. Often governors promised colonelcies to prominent citizens who would raise regiments, and the prospective colonels in turn offered captaincies to friends on condition that they recruit the minimum number required for a company. In some cases the impetus came from the other direction, with would-be officers signing up men and then using the lists as claims for commissions.[i]

Andrew S. Bledsoe’s Citizen Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Office Corps in the American Civil War, a much more recent work, emphasizes the degree to which “the overwhelming majority of company-grade officers on both sides, whether elected, promoted, or appointed, were selected from within their own company’s ranks.”[ii] Bledsoe, however, tends to stress the election of junior officers by their companies.[iii] The War for the Common Soldier, by Peter S. Carmichael, now the Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, highlights the extent to which “enlisted men served under familiar and respected figures of authority.” These included the “lawyer in town, the neighboring planter, and the local businessman” who “usually organized companies.”[iv] These observations all provide some purchase on the question in general, but no real details on how a regiment was actually raised.

The foregoing brings us to how the 5th New Hampshire was recruited. In My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth, Mike Pride and Mark Travis write that the “Fifth was recruited from across New Hampshire, its ten companies roughly corresponding to the state’s ten counties.” The next sentence states that “the Fifth’s company captains were prominent men in their communities” before providing biographical details about some of these company commanders.[v] But who did the recruiting, how were the captains selected, and what was the relationship between the two? On the next page the reader learns that due to the political pull of his father, Ira Barton recruited part of a company for the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry and became a captain in that three-month regiment. Barton did the same thing with regard to the 5th New Hampshire. However, the language is somewhat elliptical in this passage, and the use of the passive voice makes it unclear how events transpired. How exactly did Barton’s father get permission for Barton to raise a company? Did Barton undertake to recruit a company on the understanding that he would be made a company commander? Did he become a company commander because he recruited the men? Who exactly made these decisions? In what order did all of this happen?

In the next paragraph, Pride and Travis discuss the man who eventually became Captain of Company G: “State authorities named Charles Long as captain to recruit for the Fifth in Claremont.” Again, the language is a little unclear. Was he made a company commander before he started recruiting for the 5th New Hampshire or after? Or was “captain” a rank he held solely as a recruiting officer? And who were the state authorities referred to? Was it the executive council? The state adjutant general’s office? Pride and Travis do point out that Cross picked his captains, but how or when this selection occurred (or on what basis) remains unclear.

Nathaniel S. Berry, a staunch supporter of the Lincoln administration, was the Governor of New Hampshire from 1861 to 1863. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

Robert Grandchamp’s Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth goes into somewhat more detail, but it doesn’t entirely spell everything out. Grandchamp states that “in each of the state’s ten counties, men who were interested in becoming officers in the new regiment began the process of recruiting their neighbors and enlisting them to serve three years in the army.” Grandchamp does not specify who empowered these men to recruit or how they were chosen. He goes on to point out, however, that “not all the men who recruited soldiers for the Fifth received commissions.” According to Grandchamp, Colonel Cross ultimately selected those who received a commission in regiment, but, again, how or when this happened is not clear. However, Grandchamp adds that Governor Nathaniel Berry “saddled” Cross with officers like Elijah W. Johnson and Ira Barton “who proved to be incompetent and worthless.” At the same time, Cross did not obtain Lieutenant Edward J. Conner (an 1857 graduate from West Point who hailed from Exeter, NH) then serving on the frontier with the regular army, as his lieutenant colonel: “the appointment instead went to Samuel Langley, the sickly adjutant of the Second New Hampshire.” (It appears that the Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Winfield Scott, was extremely reluctant to release officers from the regular army to lead volunteer regiments.) Grandchamp’s observations suggest that decisions about field and company officers were not the colonel’s alone.[vi]

I’m sure I’ll get to the bottom of this story once I have a chance to go to the New Hampshire Division of Archives and Records Management, but for now this is what I’ve figured out. On July 22, 1861, Congress passed an act calling for 300,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. The 5th New Hampshire was the first regiment in the state that was recruited to answer this call. Although it appears that some men were enlisted at the end of July and beginning of August, volunteering did not really take off until the middle of the latter month. On August 5, Cross conferred with Berry about obtaining a commission. On August 14, the executive council voted to give make Cross the commander of the 5th New Hampshire. It was not until he met the governor and the executive council eight days later, however, that Cross was offered the position. He accepted on two conditions: “if could organize and fit out the Regiment to suit myself, and appoint all the officers.” Cross’s terms were accepted, and he later wrote that “I cheerfully bear testimony to the fair & honorable style in which the authorities kept their faith.”[vii] Cross received his colonel’s commission on August 27.

An image of Cross taken shortly before the war. Cross served as the regiment’s colonel until May 1863 when he took command of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, II Corps (the 5th New Hampshire’s brigade) shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville. He was mortally wounded on July 2, 1863 while directing this brigade in the Rose Woods near the Wheatfield at the Battle of Gettysburg. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

By this date, enlistments were well under way which means that the state had already appointed recruiters to raise the regiment (I still don’t know how, when, or by whom they were selected). In other words, it seems likely that these men had started their work before they knew for certain that Cross would be the colonel of the regiment, and Cross had no say as to who these men were.

It was at some point over the next two and a half weeks that Cross decided who his company commanders would be. In a September 15, 1861 letter to his close friend Henry O. Kent, assistant adjutant general for the state, Cross claimed the regiment had 650 recruits (the number was actually closer to just over 300) and that he had chosen his company commanders.[viii] The provisional nature of his decisions is indicated by the fact that he still thought Conner would be his lieutenant colonel and that Barton, though mentioned in the letter as raising an artillery battery, was not then contemplated as a company commander in the 5th New Hampshire. Still, most of the men who became company commanders are listed in his missive: Richard Welch, Charles E. Hapgood, John Murray, Charles H. Long, H. T. H. Pierce, Richard R. Davis, Edmund Brown, and James Perry.[ix] By September 20 at the latest, Cross’s decisions had become final and public. The Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, NH) announced that day that Charles Hapgood “had been selected by the authorities of the State, as Captain of the Company to be formed in this County [Hillsborough] for the Fifth N. H. Regiment.”[x]

Exactly how and when Cross picked these men remains unclear. One thing is certain; there was no election. The decision about company commanders appears to have been finalized well after recruitment had started but before even a third of the regiment had been enlisted. It seems likely that Cross did not know many of his captains personally. Although he had visited the family home in Lancaster throughout the 1850s, Cross had not lived in New Hampshire since 1849. Pride and Travis, along with Grandchamp, claim that Cross was a notoriety when he returned to New Hampshire, but some evidence suggests that his connections in the state were limited.[xi] There is also no evidence that Cross traveled across New Hampshire interviewing potential candidates for captaincies. Cross may have corresponded with his recruiters (how else would he have known how many men had enlisted by September 15?). But this correspondence is not extant, and we don’t know for sure if it occurred let alone when it started. We are left, then, with the speculation that Cross’s choices were based on recommendations given to him by Kent, others holding state offices, and various acquaintances.

Clearly, the most important quality that Cross looked for in a captain was military experience whether it be service in the 1st New Hampshire (Edward E. Sturtevant, H.T.H. Pierce, and Ira Barton had all been officers in this three-month regiment), a Mexican War record (John Murray), or graduation from Norwich Military Academy (Charles H. Long). Not surprisingly, Cross desired military experience among his field officers as well: as we have seen, he had hoped to get Conner as a lieutenant colonel, and William Cook, his major, had played a prominent role in the Massachusetts state militia. Indeed, Cross’s September 15 missive to Kent described his future company commanders exclusively in terms of their military attainments.

John Murray was a 37-year-old teamster living in Newcastle, NH, when the war broke out. To my knowledge, he was the only soldier in the 5th New Hampshire who had seen substantial combat with the regular army before the war. Joining the 3rd US Artillery in 1846, he had been cited for bravery during the assault on Chapultepec during the Mexican War. By the time he left the regular army in 1853, he had made sergeant. Cross was so impressed with Murray’s performance as the Captain of Company D in the 5th New Hampshire that by November 1862 the colonel started exerting political influence to have Murray appointed major of the regiment. Unfortunately, Murray was killed in action at Fredericksburg. After that battle, Cross wrote to Murray’s widow, Phila Murray, “He had no superior in my regiment. Captain Murray was one of my best friends. I loved him for his sterling honesty, his frankness and the dependence which could always be placed in him; for his brave and soldierly character.” (Courtesy of Library of Congress.)

It is important to note that several of these men did good work as recruiters, particularly Sturtevant and Barton. Recruiting was important—or, rather, the potential to recruit since the captains were selected before a third of the regiment had volunteered. But the ability to attract volunteers was clearly not as important as military experience. For example, in Company D, George A. Balloch and John H. Locke recruited more men than Murray, but Murray had a lock on the captaincy because of his Mexican War record (Balloch, however, became the company’s 1st Lieutenant while Locke earned the rank of 1st Sergeant in Company B for his pains). This valuing of military experience extended from the captains to the other junior offices and the non-commissioned ranks. As the 5th New Hampshire was being recruited, Sturtevant and Barton filled key positions in their companies with men who had served under them in the 1st New Hampshire. Sturtevant recruited 16 veterans of the 1st New Hampshire to his new company (13 of whom came from his old company); seven of them were mustered in as non-commissioned officers (one 1st sergeant, three sergeants, and three corporals). The same story occurred in Barton’s company. He recruited 13 men from the 1st New Hampshire (11 of whom came from his old company) out of which he found one 2nd lieutenant, one 1st sergeant, one sergeant, and three corporals.

On some occasions, however, military experience and recruiting success were not enough. In Company I, Elijah W. Johnson had graduated from Norwich and recruited more men than Charles Hapgood, but the latter became the company commander. Why? The documents suggest that Hapgood possessed much greater social weight and ability; Johnson was a carpenter and Hapgood a wealthy merchant. After the war, Johnson remained a carpenter (dabbling in farming) while Hapgood would go on to become an extraordinarily successful businessman.[xii] In other words, Hapgood’s potential as an officer seemed greater. A knack for making money is not the same thing as military ability, but in this particular case, Cross (or whomever recommended Hapgood to Cross) made the right decision. Johnson, who managed to obtain the rank of 1st Lieutenant, was forced to resign his commission in January 1862 after a brigade board of review found him wanting. Meanwhile, Hapgood eventually went on to become the colonel of the regiment. Clearly, Hapgood was a more able figure. When the Farmer’s Cabinet (located in Amherst, NH, where Hapgood lived) found out that he had been named captain in the 5th New Hampshire, it gushed that he “is a soldier per se, with all the qualities inborn and acquired to fit him for the station he is to occupy.” “Of commanding form, stentorian voice, excellent judgment, and thoroughly skilled in military tactics, and withal, one of those good hearts,” he was sure to “win the love of his men.”[xiii] It would appear that Hapgood’s success in business, his overall ability, and something about his manner won him the job. As Mr. Waternoose said in Monster’s, Inc., “It’s all about presence. About how you enter the room.”

Our survey of why some men received a higher rank than others in the 5th New Hampshire has been instructive. An investigation of a few men who did a fair amount of recruiting for the regiment but failed to obtain a commission is also instructive. It reveals the importance of social status and that “je ne sais quoi” that gave others confidence in one’s ability to command.

For example, when the war broke out, Eli Fernald was a moderately prosperous 35-year-old whitesmith from Milton, NH.[xiv]  When recruitment began for the 5th New Hampshire, he enlisted a substantial number of volunteers for Company A from that town. Nonetheless, he was not selected to serve as an officer, and he did not enter the ranks of the regiment. It is not surprising that he did not obtain the captaincy because Sturtevant, who possessed military experience, recruited most of the company himself and enjoyed widespread popularity in Concord where a plurality of the company was raised. What really must have hurt Fernald, though, was that one of the men he recruited from Milton, Stephen E. Twombly, a young shoemaker, was picked as second lieutenant for Company A.[xv] This turn of events is interesting because Twombly appears to have been something of a dud; he resigned his commission in May 1862. If Sturtevant considered Twombly better officer material than Fernald, that does not say much for Fernald. Coincidentally, in 1864, Twombly eventually secured a position as 1st Lieutenant of Company L in the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery—the same company where Fernald was the Quartermaster Sergeant.[xvi] Neither man appears to have possessed much leadership potential; the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery provided commissions to a number of people who could not obtain them elsewhere (and refuge for men who wished to avoid combat). In any event, during the war, Twombly, who does not appear to have been an impressive figure, beat out Fernald for a commission in two different companies. Fernald died of consumption in 1869, so it’s possible that health problems may have limited his ability to lead in an infantry regiment.[xvii]

If Fernald obviously did not possess the temperament for command, Oliver P. Newcomb’s story appears to confirm the significance of social status. A 24-year-old apprentice jeweler from Orford, NH, who still lived in his father’s household, Newcomb recruited a number of men for Company C.[xviii] For someone so young, he seemed to have a gift for recruitment, and he was obviously interested in a commission. He also became quite proficient at his occupation (sources describe him variously as a jeweler or watchmaker), accumulating an estate of $3000 by 1870.[xix]  But in 1861, his youth, his lack of means, and the fact that he was not yet independent must have told against him. Although James B. Perry, who became the company commander, was only a couple of years older, he probably seemed a more accomplished figure. Perry was already a wealthy farmer from Hanover, NH, with $4,000 in real estate.[xx] Perry is perhaps best known as the officer who, along with James Larkin, was court-martialed by Cross for mutiny in November 1862 (more of which anon). Despite this incident, which resulted in part from Cross’s irascibility, Perry was a dependable soldier who died facing the infamous stone wall at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Newcomb eventually did obtain a coveted commission: he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th New Hampshire in August 1862 and was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant a couple of months later. He resigned his commission, however, in January 1863.[xxi]

Oliver P. Newcomb during his short stint with the 9th New Hampshire. See https://picclick.com/Civil-War-Cdv-Of-Lieutenant-Oliver-Newcomb-9Th-323165079801.html

Joseph Q. Roles, who enlisted a group of men for Company H, is an interesting figure because he was a dedicated recruiter with no interest in a commission. A hotel keeper in Ossipee, NH, he was the definition of a local worthy who had just started to build a small business empire. In 1860, he possessed $2000 in real estate and $1844 in personal estate. By 1870, those figures had grown to $5000 and $12,700 respectively, extraordinary sums for the period. The History of Carroll County (1889) reports that in addition to a hotel, Roles ran a grocery store while dealing in cattle, real estate, and lumber. Roles also served as “a selectman, justice of the peace, county commissioner, recruiting officer . . ., county treasurer, and as a member of the legislature for many terms.”[xxii] Clearly, Roles saw recruitment as another civic duty and was happy to stay at home while other men became junior officers.

What does the foregoing teach us? For one thing, it shows us one model of how a regiment could be raised in 1861. The 5th New Hampshire’s experience in this respect seems to have been different from that of many other regiments. There were no elections for officers, and if we can take Cross at his word, Berry did not hand out commissions to political friends. While Berry formally retained the power to appoint officers, he seems to have made selections based on Cross’s recommendations.

Only a willful colonel in a strong position could make the kinds of demands that Cross did and obtain the consent of the governor and the executive council. These men must have wanted Cross badly if they were willing to give him what he wanted. Was it because he possessed military ability in a state that had so little of it? Was it because Cross was a Democrat and the Republican governor was anxious to avoid charges that he was handing out colonelcies solely to Republicans?[xxiii] Was it both? Whatever it was, Cross, who knew knew his mind, took full advantage of this opportunity.

While Cross was something of an authoritarian who wanted things the way he wanted them, the manner in which the regiment was raised indicates there were limits to what he could control. For one thing, while he secured the services of his brother, Richard, a regular soldier who was a member of the Corps of Engineers, Cross could obtain neither Edward Connor as his lieutenant-colonel nor Henry O. Kent as his adjutant. And while he considered military experience as extremely important, this commodity was in short supply in his new regiment. Service in the 1st New Hampshire, which had seen no action during the Bull Run campaign (and was a notoriously rowdy unit), and matriculation at Norwich Military Academy were no substitutes for real military experience. At the same time, it seems likely that Cross was not personally acquainted with many of the field or junior officers he asked Berry to appoint. Most of these recommendations must have been based on references provided to Cross by others. So while Cross “appointed” all the officers, he probably didn’t know a number of the men he was appointing. In all likelihood, Cross first laid eyes on many of his captains when they started arriving at Camp Jackson just outside Concord, NH, on September 28, 1861. Three days later, he left for Washington, DC, for a week to take care of regimental business. That means he only saw his company commanders for all of three weeks total before the regiment entrained for the federal capital on October 28.

This manner in which Cross obtained captains would have unhappy consequences for the regiment. Before long, Cross grew dissatisfied with the men he had chosen for company command. In February 1862, he used a brigade board of review to discharge Brown and Welch who had not mastered even the fundamentals of drill and committed a variety of unsoldierly infractions.[xxiv] Davis, who appears to have been something of a non-entity (he is not mentioned once by either Pride and Travis or Grandchamp), resigned in July 1862. Cross also harbored suspicions about Barton’s competence that were confirmed at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Barton was pressured to resign in September 1862, and Cross made it clear that he would not write Barton a letter of reference to obtain a commission elsewhere. Cross had Perry (along with James Larkin, who was then the Captain of Company A) brought up on charges of mutiny before a court martial in November 1862, but since the affair resulted as much from Cross’s intemperance as anything else, the affair was dropped. Cross asked Pierce to resign in January 1863 over a dispute regarding guard duty. Of the original ten captains, it looks like five had been forced out of the regiment in one way or another because Cross had become disenchanted with them, and a sixth had narrowly avoided the same fate.

And what of those who managed to get on with Cross? By the time Pierce resigned, Long had left the regiment due to ill health. Murray, Perry, and Sturtevant (who had been promoted to major) had all been killed at Fredericksburg. Of the original ten captains, then, Hapgood was the only one who remained with the regiment. His ability to stay alive and remain in Cross’s good graces partially explains how he became commander of the regiment shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville (he was appointed colonel on July 3, 1863, the last day of Battle of Gettysburg, shortly after Cross’s death).

The way in which company commanders (and their subordinates) were initially chosen undoubtedly contributed to the turbulence and drama that persisted among the regiment’s officers for most of the 5th New Hampshire’s existence. Cross’s experiences with his first set of junior officers probably accounts for his predilection ever after of promoting from within. This was the way in which young enlisted men like Thomas Livermore, George Gove, and others became commissioned officers in the 5th New Hampshire. Cross wanted soldiers who had proven themselves before his own eyes. Men left to accept commissions in other regiments (including units of United States Colored Troops or of galvanized Yankees), but hardly anybody came from outside the 5th New Hampshire to accept a commission in that regiment. But all of that can be the topic of another blogpost on another day.


[i] Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971), 20-21.

[ii] Andrew S. Bledsoe, Citizen Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 26.

[iii] Ibid., 26, 28-29.

[iv] Peter S. Carmichael, The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 21.

[v] Mike Pride and Mark Travis, My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (Hanover, NH: New England University Press, 2001), 31.

[vi] Robert Grandchamp, Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 74-76.

[vii] Walter Holden, William E. Ross, and Elizabeth Slomba (eds.), Stand Firm and Fire Low: The Civil War Writings of Colonel Edward E. Cross (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2003), 7.

[viii] The figure of just over 300 comes from Ayling’s Revised Register.

[ix] Elijah W. Johnson is listed as a captain, but he ended up serving as a 1st Lieutenant under Charles E. Hapgood. See Holden, Ross, and Slomba (eds.) Stand Firm and Fire Low, 91-93.

[x] Farmer’s Cabinet, September 20, 1861, 2. The article goes on to mention that Hapgood “has opened a recruiting office at Union Hall, and his company is fast filling up.”

[xi] For example, in late September 1861, when the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, the Democratic Party’s newspaper of record in the state, introduced Cross in a column to its readers, it was clear the staff at the journal had little information about the colonel and “no personal acquaintance” with him. New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, September 25, 1861, 2. This statement is especially interesting since Grandchamp argues that Berry gave the colonelcy to Cross as a means of appeasing New Hampshire Democrats who wanted one of their own to lead a regiment. Grandchamp, Colonel Edward E. Cross, 74. Other newspapers did not seem particularly familiar with Cross when they described him to their readers either.

[xii] For Johnson, see his enlistment papers, the Census of 1870, the Census of 1880, and his death record from 1899:  “New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9Z5-N845?cc=2127318&wc=QDLL-1RQ%3A1589942734 : 16 August 2016), 007499097 > image 937 of 1625; New Hampshire Secretary of State, Division of Records Management & Archive.; “United States Census, 1870”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MH56-T39 : 19 March 2020), Elijah Johnson, 1870.; “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHRV-R42 : 12 August 2017), Elijah H Johnson, Canaan, Grafton, New Hampshire, United States; citing enumeration district ED 78, sheet 101C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 1,254,764; “New Hampshire Death Records, 1654-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FS2X-DP2 : 10 March 2018), Elijah W Johnson, 03 Oct 1899; citing Rumney, Bureau Vital Records and Health Statistics, Concord; FHL microfilm 1,001,087. So far as Hapgood is concerned, see the Census of 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900 along with his death certificate of 1909: “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WJ-YSN : 14 December 2017), Charles E Hapgood, 1860; “United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/ 61903/1:1:MD35-3CN : 12 April 2016), Chas E Hapgood, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 35, family 234, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 552,146; “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHXH-JQS : 26 August 2017), Charles Hapgood, 1880; citing enumeration district ED 509, sheet 373B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d), roll 0548; FHL microfilm 1,254,548; “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M9TJ-N2Q : accessed 31 May 2019), Charles Hapgood, Brookline town (west of St. Paul St. & Between Longwood, Beacon, & Summit St. on north & Aspin, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 1019, sheet 6B, family 114, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,669; “Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/ 61903/1:1:N49S-7RX : 22 May 2019), Charles E Hapgood, 24 Sep 1909; citing Chelsea,,Massachusetts, 158, State Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 2,313,115.

[xiii] Farmer’s Cabinet, September 20, 1861, 2

[xiv] “Maine Births and Christenings, 1739-1900”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F4HR-XN5 : 14 January 2020), Eli Fernald, 1826; “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WT-6KS : 19 March 2020), Eli Fernald, 1860.

[xv] For Twombly’s enlistment papers that bear Fernald’s signature, go here: “New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2Q1-YXN1 : 16 March 2018), Stephen E Twombly, 03 Sep 1861; citing Strafford, Strafford, Strafford, New Hampshire, United States, New Hampshire Secretary of State, Division of Records Management & Archive; FHL microfilm 2,217,641. For Twombly in the Census of 1860, go here: “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/ 1:1:M7WT-6PX : 19 March 2020), Stephen Twombly, 1860.

[xvi] Ayling’s Revised Register, 934, 959

[xvii] “Maine Deaths and Burials, 1841-1910”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F482-R8J : 16 January 2020), Eli Fernald, 1869.

[xviii] “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WR-LN9 : 19 March 2020), Oliver P Newcomb in entry for Asahel Newcomb, 1860.

[xix] “Massachusetts State Census, 1865”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MQCL-KD9 : 1 June 2018), Oliver P Newcomb in entry for Fanny Proctor, 1865; “United States Census, 1870”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/ 1:1:MH5X-8KC : 19 March 2020), Oliver P Newcomb, 1870.

[xx] “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7WT-HJ1 : 19 March 2020), James B Perry, 1860.

[xxi] Ayling’s Revised Register, 493. Newcomb may have suffered from ill health since he died in 1871 at a relatively young age.

[xxii] History of Carroll County, New Hampshire, ed. Georgia Drew Merrill (Boston, MA: W. A. Fergusson & Co., 1889),  631

[xxiii] Grandchamp, 74.

[xxiv] Grandchamp, 84-85. 1st Lieutenants Elijah W. Johnson and James B. David were also swept away in this housecleaning.

The “400”: Is This Sample Representative?

“Au travail!” as they say in France. Or, as they say in America, this is where the rubber hits the road. I thought I’d start analyzing the “400” by establishing if some companies were better represented than others in the sample. My motive consisted of ensuring that the “400” I had selected randomly were more or less representative of the 5th New Hampshire. As you’ll see, though, you never know where a question like this will take you. And this question took me far afield.

I started out by surveying a spreadsheet that contained information for all the original volunteers in the regiment and determined how many men were in each company. This was the spreadsheet from which I had randomly selected the “400” in the first place. I found the following:

Table 1

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S*
NCS**
104
87
101
86
103
88
101
93
101
100
24
8
5
*F&S stands for “Field and Staff” (i.e. the colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeons, and chaplain.)
**NCS stands for “Noncommissioned staff” (i.e. the regimental sergeant major, commissary sergeant, quartermaster sergeant, hospital steward, and principal musicians).

The total adds up to 1,001 men. That figure is a little smaller than the numbers that are commonly attributed to the regiment upon its formation, but that’s how many original volunteers I found in Ayling’s Revised Register. If I’ve made a mistake, it’s of the order of about 0.1%–no joke (Edward Cross, the regiment’s colonel, claimed he left Concord, NH, at the end of October 1861 with 1,012 men). I think I can live with that.

In any event, the total number of men in my “400” Excel spreadsheet is 403. So my “400” represent 40.3% of the original 1,001 volunteers. That being the case, I multiplied the figures in Table 1 by .403 to see what my sample of “400” would look like if it was perfectly representative of the regiment (and I did round to the nearest whole number):

Table 2

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S
NCS
42
35
41
35
42
35
41
37
41
40
10
3
2

But this is what my sample of the “400” actually looks like:

Table 3

Co. A
Co. B
Co. C
Co. D
Co. E
Co. F
Co. G
Co. H
Co. I
Co. K
Band
F&S
NCS
41
36
36
40
43
39
41
33
45
35
9
3
2

In some cases, the numbers match up very nicely. Look at Companies A, B, E, and G. The Band, the Field & Staff, and the non-commissioned staff are also in the right ballpark. But Companies C, H, and K are underrepresented while Companies D, F, and I are overrepresented. You might think that the discrepancies are not great, but we are talking errors of well over 10%. What happened?

My first thought was that this issue was due to the luck of the draw. I picked men randomly, so my thinking went, and random selections sometimes lead to these kinds of disparities. Maybe. But my second thought was this: what if some of the companies are underrepresented among my “400” veterans because these units disproportionately suffered from death due to combat or illness? I decided to try that hypothesis out. Among the original volunteers, 114 were killed in action, 62 died of their wounds, and 100 succumbed to illness. Surely death was not evenly distributed throughout the regiment.

This is what I found:

Table 4

A B C D E F G H I K Band F&S NCS
KIA 11 5 16 12 14 7 15 9 12 12 0 1 0
MW 6 6 6 2 7 7 9 5 5 9 0 0 0
KIA+MW 17 11 22 14 21 14 24 14 17 21 0 1 0
Disease 7 11 12 8 9 10 6 9 11 15 2 0 0
TOTAL 24 22 34 22 30 24 30 23 28 36 2 2 0

If you remember, Companies C, H, and K are underrepresented in my sample of the “400.” It certainly looks as if Companies C and K suffered a disproportionate number of deaths (they were the two companies that lost the most men). But the number of deaths suffered by Company H was disproportionately small. Something else must explain why there are fewer members of that company among the “400” than there ought to be.

Companies D, F, and I are overrepresented in my sample, and it looks like D and F suffered fewer deaths than most companies. But five companies suffered fewer deaths than I, so I’m not sure how to explain why so many men from that company ended up among the “400.”

There are some factors that could have corrupted my findings somewhat. For example, some men were transferred from one company to another or promoted to the Field & Staff before being killed; as I’ve set it up, their deaths would have been credited to their original company. And some men, while still belonging to their company, could have formed part of the color guard where they were much more likely to get killed. If some companies were overrepresented in the color guard, that could have influenced the findings somewhat. The number of men transferred or promoted, as well as the number of soldiers assigned to the color guard (nine at any given moment), was small, but cumulatively, these issues could have warped my figures.

It seems I have found only a partial answer to my question of why some companies were overrepresented and others were underrepresented in the sample. Maybe part of the answer really is just chance.

The foregoing calculations, however, led me to another line of inquiry: why had some companies suffered many more deaths than others?

I started thinking about combat deaths and surmised that the companies closest to the color guard (which always drew a great deal of fire) during a battle suffered disproportionate casualties (to be honest, looking at who served in the color guard itself would be helpful, but that information is not available to me right now). Testing this hypothesis by figuring out the deployment of companies in line of battle was something of a task. In General Order No. 6, Colonel Edward Cross assigned the position of companies according to the seniority of the captains who commanded them.

1st Company: Company A: Captain. Edward E. Sturtevant
2nd Company: Company B: Captain Edmund Brown
3rd Company: Company C: Captain James B. Perry
4th Company: Company D: Captain John Murray
5th Company: Company E: Captain Ira McL. Barton
6th Company: Company F: Captain H.T.H. Pierce
7th Company: Company G: Captain Charles H. Long
8th Company: Company H: Captain Richard R. Davis
9th Company: Company I: Captain Charles E. Hapgood
10th Company: Company K: Captain Richard Welch[i]

“Formation in Order of Battle” (1861): This image from Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics shows who went where when a regiment was drawn up in line of battle. In this particular illustration, eight companies are in line of battle and two are detached for skirmish duty.

So far so good. However, matters get a bit complicated when one starts discussing the actual deployment of the regiment in combat. According to William J. Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, U.S. Infantry Tactics, and Silas Casey’s Infantry Tactics, a regiment arranged its companies in the following manner when it was arrayed in line of battle:[ii]

2nd

7th

10th

5th

8th 3rd 9th 4th 6th

1st

B

G K E H C I D F

A

Company A, which had the most senior captain (Sturtevant), occupied the post of honor which was the right flank of the regiment. This arrangement seems to indicate that Companies H and C were on either side of the color guard which was in the middle of the formation. While Company C suffered the second-highest number of combat deaths (21), Company H was definitely on the low end of the scale (14). Ok, scratch my theory about the color guard. Again, maybe I should try to figure out who was in the color guard and from what companies they were selected.

Edward E. Sturtevant (1826-1862), then living in Concord, NH, recruited and commanded Company I of the 1st New Hampshire, a three-month regiment. Shortly after that regiment was mustered out, he went on to recruit and command Company A of the 5th New Hampshire. It was this company that earned the post of honor on the right flank of the regiment when it went into battle. Sturtevant eventually attained the rank of major before he was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

I then thought that maybe some companies were more frequently used for picket duty and skirmishing than others. The problem is that I didn’t know if Cross leaned on particular companies in this way let alone which ones they would be.[iii] In any event, my impression is that in a number of major battles (Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor), the 5th New Hampshire went straight into action without deploying skirmishers.

And so I was left falling back on the last recourse of a scoundrel; perhaps this was all a matter of chance and circumstance. In the battles for which I have detailed records of casualties, I have noticed striking discrepancies in the number of dead and wounded suffered by each company. Take for example the Battle of Fair Oaks (June 1, 1862):

Company A: 3 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 20 other wounded
Company B: 2 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 19 other wounded
Company C: 4 killed, 3 mortally wounded, 17 other wounded
Company D: 4 killed, 6 wounded
Company E: 5 killed, 1 mortally wounded, 22 other wounded
Company F: 3 mortally wounded, 10 other wounded
Company G: 3 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 6 other wounded
Company H: 1 killed, 3 mortally wounded, 17 other wounded
Company I: 7 wounded
Company K: 3 killed, 13 wounded[iv]

To take the two extremes, Company E (Barton) suffered a total of 6 dead and 22 wounded for a total of 28 casualties while Company I (Hapgood) suffered a mere 7 wounded. It is worth noting that this battle (among other things) helped convince Cross that Barton was a drunken incompetent.[v] It is also probably worth noting that Hapgood later became the colonel of the regiment. So maybe the quality of company commanders had something to do with the distribution of casualties. Still, we should not disregard bad luck. A single shell burst could literally double a company’s casualties in a battle. For example, according to William Child’s History of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers (1893) a one charge of canister killed or wounded 8 men from Company G at the Battle of Antietam.[vi]

Ira McL. Barton (1840-1876) raised much of Company D in the 1st New Hampshire and led that company during it three months of service. He later recruited and led Company E in the 5th New Hampshire until he resigned his commission in September 1862. Surprisingly, Barton landed on his feet as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery and served in the regular army after the war. (Image courtesy of David Morin.)

We’ve covered combat, so what about disease? Why did some companies suffer so much more than others, especially when the sanitary arrangements laid down by the regiment’s commander applied equally to all companies? I think the answer has to do with the men and not the conditions to which they were subjected.

It turns out that the companies that suffered the fewest deaths from disease (A, D, and G) were also those that happened to be most heavily recruited from urban areas in the state. (When I use the word “urban,” I employ it in the same sense as the Census Bureau: a settlement of more than 2,500 people.) [vii] In all likelihood these recruits had been more heavily exposed to communicable diseases throughout their lives and proved less susceptible to various illnesses than men from small rural settlements. Over 40% of Company A was recruited from Concord, NH (10,867), the second-largest town in the state and the 86th biggest settlement in the United States. Well over half of Company D’s men came from three major towns that were right next door to each other: Dover (8,487), Somersworth (4,785), and Rochester (3,833). And Company G was the only one in the regiment where the majority of men (70% in fact) came from one urban settlement: Claremont (4,009). No other companies had such high concentrations of urban dwellers.[viii] I like this hypothesis, but I have no means of testing it.

Map of Claremont in 1860

So are some companies overrepresented in the sample? Yes! Do I know why? Maybe, but not with any certainty. Did I figure out why some companies suffered more deaths than others? Partially.

Did I learn something by asking a bunch of different questions? I think so.


[i] I have several copies of General Order No. 6 at my disposal, but the one I referred to in this instance was in William Andrew Moore’s papers at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

[ii] Hardee’s book was published in 1855 and became the bible for field and junior officers during the Civil War. See http://www.cs-cavalry.de/Hardees%201862.pdf (p. 8). U.S. Infantry Tactics was put out by the War Department in 1861 and appears to plagiarize Hardee’s work extensively. See https://www.google.com/books/edition/U_S_Infantry_Tactics/ 3kAWAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Hardee+light+infantry+tactics+ school+of+the+company&pg=RA1-PT3&printsec=frontcover. Finally, Casey’s work also draws heavily from Hardee. See http://64thill.org/drillmanuals/
caseys_infantrytactics/volume1/part01.htm#6
.

[iii] I know that at Fair Oaks, Companies A and C were used in this fashion, but I don’t know if Cross always used them this way. See https://archive.org/
details/historyoffifthre00chil/page/n115/mode/2up

[iv] This information was assembled by consulting Ayling’s Revised Register and the surgeon’s report for the 5th New Hampshire that appeared in the New Hampshire Statesman, June 21, 1862, p. 2.

[v] Mike Pride and Mark Travis, My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross & the Fighting Fifth (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), p. 158. Interestingly enough, after Barton resigned from the regiment, he and Hapgood remained on good terms and continued to correspond.

[vi] See https://archive.org/details/historyoffifthre00chil/page/n163/mode/2up However, if one amalgamates information from Ayling’s Revised Register and the Surgeon’s Report that appeared in the New Hampshire Statesman, October 4, 1862, p. 2, it appears that while Company G suffered 15 casualties at Antietam, only one soldier died as a result of that battle.

[vii] https://www2.census.gov/geo/pdfs/reference/GARM/Ch12GARM.pdf

[viii] All information in this paragraph comes from the Census of 1860 and Ayling’s Revised Register.