and the Twelfth New Hampshire Volunteers
By Rudy VanVeghten
There was an atmosphere of excitement and patriotism as the men of Meredith, N.H., gathered at Town Hall July 1, 1862, to consider their role in the lingering war against the rebelling Southern half of the once “United” States. That very day, President Abraham Lincoln had issued his latest call for federal troops, this time for 300,000 soldiers “so as to bring this unnecessary and injurious civil war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion.”
At the hastily called special town meeting, Selectman Isaiah Winch, a local retailer, was likely one of the first speakers urging his fellow citizens to help Lincoln preserve the Union. Another voice undoubtedly heard was Col. Ebenezer Stevens, leader of the local militia unit and one of New Hampshire’s electors for “Honest Abe” Lincoln in the 1860 election.
State Rep. Joseph W. Lang, known locally as “Junior” due to his relationship and identical initials to his uncle Josiah W. Lang, surely took the floor to help rally support for the federal cause. And although not a community leader, perhaps young Edwin E. Bedee contributed to the discussion by telling the assembly about his 90-day stint with the Union army the previous year.
Topping the meeting’s agenda was a measure “to raise fifty dollars and pay to each person that enlists into the service of the United States to fill our quota on the last call.” After approving the initial measure funded by state and federal incentives, the enthusiastic assembly reconsidered the measure and upped the “bounty” payment to $100 “for each and every soldier, citizens and residents of this town, who shall enter into the service of the United States on or before August 18, 1862.”
Meredith in 1862 was not a wealthy town. In fact, the past decade had been somewhat of a financial disaster. First the new town hall built in 1855 had collapsed under the voters, killing five and wounding dozens, and subjecting the town to considerable liability. Then the lower portion of town had petitioned the state legislature and won approval in 1856 to set itself off as the separate community of Laconia, taking with it much of the best industrial real estate. So it was quite a gesture by the July 1 Meredith meeting to commit to an extra $5,000 as enlistment bonuses. Over the next few years, the town would appropriate many more thousands of federally reimbursable dollars, both to pay recruitment bounties and to provide for the soldiers’ wives and children.
Despite the ardor and speed of the local vote, it wasn’t until August 12, 1862, that the New Hampshire governor cleared the red tape needed to begin the enlistment drive. This left only a few days to meet the President’s August 18 deadline. Setting up recruitment stations in Laconia, Pittsfield, and Meredith, and relying on the leadership of Col. Stevens, it took only four days to raise what became the 12th New Hampshire Volunteers, who quickly adopted the nickname “The Mountaineers.” Among the regimental officers chosen were Selectman Winch as quartermaster, J.W. Lang as captain, and the young veteran E.E. Bedee as sergeant-major.
Company I consisted of about 100 men primarily from Meredith. Some probably enlisted for the money, some out of patriotism, some out of a sense of adventure, and many, no doubt, due to peer pressure. Few, if any, joined to free the slaves in the South.