Editor’s Note: This letter to the Sunday Mercury appears here due to Bill Styple’s fantastic book Writing and Fighting the Civil War, which is where I first learned about these amazing soldier letters. You can purchase a copy of Writing and Fighting the Civil War at Belle Grove Publishing.
Twelfth New York State Voluteers.
[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]
BEFORE PETERSBURG, VA., July 6. 
A Chequered Existence—Lots of Consolidation—Transfers satisfactory and otherwise—Provost Guard Duty.
After nearly three years of a very checkered existence, the Twelfth New York Volunteers, or, as it is by its members and admirers familiarly styled “The Dozen”, has at last numerically ceased to exist [on June 2, 1864]1. The career of this regiment has been a singular one from its birth, and he who would trace its history would indeed be inclined to believe in the verification of the old proverb that “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
Consolidation was the order of the day before it left the Empire City. Consolidation has been with it during its existence as an attendant spirit; and consolidation has at last “[?]ned the climax”, and wiped its name and number from the rolls.
You will doubtless remember the attempt that was made, some fifteen months since, to form a battalion of the three years’ men of the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Seventeenth Regiments, under the designation of the “New York Battalion”, and command of Captain W. Husen. Its signal failure will also be equally fresh in your recollections. The five companies of the Twelfth were the consolidated into two, and appointed by Major-General Meade as provost-guard of the Fifth Corps; Captain H[enry]. W. Ryder, the Provost-Marshal of the Corps, assuming the command, which position it has maintained to the present time.
On the 24th of May, the term of service of the Fourteenth N. Y. S. M. expired; and the residue of the men, consisting of recruits and re-enlisted men, were at first transferred to, and afterward regularly consolidated with, the Twelfth, and afterward remained with it on duty at Corps Head-quarters, from the date of transfer until the 2d of June .
This arrangement, as you may readily imagine, well coincided with the ideas of those interested; for, strange as it may sound to the ears of those intensely patriotic individuals who look on no one as a good soldier or true lover of his country unless his duty requires him to be continually a target for Rebel bullets, they considered that a faithful discharge of their duties in the cooler atmosphere of Corps Head quarters much preferable to daily roasting and baking in sand built rifle pits.
The number of men thus transferred was about 230, making, with the Twelfth [New York], a respectable regiment, in these days of decimated battalions.
Aspirants for promotion, reflecting on the deficiency of commissioned officers, there being but five, saw with delight the prospect of “straps”, and feasted the mental eye on the pleasant vision. In short, this consolidation, contrary to the usual custom, gave general satisfaction, and for a time “all went merry as a marriage-bell”; but, “alas for the uncertainty of human affairs!” this preposterous state of things was not destined long to continue, for soon a “change came o’er the spirit of our dream”, and consolidation, the bane of the regiment, once more overtook us, this time with extinguishing effect.
On the 2d of June , the Fifth New York Veteran Volunteers (formerly Duryea’s Zouaves), under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Winslow, arrived in the field, and was assigned to the Fifth Corps. Major-General Warren, you will remember, was formerly Colonel of this regiment, and consequently may be expected to take a certain amount of interest therein. An excellent opportunity offered itself to change the silver leaf on his friend’s shoulder to the eagle, and the tempting opportunity was quickly seized, for on the following day was published the order for consolidation, and the unfortunate “dozen” were swallowed in the rapacious maw of the veteran Fifth [New York]. Thus, after nearly three years of successful combating of adverse circumstances, during which it has been able to retain its organization and number, it has at last, within three months of the expiration of its term of service, lost its identity and ceased to exist. This change has apparently not met with the approbation of the members of any of the three regiments concerned, though we of the Twelfth have less reason to complain, since, although our number is gone, we yet retain our position as Provost Guard, and will do so, in all probability, until our term of service expires. Captain (now Major) Ryder is still the Provost Marshal of the Fifth Corps, and retains command of the two companies as a detachment of the Fifth.
This is the recent history and present state of the late Twelfth New York Volunteers. TWELFTH.2
Soldier Letters from the New York Sunday Mercury:
- July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 25th NY Cavalry at the Siege of Petersburg, Early July 1864
- July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 12th U. S. Infantry at the Siege of Petersburg, Early July 1864
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