and the Twelfth New Hampshire Volunteers
By Rudy VanVeghten
PART 7: Credit Where It’s Due
Divisional General Whipple also died at Chancellorsville and thus was unable to file a report pointing out the 12th’s intrepid behavior on May 3. Col. Joseph Potter, perhaps due to his injury, never filed an official report. And corps General Daniel Sickles’ report did little to recognize the regiment, except to acknowledge the injuries to Col. Potter and Maj. Savage.
Col. Bowman, who was off fighting with his Pennsylvania boys, had only hearsay evidence on which to base his account. He noted that after his command was divided, “The 12th New Hampshire Volunteers became engaged subsequently and lost heavily.”
Thus, when Capt. Bartlett wrote the regiment’s history (published in Concord, 1897), he wondered why the 12th had been forgotten. “Why this regiment, whose actual part and place in the battle of Chancellorsville is but little better known now than then, so far as any official report of its heroic acts has ever been made… is one of the many army blunders, softly called oversights.”
Bartlett asked rhetorically, “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 and aides-de-camp?”
Years later, during a Third Corps reunion in Boston , Gen. Sickles reportedly recalled, “I know that the 12th N.H. 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 New Hampshire at Chancellorsville .”
A letter written in 1892 by Col. Daniel Hall, an aide to General Whipple who had retrieved the remnants of the regiment from the heat of battle on May 3, reported that the 12th New Hampshire “got separated, by some chance, pretty essentially from the rest of the division… 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, had 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.”
Over the past couple of decades, researchers and historians have begun to give the 12th the credit it is due, and also to pinpoint the location and circumstances of the regiment’s action. Ernest B. Fergurson, in his 1992 Chancellorsville: The Souls of the Brave, cites the 12th for having the greatest number of casualties (317) during the battle of any regiment from either side. Of this number, 72 died on May 3 or shortly thereafter from wounds received that day.
Stephen W. Sears goes one step farther in his 1996 book Chancellorsville by adding Bartlett’s 12th New Hampshire regimental history as a source. Extrapolating data from various generals’ reports, Sears concluded, but probably incorrectly, that the 12th clashed with Gen. Doles’ Rebel brigade near the left side of Sickles’ retreating line, where the rest of Bowman’s brigade fought. However, this contradicts the reports that the Twelfth was separated from its parent brigade.
Historians at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park have a more likely scenario that is corroborated by maps in Sears’ book. One feature of the Chancellorsville portion of the park is the Hazel Grove-Fairview Walking Tour, and the accompanying brochure locates the Twelfth’s fighting well west of the Sears’ account. Stop number 3 on the tour is located in the Scott’s Run ravine southwest of the Fairview heights. “At 8 a.m., nearly two hours after the fighting started. General Charles K. Graham’s brigade waded into action,” reads the brochure, noting the ensuing fight took a heavy toll. “Graham’s brigade lost 756 men in the fight. Its principal opponent, General Stephen D. Ramseur’s North Carolina brigade, suffered even greater casualties. It lost 788 men, more than half its strength.”
Tour stop number 4, titled “The 12th New Hampshire Regiment,” then brings in the reinforcements in the form of the N.H. Mountaineers.
“The action of the [12th New Hampshire ] typifies the brutal fighting along the mile-long battlefront,” says the brochure. “About 9:15 a.m. from a position near here, the regiment entered the woods to your left. Graham’s Brigade had retreated under a Confederate onslaught, and the 12th was called upon to fill the breach in the Union line. Instructed to hold the enemy in check ‘until the last man falls,’ the regiment stepped off. Met with ‘that savage-like screech’ known as the rebel yell, the 12th managed to stem the Confederate tide long enough for a new line to be formed beyond Fairview at the Chancellorsville Inn, 1/2 mile to your right front. But their mission carried a high cost – 317 casualties out of 558 men.”
According to this re-creation, the 12th continued the fight against General Ramseur on the ground below Fairview. In his report after the battle, Ramseur wrote about his brigade’s efforts shortly after 9 a.m. on May 3: “The enemy still held his strong position in the ravine on my right, so that the Fourteenth [North Carolina] and the three companies of the Second [North Carolina] could not advance.”
Stephen Sears adds a telling anecdote in his book reminiscent of Lt. Bedee’s words to Gen. Sickles as the 12th withdrew. “Is this all that is left of the Second?” Ramseur reportedly asked. “This is all, Sir.” was the answer. The 2nd N.C. lost 259 casualties in the battle.