The Circumstances Under Which the Twelfth Was Organized - The Character of the Men Composing it - The Organization.
(1) The great War of the Rebellion had gone on for more than a year, and had
assumed proportions of a grand scale, dwarfing any other ever fought on this
continent, so far as there is any history; in fact, making all other wars on
this side of the ocean appear, by comparison, to be Lilliputian in character;
and so far as the magnitude of its theater or geographical extent was
concerned, the greatest war in the history of the world.
(2) Previous to our great war it had been supposed that modern times had only one man surely - possibly others - capable of efficiently handling a hundred thousand men - Napoleon Bonaparte. But this mighty conflict was developing more than one man fully able to command that number of men in action; and at least one man capable of having a general supervision over fully a million of men in the field. We were exhibiting to the world new methods of warfare both on land and sea, and showing it that we had the most effective and intelligent soldiers in the world.
(3) Several hundred thousand men had been called into the field, armed and equipped. Men and money had been lavishly expended. There was a willingness on the part of the loyal people to spend the last dollar and furnish the last man, if they could see any evidence of progress on the part of our arms, or have any assurance of final success in the suppression of the Rebellion.
(4) The war on the part of the Government, however, had been begun with an entirely inadequate idea of the magnitude of the undertaking. It is well known that one (Secretary Seward) high in the councils of the nation had predicted before hostilities actually began that there would be peace in sixty days, and even the good President seemed to think that all the threatening aspect of affairs would pass away if a little time were allowed for the passions of the people to cool. There seemed to be a want of comprehension on the part of the loyal people generally, and not less so on the part of those holding the reins of government, of the terrible earnestness and deadly determination of those who had taken up arms to disrupt the Government.
(5) Hence the first call for troops to cope with what was to prove to be the most determined and formidable rebellion recorded in history, was for only seventy-five thousand men, and what was worse, for only the short terms of three months, as though the suppression of the Rebellion was comparatively a trivial affair.
(6) There was some reason, however, aside from the supposed sufficiency of the first call for troops, for not calling out a greater force, namely, the lack of arms and other munitions of war; but this excuse could not be offered for the deplorable blunder, which all now can see, of making the term of the first enlistment only three months, many regiments' time expiring when they were sorely needed.
(7) In the outset of hostilities and actual conflict of arms, there was a remarkable lack of earnestness and the customary severity, which is generally supposed to characterize grim-visaged war, shown by some of our generals in the field. In some instances the first prisoners were merely sworn to not take up arms again against the Government and then let go - "a process," says Greely in his American Conflict, "about as imposing and significant, in their view, as the taking of a glass of cider." This treatment of prisoners soon became a by-word and jeering jest among the soldiers. It is related that during the Three Months' service, when a comrade had captured a snake and was holding it up by the tail, a fellow soldier called out to him to swear him and let him go.
(8) There was greate tenderness, too, in the beginning of the war, shown by professed friends of the Union, for the people of those States which assumed to be out of the Union; and for the people of the States which were nominally within the Union, yet whose loyalty was of an exceedingly questionable kind, as was manifested by their objecting to the soldiers of our country marching under our common flag, setting foot upon their soil. It was alleged by these professed friends that, by treating the Rebels with severity, the people of the seceded States would be so exasperated thereby that all hope of restoring the Union would be forever destroyed. Just as though they were not already inflamed to the highest pitch, and enraged to the last degree, when a timid, halting policy of being afraid of hurling them, was only bringing the Government into disrespect, encouraging the enemy, and making more Rebels every day; and when a decided, vigorous course toward the traitors was needed to sharply draw the line between the enemies and friends of the Government.
(9) There was also a halting, half-hearted policy shown in the disposition and handling of the eastern army - a dissipation of its strength which resulted in bringing only little more, if any force, on the Union side, than about one-half of the available strength in the first battle of Bull Run, fought July 21st, 1861, and resulting in a humiliating defeat, which defeat had the effect of stimulating and vitalizing the Rebellion into tremendous vigor, and giving it high hope and great energy.
(10) This defeat at the time was universally regarded as a great calamity, though it is now seen, in view of the fact that it necessitated the prolonging of the war, thereby compelling more extreme and radical measures for the suppression of the Rebellion, and consequently making a more substantial and durable peace, that that reverse to our arms was a blessing in disguise.
(11) It was followed by the calling out of five hundred thousand more troops, and the next spring, by General McClellan's dilatory, sluggish and worse than abortive attempt to take Richmond with the Grand Army of the Potomac. And this failure of this magnificent army tended to still further encourage the Rebellion. At the end of that campaign the Rebels were as full of the spirit of determination and as sanguine as ever. And although some substantial progress had been made by our arms in the Southwest, yet the results of the war so far were not satisfactory, nor at all equal to the great expenditure of men and money.
(12) Under this condition of affairs, and in this exigency, "Father Abraham" called on July 1st, 1862, not for "three hundred thousand more," but for six hundred thousand additional soldiers. And it was in response to this call for more defenders of the Union that the Twelfth West Virginia enlisted and was mustered into service along with the other reinforcements, to do what it might to keep the Old Flag aloft, and "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people might not perish from the earth."
(13) The Twelfth was made up of exceptionally good material. The men were mainly American born and native Virginians. They were a hardy, robust, vigorous, self-reliant class of men, mainly from the farming districts, of more than average size, many of them mountaineers. They enlisted under trying and embarrassing circumstances, and in great measure from patriotic impulses, their surroundings and circumstances in many cases tending to lead them to join their fortunes with the Rebel cause. It was a common thing for a West Virginia Union soldier to have friends and relatives in the Rebel army, and in some cases for brother to fight against brother.
(14) One of our faithful and efficient surgeons, of the Twelfth, F. H. Patton, now having the important and responsible position of being in charge of the Soldiers' Home at Dayton, Ohio, at a reunion at Wheeling in 1886 paid the boys of the Twelfth the compliment of relating that he was sometimes asked why it was that there were so few West Virginia soldiers found in the Soldiers' Home at Dayton, and said that he replied to that question, that the boys of West Virginia were a self-reliant class of men, used to and feeling themselves fully capable of looking after and taking care of themselves during the war, and that he thought the same trait, characterizing them yet, of looking out for themselves, accounted for so few West Virginia soldiers being found in soldiers' homes.
(15) Another incident will further illustrate the character of the men of this regiment. During the winter of 1864-5, the Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Fifteenth West Virginia regiments, along with some other regiments, were sent from the Valley of Virginia to the Army of the James, and organized into a small division, General T. M. Harris, commander. This division was afterward known as the Independent Division. It so happened that members of some of the regiments of the corps to which our division was assigned were so inclined to desert to the enemy when on the picket line, that it was not considered safe to put those regiments on picket. Shortly after arrival, General Harris was asked by his commanding officer if he would be responsible for his men's deserting from the picket line. Harris replied that he would guarantee that not a man of his would desert. His confidence was not misplaced. The men were put on picket and not a man of the Twelfth deserted. The same is true, it is believed, of the other regiments of Harris's command. Of course the Twelfth, like other regiments, had its deserters; but that class was long since weeded out, and those left, the men in general, were determined to stand by the old flag to the end of their enlistment. They would rather die than desert.
(16) The Regiment was made up from the counties named below, as follows: Cos. A, B and C, in Marshall; Co. D, in Ohio County; Cos. E and G, in Harrison; Co. F, in Marion; Co. H, in Taylor; Co. I, in Hancock, and Co. K, in Brooke County.
(17) The Twelfth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry was mustered into the United States Service August 30th, 1862, at Camp Willey on Wheeling Island, and the organization completed as follows: