The 12th New Jersey Infantry First Saw Action at the Battle of Chancellorsville
The 12th New Jersey Infantry was mustered into Federal service on September 4th, 1862. The regiment was assigned to the defenses of Baltimore, thereby missing the Battle of Antietam later in the month. The regiment remained on duty near Baltimore until mid December 1862, when it was ordered to report to Falmouth, Virginia, the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The 12th arrived at Falmouth on December 20th, a few days after the conclusion of the Union loss at Fredericksburg. The 12th settled in at Falmouth until late April of 1863, when the Army of the Potomac began a general movement to begin Major General Joseph Hooker’s Chancellorsville Campaign. Up to this point, the 12th New Jersey had been in the army for nearly eight months but had seen no significant action despite being close to two major battles. That was about to change at Chancellorsville.
The 12th was assigned to Brigadier General William Hays’ Second Brigade of Major General William French’s Third Division of the Union 2nd Corps. The 14th Connecticut, 108th New York, and 130th Pennsylvania were also part of Hays’ command. On May 2nd, Hays’ brigade was ordered to deploy west of Chancellorsville in support of Major General Hiram Berry’s 3rd Corps division on the north side of the Orange Plank Road, to defend against Stonewall Jackson’s attack on the Union right flank. The next day, the Jackson’s Corps, now under the command of Major General J.E.B. Stuart in place of the mortally wounded Jackson, renewed the attack on the Union right.
The Union 2nd and 3rd Corps put up a valiant and costly defense, but were driven back by the Confederate attackers and forced to withdraw. The Federals abandoned the area around Chancellorsville and withdrew north towards U.S. Ford on the Rappahannock River.
Major John T. Hill of the 12th New Jersey filed this report on the regiment’s action at Chancellorsville:
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA.,
May 9, 1863.
COLONEL: I have the honor to report the action of the Twelfth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers during the actions on May 2 and 3, near Chancellorsville, Va., to be as follows:
On the afternoon of the 2d instant, while in bivouac near General French’s headquarters, Colonel Willets received orders to move, in light marching order, upon the road toward the Chancellor house. We formed line in the wood to the left of the road, the right of this regiment resting upon the road in the rear of the mansion house. Shortly after we were in line, Colonel Willets received orders to move up the Gordonsville road to the support of Berry’s division. The regiment was moved at the double-quick upon this road receiving as they moved, some shells from two pieces of artillery (rebel) planted in the road, and were filed in the wood to the right of the road. The line was formed in the rear of the First Brigade of Berry’s division, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers upon our right and the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers upon our left. During the night we received a few shells, wounding 2 or 3 men on the left of the battalion.
At daylight on the morning of the 3d instant, the attack began. Before we were unmasked, Colonel Willets received a wound from a rifle-ball, and was taken from the field. I then took command. Shortly after, the enemy poured in a destructive fire upon our right flank, the regiment upon that flank having given way. My men returned the fire with spirit, but were forced to give way, which they did slowly and in good order, until the line had swung around to nearly a right angle with the original line. This position they maintained for some time, but were finally forced back about 100 yards, where they again made a stand. They here fought until the ranks were greatly disordered, and we were immediately in front of the infantry line supporting the batteries. I then gave the order to withdraw, in order to reform the battalion. This was done upon the field to the left of the road from the river, out which we had moved when going to the field, forming the men behind the One hundred and thirtieth Pennsylvania Volunteers.
We remained in this position until 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 3d, when we took a position in line, with the One hundred and thirtieth Pennsylvania on the right and the One hundred and eighth New York on our left, immediately in the rear of the First Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps, in which position we remained until withdrawn on the morning of the 6th instant.
Our casualties comprise 1 officer and 23 men killed, 6 officers and 126 men wounded, and 22 men missing.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN T. HILL,
Major, Commanding Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers.
Col. GEORGE W. POWERS,
Comdg. Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps.
The road they advanced on was actually the Orange Plank Road that ran east to west through Chancellorsville. The 12th New Jersey’s 178 total casualties were the sixth most of all the Union regiments engaged at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The regiment would go on to see significant fighting at Gettysburg, The Wilderness Campaign, and the Siege of Petersburg.
by Stephen W. Sears
The Chancellorsville Campaign by Darius Couch. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, edited by Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Underwood.
Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXV Part 1.
Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865 by William Fox