photo by Paul Oman - 603-435-7199
Pittsfield, NH -- 03263
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Abandoned and forgotten, both during and after the battle, the 12th New Hampshire Mountaineers fight for their lives a half mile behind Confederate lines at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Sunday, May 3 1863 was turning out to be a disastrous day for the Union Army
and everyone involved knew it. Not far from Chancellor House, General Sickles, commanding what was left of the
3rd Corp., was doing his best to slow the advancing Confederates as they pushed their way through the Union center.
Sickles was retreating slowing, giving the rest of the Army behind him much needed time to reorganize.
The Union artillery men were no doubt nervous as they looked across the clearing before them, knowing at any moment Confederate soldiers would come bursting into view and charging their position. They were now the front line, the point of contact in a battle gone sour. The Union men were as ready as they could be. Their cannons were doubled shotted with grape and canister. At their side, mounted on horseback, was none other than General Sickles himself, calm and clearly in charge of the situation.
Suddenly the moment arrived! It was do or die. Groups of shouting men were appearing out of the woods and running into the clearing before them. The gunners reached out to pull their lanyards and send those first masses of men before them into eternal history.
Yet just before spark met powder and iron tore flesh, Sickles crowded over his artillery crews. Seeing specks of blue uniforms, he shouted frantically, "Hold on there; hold your fire; those are my men in front!"
The lanyards were not pulled, the cannons remained mute. The Confederates paused, seeing now what was pointed directly at them. But one small group of men, 20 or 25 of them, kept running toward the Union lines were the sounds of death had suddenly turned into cheering. General Sickles himself rode forward to greet them. "What regiment and where's the rest of it?" he called out in military greeting.
A wounded and blood stained Lieutenant Bedee, who is about to receive a second and more serious head wound from a shell fragment, replied, "Twelfth New Hampshire, and here's what's left of it!" With those fateful words, the 12th NH was once again accounted for.
With Bedee's second wound, Lieutenant French, a First Lieutenant for less than two weeks, was now in charge of what was left of the 12th NH (French would be shot in the head and instantly killed at Gettysburg only a few weeks later). The regiment had survived Fredericksburg experiencing only Confederate cannon fire. Chancellorsville was the first time they had come under rifle fire. That morning they had advanced, as ordered, with 549 men and 25-28 officers. At roll call the next morning, the 25 or so men with Lieutenant French had grown to 97 men and four officers as scattered members of the 12th found their way back to the regiment. On the following day (May 4) Lt. Gorham Dunn wrote in his diary, "Who would have thought, nine months ago, when I enlisted as a private, that I should have command of the remnants of two companies of the regiment now?" (Dunn actually entered the regiment as a sergeant. He was killed on 6/3/64 at Cold Harbor).
In all, the 12th NH had just lost 325 officers and men killed, wounded, captured and missing at Chancellorsville (6 officers killed, 69 men killed, 3 field and staff officers killed, and 250 men and officers wounded) . One source suggests this to be the highest number of losses of any regiment, North or South, at Chancellorsville. In terms of percentage Union men killed or mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, the 12th NHis tied for 3rd place with a percentage of twelve.
Yet, despite one of the most gallant actions of the entire war, the story of those Granite Stater's brave stand would never be officially reported, but Sickles remembered. Years later, at a 3rd Corp reunion in Boston, Sickles recalled, "I know that the 12th NH was the last regiment that left the field that day... As I remember it there wasn't much more than a baker's dozen left of them... Oh yes, I certainly know and shall never forget so much about the 12th NH at Chancellorsville."
Officially, the 12th NH was raised to full strength in only four days. On Aug, 12, 1862, Governor Berry of New Hampshire issued the enlistment papers necessary to create the regiment. On Aug. 16th, a full regiment of men, the completed paperwork, and all the necessary document were returned to the Governor. This ‘four day' regiment formation is probably a record, but of course, there was much organizational activity underway before the enlistment papers were actually issued. The Mountaineers, as they would call themselves, were now official.
Thomas Whipple (Lt Colonel of the 90 day 1st NH Regiment, Colonel of the 4th NH Regiment for its first six months), helped raise the regiment and was elected the regiment's colonel on Aug. 20, but Governor Berry instead selected John Potter ( who was a capt. in the regular U.S. Army - 7th US Infantry), instead. Potter was part of the Union presence in Texas that was surrendered by Major Lynde to the Confederates on July 27, 1861. The regiment was not happy with the Governor's override of Whipple, who did not become a part of the regiment and remained in New Hampshire.
Nearly all of the regiment was mustered in on Sept. 5, 1862. While they heard their first enemy shots on Oct. 13, their first serious ‘view of the elephant' was at Fredericksburg. In a way the regiment was lucky at Fredericksburg. They spend December 12 and 13 dodging cannon shells within the city limits. A handful of men were killed or wounded, but their turn to make the next death assault on Marye's Heights was cancelled when the Union army gave up charging the Heights.
On Dec. 16th, as the Union Army was retreating from Fredericksburg, Companies C and F of the 12th NH where ordered to hold their position in town and where then promptly forgotten. The pontoon bridges were already being taken up when the regiment's Lt. Colonel, John F. Marsh, dashed back across the bridges and into the city to rescue the two companies still holding their position.
By an odd twist of fate, the same thing would happen at Chancellorsville, the day before the 12th's big battle. And again, Company F (many from Pittsfield, NH) would be involved.
It was Saturday, May 2, 1862, and Stonewall Jackson's Confederates had just surprised the Union Army and was driving them back. Company F and Company G were sent forward as an advance guard to cover the Union retreat. Later, the rest of the regiment was ordered to retreat, but no retreat orders were issued for Companies F and G. When rescued, the two Companies, still at there post, were nearly surrounded by the Confederates.
Sunday morning, May 3, and the Union brigade, consisting of the 84th PA, the 110th PA, and the 12th NH, commanded by Colonel Samuel Millard Bowman, found the battle raging before them to the left and right. Bowman advanced obliquely to the left with the two Pennsylvania regiments and was soon out of sight, leaving the 12th NH to look after itself. A staff officer for General Amiel Weeks Whipple (not the same Whipple that helped organize the 12th) rode up to Colonel Potter and told him to advance behind the regiment to his right. However, the men in that other regiment refused to advance, so Potter, and the 12th NH Regiment, advanced alone. Shortly thereafter, the same staff officer appeared again and told Potter to advance again, engage the enemy, and hold him in check. There are two versions as to what the final words of the order were, either, "as long as possible," or, "until the last man falls." The New Hampshire men did as ordered and began their two hour standoff behind enemy lines.
Within 30 minutes, fully one third of the regiment's men were killed or wounded. Major George Savage left the field with a bullet wound in the jaw. His brother, Captain Moses Savage of Company A, lay dying nearby. Captains Keyes and Durgin were dead or dying. Captain May was seriously wounded as were Captains Lang, Shackford, and Barker (who would later become the regiment's final commander). Lieutenant Cram, recently promoted from the ranks, was killed. Before long, Colonel Potter was seriously wounded in the leg and carried back to Chancellorsville house (where later in the day he was captured by the Confederates. He was paroled two weeks later and set to a Washington, DC hospital. He never returned to the regiment). Lt. Colonel John Marsh was also wounded and left the field (He also never returned to the regiment). Approximately fifty men, most of them wounded, were captured, all between the regiment's position and the Union lines to the rear. Lieutenant Bedee, also wounded, decided to stay with his men instead of leaving the field. Sergeant Moses Chapman leaned his gun against a small try for a minute or two while he retrieved his extra cartridges. During that minute or two, the tree was hit with six bullets. Once or twice some Union troops appeared on the regiment's flank. They would fire once or twice and then disappear from view, leaving the 12th as alone as ever.
With both men and ammunition dangerously low, Lieutenant Bradbury M. Morrill of Company D, (wounded at Gettysburg 7/2/63 and discharged 11/11/63) suddenly realized he was now the senior officer on the field, but he hesitated and Lieutenant Bedee of Company G, realizing that capture or death were the only options if they maintained their position much longer, took the initiative and ordered a retreat, leading the remaining men back toward Union lines. The path back was partially blocked by Confederate troops who demanded their surrender, but a quick detour uphill and swift feet got most of the remaining men dashing headlong toward the artillery of General Sickles.
According to the diary of Sergeant (later Captain) Richard Musgrove, "While on the retreat, the Johnnies were close at our heels and in advance of us on the right and the left, far beyond the position held by us before that position was abandoned. Several of our few survivors fell. One of my comrades who was running at my right - I did not know who - fell with a piercing cry of pain and terror. About the same time, a ball struck the stock of my musket and knocked it from my hand, numbing my fingers. I kept on without waiting to pick up my musket.
"From the woods to the Chancellor House, a distance of perhaps half a mile, was an open field, and over this we had to pass; yet it seems a wonder that any man could pass through the storm of shot and shell that swept this field and live. The air was full of flying missiles and the ground was plowed up in all directions."
Chancellorsville would hold one more insult to the 12th NH. On May 5, about 100 men for the 12th, most of the regiment, where ordered to leave behind their gear and dig some trenches. While this was happening, an order to retreat was given and the unclaimed gear, including haversacks with personal photographs, etc. were all burned.
The official story of the 12th New Hampshire's role at Chancellorsville was never written. A wounded Colonel Potter, for some reason, never did file a report. The brigade commander, Colonel Bowman was not with the 12th and made no mention of their actions in his reports. Only General Whipple knew about the brave actions of the regiment. Unfortunately, General Whipple was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter shortly after the 12th New Hampshire returned to Union lines. While being carried off he expressed a hope that he would live long enough to give the 12th New Hampshire a just report. He died before he could write that report.
Years later, Asa Bartlett, (then a Sargent Major with the regiment and who would rise to the rank of Captain. He too was seriously wounded at Chancellorsville), writing the regimental history would ask, "If Bowman left Colonel Crowther in command of his two Pennsylvania regiments, what hindered Colonel Bowman from looking after the other (the 12th)? Or if he could not possibly do so himself, where were all his staff officers ad aides-de-camp? It is safe to presume, that had the 12th been at that time as far to the rear as it was in front of the main line of battle....it would have no reason to complain for lack of attention from either general or staff officers."
In a letter written by Colonel Hall on 2/21/1892 (Hall was a Captain on General Whipple's staff during the battle and was the one who lead the survivors to the rear) Hall states, "Colonel Bowman really gave no direction to the 12th that day, after the first formation in the early morning, and it was not under his eye at any time after, during the battle... I wish I might help by my testimony to do that justice to the gallant 12th New Hampshire which my lamented friend, General Whipple, did not live to do..."
Hall, in the same document, gave his account of what happened. He explained that the regiment was, "posted near the edge of the woods below the Chancellor House. It got separated, by some chance, pretty essentially from the rest of the division. I rather think its separation was brought about by its fighting better and more doggedly maintaining its position... General Whipple and his staff were attending rather more to the rest of the division, because, as I remember perfectly well, he had full confidence in the 12th and it commander, Colonel Potter (note: both Potter and Whipple were ‘regular' army before the war), and believed it would hold its ground as long as possible... After our line was broken almost everywhere and the army was practically driven from its position, and a retreat or rout was imminent, this regiment was still maintaining itself and had not given up its ground... Then, when about the whole line had retreated toward the Chancellor House, the situation of the 12th began to be a matter of inquiry, and steps were taken by General Whipple to save whatever might be left of it... Colonel Bowman, commanding the brigade, has lost communication with it - but I remember finding the remnant left of it after it had got back as far as the Chancellor House, and taking it off the field...."
The 12th New Hampshire's blood contribution to the Union war effort was far from over after the Battle of Chancellorsville. The regiment, or what was left of it, would once again shed blood at Gettysburg. At Gettysburg the regiment advanced with approximately 220-222 men and 5 officers, Capt. John F. Langley now commanding (Langley was working in a staff position outside of the regiment during the Battle of Chancellorsville). They were a part of Sickles' advanced position and located along the Emmitsburg Road, north of the infamous Peach Orchard. In the fierce give and take fighting that day, it is believed that the 12th NH advanced further across the Emmitsburg Road than any other regiment.
Just like at Chancellorsville, as the battle raged, the 12th found their flanks exposed as the Confederates pushed the Union troops near the 12th NH back. It is here that Lt. French was killed and regimental commander Capt. Langley was wounded. Most of the other officers were also wounded, leaving Lt. Fernal in charge of the men remaining on the field. Instead of retreating, however, Fernal advanced, leading the remaining men back upon the field the had just left. As they pushed the Confederates back, they release captured Union troops and regained the field. The results of their brave actions that day cost the regiment 20 men (including Lt. French) killed and 73 wounded, 6 mortally. The next morning approximately 50 men were fit for duty.
Cold Harbor (first week of June, 1864) was the next battle that would again decimate the ranks of the 12th NH. Although not a part of Meade's army, the 12th was sent to join Meade for the battle. The 12th was ordered to be the lead regiment at its section of the line and to charge the Confederates in a tightly packed formation. Approximately 190 men from the regiment advanced. The results were disastrous. With about 10 minutes nearly half the of the 12th lay dead or disabled (21% of the regiment, 63 men, were killed or mortally wounded. Many more were wounded).
Again, Bartlett's regimental history tells the story, "To give a description of this terrible charge is simply impossible, and few who were in the ranks of the 12th will ever feel like attempting it. To those exposed to the full force and fury of that dreadful storm of lead and iron that met the charging column, it seemed more like a volcanic blast than a battle, and was about as destructive. The men went down in rows, just as they marched in the ranks, and so many at a time that those in the rest of them thought they were lying down, either from instinct or command, to avoid the fire that they could no longer withstand. " During the charge Bartlett had one shot cut his cap, one shot cut the strap to his canteen and haversack and the blanket across his shoulder hit in several places.
In the trenches behind the 12th was the 148th NY. Their Lt. Colonel, John Boyce Murray, said about the 12th NH, "My God! I never expected to see a regiment march into the jaws of death, without flinching, as that regiment did."
The 12th NH was a regiment of heros. During the Petersburg Siege the 12th was sent out to investigate a Confederate position in what become known the Battle of Port Walthall (May 26, 1864). As Company B reached the crest of a hill, the Confederates opened fire and nearly every man in the company went down killed or wounded. A mortally wounded German recruit named Henry Lintner cried out to Bartlett, "For God's sake, help me Lieutenant!" Bartlett stepped out from behind his cover, went out to him, then left and returned a second time with a stretcher. During those two trips out between the battle lines not a shot was fired from either side, although Bartlett was standing or walking within speaking distance of the enemy!
On that fateful night in April 1865, Capt. Bedee, who as the lieutenant lead the remnants of the 12th back to Union lines after their fight at Chancellorsville, was on special leave in Washington D.C. and present at Ford's Theater. Upon hearing the fatal shot and realizing what happened, Bedee leaped into Lincoln's box and then lifted a doctor from the audience into the box. Holding the President's head while the doctor searched for the wound, Bedee discovered the fatal bullet site. At this point, documents fell from the President's jacket pocket and Mrs. Lincoln gave them to Bedee for safe keeping. Shortly thereafter he delivered those documents to Secretary of War Stanton and on the next day returned to the 12th NH regiment. He was promptly arrested. The mistake was promptly cleared up. Those in charge did not know that Bedee had, in fact, delivered those papers directly to Stanton.
But it isn't just Bartlett and Bedee that deserve special mention, it is the entire regiment. After the fall of Richmond, the 12th NH was stationed as peace keepers at Danville, VA, the place where Jefferson Davis initially traveled after evacuating Richmond, and the site of his last official proclamation. The 12th performed nobly in its new role as an occupational force. When they left the region in June, the mayor of Danville, J.W. Walker, wrote to Colonel Thomas Barker, who was commanding the 12th NH. The letter said, "It was suggested by citizens that there should be some expression of our appreciation of the proper and gentlemanly bearing of yourself, your officers, and your entire command while on duty here..... It is proper that you, Colonel, and the officers and men serving with and under you, should know that you and they possess our respect as soldiers and our esteem as men for the manner in which you and your command have discharged duties which might have been, in another spirit, painful or annoying to our community; and we deeply regret your removal from this post while a military occupation is continued. We request you make known to the men of your command our high appreciation for their uniform good conduct, their quiet and unassuming deportment, and their prompt and efficient service in the protection of private property..." These are remarkable words coming from a strongly pro-confederate community so soon after the war.
Shortly thereafter (June 21, 1863), while still in Virginia, 218 men of the 12th NH regiment was mustered out of service. The regiment's replacement recruits were transferred into the 2nd NH regiment. On July 4 the regiment assembled for one last back home in Concord, New Hampshire. The brave Mountaineers, having ‘seen the elephant', were once again back home.
According to the internet American Civil War Research Database, the 12th NH ranks 27th based upon percentage of its ranks killed or mortally wounded in battle (12.30%) for the Union Army. The database consists of all types of regiments (infantry, artillery, Calvary, etc.) and all enlistment terms (90 days, 3 years, etc.) and contains 2362 listing for the Union army. Counting just the original members of the regiment the percentage of killed or mortally wounded increases to 14.1% (the average percentage for the entire Union army is 3.79% killed or mortally wounded). Deaths from all causes increase that number to 22.3% (or 26.3% for the original members of the regiment). Overall New Hampshire statistics, and statistics for the Union army, generally show about twice as many men dying from disease vs. battle related deaths. In the 12th NH, battle deaths exceeded disease related deaths.
Article on the 12th NH regiment - (www.pauloman.com/civilwar.html)
NH and Pittsfield, NH Civil War stats -(www.pauloman.com/cwstats.html)
Info on the men listed on Pittsfield's Civil War monument -(www.pauloman.com/monument.html)
More info about certain people on both of Pittsfield's CW markers - written as Memorial Day and Vet. Day articles -(www.pauloman.com/memorialday.html)
New Hampshire cupolas; More on Pittsfield, NH; New
Hampshire Civil War stuff; Harvey Lake - Northwood, NH; WWII coming of age letters; and more neat stuff! - CLICK