and the Twelfth New Hampshire Volunteers
By Rudy VanVeghten
PART 2: Forward March
The green troops started their training right away.
“I remember seeing members of Co. I of the 12th regiment drilling at Meredith Center before going to the war,” wrote editor Fred E. Sanborn many years later, recalling a visit to the training field when he was 7 years old. “Everyone in the company was gay and happy and looked pretty in their uniforms and shining guns. I wished I was old enough to go.”
It didn’t take long for the optimism to dim. Benjamin Hawkins of neighboring Center Harbor became the company’s and the regiment’s first casualty when he died of chronic diarrhea even before the troops left to report for duty at Concord. Another comrade died from an accidental gunshot wound while buying a revolver in Concord. Yet another was fatally shot a few weeks later on board a train between Baltimore and Washington.
On September 27, the Mountaineers learned that Col. Joseph Haydn Potter, a veteran of the Mexican war, would be their commanding officer. Potter’s first “marching order” for his new unit, according to regimental historian Asa Bartlett, was to “proceed with the regiment under your command to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, the 27th inst., at 7 o’clock a.m., and report there to the commanding general.”
As the Twelfth rode south, there was a rash of important war news for the recruits to absorb. The Battle of Antietam earlier that month marked both Robert E. Lee’s first battle as chief Confederate general and the worst one-day loss of troops in the war. A few days later, President Lincoln gave new meaning to the war effort when he first announced his planned Emancipation Proclamation. And the hottest topic of all was Lincoln’s replacement of the popular but ineffective Union General George McClellan with the bewhiskered General Ambrose Burnside.
As the weeks passed and the 12th moved closer and closer to the front, four more members of Company I died, one from measles, two from typhoid, and one from a disease the soldiers called “camp fever,” a deadly combination of typhoid and malaria.
After a three-week encampment at Warrenton, Va., in mid-fall, the 12th moved deeper into enemy territory, and arrived November 18 at Falmouth, located on the north bank of the Rappahannock River, not far north of Fredericksburg.
Finally, their first battle was at hand as Burnside moved his Army of the Potomac into position to cross the Rappahannock and confront Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. None of the men of Company I were recorded as casualties in the battle of Fredericksburg on December 12-13. According to Bartlett ’s regimental history, the 12th’s good luck resulted from Burnside’s decision to finally stop throwing wave after wave of his men to their death trying to storm the hill known as Marye’s Heights – just before it was to be their turn.