Some say Lincoln won the Presidency on the shoulders of supporters from New Hampshire. The Republicans who formed the party that carried his nomination had gathered around Amos Tuck in his home in Exeter to plan Lincoln’s speaking tour through New Hampshire in early March 1860. The attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 -- a month after Lincoln's inauguration and seemingly aimed directly at the man New Hampshire had helped elect -- was the opening shot in the American Civil War whose 150th anniversary being commemorated from 2011 to 2015.
In the light of that 1860 Presidential Primary-like tour – and given the 33,937 New Hampshire men who joined the Union Army to fight (and die in substantial numbers) in places like Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Antietam -- there are good reasons that New Hampshire might pause to look at how history happened here and the impact the Civil War made on lives across the state.
Some might ask just what New Hampshire has to commemorate, 150 years later, and why places from Peterborough to Portsmouth are making major commitments to the theme. We have no battlefields to tour, for example. All the action then and now seems focused around Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and beyond.
Yet, there are those 33,937 soldiers – 4492 (14%) of them who died. In Portsmouth, 3,000 men answered Lincoln’s call for NH volunteers -- out of a city population 10,000 in 1861. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard built the USS Kearsarge, among other combatants for the Union Navy. One in ten soldiers and sailors did not return; and the cultural and economic landscape changed forever.
In Act III of "Our Town" written at MacDowell Colony in Peterborough NH -- whose cemetery contains 240 graves of fallen volunteers -- Thornton Wilder has his Stage Manager comment on the graves of Civil War veterans in the cemetery of Grovers Corners, NH -- the fictional town where the play is set. He says:
"New Hampshire boys had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they'd never seen more than 50 miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends, undefined, the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it."
There is much Civil War history to explore here in New Hampshire. Follow the links under the "NH People & Places" tab above, to begin.
Image: "A singular monument" (see link above right, to blog) to New Hampshire's William Houghton, Plumer Smith and William Smith.