History of the 12th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry
By William Hewitt
(October 2011 Civil War News)
Photos, roster, index, 268 pp., 2011, 35th Star Publishing, www.35thstar.com, $24.95.
This unique regimental also includes The Story of Andersonville and Florence by James N. Miller. Unedited, copied directly from the 1892 printing and supplemented with a few photos that apparently did not appear in the original regimental, this book was compiled by the reluctant first lieutenant of Co. I.
His comrades elected him to compose the Union regiment’s history because no one else wanted the job. Lt. William Hewitt did an admirable job despite his misgivings about his personal qualifications to do so.
Formed in 1862, the 12th West Virginia spent the bulk of its time in the Shenandoah Valley. It actively participated in engagements at Winchester (June 1863), New Market, Lynchburg, Snicker’s Ferry, Berryville, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek and, most notably, Fort Gregg at Petersburg.
For the latter action, four of its five Medal of Honor recipients were cited for personal gallantry at the risk of their own lives in carrying the works.
Hewitt should have given himself more credit as a writer and as an astute observer of human behavior. This is the only regimental I have read that included a very dramatic account by a deceased officer’s wife who journeyed to properly inter her husband’s corpse.
Hewitt also astutely noted how inter-related the African Americans and the whites from Winchester had become before the war. To paraphrase his less-than-delicate commentary, he noted that the whites in the area would have to “fade” considerably to be mistaken for the African Americans in the area.
The History of the 12th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry fills a void in Civil War history by describing the hardships and travails of a regiment few people have ever heard about. It stands as a reminder of the human cost of a war that still affects this country today.
Captured at New Market, Pvt. James N. Miller left behind a remarkably honest, balanced account of Andersonville Prison. He successfully achieved his objective to tell his story “…without prejudice or undue feeling. Time has softened the intensity which formerly existed, and [it] is now seen that what was once believed to be diabolical and intentional cruelty was the result of circumstances partly beyond the control of those who were placed in charge of prisoners.”
Miller discussed everything from swearing to homesickness, from religious services to actively contemplating becoming a Galvanized Yankee by defecting to the Confederates.
Great reading. I could not put down his straight-forward and honest account.
I recommend this book as an addition to the Civil War student’s library. As honest and as plain- spoken as the men who served in the 12th, this regimental and its prisoner of war recollections portray the war as they really saw it without unnecessary postwar embellishment.
Reviewer: John Michael Priest
John Michael Priest retired from teaching in 2011 after serving 30.5 years. He is a guide at Antietam. He has published four Civil War books and is an avid 54mm wargamer — French and Indian War through the U. S. Civil War.