and the Twelfth New Hampshire Volunteers
By Rudy VanVeghten
PART 9: “The Havoc of War”
When President Lincoln heard the news of Hooker’s defeat, he wondered aloud, “What will the country say?” He knew he still had not found the right man to lead the Union army, and a few weeks later, he named his fourth top general in seven months. This time it was Fifth Corps commander, Gen. George Meade.
Buoyed by his victory and the laurels heaped upon him by an adoring Dixie, Robert E. Lee convinced Confederate President Jefferson Davis to let him make an offensive incursion into Maryland and Pennsylvania. The resulting Battle of Gettysburg took place on July 1-3, resulting of course in a tide-turning Union victory.
Ten Meredith men died on the Chancellorsville battlefield or from wounds received there on May 3. The list includes:
2nd Lt. George S. Cram, one of the first members of 12th New Hampshire to die in battle. A local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic was later named in Cram’s honor.
- Cpl. Robert Forsaith, killed on the field May 3.
- Private George L. Brown, who died May 22 from wounds received May 3.
- Pvt. William H. Hawkins, who died June 16. His wife died a couple of years later, leaving their young son an orphan.
- Walter G. Maloon, who died in a Washington, D.C., hospital June 16.
- B.G. Piper, who succumbed to his battle wounds May 17.
- Cpl. William H. Rogers, killed on the battlefield May 3.
- Gilman Smith, who died from his battle wounds May 14.
- Daniel Shaw, who died May 17 from his wounds.
- D.G.M. Trombly, slain May 3 on the battlefield.
Many, many more were wounded, some later returning to fight other battles and others earning disability discharges. Capt. J.W. Lang was seriously wounded in the battle. He was discharged August 19, 1864, for disability after a lengthy rehabilitation. Others recorded in town records as receiving wounds at Chancellorsville include George G. Badger, Dudley F. Norris, John F. Clough, N.S. Davis, H.S. Hutchins, Charles P. Leavitt, John P. McKendrick, William H. Stickney, and Ammon R. Webster, many of whom, like Capt. Lang, received disability discharges. There were no doubt others as well whose wounds healed more quickly and were not recorded.
Reports of the local war casualties cast a pall over Meredith, replacing the euphoria that permeated the village 10 months earlier. Editor Fred Sanborn in later years recalled the sadness that hung over Meredith following the battle of Chancellorsville and other conflicts.
“I have seen the wasted forms and crippled men and have followed in funeral processions with playmates whose Fathers and Brothers were laid to rest in unmarked trenches and unknown graves,” he wrote. “I have heard the prayers of Mothers and Fathers and seen the weeping of widows and orphans and have felt the homeshock of battle at Meredith Center, N.H., hundreds of miles away from the roar of a cannon and the sound of musketry.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the last to be heard from the thousands of Chancellorsville dead. About a year later during the battle of the Wilderness, the opposing armies clashed again on some of the same bloody soil. Troops tripped over exposed skeletons as if ghosts from the earlier battle were on hand to welcome more souls to their grim gathering.
What was left of the Mountaineers following Chancellorsville reorganized after Joe Hooker’s fruitless attempt at playing general. Still part of Sickles’ corps, the Twelfth found itself once again in the thick of battle July 2 in the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg. They were involved also at Swift Creek, Fort Darling, and Drewry’s Bluff, all in the spring of 1864. Under the generalship of Ulysses Grant, the Mountaineers were once again among the casualty leaders at Cold Harbor on May 27-31. Sixty-three men, or 21 percent of the regiment, were killed or seriously wounded in that battle.
After Cold Harbor, the 12th participated in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond and saw duty along the Bermuda front. The Mountaineers participated in the occupation of Richmond on April 3, 1865, during the final days of the war, and most members mustered out and headed home June 21, 1865.
In all, the 12th New Hampshire lost 11 officers and 170 enlisted men in battles during their nearly three years’ service in the War of the Rebellion. Another 138 men and one officer died from diseases, for a total of 320, making it one of the most ravaged units of the war, from either side.
Regimental records don’t record the number of deserters from specific battles, but through the course of the war, 50 of the original 998 enlistees went AWOL, plus 88 of the 444 replacements. In addition, one deserter was executed, and another was shot while running away.
E.E. Bedee, promoted to captain after Chancellorsville, eventually recuperated from his head wound of May 3. He rejoined the 12th New Hampshire on July 4 as the North celebrated both Independence Day and victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. He was injured again at Cold Harbor in 1864 and later taken as a prisoner at Bermuda Hundred. He spent a hellish winter at the Libby Prison Camp in Richmond and was paroled in the last few weeks of the war. He was present at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, and was an eyewitness to the assassination of President Lincoln. Bedee reportedly helped carry the great man’s body across the street, where the President died the following morning. Capt. Bedee was promoted to the rank of major shortly after leaving the service in the summer of ’65.
After the war, Bedee mined diamonds in Africa. He used some of his fortune to erect a Civil War statue on the lawn of the Meredith Public Library. When the statue, raised in memory of the 12th New Hampshire Volunteers, was dedicated in September 1902, Maj. Bedee asked that the town’s citizens place flowers and flags on the four corners of the statue each Memorial Day to keep alive the memory of the service and sacrifice of their husbands, sons, and fathers “who now sleep beneath Virginia soil.”
“Not a battlefield marked by conspicuous bravery on which we have not buried some of our valiant comrades,” he said at the dedication. “And now, if this memorial shall serve to keep alive the memory of our fallen brave, and to teach a lesson of patriotism to succeeding generations, it will have accomplished its purpose.”
Nearly 40 years after the Civil War, Bedee indicated that at least for him, it had not been a war of emancipation. At the base of the statue are engraved these words: “In honor of the 12th Regt. N.H. Vols. who fought in the war of 1861-1865 for the preservation of the Union.”