The late summer and early fall of 1862 saw the disbanding of most of the regimental bands in the U.S. Army. These had been established in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, but the government would now only pay for brigade-level bands. This was done as a cost-saving measure, as a brigade generally included three to five regiments. And, while the regimental bands could have up to 24 musicians on the payroll, the brigade bands were limited to 16. A few regiments, including the Fourth N.H., were able to maintain their own bands, if private funding could be found.
The Third N.H. Regiment’s band was required to muster out at the army post at Hilton Head, S.C., on Aug. 31, 1862, after a year of service. Before leaving for his home in Concord, N.H., Gustavus W. Ingalls, the band’s 39-year-old leader, agreed to organize and conduct a new band for the Hilton Head post. This would serve the Second Brigade, Tenth Army Corps, Department of the South. The Third N.H. was one of the brigade’s four regiments.
In early 1863 the band was recruited in Concord by Ingalls and by an officer of the Third N.H. Regiment. The enlistees included six former members of the Third N.H.’s band — Samuel Brown, Henry F. Brown and John C. Mitchell of Fisherville (now Penacook); Henry Stark of Goffstown; 13-year-old drummer boy Nathan M. Gove of Concord; and Phineas Parkhurst of Templeton, Mass. Two other Fisherville musicians signed on — Lorenzo M. Currier and David A. Brown. The inimitable fife and drum major Francis Harvey “Saxie” Pike of Manchester, who had served in the bands of the First N.H. and the Fourth N.H. regiments, also joined. The remaining seven musicians came from other towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Ingalls and his musicians arrived at Hilton Head on April 22, 1863. In the following weeks, Ingalls shaped the group into a polished ensemble, which became known as the Post Band. As time went on, he increased the size of the band to over 20 players, and also made up for personnel losses due to medical and other discharges, by transferring qualified soldiers from the regiments. And he was able to hire civilian musicians who were paid from a post expense fund.
As former captain of the Third N.H. Regiment Daniel Eldredge wrote in 1893, “The band did excellent service at Hilton Head … It played on the pier evenings, it played at the General Hospital to cheer the patients, it played at the Headquarters of the Department to cheer the Commanding General, and it played whenever any officer of considerable rank entertained his friends. Indeed, it was sometimes wanted at two places at the same time; and such cases had to be gotten over in a diplomatic way. Ingalls was always equal to the emergency.” The bandsmen developed close relationships with some of the officers, who occasionally paid them extra cash for their performances and who entertained them in their private quarters.
In the summer of 1863 the Post Band served for several weeks on Morris Island and Folly Island near the Confederate stronghold of Charleston, S.C. This was during the period when the Union Army launched two failed assaults on Fort Wagner, and then engaged in a prolonged and bloody siege of Charleston Harbor. Although the band was stationed close to the fighting, the musicians weren’t pressed into medical service, as their great value was seen in providing comfort for the battle-weary troops. The band’s music was particularly favored by the commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore, who had the musicians play for him most evenings.
In April 1864 the Post Band had a morbid task to perform at Hilton Head. Two privates of the Sixth Connecticut Infantry had been condemned to death in punishment for their multiple attempts at desertion. They were made to sit on their own coffins, which had been loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon. The Post Band and the Connecticut unit’s band played solemn music as the vehicle was driven slowly through a large crowd of soldiers toward the waiting firing squad. After the execution, the men were buried in the government cemetery at Hilton Head.
Next week: The Post Band and the raising of the American flag at Fort Sumter in April 1865.