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Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: Parting notes on New Hampshire's Civil War bands

By AURORE EATON
July 29. 2018 9:29PM
The Fifth N.H. Regiment at Chickahominy River, Va., May 1862. The men were fortunate to have a brass band to entertain them after a day of drudgery. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The Post Band, the U.S. Army brigade band stationed at the headquarters of the Department of the South at Hilton Head on South Carolina’s Port Royal Sound, was mustered out on July 4, 1865, after two years of service. The band had been organized and led by Gustavus W. Ingalls of Concord, N.H., who had previously conducted the Third N.H. Regiment Band which existed from August 1861 to August 1862. This band had also served at Hilton Head.

The music played by Ingalls and his two excellent bands at Hilton Head, which was so appreciated by soldiers and officers alike, has not been lost or forgotten. When rehearsing and playing, Ingalls’ musicians used small bound books containing hand-written musical notations scored for their various brass instruments. Sixty of these manuscripts, that contain a total of over 130 tunes, were saved and are known today as the Port Royal Band Books. The collection was divided into three sets and donated to the Library of Congress; to the Hopkinton (NH) Historical Society in Hopkinton, NH; and to the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord.

Scholars believe that the books were assembled in 1863-1864, and that most of the music was composed and arranged by Claudio Grafulla (1812-1880), an immigrant from the island of Minorca, Spain. He was a talented musician, composer, and arranger, famous for his innovative musicianship as the director of the New York Brass Band, which was attached to the 7th Regiment of the New York Militia during the Civil War.

At least 13 of the 17 volunteer infantry regiments raised in New Hampshire had their own brass bands — some serving only for a few months at the beginning of the war, and some for the duration.

After 1862 the regimental bands were no longer supported by the military, but they were so important to morale that, when possible, imaginative ways were found to pay for them. Sometimes private money was involved (generally coming out of the officers’ own pockets) and often bands were put together through the creative deployment of personnel within the regiment. Occasionally civilian musicians and band leaders were hired.

Fortunately for anyone with an interest in the Civil War, the history of most of the New Hampshire infantry regiments were recorded in detailed books published toward the end of the 19th century. Generally, these were written in whole and in part by men who had served in the individual units. So, in addition to containing important data, the books include vivid details of events, both ordinary and extraordinary, as recalled by first-hand observers.

In his 1882 history of the 14th N.H. Regiment, former sergeant Francis H. Buffum wrote of marching into Charleston, S.C., sometime after February 18, 1865, when this Confederate city surrendered: “Our own column of the army passed through the main street. As we filed into it from the open country, the route-step changed to a rhythmic tread, the arms were brought to uniformity, the colors were unfurled, and our regimental band struck up, “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.” John Brown was a fiery abolitionist who was executed for treason in 1859, but who had remained an anti-slavery hero to many in the north.

In addition to the bands, serving within the regiments were drummers, fifers, and occasional buglers. These soldiers, especially the drummers (who were sometimes only boys), were tasked with making the “calls” that kept order in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield. Drummers and fifers often worked together to great advantage. As Buffum described, “There are no more exhilarating bounds from the rest of night into the duties of day, no finer inspiration thrilling the entire nervous system of a vigorous man, than the first burst, crash, and roll of reveille when a crack drum-corps with melodious shrill fife rallies upon the color-line and rouses an entire regiment as by an electrical shock.”

The following quote from Buffum will end this series about New Hampshire musicians in the Civil War, “Every call, march, and air of drum-corps and band entered into the very life of the regiment, and was valued beyond the power of a civilian to appreciate.”

Next week: The story of Henniker’s Amy Beach, composer.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter.


Aurore Eaton



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