- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

The regimental history of the 12th New Hampshire begins with the following statement: “The Twelfth Regiment has a history of more than general interest, even from its very beginning as a military organization.”

When on the second day of July 1862 the call was made for 300,000 more men to serve for three years of the war, it was supposed that many of those recruits, especially the first to enlist, would be used to fill up the decimated ranks of the regiments already in the field. Instead, several new regiments were formed. One of these was the 12th New Hampshire.

The men who would make up the 12th gathered in Concord, and between Aug. 28 and Sept. 25, the companies were mustered in the service for three years. The regimental history states that 1,017 officers and men answered this first call.

Company F was mustered in on Sept. 5, 1862. One member was Pvt. Charles L. Sweatt. In his service records (available from the National Archives),added ‘National’ there is no description of him at the time of his enlistment. In a pension claim form, however, he is described as 5 feet 5-1/2 inches tall, weighing 142 pounds. On page 649 of the regimental history is an engraving probably based on a photograph taken when he enlisted.

Charles Sweatt was born June 4, 1836, making him 26 when he enlisted. He received a bounty of $25. Sometime during his service he bought a brass ID tag, which is typical of those sold to soldiers by sutlers. This style is based on the U.S. $10 gold coin of the period. Scoville Brass Co. of New York made tokens with the same design as early as 1858. On the tag is stamped “C.L.Sweatt, Co. F., 12th Reg. N.H.V., Pittsfield.” added quotes.

Charles Sweatt and the regiment first saw combat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The 12th was in reserve until, according to the regimental history, it was “past noon when the Twelfth moved up toward the upper bridge [EnLeader] and in a few minutes it was, for the first time, under the fire of the enemy.” The history continues, “Three shells, in quick succession [EnLeader] the third, with fatal accuracy, struck and exploded in the rear of Company K, wounding six in that company and two in Company B.” These were to be their only casualties during the battle.

Because of the shelling, the 12th remained on the east side of the Rappahannock River. At about noon the next day, while the main battle raged in front of Marye’s Heights, the regiment crossed the river and entered Fredericksburg. After a delay of several hours, the unit “advanced on the double-quick up Amelia street to Princess Anne street,” Later, about 4 p.m., the unit again advanced toward the enemy, eventually deploying on Prince Edward Street, with the right flank on Fauquier Street and the left in front of Col. Chew’s house.

They were moved several times on the 14th and 15th. About 2:30 a.m. on the 16th, Col. Joseph H. Potter, the regiment’s commander, was ordered to establish pickets, and he selected companies F and C. The rest of the unit marched into the city from its position near the Kenmore house. Late on the afternoon of the 16th, the regiment was ordered back across the river, leaving the picket companies behind. Lt. Col. John F. March, however, returned across the river to withdraw those two companies, just before the pontoon bridge was removed. So Pvt. Sweatt just missed becoming a prisoner of war.

Sweatt’s records show that on April 20, 1863, he was sent to the division hospital for typhoid fever, therefore missing both the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg, where the regiment suffered tremendous losses as part of the Third Corps. Sweatt returned to duty from the hospital in time to be in the battles of Drury’s Bluff, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Prior to Cold Harbor, the 12th had received a large number of new recruits, many inexperienced. In the engagement, the regiment was assigned to Col. Griffin Stedman’s brigade in the 18th Corps.

The regimental history called June 3, 1864, “a terrible day of sacrifice,” and later in the description it reads: “It’s just such a seething caldron did the brave Colonel Steadman [note the different spelling], using a ramrod for a sword, lead four regiments of his brigade, massed in column by division and headed by the Twelfth New Hampshire, in the early light of that fatal morning. In less than ten minutes from the word ‘Forward,’ there was no brigade to be seen, and of its leading regiment nearly one half lay dead or disabled on the field, while of the remaining scattered ones, two at least out of every ten were more or less severely wounded.”

Sweatt survived because a month earlier he had been sent to brigade headquarters. Then on June 25, 1864, he returned to the hospital, where he spent the rest of his service. He was discharged on June 21, 1865. His pension file implies that the chills and fever had returned as well as “chronic diarrhea.”

In the regimental history is the following additional information about Sweatt. Before the war, he worked as a miller in Pittsfield, later as a shoemaker and farmer. He was married in 1858 to Martha Eaton, and they had five children, four of whom were living in 1897, when the history was written. The records also show that in November 1863 he owed the government $10.61 for his transportation (to the hospital?) and that he was “Accountable to U.S. for 1 knapsack, haversack, canteen and 1/2 shelter tent.” He apparently resolved these when he mustered out. At that time, he was due a clothing allowance of $19.45 and $75 for the rest of his re-enlistment bounty [-] he had already received $25.

After the war, Charles Sweatt filed for a pension. On Nov. 19, 1883, he received $6 per month for “Chi. Diarrhoea & resulting piles.” When he died on Nov. 11, 1911, the pension had reached $30 per month.

Joseph Stahl is a Civil War collector and writer. He lives in Fairfax.

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