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Among the many one-of-a-kind items held at the Bangor Historical Society, there’s a silver cornet that once allowed a Bangor man to use his music to soothe weary, war-torn soldiers and the people of Savannah, Georgia, during the Civil War.
Melville Andrews, born in 1844, spent the better part of his life as a music store owner, teacher and bandleader in Bangor, where he led what would become the Bangor Band, conducted the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and wrote hundreds of musical compositions.
But before he was a beloved member of Bangor’s business and artistic community, Andrews was a teenage soldier, fighting for the Union Army during the Civil War, and using his musical chops to uplift both his fellow soldiers and civilians.
According to a BDN obituary published after his death in 1921, Andrews was born in Oxford County, and began playing music as a young boy. As the Civil War started in 1861, at age 17, Andrews joined the 12th Maine infantry, and served throughout the conflict as an infantryman and a musician in various army bands and ensembles. Over the course of nearly five years of service, he took part in six battles in Louisiana and Virginia, before joining Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army in 1864.
One of the most notable chapters of the Civil War was Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864, when the general led his troops from Atlanta to Savannah on a “scorched earth” campaign, destroying military and civilian targets to destabilize the Confederacy. Sherman’s tactic, though ruthless, worked — six months later, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered, and the war was over.
In his memoirs, Sherman recounted their departure for the march on Nov. 15, 1864, when a particularly rousing version of “John Brown’s Body” was played. Andrews undoubtedly played in that rendition.
Over the course of a grueling month, Sherman’s troops made their way through Georgia, burning farmland, factories and businesses alike, and thousands of southern refugees driven from their homes and formerly enslaved people joined them on the march along the way. By the time they reached Savannah on Dec. 20, the city’s mayor agreed to surrender if Sherman would not destroy the city.
Throughout the months that Union forces occupied Savannah, some soldiers attempted to foster better feelings among the locals and the Union army men. Andrews took it upon himself to regularly set up in one of Savannah’s many famous squares — which still stand today, thanks to Sherman sparing them — and give trumpet concerts.
By the time Andrews finally left Savannah in 1866, its denizens so appreciated his months of entertainment that they gifted him a silver cornet, a carved wooden cane and a gold watch and chain, in gratitude for “helping to scatter the seeds of discord by his beautiful strains of harmony.”
Returning to Bangor, Andrews first set up the Andrews Orchestra, and was soon tapped to lead the Bangor Cornet Band, the forerunner of the Bangor Band, which last year celebrated its 163rd anniversary. When the Bangor Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1896, Andrews — also a skilled violinist and cellist — became its first-ever cello player. Five years later, he was its conductor, serving from 1901 through 1904.
Andrews also was an accomplished composer, and taught generations of Bangor musicians. Robert Browne “R.B.” Hall, the famous march composer and former director of the Bangor Band, was one of Andrews’ longtime students and considered him a mentor, and later dedicated one of his earliest and most successful compositions — “M.H.A.” — to him.
In 1890, he opened Andrews Music Co., a shop selling instruments and sheet music, including pianos and organs. It was located at 98 Main St., in a now-demolished building adjacent to what would become Freese’s Department Store. It operated for 84 years — long after Andrews’ death — before finally closing in 1974.
In his later years and after his wife, Helen, died, Andrews moved into the Bangor House, and focused less on the business and more on composing, and perfecting his skill as a violin maker.
When the store he founded in 1890 closed, workers discovered one of Andrews’ violins in storage — made of bird’s eye maple. It was then donated to the Bangor Historical Society, which still has it in its collection.
After his death, his cornet from Savannah also went to the Bangor Historical Society, which still has it on display. It’s a symbol not just of a major figure in Bangor’s cultural life, but of the bloodiest chapter of American history — and how even the smallest of efforts by one man can help ease the pain of others.