Glimpses of Soldiers' Lives: Bartlett, John, and Samuel Ellsworth
Prints and Photographs
Twin brothers Bartlett and John Ellsworth, along with their older brother Samuel Ellsworth, of Wentworth, New Hampshire, enlisted with the Union army at the end of August 1862 during the American Civil War. Samuel was 42 and Bartlett and John 39 years old when they joined the 12th New Hampshire Infantry’s A Company. The regiment was created in just three days, intended to serve three years, and would suffer the tragic loss of a third of its members over the course of the war. In his history, Captain Asa W. Bartlett described his regiment as making "for itself a record of valor and sacrifice unsurpassed, if equaled, by any other regiment of infantry in the Union army.” The Ellsworths indeed experienced some of the worst battles and hardships of the war as part of this regiment.
The regiment set out for Washington, D.C. in late September 1862. Comprising, according to Captain Bartlett, “a greater proportion of the ‘sons of the soil,’” the regiment took on a reputation for brute strength and was soon christened “The New Hampshire Mountaineers.” “A thousand larger and more stalwart-looking men never marched down the main street of their capital city,” wrote Captain Bartlett.
Upon arriving in Washington, the regiment became part of the large Army of the Potomac. Most of October was spent in drills, November in transit, and its first battle, at the start of December, caused the regiment little loss.
The Virginia winter that followed, however, was brutal for the regiment, which was plagued by sickness. The disease that spread through the camp killed many soldiers, as many as seven in a single night. Bartlett Ellsworth was one of those sufferers. He died of disease on December 22, 1862, at Potomac Creek, Virginia.
John and Samuel Ellsworth continued on after the loss of their brother. They withstood January’s grueling, abortive “Mud March” through Virginia, which claimed many more of the regiment’s lives.
During the first days of May, at Chancellorsville, they survived what was perhaps the regiment’s most destructive engagement, when the Army of the Potomac faced Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Third Corps, which contained the Ellsworths’ 12th New Hampshire, bore the brunt of the conflict, and the Ellsworths’ regiment was the last to retreat. The chronicler Captain Bartlett relates that only two men, to his knowledge, escaped completely unscathed—if not injured, the rest had their clothes and equipment struck with bullets or bits of shell that narrowly missed them. Half of the regiment’s men, and nearly all its officers, were left on the field, wounded or dead.
Both John and Samuel Ellsworth were reported as missing on May 3rd. John returned (the details are unclear) and Samuel was a prisoner of war until he was paroled twelve days later.
The Ellsworths and their regiment experienced even more bloodshed at Gettysburg two months later. It eventually made its way to Point Lookout, Maryland, where it remained as a guard brigade of Confederate prisoners through the winter. On January 15th, the brothers were separated: Samuel transferred to the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps.
The 12th New Hampshire, with John the only of the Ellsworths remaining, was joined by a group of recruits in the spring of 1864. However, these recruits lacked the grit of the original Mountaineers, or perhaps merely wanted to avoid a saga like the miserable and tragic one that had befallen the first corps. A large number of the recruits deserted before reaching the regiment, and a third of them would desert before the end of the war.
The regiment was then ordered to leave the Army of the Potomac for the Army of the James, with which it participated in the battles of Swift Creek, Fort Stevens, Drewry’s Bluff, and Port Walthall. It suffered in each of these engagements, and then was dealt a still more terrible blow at Cold Harbor on June 3rd. Captain Bartlett described the 12th regiment as having been “crushed and hurled back as by an avalanche or a cyclone.” It lost over half of its men in its brief but brutal ten-minute charge.
John Ellsworth remained with the regiment for the Siege of Petersburg from June to August of 1864. He was discharged for disability on September the 7th. On October 15th, Samuel Ellsworth deserted from the Veteran Reserve Corps. Perhaps he then returned to their hometown of Wentworth, as John had. Samuel disappears from the record with his desertion; John died in Wentworth on October 9, 1881. The three brothers had faced some of the most brutal conflicts of the entire war, first alongside each other, later alone.
"Bartlett Ellsworth (Union).” The American Civil War Research Database from Register of Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire 1861-65, (1895). http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=person&id=100667954 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
"John C. Ellsworth (Union).” The American Civil War Research Databasefrom Register of Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire 1861-65, (1895).http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=person&id=100668001 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
"Samuel Ellsworth (Union).” The American Civil War Research Database from Register of Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire 1861-65, (1895). http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=person&id=100668014
"12th New Hampshire Infantry.” The American Civil War Research Database from Register of Soldiers & Sailors of New Hampshire, Ayling p. 603.http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=regiment&id=101196 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
Compiled by: Ann Tyler Moses, Liljenquist Family Fellow, 2012. Last updated 2012 July.