Francis Harvey "Saxie" Pike of Manchester enlisted in the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment on May 2, 1861. The Civil War had started, and he wanted to do his part for the Union. He was appointed as Principal Musician, Fife Major, for the regimental band and was issued a 5-foot long baton with a large brass head that suited his image of regal self-confidence. His fellow musician recruits were members of Baldwin's Cornet Band of Manchester. Some of these men were his co-workers at the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company Machine Shop.
The role of military bands in the Civil War was extremely important. The fifers and drummers were responsible for basic communications throughout the day. They made the calls necessary to maintain order in camp, on the march, in parades, and on the battlefield. The bands also provided entertainment in order to keep up morale. The musicians played daily for assemblies and drills, and also for special occasions including concerts and dances.
The 1st New Hampshire mustered at Concord from May 1 to May 7, 1861, and then departed for Washington, D.C. At 4:00 p.m. on May 27 the regiment arrived by train in Baltimore, Maryland. The 1,000 New Hampshire men needed to march from one train station to another, through a dense area of Baltimore that was crowded with angry Southern sympathizers. A few days before, on April 19, the Sixth Massachusetts Militia had been harassed by the locals as it marched through the city. Four soldiers and 12 civilians had been killed in the riot. Although action had been taken since then to prevent a similar tragedy, the atmosphere was charged.
At first the band became separated from the regiment. People threw bottles and rocks at the men, but no one was hurt. When the musicians finally united with the soldiers, the column began moving forward, with the soldiers carrying loaded guns. At the head of the procession marched the imposing figure of Saxie Pike, dressed in a double-breasted blue coat adorned with shiny brass buttons and gold cord. His pants were light blue, and he wore a tall black shako hat topped by a large peacock feather. As Saxie strode, he boldly swung his 5-foot baton back and forth, threatening to hit anyone who got in his way. He made a great show of it, while the band played "Yankee Doodle Dandy," to the delight of the local Unionists. The regiment made it safely to the train station.
Early the next morning, the 1st New Hampshire paraded up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Senator John Sherman of Ohio, brother of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, viewed the procession. He later wrote, "Among the early arrivals…was a regiment from New Hampshire…As the head of the line turned around the north wing of the treasury department and came into sight, the eyes of [Ohio Senator Benjamin] Wade fell upon a tall soldier, wearing a gaudy uniform, a very high hat and a still higher cockade. He carried a baton, that he swung right and left, up and down, with all the authority of a field marshal. Wade, much excited, asked me… 'Who is that?' I told him I thought that it was the drum major. 'Well,' he said, 'if the people could see him they would make him a general.'" The regiment halted when it arrived at the White House. Saxie Pike was invited inside by Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and offered a bottle of champagne in recognition of his bravery during the march through Baltimore. During the following weeks, the members of Baldwin's Cornet Band were able to spend time with their friends, Walter Dignam and the members of his Manchester Cornet Band, who were part of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment camped nearby.
The 1st New Hampshire's three-month enlistment ended on August 2, 1861, and the regiment returned to Concord. The men took the train to Manchester, where they were met by the Manchester Cornet Band and other local men, who had already returned home. With Saxie leading them, the band was escorted up Elm Street by the city's militia company. Mayor David A. Bunton started his welcoming remarks by addressing "Major Pike and Gentlemen of the Band."
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — Saxie Pike's legacy..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org