“A War between Classes”: The 5th New Hampshire versus the 1st Texas

Hugh Dubrulle's picture

In this post for the H-CivWar Author's Blog, Hugh Dubrulle of Saint Anselm College discusses one question relevant to his work on how the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry dealt with trauma: what was it about the regiment's social composition and culture that allowed it to suffer huge losses and keep fighting? In responding to this question, Dubrulle compares the social composition of the 5th New Hampshire to another famed Civil War regiment, the 1st Texas. This comparison sets the stage for a follow-up post contrasting the culture of the two regiments that will appear later.

On the sweltering afternoon of July 2, 1863, Union troops near Gettysburg desperately sought to counter a massive rebel assault that threatened to roll up the Army of the Potomac’s southern wing. As part of this effort, soldiers from the 5th New Hampshire advanced gingerly into the Rose Woods to protect the left flank of their brigade which had pushed into the Wheatfield. It was in these woods that the men from the Granite State encountered the 1st Texas, which had moved northward after capturing Devil’s Den. A short-range firefight of frightening intensity broke out. Officers shouted orders as sweat begrimed veterans on both sides furiously loaded and fired their rifles into the rapidly accumulating smoke that infused the woods. Bullets buzzed heavily through the air, snipped leaves from their branches, plonked into trees, and struck men with a peculiar, sickening sound. Union reinforcements poured into the Wheatfield, and the 5th New Hampshire drove the Texans all the way to the southern edge of the woods. Although the southerners had been shoved back, Union forces around the Wheatfield soon became overextended, exhausted, and vulnerable. The federal position began to collapse, and the 5th New Hampshire was swept away in a disorganized retreat. The regiment left behind 25 dead. Disaster had threatened, but the Confederate attack had been halted, and the Army of the Potomac had been saved to fight the next day.

The 5th New Hampshire and the 1st Texas were two of the most formidable regiments that fought in the Civil War. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of II Corps, likened the men of the “Fighting Fifth” to “refined gold,” while the “Ragged Old First” belonged to the Texas Brigade, the most renowned unit in the Army of Northern Virginia. These reputations, however, were purchased at a steep price in blood. At Antietam, the 1st Texas suffered a casualty rate of over 82% of those engaged—the highest percentage loss for any regiment on either side for a single day’s action during the war. The 5th New Hampshire suffered almost 300 combat fatalities during the conflict, more than any other regiment in the Union army. What permitted these units to absorb such tremendous punishment and keep fighting?

One line of inquiry was suggested to me by an article that appears in the notes to the introduction of Susannah J. Ural’s Hood’s Texas Brigade—Charles E. Brooks’s “The Social and Cultural Dynamics of Soldiering in Hood’s Texas Brigade” which was published in the Journal of Southern History back in 2001. Brooks was interested in studying the brigade to delineate the relationship between southern elites and common people. His study of the Texas Brigade’s social composition as well as its culture led me to believe that such an investigation of the 5th New Hampshire might explain the source of the regiment’s strength. I also thought that a comparison of the two units might reveal some instructive contrasts and similarities. For today, I will focus on the question of class, leaving a more extensive discussion about culture to my next post.

Brooks starts by establishing that the great majority of the rank and file in the Texas Brigade reflected Anglo society in that state as a whole: most of the men were of moderate means, about a third were slaveholders, and of that third, the great majority owned fewer than ten enslaved people, Brooks’s sample for the 1st Texas yielded the following figures for total wealthholding (real estate plus personal property) among privates in the regiment:

Privates in the 1st Texas Volunteer Infantry

Total Wealth

$0

$1-

$249

$250-

$499

$500-

$999

$1000-

$4999

$5000-

$9999

$10000-

$19999

$20000-

$49999

$50000+

 

Percent

15.0%

3.3%

8.3%

20.0%

26.8%

10.0%

10.0%

3.3%

3.3%

How do these results compare with the 5th New Hampshire? I have data for 540 original volunteers (including both officers and men). These include soldiers who survived the war along with those who were killed in action, suffered mortal wounds, or died of disease. In the Census of 1860, I found information about the wealth of 372 of these men.

 

Totals for the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry (n=372)

Total Wealth

$0

$1-

$249

$250-

$499

$500-

$999

$1000-

$4999

$5000-

$9999

$10000-

$19999

$20000-

$49999

$50000+

 

Percent

35.2%

18.5%

3.5%

9.7%

28.5%

3.8%

0.5%

0.3%

0.0%

This table shows that, on average, volunteers in the 5th New Hampshire were substantially poorer than their counterparts in the 1st Texas. What the table does not express clearly, however, is that the 5th New Hampshire consisted of several distinct groups with different patterns of wealthholding.

Soldiers who lived in their father’s households when they enlisted (n=158) constituted a plurality in my pool (if, upon enlistment, a volunteer lived with his father, I followed Brooks and counted the father’s wealthholding). Almost 80% of these fathers held between $500 and $9999 in property with well over half falling in the $1000 to $4999 range. This group of soldiers accounts for almost everybody in the table who possessed more than $1000. This was the only group that was solidly ensconced in the middle class.

Another group consisted of heads of household (n=110) whose average age (mid-30s) put them well above the average for the regiment. They rarely possessed property worth more than $1000 and quite often much less than that. This group probably for a majority of the men in the range between $1 and $999. Most were laborers, shoemakers, carpenters, masons, or otherwise involved in the manual arts.

Finally, almost as numerous as heads of household were those young men who enlisted while living in another person’s household (n=104). A great number of these volunteers were farm laborers living in their employer’s residence. Almost all of them owned no property.

Not surprisingly, many of the 5th New Hampshire’s officers tended to be much wealthier than the soldiers they led. The company commanders’ occupations and total property were as follows: farmer ($6800); farmer ($5000); merchant ($2000); shoe leather cutter ($1800); brick mason ($1800); joiner ($1200); farmer (no property listed); policeman (no property listed); teamster (no property listed); and no occupation (no property listed). This list, however, forms a stark contrast with the company commanders of the 1st Texas who pursued more professional occupations: three lawyers, three physicians, one merchant, one university president, one stockraiser, and one planter’s son.

What the foregoing indicates is that the social composition of the 5th New Hampshire—both among officers and men—appears to have been much more plebeian than that of the 1st Texas. Indeed, that dissimilarity helps explain why the culture of the “Fighting Fifth” was very different. Not suprisingly, soldiers who came from very different social backgrounds needed to be led in very different ways--as my next post will demonstrate. 

Dear Hugh,
I'm enjoying seeing how you're deploying data in your project -- with my own research focusing on an individual, my research doesn't lend itself to this kind of analysis across/between groups, although perhaps as I follow your research your approach will help me see possibilities for similar approaches in my work.

You answered one question I had within your post -- why the "bubble" appears in the middle of the wealth chart for the New Hampshire soldiers. I understand now that it has to do with paternal wealth in this group versus independent measures for those in the lower-wealth category. But here are two other questions:

1. What was the reason for the sharp contrast in professions between the NH officers and the Texas officers? Weren't we all told in high school that the South was agrarian? (And we all know what we were told in high school about US history was impeccable and unimpeachable!) What are all those educated professionals doing in Texas? Why isn't there a comparable class elite among New Hampshire officers?

2. You began by noting the persistence of both groups in the face of enormous battlefield loss. But if there is a discernible class difference between the New Hampshirites and the Texans, is class relevant, or a red herring?

-Lois

Dear Hugh, 

This is an interesting comparison. As I read it, I found myself asking the following questions, most of which could be folded into one about representativeness. Since nothing is representative of everything and everything is representative of something, don't take these to be criticisms so much as questions aimed at thinking through the data.

How much does it matter that the comparison is between a relatively new state (both in terms of statehood and the amount of available or recently sequestered arable land) and and old one? Does a lack of readily available, quality farm land in New Hampshire explain the difference?  Perhaps the propertiless in the two data samples are of substantially different average age? I remember, if imperfectly from my graduate student days, reading Kenneth Lockridge and others on the shrinking landholdings of adult males in colonial and revolutionary New England. That's a bit remote for the 1860s, but I found myself wondering about the underlying socioeconomic story behind the difference.

I also wondered what the father's wealth tells us. On the one hand, the sons were probably relatively economically secure--middle class, as you say. But, on the other, did the sons expect to attain the same level of affluence? Of course, the data may not offer much guidance, but the notion of class can get slippery over time. 

I wondered what the two samples would look like if you graphed individual wealth vs. age for the two groups on the same scatterplot. 

Hope that's helpful. 

Best wishes, 

Dave Prior

Dear Lois,

Both of your questions are very good, and I think they highlight the degree to which class has to be interpreted in light of other factors.

1) I don’t know why there were so many educated professionals in Texas, but I can take a stab at explaining the occupations of the officers in the 5th New Hampshire. It’s my understanding that the regiments organized in New Hampshire before the 5th had been recruited mainly from the larger population centers in the south-central and eastern parts of the state. When it came time to raise the 5th New Hampshire, the decision was made to find volunteers from all ten counties in the state. Not a soul was recruited from the big mill towns in the south (e.g. Manchester and Nashua). In fact, the majority of volunteers were from small, rural settlements. Indeed, a total of 148 towns contributed men to the regiment. Company G was the only one where the majority of men (about 70%) came from a town of any size (Claremont, population 4000). Company A was raised in Concord (the second-largest town in the state and the 86th largest in the country with 10,000 people), but only a plurality of the men in that company (40%) were actually from that town. Almost 80% of the regiment came from towns with fewer than 2500 people.

This was a time when such settlements were in decline. The Census of 1860 reveals that the state’s population had only grown 2% in the previous decade—when that of the US as a whole had increased by over 35%. The main reason for this low growth was emigration; a third of those born in New Hampshire who were still living in 1860 had left the state. While the larger towns in New Hampshire were still growing substantially, the countryside was stagnant or losing population. So I think the answer to your question is that these occupations represent rural, small-town New Hampshire where opportunity was limited and economic activity revolved around farming (which was not terribly profitable).

2) Haha, you anticipate me. This will be the subject of my next post. What I noticed was that the social composition of the two regiments were very different, and the spirit that animated both were also very different. I can’t help but wonder that the two issues are related. But maybe there are other reasons as well. But I like blogging for just this reason—to work out some of these issues and reach provisional conclusions, not necessarily final ones.

Dear Dave,

All of these are very good questions, and they show how necessary it is to contextualize wealthholding and class. I’d like to respond to each of your questions in turn.

I think that you are right in pointing out that conditions in the two states were very different and that probably affected the general contours of property ownership. Randolph B. Campbell and Richard G. Lowe, authors of Wealth and Power in Antebellum Texas, on which Brooks relies for his analysis of property ownership in Texas, argue that inequality (as measured by Gini coefficient) was more or less consistent across the entire United States—north and south. And yet it seems pretty clear that similar Gini coefficients can hide some substantial differences (Campbell and Lowe admit as much themselves).
But to your point about old states and new ones, according to the Census of 1860, over the course of the previous decade, the population of New Hampshire grew by 2.5% while that of Texas increased by 184%. As I pointed out in my response to Lois, a third of the people then living in 1860 who had been born in New Hampshire had left the state. During the 1850s in Texas, the population had grown from 213,000 to 604,000, largely due to migration.

People moved to Texas looking for land. People left New Hampshire because agriculture there had entered a terminal decline, and they sought opportunity elsewhere. In 1860, more people in New Hampshire claimed the occupation of farmer than any other, but I would not be surprised if these folks earned a much more modest income than their counterparts in Texas. Having said that, New Hampshire presented other opportunities that Texas did not. Industry thrived on a substantial scale in the southern part of the state (e.g. Manchester and Nashua) and, in addition, many small towns had started building mills. This was a significant source of wealth that did not exist in Texas, and probably accounted for important differences in the distribution and nature of wealth.

But, Dave, your point is well taken because the great bulk of the 5th New Hampshire was recruited from small declining rural towns.

As or the whole question of attributing a father’s wealth to a son who lives at home—you’re right, that’s a problem. I did it for the sake of comparing apples with apples because Brooks did it too. But a youth living in his father’s household was not guaranteed the same class standing once he left that household. Indeed, once he got married and left, his wealthholding dropped substantially, and he would have to work for years before he could earn the money to buy a farm of his own (or at least that’s the pattern I’ve noticed). In a number of cases, sons of farmers did not succeed in obtaining their own farms.

Finally, there is an important correlation between age and wealth; older people have enjoyed a longer period in which to accumulate capital. And that’s an important point because much of the 5th New Hampshire was very young. I don’t know how they compared to other Union regiments, but only about a third of my sample was married. The median age was around 22. I have no idea what the age distribution was for the 1st Texas or Texas in general, but that would be a very interesting point to consider when thinking about wealthholding.

Thanks,

Hugh

In one of my previous posts, I briefly mentioned William Marvel’s most recent book, Lincoln’s Mercenaries, because his work might have some tangential relevance to my project. In your case, however, his work seems directly applicable.

Marvel’s primary point, if I understand it correctly, is that economic considerations drove the earliest enlistments into the Union army, and thus their patriotism was a secondary motivation. Drawing on an economic downturn during the late 1850s, he posits that many manual laborers (such as shoemakers and carpenters) were struggling financially at the war’s outbreak and looked to the war as a way of getting back on their feet. You also mentioned in one of your follow up posts that enlistees often came “declining rural towns.”

But what struck me from your post was the 5th New Hampshire’s tenacity to keep fighting, despite sustaining heavy losses. Perhaps these were themes you intended to cover in a future post, but I am curious if you’ve read Marvel’s book and take any stock in arguments? Did these men join the 5th NH out of economic necessity, only to later to find meaning in the war effort?

Dear Daniel,

These are great questions. In some cases, I meant to discuss them in my last post but could not for want of room. In others, I plan to say more about these matters in a later post. I think the short answer to your question is, “Yes and no.”

I have not read Marvel’s Lincoln’s Mercenaries, but it’s on my shelf, I’m familiar with the general outline of the argument, and I have every intention of reading it when I get the chance.

But to answer to your question, this is what I think. In looking at the ages of enlistment in my pool, I noticed that there was a substantial decrease in volunteering after men reached their mid-twenties. This was right around the age that men usually married, so I think I’m correct in assuming that marriage was a deterrent to enlistment.

The men who were married and volunteered anyway ranged in age from their mid-twenties to mid-fifties. They rarely owned farms. They were most frequently laborers, carpenters, shoemakers, masons, and joiners. A small minority owned more than $1000 in total property, but over two-thirds possessed less than $500 (frequently much less). About a quarter had no property at all. I think this group—married heads of household with families and not much property—was the one most likely driven by financial duress to volunteer.

I have also found some evidence that parents who lived in poverty encouraged, or at least abetted, their underaged sons’ efforts to volunteer. The father or mother would sign the parental permission form (which was required if the volunteer was 18) and claim the son was several years older than he really was (say, 18 instead of 16).

To what degree these poor men (or boys) detected a purpose in the war after they volunteered is a great question, and one I’d really like to answer. One theory I have from reading about the regiment and looking at the data is that some (especially young men) really seemed to find their métier in the army. Through service they sought advancement and respect that they had not obtained in civilian life. A number of these young, poor men rose from the ranks to become non-commissioned or even commissioned officers. Casualties were heavy, so opportunities for advancement (especially in a regiment that was notorious for promotion from within) were frequent.

I have to say also that I’ve found some obvious evidence of patriotism among the soldiers in this regiment. The following document relates to Albert G. Cummings’ attempts to enlist in the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, a 90-day regiment that was raised in April 1861. Since Cummings was only 18 when he volunteered, he was considered underage, and his father, Daniel M. Cummings wrote a letter of consent that he addressed to Captain Edward Sturtevant, who organized a company in the regiment. I include the letter here because in September 1861, Cummings went on to volunteer in the 5th New Hampshire.

Enfield, N. H. April 22nd 1861

Capt Sturtevant
Dear Sir [,] Mr Houston
informed me that you wished my con-
sent for my son Albert G. to enlist
in your Company of Volunteers for
the defence of our country’s rights
to maintain the constitution and
laws against the rebellion gotten up by
disunion despots arrayed against free-
dom. to your request Sir I give my un-
qualified consent & to him say go to
your country’s defence, remembering that
your noble ancestors ever stood ready
when their country called, to obey its
mandates, from the commencement of
the Old French war of 1755 to the close
of the glorious war of the revolution
they were ready and did noble service
both at our colonial combats and in
the invasion of Canada, go be steady
be loyal, be brave, do your duty forth-
fully and and [sic] may prosperity ever
attend you in your perilous way

Ever yours
D. M. Cummings

It is worth noting that according to the Census of 1860, Daniel M. Cummings, who lived in Enfield, NH, owned $1500 in real estate and $2200 in personal property. In other words, this was a family that did not suffer from financial difficulties. His son Albert was appointed 1st Sergeant in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire where he served again under Captain Edward Sturtevant. Albert Cummings was wounded three times during the conflict (Fair Oaks, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville) and was discharged disabled in October 1864 as a captain.

Cheers,

Hugh

My research into the regimental books for two upstate New York units and the provost marshal records for their districts confirms that by 1863, many poor and working-class parents and guardians encouraged and abetted enlistment of their underage sons. Others, of course, reacted with alarm when their sons enlisted and brought attention to forged consents when seeking the boys’ discharges.

Military and civilian recruiters could be quite careless or dishonest, but this was often abetted by the public. The colonel of one regiment even noted that it had become something of a “habit” or “game” (I forget the exact word) for people in his district to assist in enlistment fraud. In addition to actual parents who were complicit, so-called “fictitious mothers” earned fees from posing as consenting parents.

While your example of consent from a middle-class parent is certainly pertinent, from what I’ve seen a majority of underage (and overage) volunteers had poor or working-class backgrounds.

Dear Will,

I’m not dreaming, then, am I? It’s extremely interesting to hear that this was a widespread phenomenon. Thank you for the confirmation.

So far, I’ve looked at original volunteers from 1861, and I can only imagine that the problem of underage enlistment had become much worse by 1863 when the national, state, and town bounties were so much higher. I’ve established that at least 10% (if not more) of the 5th New Hampshire’s original volunteers were 17 or younger (which strikes me as a high number). After the regiment returned to Concord to recruit following the Battle of Gettysburg, it was filled with a smattering of volunteers, a small number of draftees, and a huge intake of substitutes. I have to believe that under those circumstances, underage enlistment must have been fairly high. After this point, desertion from the regiment, especially among substitutes, skyrocketed.

But you are quite right that while some parents abetted their underage sons, others did everything they could to get them out of the army. Orastus J. Verry of Company E in the 5th New Hampshire forged his father’s signature on his enlistment papers. When the father found out, he asked the regiment’s Colonel, Edward Cross, to release Verry. Cross refused, and Verry’s father approached his congressman, Thomas Edwards, who interceded in the matter and got Verry discharged as a minor in December 1861. Cross was absolutely beside himself at this turn of events, sending furious letters to both Verry’s father and Edwards (the letter to the latter found its way into the newspapers). Cross wrote, “If he [Verry] is discharged, with equal reason might one-half of the army be discharged.” This statement was obviously an exaggeration. It is interesting, though, because it indicates that Cross well knew that a large proportion of his unit was underage. For every Verry who was discharged, there were dozens of boys whose parents helped them to get into the army. And it makes sense that most of them came from poor or working-class backgrounds.

Many thanks,

Hugh

Hugh, years ago I started a project documenting underage and overage recruits in Jefferson County, New York. Results before I had to give it up indicated that about 10-15% of enlisted men were under 18 when they enlisted and 5% were over 45. While they were recruited throughout the war, a definite uptick in the practice occurred in 1863-65. I didn't have access to William Marvel's methodology at the time, but census data and scattered bits of evidence indicated they were primarily poor and working-class. This county is on the Canadian border, and many were immigrants. Many also had health or fitness issues that should have disqualified them.

On a slightly related topic, I once did a small study of the age distribution of men enrolled for the draft. The data showed an impressive bulge in men who were about a year too old to be drafted and men who were about a year too young to be drafted. :)

[nb: Marvel did some great work in that book, but his use of the census was pretty horribly flawed and really of no interpretive value.]

Dear Will and Matt,

I’ll take the liberty of responding to your comments at the same time since they are closely related. Before I forget, Matt, I want to ask you about primary sources associated with enrollment in the draft (and substitution). Where and what are they?

Will, your figures conform exactly to what I’ve found for the 5th New Hampshire among the original volunteers who enlisted mainly in September and October 1861: just over 10% of them were 17 or under while about 5% were over the age of 44. I suspect the actual percentages were probably higher because I could not always find census data that confirmed or contradicted the ages that men gave on their enlistment forms. Needless to say, the “official” self-reported ages of men in the ranks show interesting bulges at 18 and 44; youths and old men were lying so they could fit within the age limits.

My impression is that the original volunteers for the 5th New Hampshire were drawn mainly from the young and poor (although there was a substantial group of young men living in households headed by middle-class fathers). It dawned on me that it would be difficult to make definitive statements about the degree to which the social status of soldiers differed from the general population without looking at a sample of that population. So a student department assistant and I are collecting data about Claremont, NH, from the 1860 Census. I chose Claremont because it contributed more soldiers (77) to the regiment than any other town in New Hampshire. Company G, which was filled with 71 Claremont men, was the only one in the regiment where the majority of soldiers came from a single town. I plan to compare census data associated with these men (as well as data about the other 300 or so volunteers from Claremont who served in other regiments during the war) to the rest of the town’s population. In 1861, Claremont had 4,000 people arranged in just over 800 households (it was the eighth-largest town in the state). Wish me luck!

I also very much want to learn more about the kind of people the regiment received once the draft was implemented in 1863. By my reckoning, about four-fifths of these folks were substitutes. Unfortunately, this group is very hard to track because a high proportion was from out of state (including a large number of immigrants) and a great many of them deserted. That’s why I initially focused on the original volunteers; it’s much easier to find information about them.

Cheers,

Hugh