Sunday, July 5, 2015

Armed with horn and drums, a father and sons go to war

Nathan W. Gove
Music filled the air as the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers marched to the train station in Concord. The regimental band “was considered particularly fine, and had German silver, bell-back instrument.”

One of the tunes it played was “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” which thereafter became the standard for departing regiments. When a town band played “Auld Lang Syne” as the train prepared to pull out of the station, the 3rd New Hampshire’s horn players responded with “Sweet Home.”

Among the departing musicians was Nathan Webster Gove, a Concord man older than most of the volunteers – old enough at 44, in fact, to have brought his two young sons along as drummer boys.

The younger boy, Nathan Marcel Gove, was 11, and played his drum with the regimental band. The older, Charles, who was about to turn 14, served as a company drummer boy. Both had been born in Derry.

Nathan M. Gove
I could find almost nothing about the girl these musical soldiers left behind them. Nathan W. Gove, born in Chester, taught handwriting and worked as an accountant in Concord. He had married Mary C. Fisk, a girl from a large Concord family, in 1839 when he was 22 and she was 19.

Had they argued about whether such young boys should be exposed to the dangers of war? Had they considered the compromise of his taking one and leaving the other? It’s hard to imagine they hadn’t. Had he fully considered the burden he was placing on her? And what did she feel about the separation? Pride perhaps, but certainly also dread.

The 3rd was the first regiment whose men received a $10 bonus from the state for volunteering. Its training camp, named after the new governor, Nathaniel S. Berry, was set up across the Merrimack River below a plateau known as the Dark Plains (now Concord Heights). It was near the river nor far from the bridge in the south of town.

The officers had wall tents, but the men’s A-tents dominated the company streets. Their uniforms were gray, trimmed with blue. They wore gray caps with visors front and back, bore Enfield rifles and carried gray backpacks.

Three members of the regimental band would make names for themselves as chroniclers of the war: the reporter John W. Odlin, a correspondent from the front; John C. Linehan, whose Granite Monthly articles told the story of the men from Penacook (then Fisherville), a village in Concord; and Henry S. Hamilton, a native Englishman whose sprightly memoir has been the subject of earlier posts on this blog (here, here, here and here).

Moore's photo of the 3rd NH band. Nathan M. Gove (above and below) straddles his drum front and center. 
The regiment camped across the river for only a few weeks before it took the train south on Sept. 3, 1861. Two months later it was present at the taking, mostly by naval bombardment, of Port Royal, S.C. It spent much of the next year camped at Hilton Head. It was there that Henry P. Moore, a Concord photographer, set up shop in 1862 and made many pictures of the men, including the band.

On July 16, the 3rd first fought on James Island, in what was known as the battle of Secessionville. It lost 105 killed, wounded and missing. The bandsmen played a role, going onto the battlefield to collect the rifles of the killed and gravely wounded.

At around the time of this battle Congress ordered Union regiments to shed their regimental bands. In August Nathan M. Gove, the drummer in the band, fell ill with malaria. On Sept. 2, a year less a day since their departure from Concord, he and the other band members boarded the Star of the South, for the return voyage.

Much as most of the musicians hated to leave their comrades, they were also glad to be headed home. They were less pleased with their sleeping quarters, a smelly hold whose previous occupants had been horses. They worried about the sick Gove and did what they could to ease his journey.

Nathan M. Gove's drum (courtesy, N.H. Historical Society).
Both Nathan W. and Nathan M. Gove returned to wartime service. The father, then 47, went south in 1864 as principal musician of the 18th New Hampshire, the last regiment raised by the state. Its colonel was less than half Gove’s age. He was Thomas L. Livermore, who had served under Edward E. Cross of the 5th New Hampshire and risen to a staff position by Gettysburg, where he was head of the ambulance corps. Nathan M. Gove returned to the 3rd New Hampshire as a drummer in 1863 and served out the war. He was 15 years old when it ended.

Charles H. Gove remained with the 3rd throughout the war. Afterward he married, lived near Concord and was active in the Grand Army of Republic, the chief veterans’ organization. He died in 1917 and is buried in the Soucook Cemetery.

After the war Nathan W. Gove served as deputy secretary of state under Walter Harriman, colonel of the 11th New Hampshire during the war and later governor of the state. Gove was promoted to secretary of state but died on Aug. 8, 1871, at the age of 54.

Gravestone at Soldiers' Home Cemetery, Grand Rapids
Nathan M., his son, married Margaret Lewis in 1873. They lived in Concord but later moved to Detroit. Nathan joined the navy with the hope that a life at sea would improve his health, which had never recovered after his wartime bout with malaria. He applied for a pension in 1891, when he was 41 years old.

“Entering the army at 11 years of age as drummer my service for nearly four years cost me my health and education and changed the whole current of my life,” he wrote. “I have never been well since.”

He entered the Soldiers’ Home in Grand Rapids in 1912 and died there 10 years later.

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