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Recent Civil War Encampment gave visitors a rare glimpse of the past

Reenactors honor original members of Civil War Battery

Fire! A Civil War Living History Encampment, featuring the 5th Massachusetts Battery, Light Artillery Army Of The Potomac, Inc, came to the Russell Colbath Historic Homestead, on the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, on July 3 and July 4. Here, soldiers fire a Civil War-era cannon. (Dennis Coughlin Photo). (click for larger version)
July 08, 2010
This past July Fourth weekend, the Passaconaway Valley Civic Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service and the 5th Massachusetts Battery (E), Light Artillery, Army of the Potomac, shared a little piece of that history with all of us.

From 9 a.m. Saturday, July 3, through 1 p.m. Sunday, July 4, a Civil War encampment reenactment took place in the town of Albany on the field by the historic Russell-Colbath barn. The 5th Massachusetts Battery (E), Light Artillery organization demonstrated drills, camp cooking, daily camp life and cannon artillery demonstrations.

Free and open to the public, visitors were invited to intermingle with the woman and soldiers, all dressed in period costumes, who inhabited the encampment. Information provided about the event explained that, "The Fifth Massachusetts Battery (E) was commissioned by the State of Massachusetts in 1861 and saw action in eighteen engagements during the War of the Rebellion, 1861 - 1865. The current Battery was formed in 1963 by people interested in honoring the memory, service, and sacrifice of the original members of the unit by portraying those soldiers with as much historical accuracy as possible."

Kathy Somerville and Marilyn Boutwell, members of the Passaconaway Valley Civic Association, explained that while the Civil War was not fought here, there are two men buried in the Passaconaway cemetery who served in the Civil War. One of the men is Marilyn's great-grandfather, James "Jack" Allen. Kathy states, "This reenactment gives us an opportunity to remember them and the sacrifices they made."

Marilyn relates that James "Jack" Allen was a colorful character who was known to spin a yarn or two. Born in Sebec, Maine in 1835, Jack first became a sailor out of Boston, at sea for eight years. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted in the 5th Maine Infantry and fought in many conflicts including Bull Run, Gettysburg and the Battle of the Wilderness He was a color Sargent, responsible for carrying the flag into battle. During the Wilderness fight he received a severe saber wound which disfigured his hand for life. The flag he was carrying at the time is currently hanging in the State House in Augusta with his blood on it.

Jack was captured and imprisoned in a Confederate jail and was not able to return to the area until a couple of years after the war ended. When he got back, he found that his wife, thinking him dead, had remarried. Without ever telling his wife that he was alive, Jack relocated to the Passaconaway Valley, becoming a guide and hunter, and somewhat of a hermit. He spent about 40 years of his life in the Valley area.

Marilyn shares this story about her great-grandfather: "An interesting fact about Jack was that he had two children, a daughter and a son, who both thought he was dead. The son heard about this hermit up here with the same name as his father and he came here to investigate and found his father. That's how my family ended up here. Jacks son is my grandfather. Jack died in 1912."

The other Civil War veteran interred at the Passaconaway cemetery is Orin Chase.

"The sad story of Orin Chase," relates Kathy, "is that he fought all through the Civil War and survived. On his way home he was stabbed to death while being robbed of his soldiers pay. Only his body made it home to his family. Orin was 28 years old at the time of his death."

Information provided by the White Mountains Attractions Association states, "The Kancamagus highway was named for Kancamagus, an early Indian Chief of the Penacook Confederacy, who tried to keep the peace between his people and the white settlers. Repeated harassment by the English eventually ended his efforts, and ultimately brought war and bloodshed to the region. In the early 1690s, the tribes of the Confederacy scattered, and Kancamagus and his followers moved on, either to northern New Hampshire or — in some instances — to Canada.

"It was Passaconaway, Kancamagus' grandfather, who, in 1627, originally united more than 17 central New England Indian tribes into the Penacook Confederacy. The rich flat land 12 miles from Conway is named for him. This community was first settled about 1790. The Russell-Colbath House is the only remaining 19th century homestead in the area, and serves as a U.S. Forest Service Information Center."

In many ways, life hasn't changed too much from the Civil War days for the inhabitants of the Passaconaway Valley, who still live off the grid with no electrical and no phone lines. But modern conveniences can still be had. Kathy, who lives near the Russell Colbath House, says she has solar panels to generate electricity and watches TV and accesses the internet via satellite. Marilyn, who lives close by, goes to the public library to use their computers.

It is this blending of the old and the new that makes life in the Passaconaway Valley so interesting. This past weekend gave visitors to the area more than a journey through the area — it gave them a rare view into the past.

In addition to hosting the recent Civil War Reenactment, the Russell-Colbath House operates as a historic house museum, with an on-site historic interpreter. Visitors can learn about the history of the Passaconaway Valley, the families who lived in the house, domestic life in the 19th century, and view artifacts uncovered in recent archaeological excavations. The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public seasonally. Interested persons may contact the Saco Ranger District at 447-5448 for hours and more information.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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