12th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

From The 3rd Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Military Statistics

The Twelfth regiment infantry, N. Y. S. V., or "Onondaga Regiment," was organized at Syracuse in the spring of 1861, principally from the Fifty-first regiment N.Y. Militia. On the first call for troops (April 15th, 1861,) the Fifty-first tendered its services to Governor Morgan for three months. Under the act of April 16th, however, the Governor had no power to accept militia regiments, and steps were taken immediately to organize a volunteer regiment. Six companies were raised in Syracuse, one company at Liverpool one company at Homer one company at Batavia, and one company at Canastota, as follows:

Company Raised by At
A Captain Morris H. Church Syracuse
B Captain Jacob Brand Syracuse
C Captain Dennis Driscoll, jr. Syracuse
D Captain George W. Stone Homer
E Captain J. Mosker Brower Syracuse
F Captain Milo W. Locke Liverpool
G Captain Joseph C, Irish Canastota
H Captain George W. Cole Syracuse
I Captain Henry A. Barnum Syracuse
K Captain Augustus I. Root Batavia


The several companies were accepted by the State Military Board on the 30th of April for two years, and were moved to camp at Elmira on the 2d of May. At Elmira an irregular election of field officers was held (May 4th)—subsequently approved by the State Board-and (May 13th) the regiment mustered into the service of the United States, by Capt. W. L. Elliott, for three months. Tents were issued to the regiment on the 18th, and arms (720 U. S. percussion muskets, model of 1842, calibre 69-subsequently exchanged for long Enfield rifle muskets) on the 23d. On the 26th (special orders, 227) it was ordered " to proceed at once to Harrisburg and Washington, and there report to the Sec¬retary of War." The total' advances by the State on account of the regiment, prior to August 15th, 1861, was $40,847.33, exclu¬sive of subsistence and quarters.

The regiment left Elmira on, the 29th of May via Williamsport, Harrisburg and Baltimore; arrived in Washington on the 30th and took up camp (Camp Onondaga) on East Capitol Hill. On the 10th of July it marched as a part of Richardson's 4th brigade, Tyler's (1st) division, to Chain Bridge; on the 16th to Vienna on the 17th through Germantown to within four miles of Centre¬ville, and on the 18th to Blackburn's Ford, and engaged in the battle at that place. This engagement was a severe one. The regiment was moved to the left to ascertain the position of the enemy, and suddenly encountered a heavy fire from a masked bat¬tery. After two or three attempts* to charge this battery it fell back to a ravine, and the artillery was brought up and a brisk cannonadc kept up from both batteries 'until near sundown. In this engagement the regiment lost eight killed, seventeen, wounded, and five missing, and shed the first blood of the army of the Polo-mac. In the subsequent, battle of first Bull Run (July 21st) it was not, actively engaged, but supported a battery. At night it fell back to Centreville, and on the 22d to Washington and went into camp near Arlington Heights. It was soon after detached from Richardson's and attached to Wandsworth's brigade, and was engaged in building fortifications and on outpost duty.

Early in August many of the members of the regiment determined to insist that, as they had been mustered into the service of the United States for "three months," they should be discharged at the expiration of that that time. The difficulty was met by Special, Orders 321 (August 2d, 1861... viz: " His Excellency the" President, desiring the further service of the Twelfth regiment, "N. Y. S. V.) and having made requisition upon the Governor of " this State therefor, Col. Walrath is hereby directed, on the expi-" ration of the term for which such regiment was mustered into " the service of the United States (August 13th, 1861), to report" with his command to the Adjutant General of the, United States " Government for the remainder of the term of enlistment of the " regiment into the service of the State of New York." This order was complied with and the regiment mustered for the unex¬pired term of two years. There was much dissatisfaction, however.

The regiment was thoroughly reorganized in January, 18,62, at Upton Hill, Va., under the consolidation of recruits raised by Col. Henry A. Weeks ostensibly for the Twelfth New York militia of the city of New York. This consolidation took place under Special Orders 23 (January 24th, 1862), by which Col. Weeks was directed to "proceed to Washington on Tuesday, January "28th, 1862, and report for duty to the General-in-Chief. Com-" panies C, D and F of Col. Weeks' command will retain the same "letters they now bear; companies B and G are hereby consoli-" dated and will form company B ; companies E and K are hereby " consolidated and will become company E ; company A is hereby " detached and will await orders (subsequently Co. A of 102 reg.) "Col. II. A. Weeks is hereby appointed Colonel and George F. " Willson Adjutant of the Twelfth regiment N. Y. S. V:"

The regiment remained in the vicinity of Washington during the winter of 1861, '2, and was in charge of forts Ramsay, Tilling-hast, Craig and Buffalo. On the 21st of March, 1862, it marched to Alexandria and was assigned to Gen. Butterfield's brigade, Gen. Porter's division, Gen. Heintzelman's (3d) corps, and on the 22d embarked for Fortress Monroe as a part of the army of the Potomac, It landed at Fortress Monroe on the 23d, and left the same day on the march up the Peninsula ; passed through Hamp¬ton on the 24th and camped a few miles beyond that place. While here, March 27th, a reconnoissance was made to Big Bethel, and the place found deserted. It broke camp on the 3d, reached Howard's Mills on the 4th and Yorktown on the 5th. It repulsed the first attack of the enemy on our lines (April, 11th) during the siege of Yorktown, and was actively engaged during the whole period of that siege in out-post duly, throwing up defenses, building bridges and other fatigue duty. On the 8th of May it moved to Yorktown and embarked on transports to West Point The landing at West Point was contested by a largo force of, the enemy, who were speedily dislodged by the fire of the gun-bouts, although not until they had inflicted a loss of about 300 on our forces. Remained at West Point until the 13th and then moved fifteen miles to Cumberland, a shipping point on the Pamunkey, and on the 15th and 16th to White House. This was a very severe march. The rain fell in large quantity, the ground was almost a sea of mud, in which not unfrequently mules would sink to the head and remain there and die ; men were compelled to drag the artillery, and the road was strewed with broken wagons, disabled ambulances, knapsacks clothing and blankets, the latter thrown away by the men to relieve their tottering limbs.

About this time two additional corps were organized, of which the Fifth provisional embraced the old division commanded by General Porter and that under General Sykes, and was placed under the command of General Porter, and subsequently known as "Porter's corps." The brigade continued under the command of General Butterfield; and was composed of the 12th, 17th and 44th N.Y., the 15th Mich. and the 83d Penn. The army moved from White House on the 19th of May with Stoneman in the advance, Franklin in support, and Porter in reserve; reached Tunstall's Station the 19th; Mound City on the 21st; Field's Mills on the 22d, and Gaines Mills on the 26th. Here Porter's corps was selected to cut the Fredericksburg and Richmond rail¬road, and disperse the enemy, who had concentrated at Hanover CourtHouse. The movement was made on the 27th; taking the road from New Bridge via Mechanicsville, and involved a march of some fifteen miles. An obstinate and bloody battle ensued about two miles from the Court House, where the road forks to Ashland. After a short time spent in artillery firing a charge by Butterfield's brigade was ordered, and the enemy routed. The brigade then hastened to the rear, which the enemy had attacked, and assisted in crowning with complete victory one of the best contested battles of the war. The regiment returned to Gaines' Mills on the 29th, and was occupied in camp duties until the movement of the army towards the James river commenced.

Porter's corps occupied a conspicuous place in this movement, and first held the enemy in check at Gaines' Mills (June 27th). In this action the regiment, and the brigade to which it was attached, was on the extreme left—the point selected by the enemy for his most determined assaults. Repeated charges were made by Hill's troops upon this part of the line; Pickett's brigade and Whiting's division,from Longstreet's corps, were added to the attack, and finally broke our line at the right of Butterfield, compelling our forces to fall back. On the 28th the corps crossed the Chicka¬hominy and destroyed the bridge. The regiment subsequently participated in the actions at Savage's Station and at White Oak Swamp, and finally fell back to Malvern Hill. Here the corps was assigned to the left of the line. The enemy first attacked on the right, but finally on the left, and there threw the whole strength of his artillery and infantry, from six P. M. until dark, but without success. The seven days of marching and fighting now closed. The regiment was sadly decimated; the corps had lost a greater number in killed and wounded than any other part of the army; the enemy had no longer an army to molest us.

The regiment remained at Harrison's Landing until the with¬drawal of the army from the Peninsula commenced, and was principally occupied in scouting on the south bank of the James. On the 14th of August the withdrawal of the corps commenced and the Chickahominy crossed; reached Williamsburgh in the afternoon of the 15th; moved to Yorktown on the 16th; on the march to Newport News on the 17th and 18th: embarked at New-port News on the 19th, and landed at Aquia, Creek on the 21st, proceeded by railroad to Fredericksburg; from thence to Man-assas, where it participated in the second battle of Bull Run, and suffering severely, covered the retreat to Washington.

On the 8th of September the regiment moved with Porter's corps on the Maryland campaign; was in the reserve at South Mountain and Antietam, and subsequently took part in the assault on Fredericksburg, It spent the winter of 1862-3 at Falmouth, on picket and in camp duties. On the 10th of April, 1863, the books of the regiment exhibited the following statistics: strength, March, 1862, 1,040; April, 1863, present, 317; absent, sick and wounded, 268 (officers included) — a loss, during the year, of 455 men.

Five companies of the regiment (A, G, H, I, and K, of the original organization,) left the field on the 1st of May. The remaining companies bore the flag of the 12th in the battle of Chancellorsville, and were then placed in a battalion under Capt. Huson, but finally consolidated with the Fifth N. Y. The five returning companies mustered out (with the field and staff,) 284; men who were enthusiastically received at Syracuse on the 21st of May.