Note: Friday, May 23, marks the 150th anniversary of the first edition of the Concord Monitor. This is the first of a series I wrote for the paper for the occasion. My aim is to show what Concord, N.H., was like in May of 1864 as the Civil War entered its fourth year.
|Lewis Downing & Sons carriage factory was north of the police station on Main Street across from the Phenix Hotel.|
The Concord of May 1864 had developed the split personality required of a war capital.
The Civil War crept all around the city, bringing sorrow to hearts and hearths. After three years it ground on with no end in sight. Another fighting season had arrived, and a close reader of dispatches from the tangled woods north of Richmond could see that the war had become deadlier than ever.
But alongside this reality, life in the city was richer than ever. Business boomed. Vacancies were rare at the Phenix, the Eagle, the Columbian and the American House. Like livery stables and boarding houses, the hotels “just coined money,” as one resident put it. The telegraph clacked morning to night. For a time the baker James Norris made two tons of bread a day for soldiers encamped across the Merrimack River on the Dark Plains (today’s Concord Heights).
|Lewis Downing (1792-1873)|
The shops of Lewis Downing and Joseph Abbot had manufactured wagons for New Hampshire regiments. Now their mechanics worked overtime turning out gun carriages, caissons and coaches. Orders for flannel meant steady work at B.F. and Daniel Holden’s mill and factory in West Concord. The merchant John H. Hill could barely keep belts and harnesses in stock.
The military draft stoked the wartime economy with government cash. In 1863 the draft had caused riots in New York, Boston, Portsmouth and elsewhere. To resist an uprising in Concord, the city council authorized Mayor Benjamin F. Gale to appoint 100 special police officers and buy 100 pistols and ammo. It set aside $10,000 to put down a riot.
The riot never happened. Big bounties for substitutes gave the unlucky men chosen in draft lotteries one more way to avoid service. The federal, state and local governments all chipped in, and bounties for three-year men rose as high as $1,000. Veterans got cash for re-enlisting, too.
In the end, few drafted men actually served. Their substitutes met city or town draft quotas. Concord was in the middle of a fiscal year in which it would pay out $113,550 in bounties to 93 men. This was more than five times what it paid to the wives and families of soldiers at the front.
Easy money for soldiers kindled a run on luxury items and necessaries in downtown Concord. At Elijah Knight’s or Stanley & Ayer on opposite sides of Main Street, bounty men scooped up high-priced watches and chains, rings and flasks. In between, where Main met School Street, they could buy stationery, Havana cigars, razors and pocketknives. A captain earned roughly 20 times a private’s pay, and many bought fancy swords and silk sashes, fine riding boots and epaulettes gilded with bullion. Hand-sewn shoes were all the rage.
Concord residents also indulged in this time of plenty. By ordinance, Main Street sidewalks were now eight feet wide. Although neither walks nor streets were paved, most merchants had canopies out front and Main Street was sprinkled to keep the dust down. After shopping for jewelry or for a fashionable bonnet at Mrs. M.M. Smith’s, Miss J.L. Crawford’s or one of the other downtown milliners, women and their mates could stroll down to Piper & Haskins opposite the train depot for fruit, candy or ice cream.
Gone were the days when R.A. Houston, who took pictures above Edward H. Rollins’s drugstore opposite the State House, advertised a daguerreotype or ambrotype for “One Bright Quarter.” But soldiers and their sweethearts could choose from at least four Concord salons to have portraits made: W.G.C. Kimball’s, John Morgan’s, George B. Farley’s or E.J. Hunt’s.
The war caused inflation. The price of needles doubled. Prices at the Stewarts’, Main Street tailors and clothiers, jumped to $70 for a beaver overcoat and $30 for a business suit. Even a pair of farmer’s boots from Charles W. Clarke’s dry goods store sold for $5. Coffee from Java or Rio at Franklin Evans’s store went for 65 cents a pound, and tea, brown sugar and molasses were all up, too.
A surreal contrast took hold of the war capital. Opulence and profit ruled on Main Street while an unforeseen human calamity played out in the distance.
War hits home
It wasn’t that the city hadn’t seen and felt the war personally, but as the war entered its fourth year, its human toll had become numbing.
In June of 1861, Lt. Charles W. Walker fell off the train on his regiment’s way south. The train crushed a leg, and the amputation finished him off. He was the first Concord man killed in the war, and newspapers competed for the details of his demise.
For Walker’s funeral city streets teemed with mourners and businesses closed. He lay in state for three hours in the State House rotunda before white horses with black plumes pulled the Downing funeral coach to the Old North Church. There wasn’t an empty seat for the service.
|A company of the 15th New Hampshire Volunteers on Concord's Dark Plains in 1862.|
|Horace Lamprey's temporary|
grave marker in Virginia.
Ghostly figures and men with empty sleeves and pants-legs walked the streets. When trains brought regiments home to Concord for furlough or discharge, they often carried wounded and sick men. In August of 1863, local Sanitary Commission volunteers had to transport dozens of feverish skeletons from Louisiana forts to beds in city hall on Montgomery Street. A new 100-bed hospital wing attached to the building was just going up.
Now, in May 1864, after seeing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant for the first time, an artilleryman under the pseudonym “Laconia” made a revealing remark in a letter to a Concord editor. The war’s aim was no longer to capture Richmond, satisfying as that might be. The hope, “Laconia” wrote, was that Grant’s army might eventually “whip the Rebel Armies out of existence.”
Such destruction of the Union armies had long been the quest of Robert E. Lee.
The slave pen
Thirteen New Hampshire infantry regiments were in the field, and most of the training camps on the Dark Plains were empty. But replenishing the ranks of these regiments required extreme measures. No longer did eager young men rush to enlist in local companies.
The government bought 40 acres in Concord’s undeveloped South End for a camp for draftees, substitutes and a few genuine volunteers. The tract was bounded roughly by today’s Allison, Kimball, Stone and Dunklee streets. Officially named Camp Gilmore, it was called the draft rendezvous or, informally, “the slave pen.”
A 12-foot board fence enclosed the pen. Veteran troops guarded it, as many of its temporary residents schemed to desert with as much bounty money as they could carry. Until they left for the front, they had to deposit their money for safe-keeping but could withdraw what they needed. Because many substitutes were foreigners who had been picked up at ports as far south as Baltimore, a currency exchange was set up so they could trade dollars for money to send home.
The pen’s capacity was 1,300 men. Its cookhouse stood on south Main Street opposite Lewis Downing’s carriage works, but food was prepared in camp as well. The 13 barracks were half-full when it opened in
September 1863, but the pen soon became a crowded den of mayhem.
|Col. John H. Jackson, 3rd New Hampshire|
Whiskey was a prized commodity in the pen, and drinking, thieving and fighting were rampant. Loveland W. French of Concord, a 16-year-old musician from the 3rd New Hampshire, was poisoned in the pen,
although his killer somehow left behind his bounty money. Merchants licensed to sell in the pen, known as sutlers, were caught peddling liquor under the table.
In one case, a guard smelled alcohol as a woman waited to visit her son. It turned out she had sprung a leak. Twenty-four canteens of whiskey hung from the three hoops of her skirt, and flasks were tucked into her stockings.
Edward B. Holt, also 16, volunteered for the 3rd and wound up in the camp. In a letter home to his family in Nelson, he described what he saw. “The whiskey is pretty plenty here today but how they get it in I don’t know unless the guard let it pass on purpose. . . . A fellow here by the name of James Rogers . . . set the guard house on fire the other night and they had to let him out it smoked so. There is some that get robbed every night in some of the Barracks though they haint troubled me yet.”
Agents for New Hampshire cities and towns traveled to the slave pen to acquire soldiers to fill draft quotas. For a cut of the bounty money, brokers sold them substitutes and arranged for transport south.
Many bounty men deserted, leaving their uniforms in the pine trees south of the pen. More than 30 escaped in one group. Others deserted on the way to their regiments by jumping off trains or from hotel windows. Still others deserted in the face of the enemy.
When the army caught deserters, it sometimes punished them publicly. Henry Miller, a 3rd New Hampshire substitute who had been a New York City bartender before he wound up in Concord’s slave pen, deserted at the front. He was caught and convicted one day and shot the next.
This was known as a drum-head execution, and Miller was the only white deserter sentenced to one. The night of his conviction he gave friends in the regiment $638 in cash and two watches. Because his death was intended as an example, his regiment was ordered out to witness it.
|Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore|
The man after whom Camp Gilmore was named was Joseph A. Gilmore, the state’s Republican governor. A Concord railroad executive, he had won the office the previous year with just 43.6 percent of the popular vote. His wily son-in-law, William E. Chandler, succeeded in denying the Democrats a majority, bouncing the choice to the Legislature, which elected Gilmore.
In office Gilmore proved to be a tireless and generous advocate for soldiers and their families. Voters re-elected him to a second one-year term in March 1864 by a majority of more than 5,000.
In this outcome the New York Times saw good news for Abraham Lincoln and bad news for antiwar Democrats, known as Copperheads. Of the Copperheads, the Times said: “As the election in New-Hampshire unerringly betokens, the popular heart is set against them even more firmly. No earthly power can save them from a fatal overthrow in the coming Presidential election.”
Concord was home to former president Franklin Pierce, a Copperhead icon who had spoken bitterly against Lincoln’s wartime policies. Even in a culture of purple prose, his rants seemed disloyal to many soldiers and their families. The local Republican press ridiculed Pierce and printed every scrap it could find about his friendship with Jefferson Davis, his onetime secretary of war.
That May, Pierce had other things on his mind. He had buried his long-suffering wife Jane in the Old North Cemetery just five months earlier. With the coming of spring he promised to take Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Bowdoin College classmate and friend of 40 years, to the White Mountains to restore his health.
The two took a train to Concord the second week of May and set out for the mountains in Pierce’s carriage. They made it only as far as the Pemigewasset House, a large hotel in Plymouth. In the wee hours of May 19, Pierce found Hawthorne dead in his bed. “He must have passed from natural slumber to that from which there is no waking without the slightest movement,” Pierce wrote to Hawthorne’s widow.
In Concord, a new political season was about to begin – first the inauguration of Gilmore in a downtown parade and festival called “Election Day” and then a legislative session. For city residents, one issue would animate this session: Would Concord remain the capital, or would the capital move to Manchester?
The local weekly newspapers and their Manchester counterparts teemed with commentary on the subject, although Concord’s Democratic Patriot was still recovering from a fire. Its offices in the Sanborn Block on Main Street had burned on April 27.
Earlier, soldiers of the 2nd New Hampshire had threatened the paper because of its Copperhead tilt, but there was no evidence of arson. William Butterfield, the editor, did blame city firemen for a half-hearted effort to put out the fire. “But for political hate,” he wrote, “it would have been extinguished without a loss of $1,000 to all concerned.” The loss was six times that.
Into the rough-and-tumble of wartime newspapering, into the debate over keeping New Hampshire’s capital in Concord, and into a city enjoying an economic boom while suffering the numbing tragedies of war, a new voice was about to emerge.
On the weekend of May 21-22, two respected local men and their hired help prepared the first edition of the Concord Daily Monitor.