WHY A REGULAR?

By L. Allen

Why should anyone want to portray a Regular? Truly the Regulars were an Enigma to the Volunteer Regiments of the Civil War and to everyone but the most accomplished students of Civil War Military History. The Regulars were hated, respected, misused and depended upon to train and hold the Volunteer Army together without ever receiving proper credit for what they did. Why was this? Because they did not have the politicians the Volunteer Regiments had that would forward the memories of their acts, both true and imagined, maybe. Or maybe they had an intrinsic pride in what they did and who they were that didn't need any chest pounding. But, why be a Regular?

Let me start by telling you some of the Early History of your Regiment to help you understand. After the American Revolution, when our country was young, and at the beginning of the Napoleonic Era, there was a period in time when we could have gone to war against either France or England over shipping rights and issues along our early frontiers of which we had with both countries. At this time of danger our ancestors saw the need for a stronger National Defense. It was at this time the Congress authorized the organization of the 12th. Regiment on July of 1798. After two uneventful years the Congress decided to reduce the Army and the 12th. Regiment was mustered out in July of 1800.

When the Declaration of War was signed against England on June 18,1812 the entire Regular Army consisted of only 6,744 Officers and Men. Fearing War Congress had authorized an increase of Military Forces to 35,000 prior to the hostiles, but this was never to fully come about. On the 16th of June 1812 Congress authorized the reorganization of the 12th. Regiment. The Regiment was to be composed of 10 Companies of 103 men each with 3 Field Officers in each Company. ON top of this it was also authorized to have a Staff Section made up of 13 non-commissioned and commissioned officers. The Total authorized strength was therefore to be at 1,073 officers and men, but it is doubtful if the Regiment ever reached full strength.

For those of us that have studied the War of 1812, you will remember that there were 4 Basic Campaigns of the War not counting the Campaign at New Orleans that actually happened after the Peace Treaty had been signed in Europe.

The 4 Campaigns were:

  1. Those in the West - in Ohio and Canada around Detroit
  2. Operations on the Niagara Frontier
  3. Operations in the North along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain with the objective being Montreal
  4. Operations in and about the Chesapeake Bay with the English objectives being Baltimore and Washington
Of these 4 campaigns and Operations the 12th. Regiment took part in 3 of them. Starting with the Campaign along the Niagara Frontier, the 12th. Regiment took part in only one engagement, that being the successful attack on the Fort at Black Roc. Black Rock being one of a chain of forts by Buffalo and happening in 1812.

Next the 12th. Regiment took an important role in the 1813 Operations on the Northern Frontier with the objective being the Capture of Montreal. The Army was organized in 2 separate forces, 1.) under the Command of a little skilled General named Wilkinson, who was to start at lake Ontario and march down the St. Lawrence to Montreal and the other force 2.) under the Command of General Hampton, who was to cooperate from Lake Champlain. The 12th. Regiment, as part of General Wilkinson's force, marched down the St Lawrence, meeting the British Forces at a position called Crystler's Farm on the 11th of November 1813. After a 2 hour advance that cost the Regiment 338 casualties, General Wilkinson decided to withdraw across the river to the American side and go into Winter quarters. In the following Spring of 1814, General Wilkinson decided to start the Campaign by crossing the river and meeting the British at a place called La Colle Mill. General Wilkinson again decided to withdraw taking his troops to Plattsburg. From this position he again advances into Lower Canada and meets the British in a less than successful engagement at Odelltown on July 3, 1814. After this we find the 12th. Regiment being withdrawn from this theatre of operations and being involved in 2 Battles in the Campaigns along the Chesapeake Bay. The 12th. Regiment now plays a prominent role in the Battle of Bladenburg, Maryland August 23, 1814 and in the Defense of fort McHenry. Part of the campaign ended with a brave but futile attempt to save Washington against an enemy with vastly superior numbers. Even so the British Reported, "that the Regulars retired in such order after a spirited defense that would give honor to any Regiment." It was also at this Campaign that the Regulars were present when the seed of the National Anthem were planted in Francis Scott Key's mind. This was also the last campaign of the War of the 12th. Regiment.

After the Peace Treaty was signed the Regular Army was again reduced, this time to only 8 regiments. In May of 1815 the 12th. Regiment was consolidated along with the 13th and the 20th. Regiments to form part of the 4th. Regiment of Infantry.

In 1846 with the War with Mexico the 12th. Regiment was again reorganized, for the third time, under the Acts of February 11, 1847 and march 3,1847 being assigned to the Brigade lead by General Pierce. This Brigade was to be part of the Division Commanded by General Pierce. This Brigade was to be part of the Division Commanded by General Gideon J. Pillows that was to join General Winfield Scott's Army, already in Mexico. From June of 1847 to five weeks later when the Division joined General Scott, they had been involved in four engagements. The 4 engagements were the National Bridge twice, Paso de Ovejas and Plan de Rio.

General Pierce's Brigade consisting of the 9th., 12th. And 15th. Regiments of Infantry finally reached General Scotts's Army on August 9, 1947.

On August 19 Scott's Army fought the Battle of Contreres, where the Americans drove the Mexicans from a fortified position commanding the road to Mexico City. The 9th. And 12th. Regiments, attacking in a frontal assault, drove the Mexicans from their position and then pursued their shattered army. During the assault, Colonel Bonham Commander of the 12th. Regiment, was wounded causing the Command of the Regiment to be passed to Captain Wood of Company C. August 20th., the Brigade defeated the Mexicans at a village named Churubusco an again into the Forts of Tete du Pont. It was at this engagement that the 12th. Regiment held back the "flower of the Mexican Army" for one and one half hour until re-enforcements could be brought in to finally defeat the enemy.

Due to the losses sustained in this battle the 12th. Regiment was sent to garrison the key position at the town of Mixano. After an Armistice was granted on August 23, hositliities again broke out on September 7. The 12th. Regiment after bearing the renewed attacks of the Mexican Army, further depleting their numbers, was pulled out ot the line and was to see no further action in the war. However, at the Mexican Surrender on September 13, 1847, general Scott requested the 12th. Regiment to join in the triumphal entrance into Mexico City because of their fine service to the Army. After the Peace Treaty was signed, the 12th. Regiment was again mustered out of the service on June 8, 1848 only to be reorganized for the fourth time when danger for our nation loomed in the summer of 1861. Now that you have been hopefully enlightened to the early history of the 12th. Regiment, let us examine some other issues.

Whey were the Regular Regiments so hated? First the Regulars were the Regular Army that as a whole were viewed during times of peace as an unnecessary cost, a tax burden. This country like the United Kingdom and the other Northern European countries that relied on their sea power as their first line of defense, have always looked with disdain on large standing armies. Instead they chose to rely on a militia system for their armies. For those descendents of ours that immigrated from countries that had large standing armies, like France and Prussia, the army represented the oppressive power of the nobility. Fleeing this was one main reason they came to America. Another reason the Regular Regiments might have been disliked was because of the state's bounty systems the Regulars had to recruit from mainly the new immigrants to this country. Emigrants were not thought very highly of, even back then. Some of the primary reasons the Regulars were disliked were 1.) The Regulars represented authority and discipline to an Army composed of highly individualistic "summer patriots" and politicians. 2.) The Regulars as professional soldiers must have developed an attitude towards these nonprofessionals, these Volunteers and Politicians, that were controlling the Army and the effects thereof. I wonder if the war would have taken so long or had such great losses if it had been directed and fought by the Professionals from the beginning. Certainly there were enough mistakes in the war made by those trained in the art of war, that the country did not need amateurs and politicians adding to them.

What about the respect for the Regulars? Whether they liked the Regulars or disliked the Regulars, the Volunteer Army always respected the professionalism of the Regulars. One of the greatest honors or achievements of an Officer then, was to get his rank in the Volunteer Army always respected the professionalism of the Regulars. One of the greatest honors or achievement of an Officer then, was to get his rank in the Volunteer Army converted to that of the Regular Army. General Custer, at the time of his death was a Breveted major General of Volunteers, but only a Lt. Colonel in the Regular Army. The Regular Regiments represented a deadly power of a professional fighting force that knew their business. The Volunteer Army knew this, and so did the enemy!

For those students of Regular history it is plain that the Regiments of Regulars were misused time an again during the course of the Civil War. The one episode that comes to mind was at Antietam. Lee's Army was being beaten badly, and before Jackson had moved up from Harper's Ferry into position, the Regular Regiments were in ready position for an assault on Lee's Army that would have surely destroyed what was left of that Army. This possibly ending the war at a much earlier date. General Porter, Commander of the Fifth Corps, then talked General McClellan out of the assault using the logic that if the Regular Regiments were destroyed the volunteer Army would fall apart and run away. This logic may have been true, but a "Golden Opportunity" was lost to end the war. By ending the war earlier countless lives would have been saved of individuals whose potential was forever lost to this country and the world. We shall never know of what we have lost and what might have been. Both Professional Army and Volunteer Army Officers held the belief of General Porter at this time, and it may have been true. Certainly all you have to do is read about the Army's early operations in the war.

It is true also that the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the Regular Regiments were responsible for the majority of the training of the Volunteer Army until they reached a certain level of skill. It was even said that some Volunteer Regiments, "were as good as Regular Regiments." This of course did not happen over night. Maybe these Regular Drillmasters held to endear the Regulars to the Volunteers! It is also true that until the Volunteers were trained to an acceptable level the Regulars did hold the Army together.

I hope this brief history of the 12th. Regiment has enlightened you as to the caliber of men that made up this regiment. Most were nameless to history, but this country owes them a great deal. The silent unsung heroes that saw a job to be done, and did it without any fanfare. Men that were willing to endure untold sufferings for the "food of the whole" to preserve a dream called the "United Sates of America."

Now you know about them, what about you? Why a Regular? Is it that you want to be part of an Elite organization that has a mystique along with a tradition you can be proud of? To be Regular takes work! You polish, clean, drill, train and when you're done you do it again. But if there is a position to be held or taken and they need men they can trust, they call on the Regulars. I've been told by even the enemy that, "We look sharp on the field." George Hannahs pointed out eloquently, that the Volunteer Regiments might have ha brilliant Civil War records, but the Regular Regiments had a brilliant history before, during and after the Civil War. No Volunteer Unit can ever claim that record! To be a Regular you must be able to project a silent image of pride and self-confidence that a professional soldier among an Army of Volunteers would have. An innate pride in who and what you represent. Because the men you portray are immortalized on stones in the Wheatfield and the Ridge beyond. Why be a Regular? Because I want to portray the Best! How about you? What are your reasons?

Huzzah for the Regulars!

Last Updated on 3/29/04


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