The Civil War, The War of Rebellion, The War between the States. What do you call it? Does it depend on where you live? Where your textbooks were published? Does it matter? Probably not. Whatever name we give it, this war has captured the imagination of most Americans as no other war in which we have engaged ever has. Probably all of us know which president presided over this war and which northern general later became president. Everyone knows the name of the southern general who signed the surrender in 1865 and that he
was a West Point graduate. We know that the National Anthem was written by an eyewitness to the firing on Fort Sumter . Thousands of people visit Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields every year. Each summer people travel throughout the eastern states to attend and participate in reenactments of these battles. Although a hundred and forty years have passed since the war ended at Appomattox, this tragic confrontation remains the definitive war of American history.
It’s impact on Gilford and surrounding towns took its toll. According to Adair Mulligan in the Gunstock Parish: a History of Gilford, New Hampshire, “when the conflict exploded into war, an entire company enlisted in Gilford in August 1862, and became known as Company G of the New Hampshire 12th Regiment.” According to Mulligan, nearly a third of the 12th regiment were men and boys from Gilford.
She speaks of Alvah Hunter, a 16 year old from the village who “wheedled his enlistment from the recruitment officer in Laconia by promising that he could play the fife ‘after a fashion’.” Two weeks later Co. G boarded the train for Concord, Alvah says, “We were marched to a hall just off Main Street and each one was given a tin plate, cup, knife and fork and spoon…We were quartered in the barracks with the other companies of the 12th New Hampshire Infantry. After about two weeks, which were spent in company drills and one or two other bungling attempts at lining us up as a regiment, we were ordered before the company surgeon for a physical examination. I knew at once (when) I stood before the surgeon that my goose was cooked for the surgeon was Dr. Charles Hunt, who had taught school in Gilford Village and it was no use to lie to him about my age – He knew me!” Alvah was sent home to Gilford, from which he promptly departed to Boston where he enlisted as a wardroom boy on the ironclad monitor, Nahant.
Two hundred sixteen men from Gilford served in the “War of Rebellion”. Nine never returned home. Several died at Chancellorsville, one of the war’s deadliest battles. Dr. Hunt, who served at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, “died in a southern prison camp of typhoid contacted after long days and nights working in the field hospital and caring for southern soldiers”.
The NH 12th, consisting of men from Laconia, Sanbornton, Meredith, Gilford, Bristol and surrounding towns was the largest NH regiment, formed in just three days in August 1862. The 12th served in many of the major battles of the war and acquitted itself with honor and valor. Of the original 1,463 men who mustered in Concord on September 1862, only 218 remained on June 21, 1865. An excellent book about the NH 12th , Mustered: Foot Soldiers of the 12th written by J. P. Fahey is available at the Thompson-Ames Historical Society.
Warren Sommers, a Special Education teacher in Gilford, an Adjunct Professor at the NH Technical Institute in Concord and a teacher of history at the Laconia Adult Education Program, will present a program on “ A Day in the Life of a Civil War Soldier” at the Meetinghouse on Monday, August 1st at 24 Belknap Mt. Road in Gilford Village. This meeting, sponsored by the Thompson-Ames Historical Society will take place at 7:30 p.m. following a regular business meeting at 7:00 p.m..
Sommers’s interest in the American Civil War has led him to do extensive research on the subject, focusing each year on a different aspect of the war and the reasons leading to it. This year’s focus has been centered on discovering the different approaches to the way the subject is taught in northern and southern schools. His study and visits with teachers, both in the north and south has revealed some interesting fact about the perception held in each area about what led to the war. Teachers in the North tend to focus more on the abolishment of slavery and the preservation of the Union as the l
eading causes while those in the South tend to place more emphasis on the desire of the South for the preservation of a philosophy – a way of life. After years of disparate views on social, economic and political issues, the election of Lincoln and the secession of South Carolina became the catalyst leading to war.
Sommers’s interest in this part of our history has also brought him a new hobby. For the past few years, he has been observing, photographing and occasionally participating in Civil War reenactments with the NH 5th Regiment of reenactors. It is the intent of such groups to recreate an authentic sense of what it was like to be a soldier in this war by traveling as part of a regiment. He will touch on some history of the 5th and the battles in which they participated. His primary focus will be on the responsibilities, routine and regimentation of military life including non-combatant activities of camp life, as well as the horrors of combat.
The public is invited to attend this free meeting at which refreshments will be served and to visit our website at www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org where information may be found related to the sale of The Gunstock Parish: a History of Gilford, New Hampshire by Adair Mulligan and Mustered! Foot Soldiers of the 12th by J.P. Fahey.