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Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Saxie Pike's legacy was music

April 14. 2014 4:51PM

After his three-month enlistment in the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment (from early May to early August 1861), Francis Harvey "Saxie" Pike rejoined the war effort. In September 1861 he was recruited as Fife Major for the 4th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment to serve in the unit's band, which would be led by his friend Lieutenant Walter Dignam. Of the 24 men in the band, 21 were from Manchester.

The 4th New Hampshire mustered on the fairgrounds located between Brook and Webster streets. When it was time to depart, the soldiers marched south down Elm Street to the railroad station near Granite Street. Buildings along the way were decorated with flags and ribbons, and a large crowd gathered to cheer the men on. With Saxie in the lead, the band played quicksteps and other lively music, but this didn't stop a feeling of dread from descending upon the crowd. It had become abundantly apparent that it would not be an easy task to stop the rebellion that had taken hold in the South. This was war, not adventure. Many tears were shed when the band played "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

During the next few months the 4th New Hampshire was stationed alongside the 3rd New Hampshire at Port Royal, South Carolina, which is located halfway between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. During this time the two regimental bands would sometimes amuse themselves and the soldiers by holding spirited competitions. The 4th certainly had the flashiest and most theatrical drum major in the form of Saxie Pike, but the other regiment's clarinetist could not be matched.

In 1862 an act of Congress required all regimental bands to be disbanded and replaced by brigade bands. The 4th New Hampshire's band returned to Manchester by the end of September. Saxie Pike was in demand, however, and soon became the drum major of the brigade band for the Department of the South's Hilton Head, South Carolina outpost. This band kept up a busy schedule in the interest of improving morale, traveling from camp to camp along the coast to play at hospitals, dances and concerts. In August 1863, Saxie was hurt when he was struck in the abdomen by a tent pole. This injury would bother him the rest of his life. Saxie and his fellow band members were mustered out on July 4, 1865 at Hilton Head.

After the war Saxie returned to work for the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company Machine Shop. He rejoined the Manchester Cornet Band, and was hired from time to time as drum major for other bands, including the Fisherville Cornet Band from the Concord area and the American Brass band of Suncook. His skills were in demand for parades as far away as New York City and Montreal, Quebec, and he often performed at New Hampshire National Guard events.

On June 17, 1875, Walter Dignam's Manchester Cornet Band participated in the grand parade in Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts, that was part of the Celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Saxie proudly led the band as it escorted the Amoskeag Veterans, a militia group from Manchester. One of Saxie's last performances was in September 1896 when he led the Germania Band of Boston in Manchester's Semi-Centennial Celebration parade.

Saxie Pike died on December 16, 1903, at the age of 79, and was buried in the Valley Cemetery in Manchester alongside his late wife, Mary Lucretia Sholes Pike, who had died in 1888. The funeral was organized and paid for by the Louis Bell Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. No marker was placed upon the graves until June 2002. At that time the Hillsborough Chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans, representing the Louis Bell Post, and the 12th New Hampshire Regiment Serenade Band reenacted the 1903 funeral. The ceremony marked the laying of a new brass grave marker that Saxie's Pike's descendants had ordered to be built. Several members of the family traveled from Maine, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to attend this beautiful event, where they heard sweet tunes from the Civil War era that Saxie had loved, played in authentic fashion by the Serenade Band.

Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — Elinus Morrison — Civilian casualty of the Civil War..

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

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