Saturday, May 3, 2014

In the wake of the Chancellorsville disaster

The 12th New Hampshire Volunteers called themselves the New Hampshire Mountaineers. They were recruited in August 1862, mainly from towns in and around today’s Lakes Region of the state. They named their training camp on the Dark Plains of Concord (now The Heights) Camp Belknap, after the county where most of them lived. The regiment left Concord for the war on Sept. 27, 1862. 

Richard W. Musgrove of Bristol, N.H., wrote a memoir of his service in
the 12th New Hampshire. He is the man squatting here at the 12th's
monument at Gettysburg, where he gave the dedicatory speech on Sept.
28, 1888. Of 224 men engaged, the regiment lost 26 killed and 69 wounded.
In Our War I tell the story of the 12th at Gettysburg through the experience of one soldier, Sgt. Richard W. Musgrove of Bristol. On July 2, as part of Gen. Dan Sickles’s 3rd Corps, the 12th was moved up to the Klingle farm on the Emmitsburg Road. It was attacked from front and flank and lost heavily.

This blow came two months after the regiment’s first – and worst – battle, at Chancellorsville. There no Union regiment suffered greater casualties than the 12th New Hampshire. No officer who had commanded the regiment or a company of it was able to write an after-battle report, and for that reason, the chaotic events of the regiment’s experience there are difficult to trace.

At the moment I’m using Musgrove’s excellent memoir and other sources to create an account of the 12th New Hampshire at Chancellorsville. It will appear on this blog soon.

In the meantime, here is a letter written to Gov. Nathaniel Berry after the battle by Samuel G. Berry (1798-1875), who I do not believe was related to the governor. Samuel Berry lived in North Barnstead, N.H., where he had been a selectman, a state representative and, in the early 1840s, a member of the Executive Council, an elected advisory board to the governor.

In this letter, written two weeks after the Chancellorsville battle, Samuel G. Berry, who has a relative in the 12th, sought to put to rest a camp rumor that the remnant of the regiment will be transferred to a New York regiment.

The letter is one indication that in mid-1863 the social connections that helped build the Union army remained strong. Within the 12th, camaraderie, unit pride and attachment to the home state thrived, and these factors tightened the bond with townspeople back home.

Here is the letter:

                                                                 North Barnstead May 18th 1863

His Exelency Nathaniel S. Berry

Capt. Thomas E. Barker, a Canterbury, N.H., native,
lived in Barnstead when he joined the 2nd New
Hampshire at age 32. He was wounded and captured
at First Bull Run. After 11 months in rebel prisons, he
was released and joined the 12th New Hampshire.
Wounded at Chancellorsville, he later became the
regiment's lieutenant colonel.
My dear sir please allow me to address a few words by way of enquirery as to the Law regulating the army of this state – since the last battle o Chancelerville in which the 12th New Hampshire Regiment suffered so much I have been written to by some of the Barnstead boys asking me to immediately see the Governor in regards to their case. they say that the rumor in the army is that what is left of the 12th is to be transfered into some other Regiment, and they want to know if this can be done without the consent of the Governor of New Hampshire – and wished me to see you on the subject.

I received a list of the casualties made by Capt. Barker of Co. B. in which he states that only thirteen Men in Co. B. come out of that battle able to do duty, in one school District in Barnstead where twelve of the Boys volunteered only two saved from death or wounds, and all of them was good and true Republicans. One of the two spared was a son in Law of ours. It seems from what I can learn that this Company suffered more than any others in the Regiment.

The remnent in the N.H. 12th spared from death or wound, think it a very hard case for them to be thus disposed of, for when they enlisted they was encorged so to do by the choice of their own officers and their particular friends in those companies. Therefore I hope that you will aid them all in your power which the law grants to you, which I know you will do.

I should be gratified if I could visit you at Concord as requested by my friends. But I am not able to do so on account of my health as I am not able to go abroad much if any. I have ben confined to the House some two months or more and a part of the time to my Room. If I had been as well as formely you would have seen me or son William much oftener than you have for the last six months.

I have not seen many of my friends abroad so I content myself by setting in my room and gleaning what news I can git from the papers. My Phyician says my disease is a cronick inflamation in the stommac and the Bowels which has been of long standing. Still I hope to live to see the salvation of my country and Rebelion put down. You will have the goodness to write me on the receipt of this letter as I shall want to write the Boys immediately.

                                                                          Your humble Servant,
                                                                           Samuel G. Berry

P.S. I se in looking over what I have writen that I have not stated their case exactly as they stated to me. They say that rumor is that they are to be transfered  into one of the New York Regiments therefore I hope that your influence if you can do nothing more to sustain the 12th Regiment as it is.


A shrunken regiment but with its banner unchanged, the 12th New Hampshire would soon be on its way to Gettysburg. After its battering there, the 12th was sent to guard Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, Md. Few of the new recruits who filled its ranks were from back home. Although the regiment lost social cohesion, it fought on till the end of the war.

[This letter is from the Nathaniel Berry files at the New Hampshire State Archives.]

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