Civil War 150
New Hampshire

Far from New Hampshire on that first Christmas

21 Dec 2011 1:08 PM | Anonymous

There’s a new balsam wreath on the Fitz John Porter statue in

Haven Park. Thank you, Strawbery Banke Museum, for refreshing the wreath placed during ceremonies honoring the 125th anniversary of Porter’s Army pardon. Portsmouth-born Porter, who was the subject of an exhibit at the Museum, one of the first of the Civil War 150th exhibits in New Hampshire, was already one of Gen George McClellan’s six company commanders in the field. McClellan, who would prove a fateful mentor to Porter, was already the cause of frustration in the White House and the War Department. The tidings of comfort and joy were definitely being sung in a minor key this Christmas of 1861

While it’s not a subject that gets much attention in Civil War accounts of battlefields, the role of the Union Navy (and the importance of the

New Hampshiresailors and marines who fought in ships built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard) did get special notice from the President 150 years ago.

On December 21, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the Navy Medal of Honor. Presented to sailors or marines who "...distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities,” the medal would have been significant to those working at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. After years of inactivity the Yard was coming to life, as the first of 26 ships built 1861-65 to challenge the growing fleet of Confederate raiders on the high seas were being built there. The Yard had built just 13 ships in the 60 years since being appointed the first US Navy Yard in 1800 but was now hard at work. Ships under construction included the new Kearsarge, honored on Portsmouth’s Civil War monument in

Goodwin Park, whose crew would ultimately be credited with turning the naval tide, but not until June 1864.

The ground troops from

New Hampshirewere beginning to hunker down for the winter. Some of the members of the first regiments, mustered in Portsmouth, who had volunteered for the three-month stint “to restore the Union” had gone home. Others had realized from the First Battle of Manassas in July that Stonewall Jackson was not going to let the end come quickly, or without significant cost.

The 4th New Hampshire Regiment of Infantry, which had mustered in on September was now in

South Carolina. Just a year before, thanks to Porter’s surveillance, Major Anderson had consolidated troops in Charleston Harbor, moving under cover of darkness from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumterwhere the first shots of the War would be fired on April 1861. The 4th NH had moved to Washington, D.C. in the last half of September 1861, then Annapolis, Md.In late October/early November the Regiment took part in the strategic capture of Port Royal, SCand securing a key point of defense against the Confederate blockade runners.

On November 7th the NH 4th regiment joined the sailors of the newly invigorated fleet, including no doubt, a large Seacoast contingent, to launch one of the first amphibious attacks of the Civil War against Forts Walker and Beauregard at Port Royal on November 7. The South Atlantic Blockading Squadron of the US Navy fleet, under Capt. Samuel Francis DuPont, with the US Army regiments on board exploited a gap in the Confederate gun battery on

Fort Walkerand defeated the four small gunboats to take possession of the Fort. The commander of Fort Beauregard, fearing his force would be cut off, ordered the fort abandoned. The entire engagement took under 100 casualties. The regiment would spend Christmas 1861 at Hilton Head; and it would be another year before New Hampshire soldiers would add the name Fredericksburg to the wall of remembrance at Goodwin Park.

 
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