The Third Regiment of the New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry was organized in Concord in August 1861. By early November the unit was part of a major expeditionary force stationed at Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. The Union’s objective was to take Charleston, S.C., a seaport city vital to the Confederacy.
As did many U.S. Army regiments organized in 1861, the Third N.H. recruited experienced musicians to form its own official brass band. Former captain Daniel Eldredge described in his 1893 history of the Third N.H. Regiment that the band’s “music drew tears or cheers. ’Twas an inspiration to all who stepped to its music, whether at dress parade, review, or on the march.” One of the band’s members, English immigrant Henry S. Hamilton, wrote in his memoir, “Sneering remarks are sometimes made respecting regimental bands — how lazy and what a useless appendage they are, etc. — but let a regiment be deprived of music, if only for a short time, and their services are appreciated.”
And, in time of battle the bandsmen were invaluable in providing ambulance services on the field, assisting the surgeons, and attending to the wounded in the hospitals. On June 16, 1862 the Third N.H. Regiment participated in its first battle, at Secessionville near Charleston. Hamilton described the aftermath. “When July 4 dawned upon us, we had little inclination for celebrating. Our campaign against Charleston had been a wretched failure. By exposure and battle, our ranks had become decimated, and our courage was at low ebb … The anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was observed here in silence …”
In July 1862 the U.S. Congress ordered that the regimental bands be mustered out, as they were too expensive to maintain. The army would now allow bands only at the brigade level. Hamilton described the mustering out of Third N.H.’s band at the post headquarters at Hilton Head, S.C.: “On Sunday morning, August 31, we attended our last guard-mount (changing of the guard), played the last time for parade, and were mustered out of the service, thus ending our duties … Although a pang was felt at leaving our comrades with whom we had shared so many hardships … most of the members were glad to return to their homes and friends in the old Granite State,” Eldredge wrote, “We loved that band and we parted from it reluctantly. (Good-bye,) band.”
On Sept. 2, 1862, after an eventful year of service, the 20 or so band members boarded the steamer Star of the South, bound for New York City. A large and tearful crowd of soldiers gathered at the dock to wish them well. The voyage was very trying, as the men had to sleep in the ship’s filthy hold, which had recently been occupied by horses. And the food was awful. When the men arrived in New York on Sept. 7, they first enjoyed a good meal in a hotel. Then, they went shopping for new civilian clothing in the Jewish quarter, which was the only place where stores were open, as it was a Sunday.
Hamilton returned to Concord on Sept. 9, 1862. He hoped to re-enlist with an officer’s commission, as he had served in the regular army prior to joining the Third N.H. Regiment band. However, he wasn’t terribly disappointed when the commission didn’t materialize. As he later wrote, “During my sojourn in South Carolina, I had kept up a correspondence with Miss Stark, the youngest sister of my old-time comrade, Joe. On my return to the farm, we decided to go into partnership for life.” Joe was Josephus Stark, who had served in the army with Hamilton in the late 1850s. He and Nancy Chase Stark were descendants of Maj. Gen. John Stark, a New Hampshire hero of the American Revolution.
Henry, age 29, and Nancy, age 24, were married on Oct. 14, 1862. They would have four children, and Henry would enjoy a long career as a printer. In addition to this work, he would continue to pursue his musical vocation. He would play with various orchestras and become the leader of the Third Regiment, New Hampshire National Guard band. Henry Hamilton’s beautifully written memoir, “Reminiscences of a Veteran,” was published in Concord in 1897.
Next week: The Third N.H. Regiment band is gone, but the story continues.