Recently, while perusing through some books on the region’s history, I came across a brief story about a Civil War officer and his horse. The officer was Major George Savage. His horse was Old Tom. Theirs was a relationship based on loyalty and respect that lasted decades after the war had ended. Both had suffered greatly during battle and returned home to Alton, New Hampshire (my new hometown) to live out the rest of their lives. It was their deaths, however, that caused a local controversy that seemed to be resolved only by more and more deaths.
I must first explain my difficulty in finding much about the region’s local history. Most accounts – whether through books, magazine articles, or newspaper clippings – tend to focus mostly on the southern part of the state. Exeter, near Portsmouth, calls itself New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital (something I hope to learn more about this weekend), while Concord’s history goes back to the chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. Here, north of the coast, there is only a general showcasing of historical events. Most of it is based on archaeological finds or the natural history of the White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee. What I’m missing are the personal stories, historical accounts, and the visual markers, here in the Lakes Region, that would normally lead me to seek out the past, right here and right now. Except the only thing I’ve come across so far is a horse whose death nearly divided an entire town.
George Savage (who was actually a Lieutenant Colonel during the war, but everyone called him Major) enlisted in the 12th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment on August 13, 1862. His brother, Moses, followed suit the very next day. The brothers were part of a volunteer regiment that began taking enlistees on August 12th and accepted soldiers’ final papers on the 16th. A formation that took all of four days, and it has been suggested that this formation period was a Union army record. George and Old Tom were part of Company F and Moses was part of Company A, each of whom, along with all of the New Hampshire regiments, saw battle in Fredericksburg. Few men were lost to battle, but Company F was lost completely. As in left behind. Nobody passed on the orders to retreat, so they held their positions.
This seems to be a theme with these three – George, Moses, and Tom. This being left behind business. But there is a happy ending. I promise.
Recovered shortly after the snafu in Fredericksburg, the 12th New Hampshire moved on to smaller battles. In May, they eventually found themselves involved in one of the Confederate Army’s greatest successes: the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was here where Lt. General Stonewall Jackson was injured (which, ultimately, led to his death about a week later) and where General Robert E. Lee claimed his biggest victory.
It was also here, in Chancellorsville, where George took a direct bullet shot to the face. There are reports that Old Tom sustained an injury, as well. Old Tom, it is said, saved George’s life. I can only assume it was during the fighting when the injured Old Tom rushed his injured friend George off the battlefield. Historical accounts say that the 12th New Hampshire was easily overtaken, and a third of the troops had been wounded or killed within the first half-hour of fighting. Sadly, Moses was one of those who had been killed.
Company F was left behind, yet again. The order to retreat had not been made clear, and for those in other companies who had heeded the order, there was little opportunity to find a way out. Lee had broken up his smaller, but better organized Confederate armies. Companies F and G were eventually rescued, but the order to retreat, had it been received, would have meant certain death. The 12th New Hampshire had likely been surrounded by Confederates the entire time.
I have become quite fond of Major Savage and Old Tom in just a few days time. However, I have to end this here. Mostly because their story continues elsewhere, off the battlefield. Or, perhaps, it’s sufficient to say it continued on another battlefield. The battlefield of public opinion. The battlefield of local government bureaucracy. And I will write about that later…hopefully within a few days.
Throughout my studies of American history, I actively avoided war history. Only once did I take a course that focused on war tactics, political chess moves, battle strategies – that being the American Revolution – and only because I wanted a foundation from which I could study how women lived in those times. I am, and have always been, much more interested in the personal stories, never the strategies that launched an individual or a ideology into the realms of political success. Because somewhere, in all that personal greatness or personal awfulness (I’m looking at you, Andrew Jackson) is a human, that we, as people of the future, can only hope to understand. Whatever threads I can find to connect us to them is so vital. At least, I believe it is.
A man and his horse. We can all relate to this, right? Stay tuned…