Keene and the Sixth NH Regiment
Extracted from “A History of the Town of Keene”
by S. G. Griffin, Keene NH
Sentinel Printing Company 1904
Note: A more extended historical account of the Sixth regiment is given for the reason that a large number of its members were residents of
Keene, and that, having encamped in town for nearly two months, a more extensive acquaintance was made with its officers and men by the
citizens of Keene than with those of any other regiment.
The Sixth regiment had its rendezvous at Keene in the months of November and December, 1861, and was mustered into the United States
service Nov. 27-30. Its camp was on the Cheshire county fair grounds, now Wheelock
park, which then had buildings suitable for the quartermaster's use, but not for quarters for the men. Those were provided by the state in the
form of large conical tents, each of which was furnished with a stove. Nelson Converse, of Marlboro, was appointed colonel; S. G. Griffin,
promoted from captain in the Second, lieutenant colonel; and Charles Scott of Peterboro, major. Don H. Woodward, Esq., of Keene was
appointed adjutant, but resigned before the regiment left the state, and was succeeded by Phin P. Bixby, of Concord. Alonzo Nute, of
Farmington, afterwards member of congress, was quartermaster; Dr. William A. Tracy, of Nashua, surgeon, succeeded after a year and a half
by the assistant-surgeon, Dr. Sherman Cooper of Claremont; and Rev. Robert Stinson, of Croydon, chaplain, succeeded after six months bv
Rev. John A. Hamilton of Keene, who remained with the regiment one year. Company B was recruited in Keene by Obed G. Dort, who was
appointed its captain; and John A. Cummings, who joined it with a squad of recruits from Peterboro, was made its first lieutenant. A part of
Company F was also recruited in Keene, by George C. Starkweatber, who was appointed its captain, but soon resigned; and there were
Keene men also in other companies. During their stay in Keene the officers of the regiment received polite attentions from the citizens, and
accepted many invitations to social functions-a striking contrast to the hard and dangerous life which was before them. On Thanksgiving day
the whole regiment was provided by the citizens with a sumptuous dinner at the camp, which both officers and men thoroughly enjoyed and
never forgot. December 19 the regiment marched to the Square and formed in a circle around Central park, in which were Governor Berry and
staff, Hon. Peter Sanborn, state treasurer-who was present to pav the soldiers the money then due them from the state and their bounty of ten
dollars each-and the field and staff officers of the regiment. The governor addressed the regiment in a patriotic speech and presented it with
its state banner and the national colors. On Christmas morning the regiment left its camp and marched to the station-through snow more
than a foot deep which had fallen in the night preceding-and took the cars on the Fitchburg, Worcester and Norwich route to New York and
thence direct to Washington. The Sentinel of December 26 published a full roster of its members, with the following paragraph:
DEPARTURE, OF THE SIXTII.-The Sixth regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers left Keene in twenty-two cars, at about nine o'clock,
Wednesday morning. The soldiers seemed in good spirits, and were heartily cheered by an immense crowd that had assembled to witness
their departure. * * * *
" Taken as a whole, we doubt if a better body of men has gone to the war from this state. The field and staff officers are gentlemen of superior
character, unstained by any vicious habits, and are actuated by the purest principles of patriotism. They have the entire confidence of the men
under them, and of all who know them at home."
Encamping for a few days near Washington, the Sixth was assigned to Burnside's expedition to North Carolina, and on the 8th of January,
1862, went on board the ship Martha Greenwood, at Annapolis. At Fortress Monroe it was transferred to the side-wheel steamer Louisiana,
and in that river boat doubled Cape Hatteras in one of the worst storms of that stormy coast. For several weeks it was encamped on Hatteras
Island, where it suffered severely from measles, malarial fever and other diseases. About sixty men died, and several others were
permanently disabled. This sickness prevented the regiment from taking part in the capture of Roanoke Island, but early in March it removed
to that island and remained until June, making some excursions on the main land and breaking up rebel encampments.
In March, Col. Converse resigned and Lt. Col. Griffin was promoted to colonel, Major Scott to lieutenant colonel, and Capt. Dort to major. On
the 19th of April the Sixth was engaged in the battle of Camden, N. C., and at a critical moment was ordered to attack. The regiment advanced
in line of battle, nearly 1,000 strong, and at the word of command poured in a volley with all the coolness and precision of a dress parade.
The enemy broke and fled, and the battle was won. That volley brought the Sixth commendation in general orders, and gave it a reputation in
Burnside's corps which lasted through the war. From Roanoke Island it joined the main body of Burnside's force at Newberne, and on the 1st
of July was assigned to Reno's division of that force-now the Ninth army corps -and sent to aid McClellan on the peninsula. McClellan's
movements having failed, Reno's division was ordered to the aid of Gen. Pope, commanding the army in front of Washington, landed at
Acquin Creek, marched to Culpepper Court House, and joined in Pope's retreat before the advance of Lee's army. During its four weeks with
Pope's army the service of the regiment was exceedingly severe -marching by night, and engaged, or in constant expectation of engagements,
by day. That campaign was one of the most trying the Sixth ever experienced. Rev. John K. Hamilton of Keene was appointed chaplain and
joined the regiment at the beginning of this campaign.
Previous to that, while the regiment was encamped for a short time at Newport News, the wives of Lt. Col. Scott, Major Dort, and Capt. John
A. Cummings, visited their husbands, taking the major's little son, four or five years old, with them. After the regiment had left, the partv, with
the sick of Reno's division, among whom was Lt. Col. Scott, went on board the steamer West Point and started for Baltimore. While
ascending the Potomac river, in the evening of August 13, the boat collided with the descending steamer, George Peabody, and sank. One
hundred and twenty were drowned, including all the ladies and the child, and George W. Marsh, of Keene, a private in the Sixth.
At the second battle of Bull Run, Aug. 29, the Sixth - with the two other regiments of its brigade, the Second Maryland on its right and the Forty-
eighth Pennsylvania on its left- was sent into a piece of woods with orders from Gen. Reno to "Drive the enemy out and hold that ground." The
regiment made a gallant attempt to obey the order, not suspecting that it was set to perform an impossible task. As it advanced into the
woods it was received with a murderous fire; four color-bearers were shot down in succession; its left flank was uncovered, and it was
compelled to retreat to save itself from capture.
Almost one-half of its whole number of officers and men present-about 450 - were killed, wounded or taken prisoners. Among the mortally
wounded were Lieut. George H. Muchmore, Sergeant Isaac P. McMaster, and Private Samuel E. Douglass; and among the wounded were
Privates Anthony Demore, Roger S. Derby, Henry A. Farnum, Henry C. Flagg, Henry Flint and James H. Smith, all of Keene. It was afterwards
learned that the opposing force was Longstreet's whole corps, seven lines deep.
After the battle of Chantilly, in which it was engaged Sept. 1, the Sixth was with its corps in McClellan's Maryland campaign. It was engaged at
South Mountain; and at Antietam, with the Second Maryland, both under Col. Griffin, it made a gallant charge on the famous stone bridge, but
their numbers were too small to ensure success. It was, however, one of the first to cross the bridge with the reinforcements brought up, and
was the first to form its line confronting the enemy on the bluff beyond the bridge. After that battle and a rest in Pleasant Valley, the Sixth was
with the army in its pursuit of Lee, and at Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, it was in the column of the Ninth corps that charged Marye's Heights, and
suffered severe loss. In February, 1863, two divisions of the Ninth corps under Gen. John G. Parke were sent to Newport News, and thence,
in March, to join Gen. Burnside in his command of the department of the Ohio. Early in April they moved into Kentucky to protect that state
from Confederate raids and prepare for an advance into east Tennessee; and for a few weeks the soldiers enjoyed their camps in the
celebrated blue grass counties. Col. Griffin being in command of the brigade, Lt. Col. Henry H. Pearson, promoted from captain, was now in
command of the regiment.
Early in June, Gen. Parke and his two divisions were sent to aid Gen. Grant in his siege of Vicksburg, and formed a part of the army under
Gen. Sherman to confront the Confederate Gen. Johnson and protect Grant's rear. The Ninth corps troops were encamped at Milldale and
vicinity, on the Yazoo river. Vicksburg surrendered on the 4th of July, and Sherman immediately moved his army, reinforced by a part of
Grant's, in pursuit of Johnson. The march to Jackson, where Johnson made a stand and the Sixth was engaged, and that of the return to
Milldale after the capture of the city, were among the hardest and most distressing ever experienced by the Sixth, on account of the heat and
lack of water and that campaign in those malarial regions of Mississippi was more injurious to the health and morale of the troops of the
Ninth corps than any other of the whole war. Many lives were lost and many constitutions broken. In August, the corps returned to Kentucky.
In consequence of the sickness thus contracted the Second division was divided, the stronger regiments marching to east Tennessee, while
those more seriously affected remained to recuperate and protect the loyal people of Kentucky. The Sixth was encamped for short terms at
Frankfort and Russellville, and then was placed on guard and provost duty at Camp Nelson, a large and important depot of supplies near
While at that post a large majority of the men-280, or about three-fourths of all who had, served a sufficient length of time-reenlisted for three
years or the war, and received a furlough of thirty days granted by the terms of enlistment. The Sixth was the first New Hampshire regiment to
reenlist, and did so in larger proportionate numbers than any other from the state, retaining its organization of ten companies to the close of
the war, while most of the others were consolidated with other New Hampshire regiments before being mustered out. On the 16th of January,
1864, the regiment-the reenlisted men-under Lt. Col. Pearson, started for New Hampshire. On its route to Concord, via Cleveland, Buffalo
and Rutland, the regiment stopped over one night in Keene. It was royally received and entertained by the citizens, and the men were provided
with quarters in the town hall. At Concord it had another grand reception, and the next day the men dispersed to their homes. They remained
in the state until the 18th of March, when they reassembled at Concord and again started for the front to take part in Grant's great campaign
through the Wilderness.
The Ninth corps was then reassembling and reorganizing under Gen. Burnside at Annapolis. There the Sixth met its recruits and those who
had not reenlisted, brought forward from Kentucky. The Ninth and Eleventh New Hampshire Volunteers were also brought on from Kentucky
and east Tennessee, and the three New Hampshire regiments, with the Seventeenth Vermont and Thirty-first and Thirty-second Maine,
constituted the Second brigade of the Second division, commanded by Col. S. G. Griffin, thus leaving Lt. Col. Pearson in command of the
Sixth. It was sometimes called the New Hampshire brigade, but other regiments were added from time to time until there were eleven in all in
On the 23d of April the corps left Annapolis, marched through Washington, where it was reviewed by President Lincoln, and after some delays
joined the Army of the Potomac just beyond the Rapidan river on the evening of the 5th of May. At 2 o'clock the next morning the New
Hampshire brigade was again in motion, marched a few miles in the darkness, got in position as daylight appeared, and attacked the enemy
at sunrise near "Parker's Store." After some desultory fighting in that position the brigade was ordered to the left, through the woods, to aid in
repelling an attack of the enemy on that part of the field. As it came on the ground and formed in line in rear of two other brigades of the corps,
which were lying down to avoid the shot, it made an imposing appearance, four of the regiments being fresh from their states, with well filled
ranks and bright new uniforms and colors.
Gen. Burnside and Gen. Potter, commander of the Second division, were present with their staffs. Pleased with the appearance of this fresh
force, Burnside turned to Potter and said: "Let Griffin attack." Potter repeated, the order and Griffin gave the command "Forward! " The brigade
of six large battalions, numbering about 3,000 men, advanced in line of battle, and as it passed over the prostrate brigades, one after the
other, the sight was so inspiring that the men of each line as it was passed sprang to their feet, cheered, and, without orders, joined in the
forward movement. The whole mass of enthusiastic troops advanced to the charge under a withering fire. For a while they bore the enemy
back; and the Sixth New Hampshire sprang forward, charged with the bayonet, and brought out 106 prisoners. But the troops of other corps
on the left of the Ninth did not join in the movement, and soon its flank was exposed. The enemy did not fail to take advantage of that opening,
swept round and enveloped that flank and compelled the Ninth corps to fall back, but only to the ground from which the movement started.
The Sixth New Hampshire lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Henry A. Farnum of Keene was captured. The Eleventh New Hampshire
also suffered in killed and wounded, among them Lt. Col. Collins, mortally wounded, and Lieut. Hutchins, serving on Col. Griffin's staff, killed;
and Col. Harriman and several others of that regiment were taken prisoners.
During that night the army moved by the left, and at Spottsylvania Court House on the 12th the New Hampshire brigade led the advance of the
Ninth corps in its support of Hancock's movement, at 4 o'clock in the morning, met the enemy in a desperate struggle of five hours' duration,
held its ground, and saved Hancock's corps from being swept off the field in a countercharge. The Ninth New Hampshire made a gallant
dash to capture a Confederate gun, but was repulsed with severe loss. That regiment was in command of Major George H. Chandler, Lt. Col.
Babbitt having been directed by Col. Griffin to take command of the Thirty-second Maine, which was destitute of field officers. The Eleventh
New Hampshire was in command of its senior officer present, Capt. H. 0. Dudley. The Sixth lost sixty-seven killed and wounded, among the
latter Patrick McCaffery, mortally, and William H. Barber, of Keene.
The Ninth lost fifty-five killed or mortally wounded, and nearly 200 wounded, among the latter, Col. Babbitt, severely, and John E. 131lis of
Keene; and its commander, Major Chandler, was also wounded. The Eleventh lost nineteen killed or mortally wounded and about 150
wounded -a total loss in the three New Hampshire regiments of nearly 500. The lines taken on the 12th were held until the 18th, when a
reconnaissance, ordered by Gen. Grant to ascertain whether the enemy was still in force in our front, was made by Griffin's brigade. The
enemy showed no diminution in numbers or determination, and the brigade returned to its position.
Again the army moved to the left, and the New Hampshire brigade was engaged at North Anna river - where Lt. Col. Pearson, of the Sixth, a
brave and meritorious officer, was instantly killed -, at Tolopotomoy creek, Bethesda Church, and Cold Harbor, June 3. Another movement to
the left, by night and by day, brought the army to the James river, which it crossed, and arrived in front of the enemy's outer line of
entrenchments at Petersburg on the 16th of June. That night was spent by the brigade in working its way through slashed timber at the
Shand's house, and on the morning of the 17th, at daybreak, it made a dash over the enemy's works, captured about one thousand prisoners,
four pieces of artillery and a quantity of arms and ammunition. Advancing the next day to the main works, for nine weeks it lay in the besieging
lines, close to the enemy-in some places within two hundred yards -almost constantly under the fire of the pickets, and suffered continual loss
in killed and wounded. It joined in the charge at the battle of the Mine, July 30, where the Sixth lost heavily. Among the killed of that regiment
was Capt. William K. Crossfield, of Keene, an excellent officer. On the 20th of August, the Ninth corps moved to the left and was engaged in
the battle on the Weldon railroad; and again, Sept. 30, at Poplar Springs Church, where the New Hampshire brigade lost heavily in killed,
wounded and captured. Among the killed was Lieut. Emory of the Ninth, on Gen. Griffin's staff.
Early in December the Ninth corps returned to its former position in front of Petersburg, and held the lines on both sides of the Jerusalem
plank road. During the last days of March and first of April, 1865, in the movements that culminated in the capture of Petersburg and
Richmond, Griffin's brigade of nine regiments bore an important part. Acting under orders from Gen. Grant, in connection with Hartranft's
division of six regiments, on its right, it made an assault at 4 o'clock on Sunday morning, the 2d of April, and broke through the enemy's main
line -the line, bristling with abatis that had held the Union army for more than nine months-in front of Fort Sedgwick; and the next morning the
army marched into Petersburg. A furious artillery duel had aroused the enemy, and the assaulting columns were received with a deadly fire,
the brigade losing 725 men in killed and wounded. The brigade was with its division-now commanded by Gen. Griffin - in the pursuit, and at
the surrender of Lee; and afterwards encamped at Alexandria, and took part in the grand review in Washington on the 23d of May. In June and
July the troops were mustered out of service, the Sixth New Hampshire' being retained till the last of its division -July 17. Each regiment as it
was discharged proceeded to Concord and delivered its colors to the governor of New Hampshire.