Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: Saxie Pike's glorious life unfolds in the public eye
On Friday, September 4, 1857, newspaper dispatches from Worcester, Massachusetts, reported, "The fireman's grand muster came off in this city today. The weather was delightful and the city thronged. About sixty companies were present. The grand procession, composed of nearly 3,500 firemen in uniform, with a great number of bands of music, and with their apparatuses, tastefully decorated, started at 9 ½ o'clock this morning, and marched round the City Hall, making a brilliant appearance."
Marching energetically at the head of the Manchester Cornet Band was drum major Saxie Pike. As the band played lively tunes, a group of Manchester firemen followed behind, pulling Torrent No. 5, their 1844 hand-tub engine. After the parade the New England fire companies regrouped for the muster competition. When their turn came, the Manchester men pumped Torrent No. 5 with all their might. They were able to force water through the engine's hose straight up to an astonishing height of 188 feet, easily claiming the $300 first prize. (You can see Torrent No. 5, which was manufactured by the famous Hunneman Company of Boston, on display in the Millyard Museum in Manchester.)
In 1858 and 1860 Saxie Pike served as the Manchester Cornet Band's librarian. Through his efforts and that of the band's other librarians, the Manchester Cornet Band's music was assembled into 16 books that are known as the Manchester Cornet Band Books of the Walter Dignam Collection. These are held in the archives of the Manchester Historic Association, where they are available to researchers. The band's music was microfilmed in the 1970s, so that the Library of Congress could also provide access to the materials.
Today the music is an important part of the Library of Congress' special collection, "Band Music of the Civil War Era." This collection provide a rich original source of music from the era, and pieces played by the Manchester Cornet Band are often played today by 19th Century reenactment bands.
Saxie Pike would have an eventful career in the Civil War. The attack on Fort Sumter took place from April 12-14, 1861, when the secessionist state of South Carolina demanded that the U.S. Army abandon its fort in Charleston Harbor. President Lincoln immediately called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months to counter the rebellion. The 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment was immediately formed, filling its ranks within two weeks. It was commanded by Colonel Mason Weare Tappan. From May 1-7 the unit mustered at "Camp Union" at the fair grounds on the east side of the Merrimack River in Concord.
The Manchester Cornet Band accompanied the Manchester recruits to Concord, but didn't stay with the regiment. Instead, the 1st New Hampshire was joined by another Manchester band, Baldwin's Cornet Band, led by Edwin T. Baldwin. More than half of Baldwin's group lived or worked in Manchester, including several men who were employed by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. There was no official way for a band to join a regiment, so the band members were encouraged to enlist individually either as regular privates or as company musicians. Each had to provide his own band uniform and instrument.
Saxie Pike enlisted in the 1st New Hampshire on May 2, 1861, in Company S. He was given the title of Principal Musician, Fife Major. Saxie expected to be issued a baton suitable to his new rank and status, one that would complement his colorful uniform. He was displeased with the stick he was issued.
Manchester author L. Ashton Thorpe wrote in his 1939 book, Manchester of Yesterday, "In full uniform he visited the capitol at Concord and with that sublime assurance for which he was noted, strode past a group of important personages waiting to see the Governor and unceremoniously entered the council chamber. Interrupting a conference…he exclaimed: 'Governor, just look here! What will the people of New York, Washington and other big cities think of New Hampshire, when you send me out there with this little drum-stick with a brass and iron head on the end of it?"
Saxie Pike was soon issued a heavy 5-foot long wooden baton with a large shiny brass head. This impressive and unique baton would become his trademark.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — "Saxie" Pike in the Civil War..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org