The Amoskeag Veterans

The Amoskeag Veterans in Portland, Maine in 1888.

THE AMOSKEAG VETERANS of Manchester, New Hampshire, founded in 1854, was a civilian militia organization that sought to embody the spirit of patriotism. With its members dressed in reproduction Revolutionary War uniforms, the battalion made an impressive showing wherever it went.

In December 1855, the militia traveled to Washington, D.C., for a formal visit with President Franklin Pierce. Pierce was a native of Hillsborough who had served in the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the U. S. Senate.

Pierce was well acquainted with the commander of the Amoskeag Veterans, Col. Chandler E. Potter. As a young man, Potter had studied for the bar in Pierce’s law office in Concord.

The men crossed paths again in 1850 when Pierce was a defense attorney in the famous trial of the Wentworth brothers of Manchester. These three men had been accused of the 1845 murder of Manchester’s tax collector, Jonas L. Parker. As judge of the city’s Police Court, Potter had presided over the dramatic courtroom proceedings. Pierce’s considerable legal talents helped to expose the prosecution’s case as a sham, leading to the defendants being exonerated.

Potter’s 1856 “History of Manchester” would include a vivid description of the Parker case. Coincidentally, in November 1856 Potter would marry Pierce’s niece, Frances (Fanny) Maria McNeil, and the couple would settle into a happy existence in Pierce’s childhood home.

On Dec. 13, 1855, the 150 members of the Amoskeag Veterans left Manchester by train. The battalion was accompanied by the 18-member Manchester Cornet Band led by Walter Dignam, which would provide the militiamen with marching music and also be available to entertain at social functions.

The group spent the night at a hotel in New York City, traveling Friday to Philadelphia where members were warmly greeted by local dignitaries at Independence Hall. After staying at a local hotel overnight, the men traveled to Baltimore, where a splendid banquet was held in their honor. The veterans spent Sunday in that city and on Monday, Dec. 17, they traveled by train to Washington, D.C.

That afternoon the Amoskeag Veterans paraded on the White House lawn, where they were reviewed by the President. Pierce was himself a veteran, having served as a general in the Mexican-American War.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported Potter’s remarks, which began as follows, “Mr. President — coming as we do, from New Hampshire — the county of Hillsborough, glorious ‘old Hillsborough,’ your home — we present ourselves before you as your neighbors and friends…”

In his remarks Potter mentioned that several of the militiamen were veterans of the War of 1812. In fact, most of the veterans were middle-aged or older.

On Dec. 18 the veterans made a pilgrimage to the tomb of General George Washington. The group was taken by steamer boat up the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, Virginia. At the dock in Washington and at two stops along the way, they were met by large crowds of cheering people who were eager to see them.

Their third stop was at Mount Vernon, where the veterans marched in formation to Washington’s final resting place to the accompaniment of a somber dirge played by the Manchester Cornet Band.

When the battalion arrived at the Washington family’s mausoleum, the band played “Washington’s Grand March.” After the music ended, the veterans removed their hats in a gesture of respect, and walked silently in a single line past Washington’s final resting place.

That night, they were honored at a glamorous ball in Washington. The next day they took in some sightseeing in the nation’s capital, and on Dec. 20 they traveled again to Philadelphia, where they spent the night.

The group was in New York City on Friday, Dec. 21. They were entertained at Lafayette Hall and afterward, they paraded with a local military unit down Broadway and nearby streets. The Amoskeag Veterans and the Manchester Cornet Band returned to Manchester by train on Saturday, Dec. 22.

The Amoskeag Veterans would remain active as a parade unit into the early 1940s, although the remarkable experience of the 1855 tour would never be repeated. It continued to exist as a social organization, which today is a nonprofit corporation based in Peterborough.

Next week: Historian C.E. Potter publishes his monumental military history of New Hampshire.

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