Memoir of the Hon. Chandler Eastman Potter

Chandler Eastman Potter (1807-1868), seen in an undated lithographic portrait.

The Mexican War (1846-1848) was the last armed conflict covered in Chandler Eastman Potter’s “Military History of The State of New Hampshire.” Following this account, Potter reported on developments in the state’s militia organization. Throughout his work, including in the first half of the history published in 1866, Potter had incorporated stories about the various militias that had been the backbone of New Hampshire’s defenses since the colonial days.

After the Revolutionary War, New Hampshire established a centralized state militia. This organization provided a body of trained men ready to join the national armed forces in time of war, which proved useful in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. From 1810 to 1851, around 30,000 men actively participated in the state militia each year. According to Potter, these were “well organized and disciplined soldiers.” In 1851 the state legislature passed a law to reduce the size and cost of the state militia, and to allow independent volunteer militia units to be organized.

In 1860 the state militia establishment had shrunk to only one regiment from the 42 it had in 1850. This diminished citizen army was amplified, at least in theory, by the 12 independent militias that had been formed in the southern part of the state. However, these amateur militias were organized more as social clubs than as military units. For example, the Amoskeag Veterans of Manchester, founded in 1854, was composed mostly of middle-aged men who enjoyed parading in Revolutionary War costumes.

Even Potter, who commanded the Amoskeag Veterans as its colonel, readily admitted the inadequacy of this arrangement. He complained in his history that, at the start of the Civil War, “… when, more than at any other time during our existence as a nation, we needed a well-organized militia, we had little more than an organization upon paper … Our militia thus prostrate and inactive, the rebellion of 1861 came upon us, and it could not be resuscitated for the emergency …”

C.E. Potter’s “Military History of The State of New Hampshire” was considered his crowning achievement. Like his “History of Manchester” published in 1856, it would become an essential reference work that future historians would build upon. However, at the end of the nearly 800 pages of this impressive work, Potter lamented that he could not locate some of the original documents he had sought out. He wrote: “I trust that never again will such important records be tossed about, loaned, and kept in so loose a manner … Such documents … should be tenderly cared for, inasmuch as they are the evidence of the patriotism and valor of the sons of our own granite hills.”

In the spring of 1868 Potter’s health began to fail. His friends and family believed that his deteriorating condition was due to exhaustion from working on the military history and other writing projects. In July he and his wife Fanny traveled westward on vacation. According to the “Biographical Sketch” of Chandler published as a booklet in 1869, “On his way out, his spirits were buoyant, and he felt that his general health was improving, and no one could have believed from his appearance that he was so soon to be removed from (the) earth.” The couple arrived in Flint, Mich., on July 30. Potter suffered a stroke in their hotel room on Aug. 2, and died the next day at the age of 61.

On Aug. 8, 1868, Potter’s remains were transported in a coffin (presumably by carriage) from the train station on Granite Street through the streets of east Manchester, with the Amoskeag Veterans marching in procession. After the funeral at the Unitarian Church on Merrimack Street, the line re-formed and the militia accompanied the coffin to the Valley Cemetery. The veterans marched to solemn music played by the Manchester Cornet Band, just as they had in 1855 when the unit had visited Gen. George Washington’s grave in Mount Vernon, Va. The militia’s chaplain conducted the service at Potter’s gravesite.

Potter was pre-deceased by his first wife Clara, who had died in 1854, and by the youngest of his three sons, Drown Potter. Twenty-four-year-old Quartermaster Sgt. Drown Potter of the Michigan Volunteers had been killed by a band of Confederate guerillas in Virginia in 1862.

Next week: The life, times, and criminal enterprises of Seth Wyman, born in Goffstown in 1784.

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