A Comprehensive Guide To New Hampshire And The Civil War

The American Civil War, fought between the Confederacy and the Union, spanned four years and became one of the fiercest, bloodiest conflicts known to America.

At the time, the American Civil War was one of the largest and most devastating conflicts known to the Western world, and it helped change the face of America as we know it. 

In this guide, we’re going to focus specifically on the role New Hampshire played in the American Civil War. We’ll examine service records, discover how the area changed, and much more. 

What Was The American Civil War? 

The American Civil War began on the 12th of April 1861 and lasted until the 9th of April 1865.  The Civil War also called the war between states, started due to long-standing disagreements between states and the slave trade.

States argued over whether slavery should continue and expand into Western territory, which would have given rise to ‘slave states’, or be abolished from doing so. Many believed that this would then mark the end of the slave trade in America. 

In the middle of the 19th century, The North had a booming economy, whereas the South relied solely on the labor of enslaved black people forced to work on their tobacco and cotton farms and perform other agricultural missions. 

After the 1830s, rising abolitionist sentiment grew in the North, which led the South to fear the dissolution of the slave trade and, ultimately, their economy. 

Rising Tensions 

From the 1830s onwards, tensions only continued to grow. In 1854, the U.S Congress passed what was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Essentially, this act allowed all new territories in America to be open to slavery. This led to one of the infamous battles prior to the Civil War, “Bleeding Kansas.”

Meanwhile, opposition to the move in the North, New Hampshire included, gave rise to the Republican Party, whose sole mission at the time was to oppose the expansion of slavery. 

More events unfolded, including the raid at Harpers Ferry by John Brown in 1859. It was around this time that the South believed with conviction that the North was on a mission to facilitate its destruction. 

After Abraham Lincoln was elected in November 1860, seven southern states withdrew their membership from the United States, including Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. Shortly after, the first shots of the Civil War were fired, giving way to one of the most destructive wars known to the country. 

New Hampshire And The Civil War 

While Southern states fought for the expansion of slavery, New Hampshire was one of many Northern states that opposed it.

Before the Civil War, New Hampshire also had one of the lowest rates of slaves in the country and was never as dependent on the trade as other states were. 

There were two sides to the Civil War – the Union and the Confederates, and New Hampshire had approximately 31,000 soldiers and 836 officers enlisted in Union forces during the Civil War. It’s thought that around 20% of these men were killed in the war or died from disease. 

Those that went off to fight from New Hampshire made up approximately 11% of the state’s population. Although some volunteered to fight, and a few had prior experience, most came from all walks of life. Fighters included lawyers, teachers, mill workers, farmers, and stevedores.

They often struggled to keep their households and businesses afloat and had no choice but to join the fight for the Union when the time came. 

What Were the Union Forces? 

The Union Army, also known as the Northern or Federal Army, fought to preserve the Union (or North) of America. The Union forces were made up of many armies that covered a number of geographical regions.

Each army was made up of U.S regular soldiers and volunteer units given by the Northern and Western areas. 

New Hampshire Regiments 

Although small and remote, New Hampshire played a significant role in the Civil War, contributing plenty of money and supplies to the cause. 

New Hampshire also provided the Union army with 18 infantry regiments. These were: 

  • Three rifle regiments 
  • One cavalry battalion 
  • Two artillery units
  • 3,000 men for the Marine and Navy Corps 
A Comprehensive Guide To New Hampshire And The Civil War

If you want to learn more about some of the New Hampshire men that fought in the American Civil war, you can read through some of the service records here. 

  • The rifle regiments served in the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooters
  • The cavalry battalion, also called the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Cavalry, was attached to the 1st New England Volunteer Cavalry 
  • The two artillery units were called the 1st New Hampshire Light Battery and the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery 

The 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry 

Although each infantry played an integral role in the American Civil War, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry was among the most celebrated.

The 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, which was commanded by Colonel Edward Ephraim Cross, was widely considered one of the strongest regiments for the Unions during the war. Unfortunately, the regiment also suffered the most battle-related deaths of any regiment fighting for the Unions. 

New Hampshire Lost the Most Officers in One Battle 

Although the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry lost a significant amount of soldiers overall, an assault on Fort Wagner in the 7th New Hampshire was the most devastating. The regiment lost 11 officers in one battle alone. 

New Hampshire Nurses In The Civil War 

Before the Civil War, men carried the responsibility of treating the sick and wounded. When the Civil War came, men were needed on the battlefield, leading to many New Hampshire women working as nurses. 

Dr. Esther Jane Hill Hawks, born in 1833, was just one New Hampshire woman who worked as a nurse during the Civil War. When Esther initially applied to volunteer as a nurse, she was rejected by Dorothea Dix, superintendent of Army Nurses. 

Although she was rejected, Esther was determined to help. She eventually ended up working as a nurse, and her husband’s official assistant, at General Hospital Number 10 for African American soldiers in 1863.

After the war, Esther dedicated her time to teaching African American soldiers in hopes they could have a better life after the war ended. Hers is just one of many stories that can be found from the women who played an integral role in New Hampshire during the Civil War. 

Supplies: New Hampshire’s Most Notable Role 

Although the state provided the Union with many men, its generous donations, particularly from women, earned it a strong reputation during the war.

Supplies and donations offered comforts that the government didn’t give, such as clothing, medicine, and financial aid. These weren’t just given by women, but good people across the whole of the state. 

Many other people were sent to hospitals and battlefields from New Hampshire to care for the sick and help bury the dead. Many people even helped care for the families of the soldiers who died or were injured during the war. Such efforts will never be forgotten. 

Final Thoughts 

New Hampshire played a unique role in the American Civil War, with the state’s generosity being one of its most notable roles. Its donations of medical supplies, equipment, money, and men played a big part in securing the eventual victory of the Union. 


Kyle Battis is a life-long NH resident that enjoys making his way around the state, sampling delicious food and drinks, and sharing his experiences. Follow us at www.HereInNewHampshire.com